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To Whom The Wolf King Bows

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The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Index, Page 247:

Mate: a perfect counterpart; one with whom Mother Moon deems our equal in all things, and who was made for us and whom we were made for; the missing part of a wolf's soul. Once a mating bite has been given, the bond between a wolf and their mate is unbreakable.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Index, Page 248:

Mate Pull: the instinctual and magical bond shared by a wolf and their mate; strong enough bonds allow for each of a mated pair to sense the other, even at a distance. The strongest of bonded mates can feel the emotions of one another, though cases of such powerful bonding are rare.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 1, Page 1:

Wolves mate for life.

When mates meet, the wolf is almost always the first to know. To a wolf, the scent of their mate will be unlike anything they've ever encountered; they will smell unique and perfect in ways many are unable to describe. If the wolf's mate is human, the mate pull will be instinctual, but often weak at first. If a wolf's mate is also a mage, the bond will be even stronger than any other type of bond. In addition, a wolf in no way can harm their mage-mate (save for the mating bite), while a mage's magics have no harmful effect upon their wolf-mate.

Often times, if a mage overexerts themselves, their wolf-mate can pull them from the brink. Likewise, if a wolf-mate is an Alpha, a mage can aid their wolf-mate in partial and full shifts.

-----

Stiles has never felt fear like this.

The Wolf King, the very man Stiles has spent his childhood terrified of, practically nips at his heels as he and his father run through dense woodland. He thought the man a myth, a boogeyman, whom the old scullery maids had threatened would come after him when he misbehaved.

The stories hadn’t done the man justice; he’s far more terrifying than Stiles could have ever imagined.

A sharp sounds cuts through the air, and in the next moment, his father cries out and stumbles. In the time it takes Stiles to kneel down and hoist his father’s arm over his shoulder, they are surrounded by a fearsome bunch, all decked in armor, swords steady and bows strung.

His father doesn’t stay upright for long, the wound from the arrow in his leg already bleeding profusely.

The Wolf King nears - the man can be no other; he’s tall and broad-shouldered, dressed in decorative armor, and carries himself like only royalty can. His features are dark, as is his hair and scruff, and Stiles’ heart nearly beats out of his chest as the man stalks toward him like a true predator.

Sword raised, The Wolf King points the tip directly at Stiles. “You wear Argent robes, and flee from my men. Tell me, spy, which of the Argents do you answer to?” The wind blows from behind the king, the straps of his armor fluttering in the breeze.

“Please,” Stiles begs, trying to hold his father upright. Every story he’s heard of The Wolf King tells of a man without mercy, but Stiles knows not what else to do but tell the truth. “I’m an escaped slave from the Argent house. I have no love for them.”

The king pauses, raises his face. The wind continues to blow from behind him, a particularly large gust sweeping through.

Please,” Stiles begs again. “Please don’t send us back. They’ll kill us, they-”

Stiles,” his father gasps from his side, his grip on Stiles’ shoulder tightening.

The Wolf King nears, his sword still drawn, his features blank. Perhaps that’s what scares Stiles the most, the lack of emotion across the man’s face.

Suddenly, the wind picks up again, this time coming from behind Stiles. He stumbles slightly forward, an inadvertent step that brings him that much closer to the king.

But the king stops suddenly, as if struck by something. Stiles watches the man as his nostrils flare, his eyes widen, and his eyes glow a deep, blood red. Much to Stiles’ great surprise, the king drops his sword. It makes a dull sound as it hits the mossy floor.

Each of the soldiers around them freeze for just a moment.

The Wolf King throws his head back and, like a beast, howls . Every soldier that surrounds them follows suit, throwing their heads back and joining their king.

Stiles’ mouth goes dry. All of the stories he’s heard tell of how, when the king who can transform into a beast knows he has his prey cornered, he howls to signal a feast for the rest of his pack. Stiles knew begging for mercy was a long shot. Only one other choice is left to him.

Stiles rips his cloak off, lets it flutter in the wind. “Do you know what these markings are?” he asks the king, taking up a fighting stance.

The Wolf King stops howling, his gaze turning back to Stiles, his eyes sliding over Stiles’ silver tattoos, watches as they undulate on his skin like water. His mouth falls open. “You’re a mage?” he asks, and Stiles thinks he’s rendered the king breathless for a moment.

He almost falters. “Then you know what I’m capable of,” he says in warning.

But it does little to deter The Wolf King, who slowly starts walking toward him once more. “You’re a mage,” the man repeats himself, as if he hadn’t heard Stiles’ warning at all.

“Stiles, no-” his father begins, but it’s too late, they’ve come too far to either be forced back into the Argent’s keep, or worse, taken into slavery by The Wolf King and his monstrous followers.

Stiles plants his feet, lets go of his father, mutters an incantation under his breath, then forces his hands out at his sides.

Each and every soldier that surrounds him are pushed over with huge gust of wind Stiles conjures with his magic.

All save The Wolf King, who, while he isn’t knocked over, still stumbles backwards several steps.

“This is your last warning,” Stiles says, though his voice is already quivering from exertion. “My next spell will kill you all.”

The king straightens and, the bloody fool, starts walking toward Stiles again.

“Please don’t make me do this,” Stiles begs of the man.

“You won’t kill me,” the king informs him, and Stiles is shocked at how gentle the man’s voice suddenly is.

If Stiles waits much longer, the king will be close enough to reach out and touch him. So, as much as it pains him, Stiles takes a deep breath and starts another incantation.

“Stiles, don’t!” he hears his father shout.

But, it’s either he and his father, or Stiles and all of his enemies.

Stiles raises his hand out in front of him. The king leans forward, reaches out as if he means to take Stiles’ hand in his own, but before he has a chance to, Stiles’ entire body erupts into flames.

It’s excruciating, but he knows the amount of pain he feels is nothing compared to what he’d feel if he lost his father again, so Stiles shuts his eyes and lets the flames explode outward.

Chapter Text

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 3, Page 94

A mage-mate’s markings are often drawn toward their wolf-mate’s touch. Magic recognizes magic; early on in a wolf/mage bond, the mage can even feel overwhelmed at how hard their magics pull toward their mate. For powerful mages, this can cause fainting spells. Take note that no permanent damage should occur, but wolf-mates should still keep close to their mage-mates for safety and comfort reasons.

Wolf-mates, especially Alphas, tend to be overly territorial of their mage-mates in the early stages of their bond, as the mixing of magics causes heightened senses and emotions. As such, most wolf-mates often keep within close proximity of their mage-mates, even going so far as to only allow their mage-mates to consume food that has been prepared by their own hands. These feelings will dampen as the bond grows, but will never burn out completely, as it is important for Alpha wolf-mates to prove to their pack that they are worthy of their mage-mates.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 3, Page 106

It is common for mates to feel the desire to prove themselves to one another, whether it be through feats of strength, wit, or daring. Alphas especially take great pleasure knowing that they can provide well for their mates, and are pleased when their mates show that they either appreciate such notions, or can repay them in kind. Wolf culture deems equality and worth of great import.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 5, Page 187

Wolves, due to their keen senses, can hear the stuttering of the heart of someone who is purposefully lying. If a wolf has a human as a mate, when they make a promise or wish to prove a point, as an act of good faith, a wolf will place the hand of their mate over their heart. Even if the non-wolf mate isn’t able to physically feel the heartbeat of their mate, it’s meant to show how sincere the wolf is being.

---

Stiles is confused when he wakes, partly due to the fact that he’s warm and comfortable, but mostly because he wakes up at all. He’d cast a spell of all-consuming fire to save his father; by all rights, he shouldn’t be alive , much less relaxed, at ease, under a pile of warm furs, the smell of cinnamon tickling his nose.

Was it all some sort of fever dream?

Stiles opens his eyes and gazes up, but instead of seeing a ceiling of stone, he sees the cloth of a tent roof, and things start to slowly fall back into place; the forest, The Wolf King, the fire he’d conjured-

Stiles feels his heart begin to thunder within the confines of his chest. He takes great gasps of air as he tries to breathe, but it’s of little use; his spell had failed, there was no way The Wolf King hadn’t killed his father, and Stiles was a slave once more. Tears blur his vision and spill down his cheeks as he tries to draw breath; he and his father had been so close , and now it had all been for naught. He sits up and readies to throw the blankets off of himself, but is interrupted when, suddenly, the flaps to the tent are thrown open and, once again, Stiles meets the gaze of The Wolf King. There is no question who else the man could be; even though he no longer wears his battle armor and is dressed instead in a simple tunic and breeches. Adorning his brow is a beautiful, jeweled circlet.

“You’re awake!” the king exclaims, and Stiles’ breath catches in his throat when he sees the wave of pure relief wash over the man.

Stiles clutches the furs tightly, glancing around the tent while keeping the king in his line of sight. Perhaps if he can fit under the side of the tent, the king won’t be able to catch him in time before-

But the king moves like a man possessed, and in an instant he’s at Stiles’ side, close enough to touch if he so wished.

Stiles’ heart is in his throat, now. At this point he knows he’s not long for this world; he’d tried to kill The Wolf King, had stood and challenged him, had-

The king, whose fingers are calloused and rough, touch Stiles’ elbow in such a gentle manner, Stiles wonders if he's still sleeping. The man looks at Stiles with reverence written, clear as day, across his face, and Stiles is completely flummoxed over what to do. “Do you hurt? Are you hungry?”

Where is the king of all demons Stiles has only ever feared? The man standing before him looks on him as though Stiles is a friend, a lover.

“Camp isn’t finished being set up, but you’ve been asleep for the better part of three days. Would you like to stretch your legs?”

The worst part of it all is the silver ink adorning Stiles’ skin - the tattoos that let him channel his magics - slithering across his skin, move toward the king like they are desperate to feel his touch, like they want it .

Stiles pulls his arm from the king’s grasp, his breath coming in short, shallow pants now. His mouth is dry, his head is swimming and while he sees the king move his mouth, he hears nothing but the rush of blood in his own ears.

Everything turns to darkness again.

When he wakes a second time, Stiles knows that he’s no longer asleep, and that his earlier encounter with the king had not been a dream. He sits up, making himself dizzy in the process, and swings his feet off the bed in order to better take in his surroundings. Beneath his feet sits a richly woven mat, and to his left a large wooden table of sorts, with various papers spread across it. On the other side of that is a folding screen divider, with an empty tub behind it.

To his right, the tent flap opens again and Stiles is surprised to see someone other than the king enter. The young man can’t be much older than Stiles himself, and has dark hair and tanned skin. But the most peculiar part of the entire encounter is the way his face lights up when he makes eye contact with Stiles.

“You’re awake!” he says, voice gleeful and smile wide. “The king mentioned that you’d woken earlier, but you must have been tired, since it sounds like you passed out again.”

Stiles doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing at all.

That doesn’t seem to deter the young man, however.

“I’m Scott,” he says, with a clasped fist over his heart and a gentle bow of his head.

Again, Stiles deigns to say nothing at all. This entire ordeal has been nothing but confusing. He’d tried to kill this man’s king, and now he’s getting a warm introduction; what kind of mind games did these monsters play?

But once more, Scott doesn’t seem perturbed by Stiles’ silence. “I’ve been instructed by the king to take you for a walk to a nearby meadow we’ve found, if you’d like to stretch your legs. I’m sure they’re stiff; you’ve been off your feet nearly four days now.”

Stiles knows that if he can get a look around camp, he can better formulate a plan to escape, so, not trusting his mouth, he merely nods at Scott, whose smile, against all odds, grows brighter. The soldier looks around and, after a moment, seems to find what he’s looking for. He makes his way to a small trunk near the end of the bed Stiles sits in, and he easily flips open the hatch, procuring a pair of shoes that he hands to Stiles. “They should fit,” he reassures him.

Warily, Stiles puts on the offered pair of shoes, surprised that they do indeed fit. He takes note of how his clothing has been changed as well, but pushes the thought from his mind; if he’s a slave again, his body is his no longer.

He follows Scott out of the tent, and his stepping falters as he looks at the vast company spread before him. There must be at least two hundred soldiers in varying states of armor walking through the camp, and Stiles’ throat constricts over the idea of trying to flee from them all. And that’s only those he can see; there are dozens of covered wagons, and people walking between them in kind.

Scott peers over his shoulder at him. “It’s alright,” he assures him. “Everyone knows who you are, no one will bother you.” He motions for Stiles to follow.

Not having the slightest idea what Scott could mean, Stiles falls instep behind the soldier. It’s a short walk, hardly a few minutes, but the meadow is vast and quiet, and Stiles does admit it feels good to stretch his legs a bit.

Stiles contemplates running, right here and now. Only Scott is close enough to give chase. But Scott looks fit and lean, a healthy soldier, and Stiles doubts he’d get far on his stiff legs before Scott would likely tackle him and force him back to his king.

“You’re good for him,” Scott says quietly.

Stiles turns to see the young man’s pensive face. “What?”

“It’s only been a few days, and you’ve been unconscious for them, but he’s already handling everything better. You’ve put years back into his life. He doesn’t look as tired, as worn.”

Stiles shakes his head, narrowing his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says as he turns back toward the meadow.

“There’s no need to be shy,” Scott laughs.

Stiles feels like he’s either missing out on some strange joke, or the butt of it. He closes his eyes, wondering how he’s ever going to gain his freedom again, how he’ll ever forgive himself for letting his father die.

“Sire?”

Stiles flinches. Is the king nearby?

“Sire, the king is requesting us to come back.”

Turning, Stiles stands confused as he looks at Scott. “Why are you calling me that?” he asks, tone guarded.

Scott looks confused as well “What would you have me call you?”

Shrugging, Stiles clears his throat. After a moment, he speaks. “My name is Stiles.”

Scott smiles at that, looking more than placated, and Stiles becomes only more confused. “Thank you, Stiles.”

Stiles doesn’t smile back, but he does follow Scott back to camp. Scott holds the tent flap open for him and ushers him through the door. Inside, Stiles is met with an unfamiliar face, another young-looking soldier, this one with a pale complexion and curly hair. He glances briefly at Scott, then smiles, almost shyly, at Stiles. “I’m Isaac. His Majesty can’t make it back for the evening meal, so I’ve brought you food. He wasn’t sure if you’d feel up to dining with the men tonight.”

“I’m not hungry,” Stiles all but snaps. He doesn’t understand why he’s being clothed and fed and treated as though he’s a guest; he’s an escaped slave who had threatened their king, and they take him for walks to stretch his legs and bring him food. Nothing makes any sense!

Isaac looks confused for a moment, glancing to Scott, then back to Stiles. “You know there’s no need to lie to us, right?”

Stiles feels the color drain from his face. Of all the stories he’s heard over the years about the savage people who can turn into beasts, and their monstrous king, he’d never heard such a thing as being unable to lie in front of them.

“You’ve never been around anyone other than humans, have you?”

Taking a step backward, Stiles curls in on himself. He’s still so confused, so grief-struck over the loss of his father, he doesn't know what to do. He runs a hand through his hair and feels his breath start to come short.

To his great surprise, both Scott and Isaac take a few steps back. “It’s alright,” Scott says, hands out in a placating gesture. “This is a little much at once for all of us. We’ll leave you to your meal, but we’ll both be outside if you need us.”

They leave, and Stiles is left to his own devices. He paces, eyeing the food that’s been left for him. It could be poisoned, he surmises. But, what would be the point? It seems, thus far, those he’s encountered since he’s woken have been nothing but nice to him.

Stiles kicks the chair at the table in frustration. He takes up a hunk of bread, rips a piece out with his teeth, tears once again blurring his vision. He’s hungry enough that the deterrent of a slow death by poisoning isn’t enough to make him ignore the ache in his stomach.

If he’s not to be used for labor, or be tortured or killed to prove some kind of point or teach some kind of lesson, Stiles understands, now, why he’s being kept alive: he’s to be a slave of the flesh for The Wolf King. His concubine. He chews the bread, uncaring of how it dries his mouth. He swallows it, fitful tears streaming down his face. He should have run when he had the chance in the meadow.

He sees a small hunting knife sitting atop the table, and cumulates a plan in his head. There’s no way for him to escape, and it will be another week at least before his magics have rested long enough for him to cast even the most rudimentary of spells. His only option is to let the king have his way with him, wait until he’s asleep, and slit his throat.

He crawls into bed and weeps, tucks the knife under his pillow, and waits for the king to call upon the use of his body.

When he wakes, the camp is quiet, and there is a warm light coming from across the tent. Stiles rolls over and sees the king sitting at the table, engrossed in various paper documents, but he looks up as Stiles moves to sit, the deep furrow in his brow easing. “Are you well? You hardly ate any of the food that Isaac brought and-”

The Wolf King stills completely as Stiles stands, watching, entrapped, as he begins to rid himself of his clothing. Stiles looks down, briefly, so he can untie the knot of his breeches, but his hands shake and the knot only tightens. Even so, he’s naked from the waist up. When he looks up, he freezes in fear; the king’s handsome visage looks strange now, the slope of his forehead greater than it had been only moments before, his ears long and pointed. His open mouth displays sharp fangs, and Stiles sees pointed claws where dull fingernails had been a heartbeat ago

The king stands, and Stiles feels his heartbeat in his head, the thunderous drumming drowning out all other noise. He shuts his eyes and tries to steady himself as The Wolf King rounds the table.

If Stiles can just make it through this, if he can just-

His eyes shoot open when he feels something soft envelop him. The king, no longer wearing his jacket, stands before Stiles, gently draping the fabric over his shoulders. Stiles is startled by the soft look on the man’s features, no longer beast-like. He almost stumbles as the king ushers him back toward the bed. When he is seated upon it, he gazes up at the king. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Is this not what you’ve kept me for?”

The king looks as though he’s been struck. “Kept? I - Stiles, no .”

Stiles curses his traitorous heart in the way it flutters as the king says his name. “I’m your property. It’s your right to take whatever you want from me.”

The king wipes a hand down his face, then he moves to sit on the bed next to Stiles. “You’ve spent much of your life in Argent hands, surrounded by those who slander me and mine,” the king gently extrapolates. “I’m not sure the level of lies they’ve been feeding you, but neither me nor my people keep slaves. I have no intention of using you , Stiles.”

His heart nearly gives out in desperation. Part of him wants to believe what the man in front of him says, but he can’t .

“I will never take from you that which you aren’t willing to give.”

Stiles sits stock-still, numbness crawling over him. He doesn’t understand - everything is still so muddled in his head. This man has killed his father, and yet he speaks to him in such a gentle manner.

“What do you know of me, of my country?” The king’s voice startles Stiles back to reality.

“You are The Wolf King, the ruler of all demons. You prowl the night with your army of moon-mad warriors. You bathe your armor in the blood of those who slight you, and turn into wolves those that remain. You conquer land after land, leaving nothing but salted earth in your wake.”

By the time Stiles is done speaking, he’s shaking.

Slowly, gently, the king turns to face Stiles. He reaches out, as if he knows that Stiles is more than spooked, and carefully takes his hand. The king shifts slightly then, and leans forward, pressing the flat of Stiles’ palm to his chest, over his heart. Stiles looks up into the eyes of the king, lost beyond comprehension. “The house of Argent has fed you lies, Stiles. I am none of those things. And I will never, never take from you that which you are not willing to give.”

As much as Stiles wants to believe the handsome man before him, he can’t. His hands close around the dagger hidden under his pillow, and he pulls it out and lunges forward.

But the king is too fast. He catches Stiles’ wrist, the blade mere inches from the soft flesh of his stomach.

And this is when Stiles knows he will die. He closes his eyes, afraid.

But a killing blow never comes, nor a maiming one.

Instead, the king starts to laugh .

Stiles opens his eyes in shock and fear. The king moves his hand and takes the dagger from Stiles’ grasp, and Stiles is gobsmacked, knowing that the last thing he’ll ever see is how beautiful the man looks when he smiles.

“Make it swift,” he begs. He tries not to cry, but he can feel wetness on his cheeks.

The king’s laughter pauses. “Swift?”

“My death, your majesty.”

The Wolf King falls still. “Derek,” he says.

“What?”

“I’d never hear my title fall past your lips. Only my name, until you can call me your mate.”

As if Stiles wasn’t confused before . “Stop playing with me!” he shrieks, tearing his hand from the king’s grasp. His breath is coming short - he knows he’s hyperventilating, panicking, but he’s been holding on for so long now that he fears it’s all spilling over.

He expects to be struck, he expects to be held down and taken, beaten and roughed up, left hurt and bleeding.

What he doesn’t expect is the warm embrace of strong arms, the scent of cinnamon washing over him.

He tries to fight, more out of instinct than anything, but the king’s grip is tight. Stiles attempts to push away, but The Wolf King winds his arms around Stiles’ middle, brings him to rest in circle of his arms, and holds one of his wrists tightly.

Something washes over Stiles then, and he gasps at the sensation of it. All at once his limbs feel heavy and his body relaxes.

“What are you doing?” he sobs into the king’s chest.

“Taking your pain and grief.” The king’s lips press against Stiles’ temple as he speaks.

“I don’t understand.”

And he doesn’t, not any of it; how could the man he’s tried to kill - twice now , no less - hold him with such gentle reverence? His well-being has been asked after, something that no one has paid mind to since before he was taken by the Argents. He’s been fed and clothed, and been called, of all things, sire .

“There seems to be much of my culture that you don’t understand, just as much as I don’t quite understand you and yours.”

Stiles cries until he feels he can no longer. He cries for his father, but doesn’t ask after what Derek might have done with the body. He’s too terrified of what he might be told. He remembers a story from many years ago, one of the old scullery maids from the kitchen that had taken a liking to him, tell of how those that follow The Wolf King eat the dead.

Slowly, eventually, he pushes away from the king, who allows Stiles a scant amount of space, keeping his wrist loosely gripped, still enveloped in a gentle embrace. He wants to ask the king what he’s intended to do, to be , but fear chokes him again.

Rubbing at his eyes with his free hand, Stiles dares to look up at the face of The Wolf King. He’s surprised to see how young the man seems; he hadn’t noticed it before. His face is expressive. There are little scars marring his skin here and there - nothing massive or disfiguring - and he wears the beard of a man who hasn’t shaved in several moons. His eyes, however, are what catch Stiles’ interest. He remembers the red glow they’d held in the forest, days before. But this close, Stiles can see that they are a gentle, murky green.

“I don’t-” he begins, then shudders. He swallows, his throat dry. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

The king looks pensive for a moment. He sighs. “You’re not my slave; no man should own another.”

Stiles hears the words the king speaks, but he can’t make sense of them. He can feel his heartbeat kick up, and, as if sensing his discomfort, the grip the king has on Stiles’ wrist tightens ever so slightly, and his anxiety is drawn away like water down a stream. Stiles turns his attention to the hand circled around his wrist, and his mouth falls open in shock; he sees black veins crawling up the king’s arm, and yet his own tattoos, the very ink carved into his flesh that allow him to channel his magics, gently swirl where their skin meets. The black slowly fades from the king’s skin, and Stiles turns his head to look up. “You know magic?” he breathes. He’s never known mages who can make their tattoos disappear.

The king raises an eyebrow. “Not magic the way that you use it. Some of my people are born with innate powers that allow us to help those around us: ease suffering, share pain.”

Stiles feels his brow crease. In all of the stories he’s ever heard of those from the kingdom of beasts, he’s never heard tell of such a healing power.

“What hurts one, hurts all,” the king goes on to explain.

Shaking his head, Stiles tries to swallow through the dryness of his mouth again. “I still don’t understand. I tried to kill you ; why am I not being punished?”

The Wolf King smiles at that, his face mirthful. “My people greatly admire bravery. Even through your panic, you proved that your strength outweighs your fear.” The king chuckles, and Stiles is stuck nearly dumb at the pair of slightly buck teeth that peek past the man’s lips. “And, well, it would only prove my unworthiness as your mate were you to kill me.”

Stiles has never heard that word before - mate - and doesn’t know what to make of it. Even though the king seems keen on explaining things to him, Stiles still feels he understands nothing. Everything he’s been taught about an entire people appears to be wrong.

“The words you speak mean nothing to me,” he breathes, frustrated.

The king’s face falls, and Stiles finds his chest grow tight at the look of sadness he wears. “It’s difficult to explain something that’s an integral part of my life, so much so that I’ve never stopped to think of it; how would you explain breathing ?” He sighs. “The Argents paint my people in a terrible light. There is much for us to learn of one another, you and I. However,” the king says as he lets Stiles go completely, moving to stand. “I can sense your hunger; you hardly touched what Isaac brought you earlier, and while I was able to get you to drink water and broth while you were unconscious, it was never much.” The king pulls a tray from the table, and sits it next to Stiles on the bed.

Stiles eyes the food suspiciously, but there’s no way he can deny how much his stomach aches from emptiness. Hunger is no stranger to Stiles, but, even given the strange things he’s choked down over the years, he can identify little laid out on the tray before him.

“Venison sausage,” the king says, as if he can read Stiles’ mind. “Wheat crackers, fruit, goat cheese with cranberries.”

Stiles takes a slice of apple, something he recognizes, while he eyes the rest of the food warily. Back at the Argent’s castle, he was lucky to get bread and water. Meat wasn’t something that slaves were fed; stale bread, steeped oats, during years when the harvest was bountiful, cheese with the mold scraped off, root vegetables or mushrooms he’d foraged when time allotted, and the occasional scrap of fruit that was only half-rotted.

“You chanced across my caravan as we made our way back to my kingdom.”

Stiles glances up at the king as he reaches for a piece of the sausage. It’s an explosion of flavor on Stiles’ tongue and he takes up another slice and quickly stuffs it into his mouth, lest the king change his mind about feeding him such rich foods. When he looks up, however, the king is smiling.

“Good, isn’t it?”

Stiles surprises himself when he nods, swallowing the mouthful of meat and reaching for another slice.

“Try the crackers,” the king urges, sitting down on the other side of the tray.

But Stiles freezes at the motion, hand halfway to his mouth. Hunger is a powerful force, even against his fear, but Stiles can’t help it. The man before him seems so unlike every story Stiles has ever heard of the man.

The king pushes the tray toward Stiles. “It’s fine. It’s all for you, and more if you’re hungry when you finish what’s here.”

But Stiles is no fool; he knows to protect what little he is given, especially when it comes to food, and he scoots backward so his rump is almost entirely off the other side of the bed, slowly pulling the tray with him, fully expecting the king to stop the motion.

Yet The Wolf King does no such thing. His smile stays planted firmly on his face, and he makes no move to take the food back, or move closer to where Stiles has repositioned himself.

Stiles watches him carefully as he eats, and quickly clears the tray of anything edible. The cheese is rich and creamy, the little red berries mixing well with the sharpness, and Stiles is surprised when he realizes what fresh, not-stale crackers actually taste like. And, while Stiles stuffs his face, the king does nothing but smile at him.

When Stiles has all but licked the plates clean, the king picks up the empty tray and places it back on the table. He walks to the end of the bed and flips open the chest that the other man - Scott, was it? - had rummaged through earlier. The king pulls a handful of clothing out, and Stiles is surprised when he places some on the end of the bed.

“Sleepwear for you,” the king says. Then he walks across the tent and slides the screen over, so that Stiles can see no trace of him. “Let me know when you’re decent,” he says from the other side of the wood panel.

Stiles is slow to move, speed impeded by the fact that he refuses to take his eyes off the screen. He’s scared, dressing in the man’s presence, but he’s not as scared as he had been earlier that night. The king had seen him half naked, ready to offer himself up like a piece of meat, and had done nothing but act like an actual gentleman.

Stiles can’t begin to guess what the king’s endgame is. He’s never met someone like this man; all of the Argent royals he’d met were cold, and took what they wanted when they wanted it; Stiles never had to play guessing games with them . And, for the longest time, Stiles thought that was their right, as royals.

It’s been years since someone treated Stiles like a person, and the last person he expected such behavior from was the very boogeyman he’d grown to fear.

The Wolf King doesn’t act much like a king, and less like any beast Stiles has ever come across.

But that doesn’t negate his fear. Stiles make quick work of ridding himself of the king’s jacket and donning the new one the king had given him. The knot of his pants are a bit tight, but he manages to divest himself of them before pulling on the new pair. Freshly dressed, Stiles clears his throat. “I’m - you can come out now. I’m dressed.”

The king pushes the screen back, dressed down in his own set of sleepwear. He carries his other clothing in his hands, and slowly nears the bed and gathers the jacket he’d wrapped Stiles in earlier, along with the discarded pants, and the shirt from earlier, still on the floor.

Stiles thinks it’s such a strange concept, changing your clothing just to sleep, but he doesn’t voice his opinion. He’s only ever had two pairs of socks to warm his feet, and the pair that the king set out for him are warmer and softer than anything Stiles has ever seen, let alone worn.

“Do they fit well? Are they comfortable?” the king inquires, placing his and Stiles’ discarded clothing into the chest.

Nodding, Stiles fidgets. “Thank you, sir,” he says.

“Derek.”

Stiles looks up again. The king’s eyes are soft when he meets them, and Stiles’ gut clenches. He doesn’t understand why.

“No titles between us, not ever.”

Stiles’ mind immediately thinks of the words the king had spoken earlier that same night: “I’d never hear my title fall past your lips. Only my name, until you can call me your mate.”

Swallowing thickly, Stiles tears his gaze from the king. He inhales shakily, can feel his fingers trembling. “Thank you... Derek.”

When the king - when Derek says nothing, Stiles quickly steals a glance, and he feels a shuddering wave roll down his spine as their eyes meet. The king’s eyes are round and - dare Stiles even think it - vulnerable . His cheeks - and the tips of his ears - are a rosy hue, and Stiles comes to the stark realization that he’s caused the king to blush , just by uttering the man’s name .

A knock startles them both, Derek letting the lid to the chest fall shut with a loud, reverberating sound. He clears his throat, then rounds toward the tent opening. “Come in.”

A tall, dark-skinned man enters, and bows his head at Derek and Stiles in turn. “Reporting in, sir. Camp’s secure. Are we to stay one more day, or will we be pressing on come morning?”

Derek’s quiet a moment, then crosses his arms and sighs. “I wish to return as quickly as we can, but there’s still a bit more for me to do before we head out.”

The man nods, his eyes sliding over to Stiles, who’s still sitting cross-legged atop the bedcovers. “Are you feeling better?”

Stiles grips the blanket like it might save him. He doesn’t know how to answer. He doesn’t exactly feel better. Instead of absolute terror, he’s still frightened, but also lost and confused, and he doesn’t think that fits within the realm of ‘better’ at all.

Derek sighs, but it seems fond, rather than exasperated. “He’s a quiet one.”

Stiles wants to balk at that. No one has ever called him quiet before. He’s just not talking , that’s all.

“Boyd,” Derek goes on, bending to pick something up off the ground.

Blood going cold in his veins when he realizes what the king has in his hand, Stiles swallows a whimper down.

“This looks deceptively like the knife you gifted Erica when she accepted your claim.”

The man, Boyd, raises an eyebrow. “Would you look at that, sir,” he says with a smirk. He glances at Stiles. “So it does.”

Derek’s only response is a soft chuckle. “See that she takes better care of it.”

Stiles can feel his palms start to sweat. The hair on the back of his neck stands up. Is someone going to be punished for placing a knife where Stiles could find it? “Don’t-” Stiles says, though his voice breaks as he does. Both Derek and Boyd turn to look at him. “Don’t punish someone for it. I would have found something else to come at the you with, if the knife hadn’t been there.”

A full smile breaks out on Boyd’s face. “She’ll be glad to hear it,” comes the reply. He nods again at Stiles, then to Derek as well, before he bids them goodnight and exits the tent.

Stiles doesn’t like feeling dumbstruck. “I don’t understand ,” he says, feeling shaken to his core.

“Erica was testing you.”

“One of your own put a knife in your tent, hoping I’d come at you with it?”

Derek nods. “She’s protective of her friends. If you hadn’t come at me, she’d worry that you’re not strong enough to stand up to me.”

Stiles presses the heels of his palms to his eyelids. He can feel tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. He hears Derek’s feet shuffle across the tent, then back toward him again, and when he removes his hands, the tent is almost completely bathed in darkness; Derek must have snuffed the lantern.

“My men are protective of me,” he says, as though it explains anything.

“So they put a knife in your tent, hoping I’d try to stab you with it?” Stiles’ voice falls out of his mouth, high and cracking. He feels on the verge of hysterics.

The bed dips as Derek sits on it. Stiles jumps when he feels the king’s hands gently take one of his own, holding it reverently, as if some precious gift. “The knife was a test for us both,” Derek tries to explain. “If I had not stopped you, it would have proven I couldn’t defend myself, making me a sorry excuse for a mate, let alone a king . If you hadn’t come at me with it, it would have shown my men that your fear rules you.”

Stiles sighs, sniffling back a sob. “Your culture is so... bizarre.”

Derek brings Stiles’ hand up toward his face, and Stiles’ breath catches when he feel Derek press the gentlest of kisses to the bend of his knuckles. “We come from different worlds, that’s all. I’m sure some of your customs might seem strange to me.”

And, for the oddest of reasons, that’s what makes Stiles’ heart unclench, just the smallest bit. “How are any of you alive, if you go around trying to stab one another?”

He feels Derek’s laugh against his skin. “Most trials aren’t so... deadly,” he muses, and Stiles can actually feel the smile on the king’s lips. “But Erica, as I said, is protective of her friends. She wanted to make sure.”

Make sure of what? Stiles wants to scream, but he keeps his mouth closed.

Derek releases his fingers, and Stiles feels the king’s weight lift off the bed. The covers he sits on are tugged up, and it takes Stiles a moment to realize that Derek is lifting the covers for him . He crawls into bed, lies upon the softest mattress he’s ever felt, flabbergasted that he’s getting tucked in by royalty.

He fully expects Derek to crawl under the covers next to him, but instead he hears the king shuffle for a moment, then the telltale rustle of blankets that Stiles is surprised aren’t the ones covering him.

“Your - Derek?” he quickly corrects.

He thinks he hears a startled breath from Derek, as if he hadn’t been expecting the call of his name. If his reaction when Stiles had said it earlier is any indication, Stiles thinks it must be true.

“Yes, Stiles?”

“Are you... on the floor?”

He hears Derek huff a laugh. “Until you allow me to claim you, I won’t share your bed, but I will share your space, and protect you as you dream.”

Stiles’ face feels hot. He doesn’t reply to the king, instead pulling the covers up and over his head. He’s warm, his belly still full, and he’s not dead, but it still takes him quite some time before he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 1, Page 14

It’s very important for wolves to feel that they’ve provided for their mates. Wolf-mates will often cook and prepare food for their mates before they themselves have consumed anything. As is custom, if a pair of mates have not yet consummated their bond by the Feast of the Solstice, it is customary for a wolf-mate to give their mates the very food off their plate, refusing to eat until their mates are sated.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Index, Page 247

Mating Bite: the bite placed at the apex of the neck and shoulder on a pair of mates, customarily given during the first consummation of their bond; a claim. For Alpha mates, they will give their claiming bite as they knot their mate for the first time. For mates that are human, a claiming bite might never be given, but that is not because they do not love their mates; it’s simply a difference in biology. It’s uncommon for a human to give a claiming bite, but not unheard of.

-----

Stiles wakes to the delicious smell of hotcakes. His eyes blink open, and the sounds around him slowly narrow into focus.

With a jolt, he sits upright, sending the pile of furs atop him tumbling to gather in his lap. The sounds around him, now sharp, are the gentle din of a large camp as it wakes for the day. He can clearly hear the crackle of fires, can smell armor polish, and, vaguely, he thinks he hears the sounds of horses in the distance.

“You’re awake,” comes a deep voice, and Stiles turns and catches the gaze of the king, sitting at his table, papers in one hand, half-eaten apple in the other.

Stiles’ grip on the blankets tightens. Fear comes rushing over him all at once as the events from the previous day wash over him.

The king nods his head toward the corner of Stiles’ bed, and the young man turns to see the same tray from last night. This time it’s laden with a plate of palm-sized hotcakes, slices of apple and several other slices of fruit Stiles doesn’t recognize, a small saucer of something he can’t discern - some type of clotted cream of sorts, perhaps - along with a pot of something brown and thick.

At Stiles’ hesitation, the king clears his throat. “Just like the meal last night, that is all for you as well.”

Not needing to be told again, Stiles practically dives at the tray, plants it atop his crossed legs, and immediately starts to fill his mouth. The hotcakes are sweet and fluffy, a treat he’s only ever tasted one other time in his life, when he was younger and still had both parents. They are, surprisingly, still warm, and Stiles thinks it’s just about the best thing he’s ever tasted.

He hears a soft chuckle from across the room, and he turns to see Derek smiling softly, fondly at him. “Dip the fruit slices in the cheese.”

Stiles does as he’s told, picking up a slice of apple and dipping it in the white spread. The flavor explodes on his tongue; how could that be cheese? Stiles has never tasted cheese so sweet! He picks up another slice of fruit, the texture softer than the flesh of apples, this one yellow in color, and dips it in the cheese as well, stuffing half a hotcake in his mouth afterward.

He eyes the pot of thick, brown liquid for a moment.

“Syrup,” Derek provides, still intently watching Stiles.

Stiles doesn’t know what syrup is, so he sticks his finger in the pot, staring at the liquid suspiciously as it drips slowly off his finger. He brings it up to his lips, pressing the tip of his finger into his mouth.

It’s the sweetest, most delicious thing Stiles has tasted. He can’t help the delighted little moan that escapes him, but he does hear the king cough. When he turns to look upon the man, Derek wears a rosy blush high on his cheeks. The king quickly busies himself with his paperwork, cramming a bite of apple into his mouth.

When Stiles is sated, his dishes practically licked clean for the second time, Derek stacks his papers into a neat little pile and makes his way toward the chest at the bottom of the bed. Stiles watches him carefully, curious, though still wary of the man.

“I have gifts for you,” he hears Derek softly say as if, somehow, he’s bashful over the ordeal.

Stiles furrows his brow. “Gifts?” he asks, skeptical.

“Yes,” Derek chuckles.

“Why?”

And that makes Derek pause, his gaze slowly lifting to meet Stiles’ eyes. His lips are still curled in the slightest of a smile, but it’s faltering. “Because you’re my mate,” he says, as though the words mean anything at all to Stiles.

Stiles swallows thickly.

Derek goes back to rummaging through the chest. He procures a bundle of cloth, as well as a thin, wooden box. He ushers Stiles to stand, who does so with trepidation. The king holds up a shirt with a strange sheen to it. When Stiles merely raises an eyebrow at it, Derek smiles. “Silk weave, from the southernmost lands.”

Stiles carefully, with deliberate slowness, lifts a hand toward the garment, so that if he isn't meant to touch it, Derek has ample time to pull it away. The king doesn't; instead, he moves closer, allowing Stiles to run his fingers across the cloth. It’s softer than any fabric Stiles has ever come across, even when he worked in the Argent’s laundry.

“It's beautiful,” Stiles breathes, and he means it. The fabric dances across his fingertips, soft as a whisper, and nearly as light. It's wondrous not only in texture but in color as well; a deep, regal red.

“Would you like to wear it?”

Stiles feels his eyes grow large. “What?”

“It's yours. Would you like to wear it?”

Pulling his hand back, Stiles bites his lips. “I... I couldn't possibly... “ His heart rises to the back of his throat, and he finds he can't swallow past it. The shirt is likely worth more than every penny Stiles has saved up in his entire life, and the king offers it to him like it's some trinket.

He watches as Derek’s face grows concerned. “Is there something wrong? Do you not like the color, or-”

“Someone like me couldn’t possibly-”

Someone like you? ” the king asks, incredulously.

“A runaway slave and a mage.”

“You’re my mate!”

Stiles takes a step backward, frightened by the rise in the king’s voice. Instinctively, he raises his arms partway in front of him, clenching his eyes tight, fearful that an errant blow from the king will be next.

But the strike doesn’t come, and when Stiles chances a look at the king, the man’s mouth is slack and the look upon his face makes Stiles’ heart clench.

“I - I’m sorry,” Derek stutters, and Stiles stands in abject shock. What kind of king apologizes to someone of such low stature?

Derek runs a hand through his hair, then down his face. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “Forgive me. This is as new to you as it is to me. It was wrong of me to raise my voice. All you ever have to do is tell me no; you don’t need to give me reasons or excuses.”

Stiles wonders, vaguely, if he really did die in the forest, and that this entire ordeal with The Wolf King has merely been a taste of some kind of strange afterlife. He hasn’t prayed to any deity since he was taken into slavery, but, he figures, after a decade of it, perhaps a little reprise is due to him. His breakfast churns in his stomach, and he throws such thought out the window. He takes a deep breath. “Did you truly intend to give that to me?” he asks quietly.

Derek looks up at him, his eyes round. The king looks the way Stiles feels: wary and curious. He nods.

“To keep?”

Again, Derek nods.

Achingly slowly, Stiles takes a step forward, reaches out a hand, and takes the bundle of cloth from the king’s loose grip.

“Should I-”

Stiles feels he knows what the king is about to ask - whether or not he’d like a little privacy. But Derek had seen him shirtless the night before; what did Stiles care anymore? It wasn't as though he was completely undressing.

He pulls his shirt up from his waist and over his head, but pauses when he hears Derek curse. Stiles’ gaze follows that of the king’s, coming to rest on his torso.

It’s not that Stiles feels self-conscious. He’s thin and wiry - there is no such thing as a fat slave in the Argent hold - and his skin is pale from being kept on duty in the laundry and wine cellars for the past several years, seeing little of the sun. What’s more, he’s aware of the litany of scars that decorate his body, most of which are the proof of how many times his smart mouth got him into trouble.

When he looks back up at Derek, the king’s eyes blaze a deep red. “I’d been so startled by your near nakedness last night that I hadn’t taken notice of...” he grits his teeth. “The Argents are monsters,” he says through clenched teeth.

And that’s when a piece of the armor Stiles has spent years building up around his heart cracks. He’s heard tell of a hundred stories of the ferocity of The Wolf King and the beasts that follow him, but the man that stands in front of Stiles has fed him, clothed him, refused to use his body for pleasure, and now calls the Argents monsters, all for the marks on Stiles’ skin.

How much else of what the Argents pressed into his head are lies?

Stiles can’t bear the stare of the king for much longer, so he pulls the shirt over his head and down his body, threading his arms through the sleeves.

Though Derek still holds a silent anger about him, his shoulders relax as he takes a step back and reaches for the thin wooden box on the bed. He flicks open the clasp, swings open the lid, and Stiles nearly chokes on his tongue. Set atop a bed of velvet sits a polished silver circlet, inlaid with a swirling, tri-tipped spiral symbol carved into a gem that matches the red of the shirt Stiles is wearing.

“This is... this is meant for you as well, but you don’t have to wear it. My wolves will know your scent, and my men will take notice of their behavior.”

The blood that rushes through his ears is near deafening. The Wolf King wants Stiles to wear a crown? He swallows past the tightness of his suddenly bone-dry mouth.

Instead of denying the king, however, Stiles nods.

Derek’s eyes light up. He plucks the circlet from its resting place amidst the velvet, placing the box back onto the bed, before he gently reaches up and sets it atop Stiles’ head. The brilliant gem rests in the middle of his forehead, gently pressing against his skin.

The entire time, Stiles is convinced he can feel his heartbeat echo through every inch of his body, reverberating through the inside of him like waves in a pond.

And, oh, Stiles laments. Derek’s smiling face is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen .

“You’re beautiful.”

For a moment, Stiles thinks that he was the one to speak such words. It isn’t until the king repeats himself, the words falling out of his mouth hardly a whisper, but filled with such awe, that Stiles comes to realize his mouth is, and has remained, clamped shut. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to respond to that comment - not that he has the cognitive ability to do so in the first place - as a sharp knock comes from outside the tent. “Sir?” a voice calls.

Derek steals a lingering glance at Stiles before he turns. “Come in,” he instructs.

The young man from the day before - Scott , Stiles recalls - enters the tent. He bows his head to the king, then turns and smiles at Stiles. “Looks good,” he says.

Stiles doesn’t know how to react to that , so he doesn’t.

Scott’s unphased, however. “You ready?”

Stiles’ eyes snap to Derek, who looks calm and at ease. “I’ve got a bit more work to do here before we can leave, so I figured you’d like to stretch your legs. You’re free to go wherever you’d like; Scott is to be your guide.”

“Should I take him to meet Camaro?” Scott grins at Derek.

Derek laughs. “If he takes a liking to my mate, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.”

Thoroughly confused, but glad to be able to leave the tent and feel the sun on his skin again, Stiles follows Scott outside.

As they walk, Stiles is able to take in a great deal more than he did the previous night. What he thought looked like an army seems to be more of a sprawling caravan. Yes, there are many men dressed in various kinds of armor, but there are also many people milling about in normal clothing Stiles had seen worn by the common folk the few times he’d been allowed into the town next to Argent castle. What’s more, there are children playing amongst the wagon wheels, feeding handfuls of grain to goats and horses alike.

“What is all this?” Stiles asks in awe.

“Twice a year, we travel from Derek’s kingdom in the mountains toward the forests ruled by Queen Melissa. We trade our goods, and solidify the peace between our realms.”

“I’ve heard of her and her kingdom, but I didn’t know she was on good terms with wolves.

Scott smiles over his shoulder at him. “Her son’s a wolf, you know,” he says with a wink.

Stiles scrunches his face. “I thought her son was sickly and ill.”

“I was,” comes Scott’s reply. “But Derek offered me the bite, and human illnesses don’t affect wolves. The bite took, I was cured, and here I am, five years later.”

Stiles nearly trips on his feet. He stumbles to a halt. “You’re a prince ?” he gasps.

Scott stops and turns back, a dopey grin on his face. He shrugs. “I mean, I was. While I’m in Derek’s company I don’t go by my title or anything like that. No special treatment. I’m actually in training to be a healer, so I can help people when I decide to go back to my kingdom for good. Cora, Derek’s little sister, has been staying with my mom for the past few years, helping train up the army. You never know, with the Argents...”

It’s as if all of the blood in Stiles’ body has gone cold. His limbs feel heavy, weighty, like he’s rooted in place. “You called me sire yesterday,” Stiles mumbles, flummoxed.

Scott shrugs. “You’re the king’s mate.” He motions for Stiles to keep following.

For the rest of their walk, Stiles remains silent. If it bothers Scott, however, the man doesn’t let it show, guiding Stiles resolutely through the throngs of people that wave and smile at them, as if they somehow know Stiles. Derek had said something about the wolves being able to smell him, which he thinks might be the case for several people who look up as they pass, directly at Stiles.

Much to Stiles’ surprise, Camaro is not a person but a towering, sleek, regal black stallion. Also to Stiles’ surprise, the hulking beast marches right up to Stiles and presses his nose directly against Stiles’ chest.

He hears Scott laugh. “It took a year before Camaro would let me come near him. Look at him warm right up to you!”

Stiles gently pats the horse, scratching behind one of his ears. He was only permitted to work in the stables for a short time back at Argent castle, but he’d enjoyed spending time with the animals.

“Would you look at that,” comes another familiar voice. Stiles looks up to see Boyd walking toward them. There’s a tall, beautiful blonde woman in a full suit of leather armor walking next to him, and Stiles’ hackles rise at the newcomer.

The woman cocks an eyebrow. “Derek’s horse is a surprisingly good judge of character.”

Stiles turns back to Camaro, who nuzzles against him affectionately. For such a large beast, the horse is surprisingly gentle. Stiles reaches up with his other hand and scratches behind both of Camaro’s ears.

When Stiles looks up again, the woman is at his elbow, reaching out to stroke Camaro’s cheek. Stiles takes a moment to look her over, and that’s when he notices the knife at her belt. “It was you ,” he breathes.

She turns her eyes on him, winks and grins at him. “Erica.”

Stiles takes a step backward. “You put a knife in your king’s tent, hoping I’d use it on him .”

Erica shrugs. “Needed to know if you were good enough.”

From his other side, he sees Scott rolls his eyes. “Erica, not everyone is as crazy as you are, you know.”

She laughs. “No, but don’t tell me you couldn’t smell the fear on him yesterday. I needed to know.”

From next to Scott, Boyd rolls his eyes. “I apologize for my mate,” he sighs. “She’s overly protective of our king.”

So she put a knife in his tent, hoping I’d stab him; how protective could she be?  Stiles wants to scream. To busy his hands, he goes back to petting the horse.

“I was like you,” Erica says, and that catches Stiles’ attention. He give her a curious, albeit cautious, glance. “I spent the first ten years of my life as a slave.”

And, oh, Stiles wasn’t expecting that.

“Derek not only freed me, but he gave me the bite. I used to suffer seizures, fits, but wolves don’t get sick the same way humans do, and the bite cleared me up. So, yes, I’m a little overprotective of my king, because he gave me my freedom in every way.”

Stiles turns to look at Boyd, expectantly. Boyd smiles at him. “I was born a wolf, but my sister wasn’t. When she presented as a mage, Derek invited her to learn magic in the castle. As a way to repay him, I joined his guard.”

Brow furrowing, Stiles turns his attention back to the horse. He doesn’t understand these people, the lot of them. Derek had said that wolves don’t keep slaves, but what else would a mage live at a castle for, if not to serve the lord by use of their powers? And Boyd would voluntarily join up with the very man who uses his sister’s powers? He swallows, uncomfortable.

“You’re overwhelming him,” Stiles hears from behind him, and turns to see the curly-haired young man from before slow in his approach. Isaac, Stiles recalls. Isaac motions for Stiles to follow him away from the others.

Stiles is glad for it. It’s not that he dislikes the others, it’s simply that he’s still so lost and confused, he doesn’t know what to make of them. Scott and Boyd seem nice enough, but Stiles can’t make heads or tails of Erica.

Isaac brings them to the edge of camp, then away from it, and Stiles revels in the quiet that slowly washes over them. “Sorry about them,” Isaac apologizes, looking over his shoulder at Stiles. “They’re just excited. Many of us had given up hope that our king would find a mate. I suppose they’re just trying to make up for lost time.”

Stiles crosses his arms across his chest, sighing. Isaac seems nice, something that Stiles isn’t used to. “None of this makes sense,” he whispers.

Isaac regards him curiously. “What do you mean?”

And it’s that simple question that breaks him. “Everything!” Stiles practically screams. He can already feel the hot prickle of tears in the corners of his eyes. “I’m a mage slave that your king treats like some kind of lost treasure, despite what he’s done! He clothes me, feeds me, pretends that all is well, and I can’t - I can’t -”

Stiles collapses to his hands and knees, heaves his breakfast up. He’s shaking and crying through the entire ordeal, and it’s all made worse by Isaac’s gentle hand on the small of his back, the kind tone he takes as he talks to Stiles, even if Stiles can’t discern his words.

It’s a long, long while before his weeping stops. Stiles sits upon the sun-warmed earth, his forehead resting on his knees. Isaac had taken his circlet off his forehead some time ago.

“I was born in a kingdom to the south, near the sea.”

Stiles tilts his head, letting Isaac know he’s listening though his eyes are still closed.

“My father was... not a kind man. After my mother died, he would find any excuse to beat me. And, one night, he beat me until he thought I was dead. Scared of what the town would do to him, he loaded my body into a cart, tied his horse to it, and led it for miles before dumping me in the middle of of the woods. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t move, and I laid like that for two days, certain I was going to starve to death.”

Stiles heart clenches. He knows himself to be a lucky man, to have had such a kind father.

“Derek was the one that found me. I don’t even recall what he was doing in the woods that day, so far away from his kingdom. But when I opened my eyes for what I thought would be the last time, there he was, in all his armor, and I thought, for just a moment, he might be an angel come to steal me away. He took up my wrist, asked me if I wanted to live, and, when I whispered ‘yes,’ he bit me.”

Stiles finds himself crying again.

“It’s been nearly a decade, and I’ve never forgotten what he’s done for me. Scott, Boyd, Erica, even me - we all have different reasons for our loyalty to Derek. But none of us know what you’ve gone through at the hands of the Argents. We know you’re distrustful of Derek, but know this: he’s a good man.”

Then why did he kill my father?  Stiles nearly sobs. But he doesn’t know what Isaac will say to that, is too scared to find out. He furiously wipes his eyes with his hands, moving to stand. Isaac catches his elbow, and when Stiles turns to face him, he carefully places the circlet atop Stiles’ head once more.

They walk back in silence, Stiles’ gaze low. Isaac holds the flap of the tent open for him, and Stiles lets himself be ushered back inside.

As soon as he’s inside the tent, a looming figure steps up next to him. “What happened?” he hears the king demand, and jumps from the low, angry tone of his voice. “I could hear-”

“He’s overwhelmed,” Isaac explains, and Stiles finds the young man’s hand on his shoulder strangely placating.

He hiccups and shudders, remnants of his earlier sobbing echoing through him.

Derek sighs. “I knew he’d need some adjustment time, but I - I can’t -”

Isaac nods. “I know. We know. And, eventually, he’ll know. Keep your patience with him.”

Stiles pushes past them, sick of hearing the two men talk of him as if he isn’t in the room. His head still hung low, he shuffles his way to the bed and falls upon it with little grace, not even bothering to toe off his shoes when he curls into a ball atop the covers. He pulls the circlet from his brow and is careful to place it behind at the foot of the bed.

He’s tired. Crying always makes him tired; it’s why he hasn’t cried in years. Crying never helps; it makes him feel worse, and, if he cries hard enough like today, it outright makes him vomit. He closes his eyes tightly, and shuts out Derek and Isaac’s voices by grabbing one of the pillows and stuffing it over his head.

He doesn’t mean to fall asleep, but the bone-deep weariness that’s seeped through him has become too much, so he closes his eyes and tries to let himself relax.

It’s sunset when he wakes, the light in the tent a myriad of gentle oranges and yellows. There’s a warm hand on his shoulder, and Stiles opens his eyes and turns his head up to see Derek standing above him. “I thought you might like a bath,” he explains.

Stiles rubs at his eyes and sits up. His skin feels sticky, though, and a thorough washing does sound nice. He stands and is ready to be led outside, though he can’t recall if there is a stream nearby, but is surprised when Derek leads him to the other side of the tent. He remembers seeing the tub there earlier, but it’s full of water and steaming, and Stiles just blinks in confusion.

“I’ve never had a warm bath before,” he confesses, then instantly shuts his mouth so fast his teeth click.

Derek chuckles softly from beside him. “Consider it the first of many, then.” He watches out of the corner of his eye as Derek steps away, then pulls the folding wall out, giving Stiles privacy.

He stands there, flooded with trepidation. He’d offered himself to Derek the night before, and the king hadn’t taken advantage in any way, but he still can’t chase away the lingering fear of being naked and vulnerable in the company of The Wolf King. It had been strange enough to be shirtless in the king's presence earlier, mostly because of how Derek had reacted to the scars on Stiles’ skin.

And as if he can sense Stiles’ fear - which part of Stiles thinks the man very well can - Derek starts to hum. It seems such an innocuous action, but Stiles discerns it for what it really is: Derek is letting Stiles know where he is in the tent at all times.

Stiles disrobes quietly, listening to the gentle, unfamiliar songs Derek hums. He dips his fingers into the tub first, letting out a quiet gasp at how delightfully warm the water is, how good it feels on his skin. He is slow to climb in; warm water is a foreign luxury to him. When he’s finally seated in the tub, the water comes up to almost cover his shoulders. He reaches up a hand, plugs his nose, and plunges completely under the water. He surfaces with a gasp and a breathy laugh, unable to contain it. He’ll never be able to bathe in a cold stream without thinking of this moment again.

“There are a few different kinds of soaps on the table next to you,” he hears Derek call out to him. “The pink is for your hair, the white for your body. There’s a washcloth there for you, as well.” Derek goes back to humming.

Stiles picks up the pink bottle from the stand, uncorks it, and brings it to his nose. It smells faintly sweet, but not overbearingly so, a little like flowers. He pours a portion of the liquid into his hand, then brings it to lather in his hands before he starts scrubbing his hair. The soap foams up well, and Stiles decides he likes it. It wasn’t often that the slaves were given soap to use - a small cake for each of them, twice a year, three times if the summers were unbearably hot - but he’s never had a soap that was specially made for hair. It’s unlike the soap he’s used to as well, silken in texture and kind on his skin, unlike the harsh-smelling cakes he was granted while he lived in the castle.

The other soap smells like cinnamon, a scent that he recalls catching here and there, and Stiles listens to make sure he can hear where Derek is before he stands in the tub, wets the washcloth, and starts to scrub his body. When he’s finished, he sits back down in the tub and sighs. His body, so tense from fear, finally starts to unknot.

The water is starting to cool when he hears Derek clear his throat. “I’m bringing you a towel, and a change of clothes. I’m going to hang on them over the top of the screen, alright?”

Stiles bites at his lips for a moment. “Okay,” he finally whispers.

A moment later, he sees a fluffy towel be propped over the top of the screen, and after that several articles of folded clothing.

Derek goes back to humming, and Stiles waits until he hears the man walk a little away from the screen before he stands. The rug under the tub keeps his feet clean as he reaches for the towel. It’s fluffier than Stiles knew fabric could be, and he wipes the moisture from his body feeling like he’s being pat down by a cloud.

When he’s finally dry, he dresses, then pushes back the screen.

Derek’s leaning against the table with something in each hand; the circlet Stiles was wearing earlier, and a small, drawstring bag. The king approaches Stiles slowly, holding the circlet out. Dutifully, Stiles lowers his head and lets the king place it where he wants it. When it’s secure, Stiles looks up. Derek is holding out one hand, expectantly, and Stiles raises his left hand, allows his fingers to slip into the king’s grasp. Derek gently pulls him to the bed, has him sit, and Stiles can’t help the uptick in his heartbeat, wondering what the king has in store for him.

Derek lets go of Stiles’ hand, sits next to him on the bed, then empties the content of the bag on to the covers next to them; a small pair of scissors, a pair of tweezers, and a corked bottle of viscous liquid. The king reaches out his hand again, gently cradling Stiles’ left hand in both of his, and, of all things, sets to work.

Stiles sits in awed silence as Derek uses the scissors to cut his nails, carefully scrapes the dirt from under them with the tweezers, then rubs sweet-smelling lotion into his work-worn hands.

When the king begins to work on Stiles’ right hand, he begins to hum again, soft songs that Stiles doesn't recognize...

Until the king starts humming a tune Stiles knows well, because his father had taught it to him before they’d been separated.

Stiles tears his hands free from the king’s grip, stands up and puts a few steps of space between them. He runs his hands through his hair, hot tears spilling down his face. Derek’s song had reminded Stiles of what he’s lost, and he can feel himself spiraling into the depths of panic and hysteria. “Why are you doing this to me?”

Derek looks taken aback. “Taking care of you?” he asks, incredulous.

“Pretending like everything is fine!” Stiles screams, taking the circlet off his head and gripping it tightly. “Feeding me, clothing me, treating me like I’m not a mage , as if it’s somehow going to make up for what you’ve done!”

Derek stands, his face twisted in confusion. “What I’ve done? Stiles, what have I done?”

Fury burns through Stiles’ veins like molten metal. “You killed my father!”

The camp around them falls silent.

When Stiles blinks the tears out of his eyes, he looks at Derek and finds himself astounded at just how shocked Derek looks. The king takes a deep breath, then another, and another, before he stands up straight and begins toward Stiles.

“Come with me,” he whispers, and Stiles’ mouth goes dry with how wrecked and broken the king’s voice sounds.

When Stiles fails to fall in step next to the king, Derek takes hold of his wrists and tugs him along.

Everything is numb again. If the camp and those in it begin to make noise again, Stiles can’t hear it past the ringing of his own ears. He’d vomit again, if there was anything at all in his stomach.

He’s jarred from his thoughts when Derek pulls him to an abrupt stop outside a rather large wagon. Scott stands on front of the both of them, looking worried. “What’s-”

“What did you tell him?” Derek roars , and Stiles’ breath hitches as he steals a peek at the fury of The Wolf King.

Scott freezes. “I didn’t tell him anything,” he says, shaking his head. “I told him about my heritage, how I came to fight at your side. Boyd told him about his mage of a sister, and Erica teased him a bit, but we didn’t-”

Scott’s voice fades out of focus when Stiles sees the glint of a knife handle that’s sheathed on Derek’s belt. He looks up at the king, glances to Scott, then, seeing that they are both utterly distracted, rips the knife free and steps backward, holding it out in front of him with both hands.

Derek instantly rounds on him, eyes flickering between the blade and Stiles’ face. He sees Derek’s lips mouth his name, but the ringing in his ears is too great for him to hear the king’s voice.

Stiles isn’t stupid; he knows that Derek is too strong, too fast for Stiles to hurt.

But what does he care? His father is gone, and with it his hope.

So Stiles turns the blade around and brings it to his throat.

“Stiles, no!” Derek shouts.

When Stiles looks up, he sees genuine fright written clearly across the king’s stark-white face. Stiles wants to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, but he’s far too drained for such an action.

He presses the blade against his skin.

Derek is fast, but Stiles knows he can plunge the knife into his neck before the man can stop him. There are others around them - various people from around the camp, onlookers, curious eyes fixated on the situation - but they aren’t any closer than Derek is.

Everyone around them jumps when the door to the wagon bursts open. “What in twelve moons is going on here?” a man’s voice asks.

Out of the corner of his vision, Stiles sees a dark-skinned man that stands in the wagon doorway. He watches a myriad of emotions flicker across his face. “Derek, is he-”

“Deaton, move out of the way. Let him see.”

The man - Deaton - steps down the wagon stairs and walks to the side.

And there, sitting in the wagon, is Stiles’ father, laid out on a bed, his leg bandaged.

John’s eyes grow wide when he sees the knife his son has to his own throat. “Mieczyslaw,” he calls out, shifting on the bed. “Mieczyslaw, what are you-”

Derek’s arms are around him, pulling the knife from his grip. But Stiles doesn’t care, can’t care because his father is alive . He twists in Derek’s grasp, his long arms flailing, and he manages to land an elbow square in Derek’s face. He hears crunching, but pays it no heed since suddenly Derek’s arms are gone from around him.

Stiles wastes no time, lunging away and racing up the wagon steps as fast as his shaking legs can carry him. He throws himself into the arms of his father, wretched sobs wracking their way out of his body as he trembles in the embrace of the man he’d thought he’d lost.

Chapter Text

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 1, Page 4

While wolves will know their mate the first time they meet, if their mate is a human, things can oftentimes become difficult. The mate-pull is the feeling both mates, regardless of race or gender, feel; it’s a bond that draws them toward one another, not unlike the way the full moon calls to all wolves. Humans, however, don’t feel the bond as strongly at first as wolves. As their relationship grows, the bond becomes more and more apparent to the human, until it’s equal to that which the wolf feels. In the beginning, however, this can cause issues if the human-mate is unaccustomed to wolves and their practices, or magic in general; even if they feel the pull early on, it’s not nearly as almost-overpowering it is for wolves. Wolves know they’ve found their perfect compliment, their other half; to a human-mate who can’t feel the bond yet, this can often seem overwhelming.

-----

It’s dark out. The rest of the camp has been quiet for some time now, and Stiles has been standing outside of Derek’s tent for a while, wringing his hands, wiping his sore eyes with the pads of his fingers.

But his father thinks talking to Derek is a good idea, now that he and Stiles have cleared the air about what really happened after he’d set the forest on fire. But to Stiles, things are... just as muddled, honestly.

Before he can lose his resolve, he reaches out his hand and knocks on the post, letting Derek know he’s outside. Though, to be fair, he suspects the king has been able to hear him before he arrived.

“Come in.”

Stiles takes one last deep breath before he enters the tent.

Derek sits on the other side of the table, cleaning up what little is left of his earlier work. He looks up at Stiles and pauses, and Stiles’ heart clenches with just how devastated the king looks.

“We should talk,” he says, surprised at how steady his voice sounds, considering how much his hands are shaking.

Derek nods, stands up, and gestures to the bed.

They both sit down, and Stiles thinks it’s the single most awkward moment of his life.

“I think I owe you an apology. Well, I actually think I owe you a series of apologies, all things considered.”

Derek shakes his head. “No,” he insists firmly. “I shouldn’t have - I thought you knew, and I-”

They each catch the eye of the other and sigh.

“There’s a lot I still don’t understand, and I’m...”

“Afraid?”

Stiles bites his bottom lip. “Apprehensive?” He shrugs. “This is... this is hard for me. I spent the last decade of my life being fed horror stories by the Argents about you.”

Derek nods, solemnly. “I didn’t intend to keep anything from you in regards to your father.”

“I believe you,” Stiles says quietly.

Derek stills, as though he hadn’t expected Stiles to say such a thing.

“My dad told me that after I passed out in the woods, you carried me back to camp and made sure I was unhurt. He said that you told him you and your men hadn’t meant to scare us so terribly, but since we were wearing Argent robes, it’s not hard to guess why you thought we were spies. I understand that you were just trying to protect yourself. He also said the two of you talked, that he explained how we weren’t spies, and that you could tell that he was telling the truth, that you had your best healer see to his leg and that you’ve been visiting him every day.”

Derek nods. “I thought the reason why you didn’t ask to see your father was because you were afraid to ask me . That’s why I sent you with Scott earlier today; he was supposed to take you to see him. He and Isaac explained what happened between you and the others. Isaac hadn’t known Scott was to take you to your father.”

Stiles nods in understanding. He wets his lips with his tongue. “I’m not used to this, to any of this. I’m not used to speaking to royalty by anything other than their titles, not used to talking to them at all. I’m not used to someone giving me something without wanting something in return. I’m not used to not being taken advantage of.” He takes a deep breath, trying to steady his shaking nerves. “I thought you were going to kill us in the forest that day. That’s why I set everything on fire. I still don’t understand how I didn’t die, how you didn’t die.”

Derek’s brow furrows in confusion. “You’re my mate. Your magics can’t hurt me.”

Running a hand through his hair, Stiles makes a frustrated sound. “I don’t understand that word.”

“Mate?”

Stiles nods, stealing a glance at Derek.

The king looks at his hands in his lap. “It’s... strange to try to explain something to someone you spent the entirety of your life being aware of.”

Try.” Stiles wants answers. No more deflections. If Derek says his magic can’t hurt him because of this mate business, he needs to know what it it is.

“Were your parents in love?”

The question knocks Stiles off balance a little. After a moment, he nods. “I was young when my mother died, but I remember she and my father being happy, yes.”

“It’s a little like that, I suppose.”

Stiles snorts. “Wait, are we married or something?”

Derek sighs, his shoulders sagging. “It’s not... to a wolf, a mate is someone who compliments them, a perfect match in every way. A wolf just knows.

“So what? Your wolf just decided that we’re mates?” Stiles asks indignantly. That was not the answer he was looking for.

“There is no separation of beast or man in me; I am one in the same. However, when I walk as a man, I am more ruled by logic and reason. Whereas when I walk as a wolf, I am guided by my instincts. When a wolf meets their mate, it’s like... a key slipping into place. I didn’t know there was something missing until I met you. Every part of me just knew.”

Stiles rubs his face with the heels of his palms. “I still don’t understand. What does that mean?”

Surprised at how tender he is, Stiles allows Derek to take one of his hands in both of his. Slowly, the king brings the back of Stiles’ hand to his mouth, and Stiles feel his lips part in a surprised gasp when Derek pressed a sweet kiss to his skin. “It means that I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you happy.”

Stiles’ tattoos slither across his skin, curling around the place where the king had kissed him. It only shakes Stiles further. “That doesn’t explain anything!” he cries. “I’m not your slave - you claim wolves don’t keep slaves - but what else could I be to you? I’m a mage, Derek!”

“And in my kingdom, mages are treasured and cared for.”

“That still doesn’t explain how my magic couldn’t hurt you! I don’t even understand why I’m still alive; I know when I use too much magic, and the spell I cast should have killed me.”

“For the same reason that, when we touch, your tattoos - your magic - seeks me out. Your magic recognizes our bond. When you set the woods on fire, it might have been your mind driving your magic to cast the spell, but your magic reached out to me, and I was able to pull you from the brink of death. Even if our bond isn’t complete yet, our magic recognized the potential, and acted accordingly. To be honest, it caught both Deaton and I off guard; to bring a bonded back from exhaustion isn’t entirely unheard of, but for two who only have only just met, with an uncemented bond? Deaton’s only ever read stories of it happening.”

Stiles looks away sharply. “So, what? My magic can’t hurt you because of whatever is between us?”

He sees Derek nod from the corner of his vision. “A mage’s magics are incapable of hurting whom they are bonded to - mated to - just as a wolf will never, accidentally or otherwise, bring harm to their mate.”

“You asked if my parents were in love. Is that what mates are?” Stiles can’t help stealing a glance at Derek, who smiles softly.

“My culture is different from yours in this aspect, I suppose. I know many humans, but they all seem to think along the same means as the wolves I know, having grown up hearing the same stories. Do you believe in soul mates?”

Stiles blinks. “I don’t... I don’t know. It’s not something I really thought about, after I was taken from my father, and not with how the Argents... I never thought I’d escape, to be honest.”

“I was raised on stories of my culture, and am inclined to believe them. According to legends, the sun and the moon were mates, thought it took a long while for Father Sun to gain Mother Moon’s favor. See, they were fated to be together, but Mother Moon felt that none should decide her fate but herself, so she refused Father Sun’s advances. Father Sun, however, felt that even if they were destined to be together, he still loved her from his own heart, and courted her until she loved him in return. Their children - humans, wolves, all those that walk the earth - have such a potential for a bond, to find the one they are fated for, who is their perfect match in every way. Wolves, because of the close ties they still have with Mother Moon, feel the pull first, and harder, than humans do.”

Stiles looks away, unable to draw breath. The king of an entire nation of people thinks that he - Stiles Stilinski - are fated lovers, like something out of a fairy tale. The entire idea of it all knocks the wind out of him, but not the thoughts from his head. “What would happen if I took my father and left, never to come back?”

Derek’s voice is resolute. “I’d make sure you had enough provisions to take with you, enough gold to take care of yourself.”

Stiles narrows his eyes as he eyes Derek suspiciously. “You wouldn’t come after me?”

“I couldn’t.”

Couldn’t?

“Stiles, if you left, I’d be half dead from grief before you were completely gone from my sight.”

And that, that is what throws Stiles into a half-panic. He shakes his head, struggling to take a breath. “I’ve been awake in your presence for barely more than a day. You hardly know me.”

“I know you were prepared to kill yourself in order to save your father’s life. I know that, despite your fear, you took a knife to me.”

“So you know I’m stupid and suicidal,” Stiles spits back.

“I know you’re brave and loyal, and if I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough.”

Stiles can feel himself crying. He doesn’t understand why; his body, his mind, seem almost like foreign things to him. One week ago he’d been scrubbing the floors in the Argent’s castle; that he'd understood. This? This was... Almost too much.

“I’m not asking for anything you're not willing to give, not when you don’t understand me, or my people, my culture.”

Stiles sits in shock as Derek moves off the bed and falls to one knee in front of him.

“But I will beg from you a single chance. Let me try to win you. Come back to my homeland with me. Travel with me, my men. Spend time with me. I’ll win your heart, and if I don’t, you’ll be free to go whenever you please, with enough provisions and coin to settle wherever you wish.”

The thundering of his heart is loud in his ears. His throat is tight, his heart tighter, and Stiles feels as though he can’t catch a breath.

His father is alive.

He is alive.

Stiles has had everything taken from him, and not just once or twice. His mother’s death left him hollow. Him presenting as a mage ripped his family apart; once the Argents got wind of his abilities, they came and stole him away from his father. What’s worse, within the castle walls, nothing was his own; not even his body . Hardly eighteen years of age, and he’s already endured so much.

But Derek has been nothing but kind to him since he woke.

“Mates are equal in all things,” Derek says with a gentle hand to Stiles’ knee. “All things, Stiles.”

“How could you possibly want me?” he sobs. “I’m an escaped slave; I’ve been used, I’m not - my body - you’re a king. You deserve something untouched, something perfect.”

A deep rumble sounds from Derek’s chest, and it makes Stiles’ breath catch. “All I see when I look upon you is perfection.” Derek’s eyes burn a deep red as Stiles gazes into them.

He hiccups, bites his lips.

What has he to lose? Derek offers him the chance to be treasured.

"Will you let me try?” Derek looks as broken as Stiles feels.

Stiles pulls his hand back, trembling. He tries to speak, but nothing comes out.

Then, in a flurry of motion, Derek is on his feet, and a good few paces away from Stiles. He hold his hands out in front of him, in a move Stiles is more than accustomed to using himself; the king is trying to show Stiles he means no harm.

“That wasn’t fair of me,” Derek says, looking, of all things, chastened. “I shouldn’t put you on the spot like that, shouldn’t pressure you. I’m sorry.”

And that’s what slows Stiles’ erratic heartbeat, what allows him to slowly regain his breath and find in thoughts. A king apologizing to a mage, and meaning it. Stiles doesn’t understand just how he knows Derek is telling the truth, but it’s there, like a warm breeze, settling his nerves.

“I can’t...” he begins. He has to swallow past the dryness in his mouth to continue. “I can’t promise you anything.”

Derek’s eyebrows raise as he takes a single, hesitant step back toward the bed. “I’d never expect you to,” he offers in return.

“I’m not good with people.”

Derek shrugs, wearing half a smile. “Neither am I, to be honest.”

“I’m not used to kindness.”

“You’ve simply gone without.”

“I tend to talk a lot, ramble.”

“Been told I’m a good listener.”

“I’ve got too smart a mouth by half.”

“And a mean elbow, that’s for sure.”

For a moment, Stiles freezes. His eyes search Derek’s face, but he sees no damage.

Derek takes another step, so as to let Stiles look at his face. “It’s fine,” the king assures him. “Wolves heal quick.”

“But I hurt you.”

“You did. But, like I said, wolves naturally heal very quickly. Erica was thoroughly impressed; you managed to break my nose.”

Stiles wipes a hand down his face. “Oh my god,” he says. “This is crazy. This is all so crazy.”

Derek just laughs, and when Stiles looks up at him, the king gazes down at him fondly, like nothing at all is out of place, like Stiles hadn’t elbowed him so hard in the face he’d broken his nose.

“May I ask something of you?”

Stiles’ jaw clenches shut for a moment. Here it comes; no one is kind without asking for something in return, nothing is free.

Derek takes a few steps to the side, snatches something off the table, then walks back to the bed. Stiles finds himself wringing his hands in his lap as the king approaches and holds out-

The same drawstring bag from earlier.

Stiles looks down at the hand Derek had left unfinished earlier that day.

“You want to-”

“If you’d allow it.”

Stiles swallows, then nods.

Derek sits next to him on the bed, and, like he had before the sun went down, the king takes up Stiles’ hand in his own, and sets to work. It’s almost hypnotizing, watching Derek tend to him with such care, such tenderness. He rubs lotion into Stiles’ skin as he finishes, taking up the hand he’d tended to earlier and rubbing a new coating of lotion into Stiles’ skin, being careful in his ministrations, messaging Stiles’ palms.

“I can’t promise anything,” Stiles repeats. He doesn’t know why he says it, if he’s testing for Derek’s reaction, or just speaking to fill the space between them.

“I’d never expect you to,” Derek says, pressing a kiss into the back of Stiles’ hand.

Chapter Text

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 4, Page 121

Though there are different ranks amongst wolves, there is also a great sense of equality that spans the entire species. Alphas are the strongest, meant to protect their pack from all that means to do them harm. Betas might be beneath Alphas in rank, but are often the life-blood of a pack. After all, what is an Alpha without any Betas? Omegas are wolves without a pack; nomads. Wolves, by nature, are social creatures, and Omega wolves do not stay such for long.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 2, Page 61

Wolves rely on unspoken communication quite often, and to someone who is not aware of it, one might not see it right away, or even at all. Wolves rely on instinct to guide them, even in their human forms. And to them, touch is often synonymous with comfort; when a wolf is hurt either physically or emotionally, the nearness of their packmates is what soothes them. Strong enough Alphas actually have the ability to pull physical and emotional pain from their mates. Some Betas possess a similar ability, but such instances are uncommon. Because of this, wolves often come off as almost obsessively physically affectionate. To those unfamiliar with it, it might simply appear that wolves seem almost starved for physical contact. However, to wolves, the touch of their packmate is a silent communication between them, telling them, without words, that all is well, or perhaps not at all.

 

-----

 

Derek, like he had the night before, sleeps on the floor, swearing he’ll protect Stiles from anything the night might keep in store for him. Stiles almost thinks it’s a childish gesture, if he didn’t know what kinds of things can happen in the dark. It’s a strange thought he finally falls asleep to, but he does feel better with Derek there in the room with him. The slave quarters in the Argent’s castle had been cramped, and Stiles had grown accustomed to sleeping in close proximity to others. Derek doesn’t snore - he barely makes any noise at all - but Stiles, simply because he’s so used to it, falls asleep better with others nearby.

Stiles wakes again to the smell of hotcakes, and a smiling Wolf King as Derek enters the tent with a tray in his hands. It’s much the same food he’d offered Stiles the morning before, who takes it with a soft ‘thank you.’ The way Derek smiles after Stiles’ simple thanks makes him pause. He still isn’t quite sure what, exactly, he’d agreed to the night before with Derek, doesn’t know what is meant to happen between them. There’s no mistaking it; Derek is a handsome man, but... after all he’s been through, Stiles isn’t sure he can let himself be loved in a physical way. The nobles and royals in Argent’s castle had used Stiles’ body without his permission; Derek doesn’t seem the type to force him, but surely no man is endlessly patient.

As Stiles finishes his meal, Derek sets out a new change of clothing for him, this set as beautiful as the red shirt he’d given the day before. When Stiles exits the tent, clothed and well-fed, he notices well over half the camp around him is being taken down and loaded into various wagons.

“Are we leaving today?” he asks Derek, who nods as they walk.

“It’s about a two and a half week journey back to my capital from here,” Derek tells him. They stop as they near Boyd, who is leading Camaro.

The horse bypasses Boyd and Derek, clomping up to Stiles and pressing his nose against the boy’s chest. Stiles actually smiles at the antics of the animal, reaching up to scratch behind the beast’s ears.

“Told you,” Boyd says smugly.

Stiles turns his head to see Derek staring intently at him, mouth slightly open.

Feeling like he’s missed something completely, Stiles turns back to the horse and scratches under his chin. He hears as Derek and Boyd talk of simple things, like how long it will be before they can begin for the day. Eventually, Derek comes to stand at Stiles’ side.

The king clears his throat, as if he’s trying to find the right words to speak. “I lead the caravan,” Derek informs Stiles as he continues to pet Camaro. “And I know that, since you’re new to all of this frippery, it might make you uncomfortable to ride with me, or at my side. I was wondering if you’d like to ride with your father today?”

Stiles pauses, turning to look up at Derek’s earnest face.

Derek hadn’t asked if Stiles would like to either ride with him or Stiles’ father. No, the man had made it obvious he knew Stiles might not like being the center of attention by riding in front of an entire caravan at the king’s side, and instead asked him if he wanted to ride with his father.

Stiles looks back to Camaro and nods. “I. Yes. Thank you.”

It says much to how he’s been treated the last decade that Stiles, even after being offered such a choice, expects Derek to become angry.

Instead, however, the king lets out a breath, as though he’d been the one afraid. “I’m glad you’re so close with your father,” he says.

Stiles feels his stomach clench. He knows the tales the Argents had told him of how Derek had lost his father... But now Stiles, having spent time in the man’s company, wonders how far from the truth those stories actually are.

“I have something for you.” Derek motions for Stiles to follow, and he falls in step quickly.

Derek perceptively slows, and it takes a moment for Stiles to realize the king is waiting for him; Derek wishes Stiles to walk at his side, not behind him, as he’s previously been made to do in the presence of royalty. The words Derek had spoken the night before echo through Stiles’ mind: “Mates are equal in all things."

They near the wagon Stiles recognizes that his father is being cared for in, but as Stiles quickens his pace, Derek gently pulls at the cloth of his sleeve and stops him. “Deaton?” he calls out, all while smiling down at Stiles.

The man from the night before - Deaton, Derek’s most trusted healer - rounds from the other side of the wagon with a cloth bundle tied up in his arms. He wears an easy smile on his face as he approaches. “Feeling better, sire?” he asks.

It takes Stiles a moment to realize that Deaton is talking to him. He wets his lips with his tongue, then glances at Derek from the corner of his eyes. Tentatively, he nods. He’s not better, per se, but he certainly feels slightly more at ease. It's not quite a lie, but he wonders how much of it Derek can tell isn't the truth.

“That’s good to hear,” Deaton says, holding the bundle out toward Stiles.

Derek’s smile is wide as Stiles reaches out and takes the bundle from Deaton’s grasp. He pulls the string and the neatly tied bow comes undone. Inside the parchment wrapping is, of all things, a leather-bound book.

“Your father mentioned you could read and write,” Derek goes on to say. He looks a little tentative, apprehensive.

Stiles swallows. Of all the gifts Derek has lavished him with thus far, a book is the thing Stiles is most intrigued by. He never had much time - or many chances - to read anything of substance in Argent keep. The checklists of chores had kept his skills sharp, but they'd been far from riveting.

Deaton reaches out and gingerly takes the discarded paper wrapping from Stiles’ loose grasp.

“I, uh, yes. Before - before I was taken by the Argents, when my mom was still alive.” Stiles runs his fingers over the cover of the book reverently. The leather is supple beneath his fingertips, smooth and uncracked. “She had studied to be a scholar for a time. She liked-”

“History and folklore, yes,” Derek says.

Stiles looks up at him expectantly.

Derek ducks his head. “Your father and I spoke often while you were recovering.”

Stiles feels his cheeks heat. Last night, he had been given the distinct impression that his father was quite taken with Derek's hospitality, despite having been shot in the leg with an arrow from his men. His father's fondness for Derek had been, in large part, one of the reasons he'd gone back to Derek's tent to speak with him in the first place.

“This book is filled with the stories of my people,” Derek says, after he clears his throat. “I thought it might interest you, since you'll be traveling with us for a time.”

Stiles thumbs open the book, surprised by the beautiful, hand-drawn sketches throughout the pages he glimpses. “Thank you.”

“It's yours, to keep, even if we ever part ways,” Derek says hesitantly.

Stiles appreciates the notion, but he doesn't comment on it. Gifts are still such a strange idea to him; it's been over a decade since he really ever owned anything. Slaves were not permitted personal belongings. Even their clothing was not their own; when given to the laundry, it was anyone's guess as to what clothes might be given back. As long as it fit, the motto had been. So, even though Derek says the book (and clothing, and all else he's been given) are his to keep, the fear that they will be taken from him sits, heavy like a stone, in the pit of his stomach.

Slowly, tentatively, Derek holds out his hand. Stiles lifts his own, and slides his fingers against the palm of the king. Unhurried in his movements, as if to allow Stiles the time to change his mind, Derek brings Stiles’ hand toward his face, then places a gentle kiss upon the back of Stiles’ knuckles.

“Scott will be riding alongside the wagon today. If you need me at all, for anything, just let him know and he’ll come get me.”

Stiles nods in understanding, but stays quiet.

Derek gifts him with a soft smile before guiding him toward the wagon, their hands still joined. Stiles finds he enjoys the warmth of Derek's skin against his own. It's comforting in a small way, one that Stiles wasn't aware something as simple as a touch could be. Derek leads him to the steps of the wagon, smiling as he separates their hands. He walks backwards for a few paces, and Stiles realizes Derek is waiting for him to enter the wagon. He pushes open the door, and, almost as an afterthought, waves goodbye to Derek. The king practically beams at him, and even from a distance, Stiles can see the man blush.

He shuts the door, leaning his back against it, exhaling a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

John gives him a bemused look.

Stiles quickly averts his eyes. “How are you feeling today?”

John smiles. “King Derek's healer is the best I've ever come across. He says I'll be set to walk again in just week or two.”

Stile's eyebrows climb up his forehead. “No infection?”

John shakes his head. “Everything is fine. Deaton says it’ll barely scar.”

As if he heard his name, Deaton pushes open the door and steps into the wagon. “We'll be leaving shortly.”

John nods, as does Stiles.

Deaton busies himself with various things around the wagon, while Stiles and John make small talk. Stiles is beyond relieved his father is safe and healing well. Derek's kindness is still something Stiles isn't accustomed to, not just because he's The Wolf King, but because of how long Stiles had spent being mistreated at the hands of the Argents. Kindness without the want of repayment is an almost foreign concept to him. Hell, kindness is something he almost forgot existed.

The wagon jostles slightly as it moves forward. Deaton doesn't seem to notice as he sits down near Stiles and begins crushing herbs with a mortar and pestle.

“What's that?” Stiles inquires.

Deaton glances up for a moment, small smile present on his face. “A salve for minor burns. One of our cook apprentices fell against a soup pot last night.”

Stiles fidgets for a moment. “Is there anything, uh, anything I can do to help?”

That makes Deaton pause. After a moment, as if he's searching for the right words, he speaks. “You're the king's mate,” he says, slowly.

Stiles blinks. “Does that mean I'm not allowed to help?”

Deaton’s smile widens. “It would be an honor if you'd lend me your time and effort, sire.”

John shoots the man a weary expression. “That's going to take some getting used to.”

Deaton continues to smile. “He's the king's mate. He's due all the respect the king begets.”

Stiles pointedly ignores both men, instead taking the mortar and pestle from Deaton. “How thick does the paste need to be?”

John huffs a laugh at his son's obvious deflection.

Stiles helps Deaton make three more salves before the man deems his work for the day done. He changes John's bandages as Stiles wipes the mortar clean with a damp cloth. They eat lunch in amicable quiet, the meal dropped off my Derek himself, though he couldn’t stay longer than it took to hand the food off and bid Stiles hello.

After they finish their food, John ends up falling asleep - though Stiles suspects Deaton slipped something in his father's tea to help ease any lingering pain that helped guide him to sleep.

“Derek gave you a book earlier,” Deaton begins.

Stiles nods.

“I felt it might behoove you were I to give you one from my personal collection. If you enjoy it, you're welcome to keep it; I have copies of it in the castle library.” Deaton procures a book from inside a trunk near the head of Stiles’ father's bed.

Stiles takes the book, still in awe that he's being given gifts at all. He touches the cover reverently, turning the book over. Embossed on the cover sits the title, ‘The Horticulture of the Northern Wolf Lands.’

He glances at Deaton, who is smiling. “You have a keen mind, that much is certain. I figured it would keep you occupied for a time.”

“Thank-thank you,” Stiles stumbles over his words, still surprised.

Deaton moves to the front of the wagon, procures another book, and sits down to begin reading. Stiles, ignoring how he might appear too eager, opens his new gift and begins to read.

 

---

 

Dusk is setting, and Stiles is so transfixed in his books he only realizes the the wagon has stopped when his father places a hand on his shoulder.

“Good book?” John asks.

Stiles rubs at his face, nodding.

A knock comes at the wagon door, and Deaton moves to answer it. Isaac’s gentle smiles greets them. “I wanted to know if you'd like to go for a walk, stretch your legs, while camp is being set up.”

Stiles glances at his father, who makes a shooing gesture with his hands. “Get some fresh air. I'm not going anywhere.”

Deaton stands too, and calls for Stiles to wait just a moment. He rummages through a basket next to where he's sitting, and pulls a leather shoulder bag, handing it to Stiles. “For your books,” he says.

Stiles smiles. “Thank you.” Though they are nothing but bound parchment and ink, Stiles is grateful for a place to keep his books safe. He's more than intrigued by what he's read so far, and is eager to continue reading.

He hugs his father farewell, and then follows Isaac out of the wagon. Camp is being set up for the night, coming along far quicker than Stiles would think possible, but, then again, he's never traveled much previously. Isaac leads him to the outskirts of camp, then beyond.

The land is now dotted with dense patches of trees, though nothing thick enough to be considered a forest any longer, but it's all still beautiful to Stiles, who hardly a month ago worried he'd never even see so much as the sky again.

“It's beautiful out here,” Stiles breathes, enjoying the feeling of the setting sun warming his face.

Isaac huffs a laugh off to his side. “I prefer the forest to the open plains any day,” he offers. “Light skin like mine gets sunburned too easy. Treecover helps keep the sun off my skin. Wolves heal quickly, but burn bad enough and even we feel it.”

Stiles shrugs. “Been a while since I've been sunburned.”

Isaac goes quiet, and Stiles fears he's soured the mood.

“Sorry, I didn't - sorry.”

He hears Isaac shift his weight from one foot to another. “You don't need to apologize,” he hears the soldier say, though it's soft.

Feeling anxious, Stiles turns to face the other boy. “Is there something I can do to help with camp?”

Isaac looks surprised, and Stiles thinks he might have rendered the poor young man speechless. Ugn, he still had so much to learn about these wolves.

Instead of waiting for a reply, Stiles makes a decision. He begins toward the treeline, and starts searching for kindling. “Hold out your arms,” he instructs Isaac, who does what is asked after only a moment of hesitation. Stiles begins to load Isaac's outstretched arms with kindling. It's only when his arms are full does he speak again.

“The king is requesting my presence back at camp, but wants you to know you're welcome to stay out here for as long as it's light out.”

Stiles tilts his head, curious. “Can you really hear Derek all the way out here?”

Isaac shrugs, though the motion looks silly with his arms laden with sticks and twigs. “Him, yes, because he's my Alpha. The rest of the camp, everyone else, isn't as clear, but it's there. I can't pick out individual voices, just the sound of people moving together.”

Stiles then nods. “I'd like to stay out here a bit longer, yes, if that's alright.”

Isaac nods in return.

As soon as Isaac is far enough away, Stiles plants himself on the ground and reaches into his bag, procuring both of his books. He flips open the one Deaton had given him, and begins again on the page he'd left off earlier.

Three pages past where he’d started again, he pauses. There, on the page, is a delicate drawing of a flower. Below the flower, printed in neat letters, reads the name wolfsbane . He continues to read.

Wolfsbane - also known as monkshood or aonite - is a plant of the order Ranunculales, and is most notable as being poisonous to wolfkind. A small amount of the flower, either in its natural form or ground up and dried or in paste form, can cause great distress for wolves, including dampening their otherwise keen senses. The average dosage needed to cause death is surprisingly small.

If a wolf is infected with wolfsbane via the lungs, the cure can be found by burning the same strain of plant and inhaling the vapors. If a wolf is infected via a wound, and the wolfsbane enters the system, a remedy can be made by burning the same strain of plant and pressing the ashes to the same wound the poison entered.

Wolfsbane acts quickly; if not treated in a timely manner, a wolf may lose significant use of their senses. In some extreme cases, where the same strain is not accessible for a remedy, limbs may need to be amputated before the poison can reach the heart, killing the wolf. There have been several cases of wolves going completely blind when-

“What do you have there?”

Stiles jolts, slams the book shut, even as his hands shake and his heart pounds. He cranes his neck up quickly to see Derek standing above him, smiling.

When Stiles doesn’t move, and his heartbeat doesn’t slow, Derek’s smile falters.

“Are you alright? What’s-”

“Don’t be mad at Deaton,” Stiles rushes to say, clutching the book tightly against him.

Derek’s eyebrows draw together. “Why would I be mad at Deaton? Did he say something-”

“I was helping him make salves,” Stiles interrupts. “He - he gave me a book on plants, and - and-”

Derek’s face suddenly softens. “And I’m sure you reached the page about wolfsbane.”

Stiles swallows, hard. He doesn’t know what to expect; Derek’s surprised him at nearly every turn, but for the king’s healer to give an outsider a book with information on a plant that’s poisonous to his people?

“I’m sure he has his reasons,” Derek says casually, moving to sit next to Stiles in the dirt.

Staring at the king with wide eyes, Stiles shifts to face him slightly, though he keeps his book within the tight clutch of his arms, pressed snugly against his chest. “Is this another test?” he ventures, thinking back to the knife Erica had put in Derek’s tent.

In response, Derek shrugs. “Deaton is a wise man, but his mind has always been a bit of a mystery. He’s served my mother for years - they’re good friends. You said that you helped him in his work today; perhaps there’s no more meaning in the book than he thought you might be interested in it.”

He meets Stiles’ gaze, his eyes soft. “Or maybe he wanted to make sure that you could take care of yourself, if something ever happened. Besides, while wolfsbane is poisonous to me and my kind, it also has its uses. Wolves can’t get drunk off alcohol like humans can, so, for festivals, I have Deaton add a certain type of wolfsbane to honey wine so that my wolves can get drunk alongside my human citizens and soldiers.”

Stiles blinks up at the man, his curiosity piqued. “Really? It can get you drunk?”

Derek nods. “It still takes a large amount of alcohol, and a fairly diluted mixture, but, yes, wolves can get drunk from it. I myself only do so a few times a year, at the autumn harvest festivals, or the solstice festivals.”

Pursing his lips, Stiles nods, easing the hold he has on his book and lowering it, and his gaze, to his lap. “I’m not fond of alcohol myself,” he says, biting at his lower lip for a moment. “Usually when it was given to me, it was because someone wanted me passive and easily manipulated.”

Stiles starts when he hears a soft growl, his gaze snapping up. He meets Derek’s suddenly blood-red eyes, and his breath hitches in his throat.

Derek blinks at the reaction, the glow of his eyes fading, his growl ceasing. “Sorry,” he offers in a rush. “Sorry, I-”

Stiles shakes his head. “There’s nothing for you to apologize for. It wasn’t your fault, what they did to me.”

“I could have found you sooner, I could have-”

Stiles sighs. “I was a slave, Derek, kept in the castle of your kingdom’s greatest enemy. In what world would we have ever even met?” He runs a hand through his short-cropped hair, flustered, frustrated. “Sometimes I-” he tapers off, shuddering, closing his eyes.

Derek is quiet, but Stiles can hear him move. One of his hands is gently brought up, and he opens his eyes to Derek pressing a kiss to the tops of his knuckles. “Sometimes you what?” he urges, voice soft.

Stiles can feel the sting of tears at the corners of his eyes. “Sometimes,” he says, swallowing. “Sometimes I worry that this is all some sort of fever dream,” he whispers. “That I’m dying in the wine cellar of Argent keep, and that escaping, reuniting with my father, and all of your kindness is just my mind slipping away as I lay dying and-”

Stiles stills when their foreheads are pressed together, the tips of their noses gently brushing against one another. “You’re not, Stiles. You’re here, with me. Your father’s back at camp, and I’m here, here in front of you. I’m real.” He raises his hands to cup either side of Stiles’ face.

He closes his eyes, and the tears that danced in the corners of his vision slide down his cheeks, only to be wiped away by Derek’s gentle thumbs.

“I’m here,” Derek whispers again.

It’s a long while before Stiles gathers enough brevity to speak again. “When are you going to change me?”

Derek’s sharp intake of breath as he pulls back is what makes Stiles open his eyes. The king looks wounded, saddened by Stiles’ words. “Is that what you’re afraid of?”

Stiles swallows, but makes no other movement.

But Derek smiles, softly, sadly. “Stiles, you’re a mage. Mages cannot be turned into wolves. And even if they could, I would never turn you unless that’s what you wanted.”

Stiles’ mouth is suddenly very dry. “The others. The others said you turned them all. I just thought, since I’m - I’m-”

“Others?”

“Scott, Isaac, and Erica.”

Derek’s thumbs swipe across Stiles’ cheek. The wounded look has all but disappeared from his visage, in its place a determined thoughtfulness. “I turned them for different reasons. Isaac was close to death and abandoned by his own family, Scott was sickly, as was Erica. I asked them all, and if they would have refused, I wouldn’t have turned them.”

Stiles starts to laugh, high-pitched, uncontrolled. He can feel himself freely crying now, tears flooding down his face. “In just a few days, everything I thought I knew has been tipped upside down. I grew up hearing stories of a demon who takes people and turns them into wolves by force, and here you are, kind and gentle and sweet and-and-and-”

His breath becomes stuck in his lungs, and his vision starts to darken around the edges, until it’s all just blurs of colors. He can feel his body moving, but he’s not the one in control of it.

Stiles knows it’s a panic attack. It’s not like they’re a stranger to him. Hell, he’s spent the better part of the last few days constantly fighting them down, and dealing with the little ones that managed to wiggle their way past his willpower. This one, however, is by far the worst. He’s certain he passes out, though for a few seconds or a few minutes he’s unsure. All he knows is that when he comes to, he’s sitting on the ground, legs splayed out before him, half reclined against something solid and warm. He blinks groggily, and looks down to see Derek’s arms wrapped tightly, though gently, around his middle. One of the king’s hands is spread across his chest, over his heart.

“In,” he hears Derek say, breath warm against his ear.

He takes a stuttering breath inward.

“Good, Stiles. So good. Hold it, just for a moment. There we go, out again, there we go.”

Derek guides him through breathing until his limbs stop shaking. It’s almost completely dark out, the sun an orange smear far on the horizon.

“Sorry,” he says, hands moving up to grip Derek’s shirt sleeve. “I’m sorry. This can’t be easy for you, the way I seem to just be falling apart at every corner and-”

Derek presses a gentle kiss just behind Stiles’ left ear, and the sweet notion causes Stiles’ brain to halt for a moment, blank out.

“You never have to apologize for being you,” he hears Derek say, his breath warm against Stiles’ hairline. “Just as you said, you spent the better part of half your life thinking me and my kind are monsters. It’s not an easy thing, to come to terms with the fact that you’ve been deceived, especially for so long.”

Stiles feels his entire body relax in Derek’s arms. He feels warm and safe, and he closes his eyes and sighs. “But... Derek, there's no way this is easy , there's no way I am worth half the trouble you-"

“Finding you was hard, something I thought I'd never do. Loving you, Stiles? That's easy.”

Derek's hand is still splayed over his heart, his palm heavy and warm. Stiles pulls away slightly, and Derek's grip eases enough that he can turn in the scope of the king's arms. It's instinct that drive him now, not thought, as Stiles winds his arms around Derek's shoulder and buries his face in Derek's neck.

The king softly gasps in surprise, but there is no hesitation in his movement; he pulls Stiles close against him, one arm wrapped around his waist, the other snaking up his back so he can thread his fingers in the short-cropped hair that dusts the base of Stiles’ skull.

He can't help it - it's as though his emotions, having been pent up and smothered for so long, practically explode out of him, unable to remain quiet any longer. They burst forth, the container they’ve been bottled up in for so long finally unable to take the strain of keeping everything inside. He sobs, mostly quietly, letting everything out; the anguish he’s held in over the years, the helplessness he’s suffered through.

Stiles hears Derek shushing him, gently, like one might comfort a child. Even so, it feels like it works, Derek’s gentle soothing and soft whispers easing the emotional turmoil that sweeps through him like water through a sieve. Knots that have been tying themselves up inside for years finally begin to unravel.

“I’ll never lie to you. Maybe it’s too early for you to believe that, and I won’t hold that against you, truly I won’t. But if you ask me a question, I want you to know, right now, that I will never lie to you. So if you want to know something, you ask me. And, if you don’t believe me, or fear to ask me still, ask Deaton, or Scott or Isaac, or Erica or Boyd.”

Stiles sniffles, tries to keep his shuddering to a minimum, but knows that he’s shaking. Sobs are still escaping him in stuttering little hiccups, and he can feel his weariness down to his very bones. Everything he’s known has been turned on its head. It's not been an easy concept to comprehend, that much is certain.

But Stiles can feel the tattoos, his magic, as it slithers and squirms in an attempt to get as close to where his and the king's skin meet. And if Stiles knows one thing, one thing at all, he knows to trust his magic. It's healed him when he's been hurt, comforted him where others have been cruel, protected him as much as it could, acting less like an extension of himself and more like an old friend. His skin hums where Derek rubs his thumb at the base of his skull, and the feeling seeps through him like honey, slow and sweet.

“I told you I'd let you try, even if I can't promise you anything,” he says, his voice muffled by the skin of Derek's neck.

He feels rather than hears Derek chuckle against him. “Yes, I remember.”

Stiles’ only response is to cling tighter to the king.

Derek shuffles around a bit, and then Stiles feels himself be lifted from the ground, as though he weighs nothing at all. But, instead of protesting, he inhales deeply, lets it out in another breath, and simply lets the king carry him. He feels safe, a feeling he thought he'd lost. Some small part of him, made fearful at the cruel hands of the Argents, cries for him to flee. But this time, this time, Stiles doesn't heed the call. He presses his face further against Derek's neck, and feels him let out a contented noise.

He doesn't open his eyes until he feels the flap of the tent flowing past him. He pulls back slightly as Derek bends to place him in the bed, unwinding his arms from around the man’s neck. Derek takes to a knee, unlaces Stiles’ shoes, and pulls them from his feet. It's strangely intimate, having his shoes taken off by someone who only seeks his comfort, who doesn't simply keep undressing him.

“Are you hungry?” Derek asks as he stands and places Stiles’ shoes next to the chest at the end of the bed. He flips the latch, opens it, and digs around for a moment, before procuring something for Stiles to sleep in.

Stiles looks up, taking him in. Derek's stubble is more pronounced today, looking more like a beard than a shadow. His eyes are a beautiful shade of foggy green mixed with gray. His lips are parted slightly, and Stiles can see a slightly pronounced pair of front teeth - blunt, like a bunny's, not sharp like a wolf's  - that makes the man appear younger than he seems. It's not a stretch for Stiles to find Derek more than attractive, but he doesn't know what to do with the thought, so he pushes it aside for now.

He nods after a moment. He'll never say no to food, not when he knows what it's like to go hungry.

This seems to appease Derek, who smiles down at him. “Why don't you change while I'm gone? Scott is outside, and will remain so unless you ask him in. Any requests?”

Stiles blinks up at him. “Requests?” He doesn't understand what the king is asking.

“For food,” Derek clarifies, patiently. “You've eaten everything I've given you, but I worry it's more due to the fact that you're used to not knowing when your next meal will come.”

Stiles is slightly taken aback. He knows it’s not hard to guess, what with having been a slave, that Stiles would eat whatever food was presented to him.

“I, uh. I don’t know,” he answers, truthfully. “I’ve never been asked. I’m not picky.”

Derek nods in understanding, but persists. “But are you that way because you don’t mind what you’ve been given, or because you’d rather eat something you don’t like than go hungry?”

Stiles ducks his head. “I haven’t had to think about stuff like that in a long time. If it’s food, I’ll eat it.” He doesn’t tell Derek that he’s caught and eaten rats before from the Argent cellars, just to keep the ache of hunger at bay so he could sleep.

The king doesn’t seem to like this answer, but it’s not anger or frustration Stiles is met with. It’s patience. “Has there been anything in the last few days I’ve brought you that you’ve particularly liked?”

“Hotcakes,” he blurts before he can stop himself. Even Derek looks slightly surprised that Stiles has given him an outright answer, like he’d been prepared to press the matter further.

The corners of Derek’s mouth turns up. “Alright. Hotcakes. That’s quite simple. Is there anything else?”

Stiles bites his lips to keep from saying anything else, but Derek tilts his head and raises an eyebrow, like he can read Stiles like a book. Stiles is beginning to think the man very well can .

“Bringing you food is something that makes me happy,” Derek goes on to explain. “It makes me happy to make you happy, even when it’s something as simple as making sure you’re fed.”

Stiles thinks to the red shirt Derek had gifted him the day before, how it was made of a beautiful, soft, foreign material he’d never seen before, of how Derek had looked happy to present it to him, of the precious circlet Derek had placed atop his head, of every meal the king had brought him previously.

“Meat?” He doesn’t mean to pose it as a question, but he still isn’t entirely sure of the rule here. After years of providing and fending for himself, it felt strange to ask someone else for food.

“Any kind in particular?” Derek asks, as if it’s nothing at all.

He swallows. “I don’t think I mind. I wasn’t allowed meat often at... I wasn’t allowed meat. If I had any, it was caught by my own hands or filched from the trash before it rotted. The sausage you brought me yesterday for breakfast was the first meat I’ve had in a long time. I don’t mind,” he says, tentatively.

Derek nods, his face soft. “I’ll be back. As I said, Scott is outside, but will only come in if you ask him to.” With that, Derek turns and exits the tent.

Stiles waits a few moments before he moves to change into his sleeping clothes. Once again, he revels in how soft the pair of socks are. Last night, his feet hadn’t been cold in the slightest, and it had truly been a wonderful feeling. He folds up his clothes, then places them on top of the trunk, unsure of what else to do with them.

He takes a few deep breaths, then clears his throat. He paces, making sure to keep his feet to the rugs laid out on the ground as to keep his socks clean. Clearing his throat again, Stiles braces himself.

“Scott?”

“Right outside, sire,” comes the reply.

Stiles almost flinches. He doesn’t think that’s something he’ll ever get used to.

“Could you... could you come in?”

Stiles watches as Scott enters the tent. He’s not wearing armor, dressed in what Stiles would consider fairly normal clothes, had he not known Scott’s actual heritage. At his waist is a knife, sheathed and attached to his belt.

“Can Derek... can Derek hear us?”

Scott’s brow furrows for a moment, but he shakes his head. “I don’t think so. The soldiers around the kitchen wagons are a bit loud tonight; I certainly can’t hear him from here.”

Stiles swallows. “Is he...” Wringing his hands, Stiles sighs. “Is he a good king?”

Scott’s face lights up. “I’d say so. He fair to his subjects, and generous. All of the collected taxes for the kingdom go right back to the people, with things like road repair and upkeep on the city and the walls around it. He’s teaching me how to run a kingdom well, not that my own mother does a bad job or anything; it’s good to hear different perspectives, especially when they’re successful. This caravan is something he does twice a year, as well. He helps finance the whole thing, and anyone is welcome to come. It helps promote trade with the neighboring kingdoms, and seems to make his citizens happy. People who otherwise couldn’t afford to travel, either for pleasure or even to visit family, get a chance to. We share goods, as well as knowledge, across borders this way. Deaton only comes with us once a year, but when he does, he brings a good chunk of his library so he can trade with the scholars and healers back in my kingdom.”

Stiles is quiet for a moment, lost in thought. Finally, he speaks again. “He's a good king, but is he a good man?”

Scott's smile doesn't falter, but his gaze drops. “He's made mistakes, same as any man. But he's loved by his people, and loves them in return. To him, ruling isn't about subjecting any to his demands, it’s about helping his people prosper. As to the man himself-" Scott softly huffs. “Okay, so, last year, out in the gardens, there was this stray cat-”

Stiles can feel his face scrunch up in confusion.

“And the cat was sick, but by the time Derek found her, it was too late. Of the four kittens, only two survived. And you should have seen him - the king is an apex predator, can bring down ten-point bucks when he’s shifted, and he was just absolutely beside himself about these little kittens. He bottle fed them, kept them in a box in his chamber until they were old enough to venture outside. These two cats now pretty much have the run of the entire castle, it’s ridiculous. When Derek is home, they follow him around like he’s their mother. Best mousers we’ve had - haven’t seen a single pest in the castle since they were old enough to hunt - but the way Derek babies them, it’s hilarious.”

Swallowing, Stiles shifts on his feet for a moment before sitting down on the bed. Out of every possibility out there, Stiles wasn't expecting something like that.

“I meant what I said; you’re good for him.”

Not knowing what to say to that, Stiles just shrugs. “It’s not like I’m doing anything. I feel like I’m more a hindrance than anything. He always seems to be taking care of me in one way or another.”

“And to wolves, taking care of our mates is instinctual. It makes us happy to make those we care about happy. It’s been a long time since Derek smelled happy.”

That gives Stiles pause. “You can smell emotions?”

Scott’s nose wiggles as his face pulls up in a lopsided smile. “Kind of? It’s weird. I mean, I used to be just a regular human, you know? And I guess the best comparison for it would be how humans look for body language and tone in conversation, wolves can pick up scents. Happy smells sweet, fear smells sour; it’s not like emotions have an specific scent, like flowers or anything, just an overall smell.”

“Is that why most of you seem to be so clean?” Stiles doesn’t mean to ask it, but he kind of blurts it out anyway. Sometimes, he can’t help himself.

Scott seems to think it funny enough that he laughs for a moment before nodding. “Body odor can be pretty offensive to someone with a nose as keen as a wolf’s, so hygiene is a pretty big part of our lives. Sweat isn’t so bad, but when someone goes without bathing or wiping down for more than a few days, it’s pretty obvious. Natural scents cling past what bathing takes away, so it’s not like having a bath will make you smell completely different.”

Stiles nods, happy Scott is willing to offer up information so freely.

“I’m glad you let him scent you,” Scott goes on to say. “He seems a little antsy when you were separated today, and I’m sure you carrying his scent makes him feel calmer.”

“Let him scent me?” Stiles asks, confused.

“Oh, did he not - did you - uhhh.” Scott swallows. “Um, okay, so, like, wolves like to smell like pack. It’s a comfort thing. Scenting is just when one wolf touches or rubs their skin on another, to share their scents. Like I said, it’s a comfort thing - it’s calming. Grooming is something else we do, but, not, like, invasive grooming or anything, though it’s more for mates. We might run our fingers through each other’s hair, or rub our cheeks together.”

Stiles immediately thinks to when Derek had run him a bath, then trimmed his fingernails and rubbed lotion into his skin. Then, his mind turns to what had transpired only a short while ago; Stiles had all but rubbed his face in Derek’s neck as the king had carried him back to their shared tent.

He feels his face heat.

Scott offers him an apologetic smile. “Don’t fret. It’s not a big deal to wolves. You’re Derek’s mate; it’s a completely normal thing for the two of you to smell like one another.”

Stiles wrings his hands, his stomach a little tight. He pulls his legs up under him.

“It might not exactly be my place, but I don’t think Derek is going to tell you about what’s coming up in a few days time.”

That grabs Stiles’ attention. Derek promised he wouldn’t lie, but Stiles pushes away the traitorous thought, wanting to not pass judgement until after Scott finishes. After all, up until this very point, Derek hasn’t lied, and omitting information isn’t really the same, is it?

“There’s a festival for wolves that happens twice a year, on the solstices. It’s not a huge celebration, but there’s food and dancing and music. I’m sure Derek is going to tell you about the festival itself, but there are certain things I’m sure he’s going to skip over in order to make you feel more comfortable, to keep the pressure off you.”

That doesn’t sound so bad. Stiles leans forward, interested. “What’s it about? What’s a solstice?”

“There are two solstices a year; one in summer, and one in winter. The summer solstice is the day with the longest amount of daylight, and the winter is the one with the shortest. It’s mostly just a celebration about life. I grew up human, I don’t follow every wolf custom, so I’m not really sure how to explain it since it’s an old belief, even to most wolves today. Deaton would probably be able to explain it better, or he’d have a book that could.”

“Why do you think Derek won’t tell me about it?”

“What I think he’ll probably leave out about the festival is the part about mates and the feast. On the night of the solstice, there’s a big feast. We’ll likely stop for the day before to get everything ready. Derek will lead a hunt. He’ll likely try for big game. If a wolf is courting their mate, it’s customary for them to present their kill to their intended, which, obviously, in this case would be you. If you’re pleased he’s courting you, and are impressed by his kill, you’re supposed to say something like, ‘you provide well for me,’ or something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Then, during the actual feast, Derek, since he’s the king and he’s the one courting you, will be the first to carve what he hunted and helped the cooks prepare. He’ll hand you a plate, and, if you accepted the kill he brought you before, you’re supposed to pass it to the person on your other side, and just eat off Derek’s plate.”

“Why? That seems like such a strange custom, to share a plate of food.”

Scott is quite for a moment. “It has to do with an old story, I think. It sounds kind of like a fairy tale, to be honest, but I know a lot of the older wolves believe in stuff like that. I don’t think I could retell it very well, so you should probably ask Deaton about it.”

Stiles scrambles for a moment, and finds his bag at the end of the bed, near where he’d put his clothes when he’d finished changing. He pulls out one of the books Derek had given him earlier that day. He’d been so interested in the book about plants, he hadn’t had a chance to open the other one yet. Turning the book over in his hands, he shows the cover to Scott, who smiles and nods. “If it’s going to be in any book, it’s absolutely going to be in that one. Did Derek give it to you?”

Stiles actually finds himself smiling, reminded of how Derek had seemed so happy to give him the present. “He said that he talked to my dad a lot when I was asleep, after the first encounter in the woods. Dad told him that my mom had loved history and folklore and stuff like that, and that she’d taught me to read before she died. I’ve never... I’ve never had my own book before.”

Scott nods. “I think you’ll probably like it, then. It’s pretty neat, from what I can remember.”

Stiles pulls the book close to his chest. Talking to Scott is nice, and for a moment he thinks that they might become good friends. The young prince is certainly nice enough, and seems eager to please.

Moments later, Derek opens the tent carrying a tray heaped with food. He carries a soft smile about him, like he’s pleased to see Stiles talking to Scott. Stiles isn’t sure how much of his and Scott’s conversation Derek’s heard, if any at all, but he doesn’t seem disturbed by it. “Hotcakes, sausage, apples, and goat cheese with cranberries.”

Stiles’ heart skips as Derek nears, tray held in outstretched hands. He places it, carefully, slowly, on Stiles’ lap, soft smile adorning his lips.

“Scott,” Derek turns. “I wanted to ask you if Deaton-”

Stiles watches as Scott and Derek converse, though most of it eludes him. He susses out that Derek asked Deaton for more books for something, but the sausage slices and the apples are delicious, and it’s still such a weird sensation, not going to bed hungry - or at all - that Stiles soon starts to tune out what the other two men in the tent are speaking about.

When he moves the tray off of his lap, he looks up and is surprised to see that he’s alone with Derek. He swallows past the last bite of food. “Scott leave?”

Derek looks up from where he’d been looking over some paper on the table. The corner of his mouth ticks up in an amused smile. “He said goodbye, but you and the goat cheese were having a moment.”

Stiles feels his cheeks heat. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

Derek arranges a few sheets of paper as he speaks. “I’m sure Scott didn’t take it personally. You’re not the first freed slave he’s been around; I’m sure he understands what you’re going through.”

That piques Stiles’ interest. “Erica said she used to be a slave, too.”

Nodding, Derek brings the papers from the desk, along with a bottle of ink, and places it into the trunk at the end of the bed. He takes up the clothing that Stiles had folded, and sets it inside, too. “My kingdom is made up of all kinds, really. I won’t turn away someone unless they prove to me that they can’t be trusted. Dishonesty and disloyalty hold no place in my kingdom.”

He recalls the previous night, before he’d come to realize that his father was still alive. Isaac and Scott and told him that there was no need for him to lie, like they had somehow known.

His curiosity getting the better of him, Stiles clears his throat. “Can wolves tell when people are lying?”

Derek had told him, had promised him , just earlier that night, that he’d never lie to Stiles, never hide the truth.

Across the tent, Derek disappears behind the wooden screen, and Stiles hears the distinct sound of rustling cloth. “Yes. It’s hard to lie to a wolf, almost impossible; we can hear heartbeats, can scent out base emotions. When someone lies, their heartbeat stutters, their scents change. My people are honest, almost to a fault, because to us, lies are terrible, obvious things.”

Stiles loses himself in thought for a moment. His mind racing, he thinks back through his interactions with Derek since he first woke up after setting the forest on fire. “Is that why, yesterday, when we were speaking, you took my hand and placed it over your heart?”

It’s quiet for a moment. Stiles finally looks up and sees Derek, folded clothes in on hand, the chest at the bottom of the bed being propped up by the other, staring at him intently. His mouth is slightly parted, his eyes wide, his eyebrows halfway up his forehead. “I - yes. Yes, that’s exactly - yes.” He sounds almost out of breath.

Stiles fidgets. “What?”

Derek finishes his task of putting his clothing away, then shuts the lid of the trunk. He scratches at his chin. “You pieced that together incredibly quickly, that’s all. Most humans who integrate into wolf culture don’t pick up on small things like that for some time.”

Shrugging, Stiles draws up his legs as he moves to get under the covers of the bed. “Had to learn to think quick on my feet, otherwise I might lose my head.”

Derek’s surprise fades, his visage taking on a somber look. “I’m sorry you-”

“Don’t.”

Even Stiles is surprised at the finality in his voice when he speaks. Derek stills, looks up at him with slight confusion.

“What the Argents did to me isn’t your fault. It’s not plausible for you to have found me sooner, and no amount of apologies will fix that.”

Derek lets out a gust of a breath, like he’d been holding it in. Stiles watches as he runs a hand through his hair. It causes his dark locks to stand up in places, making him appear disheveled, younger. Stiles isn’t sure what to expect. Derek’s never reacted to him in anger - at least that he was the direct cause of; Derek had seemed more than upset at the marks the Argents left on his body, of the way he thinks so poorly of himself. His small outburst would have won him a hard back hand from those in the castle that kept him prisoner, if they were feeling generous. But Derek does nothing of the sort. He looks at Stiles like he’s some intriguing thing, some puzzle he’s yet to solve.

“You’re so brave.”

Stiles doesn’t know what he expects Derek to say. He’s used to most of what comes out of his mouth to be met with a slap to the face, a cuff upside the head, or, on more than just a few occasions, a good whipping, the splitting of his skin. But Derek? Derek is everything the Argents told Stiles the man wasn’t .

He’s still frazzled, he’s still apprehensive, but the raw nerve he feels he’s been for the last decade might be starting to heal over.

“I’m still not... not sure about this entire mate business,” he finally admits aloud. He’s both relieved to have finally said it, and half terrified of what Derek’s reaction will be.

Derek closes the trunk, then moves to sit near the end of the bed, close enough to reach out and touch Stiles if he so desired, but leaving enough space between them for Stiles to breathe.

“Anything you need to know, I’ll do my best to provide you with answers.”

“Is it instant? Like, are we married? I don’t get it.”

Derek shakes his head. “For humans, the bond takes time to form, but wolves instinctively know. If you so choose to be my mate, we’ll be bonded in a ceremony, much like a human marriage, but...”

Stiles licks his lips. “But?”

Derek sighs. “With the sealing of our bond, I’ll bite your neck, placing my mark for all to see that you are bound to me, as I you. It’s not necessary, but it’s fairly common, for a human-mate to mark the same place on their wolf-mate. It’s not like the bite used to change a human to a wolf, though; it’s just to seal the bond. It forms a connection, through magic. After the bond is solidified, we’re connected for all time. I’ll be able to pick up on your emotions in a much keener sense, and you’ll be able to do much of the same. In particularly strong bonds, mates can sense when the other is near.”

“It’s forever, then?”

Nodding, Derek fidgets for a moment. “Nothing save death can break the mating bond of a wolf and their mate.”

“And what of your lovers?”

Derek’s head snaps up, eyes wide. “Lovers?”

“You’re a king. Surely you have lovers back at your keep. Am I to share a room or part of the castle with them, or is-”

Stiles stills and quiets when Derek practically shoots to his feet, presenting Stiles with his back. He seems tense, and when Stiles glances down, he sees that Derek’s fists are tightly clenched. For a long moment, Stiles worries that he’s said something terribly offensive. Perhaps it’s wolf custom to never speak of things done in the bedroom, or-

“There is no one else. There will never be anyone else.”

Derek’s voice is deep, gravely, but the king doesn’t sound angry, he sounds, of all things, hurt.

Stiles swallows past the sudden lump in his throat. “I don’t understand. Did I say something to make you upset?”

Derek is quiet for a moment longer, and when he turns, Stiles sees that his eyes are fading from deep red back to murky green. “I’m sorry. My reaction was instinctual. Wolves don’t keep lovers, Stiles. Once we take a mate, we are bond to them - and only them - for eternity.”

Blinking, Stiles looks down at his hands. He’d always just assumed that taking what they want from the bodies of those that serve them was the right of royals. At least, that’s the way his time at Argent keep had made him think.

“There’s no one else?” Stiles asks.

Derek shakes his head, looking far more serious than Stiles can remember seeing him. “Wolves are social creatures, yes, but we mate for life. I’d dedicated myself to my kingdom, and had come to terms with the idea that I might never meet my mate. My duty has always been to my people.”

Nearing the bed, Derek takes a knee in front of Stiles, holding out his hand and silently asking for one of Stiles’. Without even realizing it, Stiles holds out a hand in offering. Derek pulls it toward him. He places a kiss to Stiles’ knuckles, then presses Stiles’ palm directly over his heart.

“There is no one else. There will never be anyone else. My duty may be to my people, but my heart is entirely yours.”

The rushing of blood as it pumps through his own body is nearly deafening in Stiles’ ears. He slowly extracts his hand from Derek’s grasp, only to raise his other hand. He brings both up and slowly traces his hands up Derek’s collarbone, over his shoulders, and around his neck. He slowly pulls the king toward him, and Derek, finally realizing that Stiles means to hug him, pushes forward into the embrace.

Derek presses his face to the juncture of Stiles’ neck and shoulder, inhaling deeply. In return, Stiles presses his cheek against Derek’s temple.

For all that Derek seems to be everything Stiles never knew he wanted, it seems that he isn’t alone in the thought; Derek seems so intent on finding a way of winning Stiles’ heart. He still can’t promise Derek anything. Though he’s healing, he’s a far cry from better, and the stars above only know how long it will take before he feels like he’s functional, let alone healthy.

Somehow, Stiles knows he can give Derek all he’s able to without the king asking for more. Perhaps it’s the way his magics seek the wolf out, rejoices in their touch, or perhaps this is merely Stiles learning how to trust again, how to accept kindness when it’s offered.

All that Stiles knows is that here, in the scope of Derek’s arms, he’s safe.

Chapter Text

Folklore and Fairytales, page 21

The Feast of the Solstice Moon is something that is celebrated by all wolves. For the feast, the Alpha will hunt for his pack, bringing back his quarry and preparing the meal himself. As a show of respect, the Alpha is allowed to take the first cut of meat from the beast he’s slain, though he waits for all his Betas to be served before he begins his meal.

The Feast of the Solstice Moon also plays a large part in wolf courtship rituals. A wolf who is courting their mate will fill his plate, as well as the plate of their potential mate. When the time comes for all to eat, the wolf will push the plate of his mate away, and feed their courted by hand to show devotion.

This seemingly odd tradition spans back centuries, from a time before Mother Moon and Father Sun were mates. Father Sun, eager to gain Mother Moon’s favor, hunted her favorite game, and prepared a great feast with his own hands. He made sure that Mother Moon’s plate overflowed with all of her favorite foods, then, to prove his loyalty and devotion to others, made sure all of his men had enough to eat. Then, and only then, did he return to sit at Mother Moon’s side. Instead of taking the food from his plate to feed himself, he turned to her and made sure she was sated before he ever took a bite to his own mouth.

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Index, Page 248

Mating Bite (continued): While the most common form of werewolf mate connection is through the mating bite, or claiming bite, it is not necessary for a couple to be happy or prosperous. There might be many reasons why a couple are either unable to copulate and exchange claiming bites, or unwilling, ranging from anything to physical inability, age, or mental or emotional trauma. While a mating bite is typically given during first consummation of a pair’s bond, a mating bite may also be given without copulation at all. Additionally, there are many wolves who are more than happy to simply wed their mates, if, for example, they are human and that is their custom.

While a binding of magic happens when a wolf gives their mate their claiming bite, it is not always what is best for the mate, or even the wolf. A wolf will never give a claiming bite to their mate without their clean consent and desire; it goes against their nature. No matter how much a wolf’s instincts urge them to claim their mate, ultimately their desire to keep their mate happy will always win out.

 

---

 

Visions flicker through Stiles’ brain, flashes of light, of people’s faces. He thinks he hears the call of his name a few times - once of his actual name - but he can’t tell. There’s a great pressure in his head, behind his eyes and between his ears, and it makes his entire skull thrum with every beat of his heart. He feels like he’s adrift in the ocean, rising and falling with the cresting of wave after wave after wave, up and down, almost drifting toward wakeful consciousness before slipping back down into darkness.

Warm hands and gentle words are what eventually rouse Stiles from his slumber. He feels somehow disconnected, like he’s an onlooker of his own body, even as his eyes open and adjust to the soft light of an oil lantern. He can feel his body trembling as he’s coming back into consciousness. Then, all at once, wakefulness hits him like a punch to the gut. He sucks in a great, heaping gulp of air, his lungs on fire. The whimper that bubbles out of him is keening and weak, his throat aching like he’s been screaming.

He manages to raise his hands to his face, only to come to realize that there are large hands cupping his cheeks. Stiles blinks his aching eyes open to see Derek’s face taking up nearly his entire frame of vision. He presses his palms to the back of Derek’s hands and tries to open his mouth to speak, but only manages to take another painful breath before falling into a coughing fit.

It’s another few moments before he feels like he fully comes back to himself. He sits up, aided by Derek, only to come to find that he’s in Deaton’s infirmary wagon, sitting on a cot next to his father. Though he can’t see Deaton, he suspects the pair of boots he spies in the corner of his vision belong to the doctor.

“It happened again, didn’t it?” He finally finds enough of his voice to ask his father.

He hears his dad sign. “It’s alright, son. No one is blaming you. It’s alright.”

From off to his right, partially behind him, Stiles hears Deaton’s voice. “Stiles, do you understand what’s happening?”

Stiles sighs and gives a noncommittal shrug. “Probably something to do with what the Argents did to me, right?”

Derek shifts so he’s sitting on the cot next to Stiles. Though he moves his hands away from Stiles’ face, the warmth of the king’s fingers doesn’t leave Stiles’ body. He feels them fall down his shoulders, to his elbows, Derek pressing in close like his mere presence will chase away all the shadows that hang in the back of Stiles’ head.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, and Stiles suspects it won’t be the last. The first time, he’d woken up screaming, crowded in the slave quarters back at Argent keep. He’d woken half the room, and had been dragged out by one of the guards for the disturbance and given a beating. He hadn’t slept for two days afterward, terrified of falling asleep and having his dreams invaded by those that would use his body for their own pleasure. Even now, knowing that he was out of Argent clutches, Stiles could still feel their phantom touches; a hand over his mouth to keep him quiet, fingers gripping his hair to keep his head shoved down.

He’d only woken his father once like this since Stiles’ escape, and while he hadn’t exactly been forthcoming as to the reason he woke up screaming and flailing, Stiles knew his dad was no fool.

“Can I go outside?” he asks, his voice scratchy and trembling.

“I don’t think-”

“Are you sure-”

“What about-”

Three voices try to speak over one another all at once, and Stiles can’t help the violent flinch that wracks his body. Everyone goes quiet.

“Please. I want to see the stars, I want to see the sky. Please. Please.”

Derek doesn’t hesitate. He stands and carefully, gently, and brings Stiles to stand as well. He leads them both from the wagon and into the night. Stiles doesn’t feel he can lift his gaze yet, feels the heat of embarrassment and shame color his cheeks when he sees several sets of boots around he and Derek as they begin to walk.

“Sire?” he hears Isaac’s voice call.

Derek doesn’t respond in words; he make a low growl, and the feet Stiles can see around them begin to part and scatter away.

They start toward the edge of camp, then traverse beyond it, the entire time Derek’s large, warm hands guiding him with one at his elbow, and the other at his lower back. When they stop, Stiles can no longer hear the noise of camp. So far, Derek hasn’t said a word. Stiles takes a deep breath, followed by another, then slowly starts to raise his gaze. He doesn’t know what he expects to see on Derek’s face - the man has done little other than surprise him at nearly every turn - but the look of worry somehow manages to ease Stiles’ hammering heart ever so slightly.

He opens his mouth to apologize, but Derek shakes his head as if the king can read his mind. “No apologies. This isn’t your fault.”

Stiles closes his mouth, the worry that had knotted up his stomach beginning to unravel.

Slowly, so slowly, he turns his gaze further, up to the night sky. He sees Derek do the same out of the corner of his eye.

The stars blink overhead, ignorant of the troubles of all those that look upon them.

“I’ve killed people,” he blurts out. He doesn’t turn to look at Derek when the king’s neck practically snaps in his haste to look at Stiles.

Stiles takes in a shaking breath, then does what he does best; he starts to talk.

“They first took my body for themselves when I was thirteen, even though I’d been a mage slave for years before that. I couldn’t fight them off. I was too weak from being kept hungry for so long, conditioned to think that it was their right. Three years, it was like that. Then, one day, I was in town running errands and saw my dad. I panicked. He saw me, but I ran from him, because I was so afraid that if anyone from the castle found out that he was alive and looking for me, they’d kill him. I felt like a bomb for almost three days, just waiting for something to go wrong, to explode. The Argents never called us by name, though, and I don’t think more than a dozen of the other slaves even knew mine. I began to realize that no one in town would know who my father was asking after.

“I was working during the night, and one of the nobles cornered me. He started touching me, forced me on my knees. I took the knife from his belt and slashed his throat. I don’t remember doing it, don’t remember making myself move. I just remember standing there as he bled out on the floor with the knife in my hands.

“All I could think about was getting my dad to safety. I took the noble’s clothes - what wasn’t completely covered in blood - and what little coin he had on him. I tried to sneak out of the castle, but I was running on adrenaline, wasn’t thinking clearly, and walked out the front gate. Three of the guards bid me good night, but as I got to the gate nearest town, one of the guards recognized me and tried to stop me. I cut his throat, too. I think I just surprised him, is all. I didn’t feel bad for it. Still don’t. He was vicious, and took pride in beating any mage who so much as breathed wrong in his presence. I hurried to town, and was lucky I found my dad in the third inn I searched. I didn’t explain anything, I just took his hand, stole a horse from the stables, and we ran. We were out of the city before we heard the guard bells ringing. We ran the horse to death, and I do feel bad for that, I do, because it wasn't the poor beasts’ fault, and we only made it his because he was tied closest to the stable door.

“That’s why we were in Argent robes when you found us. I was still wearing the robes I took off the noble, and my dad was wearing whatever clothes fit him from the horses’ saddle bags. We rarely made fires when we camped, too afraid. We ate what we could forage as we ran; apples, berries, mushrooms, anything. I’d lost track of how long we’d been running by the time your scout found us.

“Dad knows I must have been mistreated by the Argents - he’s a smart man - but I can’t bring myself to tell him everything. He'd blame himself.”

He’s openly crying now, shaking, sobbing so hard he thinks he might vomit.

“But you need to know. You need to, because you treat me like I’m this precious thing, like you can fix me, like you can see my worth even though I’m broken, even though I’m not new. And I don’t know what to do with that. But it’s not just the rape; I’m a killer, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be right in the head, if there will ever be a time I don’t wake up screaming from nightmares about being beaten or raped, thinking there is blood dripping down my hands, down my thighs. I don’t know if I can let you touch me in an intimate way without thinking of them. I told you I’d let you try, but I - Derek, I-”

There are strong arms around him, bringing him close. Derek’s body is warm, solid, and while he feels some part of him should be shrinking away from the touch, he can’t help but fall into it. He’s never felt safe in the presence of another person since he was take from his father, and it scares him how much his body seems to seek the warmth of the king's embrace.

Stiles feels Derek press a kiss to his temple. “No one is perfect, Stiles. There are things in my past I’m running from as well. But you haven’t been shown kindness in nearly a decade, so I understand where your trepidation toward trusting me, and forgiving yourself, is coming from. What you did, you did to save yourself, your father. You did what you had to in order to survive. There is nothing you can say or do - now, in your past, or in days to come - that will make me give up hope.”

“What if I can’t - what if I can’t give you my body? What if-”

Derek chuckles against him. “The mere idea that I hold any of your attention, Stiles, is good enough. My soul is contented simply by being near you; physical intimacy, to wolves, isn’t everything. I know mated pairs who met when they were much too old for such things, and their pairings were still happy and healthy. True, there is a type of mate claiming that is reliant on sexual intimacy, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be incomplete if we don’t go through it. I can still give you a claiming bite without ever having to take your clothes off. Or, if you’d rather I didn’t bite you at all, we could simply get married, like humans do. My love, I would rather live in a world where I know you, even if I were never to touch you, than never having met you at all.”

And maybe it’s the tender way Derek calls him my love, or maybe it’s finally hearing Derek tell him a physical connection isn’t what he’s after, that finally settles Stiles. He’s still crying, but the tears are quiet as they fall. Like a great weight has been lifted from his chest, Stiles feels both light-headed and light in body.

“I’ve killed people, Derek. And you still want-”

“You think my hands are so clean? You think I haven’t taken a life?”

Stiles falls quiet. He’s not sure what to think.

“I’m sure the Argents have told you the tale of how I murdered their princess, Kate.”

Swallowing, Stiles nods.

“What’s their version of it, Stiles? What lies do they tell their people to slander me and mine?”

The air is thick between them, what little space their is. “They... they said she went to your kingdom to broker peace between the nations, and that... that you gutted her on the steps of the castle with your claws.”

Derek huffs a frustrated laugh.

“She came to my kingdom, yes, touting that she was there to create peace between us. But wolves can hear lies, Stiles, and we saw through her the instant we allowed her to set foot in the castle. We were being kind, letting her live at all, and told her she’d come willingly into enemy territory, and that she was our prisoner. Perhaps if her heart didn’t stutter so loudly when she lied, we might have given her the benefit of the doubt, but there was no one who believed she meant well.

“The bodyguard she’d brought with her was a mage who hid his tattoos and his magics like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. He killed the guards standing post in the entire wing of the castle she was taken to. I was... I was sixteen, and curious. I’d heard stories of my kingdom’s past with the Argents, but I’d never met any of the nobles, let alone royals. I couldn’t sleep that night; I was up, roaming my mother’s garden when I heard the door to their bedroom be broken down. I climbed the wall, but it was too late; the mage had incapacitated my mother, and as I entered the window, Kate pushed a dagger into my father’s heart.

“He was a human, not a wolf like my mother, and he didn’t survive. My father died because my people, even when lied to about bringing peace, chose not to look to violence. I watched the light leave my father’s eyes, and I knew there would never be peace between our kingdoms.

“I clawed the mage’s throat out before I even knew what I’d done. Without magic protecting her, Kate was just as human as any other. I took her by the hair, dragged her to the steps of the castle... and I ripped out her throat.

“I wasn’t an alpha, until that moment. I was a beta, content to follow my sister after she was given the crown. But she was half a world away, and I was an alpha, and my father was dead. My mother was strong, but it was easy to tell how my father’s death had all but run her to the grave in the weeks after his passing. They were mates, and his death almost killed her. By the end of the year, I was crowned king. When my sister returned, I offered her the crown, but she refused.”

Stiles realizes he’s crying, and it’s such a strange feeling, crying for a tragedy that’s befallen someone else for a change. He’s cried for himself so often and for so long that it feels almost cathartic to hear that someone else has dealt with misfortune in their own lives. His sobs shake him through, and he clings to Derek like he’s the only sure thing in the world that won’t float away, and Derek holds him back with all of the same strength.

He doesn’t realize his knees have given out until Derek is lowering them to the ground, Stiles turned so he’s resting with his back against Derek’s chest.

Off in the distance, he sees fireflies flitter in between the trees. Against his hairline, he feels Derek’s breath coast across his skin, the warmth seeping into his bones, into his soul. His tattoos, ever the restless things, are silent and unmoving on his skin, like they, too, are settled by Derek’s mere presence.

Their confessions hang heavy in the air, not because of the sins they share, but because of how their hearts both ache with what they’ve endured. Stiles never really thought royalty lead stress-free lives, but to hear Derek confess he’d watched his father die, and had been the one to take the lives of those that had stolen it, makes the king seem more tangible, real. Human, if the expression would be pardoned, considering Derek's dual nature.

Derek breathes into his hairline. “No one is perfect, Stiles. But I won’t hide anything from you, won’t lie to you. Anything you want to know, I’ll tell you. Anything you need, I’ll give you.”

Stiles leans back further into Derek’s embrace, resting the back of his head on the king’s shoulder. Derek presses his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck and inhales deeply.

There’s a disparity of class between them, at least the way Stiles has been made to think after all these years. Derek is a king, the highest station a mortal can obtain, while Stiles is a mage, a runaway slave. But under the stars that twinkle in the blanket of black above them, they are just people. They are made of blood and bone and sinew, and maybe not so different at all.

It’s a long time - or maybe it isn’t, Stiles isn’t so sure - before he stops crying. He watches the fireflies dance among the trees until they flutter out of sight completely. That’s when Stiles notices the flower patch Derek has settled them in. He leans over, and Derek eases his grip around Stiles’ body without a word.

Stiles reaches out and picks as many flowers as his greedy hands can reach, without moving out of the scope of Derek’s open legs.

It’s a silly notion, an almost-forgotten skill he hasn’t thought about since his mother was still alive, when they’d do this in the woods behind their house. But the motions keep his hands busy, because his mind is still mulling over the words that they’ve traded under the pale light of the almost-full moon.

“What are you doing?” Derek softly asks him, curious.

“You’ll see,” comes Stiles’ reply.

When he deems his creation finished, Stiles turns and raises himself up on his knees, reaches out, and adorns Derek’s head with a crown of flowers. He wipes at his eyes with his sleeves.

In front of him, Derek laughs out loud, grey-green eyes alight with mirth.

Stiles can’t help but laugh right along with him. And it feels strange, having admitted what he had out loud, to someone else, then laughing about something else. It was something that was eating away at him, festering in the pit of his stomach like spoiled food. Telling someone has eased him. It hadn’t absolved him; he’d still taken the lives of two people... but so had Derek.

Now, it didn’t feel like there was someone pushing back against his chest when he took breath any longer.

Derek’s hands are at his elbows, a smile on both their faces. “I like the sound of your laugh,” he admits, out loud, like it could never be a secret.

Stiles’ smile widens. He looks away, but he can feel the way his cheeks heat.

Without speaking another word, Derek stands and scoops Stiles up in his arms. Stiles is curious about the limit of werewolf strength as he loops his arms around Derek’s neck. Derek carries him like he weighs nothing, and it intrigues Stiles to little end.

Derek takes him back to the tent, gently sitting him down on the bed. He walks to the basin of water on the nightstand and wets a washcloth, then walks back to where Stiles is seated atop the covers. Softly, he coaxes Stiles to raise one of his feet, and swipes the washcloth along the bottom of it.

“Can’t have my mate sleeping in a dirty bed,” Derek says as he gently takes Stiles’ other ankle in hand and repeats the process.

Stiles watches him, quietly, curiously. He sees his tattoos flood to his ankles and feet where Derek touches him, feels them buzz across his skin like a warm breeze.

Derek tosses the washcloth back to the basin as he passes by the table, where he snuffs the lantern and plunges the tent into darkness. Stiles hears as Derek’s footsteps near the bed, where the king then tugs at the covers, ushering Stiles under them. Just like so many times before, Stiles is tucked into bed by The Wolf King.

It’s a good, long stretch of silence that fills the tent.

“What’s on your mind?”

Stiles jumps, not having expected Derek to speak, let alone know that he was lost in thought.

“I just...”

“You can ask me anything, Stiles.”

“Did you really just wash my feet?”

Derek laughs, and it makes Stiles’ heart tighten when he hears how happy the sound is. “I did,” the king finally admits. “Sorry for laughing, I just hadn’t expected you to ask that. Should I not have? I’m not overly versed with the customs of where you and your father are originally from. I didn’t insult you, did I?”

Stiles rubs at his face. “I don’t think so? I mean, I was still pretty little, when I was taken, so I don’t know much about my homeland, you know? I just... wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.”

“If you don’t like something, you can say so. I just thought that you’d prefer to keep your bedding clean.”

“Is it a wolf thing?”

Derek’s hesitation speaks volumes.

“When I talked to Scott earlier, he mentioned stuff about grooming being a big thing for wolves when it comes to their mates, and it made me think of the other day, when you fixed my nails and put lotion on my hands.”

“It is a wolf thing, partially, yes. My instincts run deep with the need to care for you and tend to you. But just as much as I am a wolf, I am also a man, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t dirty your bedding.”

Stiles scoots over to the side of the bed, peering down to where Derek lays, despite how he can’t see through the dark of the tent. Stiles doesn’t know if Derek can see in the dark or if that was another crazy like the Argents spoon-fed him for most of his life, but when he leans over, he sees the soft, deep red glow of Derek’s eyes.

“Why do your eyes do that?”

“Most of the time, it’s involuntary. Red eyes signify that I’m an alpha. They glow to let my pack and others know I am aware of them, though sometimes they flash when my emotions get the better of me.”

Stiles leans his head on the side of the bed and closes his eyes, his face still close to the edge. He feels the soft touch of Derek’s thumb as it swipes at his wrist. “You okay?”

“Crying is draining,” he admits.

He hears Derek sigh as if in agreement. “It can be liberating sometimes, too.”

Derek’s pinkie hooks around Stiles’ own, and the king leaves it there.

Stiles doesn’t shake off the touch. Derek’s hands are warm and soft, and he can feel his tattoos comes to rest around where their skin touches. He falls asleep quickly, and his slumber is dreamless.

Chapter Text

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 1, Page 25

Scenting is an extremely important concept and practice to wolves. For creatures that rely so heavily on their enhanced senses, there are many wolves that value their ability to smell above all else. To render a wolf without the ability to smell would be akin to rendering any human blind.

In practice, scent is what links one wolf to another. Scenting can take many meanings, from protecting and letting other wolves know that someone is family or pack, to a more intimate setting, informing other wolves of mating connections if a claiming mark isn’t visible, or if a wolf is courting their mate.

Scenting practices can vary. The most common form is from simple touch. A hand placed on the back of a neck is the most common way to touch-scent, and is prevalent among betas, as well as from alphas to betas. In times of crisis or turmoil, a wolf will often seek out physical touch from their packmakes. Sleeping in the same area together, often touching one another, is a practice that helps relieve stress. When one member of a pack passes away, the remainder of the pack will often sleep in the same room for several nights as a means of comfort during their time of mourning, reassuring themselves that the rest of their pack is alive and well around them. Many wolves, especially born wolves, often simply touch their packmates as they pass by one another, on the arm of shoulder, as a means of acknowledgement.

Scenting at pulse points is common as well, like at the wrist or throat. These places, however, are mostly a scent point between close pack.

Adding to this, there are several forms of more intimate scenting, and are most common among mates. Saliva is a potent scent carrier, and wolves will often leave wet kisses along the neck of their mate, as the scent lingers far longer than skin-to-skin contact. Outright licking isn’t unheard of, either, and for wolves isn’t seen as strange, though it is mostly something done behind closed doors.

The most potent scent transference between mated pairs is the swapping of bodily fluids. A male alpha, as a territorial show, after copulation, might rub his seed into the skin of his mate. Additionally, this means of scenting carries for far longer than any other method.

---

Stiles wakes to the warm glow of dawn illuminating the tent. When he goes to move his hand to wipe the sleep from his eyes, his fingers untangle from where Derek had been holding onto them, presumably, for the duration of their time asleep. Stiles smiles down at the still sleeping king when he maneuvers so he can look over the edge of the bed. Derek doesn’t snore, but his breathing isn’t completely silent, either.

Unsure of what to do, Stiles sits up. He looks around the tent. Normally, Derek is awake and has either brought him breakfast, or is on his way to bring it to him and-

Stiles hoists himself up, as quietly as he can. He keeps his sleep clothes on, but slips his feet into the soft shoes at the bottom of the bed. As he nears the flaps of the tent, he peers over his shoulder. Sure enough, Derek is still sound asleep, fingers clutching at the top of the bed where their hands had rested through the night.

Though he has no idea where it might be, and while he is no wolf, Stiles knows to follow his nose in order to find where the camp cook is. The smell of sizzling bacon is enticing enough, and the young woman who seems to be heading the entire kitchen area looks up at Stiles as he nears.

She smiles, and instantly Stiles feels at ease. Her face is kind, and, even though Stiles knows they’ve never met, she seems delighted to see him, like they are old friends meeting after a long time apart.

“You’re Stiles,” she says as Stiles comes to stand at the other end of one of the makeshift tables she’s heading. He nods as he looks at the plethora of steaming food in dishes set before him.

“I’m Kira.” She holds out her hand for Stiles to shake over a huge bowl of hash brown potatoes. He does so, unsure of how to feel when the young woman’s smile grows.

“Did Derek send you?” She asks as she starts cutting slices of some kind of cured sausage.

“Oh. Uh, no. He’s still asleep. I thought that since he’s always bringing me breakfast, I could bring something for him today. You know, return the favor, I guess.”

Kira’s eyes are bright and wide, like she’s absolutely delighted with him.

Stiles shifts from one foot to the next, unsure. He swallows. “I don’t, um, I don’t know what foods to bring him; I don’t know what he likes.”

Kira winks at him. “I’ve got you covered,” she says as she turns on her heel and picks up a plate from behind her. She heaps spoonfuls of hash browns onto it, followed by half a dozen sausage links and too many strips of bacon for Stiles to count at a glance. When it looks like she’s finished, however, she doesn’t simply hand the plate off to Stiles. Instead, she turns and puts the plate on a wooden tray, then turns back and grabs another plate. She scoops several hotcakes onto this one, with some sliced fruit on the side, as well as slices of the cured meat she’d cut just before. When she finishes the second plate, she sets it on the tray, picks the whole thing up, and turns back to hand it to Stiles.

There’s a howl that echoes through the camp, and Kira completely freezes. Stiles’ heart kicks up, beating an uneven staccato in his chest, and he doesn’t know why. The sound he hears isn’t fear-inducing. In fact, it sounds more mournful than anything.

From just behind him, he hears another howl, and when he turns, he’s surprised to see that it’s Boyd. The man’s head is thrown back, and while the howl he’s letting loose is obviously some kind of reply to the earlier one, Boyd’s doesn’t sound sad at all.

Stiles looks between Boyd and Kira for a few moments, before he hears the thundering of nearing footsteps. He turns to see Derek, disheveled and shoeless, running toward him.

He skids to a stop in front of Stiles, who takes a step back, unsure of himself. Derek looks half wild, his mouth open, his eyes wide.

“I woke and you were- you were gone. I’m sorry, I was worried something happened, that you-”

Stiles points to Kira, who is still frozen in place and holding the tray of food. “I was getting you something to eat, since you always bring me food.”

Derek’s mouth closes so quickly, Stiles sees Kira flinch from the loud sound it makes. The king's eyes glow red, and he takes a slow, tentative step toward Stiles, reaching out his hand.

Though Stiles still hasn’t gotten used to the idea of glowing eyes in another person, the look on Derek’s face is one of open wonder, like he’s trying to piece together something. Despite this, Stiles gut doesn’t churn at the prospect of taking Derek’s hand, so he does just that, letting his fingers slide across the palm of the king. Derek’s grip is strong, but somehow Stiles knows that if he were to try to pull his hand away, Derek would let go.

With his free hand, Derek reaches out as he turns to Kira, who deposits the tray in his waiting grasp. Then, without so much as another word, Derek begins back toward their tent, tray in one hand and Stiles’ own hand in the other. As they pass by those who are already awake and outside their own tents, Stiles notices he and Derek are offered more than a few smiles and sideways glances.

But Stiles isn’t a wolf, and he doesn’t understand what Derek’s silence means, what those smiles and looks mean, and it only makes his heartbeat ratchet up that much quicker. True, he feels that at this point Derek won’t hurt him, and while his instincts haven’t really steered him wrong, there’s a first time for everything.

Once they are back in their tent, Derek steers Stiles to the bed and ushers him to sit, setting the tray of food down next to him. Instead of joining him, like Stiles half expects the king to do, Derek stalks over to the table, leaning against it, his hands gripping the sides so tightly Stiles thinks he hears the wood groan.

Derek doesn’t speak. In fact, Derek hardly moves, and it makes the cold dread of anxiety creep up Stiles’ spine.

Finally, Stiles ventures to speak. “Did I do something wrong?” he whispers, feeling more than a little unsure.

Derek’s gaze snaps to his, and Stiles startles to find that Derek’s eyes are still glowing red. The king’s face softens, and he shakes his head. “No. No, you’re done nothing wrong. Give me a moment to compose myself, and I’ll explain.”

Stiles finds himself nodding, eased by Derek’s words.

“Eat, if you’re hungry,” the king urges.

Stiles shrugs. “I got it for you.”

There’s no mistaking the sound the table makes as one of Derek’s hands practically goes through it. Derek lets go of the table and takes a step back, running his hands over his face.

Not knowing what else to do, Stiles takes up a strip of bacon and crams it in his mouth. If his mouth is full, he can’t talk, right? He’s on his third strip of bacon when Derek finally meanders over and sits on the bed, the tray between them like some kind of fence.

“It is customary for a wolf to provide the meals for whom they are courting. Feeding our mate instills us with a sense of pride, knowing that we can provide for them. It shows that we put our mate first, wish them full and happy.”

Derek sighs, and Stiles notices the king is doing his best to avoid his gaze.

“For their courted to provide food in return is a show of affection and acceptance.”

Stiles swallows.

“But you’re not a wolf, you don’t know our customs, so I won’t hold you to it. My instincts ran away with me a bit, and I know you didn’t mean-”

“Just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean I didn’t mean it.”

Derek’s eyes snap up to meet his, irises glowing deep red.

Stiles swallows again, shifts a bit, but doesn’t avert his gaze. “You always bring me food. You always make sure I’m fed. You’ve given me gifts, and have taken care of my father and I. You’re kind to me, and I wanted to return the favor.”

And now that the words are spoken out loud, Stiles doesn’t feel so tightly wound. He may not be a wolf, but he knows kindness should beget kindness, no matter the meaning behind it.

Besides, it’s not as though he doesn’t like Derek. The man is handsome - Stiles isn’t blind, and he’s kind and the people that Derek surrounds himself with genuinely seem to like him. And, beyond that, the king is patient and gentle with him, putting no pressure on him from any angle. He’s offered Stiles out after out, seeking his permission, offering him comfort.

“I told you... I told you that I’d let you try. This is me trying, too.”

Derek’s hand comes up, but pauses halfway between them.

“What?” Stiles asks.

Derek swallows, but remains silent. He lets his hand fall.

“Tell me,” Stiles urges.

Derek sighs. “I’m always afraid to ask something of you that you can’t give me. I don’t mean to ever pressure you, but my instincts, my wolf-”

“If you ask something, and I tell you no, you won’t become angry, will you?”

Sucking in an almost frantic breath, Derek shakes his head. “Of course not, Stiles, I’d never-”

“Then ask . And if I can’t, I’ll tell you.”

Stiles marvels at his own words, at the very boldness of them. He knows his hands are shaking, and his throat is dry, but here, next to Derek, he feels no fear.

“I’d like to scent you,” Derek finally admits.

Stiles’ brow furrows. “Scott said something about it when we talked, but I... can you explain it to me?”

Derek nods fervently. “One of the ways wolves rely on scent is for comfort. Scents carry on skin for a time, and alerts other wolves to relationships. I might touch the elbow, or back of the neck, of one of my betas if I sense they are having a difficult time. The transfer of scents eases them, and lets other wolves know that I’ve tended to those in my pack, that they are under my protection. For alphas, like me, scents carried on the skin of those close to me eases my own instincts, too. I’m not entirely sure how else to explain it, since I’ve never been human, and I’m not sure what it’s like for you. Betas share scents to ease one another and confirm their relationships. Alphas scent more to...”

Stiles bites his lip. “Is it, like, a territorial thing?”

Derek pauses for a moment, then nods. “If my betas smell like me, others know they are under my protection.”

Fidgeting, Stiles looks down at his hands in his lap, picking at the nail bed of his thumb with his index finger. “Last night, when you carried me back, and I put my face in your neck...” He can feel his cheeks heat.

“That was for comfort. Even if you’re not a wolf, you’re the mate of one. There are some things that transfer through the connection without either of us knowing or understanding why, even though we aren’t actually mated. Just like you scented me last night, I woke up because I could feel your panic, even in my sleep.”

“So, if you sent your betas so others know they are under your protection, is it the same for mates?”

Derek’s silence speaks volumes. The king sighs, looks almost lost, like he can’t find the words he means to speak.

“Tell me,” Stiles says, gently.

“I don’t - it’s not-” Derek scrubs at his face with the palms of his hands.

Stiles waits, patiently.

“It’s so others know that... know that you’re mine.”

Stiles is quiet for a long while, processing Derek’s words.

A month ago, the prospect of belonging to someone would be both terrifying, and, quite frankly, the norm. His body hadn’t belonged to him in a long while, always at the beck and call of any noble who took a liking to his lithe frame, of his plump, cupid's-bow lips.

But Derek isn’t asking for surrender. The idea of belonging seems different to wolves, or so Stiles has pieced together thus far in their company. True, he’s no expert, but Stiles knows that the demands forced on him at the hands of the Argents aren’t even in the same scope of what Derek is simply asking of him.

It’s more than that, that much Stiles can see.

“Just you?” Stiles finally asks.

Derek looks across his face, searching, his eyes red once more. “Just me. Only ever me.”

Stiles knows that Derek understands what he’s speaking of, without having to put anything into words, how he was passed around like a commodity.

“And...” he swallows. “And if you smell like me...”

Derek’s growl is low, but it’s not threatening. He inches closer to Stiles, ever so slightly. “Everyone would know I’m yours.”

There it is, what Stiles seems to have been looking for without actually realizing it. For as much as the thought of belonging to someone scares him, there is a sense of equality when it comes to wolves and the very idea of possession. Derek had said that mates are equal in all things. So, it only makes sense that if Stiles belongs to Derek, then the king would...

The king would belong to him.

And maybe it’s the connection shared between them, as Stiles doesn’t understand how else he’d know what to do, but he tips his head toward his shoulder, effectively presenting Derek with his bare throat and simply waits.

He hears the king left out a soft gasp before he hears the tray that sits between them be pushed to the side, and then Derek’s warm hands are on his elbows, drawing them towards one another.

Derek’s hot breath cascades over the skin at the junction of his throat and shoulder, and it makes gooseflesh erupt down Stiles’ arms, sending a shiver down his spine. He hears Derek pull in a deep breath, and then another, before he feels Derek’s lips press a kiss to his flesh. His hands move on their own accord, his fingers gripping the fabric that covers Derek’s biceps like it will ground him. He can feel the way his chest constricts with something other than fear and revulsion as Derek presses another kiss to his skin, and he almost laughs with the way Derek’s scruff tickles as it follows the path of the king’s lips.

Derek presses forward, just the barest amount, and Stiles finds himself leaning back, his grip on Derek’s shirt tightening. There’s a sound emanating from Derek’s chest, and Stiles knows it’s too low, too soft, to be a growl. It’s more like a pleased sound, a happy sound, and it makes something in Stiles’ chest flutter.

He’s pushed back again, and everything changes.

Suddenly, he feels like he’s pressed against a cold stone wall, unable to do anything more than stand still and take what he is given.

Stop,” he gasps, tears at the corners of his eyes.

Derek is off of him in half a heartbeat, halfway across the tent, looking just as scared as Stiles feels.

“I’m sorry,” the king chokes out. “I’m sorry, it was too much, I shouldn’t have-”

Stiles leans backward, falling to his back, half out of breath. “You stopped,” he breathes, eyes blinking up at the roof of the tent. He wipes his tears away with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Of course - of course I stopped.” Derek sounds out of breath.

Stiles’ laugh is almost hysteric. “You stopped,” he repeats, running his hands over his face. It takes a moment, but he manages to bring himself back upright, sitting and staring at Derek who looks absolutely wrecked.

“You stopped,” Stiles says one more time, like Derek hadn’t heard him before.

Derek begins toward the bed, slowly, tentatively. He nods, like he can’t trust his own voice. When Stiles doesn’t flinch away, the king falls to his knees next to the bed, his head bowed like he’s ashamed.

“You stopped when I asked you to, when I told you to stop.”

Stiles doesn’t know what comes over him and without thought he reaches out and cards his fingers through Derek’s hair. The king lets out a soft little groan, and he leans forward to press his forehead against the side of the bed, giving Stiles a better angle. They sit like that, for a long time, the silence between them neither awkward nor heavy.

Here, before him, sits The Wolf King, the king of demons, the creature that had rampaged through Stiles’ nightmares for years when images of what had been done to him at the hands of the Argents had run their course... and he’s nothing like Stiles had ever even thought to imagine. He’s kind and sweet, loved by his men, and handsome and Stiles...

Stiles thinks of how easy it would be to fall in love with this man...

The thought both electrifies and terrifies him. He swallows past a lump in his throat, and instead turns to concentrate on the feeling of Derek’s hair as it glides past his fingers.

“Earlier,” Stiles begins, because he’s nothing if not curious. “I heard you howl.”

He feels rather than hears Derek nod under his fingers. “I woke up and you were gone. I was terrified, and I panicked.”

Stiles smiles. He feels okay, he feels good . Derek said he’d never lie to him, and here the mighty king sits, practically being petted, admitting openly that when he’d woken to find Stiles missing, he’d panicked. The Wolf King was scared.

“Thank you,” Stiles whispers.

Derek pulls back to look up at him. The man looks half drunk, his eyelids at half mast, his cheeks ruddy. He looks confused for a moment, like he doesn’t understand what Stiles has only just spoken.

Stiles leans forward and presses a kiss to the king’s forehead. “Thank you,” he whispers, again, before pulling back.

“You told me to stop. What kind of man would I be if I’d-”

“Not just that,” Stiles says, scooting over and pulling the tray forward. He leans over and pats the bed, indicating that he’d like Derek to join him. The king does so, looking confused. “Thank you, for everything.”

Derek tilts his head, but when he goes to speak, Stiles pushes the tray at him, leaning forward and swiping another piece of bacon for himself. He crams it in his mouth as he smiles up at Derek, who still looks confused, but lets his lips curl in a smile as he watches Stiles eat. He takes up a piece of bacon for himself, looking warm and soft as he gazes down at Stiles.

They eat in amicable silence thereafter, the quiet of the camp slowly fading as more and more people wake and ready themselves for the day.

Just like before, Derek is kind enough to go behind the dividing screen when he changes into his day clothes, and when it’s Stiles’ turn, he hums so that Stiles knows exactly where the king is.

Stiles dutifully folds his clothes and brings them to the chest to be stored. As he nears, he sees that Derek is wearing the crown of flowers he’d woven the night before.

Surprised, Stiles blinks. “You’re going to wear that?”

Derek catches the look, and offers a smile in return. “Of course. You made it for me, with your own hands.”

There is a warm and almost foreign feeling creeping up Stiles’ spine. He turns away from the king so he doesn’t have to think about what it could mean.

Chapter Text

Folklore and Fairytales, Page 26

 

Lay your head down little one,

Set your ear upon your pillow

For I am to tell you the story of

Lauralie, Amelia, and Willow.

 

Lauralie, eldest of three,

Steadfast, stubborn, and smart,

Yet under her hard demeanor,

A soft and gentle heart.

 

Amelia, middle of the sisters,

Brave, cunning, and bold,

Quick as a whip, fast as an arrow,

With a heart of solid gold.

 

Youngest of the sisters three,

Willow, soft-spoken and kind,

But kindness is not weakness,

And she'd remind you if inclined.

 

None were fiercer than the three,

In battle, they couldn’t be beat;

One on one or free for all,

They'd knock you off your feet.

 

No homeland of their own, they marched,

They tamed the wilds, tamed the land.

Strike with a sword, fly arrow from bow,

All were safe under their hand.

 

Chosen by dear Mother Moon,

Lauralie and Amelia each found their mate,

Steadfast warrior like Father Sun,

Willow didn’t mind her fate.

 

She set upon herself to teach all she knew,

She wanted the kingdom to grow,

She taught them all to swing a sword,

Through sunshine, rain, and snow.

 

And under her guide, the kingdom grew

To what we have today,

Where ‘wolf and fay and mage coexist,

And everyone has a say.

 

---

 

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 5, page 198

There is much speculation about The Sisters Three, to whom many wolves credit as the founders of their capital city. The sisters, however, existed in a time before scribes of the common tongue were frequent, and the only thing left to go on, much like the myths of Mother Moon and Father Sun, were merely passed down by word of mouth. The most common, a poem, tells of the sisters Lauralie, Amelia, and Willow, who were fierce, unbeatable warriors. Without a homeland to call their own, they tamed the wild valleys previous thought to be too desolate for any creature to settle, along the northeastern coastlands of The Great Continent. There, under their rule, not just wolves but supernatural beings the world over came to settle and live in peaceful harmony. As times passed, Lauralie and Amelia found their mates, whereas Willow did not. According the legends, however, this was of no consequence to Willow, who went on instead to devote her life to the sword, and dedicated herself to training any and all who would raise arms to protect their shared land.

Under the rule of King Theodore Hale and his mate, Queen Talia, the dedication of Willow lives on in the training of the Elite, a set of fighters who guard not only the palace but the entire capital city. Few are picked to take on such a role, as few are dedicated enough to devote their lives to the service of others.

Further still, while the ruling family has always been wolves, the council of twelve have never had more than two wolves take part; the rest of the council is made up of mage, human, fey, and any and all other supernatural creatures who have been elected or nominated to serve. They advise the ruling house on any and all laws that are put to vote. For a more in-depth look at how the council functions, see chapter seven.

 

---

 

Stiles spends the day traveling with his father in Deaton’s wagon, helping the doctor with another set of salves. He’s told these ones are for helping soothe infant wolves and help them sleep, that the herbs in the mixture bring about a calmness and help the young babes make it through the night. Stiles eats up all the information Deaton offers him about the mixture, intrigued at how much scents can affect wolves, even before they can walk and talk.

He tells his father more about his books after lunch, takes them out and flips through the pages with his father at his side. They take the time to look at the pictures, and he and Stiles identify several plants that grew around the home Stiles was born and raised in.

Stiles doesn’t ask what happened to their house. He imagines, since his father has neither mentioned it, nor carries any possessions save for a few trinkets in his pockets, that whatever happened to it couldn’t possibly be anything good. John hasn’t mentioned anything about ‘going back home’ either, which only furthers to cement the idea that much more in Stiles’ head. He seems content to be going to Derek’s home kingdom, or at least he hasn’t said anything to make Stiles think otherwise.

But for as much as Stiles would like to ask, he doesn’t. Losing his mom had been hard, on both he and his father. He can’t imagine what John had gone through after the Argents had taken his only son. Stiles wants to ask his father how long he searched for him, how long he scoured the different cities through the Argent’s kingdom looking for his boy. But, he can’t bring himself to do it. He remember the haunted look in his father’s eyes when they’d first been reunited, how haggard he’d appeared, how his relief had seem to add a good ten years back to his father’s face. Their first night back together had been spent mostly in tears, clinging desperately to one another.

Stiles surmises that it must be the same for his father, though. His dad doesn’t ask what was done to him at the hands of the Argents, of the nobles in their keep, of what wicked things had been done to him behind cold, stone castle walls. John doesn’t bring up Stiles’ screaming fit from the night before, even though Stiles has a feeling his dad knows why. There’s not overly much in the world that will cause a man to wake in the middle of the night, screaming and weeping, after all.

As much as he loves to spend his time with his dad now that they are back together, he feels like he’s being drawn to Derek. The ink inlaid in his skin dances even before Stiles sees Derek coming, and it’s an almost strange warmth that passes through him when he sees the king smile at him when they meet for the first time, after spending much of the day apart.

That night, he and Derek eat in the king’s tent, like they always seem to take their evening meal. This time, however, they eat together, like they had at breakfast. It’s a strange thought, that Stiles honestly thinks he’s coming to enjoy the time he spends in the company of The Wolf King.

“Did you have a good time with your father and Deaton today?” Derek asks as he places the tray of food between them on the bed.

Stiles nods through a bite of sausage. It’s still hot, and it’s juicy and flavorful as it bursts across his tongue. He swallows before he speaks. “I helped Deaton make more medicine. Then I showed dad the plant book, and we even found things that grew around our house when I was little. It was nice.”

Derek eats a sausage of his own, nodding along as Stiles talks.

“What do you do all day?”

Sitting up a little straighter, Stiles thinks Derek is pleased that he’s being asked after. “I lead the caravan, but I also delegate as we go. I have scouts that report back to me throughout the day, letting me know of what is happening in the area, who might be passing, making sure we are safe from spies. I have a few mages in my employ that focus their magics on helping to predict the weather, so I know if we need to stop and set up camp earlier. The kitchen carts report to me, let me know what they would like to prepare. Sometimes I send some of my wolves along ahead to hunt, and the caravan catches them up so they don’t have to haul their kills all the way back.”

“Mages that predict the weather?” Stiles asks, more than a little interested.

“I’m not a mage, so I’m not entirely sure how they manage it, but the way it’s been explained to me is that they record wind speed, temperature, and moisture levels. There’s an entire guild back at the capital whose entire focus is on predicting weather.”

“You said... you said that you employ them?”

“I pay them fair wages, yes.”

Stiles looks down at his lap, blinking. He bites the inside of his cheek to keep his emotions in check. Mages being paid a wage? It’s such a jarring prospect, to hear his fellow mages be treated well, that it almost makes him dizzy.

Stiles clears his throat and quickly changes the subject. “Kira, the girl I met this morning; she seems nice.”

Derek nods. “Her mother is good friends with my mother, and a very wise woman. I’ve known Kira since she was young. She’s the same age as my sister, and I see her much like family.”

“Is she a wolf, like you?”

“Actually, she’s a kitsune.”

Tilting his head, Stiles gives Derek a confused look. “A what?”

Derek smiles. “A kitsune. Kira and her mother come from a country across the ocean. In her native tongue, kitsune means, I believe, fox.”

“Wait, so is she’s, what, a werefox, the way you’re a werewolf?”

Derek seems surprised at both how talkative and inquisitive Stiles is being, and he leans forward, pops another sausage in his mouth, and continues talking after he swallows. “Werewolves aren’t the only type of non-human creature out there.”

“My mom knew lots of stories about fairies and the like, but I’ve never seen one myself. I don’t really know what’s folklore and what’s real. The scullery maids back at the Argent’s keep used to threaten me with the scary stuff, like wendigos and kelpies, when they wanted me to behave, but, I mean, I have magic, and you’re not anything like what they told me you’d be, so-” he shrugs.

“Fairies are real,” Derek tells him, smiling. “Many of those back at the castle, that take up residence in my kingdom, aren’t human.”

His mind wanders back to all of the stories his mother used to tell him before tucking him into bed and he smiles, wonders if she knew what was real and what was just tall tales. It warms him through, to think of her in such a light.

Stiles thinks his mom would have liked Derek.

It isn’t until he reaches for a slice of apple that he notices how still Derek’s become. When he tilts his head up to look at the king, Derek’s eyes are slightly wide, his mouth open just enough for Stiles to see his ridiculous bunny teeth sticking past his lip.

“I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

Derek’s mouth closes, and he nods. Stiles hears his throat click as he swallows.

Deciding he’s already in over his head, Stiles shrugs and keeps going. “She liked stuff like that, magic and fairies, anything and everything that was different from the ordinary. Part of me is sad that she never got to see that I had magic in me, but at the same time I’m glad she was gone before I was taken. She always told me I was special, but I just thought that was her nice way of telling me that I never stopped talking, and had too smart of a mouth by half. She liked kind people, valued patience and honesty. I think she would fit right in with your wolves.”

Stiles can see the sudden tightness in Derek’s jaw, can hear the way he tries to hide the ragged way he pulls air into his lungs.

“Stiles, could I-”

He doesn’t know how, exactly, he knows what Derek is asking without him speaking the words, but it’s there, in the forefront of his mind. He tilts his head to the side, and Derek pushes his face into the junction of Stile’s neck and shoulder, inhaling deeply.

This time, Derek doesn’t rub, doesn’t press a kiss to his skin. His breathing is deep, like he’s trying to commit Stiles’ scent to memory, but other than that, the king is still.

“I think my dad would have loved you.”

The words hit Stiles a little harder than he understands, because before he knows it, he’s raising one of his hands and pressing it to Derek’s shoulder, clutching at the fabric there. He knows what it’s like to lose a parent, knows what it’s like to have a hole left gaping and open that might close up over time, but it never really heals, never really goes away.

“He was talkative, loved to argue. He was obsessed with any type of societal advancement. I can’t wait to show you some of the things he thought up in his prime. We used to joke that there wasn’t a single book in the library that he hadn’t read, and every time I see you with one, it reminds me so much of him.”

That’s when Derek pulls back, blinks a few times, his cheeks ruddy. “I almost forgot,” he says as he slips from Stiles’ grasp. “I had picked this up because I thought it would be a good addition to the astrology books back in the library, but something you said last night made me think you might enjoy it more.”

Derek walks to the table and picks up a brown-wrapped parcel, then hastens back to sit at Stiles’ side on the bed. The king hands it to him, and Stiles takes it, curious, and surprised by his own lack of trepidation.

He pulls bow the strings have been made into, then unwraps the paper. It’s another book - that much Stiles had actually guessed the moment he saw Derek take it off the table - but the subject matter is surprising.

“It’s a book about star charting. It’s not just the measurements of their movements in the sky by the seasons, but it also has the werewolf legends behind the different constellations.”

Stiles is literally awestruck. He opens the book and starts to thumb through it, completely taken by surprise. “It’s wonderful,” he finally manages to get out.

When he looks up, Derek is positively beaming.

Stiles snaps the book shut. He throws his feet over the side of the bed. “Could we - I mean -”

“Right now?” Derek asks, past his still-blinding smile, an eyebrow arched.

Stiles laughs. “Are there stars out in the day?”

Derek’s faces goes completely blank for one terrifying second, and Stiles worries he’s let his damn mouth push him too far, yet again. But then, Derek throws his head back and laughs, laughs as though Stiles has just said the funniest thing he’s ever heard in his life. The king doesn’t even bother to say anything in retaliation; he simply reaches out, offering Stiles one hand, and when Stiles takes it, he turns and grabs the lantern off the table, then they hustle out of the tent, hand in hand, and into the darkness of the night.

Stiles is filled with absolute exhilaration. Derek’s still chuckling as he leads them through the tall grass, his hand warm and soft, and he feels like a kid again. He feels safe and looked after and it hits Stiles like a punch, the thought so jarring that it physically makes him startle.

Derek pauses, obviously having somehow sensed Stiles’ sudden change in demeanor. “Are you alright?” he asks, his voice genuinely full of concern.

Stiles smiles, nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”

And Derek smiles, because Stiles knows the lack of skip in his heartbeat tells the truth.

After a while, the camp a smattering of lights off in the distance behind them, Derek lets go of Stiles hand as he takes a few forward steps, then tramps down some of the grass around them. He sets the lantern down, then beckons for Stiles to join him as he sits.

He’s close to Derek, not close enough to touch, but close enough that they can share the light of the lantern at their knees and look at the book of stars Stiles opens carefully in his lap.

“Let’s see, today was the nineteenth of June, so-” he fingers a few more pages past where Stiles had opened the book. The page he opens to looks like a map, but one where a child has connected all of the cities to one another with lines, like some sort of game. Derek points to the largest star on the map, then moves his gaze upward. “The Lost Wolf, the one who guides all wolves back home.”

Stiles moves his gaze to the sky. It’s not hard to find the star Derek means. It twinkles upon the dark blanket that is the night, ever constant.

“The Lost Wolf?” Stiles says. “He sounds lonely.”

“Not as much as you’d think. He was a good king, but longed for a mate. He found his, and they had many happy years together... but she died in childbirth. The death of a mate can drive a wolf insane - to suddenly be without their other half, to be left bereft, the connection gone - and the king was not strong enough to keep moving forward. Instead, he sought aid of a blood mage, a mage who had committed such an atrocity that their magics completely abandon them, and they must use the blood of others as a catalyst to bring about spells. He begged the blood mage to bring his mate back to him, promised him any price.

“The blood mage asked for his blood, saying that the king’s blood was powerful enough to wake the dead. And the king, crazed with the loss of his mate, cut open his hand and gave the blood mage what he asked for. But what the mage didn’t tell the king was that what he brought back would not be his mate. The creature that inhabited her body was a monster, and she came at the king, who, in surprise, ended her second life with his own claws. The king tore apart the blood mage in his grief, then took his own life.

“But Mother Moon was not without sympathy. She saw the struggles of the king, his grief, and took up his bones, his spirit, and those of his mate, and turned them into a single star, together for all eternity in the night sky.”

Stiles swallows. “I’m not gonna lie. That’s pretty depressing.”

Derek nods, agreeing. “Yes, but it’s a teaching device to the young; cherish those that you have while they are still with you, and that nothing on this earth can pull something back from the dead.”

“Do... do wolves really go crazy like that?”

Sighing, Derek leans over so he’s resting some of his weight on his outstretched palm, nearly shoulder to shoulder with Stiles. “It depends. When I lost my father, my mother... she lost the light in her eyes. I’d never seen a couple more in love than them. The bond that’s created when wolves mate - it’s magic, it goes all the way down to your bones, to your soul. She lost a part of herself when she lost him. She came back to us, slowly. But she’s not like she used to be. She smiles, and she laughs, but I know there isn’t a moment that goes by where she doesn’t think about him, even though it’s been years since he passed.”

Stiles can feel his heart pounding. It seems that wolves don’t love with half their hearts, and the thought, honestly, is a little scary. To mean so much to someone, and have them mean so much to him in return? It nearly crushed him when he’d been taken from his father, and he’s sure his father didn’t bare much better, but the bond that Derek speaks of - one of magic, not just of blood - seems fathomless. He remembers some of the people who lived in the village near where he grew up, and he remembers losing them. He recalls a wife walking into a frozen lake and drowning herself when she’d lost her children, after only just losing her husband.

He feels Derek’s hand on his back, warm and steady and grounding, and it pulls him from his memories. “It just seems so terrifying, to love someone like that.”

Derek runs his hands across Stiles’ back. “Perhaps. But loss that grand only comes with a love more so. Just as much as it might be seen as a curse, so too is it a blessing.”

Stiles bites at his lips, fidgets. He doesn’t know what to do, what to say, doesn’t know how to react. When he was little, and his mother filled his head with stories of knights and princesses and fairies, and he’d believed that love could conquer all. Then, the Argents had stolen him away, and he’d learned nothing but how the world could hurt him.

“I’m not asking for for you to make up your mind right now, Stiles,” Derek’s voice makes him jump, his breath hot on Stiles’ neck. “Just know that the love of a wolf is forever. If that’s something you desire, then you have me. And if it’s not, the world keeps turning, and I’m ever richer to have even met you.”

And it’s the ache that settles at the base of his spine that scares him the most. Not that Derek, a king, could want someone like him. No, his magic - the most base thing about him, what flows in his blood and slinks across his skin in ink given life - that’s what is so frightening. Because it flows through his heart with each pump, scurries across his skin for a chance to be close to where Derek touches him, like it wants him, too. And it’s like pulling a stand of twine at two different ends; at some point it’s bound to break.

In a week, Stiles has gone from terrified of Derek to almost welcoming his contact when they sit near one another. He likes the king’s laugh, likes the color of his eyes, the sound of his voice, but the mere thought of trusting someone that much makes the cold tendrils of panic settle, like needles pushed into his skin, at the base of his neck.

He feels like another panic attack is forthcoming, can feel the icy breath of it creeping down his neck.

Derek shifts next to him, and Stiles can feel the king’s breath at his neck again. “May I show you my favorite?” he asks.

Stiles swallows, thankful for the distraction, and nods.

Fingers press to another part of the star chart, and Stiles looks down at the book in his lap. “The Three Sisters?” he reads.

He sees Derek nod from the corner of his eye, and he looks up as the king turns to face the night sky. Derek lifts his hand and points to an area of inky darkness dotted by three glittering stars in a neat line. “They were sisters, triplets, and as close as siblings could be. They are my culture's strongest warriors. No one could beat them; they were undefeated. Legends say they were who first settled in the valley where the capital of my kingdom is located, for it was only they who were strong enough to tame the land.”

Stiles like this story more than the last. “What happened to them?”

“Two of them found their mates, had families, were happy. The third was happy too, I think, in her own way. She trained warriors to watch over the city for when she was no longer able to. My eldest sister, Laura, is named after one of them.”

“Oh?”

“Lauralie was the oldest, Amelia the middle, and Willow the youngest.”

Stiles heartbeat kicks up excitedly. “The poem!” he says. “I read a poem in the book you gave me with those names.”

Derek's smile is dazzling, and he nods. “It’s always been my favorite. When we were little, Laura was so proud that she was named after Lauralie; she’d tell every new person she met.”

Stiles looks back to the book in his lap. “Is it nice, having siblings?”

He hears Derek chuckle. “Sometimes. We get along well enough most of the time now, but we didn’t always when we were little. Laura has always been quick-witted and keen with a sword, and Cora’s much the same, but I much prefer a good book to a duel.”

Stiles likes this, the ease with which Derek talks to him. And, if he must admit it, Stiles honestly likes hearing of it. He was an only child, and while his mother was always there for him when she was alive, he still missed out on much of his childhood after he was taken.

“It sounds nice, having a big family.”

Derek nods. “It is.”

“Your sisters are wolves like you, right?”

Another nod. “There’s only about a fifty percent chance that a child born with a wolf parent will be a wolf themselves, so for all three of us to be weres was a blessing, indeed.”

Stiles smiles a little. “You dad was human, right? He didn’t mind not having kids like him?”

Derek shrugs. “I take after him, even if I’m not human. For a long time after he passed, I know it must have been hard for my mom. I look like him, too.”

“They were really in love, weren’t they?”

“He grew up a little outside the capital city, so he was raised within the culture. Even though he was human, he was brought up around wolves, and knew their stories, their myths, knew about mates. He was apprenticing alongside his father for the first time, when he met my mother; training to be a merchant, he came to the city to help his father look at some of the new shipments of cloth that had come to port that week, and he chanced by my mother. Their eyes met, and he knew.” Derek laughs, suddenly. “My mother may appear as a prim and proper lady, but the first time their eyes met and she knew he was her mate, she tackled him to the ground.”

Stiles chuckles at the idea of a finely-dressed lady tackling a cloth merchant to the ground. Then, a thought crosses his mind. “Wait, your father was training to be merchant? But I thought you said he was king.”

He can feel Derek peering over his arm at the book his lap, his eyes dancing over the inked stars. “He was named king, after he and and my mother were properly mated.”

“Not prince-consort?”

Derek’s brows furrow for a moment. He squints at the page a little, then looks to the sky. “Wolves don’t recognize royalty the same way the Argents might; marriage and mating is just as strong as the ties of blood to us. Since mates are equals in all things, when she was crowned queen, he was dubbed king and ruled at her side.”

He barks out a strange laugh, one that causes Derek to meet his gaze. “Mates are equals? Then that would mean if I - if we - that is to say -”

“If you accepted me and became my mate, you’d be named king alongside me.”

Stiles thinks his brain kind of whites out for a moment, his limbs feeling a little light and floaty.

He doesn’t even recognize that Derek’s calling his name until the king gently touches his shoulder, touches his face and turns Stiles’ face toward him.

“Stiles!”

Stiles inhales, wetly, then begins to cough. When he gains his breath back, he turns to stare at Derek in open-mouthed bafflement. “I’d be king, just like that?”

Derek smiles, like he thinks Stiles’ reaction is somehow charming. He nods. “Just like that,” he confirms with a nod.

“Your people, your country, your family would just, what? Accept me as king? I’m a commoner, an escaped mage-slave. You’re trying to tell me your capital city wouldn’t riot in the streets?”

Derek actually snorts a laugh at that. “They’d take to the streets, but in celebration, not to riot. It’s a great deal in my home, finding your mate, and for one of the royal family to find theirs is a cause for celebration. The Capital City partied for a week straight when my mother was officially mated to my father.”

Stiles flaps his mouth open and closed a few times, coherent thought knocked clean out of him.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from, who you are; my father was the son of a merchant before he became king. My mother’s mother was a laundress. And you? You took the brunt of violence and abuse from an entire castle of Argent royals and nobles alike, yet came out on the other side with your head still about you. What’s not impressive about that?”

Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that. He can’t keep Derek’s gaze, so he turns to look at his hands in his lap. His chest is tight, and his mind is more than spinning. He swallows past the dryness of his throat, distressed at the flood of newfound emotions running rampant inside of him.

He struggled for years at the hands of the Argents, half the time convinced he should just end his own miserable existence. There were nights he went to bed so hungry, he was sure he wouldn’t wake come sunrise, and days he was so miserable and alone that he’d cry so hard he’d pull the muscles in his stomach while tending the laundry or checking the seams of the kegs in the basement.

How was any of that even the slightest bit impressive?

“Because you survived it,” Derek says, his warm breath cascading over the nape of his neck, and, oh, Stiles realizes that he’d spoken all of that out loud. “Because you survived it, and came out on the other side. You’re still loyal and loving; you took your father and fled, worried that what happened to you might befall him. You’re brave and fierce; despite the fear you had when we first met, you took a knife to me. You’re far smarter than you give yourself credit for; you’ve able to pick up on wolf behavior just by observation, and you’ve been around wolves for all of a week. Stiles, even if you weren’t my mate, you’re one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met.”

There’s wetness on Stiles’ hands, little drops that fall from the sky, but when the boy looks up, the night is still cloudless. He’s crying, he realizes, but it’s not such a bad thing this time. It’s more like a relief; his cheeks hurt, and he’s quite sure that if he were to think about it, he’d likely come to find that he’s smiling.

Derek’s a kind man, that much Stiles has been able to work out. But he doesn’t seem the type to mince his words, and, Stiles knows, wolves aren’t the type to lie. And he doesn’t exactly know why - or maybe he does, but can’t let his mind wander down that path just yet - but he understands that he trusts Derek.

“Thank you.” It’s a whisper; he hardly hears the words himself, even though he’s the one who has spoken them.

He feels Derek’s nose brush against the back of his neck, the king’s breath warm on his skin.

“I think that’s enough stargazing for one night,” he says, and there’s a soft gentleness to his voice that Stiles knows would allow for the argument of a not yet.

Stiles is tired, drained, but feels alright, feels almost good, and he nods easily in agreement. He moves to stand on his own, but Derek already has an arm around his middle, and, as if it costs the king not so much as a second thought, he picks Stiles up - book, lantern, and all - and begins back to their tent.

Stiles loops his arms around Derek’s neck and closes his eyes, allows himself to simply be. He likes the scent of the king, a deep, woody, earthy tone that reminds him of campfires and the forest after the rain. It’s as soothing as it is pleasant, and by the time Stiles realizes he’s being placed down on the bed, he’s stopped crying and feels reasonably lighter.

Maybe he just needed someone else besides his father to tell him he’s not as broken as he feels. And, well, broken things can be repaired, right? He’s not so shattered that all the pieces that make him up can’t be put back together. It’s not as though Derek hadn’t been trying to convey such to him, but... the king’s words, under the stars; they had been different than those spoken before.

“There’s something I wanted to speak to you about before we sleep tonight.”

Stiles turns his head in silent inquiry.

“Tomorrow night, the entire caravan will stop for a holiday celebrated in my kingdom, The Feast of the Solstice Moon. We are usually back to the capital by now, but we were delayed in leaving Queen Melissa’s kingdom, and then I found you, so we’ll be celebrating it on the road this time.”

Stiles blinks, a little sleepily. “Scott mentioned a few things about it the other day.”

“It’s very important to wolves, and I, as king, play a large part in some of the rituals. Starting just after dawn, I’ll be hand-picking some of the other weres to follow me into the woods for a large, day-long hunt.”

“And you want to know if I’ll be alright while you’re gone?”

Derek actually barks out a laugh at that. “Oh, there is no doubt in me that you’ll be just fine, with or without me. I just wanted you to know that you’ll have free reign of the camp, so if there is somewhere you wanted to go that you haven’t already, you’re welcome to it. Our blacksmith’s wagons are impressive, as is the theater troupe rehearsal for the play they will be performing at the feast. Someone will likely stick close to you to make sure none give you trouble, but that’s not what I wanted to...”

Derek sighs, twists his hands, and Stiles is suddenly wide awake.

“What?” he asks, softly, gently, trying to coax Derek from the little anxious spiral he seems to be delving into.

The king sighs. “I don’t want to scare you, but the hunting party will shift before he head off.”

“Shift?”

“Weres have, essentially, three forms; human, as you see me now, wolf, which we can only shift into on the full moon, and a sort of half-shift, where we remain as bipeds, but we have fangs and claws and lose a few of our human traits in exchange for some a little more lupine. I just didn’t want it to come as any great surprise to you, when suddenly a handful of us look like - well, to you, we might look a little more unique than you’re used to.”

Stiles can’t help but smile when the reality of Derek’s words roll through him; the king doesn’t want to scare him.

“Can you show me?”

Derek blinks, his face a little blank, like he hadn’t been expecting Stiles to just outright ask something like that. And, well, maybe Stiles doesn’t understand wolf etiquette, and what he’s asked is quite rude; how would he know? But the way Derek shakes his head like he’s once again somehow been impressed by Stiles lets the boy know maybe that’s not the case.

It’s slow, the process that Derek’s face goes through - or perhaps it’s not, and he’s simply slowing it down for Stiles’ sake. Either way, if Stiles were to say he’s not unnerved by the shift would be a lie. It’s more than a little strange, thinking human faces don’t, you know, transform, then being witness to it yourself, but Stiles feels that he handles it well enough. There’s that single, first moment of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of that which is different, before he tramps it down, his curiosity getting the better of him as he watches what he only previously thought was impossible.

Derek’s face stops shifting, coming to rest at where Stiles assumes must be the end of his partial shift, and it brings back memories of their first night together; he’d disrobed in front of the king, assumed his body had been forfeit, and had seen this same version of Derek before him that stands now. But this Derek is different; he’s slow to move, like he doesn’t want to spook Stiles.

“Can you always control when you shift like this?” Stiles asks, peering over Derek’s face carefully.

Derek shrugs. “Most of the time. There are instances where my emotions might get the better of me, and I can’t help the change.”

Stiles nods, leaning forward, pressing his elbows on his folded knees. “I remember, from the first night I spent in your company. Awake, at least.”

Derek blinks.

“I took my shirt off, thinking you were going to use my body, and you changed like this.”

Derek’s eyes glow a brilliant, bloody red.

“Yeah, that happens too, sometimes; the thing with your eyes.”

Looking genuinely surprised, Derek huffs out a little sigh. “You’re far too clever by half. I’d entirely forgotten I’d partially shifted that night.”

“So, would it be weird if I asked if I could touch your face?”

Again, Derek looks more than a little surprised.

At his hesitation to answer, Stiles speaks again. “Is that weird to ask of a werewolf? I don’t mean to be rude, I’ve just never seen anything like this before - or even thought it humanly possible, to be frank - and just, like, you’ve got claws and fangs and your ears and-”

Derek’s lips are pursed together, and Stiles realizes he’s holding in laughter. “It’s not really rude to ask, especially if you’re just curious.” He crosses the few steps that separate them, then kneels in front of the bed.

Stiles scoots close to the edge, then slowly brings out his hands. His fingers dance over the skin of Derek’s face, over the rough stubble of his beard. The tip of his index finger glances over one of the protruding fangs before venturing on. Derek’s pointed ears are thin and delicate, and the ridges on his nose and the added height of his cheekbones, strangely, don’t make him any less recognizable.

“This might seem like an insensitive question...”

“Oh?”

“Where do your eyebrows go?”

Derek laughs loud and long, the sound happy.

Chapter Text

Folklore and Fairytales, Page 1

 

Stretching Eternal

There, upon the fleeting horizon,

Mother Moon flees from sight

As Father Sun chases her.

Dawn, a fleeting kiss;

Sunset, a loving embrace;

Tied together forever,

Proof that love is everlasting.

 

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 6, page 200

 

The poem ‘Stretching Eternal’ is said to be one of the earliest instances of recorded werewolf poetry. It tells the tale of Mother Moon and Father Sun in a succinct way. The author is unknown. However, over the years, different packs have adapted the poem into various melodies. The packs that border the northern expense in the Werewolf home country use the poem-song as a way to greet the morning, almost like a prayer. It is often said before the morning meal, and tapestries with the poem embroidered are quite common as household decoration. Those packs that take up residence more toward the central and southern portions of the homeland sing the poem with a different tune, slower and sweeter. It is used mostly as a lullaby for small children, but it is also used as a type of prayer, twice a year, sung by all before the feast of the Solstice Moon celebration.

 

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 2, page 67

 

The notion of a High Pack is a somewhat commonplace occurrence for large packs. While there has been no found limit to the amount of creatures that can be contained within one pack, not all of those within a pack are of equal standing in terms of how much their Alpha can rely on them. The best comparison is to that of an army; while all those that take up a sword to defend their wolf homeland are dubbed equals in terms of stature, not all bring the same set of skills to the aid of their ruler. A foot soldier does not have the same knowledge and prowess of a general, and while they both serve their kingdom well, they do so in different manners. The High Pack is much like the generals that advise their leader; these are the wolves or other creatures that the Alpha trusts beyond doubt. A pack that is upwards of a hundred large might have a High Pack of perhaps only two, sometimes spanning to fifteen or more; the amount varies, most dependent on how large the pack is. While pack hierarchy - from Alpha to Beta - aren’t statuses that change due to overriding wolf instincts, those involved in the High Pack may come or go as they are needed by their Alpha or elsewhere. It is not uncommon for an Alpha ruler to denote smaller but highly important tasks to those in the High Pack if the tasks are more personal in nature, versus taking up the advice from the council of twelve (ie; temporarily looking after a mate or a loved one during an Alpha’s absence). For a more in-depth look at how a High Pack functions as compared to how the council of twelve functions, see chapter seven.

 

---

 

When Stiles wakes the next morning, it’s still a little dark in the tent. From the quiet that he hears resonating through most of the camp, it’s easy for him to surmise that not many are awake yet. He reaches his hands above his head and stretches out on the bed, his legs following suit as he stretches his entire body. A few joints here and there give a little pop, but nothing that hurts. He rolls over and peers over the edge of the bed. Derek, laid out on his furs on the floor, sleeps still.

The king’s eyes are closed, but Stiles can see the faint fluttering of his eyelids, and he smiles to himself, wondering what Derek might be dreaming of.

He doesn’t know how long he watches the king slumber for, but eventually Derek’s eyes flutter open. As soon as their eyes connect, Derek’s face lights up in a soft, sleepy smile. “Did you sleep well? Haven’t been awake long, I hope.”

Stiles shrugs, but reaches up to wipe the sleep from his eyes all the same.

Derek stretches a bit, too, then stands. He shuffles around for a moment in the chest at the end of Stiles’ bed before he pulls out a change of clothing for the both of them, keeping his in one hand and setting Stiles’ set near his hips, even though he’s still covered by the bedding.

Derek disappears behind the wooden screen on the other side of the tent and, like he seems to almost always do when he’s in Stiles’ company but cannot be seen, he starts to hum.

Stiles can’t help the fond little smile that curls across his lips at the king’s antics. He throws off the bed covers and dresses in a hurry so as not to make Derek wait. He folds his own sleep clothes before he opens the trunk and fishes around for the pair of shoes he’s been wearing the last few days. He’s not really used to having shoes that fit, that aren’t held together by string and sheer force of will. There are no holes in the soles of these shoes, either, and despite being made of soft leather, he doesn’t feel the sharp points of the gravel beneath his feet whenever he walks in them outside the tent. He can't help but like them.

Derek’s at his side a few moments later, and he sets his bundle of folded sleep clothes into the trunk next to Stiles’.

“Would you like to come with me to get our morning meal?” the king asks.

Stiles nods. “I like Kira. She seems nice.”

Derek smiles as he holds the flaps of the tent open for Stiles. “She is.”

As they near the kitchen wagons, Stiles can already see Kira hard at work on breakfast for the camp. Her sleeves are rolled up and her hair is tied back, and she offers Stiles a sweet, almost giddy smile as he and Derek near. “Glad to see you both this morning,” she says as she cracks a few eggs into a large skillet, single-handedly. “You’re station is open over there, your highness.” She rolls her shoulder in one direction, and Stiles’ eyes follow to a small table with a few pans and dishes laid out on them.

Curious, he nears the table, but a hand at the small of his back ushers him to, of all things, a small stool.

“Sit, please,” Derek says, and Stiles does as he’s told, though he’s more than a little curious when the king doesn’t move to join him.

Derek washes his hands in a small basin of water, then dries them on a cloth. From there, he lays one of the skillets over a basin of hot coals, and then-

“Are you cooking?” Stiles asks, both curious and more than a little incredulous.

Derek grins. “Wolf custom,” he explains, setting a few slices of bacon. “I’m courting you, thus I prepare any and every meal for you that I am able to.”

Something sits, warm and light, in Stiles’ chest, like a song. “Something something something providing for me?” he teases through a smile.

Derek laughs, bright and loud, and off to the side, Stiles hears Kira giggle, though she tries to hide it behind the back of her hand when he turns to look at her. She throws him a wink when their eyes meet.

For a king, Derek’s a good cook. Stiles hadn’t spent too much time in the Argent kitchens - he was much too clumsy for that - but he remembered how skilled the kitchen maids were, and Stiles thinks that Derek would give them all a run for their money. The cooked eggs he plates for them aren’t burnt, and their yolks look jiggly, despite the firmness of the whites around them. The little cuts of potatoes look crispy, not dried out in the slightest, and the pan-toasted bread is browned to perfection. Derek slices two apples and plates them in a spiral that reminds Stiles of a flower of some sort, and before he knows it, they are off, back toward their tent.

They eat in amicable silence until their plates are all but licked clean, and then Derek walks with Stiles to Deaton’s wagon. The king kisses the back of his hand as he bids Stiles farewell, and Stiles must enter Deaton’s wagon unknowingly wearing a smile, if the smirk his dad greets him with is anything to go by.

“What?” he asks, avoiding eye contact.

He hears his dad huff a soft laugh. “Not a thing. I didn’t even speak a word.”

“No, but your face said enough,” Stiles says as he takes his seat on the little stool near the head of his father’s cot.

His father makes a noncommittal sound.

Stiles tries to fall into his books as the wagons lurches forward, signaling the camp has started moving for the day, but his mind keeps wandering. He doesn’t even realizes he’s biting his nails until his dad’s fingers on his wrist cause him to still. Stiles looks up into his eyes, who is smiling softly, almost sadly.

“Your mom used to do that when she had something on her mind.”

Stiles can’t help the soft smile of his own that creeps up his lips. Even though he misses her, he’s still glad to hear his dad speak of his mother, especially so fondly. Sparing a moment to look around the wagon, Stiles notes that Deaton’s absence must mean that he’s riding up front or on some kind of errand at the moment. He closes his book - he wasn’t really reading it anyway - and leans forward, toward his father.

“Apparently, there’s going to be some kind of big festival tomorrow.”

His father nods. “Deaton’s been telling me about it. He says that it’s one of the biggest celebrations for his culture, even if you’re not a wolf.”

Stiles fidgets for a moment. “I’ve been talking to people about it, too. Since Derek’s the king, there’s extra stuff he has to do tomorrow.”

“The hunt?”

Stiles nods, glad his father is informed. “But...”

“But?” John urges his son.

Sighing, Stiles runs his hands over his face. “There’s stuff I guess I’m supposed to do. Derek’s told me not to worry about it - since I’m not a wolf, or from their homeland, no one’s going to hold it against me if I don’t follow traditions or whatever, but...”

“But?” John urges again, smiling.

Stiles sighs again. It’s been a long while since he asked his father for advice, and considering it’s about the possibility of his and Derek’s... future? Relationship? He doesn’t even know how to think about it, let alone put it into words. He digs the heels of his palms against his eyes. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he admits in a whisper.

He feels his dad put a hand on his shoulder, a calming gesture.

“I can’t tell you what’s right for you. Ultimately, you have to be the one to decide what to do with all of this. What I can tell you, though, is what I see when you’re not looking. That king of yours? Looks at you like you hung the sun in the sky. His people love him. I mean, yeah, technically he’s the reason I got shot in the leg by an arrow, but he did so thinking he was protecting his people. And let me tell you, the entire time you were out after you nearly set the woods on fire? All he did was apologize.”

Stiles chances a look at his father through his fingers. His dad is still smiling.

“Derek is a good man. He takes care of his own, is loyal, smart, and kind. But...”

“But?”

“After all that you’ve gone through - all the things you won’t talk to me about, I get your trepidation. It’s hard to trust when...”

Stiles nods, looking away from his dad, his stomach tight. He knows that despite what’s been left unsaid between the two of them, his father’s no fool and knows what befell him during his servitude under the Argents.

“These are a good people. I don’t think I’ve met someone in this entire camp I haven’t liked. That’s not to say that they’re perfect, but so far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen. They don’t keep slaves, they treat one another like equals, everyone takes care of each other. But this isn’t about everyone; this is about the two of you.”

Shrugging, Stiles sighs again. He doesn’t glance up to catch the eyes of his father, but he knows the man is looking at him regardless. “I’ve... I’ve been somewhat upfront about it with Derek. I’ve told him that given all that’s happened to me, the idea of a physical relationship terrifies me, might not be something I can give him.”

“And?”

“And he says that we wouldn’t even have to get married, if that’s what I wanted, that he’s happy just having met me. Apparently I’m it for him, too; he said that wolves don’t take lovers, that their mates are everything to them.”

“So, he’s not pressuring you in the slightest?”

Stiles shakes his head. “The only thing he seemed adamant about was for me to simply let him try to win my heart.”

John chuckles. “The more time I spend in their company, the more and more I like these wolves. Each and every one of them in this caravan seems fond of their king for their own reasons.”

“I’d... I’d be king, too. If I were to - if I-”

“What?”

Stiles throws his head back and groans. “They do things differently. Argents were all about heirs and bloodlines, but Derek said that, to wolves, mating and marriage are different than the way they are in other kingdoms. His mom was a princess by blood, but his dad was a merchant’s son, and when they were mated, his dad became king when his mom was crowned queen.”

“Easy as that?”

Throwing his hands up, Stiles lets out a half hysterical laugh. “Apparently. I asked if his people would riot in the streets over a ex-slave mage made king, and he said yes, but in celebration, not in anger. And where does that leave me? I can’t be king - I can’t even hold myself together most days, I wake up screaming, I’ve never had more than two pennies to rub together, I’m skin and bones - hell, I’ve eaten rats to keep from starving to death - I’m not polite or refined. I wouldn’t know how to run a country. I know how to run a wine cellar, how to scrub the laundry so the stitching won’t fall out, wring it out so it doesn’t stretch the fabric, I know how to sweep stone floors and polish silver until it shines, but those are hardly noble talents, I mean, I don’t know the first thing about tax laws, or what silverware I’m supposed to use at a fancy dinner party, or, or, or-”

John lets out a soft laugh. When Stiles looks up, his father’s smile is soft and warm.

Stiles opens and closes his mouth a few times, feeling awkward, unsure of what to say.

His father reaches out and brings Stiles into a warm, firm hug. “Mieczyslaw. The mere fact that you’re not sure you’d make a good king is honestly what makes me think you’d make an excellent one.”

He pulls back.

“Are you interested in Derek?”

Stiles feels his face heat. He swallows. “I’m... I don’t know. I’m afraid, dad. I’ve been hurt so much; I don’t think I could take it if I let myself fall for Derek and then something happened.”

“But what if nothing happened?”

Stiles scrunches his face at his father’s remark. “What?”

“You’ve been mistreated for so long now, you’ve geared up to protect yourself from things before they even happen. You’re so used to the bad, you’ve trained yourself to expect it. But tell me this; what if nothing happens? What if Derek is sincere, and cares for you, and you marry him - mate him, whatever - and things go well?”

Stiles looks down at his hands. To be honest, he’d stopped thinking about the idea of happily ever after about a year into being a slave. He’d watched people starve to death, shared rooms with sickness and disease, had his body used, been at the receiving end of far too many beatings that he’d come to believe that happiness was for other people, something only found in the fairy tales his mother used to tell him at bedtime.

“I’ll ask you again; are you interested in Derek?”

Stiles runs a hand across his hair, surprised at how long his it’s grown in the last few weeks. Under the Argents, he was never allowed to keep his hair longer than a few centimeters. A closely shorn head was the sign of a slave, to them. He swallows, stealing a glance at his father, who looks at him with patience and kindness.

“He’s... not unattractive ,” he finally admits.

His father raises an eyebrow. “Kid, I think you’re selling him a little short.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, but fights the smile that tries to tug at the corners of his mouth. “Fine. He’s handsome.”

“And kind.”

“And kind. Very kind.”

“And he’s already head over heels in love with you.”

Stiles chokes on his breath, not having expected that from his father.

John, remorseless, shrugs. “Am I wrong? You’ve already got him, Stiles. I’m pretty sure you could ask for the moon, and he’d legitimately try to pluck it from the sky for you.”

Regaining his breath, Stiles shakes his head. “You’re crazy.”

“He’s right, you know,” comes Deaton’s voice as he enters the wagon from the front-most portion.

“That’s not - I mean, you’re -”

Deaton shrugs, taking up his normal seat across from Stiles. “Wolves are creatures of instinct. Just as much as Derek is a man, he’s also a wolf. His wolf knows that you’re his perfect match in every way, and the man in him understands that his wolf will never steer him in the wrong direction.”

Stiles swallows.

“And while your mind may not know it, your magics do, don’t they?”

Stiles pulls the sleeves of his shirt past his wrists, hiding his skin, before leaning back and trying to tuck his neck into his collar. He doesn’t like it when attention is drawn to his tattoos, no matter how much he might otherwise love them. After all, magic is a bone-deep part of him, but also the reason he was taken in the first place.

He sees his father raise a quizzical eyebrow.

“Every time Derek touches you, your ink seeks him, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t like the idea of fate,” Stiles finally blurts, half angry, half upset. “Enough of my life has been spent out of my own control.”

Deaton shakes his head. “You’re mistaking fate with the idea of mates, and I understand how you’ve come to such a conclusion. But this isn’t out of your hands. Your magics call to him, the same way his call to you, but no one is dictating your future. Humans don’t feel the mating pull the same way wolves do, because humans, especially mages, are in control of their magics. The magic contained in wolves is more passive. He feels your connection at a bone-deep level, while yours, if you let your walls down, would be a slow seep, but would eventually grow just as strong. Ultimately, there’s nothing keeping you here, Stiles. You could leave. It would hurt Derek, but he’d survive it. He’s strong, like his mother.”

Stiles rubs at his eyes with his cloth-covered palms.

“There is no one here who will ask you to stay if it’s not what you want. In fact, if you asked Derek for a horse and a pile of gold so you could ride into the sunset, never to be seen again, he’d have it to you in a heartbeat. Just because wolves have a different view on magical connections, and the idea of mates, doesn’t mean your future is cemented.”

His dad pulls him close and hugs him tight. “Stiles, I married your mother because I loved her. All I ever wanted for you was to find someone who made you feel the same way your mom and I felt about one another. I have you back in my life, after thinking I’d lost the both of you for good. There’s nothing you can say or do that will change the fact that you’re my son and I love you. I’ll support any decision you make, alright?”

Stiles nods against his dad’s shoulder, knowing that he’s wetting his father’s shirt with his tears. But the soothing circles his dad draws on his back tell Stiles that he must not care.

But it’s not the sorrowful type of tears that escape him; it’s lighter than that. For some reason, they feel liberating, like there’s no longer this looming shadow hovering over his him. His dad trusts him to make the decision that’s right for him. What’s more, Deaton has laid some of his fears to rest.

He falls asleep in his dad’s arms, feeling like he did when he was a child.

When he wakes up, he’s still on his dad’s cot in Deaton’s tent but, surprisingly, his father is gone. Stiles sits up so fast he makes himself dizzy. The wagon is dimly lit from the windows, meaning it’s still daylight, though likely sundown, but there’s no motion, meaning they’ve stopped. Stiles practically throws himself off the cot and toward the back door of the wagon, spilling out into the evening air and tumbling down the steps on coltish legs. He hears footsteps rush near him, and when he looks up, he sees Derek kneeling, arms out, to help him off the ground.

He can’t help but smile.

The idea of the festival the next day had been something that, as it drew nearer, was slowly filling Stiles with dread. Though he’d been assured that, since he didn’t grow up with wolves or know any of their customs, he wouldn’t be held to anything during any of the ceremony, he still felt the pressure of it all.

But he knew what to do now, knew that his father was behind him every step of the way.

Derek, surprised at Stiles’ smile even though he’d just fallen down in the dirt, helps Stiles up and brushes him off. “You alright?” the king asks past a tentative smile.

Stiles smiles wider, nods. “Never better. Figured since my dad was gone, something must be up.”

Derek turns and looks over his shoulder, and Stiles follows his gaze to see his father sitting some type of chair with wheels on it, being pushed around by Scott, Deaton at his side.

“We thought it would be nice to get your father out of the wagon, give him some fresh air beyond the window.”

“Are you calling my space stuffy, your highness?” Stiles hears Deaton quip as they near.

Derek laughs. “Wouldn’t dream of it. You’d likely put something in my tea that would make my hair fall out.”

Deaton’s calm smile gives nothing away, but he winks when he makes eye contact with Stiles. “I’ve only done that once, your highness, and your uncle deserved it.”

Derek laughs even harder.

Stiles glances at his father. “Fancy rig you got there.”

Even Scott laughs at that.

His dad, beyond his laugh, rolls his eyes. “Still can’t stand too well on it, but it shouldn’t be much longer before I’m back on my feet.”

Derek ushers them toward the kitchen cart, where Kira waves them over with an enthusiastic smile. He then ushers Stiles to sit in the same stool he had that morning, this time next to his father, before he starts toward the cart.

“Is he cooking?” John asks quietly, elbowing Stiles.

Stiles ducks his head and turns away, but he can feel the heat on his cheeks. “It’s a wolf thing,” he says, in lieu of an in-depth explanation.

Scott ends up cooking at Kira’s side, and the two move in sync with one another as they help prepare food for much of the rest of the camp.

When Derek is finished, he brings a plate over for each Stiles and his father, who thank him, and wait, patiently, for Derek to dish up himself and join them. Much to Stiles’ surprise, Derek takes a seat right there on the grass. Even John shoots Stiles a slightly incredulous look, but hides it quickly by stuffing some bread into his mouth.

“I drew you a bath, if you’d like,” Derek tells Stiles as he takes his empty plate.

John scoffs. “Lucky,” he grouses, but Stiles knows it’s good-natured. “I’d kill for something besides a sponge-bath. Can’t get my wound wet - it’s still not completely closed up.”

Derek stars back toward them, looking guilty. “I’m sorry, sir. I-”

John waves his hand in front of him. “You did what you had to. You thought we were spies. I get it. I told you once, and I’ll tell you again; no hard feelings.”

Derek nods, almost solemnly, and offers Stiles his hand as Deaton and Scott ask if John is ready to head back to the wagon. Nightfall has long since passed over the camp, and even though Stiles napped for a portion of the afternoon, with his newly settled heart, he can’t help but feel a little tired now that he’s been fed.

The king takes his hand as they walk back to their tent, and Stiles watches as his tattoos dance across his skin, curling where their hands touch.

Derek, ever the gentleman, gets Stiles set up for his bath by hanging his change of clothing over the edge of the screen, along with a big, fluffy towel, before he pulls it closed. Stiles can hear Derek shuffle over to the table. Then, the king starts to hum, and Stiles smiles softly as he divests himself of his clothing.

The bath is steaming when he climbs in, and it feels more than good. His tattoos dance happily across his skin, revealing not only in the warmth of the water, but of Stiles’ uplifted mood. He uses the same sweet, floral-smelling shampoos and soaps as he had last time, and revels in feeling so clean as he steps out. There had been times he’d gone months without having been able to clean himself past a quick whore’s bath with a wet rag he’d filched from the laundry.

When he’s dried and clothed, he steps out from behind the screen to Derek sitting at a chair at the table, going over some papers, scribbling here and there. He looks up as Stiles nears.

“I might be up for a while longer, so long as it doesn’t bother you. Since the festival is tomorrow, I won’t have much time to do things like this.”

“What is it you’re going over?” Stiles asks as he nears, curious.

Derek shows him the papers, which are covered in columns and rows, most of which are filled with numbers or single words. “Nothing exciting, I’m afraid. Just trade records, things that we traded and acquired while in Queen Melissa’s territory.”

“Is Scott really her son? I mean, is he really a prince?”

Derek nods, his eyes going back to the papers in his hands. “His mother, Melissa, and my own mother, were childhood friends when they were younger. She married and moved away, and while she wasn’t a wolf, she was raised until she was ten or so in my home country. When she was crowned queen, she initiated treaties between our kingdoms, though this whole caravan idea has only been around for a few years now. When I was crowned king, one of the first things I did was travel to her kingdom to meet with her, make sure our treaties would still hold, even though my mother stepped down. She asked me to bite her son, who was sick, and I did so without hesitation, since I knew any son of hers would have to be just a kind and trustworthy. And, well, Scott may be prince, but he’s not too keen to take over in his mother’s stead one day. He much prefers healing the sick alongside Deaton.”

Stiles nods, despite the rather large amount of information that he’d just been presented with. “I... I like Scott. He’s nice.”

Derek nods. “Even if he doesn’t become king one day, I can’t think of many allies I’d rather have at my side than him. While I’m hunting tomorrow, he’ll be overseeing the camp, so if you need something, or something goes wrong, find him.

Stiles nods as he settles into bed, pulling the covers up nearly over his head. Derek has the lantern turned low, but light like that has never prevented Stiles from sleeping before. He’s used to sleeping when and where he can manage to, and the cushy, warm bed in the king’s tent, lit with a low lantern is a far cry from stone floors with a sparse sprinkling of hay.

He bids Derek a good night, but is asleep before he even hears the reply.

Morning wakes him up, and the tent is still mostly dark, meaning it’s only just dawn. He yawns and stretches, then hears the rustling from the floor, and surmises Derek’s newly awake as well. He rolls to his stomach and peers over the side of the bed.

The king blinks up at him, sleepily, smiling warmly. “Morning.”

Stiles grunts, rubs the sleep from his eyes.

“Ready for today?”

“Five more minutes,” Stiles whispers, burrowing back under the covers.

It’s well past dawn when he opens his eyes again, this time from Derek sitting on the edge of the bed. The tray he’s brought is piled with food, and Derek looks positively ecstatic. They eat while Derek glances over a few more pieces of paper in one hand.

As they finish, Derek pauses for a moment, looking as though he wants to say something. He shakes his head, however, and pulls a change of clothing for Stiles from the trunk at the end of the bed. Stiles changes behind the screen, and when he emerges and puts away his sleep clothes, Derek’s brows are drawn together.

“What?” he asks, softly, still a little unsure of his place here.

Derek looks at him for a moment. He swallows, and Stiles follows the motion of the king’s throat. Finally, Derek speaks. “I’m going to be gone for a while today, and I’d... I’d like to scent you before I leave.”

Derek averts his gaze, and Stiles can’t help but bite his lip, knowing that Derek is careful when he asks like this. After all, their first attempt at this whole scenting thing hadn’t exactly gone over too well. It hadn’t been bad, exactly; just not well.

“You stopped when I asked you to. You know that, right? You got carried away, but you stopped.” As much as Derek seems keen to put Stiles’ fears at rest, it seems the king had a few of his own.

He watches as Derek bites his lip. Eventually, he shakes his head, blinking rapidly. “I want you to be comfortable. I don’t want to overstep my bounds and make you uncomfortable simply because of some of my baser instincts. This isn’t something I can’t live without, or-”

Derek stills when Stiles reaches out for his hand. Stiles watches the king's gaze as it follows their linked hands until their eyes meet.

“You stopped when I asked you to,” he reiterates.

Derek frowns and opens his mouth, looks as though he’s more than ready to argue.

“This is me trying.”

Derek’s mouth shuts with an audible click of his teeth. Slowly, tentatively, he takes a few small steps toward Stiles, closing the space between them. He slowly pulls his hand free of Stiles’ grasp, then, carefully, reaches out to the boy.

And Stiles understands Derek’s trepidation; the first time they’d tried this, while it hadn’t ended badly , it hadn’t exactly ended overtly well, either. The king moves like Stiles will bolt at any moment, his movements slow, methodical, yet the grip of his hands is soft and yielding.

He can’t help the jolt that runs through him when Derek’s hand settles on his hip, the other slowly coasting upwards from the small of his back to rest in between his shoulder blades. He swallows past the sudden tightness in his throat, unable to help the way his tattoos race across his skin to be closer to where Derek touches him, even with the barrier of clothing between them.

Derek looks determined, like he’s readying himself for battle, and Stiles has to bite his lips to keep from smiling. He can’t help it; the king looks so serious, but there’s a look Stiles can read in his eyes, like he’s a little afraid, too.

Pulling in a shaking breath, Stiles moves his arms up to rest atop Derek’s, his hands coming to grip at the king’s shoulders, and he tilts his head to one side. He lets his eyes drift close, for lack of a better idea, and he feels rather than sees Derek taking in just as quaking of a breath as he.

The tip of Derek’s nose is what touches him first, and he drags it across the skin of Stiles’ neck, slowly, gently. He feels Derek's warm breath coast across his skin, feels it stutter, and doesn't even realize the breathy sigh he lets out until he hears it fall out of him. He feels Derek's beard next, closely shorn but still there. It's strangely soft and scratchy at the same time, and it's much unlike any feeling Stiles is used to. Derek's lips descend upon the skin of his neck next, a soft drag before they coast upwards, resting for a moment beneath his ear. A gentle kiss is placed there, and Stiles’ breath catches in his throat at the way his flesh erupts in goosebumps from the action.

As if pleased by Stiles’ reaction, Derek presses another, firmer kiss in the same spot before he moves downward, dragging his nose and beard across the expanse of neck he'd only just climbed.

Stiles can hear his heartbeat in his head, a thunderous staccato as his blood sings. He can feel the magic under his skin twist and squirm, not entirely unpleasant; simply new, unfamiliar.

Derek slows, then stills, placing a single last kiss on the underside of Stiles’ jaw before pulling away completely.

When their eyes meet, Stiles’ breath pull in a quickly, a sharp, quiet gasp. Derek’s eyes are a deep, ruby red, and, as though they won’t be outdone, his cheeks glow a ruddy rouge. His eyes, heavy-lidded, give the king a half-dreamy sort of look, and Stiles realizes he’s not the only here who’s light-headed.

They both let their hands fall away from the other, quiet, but not awkward, though the air between them seem thick, charged.

“I have a personal favor to ask of you,” Derek says, his voice several octaves deeper than Stiles can previously recall it being. The king looks away, though the coloration of his cheeks still seems present. “It’s something more you can deny if you don’t feel comfortable with, but I’d like to ask you to wear the circlet I gave you that first day we spent together.”

Stiles swallows past the dryness in his throat, trying to regain his composure.

“Much of the camp knows you by sight now, but there are many others that don’t, most of them human. While it’s true the wolves that remain behind instead of joining us on the hunt will easily recognize you by scent, and many will take their queue from them, it would...”

Softly smiling, Stiles tilts his head. “It would make you feel better.”

Derek nods. “It would affirm that you have my protection and permission, no matter where you set foot. While I don’t, for a heartbeat, believe that any here would pose a threat to you, it’s...”

Stiles’ smile grows. “It’s a wolf thing, right?”

Derek looks up at Stiles, his expression open.

“Okay,” Stiles says, like it’s easy, because it is. All that Derek is asking of him is to wear some jewelry. Albeit it’s a piece of jewelry that’s likely worth more than the house he grew up in, it’s a simple request all the same. Derek wants to offer Stiles his protection when he is absent, no matter how unlikely it is he’d ever need it, surrounded by so many of those that revere their king and, by extension, is mate.

Stiles watches as the kings beams at him, practically dancing as he walks to the trunk at the end of the bed. Derek pulls out the ornate wooden box from within, and carefully, delicately, pulls out the circlet before turning toward Stiles. He bows his head as the king approaches, and fingers gently brush his short, bristly hair as Derek fixes the piece this way and that. When Derek removes his hands, Stiles glaces up at the king, who is smiling so sweetly it makes Stiles’ heart flutter just so.

Suddenly, Derek cocks his head to one side. He blinks owlishly for a moment, and it’s easy for Stiles to tell that the man is listening intently for something.

When Derek turns back to him, his smile returns, having faded just slightly from being distracted. “The hunt’s being announced in a few minutes, so I must take my leave.”

“Can I see you off?”

Derek’s smile grows wider, the white tips of his front teeth peeking past his lips. “I’d like that,” he says, and if Stiles didn’t know better, he’d think the king shy.

The Wolf King offers his outstretched hand to his mate, who twines their fingers. They exit their tent, hand in hand, though Derek leads the way.

They near a large gathering of people, who clear the way as Derek and Stiles approach. Several of them bow their heads in greeting, several more salute, though Stiles isn’t sure the difference behind the meaning of either gesture. Derek tugs Stiles along until they reach the forefront of the crowd before he pauses. He turns to face Stiles, then brings their linked hands upward, pressing a kiss to the back of Stiles’ hand before slowly letting go and walking backwards.

Stiles knows Derek’s a king. Despite his kindness, his generosity, all of the sweet words he gifts Stiles, the meals he prepares with his own hands, Stiles is aware of Derek’s stature.

But seeing Derek like this, in front of his men, his chest out, his hands clasped behind his back, his face carefully impassive as he surveys the crowd? Well, perhaps Stiles had forgotten.

Derek clears his throat and a hush falls on the entire crowd.

“As all wolves are aware, Father Sun graces us this day longer than any other. We thank him for warming the earth beneath our feet, for pulling our crops from the dirt and toward his light. With this hunt, we will use all he gives us to in turn provide for our own, in his name, and the name of his beloved, Mother Moon. Who will join me?”

A good three dozen people step forward, men and women of all ages. They walk past Derek and stand at attention behind him, turning to face the crowd they’d only just been standing in.

Derek catches Stiles’ eye and offers him a wink.

Stiles bites back a smile.

The king turns his back on the crowd, facing those who have volunteered for the hunt.

“Each one of you has my personal thanks for helping me honor Father Sun this day. As is tradition, the best hunter, as decided by all, will join me and the High Pack at the high table for the feast." Derek turns back toward the crowd. “As I will head this hunt, I have left Prince Scott McCall to lead the camp in my stead. If you cannot find him, seek out another of the High Pack.”

He turns back to his wolves.

“Are we ready?”

All of the volunteers nod.

Derek lets his hands drop to his sides. Stiles watches as the tips of his ears elongate, as his fingernails turn to claws. All of the volunteers follow suit, their faces turning right before Stiles’ eyes.

“What are we?” Derek bellows, loudly and unexpectedly enough Stiles slightly jolts.

“Wolves!” nearly everyone around him roars.

“And what do we do?” the king’s deep timbre echoes throughout the clearing.

“Protect!”

“What do we do?” Derek shouts.

“Provide!”

“What do we do?”

“Prosper!”

“What are we?”

“WOLVES!”

Everyone, everyone, wolf or not, throw their heads back and howl.

Derek charges, and the group of volunteers parts to allow their king to pass, only to follow closely at his heels.

Stiles stands there until they are no longer visible.

“You okay?”

Heart suddenly in this throat, Stiles actually jumps as he turns to face the voice that has pulled him from this own thoughts.

Erica, garbed in simple clothing and not the leather armor Stiles is used to seeing her in, stands before him. She’s got her head slightly cocked, and she’s giving Stiles a good once-over.

“I think so?” Stiles responds.

Erica’s face scrunches a little. “Was that a question?”

Stiles grimaces, shrugs, feeling a little out of his element. “I’m not really good with people, if you haven’t figured yet.”

Erica actually laughs, and it cuts the tension between them. “Yeah, me too,” she admits with a roll of her eyes.

“Did Derek ask you to stay behind?” Stiles asks without accusation. He’s simply curious.

Shaking her head, Erica’s smile dwindles. “I’m like you, remember? I’ve been prey for long enough in my life that I can’t bring myself to be a predator, too. Not a big fan of hunting, if I can help it.”

Though they might have gotten off to a bit of an awkward start, Stiles thinks he could grow to enjoy Erica’s company, like he seems to have with Scott and, perhaps, Isaac. Or, so he hopes.

“I was gonna go check on the theater and dance troupe for Derek, see how their stuff is coming along. You wanna come help?”

“Sure,” Stiles says.

Making a gesture for Stiles to follow, Erica starts toward the opposite side of camp.

“Can I ask you a question?” he finally ventures.

“Sure. What’s on your mind?"

“Derek mentioned something called a High Pack this morning. What’s that?”

“Packs that become too big usually have a bunch of people in what’s called a High Pack. We’re like, I don’t know, Derek’s right hand, except there’s more than a few of us. If Derek can’t lead, like on days like today where he’s gone for a time, we take care of stuff in his place. If there’s an emergency, or someone needs help with something, people come to us. We don’t help him govern or anything like that, but we take care of important stuff for him when he can’t.”

“So, are you, like, all friends?”

Erica’s smile is huge. She seems to be happy about Stiles’ word choice. “Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. We’re pretty much Derek’s closest and most trusted friends. It’s me, Boyd, Scott, Isaac, Kira, and there are a few back home in the capital you’ll get to meet later. Lydia, Ethan, Aiden, Jordan, Jackson, Laim, Danny - oh, I think you’ll like Danny. He’s a mage, too.”

Something like anticipation, excitement twists in Stiles’ stomach. “Derek has a mage in his High Pack? He has a mage as a friend?”

Erica gives Stiles a measured look. “Look, you’re gonna have to get used to the idea that not everyone just uses a mage for their powers. Mages are treated like anyone else in our land, in wolf culture. In fact, there’s some old poems out there that wax about having a mage mate is better than sliced bread. I get that you were fucked up by what the Argents did to you, but you seem to have a good head about your shoulders, so I’m giving it to you straight. I know what you went through, Stiles. I went through it, too.”

Stiles’ steps stumble a little bit. He feels a little out of place with how honest and straightforward Erica is being with him. She pauses, turns to face him slightly, eyes him up again.

“It took me a long time to get my head back on my shoulders. Derek saved me from slavery, but it took a long time to snap out of the habit of it, of the flinching at the raise of a hand, at the rise of a voice, a loud sound. You’re strong. Stronger than I think you’re giving yourself credit for. I put a knife in Derek’s tent that first night you were awake with him to test not his mettle but yours. I needed to know my king’s heart would be in good hands.”

“So you hoped I’d go after him with a blade?” Stiles accuses, surprised at how mad he sounds.

“I hoped you wouldn’t let your fear rule over you. You were ready to burn down the world, kill yourself, to save your father. That takes guts. But I needed to know it wasn’t a move of last-minute desperation and more of a character trait; would you do the same for Derek, especially since you didn’t feel the mate pull the first time you met?”

Stiles stands there in quite, incredulous silence. He doesn’t know how to answer, because he’s never put thought to it.

“Look. Finding your mate can make a wolf a little cooky. When I met Boyd, knew he was my mate, I was terrified. I hadn’t been a wolf for very long, and everything was still new, fresh; I was still having trouble adjusting to it all. Boyd? An endless well of patience, which is damn good because I was in such inner conflict, it was literally making me sick. My instincts were driving me to him, but my past wouldn’t let me take the chance of trusting someone other than Derek, since he was my Alpha.”

Stiles wrings his hands, bites the inside of his cheek.

“I haven’t known you very long, but I like you. Derek’s a good man, and you’ve already made him work at being better. You took up my knife to save yourself, showing, to us wolves, that you’ve got more sense than fear, which is better than what I hoped for.”

Stiles blinks a few times, unsure. “I don’t... I don’t know what to say,” he offers.

“I don’t expect you to say anything, Stiles. I just need you to understand that while Derek will do his best to protect you, so will I, so will everyone in the High Pack. You’re important to him, so you’re important to us.”

She offers him a come hither wave, and starts off again, like she hadn’t only just basically bared her soul. Stiles swallows past the lump in his throat and starts after her.

The silence between them thereafter is heavy, but not bad, really. Stiles doesn’t know how to explain it. In fact, he’s pretty sure he and Erica just became friends, though the how, exactly, eludes him.

They come up on the troupe wagons faster than he anticipates, and a part of him is happy about it. As they approach, Stiles spots more than a few people hastily running to and fro, armfuls of cloth, or a hammer in hand. Several people slow and smile at him and Erica, a few offer a friendly wave as they pass. There are a handful of people in elaborate dress that are practicing a dance that catches Stiles’ attention.

“You like dancing?” Erica asks.

“I’ve never really danced before. Dancing was seen as a high-art for the court, and since free-time really isn’t a thing when you’re a slave-” Stiles shrugs.

He hears Erica snicker, which is the reaction he’d hoped for, seeing how they share similar pasts. Sure, the humor is a little dark, but the more he spends time in Erica’s company, the more certain he is she might appreciate it.

One of the dancers turns to look at them. “Care to learn?” she asks.

Stiles freezes. He doesn’t like being put on the spot like this. Having attention drawn toward him usually meant he was in some sort of trouble; lying low was the way to go, when you spend your time in servitude. The myriad of scars from various whippings across his back can attest to that.

Erica seems to sense his dismay. “It’s okay. It’s not hard; I can teach you.”

She takes up his sleeve and begins towards the dancers. They all seem interested in his approach, and while it doesn’t serve to settle Stiles’ nerves much, he’s glad that their gazes seem inquisitive, not apprehensive or unhappy.

Erica moves to stand next to him, and she sets her right foot out. After a moment, Stiles follows suit. She waves her hands a bit, and Stiles follows those motions, too, and after what feels like only a short time, he gets in the hang of it. It’s not an overly complicated set of moves, and soon enough some of the other dancers from before crowd around he and Erica and they all go through the motions together.

Stiles is elated. He can’t remember the last time he danced, let alone had a little fun. The other dancers laugh when he missteps every so often, but it’s obvious it’s not out of malice; rather, they, too, are enjoying it. Stiles knows he’s got long, gangly limbs, and he’s not exactly the most graceful of creatures, but no one else pokes fun at him for it.

He’s a little out of breath when one of the dancers calls practice quits so they can more their attention toward the stage that’s being fashioned together.

“Do you need any extra help?”

A large portion of the troupe stills, turning to look at him with somewhat guarded, though inquisitive expressions expressions.

“You’re the king’s mate,” one of them finally speaks.

Stiles thinks immediately to when Deaton had said the same thing to him when he offered his help in the wagon.

“He wouldn’t offer help if he didn’t mean it,” Erica says, before Stiles has the chance to say anything at all.

The troupe spare glances between themselves for a moment. Eventually, one of them speaks. “Can you swing a hammer?”

Stiles shrugs. “Well enough,” he replies.

The stage is nearly finished when Erica pulls the hammer from Stiles’ hand and starts to push him toward the kitchen carts. Kira greets them, though she’s a little busy piling breads and fruits onto outstretched plates. A good portion of the camp is crowded around the kitchen carts, and it’s not hard for Stiles to figure that it’s lunch time. Erica grabs a tray of already put together food and tugs Stiles along again. They sit in the grass and eat, comfortable in one another’s company without having to speak.

To Stiles’ surprise, Isaac joins them with a plate of his own food. When they finish, Erica and Isaac lay back in the grass, close their eyes, obviously enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Stiles stands and stretches out, his arms over his head, his back cracking in a few places. He walks a few paces away, into the taller grass, and starts to pick wildflowers. He once again walks toward the other wolves, then sits back down and sets to work. Manipulating the flowers is a decent way to distract him from his own thoughts, and the idea he’s been tossing around since the night before.

When Derek returns from the hunt...

Isaac’s voice snaps him out of his thoughts. “What are you doing?”

Stiles motions for Isaac to come closer, and the young man does so, without hesitation, like he trusts Stiles implicitly. Stiles reaches up and places one of the crowns on top of Isaac’s head, who smiles warmly, like he’s happy, as though it’s not a silly little gift.

Erica is at his other side, tugging at his elbow. “Do I get one, too?” she asks.

Stiles can’t help but laugh, and he motions her to bow her head and places a crown atop her head as well.

When she looks up, her nose is scrunched up from how large her smile stretches across her face.

Both of them suddenly cock their head to one side, then look to one another.

“Gotta go?” Stiles asks.

“Scott needs help,” Isaac informs him. “You’re welcome to come with us, if you’d like.”

Stiles shrugs. “I’m good here, in the sun. You go on.”

Erica gently pats his shoulder as she stands, and Stiles waves goodbye as they walk back toward camp.

For want of something to do, Stiles makes a few more crowns out of the rest of the flowers that he’d picked, so as not to waste them. When he’s finished, he walks back toward camp, toward his and Derek’s tent. He lets himself in, past the flaps, and puts all the crowns but one on the table, then exits the tent and heads toward Deaton’s wagon. His dad is actually asleep when he nears; Stiles can see him through the open door. Carefully, quietly, he walks up the step ladder into the wagon, places the crown on his father’s head, then leaves with just as much care to keep quiet.

He walks around the camp thereafter. He’s surprised he can tell some of the wolves from the humans, without really thinking about it. When he nears, Stiles notices that the nostrils of some people flare out, and they look up, suddenly, right to where Stiles is walking; they are scenting him through the air as he approaches. Everyone else who manage to catch a glance at him look first to the circlet on his head, obviously realizing who he is at once.

It’s a strange thing, to walk about people and have them bow, or wave and smile. Stiles feels his face heat a little with each interaction, and he can’t help it; his anxiety ratchets up a bit. He’s so used to trying to remain unseen, out of the way, hidden in plain sight, that when more than a few people come up to him in order to shake his hand, it’s no surprise that, after a while, Stiles starts to feel a little overwhelmed. He’d meant to walk toward the blacksmith wagons, curious considering the sounds he hears come from their direction, but he doesn’t make it that far before he turns around and begins back toward his and Derek’s tent. None of those that had approached him had spoken more than a few words, like given him their names or asked how he was fairing, but Still still isn't used to this kind of human interaction.

He sits on the bed, toeing off his shoes and curling his legs up under him, pulling his bag of books from the trunk. Nabbing the plant book, Stiles opens it back to where he'd left off the last time.

Time passes. Stiles isn't sure how much, exactly, but he's well into his book when he hears it, that first howl. He doesn't know how to explain it, how he knows it's Derek, but he does. He crams his book back into his bag, then shoves the bag under his pillow as he tugs his shoes back on. He's out of the tent when he hears Derek howl a second time, and he can already see a crowd gathering along the tree line not far off.

The crowd parts as they see him approach, and Stiles meanders to the front of them, waiting, eagerly, for Derek. Erica walks up next to him, her touch light on his forearm, and Stiles wonders if it's meant for comfort of to scent.

The king walks into the opening not long thereafter and, stretched across his shoulders, is a hulking ten-point buck. Derek's eyes rake over the crowd until they meet Stiles’. He begins toward Stiles, adjusting the carcass on his shoulders as he nears. Once close enough, Derek hefts the buck over and onto the ground, at Stiles’ feet.

A relative hush falls over the crowd.

Stiles swallows, takes a deep breath.

“You provide well for me.”

The Wolf King's eyes glow a deep, ruby red. Stiles watches as he takes a deep breath, then another. Derek throws his head back and howls, and all those around him follow suit.

Before the sound dies down, Derek steps over the deer and stalks toward Stiles. While Stiles isn't afraid of the king, it's hard not to be intimidated by the man. The king's shirt is gone, and his chest glistens with sweat. The tips of his fingers are the ruddy red-brown of dried blood, and Stiles doesn't miss the few streaks that paint the king's face, likely smudged when he tried to wipe it off blindly. As Derek approaches, the crowd around Stiles, even Erica, takes a few steps back, giving them room. Derek stops to stand just a hair's breadth away from him, the king leaning down slightly so that his lips are even with the boy's ear.

“Stiles,” he hears the king whisper.

Stiles isn't sure what's supposed to happen hereafter. Hell, he'd only decided to openly accept Derek's advance, this courtship, the night before after speaking with his father and Deaton. He should have asked Scott, Isaac, anyone, for more details, asked what else he's supposed to do.

But even if his mind is racing, his body, his instincts, his heart knows what to do.

He turns his head, ever so slightly, and pressed a kiss to Derek's cheek.

The king takes a step back, eyes wide, blinking owlishly, like Stiles gifting him a kiss was the last thing he'd anticipated. He smiles then, a big, wolfish grin, throws his head back, and howls again.

All those around him join in.

When the noise dies down, Stiles’ heart is still in his throat, but it's not a bad feeling, not really.

Derek takes a step toward him once more, closing the distance between them and lightly runs his nose up Stiles’ neck. The crowd around them begins toward the other hunters and starts to help them gather their bounty off toward the kitchen carts.

Finally, Derek pulls back a bit. “I'm going to get cleaned up. I'll see you in a little while, alright?”

Stiles nods, feeling a little light-headed.

Erica is at his side almost instantly, her grin wolfish. She pushes her shoulder against his, making him stumble just a step, but he can’t help but smile at her antics.

The two of them sit down in the clearing, now that the successes of the hunt have been carted off.

“I heard you have a book about plants,” Erica starts.

Stiles nods. “Deaton gave it to me. It’s really interesting. I’ve been helping him grid up herbs when I ride in the wagon with him and my dad.”

“What’s that?” she asks, stretching her arm out and pointing.

And, well, Stiles does what he seems to do best; he talks. He tells Erica everything he knows about the plant.

“I like this one; it’s called a cone flower. The herbal extract from it is put into tea to promote health. You’re supposed to plant them in the spring. In the wild, you mostly see the purple variation, but there are two pretty strains that used to grow where I lived when I was little and still lived with my dad. One has dark red petals and the other white - which is why sometimes people can mistake them for weird-looking daisies. We used to grow them around the garden, because they repel deer, and if you get a sunburn, you can make a paste with a cone flower infusion to-”

By the time Stiles realizes how long he’s been talking, he turns and notices that not only has Erica laid down amongst the wild grasses, but she’s fallen asleep, too. He smiles, not at all faulting her for dozing while he babbled, as he’s often prone to. He recalls back to when he’d first met Boyd, and how the man had commented about Stiles being a ‘quiet one.’ He laughs to himself when he thinks about how wrong Boyd was.

When he hears footsteps approaching, he looks over his shoulder to see Derek walking toward them. The king opens his mouth, obvious about to speak a greeting, but Stiles moves his hand to his face and presses his index finger over his lips, then makes a motion toward Erica’s sleeping form.

The king’s face  breaks into a smile as he takes up a seat next to Stiles in the grass.

“Did you have a good day?” Derek asks, his voice quiet, hardly above a whisper.

Stiles nods, feeling lighthearted. “It’s been nice.”

“I was a little worried.”

“Wasn’t sure how I’d fair on my own?” Stiles laughs.

Derek shakes his head. “You’re more than capable, of that I’m sure. I saw the flower crowns you left in the tent, and they still smelled like you and...”

“And?”

“Anxiety. It worried me. Nothing bad happened?”

Stile shakes his head. “Erica took me around a bit in the morning, and we ate lunch with Isaac, but after that, they ended up needing to help Scott with something, so I was on my own. I walked around a bit, and just got a little overwhelmed. A lot of people came up to me to shake my hand, or just to say hello, and I’m not used to it, to the attention.”

Derek nods. “I’m glad that’s all.” He turns a bit to look at Erica, who lets out an undignified snot. He chuckles. “She’s really out, isn’t she?”

“She got me talking about plants,” Stiles offers, and he hears Derek chuckle.

“Watch,” Derek says as he plucks a stalk of tall grass and leans over. He wiggles the end of it under Erica’s nose, who lets out a growling sort of snore, and Stiles has to bite his lip to keep from laughing too loud. Derek does the motion again, but this time Erica rockets upright, her claws out, fangs dropped.

Stiles jumps, out of surprise rather than fear, but the split second everything happens in isn’t enough for Derek to apparently register that Erica isn’t a threat, because before Stiles knows it, he’s being pulled to the side and suddenly finds himself between Derek’s legs with a strong arm wrapped around his midsection. There’s a tense moment thereafter, like everyone is assessing the situation, but ultimately Stiles is the one to break it with a poorly-stifled laugh. He pat’s the back of Derek’s wrist. “I’m good, big guy, but thanks.”

Erica manages to look both sleepy and somewhat smug.

Stiles feels Derek huff out a laugh, the king’s breath warm on the back of his neck.

Standing up and brushing off her pants, Erica makes a motion toward the camp behind them. “I’m gonna go see what Boyd is up to. I’ll see you two at the feast.”

It takes a moment for him to realize it, but Stiles comes to recognize that he doesn’t seem to fear much while in Derek’s presence any longer - not even, apparently, the man himself.

“Sorry about that,” Derek offers, over Stiles’ shoulder. Even though the king apologizes, his grip around Stiles’ midsection remains tight.

Stiles shrugs. “I bet it’s a wolf thing, right?” he teases.

He likes the sound of Derek’s laugh. “Something like that,” he is finally offered. “Did Erica really fall asleep like that next to you, right in the middle of you talking?”

“It’s not like cone flowers are particularly exciting.”

“No, no, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s not the subject matter, it’s the act of falling asleep itself. Erica doesn’t trust easily. You know a bit of her past; she’s much like you. She was sleep-deprived for nearly three months after she turned, because she had such a hard time relaxing around others enough to fall asleep. Pure exhaustion is what eventually forced her to sleep, and even then it was never for long.”

Stiles shrugs. “I’m not that threatening. I’m skin and bones.”

“You’re magic, Stiles,” Derek reminds him. “You tried to burn me and my men alive to save your father’s life, took a knife to me within the hour of our first meeting. I and my wolves might have claws and fangs, but you have fire at your fingertips.”

A strange, warm feeling washes over Stiles, makes his skin prickle a little. He can feel his tattoos squirming under his skin, like they’re preening.

“So, there’s a feast, right?” Stiles changes the subject, his mouth suddenly dry.

Derek makes a soft noise of affirmation. “Are you hungry?” he asks after a moment.

Stiles shrugs. “I’m mostly excited for the dance and the play. Some of the troupe taught me some steps, and I helped them build the stage.”

“Busy day,” Derek says as he lifts himself to his feet.

“It was nice, doing what I felt like, not what someone told me to.” Stiles takes Derek’s offered hand, and the king helps him to stand.

“Festivities usually start at sundown, but we could head over early, see how Scott is handling everything.”

As they start back toward the carts and wagons, Derek clears his throat. “What you said earlier-”

“I know what I said,” Stiles says, leaving no room for misinterpretation in his tone, though he means the words kindly. “I told you once, and I’ll tell you again; I can’t promise you anything. But this is me trying.”

Derek doesn’t speak another word as they near camp, but he does, gently, reach out and lace his fingers with Stiles’. The warm, prickly-skin feeling returns, and Stiles swallows past the little lump that seems to have settled low in his throat. He knows without looking that the ink on his skin wriggles like so many snakes as it crowds around where his skin is touching Derek’s.

Scott’s apparently been more than a little busy, all day, and as Stiles and Derek near the clearing that’s been made, the king mentions that everything looks almost finished, and that they likely won’t be waiting long. Derek directs Stiles toward a flat, slightly-raised seating area, set a good fifteen feet away from wood that’s stacked up to make a bonfire. There’s a rather low table atop the area, with cushions evenly spaced out along the far side. Derek ushers Stiles toward the middle of the placed cushions, and, somewhat both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, directs Stiles to sit in the softest-looking one. Stiles takes his seat, and Derek sits next to him, their legs crossed, their knees touching, and, much to Stiles’ secret delight, their hands still linked.

As Stiles looks out among the crowd, he notices about a third of the laid out tables are filled, with the others filling quickly. He catches a few eyes as he scans those who have turned toward he and Derek, and shyly waves back when more than a few people smile and wave at him.

Derek leans toward him. “Very busy day, then?” and Stiles would be a fool to miss the teasing in Derek’s voice.

“I’m not really used to meeting people, making friends,” Stiles shoots back with a shrug. It might sound callous, but while he recognizes a few faces amid the sea of unfamiliarity, he couldn’t name them if his life depended on it. He’d been too surprised that people had approached him for just the sake of introducing themselves and shaking his hand, he hadn't exactly been committing any of their names to memory.

Derek chuckles as he leans back.

Not long after, Stiles turns to one side and sees his father approaching, Deaton pushing him in the strange little wheeled chair toward their table.

Derek legs go of Stiles’ hand and stands to meet his father on his approach, offering his hand out to help John upright before Stiles even has the chance to stand.

“You’re fine, I have this,” Derek assures him, and Stiles moves to sit back down.

Deaton and Derek help John hobble up the single step the table is set upon, then help him toward the seat next to Stiles. Giddy that he gets to sit next to his father for the festivities, he hugs him as soon as he’s situated, aware of Derek moving back toward Deaton.

“Excited?” his dad asks as they pull away from one another.

Stiles smiles, wide and genuinely, as he nods. “The dancers taught me some of their dance today.”

John looks impressed. “Your mother loved to dance, but she was all long limbs, like you. She looked like flailing ribbon.

Stiles laughs, remember that much about his childhood clearly. “Anytime she’d hear a beat!”

John asks after his day, and Stiles tells him all about it as the majority of the rest of the tables fill with people. Erica sits a few seats on Stiles’ other side, and Boyd quickly takes up his place in the seat next to Derek’s empty cushion. Scott meanders up and sits next to John, while Isaac sits on Scott’s other side. A few other faces, like Deaton, one of the people Stiles recognizes from the dancing troupe, and someone Stiles doesn’t recognize at all, fill in the rest of the empty spaces at the table looking out toward the crowd.

A hush falls across the crowd as Derek steps back up to the table, and Stiles turns to look up at the man. He’s slightly taken aback at how regal the man looks, his hair slightly slicked back, a circlet matching Stiles’ own set upon his head.

“Thank you, one and all, for joining me this day as we celebrate our heritage, our beloved Mother Moon and Father Sun.”

A few whoops of delight come from the crowd, and a few more people clap their hands a few times.

Derek gestures to the young man at the high table Stiles doesn’t recognize. “I’d like you all to raise your voices this eve in recognition of Rulla Irris, whom has been named by his fellow hunters as the best for this day, and for Scott McCall, who organized most of the evening's events.”

A chorus of howls echo through the camp, and a good portion of people lift their cups to the sky in a toast.

Once the crowd quiets, Derek clasps his hands together in front of him. “I ask you now to join our lovely theater troupe, Tantalus, in the traditional signing of Stretching Eternal.

Derek bows his head, and the vast majority of the crow follows the motion with their own. A line of minstrels emerges from off to one side, single-file as they step onto the raised platform and come to a stop in front of the table. Stiles looks on, curious, intrigued.

A myriad of voices sing out, joined by the plucking of lutes and the twittering of flutes.

“There, upon the fleeting horizon,

Mother Moon flees from sight

As Father Sun chases her.

Dawn, a fleeting kiss;

Sunset, a loving embrace;

Tied together forever,

Proof that love is everlasting.”

When all of the voice die down, and the crowd erupts into roaring applause, with a few wolfish howls thrown in for good measure, Stiles finds himself almost stock-still. The poem itself was beautiful, but for so many to come together and sing in harmony, and for their king to lead them? Stiles has never seen anything like it. Courtly affairs were drab and dry back at Argent keep. Dancers were occasionally brought in for entertainment, singers and minstrels, too, but it always seemed to Stiles that it was for entertainment only, was just something that the nobles and royalty brought into the keep for the sake of propriety, tradition, for the sake of something pretty to look at. While Stiles liked watching and listening when he was given the chance, it never seemed like anyone else enjoyed it.

This? This was as different, strikingly different, different as sea and sand and sky.

Stiles watched, still in raptured awe, as the minstrels filed off the same side they’d come from. At the opposite side, with Kira leading the proceedings, came the food, and oh, Stiles was a little more than impressed now. There was no mistaking that the huge amount of roasted and grilled meat piled high on the first platter in the processional was anything other than the deer Derek had dropped at Stiles’ feet. Stiles found his mouth watering as the platter was heaped onto the table, between he and Derek. Following next were more platters and bowls full of food, steamed and roasted vegetables, both familiar and unfamiliar, flagons of sweet-smelling honey wine, fresh bread, cheeses, and cut fruit.

Never in his life had Stiles seen so much food.

Derek, still standing to his left, cleared his throat as the last of the food was placed atop the table. Reaching out, the king took up the plate that sat directly in front of Stiles, and began to heap all he could upon it; venison, apple slices, roasted potatoes and carrots, slices of bread - anything and everything within the man’s reach.

A hush fell over the crowd as Derek turned and reached out to hand the plate to Stiles.

Swallowing, Stiles bowed his head in thanks, took up the plate...

And passed it to his father at his side.

When he looked up, his father was smiling brightly. Then, he made a soft nod, and Stiles turned to look back at the king.

Derek’s eyes glowed deep red, wide, his mouth parted slightly. Stiles could see the man’s ridiculous bunny teeth peeking out past his lips, and there was no way to mistake the ruddy blush that practically glowed from under Derek’s scruffy beard all the way to the tips of his ears.

Suddenly, the king shut his mouth, the motion followed with an audible clicking of teeth. He turned back to face the crowd, raising his hands and making a gentle come-hither motion. “Come,” he instructed his people. “Feast.”

The fire pit burst into flames, lighting up the slow-coming dark of the evening. 

People rushed the raised platform, but without chaos; more like excitement and jubilation. They started at one of the table, the same direction the food had come from, and held out their plates as they walked the length of the table.

Starting with Deaton, followed by Erica, Boyd, Derek, and so on down the entire length of the table, everyone in the high pack scooped food onto the plates of all those who passed, and Stiles sat in quiet, startled awe until his father gave him a soft elbow in the side. He snapped out of wherever his mind had gone to wander, picked up the spoon set into the bowl in front of him, and started dishing out scoops of roasted, garlic potatoes. Every single person who passed him smiled warmly.

Something settled over Stiles. It wasn’t numbness, but the feeling did have a certain level of vague disconnect. It was like he didn’t know how to react to all of this - of a king setting food upon the plates of his people, caring for them, wanting them fed and happy - and so his body essentially took over, scooping spoonful after spoonful of potatoes onto outstretched plates while his mind swirled and frizzled within the confines of his own skull.

It was a long affair, feeding the many people who approached the table, but it gave Stiles a good, long while to think, to gain his bearings and his wits back about him. He stole a glance at the king, and Derek seemed to keep smiling through the entire ordeal, obviously enjoying providing for his people, the genuinely happy look about his face never once slipping in the slightest. Stiles thought back to the little speech the man had given when he’d first set off with the hunting party earlier that morning, of how wolves seemed to dead-set on providing and protecting for those they cared for.

Finally, finally, the last of the procession of outstretched plates receded, and Derek finally took his seat next to Stiles. He took the plate before him and, much like he had with the first plate he’d taken up, he heaped it high with whatever was in reach. Then, leaning back, he crosses his legs as he gets comfortable, finally turning to look at Stiles.

But the king hesitates. It’s strange, Stiles thinks, for a man of such power to look trepidatious, unsure, and it makes Stiles’ heart flutter about his chest like a wayward butterfly when he realizes that it’s him of all people who has elicited such a response from Derek.

Derek leans toward him, and Stiles turns his head, knowing Derek wishes to speak something low into his ear.

“It’s customary for us to feed one another,” Derek lets out a small chuckle, and Stiles comes to realize that the king is nervous. “But I don’t want you to feel pressured after all you’ve done today. I just want you comfortable, alright? There’s no need to-”

Stiles reaches out and swipes a piece of roasted potato from the plate. It’s covered in butter and has little bits of minced garlic stuck to it, and it’s the slightest bit slippery, but Stiles keeps it between his thumb and forefinger as he reaches over and presses the morsel to Derek’s mouth.

The king freezes in surprise, and Stiles can see out of the corner of his vision how Derek’s eyes suddenly glow red, though he keeps his gaze focused on the food he presses to Derek’s mouth. After a rather charged moment, Derek opens his lips and Stiles carefully presses the morsel past them. He slowly pulls his hand back, presses it to his lap, swallowing as he turns to look up at the king.

Derek blinks slowly, his lips pressing together as he begins to chew the food he’d been fed. Stiles notices how thin the ring of red around his irises are, how blown out Derek’s pupils are. Derek moves toward him slightly, his head dipping, and for one, heart-stopping moment, Stiles thinks the king might kiss him, here, in front of his people, in front of Stiles’ own father. But, at the last moment, Derek’s trajectory alters, and he presses his lips to Stiles’ temple instead, and, as he pulls away, caresses the shell of Stiles’ ear with the tip of his nose.

Stiles can feel his blush from the toes of his feet to the top of his head. He swallows roughly past the desert dryness of his mouth.

Derek’s hand shoots out and pulls up a piece of roasted venison from the plate and he brings to to Stiles’ lips. He knows he’s trembling when he opens his mouth, but he does so without fear, gingerly taking the morsel Derek offers him.

The blowing of several horns makes Stiles nearly jump out of his skin, the real world suddenly coming crashing back in on him, like the ocean when it swirls back to the shore from where it’s receded. Stiles is suddenly acutely aware of all of the noises, all of the people around him, and it takes him a good long minute to chew the meat in his mouth before he can manage to swallow it. The horns continue to blow a jaunty little jingle, then the blowers move away and three young women, clad in shining armor, take their place.

Stiles is more than a little grateful for the distraction. Though he hadn’t really noticed anyone looking at him, he still feels as though there are myriad of eyes set upon him, judging. A hush falls over the now distracted crowd, and, much to his own surprise, Derek presses another tidbit of food to his lips. He takes this one without more than a moment of surprised hesitation, and looks out toward where everyone else seems to be setting their attention.

The three women start to dance when the music starts, and it takes a moment for Stiles to realize that they are dance-fighting, their swords clanging together with loud, sharp sounds, but never coming anywhere near to harming one another. It’s then that Stiles begins to understand what’s going on; the three women on the stage are meant to represent the three sisters he and Derek had talked about the other night. Stiles watches in rapture as the three graceful women dance and jump and clash swords across the stage to the twittering of various instruments.

All the while, Derek feeds him morsel after morsel of delicious food by hand.

He doesn’t let the king starve, either, no matter how distracted by the show he is, and after every other bite Derek offers him, he offers one back in return until, before he knows it, the three women on the stage are finished with their dance, the music stops, and the plate before him is entirely empty of food.

The whole crowd erupts into thunderous applause, whistles and howls echoing throughout. Without a word of direction, several of those seated at the tables in the middle of the clearing stand, each taking a side of their respective tables, and move them out of the way.

The music starts again, and Stiles sits forward a little bit. “I know this one!” he says, excitedly, turning to look back at Derek as more than a handful of people flood the now cleared space, all falling into step of the same dance Stiles had learned earlier that afternoon.

“Would you like to dance?” Derek asks him.

Stiles glances at his father out of the corner of his eye, who shoots him a wink and raises his glass of wine. “Go have fun,” his dad tells him. “Me and this wine are doing just fine,” he says as he takes long drink.

Unable to help the small laugh at his father’s antics, Stiles reaches out and squeezes the man’s shoulder before he moves to stand, Derek following. The king takes his hand and leads him toward the dance floor.

Stiles knows he’s not overly coordinated, but it doesn’t seem to bother Derek in the slightest, who takes his hand and twirls and twists him along to the beat of the music, laughing alongside everyone else. There are more than a few drunks around them, but it seems like it’s all in good fun.

Derek twirls him outward, then inward, so they are standing nearly chest to chest, Stiles arms loosely lying upon the king’s biceps, hands resting on his shoulders. Derek’s hands sit gently on his hips, and they both laugh as Stiles steps on Derek’s feet more than once.

Derek suddenly stops and turns back toward the high table, and Stiles does too. He sees his father swaying a bit where he sits, and Deaton motions them over. Stiles extracts his arms from around Derek’s shoulders, but their hands find one another as they walk to the edge of the dance floor and back to the raised platform.

“Is he okay?” Stiles asks, suddenly very concerned.

Deaton chuckles. “Just had a little too much drink. Your majesty,” he motions toward Derek. “It seems Scott has likewise had a bit much to drink; I would appreciate your help getting Mr. Stilinski back to my wagon for the night.”

Derek raises their linked hands and kisses the tops of Stiles’ knuckles. “I’ll be back, quick as a rabbit,” he assures Stiles before he loosens his hand and begins toward his father and the doctor.

Stiles watches as Derek picks up his father like he weighs nothing, careful of his still-injured leg, gingerly placing him in the wheeled chair. The king, the healer, and his father all start off toward the other side of camp.

Stiles looks about him then, sees Scott and Isaac slumped over the table, obviously passed out from too much drink. He bites his lip to keep from laughing, and turns to look at Boyd and Erica. Boyd seems happy, content, but Stiles isn’t sure, because the man’s face always seem to stoic, and he’s more than a little quiet. Erica, at his side, claps along with the music, occasionally laughing at the antics of those on the dance floor.

Stiles sits down back upon his cushion, reaches out, and takes up his cup. He opens his mouth to down some water, but what fills his mouth is strange-tasting alcohol. He gulps a little bit of it down without really meaning to - not wanting to spit it all over the table, but not knowing what else to do about it - and coughs, deep and rough, when it burns as it travels down his throat.

“You alright?” he hears Boyd ask.

Stiles nods his head, reaches out, and takes up his actual cup, careful as he sips at his water, swishing it around in his mouth a bit to rid it of the aftertaste of the alcohol.

It’s hardly a moment or two later when the table starts to swirl in front of him, and Stiles reaches out to takes hold of the wood to keep from toppling over.

He manages to get to his knees, then stand, knowing he’s going to vomit. He turns to look at Boyd, who looks like he’s ready to stand up and aid him. Stiles shakes his head. “I’m alright, just wasn’t expecting that,” he assures him.

“Walk it off,” Boyd tells him. “I’ll let Derek know which way you wander when he comes back.”

Stiles nods, but wastes no time, practically jogging away from the crowd, through the maze of wagons, and into the meadow. He doesn’t make it far before he bends over, places his hands on his knees to steady himself, and empties the contents of his stomach amidst a cluster of cone flower. He wretches several more times, coughing and trying to inhale as best as he can before another wave of nausea overtakes him and he vomits again.

He’s sweating when he finally stops, but he does feel quite a bit better with an empty stomach. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, turns on his heel, and starts back toward camp. Stiles passes by the kitchen carts as he meanders back toward where the celebrations are still in full swing, and he spies several unattended slices of bread.

He stops, and but his mind keeps going. Most of the food at the feast table was gone before the dancing had even started, and with his stomach now suddenly empty, Stiles isn’t sure he can wait until morning before he gets another meal. He looks around, cautious, but sees no one around, so he pilfers four slices, cramming three of them into his pocket before bringing the fourth up to his lips. His mouth still tastes like bile, and the bread helps to mask the sourness left over.

Stiles can see the dance floor when Derek rounds on him from behind one of the other carts. He jumps in surprise, not in fear, and Derek offers him an apologetic smile when he realizes what he’s done. “Didn’t mean to scare you,” the king goes on to say. “Boyd said you accidentally got some wolfsbane laced wine, and it didn’t take too keenly.”

Stiles nods, rubs at his stomach. “I’m feeling better, just wanted some air.”

Derek nods, but turns his head so one of his ears is facing back toward where the music is coming from. After a moment, he turns back to Stiles and offers an outstretched hand. “Care to pick up where we left off?”

Stiles can’t help the shy smile that curls his lips, and he takes Derek’s offered hand, one of his own coming to rest up Derek’s arm, his fingers lightly resting at the nape of the king’s neck, while Derek snakes one hand around his waist, his broad palm sitting at the small of his back. Each of their free hands come up to lace with one another, and Stiles, mustering all of the courage he has, takes a step toward Derek, closing the space between them so he can press his forehead against Derek’s collarbone.

He hears Derek’s somewhat startled, sharp intake of breath, feels the hand on his back tighten just the smallest fraction of a degree, before he feels Derek press his cheek against his closely-shorn hair. They sway to the soft music in the distance, their steps slow. Stiles feels at peace, safe, a feeling he didn’t really think that could completely take over his senses like this anymore. His tattoos slip over his skin, back and forth, like a warm ocean wave, caressing, comforting, just as at ease as him.

And, of course, that’s when it all goes to hell.

He feels Derek’s chest expand, knows that he’s sniffing something out. “Do you have food in your pockets?”

Stiles blood runs cold. He takes a somewhat clumsy step away from the king, his heartbeat suddenly hammering in his ears.

Derek looks at him in confusion, his brow furrowed.

Unsure of what else to do - knowing he very well can’t lie to a wolf - Stiles slowly reaches into his pockets and pulls out the slices of bread.

“I’m sorry,” he croaks. “I’m sorry. I saw it on one of the kitchen carts, and after I threw up, I was worried about waking up hungry in the middle of the night, and, and, and, I’m - I’m sorry.”

Derek’s gazing down at the bread in his hands with what almost looks like a scowl, and Stiles feels the bile in his stomach churn. The king reaches out and pulls the bread from Stiles’ out-turned hand, then turns, tugging Stiles by his sleeve back toward the kitchen carts. He watches as Derek tosses the bread into the bowl filled with other garbage, then as he takes up another bowl. Two apples, a small loaf of bread, a waxed-coated wheel of cheese, and three smoked sausages go into the bowl before Derek turns back toward him, the grip on Stiles’ sleeve never loosening.

Stiles doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows that’s he’s in some kind of trouble. Derek’s quietness tells him as much, and Stiles bites sharply on the inside of his mouth to keep from crying. Whatever punishment awaits him, this one is most deserved; he stole from the kitchen carts, after all.

Derek pulls him across the camp, and to their shared tent. When they enter, Derek finally lets go of Stiles’ sleeve. Stiles stops dead in his tracks, while Derek walks to the table and sets the bowl of food atop it.

“Bring me the bag you keep your books in.”

And for all that Stiles’ blood ran cold earlier, now he’s filled with fire and rage. He wipes his slightly damp nose on his sleeve.

“No,” he spits, angry.

Derek turns on his heel, wearing a look of both incredulity and surprise. “No?”

Stiles clenches his teeth as he shakes his head. He can feel fire, unbidden, start to lick at his fingertips. He can’t help the way his anger flares up in him, following the flow of his emotions.

“No!” Stiles says again, through clenched teeth.

He sees Derek’s gaze sweep over him, then toward the trunk at the end of the bed, and then toward the bed itself...

Before Stiles realizes what he’s doing, he’s leaping at the bed, flipping across it, and tugging his books, safe in their bag, out from under his pillow, where he’d stashed them earlier. “No!” he shouts, angry, and, worst of all, humiliated. “You said you wouldn’t take them, that they were mine, no matter what! I know I stole food, but punish me some other way, not - not my books-” he’s shaking, and he feels like he’s going to throw up again.

“Stiles, I just want-”

Stiles shakes his head, tears streaming down his face, angrier than he has been in months. “I knew it,” he gasps out, between sobs. “I knew you were just like everyone else!”

“What are-”

“You told me they were mine! You said even if we parted, they were mine to keep!” He’s on the edge of hysterics, furious that he’d let his guard down over a pair of pretty eyes and a handful of kind words.

“Stiles, just-”

The only way out would mean Stiles has to vault back over the bed. He knows Derek’s quick, but adrenaline and magic pumps through his veins. Fight or flight, fight or flight?  There’s no way he can fight Derek, but maybe he can outpace him long enough to get out of the tent. Once he’s outside, he can call upon the wind to rip the tent strings from where they are staked to the ground, push the fabric to impede the Wolf King in his pursuit.

Derek is speaking to him, but there’s a ringing in his ears that drowns it all out.

When Derek takes a single step towards him, Stiles knows it’s now or never. He lifts his legs to vault over the bed-

And manages to face-plant spectacularly.

He doesn’t know what else to do, knows there’s no way he can outpace Derek now, so, pulling his precious books close to his chest, he curls into the smallest ball he can physically manage, grits his teeth, and waits for the inevitable.

Nothing happens. He’s openly sobbing, tears and snot running down his face, being soaked up by the bedding, but nothing else happens. He’s crying so hard he ends up gagging on a in breath, then spends several minutes coughing, trying to catch his breath back, which is hard to do, considering his entire body is still coiled tightly around his books, every muscle in his body drawn taught.

He eventually stops crying. There’s no reason for it, other than perhaps he finally runs out of tears, but when he stops sobbing, his entire body aches. His eyes hurt, and he doesn’t need to touch or see them to know they are swollen, red and puffy.

“Stiles?”

Stiles jumps when he hears the soft call of his name.

“Stiles, look at me.”

He hiccups, then shakes his head and tries to curl further in on himself.

“Sweetheart, please. Please look at me.”

And maybe it’s the softness in Derek’s voice that causes him to turn, or maybe Stiles is just too tired to care anymore, but eventually, slowly, he turns and looks at Derek over his right shoulder.

Unexpectedly, Derek looks wrecked. His eyes are red, too, but not their normal Alpha glow that Stiles is used to sometimes happening. No, the whites of Derek’s eyes are red, like he’s been crying, too.

“I wasn’t going to take your books.”

Stiles clutches the books tighter against himself. Most of his fingers are numb from how hard he’s gripping them, but he doesn’t care.

“I promise, Stiles, I wasn’t going to take your books, I wasn’t going to punish you,” Derek says, pointing to his heart, and it takes a moment for Stiles to understand the meaning behind the gesture. Wolves can hear the skip of a heartbeat when a lie is told, and Derek is pointing to his heart...

Stiles rolls over and holds out his palm.

Derek is at the bedside in an instant, and he tenderly takes up Stiles’ shaking hand, scoots forward, and presses it over his heart.

“I wasn’t going to take your books, or punish you, or hurt you. I promise.”

Stiles can’t feel Derek’s heartbeat, can’t tell if Derek is really telling the truth or not. But he looks at where Derek’s gingerly gripping his wrist in both of his own, sees how his magicked ink flows down his arm like a waterfall, gathering to where their skin touches. It practically swarms for the chance to slide against Derek’s skin, writing, desperate.

He chokes out another sob, coming to realize the multitude of his fuck-up.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, his voice almost completely shot from weeping. Everything is wrong, it’s his fault, it’s always his fault, it’s-

His world is practically turned on its side when Derek pulls him upright, brings him to the edge of the bed, and kneels between Stiles’ open legs. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault-”

Stiles tries to struggle, tries to get out of Derek’s grasp, but his body is weak, emotionally and physically drained. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m-”

Derek gently coaxes Stiles to rest against him with a firm hand to the base of his skull. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s not your fault-” Derek repeats, gently shushing him, rocking him back and forth ever so gently.

Stiles tops crying again, stops speaking altogether due to the ache in his throat when he lets his voice out.

Eventually, Derek pulls them apart enough that they can look at one another. Stiles sees how devastated the man looks, and it makes his stomach contract. He opens his mouth to apologize again, but Derek beats him out, placing a finger to Stiles lips while shaking his own head back and forth.

“This was on me, do you understand? I didn’t realize you thought I was going to punish you. You didn’t do anything wrong. Wolves don’t let our own pack go hungry; you’re more than entitled to anything on the kitchen carts, regardless of if you ask someone or not. You didn’t steal, and no one is going to punish you for it. Do you understand?”

Stiles looks up at the king, lost for words.

Derek leans in closer. “Do you understand, Stiles?”

Slowly, Stiles nods. He swallows past the ache in his throat.

Derek’s shoulders seem to lose a little tension. “I didn’t ask for your bag so I could take your books.”

Stiles just blinks up owlishly up at the king. What other reason could Derek possibly have had for wanting the bag other than to take his books?

As if reading his mind, Derek hops to his feet and crosses the tent. He scoops up the bowl of food he’d placed on the table earlier. When he turns to face Stiles, he doesn’t come near. Instead, he gestures to the bag at Stiles’ side. “Open your bag for me, okay?”

Stiles, his limbs moving sluggishly, grabs the bag and hauls it into his lap. He unlatches the straps, then pulls back the flap.

“Good, thank you,” Derek tells him. “See how your books are in one part, and there’s a fabric partition that breaks the bag’s main pocket in two there?”

Stiles nods.

“Pull it open for me, nice and wide, alright?”

Stiles does as he’s told.

“I’m going to come near you, and I’m going to put this food in your bag. I’m not going to touch your books, okay?”

After a moment, Stiles nods. Derek, slow as molasses, nears the bed again, holding out the bowl. When he’s within arm’s length, he dumps the contents into the open portion. Stiles looks down at all of the food, haphazardly lying in the bag.

“I don’t understand,” he says.

“It didn’t occur to me that you might be hungry beyond what meals I’ve been bringing you.”

Stiles is startled by Derek’s words.

“Even though you’re getting better at speaking you mind, I know there is much you won’t, or feel like you can’t, tell me. I know food must be a sore subject for you; you eat anything and everything I give you, and it took me a bit of prodding before you finally told me what you liked of what I’ve been bringing you. I’ve seen you without a shirt; your skin and bones. The Argents did well keeping you malnourished, hungry; it’s how they kept you plaint. I bet you’ve done things to stave off starvation that you’re not proud of.”

Stiles looks away, his stomach still tight. His hands twist in the fabric of the bag.

“But it’s not like that here, Stiles. Not with me, not with my people. Wolves don’t let others go hungry. It’s instinct to provide, to take care of our own.”

Stiles wipes his eyes with the pads of his fingers. He hisses when the cool press of his fingers touch the hot skin of his eyelids. “You took my bread,” he stutters out. “You took it, and you threw it away, and then you didn’t say anything.”

“I know. I fucked up.”

Stiles startles when he hears Derek’s words. He’d never heard royalty admit to not only being wrong, but declaring it in such a vulgar, blunt way. He looks at Derek again.

“I was trying to think about how to talk to you about this. Your pockets might not be clean; I didn’t want you to become sick from eating dirty bread. I brought back to our tent some things I know you like well enough, and spent the whole time trying to figure out how I could convince you that if you’re hungry, you can just eat. I didn’t realize that you were freaking out the entire walk back. Until you became angry, you smelled the same as you did when I found you heading back toward the celebrations. I thought you were just a little sick, a little anxious from all that’s happened today. I didn’t realize you were scared I was going to punish you for something as simple as filling a need.”

Derek takes a few steps closer to Stiles. He pauses, shifts his weight from one foot to another. “May I sit next to you? May I touch you again?”

Stiles blinks. Derek asks, he never takes, no matter how many chances he’s had to take whatever he wants from Stiles. Eventually, Stiles scoots over a little, pats the bed.

He hears Derek let out a little breath, like he’d been holding it while he waited for Stiles to answer. The bed dips where Derek sits. He brings his leg up, folds it under him, bringing their knees to touch.

“In wolf culture, if you’re hungry, you eat. Packs take care of their own. It’s the Alpha’s job to make sure that everyone goes to bed with at least a full stomach. In the capital, there have been programs set up since before even my grandmother was conceived that ensures everyone gets a meal. Wolves always take care of their own.”

Stiles looks down at the food and the books in the bag in his lap. He takes a few deeps breaths, tries to even out his nerves.

“I’m sorry-”

“No, don’t apologize, don’t-”

“No, listen.” Stiles swallows again, breathes again. “I’m sorry. I am, even if you don’t want to hear it. I... I was talking to my dad yesterday, and he said something that really stuck deep with me, and I think he’s right. I’m so used to the bad, that it’s hard for me to imagine anything good ever happening. And I know this can’t be easy for you, but you need to know that this isn’t going to be the last time this kind of thing happens. I’m going to misinterpret things you do, things you say. I’m broken. I’m broken, and I don’t know if I can ever be fixed.”

Derek leans closer, and Stiles notices his eyes fluttering between grey-green and Alpha red, like he’s holding himself back, holding himself in check. For a moment, Stiles is confused, thinks Derek might be leaning toward him to kiss him, but the king stops short. “May I touch you, may I hold you?”

Stiles scrunches his face. “You still want to?”

Derek takes up his hand and presses it to his heart, all the while keeping Stiles’ gaze. “Yes,” he answers, without hesitation, like it’s the simplest thing in the world.

As soon as Stiles nods, Derek’s leaning in and bringing them together, wrapping his arms tightly around him. Stiles winds his arms around Derek’s neck, can’t help himself when he pushes his face into where Derek’s shoulder and neck meet. One of Derek’s arms winds around his middle, pulling them even closer, while the other rubs circles over Stiles’ back.

“You’re not broken ,” Derek says with such conviction that it makes Stiles’ breath catch. “The Argents did a damn good job of making you think that they broke you, but you’re not broken. You’re worn down, stretched thin, but not broken. You smiled and laughed today. Hardly a week ago, when we had our first, actual conversation, I thought it would be ages before I ever saw you smile, let alone hear you laugh. You’re healing. That’s what this is, healing. I’m helping you heal, not trying to fix you. I'm so proud of you.”

"Proud of me?" Stiles scoffs. "For what?"

Derek backs away slightly, presses a kiss to Stiles’ temple, then pulls him back into his arms.

"You stood up to me, when you thought I'd done you wrong. You got angry, you yelled when you thought I'd lied to you. That's healing, and I'm proud of you." 

“What if I never heal?” Stiles says, his voice muffled by the fabric of Derek’s shirt.

“You’re already healing. But, even if you weren’t, I’d still love you until the sun burnt out and the moon crumbled to dust in the night sky.”

And that’s when it hits him, this strange revelation he should have already seen coming. Yet, he doesn’t even startle in the slightest when he comes to the realization that he’s already falling in love with Derek. Instead, he just presses his face further against the king’s skin, inhaling deeply, bringing Derek’s rich scent into his lungs.

He clings tighter, and Derek clings back.

Chapter Text

The History and Culture of Wolfkind, Chapter 1, Page 3

The bond between a wolf and their mage-mate is a wonder to behold. Though the bond between a wolf and their mate is one of the strongest known connections of magic thus far investigated by the Council of Magic and the Mage’s Guild, the same bond between a wolf and their mage-mate is stronger still. It is not uncommon for mates to be able to more easily sense their partner’s emotions. This same connection between a wolf and their mage-mate, however, can oftentimes be amplified many times over, until the connection grows to a point where either the mage or wolf can actually experience the emotions of their mate. Though the connection is stronger between a wolf and their mage-mate, it is only through very strong bonds that emotion-sharing is possible. That is to say while it is rare, it is not completely unheard of. For a bond like this to solidify, both the wolf and the mage would need to be quite powerful.

Folklore and Fairytales, Page 42

---

Weaver and Mate

The poem Weaver and Mate isn’t wolf in origin, but hails from one of the Tree Sprite clans in the Hidden Wilds located far north of the Werewolf capital, The Clan of The Willow Tree, or the Wierzba.

A mage of untold soul and power,
Magic’s very own child,
Speaks the language of the earth,
Flower, beast, and Wild.

Pure of heart, shaped by hardships,
Harbors still a gentle soul,
Constellations on their skin,
Star, freckle, scar, mole.

Treasured by each shining star,
Favorite of the sun and moon,
Able to call old magics to bloom,
With little other than simple tune.

Like patterns woven into tapestry,
They see magic like filament thread;
Prosperity follows in their wake,
Mate of wolf, lovingly wed.

Hand in hand they will pull from the brink
That which so many thought lost.
Silver to gold, magics untold,
Willing to pay any cost.

---

Stiles wakes up without having realized he’d fallen asleep. His eyes are puffy and sore when he opens them, and he hisses at the slight twinge of pain.

“Good morning,” he hears from across the tent, and he turns where he lays to see Derek coming around the screen partition. The king’s hair looks slightly damp, like he’d wetted his hands before running his fingers through it, slicking it back slightly. His beard, though still present, looks as though it’s been given a neat trim, not nearly as full as the night before. “How are you feeling?” Derek’s voice is soft when he asks, peering at Stiles curiously as he nears the end of the bed to where the trunk is. Stiles watches as Derek flips it open and rummages through it for a moment.

“I’m alright,” he says, and he means it.

Derek peers up at him, looking not at all fully convinced.

Stiles sighs, but it’s fond. “I’m alright, I really am,” he says as he stretches his hands out over his head. “My eyes are a little puffy - they sting - but I’m... I’m alright.”

Derek closes the trunk, then meanders back over to where the screen sits, halfway folded back. He disappears behind it for a moment before walking to Stiles’ bedside.

Stiles sits up as Derek approaches. He can’t explain the lightness in his heart, but he knows he wasn’t lying when he told Derek that he feels alright. The night before had been little more than a heaping mess, but it had, honestly, helped clear quite a bit up for Stiles, and cement a few things in his mind about the king.

The bed dips as Derek sits next to him, and Stiles is pulled away from his thoughts. “May I touch you?” he asks, and Stiles nods.

“Close your eyes for me,” Derek instructs, and Stiles, instantly, does what he’s told, without hesitation, without fear.

The pads of Derek’s fingers are gentle, feather-light as they touch his eyelids. “Keep them closed, alright? I’m applying a soothing balm,” he informs Stiles as he works. “It’s good for slight swelling and minor aches.”

“One of Deaton’s?” Stiles asks.

“Yes. He told me it’s one that you helped him with, actually.”

Pride warms Stiles’ chest. He’s glad that something he helped make has been put to use, even if he’s the one using it.

“I’m sorry. For last night, for making you think-”

Stiles reaches up with one hand and finds the sleeve of Derek’s shirt. The king stills. Even though his eyes are closed, he feels that he knows the look Derek must be wearing; trepidatious, unsure, those ridiculous bunny teeth of his peeking out from behind his upper lip ever so slightly.

“You said I’m healing,” Stiles offers. “But, it’s been - what? A week since we’ve met? No one heals in a week.”

Derek’s silence, his stillness, ushers Stiles on.

“There’s still a lot we have to learn about each other.” Stiles feels a little bolder, and he knows part of it is due to the fact that he can’t see the king, like his temporary blindness gives him strength. “I’m... I’m not used to people being nice, not used to kindness, not used to going to bed with a full stomach and a warm blanket. In the span of a week, every part of my life has changed. It’s going to take me a while to get used to things, to learn how everything works. I mean, a month ago I had nightmares about The Wolf King hunting me through the forest, and now he’s sitting next to me, on a bed he insists I sleep in - while he sleeps on the floor, - putting balm on my eyes, making sure I’m alright.”

The bed dips, and he feels Derek’s breath cascade across his cheek before the king presses a sweet, chaste kiss to his temple. Stiles lets go of Derek’s sleeve as the man pulls back. Derek continues to apply the balm to Stiles’ closed eyelids, and neither speak.

Eventually, Derek seems satisfied and Stiles hears him capping the little cup of ointment. The bed shifts a bit, and Stiles hears Derek pad across the carpets. When the king returns, he presses a warm, moist cloth into Stiles’ hands.

“May I ask something of you?” The king’s voice is gentle, but Stiles knows that Derek must be wearing a worrying look.

“Uh, yes?”

“Last night... Last night was, quite frankly, terrifying. You were so afraid, the air was thick with the sourness of it. I never wish to see you like that again.”

Stiles opens his mouth to let Derek knows it’s not as though he can control his panic attacks, but the king hurries on before he has a chance to speak a word.

“I’m aware that what I’m asking seems simple in terms of the idea of it, but I’m sure it’s likely harder to execute. If you ever feel like I’ve done something, or that you’re worried I’m mad, or upset, or anything, please - please, Stiles - will you talk to me?”

“Talk to you?”

“Yes, and I’ll do the same for you. I’m not the best at communication. So many of those around me are wolves, or other creatures who can sense or smell emotions, so I’m quite used to those around me understanding me without my having to speak. But last night, if I had just told you that putting bread in your pocket might dirty it, that I wanted to give you food you didn’t have to share with anyone else in your bag for you, for whenever you wanted, I could have saved you from - from -”

“My own head?”

He head Derek sigh. “I just... I just don’t want to see you like that again.”

There it is, that tight feeling in Stiles’ chest, that constricting motion, like something is squeezing him about his middle.

“I’ll try,” he finally speaks, and he hears Derek’s breath of relief.

“Me too. I promise.” Stiles’ hand is raised upward, and given a kiss upon the juncture of his wrist, right along his pulse point. “Are you hungry?” Derek asks, his voice somewhat gravelly.

Stiles nods. While his inability to see earlier had only encouraged his boldness, he now wishes he could see Derek’s face, could see the emotions’ written across Derek’s handsome visage.

But the king seems to sense Stiles’ sudden unease, and he brings one of the boy’s hands to his mouth once more, pressing a gentle kiss to his knuckles. “Any requests?” he asks, his voice soft this time.

Stiles smiles, unable to help the slow crawl of it as it curls the corners of his mouth upward. “Anything you think I might like,” he tells Derek.

“Count to one hundred,” Derek instructs him, letting go of his hand. “Then use the cloth to get most of the ointment off. When you can open your eyes again, wash what’s left in the washbasin next to the tub, alright?”

Stiles nods. “Thank you,” he says.

Derek lets go of Stiles’ hand, then suddenly there are fingers cupping his jaw for a fleeting moment before Derek’s warm hand falls away entirely and Stiles hears the king retreat from the tent.

He counts, like he was told to, then uses the cloth to dab the balm away from his eyelids. When he feels like most of it is gone, he blinks his eyes open slowly. He scoots to the edge of the bed, then hoists himself up and pads, barefoot, to the other side of the tent. The water in the wash basin is still warm, and he uses the dry cloth next to it to dry his face when he’s finished scrubbing the remainder of the balm from his skin. He pats his eyelids dry last, surprised in the way that they hardly ache at all anymore.

When he opens his eyes, he sees his reflection in the mirror. His cheeks have a little color to them, something he knows they’d lacked before. His cheekbones don’t stick out quite so strikingly, not quite so gaunt as they once were, now that he eats regular meals and sleeps in a soft, warm bed. He’s still skinny, there’s no way around that after hardly a week of decent eating, but when he pulls his shirt up over his head to take a peek at his torso, he thinks the skin over his ribs isn’t stretched so tightly over them any longer. True, the pale expanse is still littered with scars from innumerable whippings and beatings from over the years, with moles and freckles here and there, but the whole of him doesn’t look as malnourished as before. His silver tattoos rest, contendly, quiet and still.

He looks less like a slave, and the thought almost seems foreign to him. That's all he's been for a decade, and now?

Now, he has the potential to become king alongside Derek.

No matter how much he thinks of it, the thought is still terrifying.

Stiles looks away from his reflection in the mirror, feeling self-conscious. Compared to Derek's physique, Stiles knows he's left wanting.

A stone sinks to the pit of Stiles’ stomach. Derek's already professed his love for him... but how much of this mate business is based on actual, physical attraction?

Stiles shakes his head, pushes the thought from his mind. He doesn't need to go down that road, and if he ever decides to, he can talk to Derek about it. So far, his speculation about the king and his motives has only led him to the wrong conclusion, time after time. Besides, Deaton had tried to make it clear to him that being mates wasn’t destiny, wasn’t fate, wasn’t something he didn’t at least have a little control over, though he’s not entirely sure on the actual workings of how.

He shuffles, shirtless, over to the trunk at the end of the bed and flips open the hatch. On top of everything sits the thin wooden box that Stiles knows holds the circlet Derek is always so keen to see him wear. Stiles runs his fingers over the smooth, lacquered wood before he reaches to open it. The circlet sits on a bed of soft velvet, just as beautiful as the first time he laid eyes on it.

“You're beautiful,” Derek's voice reverberates through his mind, and his memories pull back to the first time he'd worn the circlet.

Stiles feels his cheeks heat, feels the silver ink on his skin slither around, pleased at the memory, curling along his arms like snakes bathing in the sun. His earlier fears start to fall away.

Feeling bold, Stiles picks up the circlet and places it atop his head, taking a moment to adjust it until it’s comfortable. It’s still foreign, to have not only a weight on his head, but something about his person that’s likely worth more coin than he’s ever so much as seen in his entire life. When he reaches back down to close the box, a glimmer of red catches his eye, and he turns his attention to it. It’s fabric, soft and silky to the touch, and Stiles realizes that it’s the red shirt Derek had gifted him. He tugs it all the way out of the trunk, then, without hesitation, pulls it over his head. He smiles as the fabric practically glides across his skin.

Next, he takes up a pair of trousers from the trunk, and a pair of socks, then pads back over to the screen, since he’s not sure when Derek might be back.

It turns out to be a good decision, as he hears the tent flaps flutter hardly a moment later.

“Derek?” he calls out.

“Yes, it’s me. Are you changing?”

“Almost done,” Stiles says as he ties up the strings of his breeches. He takes a steadying breath, then emerges from behind the screen.

Derek’s back is to him, the king placing the tray of food on the bed. Stiles swallows past the lump forming in his throat as he waits for Derek to turn around, strangely eager to see the king’s reaction.

When Derek turns, he freezes, and Stiles finds himself holding his breath. He watches as a soft, rosy hue creeps across Derek’s features, starting at his sharp cheekbones and flooding across his face, disappearing into the scruff of his beard, then down the collar of his shirt, coloring even the tips of his ears. Stiles stands still as he watches Derek’s eyes roam over the entirety of him, from the silken shirt, to his sock-clad feet, all the way to the jeweled circlet resting against his short-cropped hair.

“This okay?” he eventually asks, every moment of silence that stretches between them amping up the tension further and further. He’s perturbed at how soft, how fragile his voice sounds, but he can’t help it. Stiles is used to being judged, is used to ignoring it when he can. What he’s not used to is wanting to appease someone for any other reason than, well, that he wants to.

Derek doesn’t speak. Stiles watches for a moment as the king opens and closes his mouth a few times, like he’s actively trying to force words out of his mouth. But, when nothing spills past his lips, he nods, slowly, his eyes flickering between soft green and bright, ruby red.

Stiles feels warm all over, and he ducks his head, feeling shy. The index finger of his left hand picks at the nail bed of his thumb, and his thoughts trail off for a moment so that when Derek finally speaks, it causes him to startle slightly.

“Breakfast is... I brought...” Stiles looks up just as Derek turns partially away from him, combing his fingers through his thick, dark locks. The rosy blush is still present on Derek’s face, and it makes Stiles feel a little less awkward. He’s never really done anything like this before, doesn’t know what to expect. He’s glad Derek apparently likes that he’s dressed himself in the things the king has gifted him, but beyond that, Stiles isn’t really sure how to handle the situation.

So, he follows his gut, which, at the present moment, is telling him that food is a rather pressing matter. He shuffles across the carpets in his soft, warm socks, passes Derek, then sits on the opposite side of the tray atop the bed. He leans over, glad Derek’s already looking at him, no matter how intently, and pats the bed on the other side of the tray, looking up at the king expectantly.

Derek sits without hesitation, his gaze still eager, steady. “Hotcakes,” he says, finally speaks, and gestures down at the tray.

Stiles smiles, knowing that Derek got them for him specifically. “Thank you,” he says, looking away from Derek and down at the tray. He picks up a hotcake with a single hand and dips it in the gooey brown liquid. He remembers that Derek had called it syrup, but whatever the name, it’s one of the sweetest things Stiles has ever consumed in his entire life, and he’s more than a little fond of it.

He hears Derek clear his throat, and he looks up as he stuffs the other half of the hotcake into his mouth. The look on Derek’s face makes it a little more than obvious to Stiles that he’s slightly confused.

“Are you - is this...” Derek’s brows furrow as Stiles swallows his mouthful of hotcake. The king’s eyebrows seem to have their very own means of communication. “What’s with-” he gestures to Stiles.

Suddenly, Stiles isn’t so sure anymore. His throat pulls a little tight, and his stomach churns. He looks down to the second hotcake he’d reached for without realizing it. “They are - I mean, the shirt, and the - they were gifts, right? Am I - am I not supposed to wear them, or-”

“No!” Derek hurriedly speaks. “That’s not - no, I mean, yes, they were gifts, and you’re welcome to do whatever you want with them, I was just, uh, surprised.”

Derek’s words, though reassuring, don’t do much to quell the churning of Stiles’ stomach. He puts the hotcake down, then reaches up to take off the circlet. He knew it was a stupid idea, he knew he should have just-

Derek’s gentle grip on his wrist stops his movements. His gaze snaps up, meeting the king’s eyes. “If you want to wear them, then wear them. I was just surprised; I didn’t expect you to want to wear either the shirt, let alone the circlet. I don’t want you wearing them thinking it will please me is all. I want you to wear them because the gifts I’ve given you please you.”

Stiles swallows past the dryness of his throat, lowering his hand, though Derek keeps his fingers touching Stiles’ wrist. The eagerness in Derek’s voice, in his eyes, is almost too much, and Stiles looks away.

“Is it a wolf thing?” Stiles asks.

Derek’s fingers glide over his wrist, gentle in their ministrations, the king’s skin warm. Stiles hears him laugh quietly, as if through his nose. “If I said yes, it would only be a partial truth. Yes, my wolf instincts are delighted to see you wear what I’ve provided you. But, the man in me is just as happy you’re pleased with the gifts I’ve given you.”

Stiles licks the dryness from his lips. “I like what you’ve given me; I wanted to wear them,” he whispers.

Derek pulls Stiles’ wrist toward him, and Stiles doesn’t have any other choice than to look up. The king’s eyes are their beautiful, muted green, and Stiles looks into them as Derek raises his hand and presses a gentle kiss to his knuckles.

From the sweet smile the king wears as he lets go of Stiles’ hand and takes up a strip of bacon, Stiles knows that Derek heard the truth in Stiles’ words. He takes up a hotcake to busy his hand, to busy his mouth. Something flutters around the tightness of his chest, a gentle, soft sort of scuffle, like the beating of butterfly wings.

The rest of their meal is quiet, save for the sounds of their eating. Stiles chances a glance at Derek only once, who is intently staring back at him. Averting his gaze quickly, Stiles crams half a sausage link into his mouth and stares at his own hands.

When they finish, Derek finally cuts the silence. “I’m going to take the tray back while the kitchen carts are still out. Is there something you’d like me to get you?”

Stiles gives Derek a confused look, not entirely sure what he’s talking about.

“For your bag,” Derek goes on to explain.

“Oh,” Stiles responds, feeling his face soften. “I hadn’t, uh, I hadn’t thought of it. There’s plenty in there, now, from - from last night. You don’t need to bring me anything else.”

Derek raises an eyebrow in silent question.

Stiles bites at his lower lip. “I mean it. I’m okay. You gave me a lot.”

Derek looks somewhat pleased with that response, and he nods as he scoops up the tray and leaves the tent.

Stiles stands up and paces after Derek leaves. He wrings his hands, debating if he really is brave enough to ask the king for something, now. True, he hadn’t put on the things Derek had gifted him in hopes of buttering him up - hadn’t really thought of it at the time - but now that his stomach is full, his resolve is strengthened, and he knows that now would be the perfect time for it. After all, there’s no way his father isn’t sleeping off one hell of a hang-over. Stiles can’t blame the man; the previous night’s merrymaking was certainly unlike anything he’d ever seen in quite some time, and he knew that his father was overjoyed now that they were reunited and safe.

Stiles turns when he hears the tent flaps flutter. Derek is looking down at something in his hands, a small, palm-sized leather-bound book. “Kira found out you like plants from Erica - apparently, more than a few people asked her and Isaac about their flower crowns yesterday - and she asked me to give you-”

The king pauses when he looks up, his brow furrowing. “Are you alright?” Stiles watches as Derek’s nostrils flare slightly, and he knows the man is scenting the air. “You smell troubled. What’s wrong?” Derek closes the space between them, coming to stand directly in front of Stiles, his free hand reaching out, moving to gently rest on Stile’s elbow.

Swallowing past the stone-like quality his tongue has suddenly taken on, Stiles steels his resolve. “I want to ask you for something-”

“Anything,” comes Derek’s reply, before Stiles is even done speaking.

The king’s eagerness surprises Stiles into stillness for a moment, before he blinks rapidly and looks away from Derek’s intense gaze. He’s never before seen such ardent admiration and eagerness to please aimed at him, and it takes him more than a little off guard.

“After last night, I thought - and my dad, he’s more than - what I mean is-” Stiles squeezes his eyes shut, sighing heavily.

He feels Derek bring his hand up to his mouth, pressing another sweet kiss to Stiles’ knuckles. “Take your time,” the king urges.

“This is just... weird for me. I usually get on everyone's nerves for talking too much. Back at the keep - and even before then, with my dad, where I grew up - I used to get in trouble for never knowing when to shut my mouth, which makes this ten times harder than it should be because I’m usually so filled with words I can’t help but speak, and around you... around you it’s like I slow down, like everything slows down. I’m not used to it.”

“I’m a patient man, Stiles, and I’ve always loved to listen,” Derek reassures him.

“Can I ride with you today?” he blurts out, before he loses any more of his nerve.

He’s not prepared for the way Derek stills completely. Chancing a glance, Stiles turns his gaze back to Derek, whose eyes are round with surprised, his eyebrows halfway to his hairline.

“You... You’d want to?” the king asks, quietly, softly, like he can’t believe what Stiles just asked of him.

Stiles nods. “I feel like we keep dancing around one another, with the way we keep misinterpreting things. I thought it might be a good way to talk more, to get to know one another better. We only really ever talk to one another at night, when we eat, and before bed. And, well,” at this point,” Stiles smiles and shrugs. “I’m pretty sure my father’s going to be sleeping off a hell of a hangover, given how much he drank last night, so I wouldn’t have to worry about him being off on his own today.”

The sweet, soft smile that illuminates the entirety of Derek’s visage is truly a sight, and Stiles isn’t prepared for the way his chest aches at the look the king is giving him. “I would love nothing more,” the king says. “But-”

And that’s when Stiles’ heart drops into his stomach.

Derek, however, seems to register the change immediately. “No, Stiles. No, just let me- I would love for you to ride with me, I want you to ride with me, but before you make a decision like that, let me inform you of a few things, alright?”

He’s hesitant, completely unsure of what Derek might tell him. He knows that that the king rides at the front of the company - Derek had said so himself. But did being the king’s mate change things?

Slowly, Stiles nods, and Derek continues. “To be perfectly honest, given how things went in the first few days we were together, I was sure you wouldn’t ask or even want to ride with me. At the moment, I don’t have a spare mount for you.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, unsure of what to make of Derek’s words.-

“As such, since I am courting you, and there is no extra mount for you, you would ride with me.”

“Oh,” Stiles repeats, but this time Derek’s meaning is crystal clear. “Is that alright with you?”

Derek’s brow furrows, and he his head tilts to one side in a quizzical manner. He barks out a single, surprised laugh. “Stiles, I think that’s my line; is that alright with you?”

There’s no doubt there’s a nervousness about him, and Stiles swallows to try to clear his throat. His extremities are buzzing - practically every inch of his skin, really, and when he looks down at where Derek stills clutches his hand, he sees his silver ink curl softly around where they are joined.

It’s a hard thing, for him to trust. Stiles knows this, and he knows that his reservations aren’t without merit. The only for sure thing that Stiles trusts, implicitly and without a second thought, is his magic. His magic has never hurt him, never let him down. It reminds him of a faithful pet more than an extension of himself, honestly. Which is why Stiles faces his dilemma; his magics, the ink on his skin, has never sought anything out the way it seeks Derek. Even when being reunited with his father after a decade, his magic was just as happy as he was, no doubt, but it didn’t crawl across Stiles’ skin to get at his father’s touch when they embraced. Stiles trusts his magic, and while there’s no doubt he’s growing to trust Derek, Stiles wouldn’t still be alive if it weren’t for his trepidation. And, so, Stiles’ conundrum is this; he trusts his magic, which trusts Derek, but he’s not sure if he truly trusts Derek, which means he’s suddenly worried for the trust he’s always placed in his magic.

Stiles takes a deep breath, then lets it out. He closes his eyes for a moment, trying to settle his nerves. He can feel his magic a little more when he shuts out all of the outside distractions around him, or so he’s always believed. He can feel his own heartbeat, steady, albeit fast, as it drums out a staccato within the confines of his chest. The silver ink on his skin tenderly sways back and forth, like soft waves hitting a sandy shore, like tendrils of smoke caught in a gentle breeze.

He’s not sure about all of this, about Derek, about how quickly he seems to be falling for the gentle king. But, he wants to be sure of his magic, needs to be sure.

So, he takes another breath, lets it out, opens his eyes, and nods. “I’d like to ride with you.”

And, oh, the soft, loving look Derek gives him makes the ink on his skin jump and dance in a way it never has before, licking up his arms like sudden flame, warming his entire body through. He shudders, pulls in a quiet, quick breath.

Derek kisses his knuckles once more. “There’s much to be done in terms of getting ready to depart.”

Stiles nods. “I can help.”

The smile the king wears is nearly blinding. “That’s not at all what I meant in the slightest, but it makes me happy to hear you offer your services so readily. There’s no need for your assistance, but if you’d like to stick around and watch, I’m sure you’d bother no one.”

Derek lets go of Stiles' hand and drops his own to his side, before raising his other hand up. He holds up a small, leatherbound book. “Kira wanted me to give this to you,” he says as he offers the book up.

“Kira?” Stiles clarifies.

Derek nods. “She saw the flower crowns you’ve been weaving - mine, Erica’s, Isaacs’ - and thought you might like this.”

Stiles turns the book over in his hands, then flips through a few pages. On every page he glimpses beautiful sketches of every type of flower Stiles has ever come across, and many more he’s utterly unfamiliar with. “This is amazing,” he whispers.

He hears Derek chuckle. “She’ll be pleased to hear it. But you’ll have to put it in your bag for now; I’ve got a camp to see packed up, and we’ve got a caravan to lead.”

Stiles tucks the little book safely in his bag, with the rest of his books and his stash of snacks, and slings the strap over his shoulder. Derek’s fumbling about on the other side of the same table, stacking his papers together neatly before he crosses the tent and places them into the trunk at the end of the bed.

“Do you need help?” Stiles asks, unsure of what else to do with himself.

“Kind of you to offer,” Derek assures him, “but there’s not much that needs doing, I’m afraid.”

Stiles watches as Derek leaves the lid of the trunk open as he walks toward the stand where the washbasin resides. He takes up the few bottles of sweet smelling soaps and twists the caps to make sure they are on tightly before he walks back and drops them into the trunk, too. “Oh,” Derek says, like it’s an afterthought. “Your shoes.” He tugs the pair of soft-soled shoes out and hands them over.

Chuckling, Stiles softly shakes his head. “You go so long without, you forget you need them sometimes, you know?” he says as he stuffs his feet into them.

Derek makes a non-committal, somewhat growly noise, and Stiles realizes that, no, the king doesn’t know what that’s like. Stiles swallows, but moves past the discomfort. His stupid mouth never fails to put him into awkward positions; why would it stop now?

Derek closes the trunk and nears the bed now, taking up the blankets that make the spot on the rug where he’s been sleeping. He folds them in half, then into quarters, then places them on top of the trunk, making quick work of doing the same to the blankets on the bed. Then, seemingly satisfied, he motions for Stiles to follow him toward the tent’s opening.

Outside, the camp is already hustling and bustling, people hurriedly moving back and forth with armloads full and empty alike. A young man in a cotton shirt and simple breeches approaches the two of them, looking from Derek to Stiles, then back to Derek once more, as if surprised by Stiles’ presence. “Tent clear, sir?” he asks.

Derek nods. “Indeed; ready to be taken down. Are Boyd and Erica near the front yet?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy nods. “And Sir Scott is already with Deaton and the medical carts.”

“Isaac?”

The young man shakes his head. “Not sure, sir. He’s around, given his scent, but I hadn’t seen him since breakfast. Shall I send for him?”

“Not necessary, but thank you. Instead, after the tent is taken care of, will you let Deaton and Scott know that Stiles will be riding with me in the front today?”

The boy smiles brightly and nods, stealing a glance in Stiles’ directly. “Yes, sir. Anything else?”

“No, dismissed.”

With a flourishing salute, the boy turns on his heel and whistles sharply. Several people gather near and begin toward the tent, uplifting the stakes and pulling at the ropes, and in a manner of moments, half the tent is left gaping open. Several more people arrive, hopping out of the back of a covered wagon led by a horse. They start toward the opening of the tent, taking things up at each end like the bathtub, mattress, table, and trunk, and neatly stash them away in the wagon. Then, those that had pulled the tent apart start on another set of stakes and ropes, and before he knows it, Stiles is staring at an empty patch of dirt and grass where, hardly three minutes ago, he and Derek had stood within a fully furnished tent.

“That was amazing,” he breathes. He’s never seen people move more intune with one another.

Derek chuckles, obviously slightly pleased, as he tugs at Stiles’ fingers. They start toward the direction where most of the carts are facing. “My people make this journey twice a year; we’re used to it, and being efficient at packing things up means we spend less time on the road. The weather has held out and it’s been sunny for the journey home so far, but no one likes to get caught in the rain, so we’ve all become quite adept at hurrying things along when it comes to packing up camp.”

Stiles nods along as the king speaks, his explanation logical. While he and Derek speak the same common tongue, the cultures they come from are more than a little different. Sure, Stiles doesn’t know anyone who actually likes to get caught in the rain, but Derek’s entire camp seems to run like a well-oiled machine, and the previous day’s festivities only prove the point further; despite the stage the theater troupe had set up, and the platform Stiles and Derek had eaten served and shared their evening meal upon, Stiles sees no trace of either of them now.

As they near the front of the caravan, Stiles is spotted by Derek’s hulking, sleek black horse who nudges past Boyd. The horse comes to an abrupt stop in front of Stiles, then nuzzles his nose into the young man’s chest.

Stiles laughs, delighted that the animal seems to like him so, lifting up his hands and bringing them to scratch behind Camaro’s ears. “Such a good boy,” Stiles tells the beast, and Camaro, as if he understands, snorts and nudges Stiles in an affectionate manner.

“Sir?” He hears Boyd speak as he approaches.

“Stiles will be riding with me today,” Derek informs Boyd, as well as the rest of the men and women who stand around them. Many of them salute Derek at the news, but Stiles busies himself with scratching under Camaro’s chin; he’s rather not fond of any attention being given him, and he knows from the way the hair on the back of his neck stands up that more than a few people are gazing his way.

“Ready?” Derek says, and the king’s voice makes Stiles jump slightly. He’s nervous, though he knows he has little to no reason to be. He nods, and Derek offers his hand, who then leads him to Camaro’s side.

“I’ve, uh-” Stiles says, looking up at how tall the horse’s back really stands. “I’ve never ridden a horse before.”

“Camaro likes you; he’ll be sure to take good care of you,” Derek assures him. “And I’ll be right behind you in the saddle. You’re in good hands, I promise.”

Stiles nods.

“I’ll help you up, alright?” Derek pats the little foot hold that hangs from the saddle’s side. “If you can get your foot up here, I can help lift you the rest of the way.”

Again, Stiles nods. He lifts his right leg as high as he can and, thanks to how long and gangly he is, doesn't have much trouble getting his foot in the stirrup.

"I'm going to grab you about the waist, then on three I'll hoist you up, alright?" he hears Derek speak from behind him.

Stiles nods, and Derek begins his count. When he gets to three, Stiles feels Derek's warm hands tighten on his hips, lifting him up into the air. He swings his other leg around, over the saddle, and manages to get his foot situated in the other stirrup on his second attempt to find it blindly.

He feels tall, elevated up on such a gigantic beast. He'd been around horses a time or two, so the creatures aren’t completely new to him, but Stiles is no fool and knows full well Camaro is a beast among beasts, easily the largest horse he's even seen.

As he looks out in front of them, he sees the dusty path they must be set upon, the one that likely leads to Derek's home kingdom, though for now all Stiles can see are sprawling, grassy hills, with towering mountains lining the distance northward, and forests to the south. He thinks the sea might be east, the direction they're headed, but he'd only spied maps of various kingdoms when his mother was still alive, thus he doesn't know if it's so.

There's a slight pull to the right, and Stiles looks down to see Derek grabbing the back of the saddle with one hand. Then, as a testament to the king's strength, he hoists himself up, single-handedly, as if it's no trouble. Stiles tries to hide how impressed he is; he’d always been told that wolves were strong - every time that Derek carried him when he was conscious, the king had made it seem like he weighed nothing, not to mention the huge deer that Derek had slung over his shoulders at Stiles’ feet just the day before - but it’s still another thing seeing it in person.

Stiles hears the clopping of hooves nearing, and he turns his head to see Erica on horseback, slowing down as she nears them. “I hear you’re gonna ride with us today,” she says in lieu of a greeting, wearing a toothy smile.

Smiling and nodding, Stiles leans forward and gives Camaro’s neck a good pat.

He didn’t think it were possible, but Erica’s smile gets bigger.

Despite his original misgivings about her, Stiles realizes he’s warming up to Erica. He smiles back at her, then fidgets in his seat a little in order to get comfortable. Much to his surprise, he notices that she’s wearing the flower crown he’d woven for her the day before. The flowers look a little wilted, but still bright and colorful.

She shoots him a wink as she steers her horse around the gathering of people that surround them, then lets out a high-pitched whistle as she ushers her mount to a faster pace, heading toward the opposite direction of the open road that stands before them all.

“Are you comfortable?” Derek asks, one of his hands coming around Stiles’ side to rest on the horn of the saddle.

Stiles gives him a little half-look, since looking back and up is a little hard for him given his current sitting position. “I think so?” he replies.

“If you need to move, or become uncomfortable, just let me know.”

Nodding, Stiles takes a few moments to look around them. Most of the faces of those that surround them aren’t familiar to him. He sees Boyd, not too far off, talking to two others who are also on horseback. All three of them are adorned in leather armor, the likes of which Stiles has never seen before. The only armor he’s used to seeing is the suits of it back at the Argent keep, when he’d been on polishing duty. It wasn’t a tough job, but he doesn’t miss the smell of the armor polish, that much is for certain.

Stiles hears approaching hoofbeats once more, and turns to see Erica coming up on them, fast. Again, she slows as as she approaches the head of the caravan, and offers a salute as she nears. “Everything is accounted for and ready to go, your majesty.”

“May I touch you?” Derek asks, his mouth so close to Stiles’ ear that he can feel the king’s warm breath as it ghosts over his ear and neck.

Stiles freeze, unsure of what to say. Derek is kind to ask him, of course, but Stiles feels this is different, this is in front of his men, and what if he were to say no, what if he were to have a panic attack here, in front of the caravan, in front of everyone, and-

Derek must sense his immediate unease. “I mean to rest my hand on the outside of your thigh as a means to steady you while we ride. If you’re not comfortable with that, all you ever need to say it-”

“It’s okay,” Stiles whispers, heart and breath slowing.

Derek’s other hand, the one not on the horn of Camaro’s saddle, slowly comes to rest on the outside of Stiles’ thigh.

After a moment, the king whistles this time, high and sharp, then, from the corner of his vision, Stiles sees Derek throw his head back and howl. All at once, like a perfectly timed machine, the entire caravan starts off on their journey home.

“That’s amazing,” Stiles tells the king. “Everyone is ready to go, just like that, quick as a rabbit?”

He feels Derek laugh behind him, maybe at the analogy he used. “Just like that,” he conforms. “Most of us are used to it by now.”

“How far away from your kingdom are we?”

Derek takes a moment before he answers. “I’m not certain in miles, but in traveling time. From here, we’ll be within the kingdom borders likely by tomorrow night, then in the capital city within a week or so.”

“I’ve only heard stories of the wolf-homeland capital, and I’m sure you can guess what kind of pictures that paints. Will you tell me about it?”

“The city’s been around for hundreds of years, as far back as wolf history goes.”

“To the three sisters, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Good memory. The castle sits half built into the mountains. Though we may be men first, for wolves, our instincts are strong, and so portions of the castle are carved out of and into the mountain range that borders the northernmost reaches of the city. Wolves make dens, and so the castle was made to make wolves feel more at home. The city stretches south, and where it ends it’s swallowed up by The Deep Forest, with the Great Sea to the east. We’re moving across The Verdant Plains now, which separates my kingdom from Queen Melissa's.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen a map of this continent since I was little. Where is Argent land from here? I don’t remember what direction or for how long dad and I were on the run for; we just kept going.”

“Argent’s kingdom is far, far, south from here. To be honest, I’m surprised you and your father made it this far. You must have been on the run for weeks. Deaton isn’t one for keeping books on geography, but I’ll have whoever is in charge of the library cart check and see if we have any updated maps.”

Stiles nods. “I’d like that.”

“Neither you nor your father mentioned where you were from. Do you mind me asking?”

“Not at all. It was a small village, less than fifty of us, called Song.”

“I apologize, but I haven’t heard of it.”

“I’d be more surprised if you had. We were in the kingdom that was outside of Argent land, I think it was to the south a bit? I remember it being warm there, for most of the year. I can only recall seeing snow maybe twice before I was taken. But, soldiers came marching in one day when I was young, and our village was too small for the king of the country to pay much mind to. We farmed, but some years it was hardly enough to keep those of us living there alive, so I’m sure when we were taken, no one in the capital cared much. We were under Argent rule for a year before I presented as a mage.”

Derek’s silence speaks volumes.

“I’m glad my mom was gone before then, though. Only a few people thought to take up arms when the soldiers came through, and they lost their lives because of it. My mom was a fighter, though. Not trained, not like a knight, but she was never one to sit by and just let things happen.”

The hand on Stiles’ thigh tightens for a moment, a comforting gesture.

“The outlying towns in my kingdom aren’t so small that no one knows they’re there. Farming villages on the plains supply food to the capital, which we exchange for ore from the mountains. Same with the lumber from the forests. Wolves like to stay in packs, like to stay close to others, so small villages aren’t really a thing.”

“I like that,” Stiles says, softly. There’s no question about it; Stiles knew he was an odd kid. He’d always been a bit of a loner, though not by choice. Song was small, and as such didn’t have a copious amount of children. There hadn’t been many others around his age, so Stiles had spent most of his time around his mother. She’d taught him to read and write, taught him the language of her homeland. She’d taught him of plants and flowers, from how to make a tea that would quell a stomachache, to the delicate weaving of flower crowns.

“Are there any more stories in those books of yours you’ve come to enjoy?”

Stiles knows that Derek’s changing the subject to benefit him. His heart sits a little heavy in his chest, thinking about his childhood home, of his mother and the time he was able to spend with her.

“I like the one about how you celebrate new years.”

“Oh?”

“You celebrate it at down, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. We throw a huge party; the entire city stays up celebrating until sunrise.”

“Like the party last night?”

“In some ways. There are theater troupe performances all over the city, music and dancing, too. And food. Wolves love to eat, no denying that. But we also play games.”

“Games?”

“Most businesses through the city set up games in their stores. It allows them to get rid of superfluous stock that didn’t sell the previous year, or introduce new products to drum up business for the following one. Simple, carnival games, really, games of chance or skill; knock down a tower of bottles, getting a ball into a basket, ring toss.”

Stiles can feel himself smiling. “That sounds fun.”

Derek tells Stiles of more celebrations within the wolf capital. Harvest festivals at the end of each growing season sound interesting, with specialty foods made from the harvest.

Nearing hoofbeats cause both Stiles and Derek to turn toward the source. Scott rides up alongside the king’s horse, smiling softly. He’s bracketed on either side by large saddle bags that seem stuffed to the brim. “Lunch,” he says as he nears, and slows to match everyone’s pace. He turns in his saddle and fishes out several paper-wrapped parcels.

Derek reaches out and Scott plops two of the parcels into his hands. He offers first choice to Stiles, who eagerly plucks the one closest to him. He unwraps the string to reveal a sandwich, filled almost to the point of overflowing, housed on either side by thick-cut bread.

The first bite is heaven. The meat is still juicy, and the bread is warm. He crams another bite into his mouth before he’s even finished with the first.

He hears and feels Derek laugh behind him. “Good?”

Stiles nods, wiping a little bit of meat juice with his thumb before it reaches his chin. He chews for a moment, then swallows. “Really good,” he says. “I’ve never had meat spiced like this before. What’s in it?”

“Kira makes a special mustard to go with the venison dishes she makes.”

“Mustard?”

Derek points to a little glob of brownish orange goo that is oozing between a slice of bread and a hunk of meat. “It’s a ground up seed, somewhat spicy.”

Stiles takes another massive bite, “Iffs goo,” he says though his mouthful.

Derek laughs again, then takes an enormous bite from his own sandwich.

“You said it’s venison?” Stiles says between bites.

Derek’s quiet a moment. “Yes. The same one I dropped at your feet yesterday.”

Stiles chews for a moment, then swallows. “It’s good.”

He feels Derek’s hand on his thigh tighten an almost imperceptible amount. Stiles knows he’s said the right thing, and he means it, too. He’s not used to eating much meat, let alone venison, and he thinks it’s quite delicious.

When their meal is over, someone Stiles doesn’t recognize rounds up the empty sheets of paper the sandwiches had been wrapped up in.

“Do you like your new book?” Derek asks, offering his open canteen to Stiles.

Stiles takes a deep drink, washes the taste of venison down. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it past the glance I took this morning.”

“Show me?”

It’s strange, for Stiles to have such ardent attention focused on him. He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to it, to be honest. He doesn’t even need to see Derek at this point to know the curious, open expression he wears. Stiles nods, and fishes the book out of the bag slung across his shoulders, feeling a little awkward.

He flips open to a few pages past the first, glancing at the pretty, hand-drawn pictures of various herbs and flowers.

“Do you have a favorite flower?” Derek asks, leaning over Stiles’ shoulder slightly, peering down at the book in his hands.

“Oh. Uh. I’m not sure. I guess I’ve never thought of it. I think roses are pretty, but their thrones can cut you up something fierce if you’re not careful. They always smell nice.”

“Any particular color?”

“Red,” Stiles answers almost instantaneously, and he almost thinks he hears a chuckle from off to one side.

It takes him a moment before he realizes what kind of implication his answer could have, given the color of Derek’s eyes when they glow. He clears his throat, heavily, feeling even more awkward. “I like the yellow ones, too. Not bright yellow, but soft yellow. They remind me of the sunset.”

He turns the page in his book, for lack of a better idea as to what to do next. “Oh!” he says as he spies the little drawing on the left side of the new page. “Evening primrose,” he says, somewhat excited. He knows about this one. “My mom used to make an oil from the petals to help people in Song. It’s not super strong, but it helps for things like minor skin irritation and inflammation.”

Stiles flips through a few more pages before he sees another flower he recognizes. “Oh!” he says, excitedly. “I recognize this one, too, but I don’t think I ever knew a name for it. Cal - calend - calendula,” he sounds out, running his fingers over the sketch. “It’s good for sore throats. Good to put in salves for cuts, too.”

Another page. “Rose hips! Yes, yes! Mom would make sun tea and put these in to sweeten it up. You can eat them, too, but they’re kind of seedy. They smell nice. They’re what’re left behind when certain roses lose their petals, and so when her rose bushes were looking a little wilty, mom would pluck the petals and put them in my pillow case - she told me so that I’d have rose-scented dreams - and then, in the morning or the day after, she’d pluck the buds and-”

Stiles sees a motion out of the corner of his eye, and when he turns, he sees two young men, boys really, walking side by side. One of the boys is flapping his hand up and down at them while making a silly face, and the other is holding a hand over his face in an obvious attempt to hold in his laughter.

His mouth shuts so quickly, Stiles nearly bites his tongue in half. He jumps at the pain of it, how quickly and sharply it begins to hurt. He snaps the book shut quickly, holding it tightly in both of his hands to keep himself from wringing them together. “Sorry,” he apologizes, unease sitting heavy, like a stone, in his stomach. “I was talking too much, wasn’t I? I just go on like that, sometimes, my mind runs fast and my mouth tries to keep up and, I’m sorry, I’m-”

The king gently shushes him, his thumb gently rubbing back on forth on Stiles’ thigh.

Stiles swallows past the ache of his tongue.

“Are you alright? You smell like you’re in pain.”

“Bit my tongue,” Stiles grits out in a hushed tone.

Derek’s hand on Stiles thigh slowly moves up so that he tugs one of Stiles’ hands free from the practical iron-like grip he has on his book. The king pulls his hand up and backward, upward, and Stiles sees the way the tattoos on his skin slither and seek out Derek’s touch. The pain fades out, quickly, and Stiles sees the strange black werewolf magic Derek has done before on him as the king pulls the pain away.

Stiles feels Derek’s lips as the king presses soft kiss after soft kiss across the knuckles of his right hand. He can feel his cheeks heat as he blushes, looking down, intently, at the book still clutched in his hand.

Slowly, almost achingly so, Derek lowers Stiles hand down to where the king’s hand had rested on his thigh. He laces their fingers together, loosely, as if letting Stiles know he’s free to break their fingers apart if he so wishes.

“Holun, Sem, come here for a moment.” Derek doesn’t ask; though his voice is gentle, Stiles can hear the clear command in his tone.”

Stiles turns and the two boys who been poking fun at him walk closer, looking guilty.

“Yes, your highness?” one of them says as they approach.

“You’re training to become knights, are you not?” Derek’s voice is low, somewhat growly. Stiles has never heard him speak this way before.

Both of the boys nod.

“Since Stiles is new to our culture, perhaps you could recite the Knight’s Oath for him?”

The boys share a look between one another before they start to speak in unison.

“A knight holds humility, honesty, courage, and kindness above all else;

Humility, to prove that you understand you are not above your brothers in arms nor those that seek your help;

Honesty, to show that you are trustworthy and just;

Courage, to demonstrate you fear not your enemy nor any task set before you;

And kindness because consideration and generosity are the key to how a pack is run, from alpha to beta and beyond.

No creature can become a knight without these traits. Alongside loyalty to the crown and council, and to every citizen within the castle walls all the way to the furthest border, it is a knight’s duty to be a shining beacon of righteousness among those around them.”

Stiles looks up from where his and Derek’s hands are still clasped together. He spies Erica out of the corner of his vision, who is leveling quite the look at the boys walking beside him.

Everyone around them has fallen silent.

“Do you think you’ve behaved in a way that is exemplary for a knight?”

Stiles jumps at how suddenly angry Derek sounds. The hand on his book tightens so much that the leather under his fingers creak.

Derek’s other hand, the one still clasped together with Stiles’ atop his thigh, squeezes Stiles’ in a gentle, reassuring manner. He feels the king’s nose brush against the back of his neck, a soft, just barely-there touch.

“No, sir,” both of the boys speak in unison again.

“I’m sure the hardship of my mate’s past has spread through the camp like wildfire, has it not? You know of his mistreatment at the hands of our enemies?”

“Yes, your highness.”

Stiles’s shoulders hunch inward as he tries to make himself as small as he possibly can. He feels jittery, thinking that others known about his past, about what happened to him.

“And you’re aware that, as my mate, to disrespect him is to disrespect me?”

The boy’s hang their head.

“We’re sorry, your majesty.”

“I’m not the one you’ve insulted,” Derek barks, and Stiles jumps again, can feel his heartbeat kick up, can feel his breath start to come short.

The boys both begin talking at once, their voices pleading.

“I’m sorry, sire, I wasn’t thinking-”

“It was very wrong of me, it won’t ever happen again-”

“It was not how a knight should behave-”

“I have no one to blame on my actions but myself and I deeply apologize-”

“Boyd, take them to Kira. Put them on dish duty for the remainder of the journey, and, when we return, send them to help with mucking out the stables every night after training until the next full moon.”

Stiles’ head is pounding, he’s not sure he completely understands what’s going on, but suddenly Derek’s hand, the one that had been holding his, is over his heart, pressing him backward so that his back comes into contact with Derek’s chest.

“-iles, breathe. Breath for me, just like that, there we go, in - in a little more - hold it, now out, hold it again-”

“Don’t punish them,” he says gasps out. “Don’t, don’t hurt them, they’re kids, and I really was talking too much, I rant, I ramble, I can’t help it sometimes, I-”

“Breathe, Stiles,” Derek’s voice is soft but commanding.

He takes a breath, then another. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t apologize for the actions of others,” Derek says, softly, his mouth near Stiles’ ear again.

Stiles reaches up with his free hand and wipes at his eyes. He’s not crying, but he’s close to it. “No, please, don’t, don’t hurt them, I-”

“Sweetheart,” Derek says, and there’s such a softness in his tone that it makes Stiles’ throat tight. “Wolves don’t participate in corporal punishment, not like that. They won’t be whipped, or beat, or made to sleep on the floor. On top of their normal duties, they will help Kira wash the dishes after every meal on our journey back, and when we return, after their daily training routine, they will help the stable keepers much out the horse stalls. That way, others are helped with their tasks for the day, but the boys will still be punished by being given extra chores.”

Stiles shuts his eyes. His head feels light, and he’s still having slight trouble taking in deep breaths, but he’s starting to calm. Derek’s stubble tickles at his ear as the king presses a kiss to his temple.

“I will not have my knights acting in such a disgraceful way. It is distasteful, abhorrent.”

Stiles swallows, his throat clicking from dryness.

“For you to worry about them being punished, even after such a rude display,” Derek’s breath is warm against the shell of his ear. “My mate has proven that even after living through such terrible hardships, the marks on your skin a testament to how others have treated you, you still hold the capacity to worry for the treatment of others, even though they’ve slighted you.”

Derek’s lips press a soft kiss at the base of Stiles’ skull. “What a treasure you are, how pure of heart my mate it.”

The ink on Stiles’ skin slithers up his spine like a snake, causing goosebumps to erupt over his skin. He doesn’t know what to do, what to think; the king seems so keen to profess his love for Stiles when they are behind the cloth walls of the tent they share, but here, now? The very man Stiles had been afraid of for years practically speaks poetry, treats him like some kind of creature to be worshiped, and does it within full view of those that serve under him.

And Stiles doesn’t know what to do with that.

His teeth are chattering, despite his tightly clenched jaw, when he feels a pull at his elbow. It makes him jump, and when he looks over he sees Erica with her hand out. She presents her palm toward him, opens and closes her hand a few times, and Stiles realizes she means to offer him her hand to hold. He fumbles with his book for a moment, opening his bag and carefully putting it inside before he reaches out and takes Erica’s hand. Camaro and Erica’s horse walk side by side, pressed against one another, and if it bothers either beast, they don’t let it show.

“Kindness never costs anything,” Derek speaks from behind him. The kings hand stays over his heart, through his grip has lessened and Stiles can lean forward a little to make himself comfortable again.

“I’d like to ask a favor, Stiles,” Erica asks after a moment of silence.

“O-okay?” Stiles says, his eyes still on her.

She glances at him, then looks forward again. “If I bring you flowers after supper, will you make me another flower crown? This one is wilting.”

Several voices around them pipe up, enough that Stiles looks around to the men and women that surround them.

“Erica’s crown was made by the king’s mate?”

“What do you mean, another, Reyes? He made you that one, too?”

“Not fair!”

Stiles looks over to his other side and realizes that Isaac is riding nearly as close as Erica. “He made mine, too,” he says, smugly.

Even more voices pipe up from around them.

“I want one!”

“Such an honor, to wear something made by the king’s mate’s own hands!”

“If I pick you flowers, sire, will you make me one, too?”

A smile pulls at the corners of his lips. Everything about these people’s culture is new, and Stiles realizes, as he comes to understand it better, how much he’s already growing to love it.

Chapter Text

Folklore and Fairytales, Page 3

Magic is the greatest gift Mother Moon bestowed upon mankind. Only humans can wield magic, and a mating bond between a human mage and a wolf is stronger than any other bond in creation. Magic is fueled by love, by happiness, hence why Wolves treasure mages and place their status above all other in the pack save for their Alpha; the happier a mage is within a pack, the stronger the entire pack grows to be. Likewise, the stronger and happier the pack, the more powerful the mage.

For a wolf to be granted the love of a mage is to be granted the greatest honor of all; the love of a mage is a most precious, coveted gift. 

Contrarily, Wolves themselves contain magic within them, but are unable to wield it the way mages can, since a wolf’s magic manifests by different means. The healing of physical wounds is anywhere from forty to one hundred times faster than the healing time of that of a normal human. Certain wolves, mostly Alphas and particularly strong betas, can siphon the hurt of physical and emotional pain from another. Additionally, wolves are stronger, faster, and have far better senses than humans.

This is often attributed to Father Sun and Mother Moon’s own powers. Father Sun hangs heavy and warm in the sky. He melts the snow to soak the land so that spring may be green and the harvests plentiful. His magic is something that can be felt on a sunny day as the light warms your face. Mother Moon, however, is much like her wolves. She pulls at the oceans as she circles the earth, and while she affects the tides, she does not control the water. Her magics are more passive.

---

Supper that night is a strange affair. Well, strange for Stiles, and even more so for his father who, up until very recently, had been happily sleeping his hangover away.

“Hmm,” his father says, through a mouthful of stew.

“Then Erica asked for me to make her another crown, and everyone went crazy, so I guess I’m supposed to make a bunch for them later? I didn’t really say I would, but I think they’d like it.”

Stiles takes a bite of bread as Derek nears, his own bowl of food in hand.

“I still can’t get over you wearing that thing on your head,” John huffs out a laugh.

Stiles scrunches up his nose, ready with a retort, but Derek beats him to it.

“If one day we wed, he’ll wear an actual crown. This one is more of a status symbol with sentimental value. My wolves can smell my scent on him, so it’s more for those that don’t have supernatural senses, as the crest is the symbol of my family.”

To be honest, even though Stiles had been wearing the circlet all day, he’d completely forgotten about it. He’d been so nervous, putting it on in the first place, that it seems silly he’d forget it, but, well, after all that had happened, was it little wonder? He reaches up and touches the circlet, more of an afterthought than a conscious decision. His short-cropped hair still feels prickly under his fingers - hair is slow to grow, especially after Stiles had spent so many years malnourished - which is in stark contrast to the smoothness of the metals that make up the piece that sits atop his head. Even so, Stiles finds himself a little more fond of flower crowns than actual crowns, but he can understand the appeal. Metals don’t wilt like flowers.

“So what else happened while I was asleep?” his dad asks.

“Stiles told me about your home, Song, and about the flowers that your wife would-”

“The book!” Stiles Interrupts, flailing slightly. He puts his bowl down into his lap, twists around a bit until he can pull his bag over his shoulder, and then rummages through it.

“Why do you have so much food in there, kiddo? Did you raid the kitchen cart?” His dad laughs again as he takes a bite of his own slice of bread.

Stiles pauses for a moment. He sees Derek still as well, but the king doesn’t speak, at least not yet. “Derek knows that it’s been a while since I could eat whenever I’m hungry and not just when someone gives me food, so he thought it would be a good idea for me to have something within reach, whenever I want.”

He doesn’t need to be looking at his dad to know the full weight of the look he levels at Derek. His dad’s always been more than a little protective of him, before they were separated. Now that they’re back in one another’s company after so long, it’s likely hard for John to see Stiles as... well, a man. He hadn’t seen his dad in almost a decade, when he was young enough to think that monsters slept under his bed and that the crusts of bread were yucky. Now he knows where the real monsters live, and food is whatever he can eat without making himself sick. It’s strange, even to him, to think that he’s an adult. Stiles can’t even remember the last time he received a birthday present.

He takes another bite of his bread so he doesn’t have to think more about it. He finally finds the book he’s looking for inside of his bag and pulls it out to show his dad. “Here,” he says as he thumbs through a few pages. “This one.” He points to the drawing of evening primrose.

“Claudia used to grow those, in the garden.”

Stiles nods, smiling, happy he can share a memory of his mother with his father. “There are more that I remember in here, too."

“Your mom had a healer’s touch,” John says, his voice a little quieter, his face a little somber.

Derek makes a soft noise, but doesn’t speak again.

They eat the rest of their meal in relative quiet, the hustle of the camp as its inhabitants bustle about filling the air.

“Um, can I ask you a weird question?” Stiles asks as Derek gathers up their empty bowls.

He can see his dad watching him from the corner of his eye.

“You may ask me anything,” Derek says in return.

“Just, uh, your sense of smell, is, can you, I mean around us, is there-”

He can hear his father laughing.

“What?” Stiles asks him, trying to give him a dirty look.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” he says, his eyes bright, his smile wide.

Stiles rolls his eyes.

Derek looks between them.

“His thoughts move faster than his mouth can keep up,” John says, shooting the king a fond look.

“Can you smell any flowers nearby?” Stiles finally is able to get out. “I want to make more crowns.”

Derek seems slightly surprised at the question, his eyebrows climbing up his forehead a little. “Just south of the trail, past the tree line, I can smell pollen, yes. Not much, but those are the closest I can smell.”

Stiles stands up and knocks the dirt from his trousers. “Is it alright if I go pick some?”

Instead of answering, Derek counters Stiles’ question with one of his own. “Would you like someone to come with you? Isaac, Erica? I saw Scott around here a moment ago, I’m sure he’d be happy to spend time in your company.”

“You can’t come with me?”

Derek’s eyebrows crease, like he wasn’t prepared for such a question. “I - if you’d like me to accompany you, yes, I can, but I’m meeting with Zilarra, the head of the blacksmith carts, in about five minutes, so I’d have to ask you to wait.”

“Uh, how about Erica, then? She’s the one who asked me to make her a new one, anyway.”

Derek nods. “I’ll send her over; she’s likely still helping Kira. I'll come find you when I finish.”

Stiles nods, and waves the king off as he heads toward the kitchen carts.

Deaton nears them, bowing his head in greeting when he catches Stiles’ gaze. “I’m here to take your father back to my wagon, if that’s alright?”

John motions for his son to come near, and hugs him tightly when he does. “I’m gonna go sleep off this dinner,” he says with a smile.

“And the rest of your hangover,” Stiles chuckles.

Stiles watches as Deaton takes his father away in the strange, wheeled seat.

When he turns around, Erica is suddenly right there and Stiles’ stomach leaps into his throat at the fright he gets. Erica doesn’t apologize, but she does give him a wolfish smile and a wink. She takes him by his shirt sleeve and they head off toward the treeline. Halfway there, Stiles hears the call of Erica’s name, and when he turns his head, he sees Isaac jogging up the meet them.

“Alpha said you were flower-picking,” he says when he catches up.

“King’s mate’s gonna make me a new flower crown,” Erica sing-songs as she tugs Stiles along.

When they arrive at the treeline, there aren’t many flowers. The three of them gather what they can find, then pile them all together. Stiles sits down in the soft grass, his back toward the camp, the forest stretching out before him. It smells musky, like cut wood and warm dirt, and Stiles didn’t know he could ever come to miss a scent as much as he’d come to miss the smell of the trees.

Erica and Isaac sit on either side of him, watching his movements intently.

He weaves the flower stems with deft fingers, a skill he hasn’t practiced for many years, muscle memory preventing him from forgetting completely. When the first crown is finished, he places it on Erica’s head, who smiles and laughs brightly, like it’s some kind of actual crown she wears instead of something that smells like earth and pollen,that will start to wilt by morning.

Isaac clears his throat, and when Stiles turns to look, expecting him to be wearing a look of impatience as he waits for his own crown, Stiles instead finds him giving Erica a rather pointed look.

From his other side, he hears Erica sigh. When Stiles turns to look at her again, she’s leaning close. “There are a few people from camp that are approaching, but keeping some space between us. They want to know if you’ll make them crowns, too.”

Stiles feels his heart skip around his chest for a moment. He isn’t exactly familiar with the sensation, but it warms him through, even if it makes him a little nervous, too. “As long as they can help pick more flowers, they’re welcome to join us.”

Isaac whistles sharply, and the three of them turn to look over their shoulders at the approaching people. Five men and three women in various kinds of garments come near.

“You pick your own flowers!” Erica says, and several of those approaching quicken their pace toward where there are still some flowers left to gather.

After Isaac’s crown is finished, Stiles notes that none of those that approached have come back to them with flowers. He looks around the area and sees a few of them hunched over as they stare at the ground, obviously hunting for flowers to pick. He wonders if those are the humans of the bunch, since he can’t see the rest of them; the wolves might be following their noses further into the forest in their own search.

“I don’t think there’s enough flowers for everyone,” someone calls out.

Stiles’ gut clenches, and he flinches before he realizes what he’s done.

He feels Erica’s hand at the small of his back. “It’s not your fault,” she says, her voice soft.

And Stiles thinks about what’s been shared about Erica’s past, thinks about the softness of her voice, yet how sure her words sound, and something inside of him that’s been drawn tight for years loosens just the slightest bit. Derek can offer him kindness and patience, but Erica knows, on a visceral level, what it’s like to be in his shoes.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, before he can stop himself.

“It’s not like you can make flowers grow,” he hears Isaac laugh from his other side.

There’s a moment of charged silence that stretches out. Stiles looks down at his hands, bites at his bottom lip.

“Wait,” Isaac says, sounding flabbergasted. “Are you serious?”

Stiles shrugs. “It’s not a spell that many can do. They made me use it to make crops finish growing, before the freezes set in for the year.”

“Holy shit, are you serious?”

Stiles nods. “Otherwise, the crops would go bad before the kitchens could preserve what was left, and-”

“No, I mean can you really make plants grow?”

Stiles turns to look at him. He can feel the crease he wears on his forehead. “Yes?”

Isaac looks stunned. “Earth magic, for real?”

Stiles turns to look out at the stretch of grass that separates them from the treeline. He swallows pas the lump in his throat, aware that both Isaac and Erica are staring at him. He closes his eyes and tries to relax.

The plants - the flowers, the trees, the gardens and the wilds - have always sort of called to him, ever since he was little. He’d much rather be outside, in nature, than inside, no matter the time of year, though if that’s due to him being a slave who slept in the lowest levels of a keep for years or simply because he likes nature is up in the air.

He feels the ink of his tattoos slither across his skin, his lack of vision giving him a slight heightened awareness of them as they glide over his forearms and down his back. He takes a few steadying, deep breaths.

He can feel them, the flowers that have yet to bloom, buds hidden among the tall grass that surround them. They’re faint, since they are just little buds yet, but he can feel them the same way he might feel a strand of hair that’s on his forearm; it’s a muted feeling, the slightest whisper of a touch, but he can sense it all the same.

“There’re flower seedlings, just little sprouts, buds here and there that have yet to bloom. I can wake them up.”

“That’s amazing,” Isaac whispers. When Stiles turns and opens his eyes, the look Isaac wears is far beyond incredulous.

“Is that rare, for the mages you know?”

Erica is the one who speaks next. “Earth magic is rare. Being able to call on plants, make them grow; there are only about seven mages in the Mage’s Guild back in the capital that can do that.”

Stiles’ brow furrows. “I didn’t know it was rare. I mean, not many of the other mages back at Argent keep could do it, either, but, well, it’s not like we got around to sharing spells or anything.”

“Could you do it now?” Isaac inquires, sounding excited.

“Uh, yeah? I mean, it might make me a little lightheaded, but making flowers bloom is easy in comparison to making a whole field of potatoes grow.”

Stiles adjusts the way he’s seated for a moment, making sure he’s comfortable. He takes a deep breath, followed by another and another as he lets his hands go lax in his lap.

The words, the ones of power, spoken by the mages that came before him, for eons and generations, fall out of him like a song.

“Bnaddo pitc, nacdehk cu cfaadmo, fyga ib vun sa. E ryja y zup dryd haatc tuehk, yht uhmo oui lyh ramb.”

It’s quiet, for only but a moment. A huge rush of wind makes the treetops sway, and the birds that were resting among the branches squawk as they fly away. There’s a soft sound - maybe it’s a melody, or maybe just a reverberation of one - and it whispers softly, sweetly through the air before it disappears completely.

Then, a strange noise echoes through the clearing, like the pop of a cork as it’s pulled from the neck of a bottle for the first time. All at once, several hundred flowers rise up from the ground, little buds opening slowly, like they are waking up from a nap and stretching out their tired petals in the sun.

“Holy shit!” Erica practically yells from his side. She stands up, stumbling slightly, and then takes off toward the tree line where some of the others that had joined them now stand, knee-deep, in freshly bloomed wildflowers, looking more than a little confused.

Stiles steals a glance at Isaac whose mouth is open and eyes are wide as saucers.

The sound of thundering footsteps approach, and Stiles looks up to see Erica, followed closely by three of the eight others that had joined them earlier, quickly advancing on them. Each and every one of them have their arms loaded with flowers. They are dropped where the previous pile of flowers had been, and Erica sits back down at Stiles’ side, her cheeks pink and her eyes full of mirth.

“That was absolutely amazing,” she says, panting slightly. “I’ve never seen earth magic like that!”

Stiles looks down at the way his hands fidget in his lap. He’s not used to getting compliments, and isn’t really sure how to respond.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to. The three that had followed Erica back to where Stiles had been sitting all sit down nearby.

“King’s mate, will you weave us flower crowns, too?” one of them asks. She looks young, likely even a little younger than Stiles himself. Her eyes and hair are a mousy brown, and she looks up at him with such hope in her eyes that Stiles is taken aback.

“Oh, uh. Yes, yes I can. Um, I could also teach all of you, if you’d like?”

And that’s how, until the night sky is nearly cloaked entirely in darkness, they spend their time. The remaining four eventually come to join them, along with two others who Stiles recognizes from earlier that morning.

He learns all of their names, and they all seem pleased as punch when, after them calling him different variations of ‘king’s mate,’ ‘your highness,’ and ‘sire,’ he insists they just call him by his name.

The wolf king joins them as they start heading back to camp for their evening meal. As he approaches, Stiles reaches his hands out and brandishes the flower crown he’d made and Derek looks surprised for a moment, as if the last thing he expected was a gift. He bows his head low enough so that as he approaches, Stiles can easily set the crown atop his head.

Derek’s smile is warm and soft, and Stiles finds himself slightly disarmed by how much he’s grown to like the look on the king’s face. He looks away from Derek’s face quickly, turning toward the camp for some sort of distraction. He finds none, and he thinks, vaguely, he might hear Derek chuckle ever so quietly.

“Did you have fun with everyone today?” Derek asks.

Stiles nods, rubbing at his eyes, only slightly bewildered at how tired he suddenly feels. Derek’s hand at the small of his back is warm, welcome as the king guides them through camp toward where their tent is pitched for the night. Derek pulls back the flap and allows Stiles to enter first, who immediately toes off his shoes as he sits on the bed.

“Did you eat anything from your bag today, or is there something else you’d like me to get you for it?”

Stiles looks up at Derek, still slightly thrown over the offer of such freely given food. Meals back at Argent keep were once in the evening and once before bed - if they were lucky - and snacking throughout the day on food that was pilfered from the kitchens was how slaves got their fingers cut off. Stiles was used to picking off bits of discarded food from the trash buckets next to the kitchen’s back doors that the taste of mold, so long as it wasn’t overpowering, didn’t exactly bother him much anymore.

He blinks, owlishly, up at Derek, the king appearing to eagerly awaiting his response.

“I’ve got what I need,” Stiles offers.

“But what about what you want?” Derek asks in return.

Stiles averts his gaze. He can feel his heartbeat pick up, and his fingers start to tingle. Traitor magic, he chides himself. Outwardly, however, he shrugs. It’s still such a novel thing, for him to be given food when he’s hungry - and even when he’s not - for someone to offer him things he desires without the thought of repayment.

And Derek seems to read him well enough; though they are still learning so much about one another, Derek seems to understand there are times to back off. And he does. With Stiles’ shrug, the conversation is dropped completely and Derek steers them elsewhere.

“Would you like me to take out your night clothes?” the king asks, toeing off his own shoes with a hand on the table to steady himself.

“Yes, please,” Stiles answers, thankful for the change in topics.

Derek’s halfway to handing Stiles his night clothes when the king freezes, full-stop, his eyes going unfocused.

“Derek?” Stiles calls after a moment.

Derek’s eyes snap to Stiles, and the king blinks rapidly. “There is someone entering the camps, a messenger from back home. Will you be alright for a bit if I go meet with them?”

“Of course,” Stiles says in reply, leaning out and taking the folded clothes in Derek’s hand. “I’ve got my books, and I’m still full from the evening meal. Take you time.”

When the clothes are safely in Stiles’ grip, Derek pulls one of his hands toward himself, gifting the back of Stiles’ left hand with a soft but quick kiss. After, the king rushes from the tent.

Stiles sits in the quiet for a moment before he rises to his feet and heads to where the folding screen stands. He’s not sure how long Derek will be gone, and changing behind the screen makes him feel that much safer anyway. He changes his pants first, then, when he pulls his shirt over his head, it catches against something on his head, and he flails about for a moment. When he manages to get the shirt off, he turns to look at himself in the mirror and finds that he’d completely forgotten he’d been wearing the circlet again. With careful fingers, not wanting to damage the beautiful piece, he carefully plucks it off his head and sets it on the little stand next to the mirror. He tugs his nightshirt over his head - still amazed that he’s even allowed a spare change of clothes, let alone a set just to sleep in - then, when he’s dressed for bed, he folds his day clothes and carefully picks up the circlet. Flipping the latch of the trunk at the end of his bed open, Stiles flips the lid and carefully places his things away. He tugs a pair of socks out of the trunk, still more than a little excited over the idea of not sleeping with cold feet.

Content with how the inside of the trunk looks, Stiles closes the lid and climbs up onto the bed. The majority of the camp around him is fairly quiet, the only sounds the crackling of the fires that remain lit and the hushed conversations of those still awake.

Stiles pulls out his books and set them in a neat row in front of him, sitting in hushed wonder that the bound paper that sits atop the covers belong to him. He runs his fingers across the covers of each of them lovingly, reverently. He can’t remember the last time he truly had a possession of his own. He can’t recall anything back at Argent keep being his, so he surmises that it must have been when he still lived with his father.

He picks up the book about wolfish folklore and turns the first page, then another and another, never really reading anything, simply looking through the pages. There are several illustrations, and Stiles finds himself liking the look of them. They’re unique in a way he’s not familiar with. The illustrations in the books his mother had when Stiles was little didn’t look much like those in the one he held in his hands now, but he finds he likes the looks of both.

Stiles falls backward, the soft mattress catching him. He wiggles a bit, getting more and more comfortable as he does so.

Only meaning to close his eyes for a moment, Stiles jolts awake only to find that he’d dozed off in the first place. He sits up and wipes the sleep from his eyes, wondering how long he’d been asleep. The lantern on the table is still lit, but, to be fair, he’s not exactly sure how long these lanterns can run - or even if they work the same - compared to those that he’s familiar with.

He stacks his books, then safely stows them in his bag once more, before swinging his feet over the eds of the bed and setting them on the floor.

The mess of blankets and single pillow that Derek normally takes up next to the bed is untouched.

Outside, he can hear the king’s voice grow louder as he approaches. Stiles can’t hear what Derek is saying, but he can make out his tone, and so Stiles hefts himself to his feet, then pads, quietly, to the door. He pushes open the flap, but stays inside, peeking out onto the camp.

Derek has his back turned toward the tent, one hand motioning this way and that while several people gather around him.

“-and make sure Kira is pulled from the kitchen carts as soon as you find her, she’ll be aiding Scott while he’s in charge.”

Two of the people gathered begin toward the direction Derek had indicated.

“Deaton will need to be awoken immediately. Bring him to my tent; give him a rundown of what’s happening, and tell him to get whatever herbs and books he needs ready to go within half an hour. Pull Aramis and Syndri from the troupe tents; they have herbalist training, and can fill in for Deaton. Wilmot can help, if he’s willing; he’s a good mage, skilled at healing. Tell Pasha she’ll-”

“Your highness.”

“-be needing to fill in for Kira, and that-”

“Your highness.”

“-what I ordered from Zilarra needs to wait until we get back to-”

“Your highness.”

“What, Zinov?”

The young man - Zinov - who’d been struggling to get the king’s attention gestures over Derek’s shoulder, toward where Stiles stands in the tent opening.

Derek turns and his gaze catches Stiles. “Fuck,” he growls.

Stiles jumps back, swatting the tent flaps closed. He flails his arms about for a moment, desperately trying to figure out what to do with himself. As footsteps approach Stiles scuttles backwards quickly.

Derek strides into the tent, and Stiles can’t help the way his heart starts to hammer in his chest. Was he not meant to hear what was going on outside?

He watches as Derek’s nostrils flare, and he knows the king is scenting the room. All at once, Derek’s posture changes, his shoulders losing their tension, his face going lax and open. “I’m not mad, no one is angry,” he says, like he knows what Stiles is thinking.

The words are spoken calmly, and Stiles blinks a few times, taking in a deep breath before letting it out. He’s appreciative of Derek’s outright honesty, grateful for the way the man genuinely seems to be anticipating what Stiles might be dealing with mentally.

“This might take a moment to explain. Why don’t we sit down?”

Stiles nods, then shuffles over the bed where he sits, Derek carefully sitting down next to him.

“Sorry I swore,” Derek grimaces.

Stiles shoots him a questioning glance.

“I’d been so wrapped up in handing out orders for the camp, I was just surprised by you.”

“Did something happen?” Stiles presses. He’s worried, now.

“Has anyone around you mentioned Lady Lydia Martin to you?”

Stiles swallows, shaking his head.

“She’s the head of the castle library back in the capital, one of the High Pack, and one of my dearest friends. The man she’s mated to is out on a mission of diplomacy in the kingdom next to ours, and he hasn’t returned. You see, Lydia is pregnant, and while she’s not due to give birth for another month and a half, something has happened, and she and the baby have fallen very ill.”

Stiles leans forward. “What can be done to help her?”

Derek stares at him, looking taken aback. His smile is slow as it curls over his lips, but it’s soft as it lights up his eyes. “You’ve never met her, and yet you ask how you can help?” The king blinks at him for a moment, as his gaze travels over the expanse of Stiles face. It makes him feel self conscious, but he remains quiet, waits for Derek to answer his question.

Stiles watches as, their eyes meeting once again, Derek swallows. “I can take pain from her, as I’ve done for you. Deaton has an herbal mixture he procured from the Medica Guild in Queen Melissa’s kingdom for this exact type of pregnancy issue. He, myself, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac will be traveling home ahead of the caravan. It’s a three day ride if we pack light. If we can get to her in time, I’m confident we can save her. As much as it pains me, I must leave you here, in the care of-”

“No,” Stiles blurts before he has more than a second to actually filter Derek’s words.

Derek looks just as surprised as Stiles feels, and he reels backward slightly. He blinks a few times. “No?” Derek repeats it as a question, though his tone is soft.

Stiles turns his gaze away, looking down at his hands. He picks at the bed of his thumbnail on his left hand, clenching his teeth so tightly together that his jaw aches. He hadn’t meant to talk back to the king, hadn’t meant to disregard an order, or-

Derek brings Stiles back to reality by gently tugging his left hand free. He smooths his thumb over Stiles’ picked-at, pink nail bed before bringing his hand up for a kiss. “Hey, now. It’s alright. You’re always welcome to disagree with what I say, or question it. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Swallowing, Stiles tries to find the right words to speak aloud.

The thought of not being at your side scares me more than it should.

The idea of not falling asleep next to you makes me ache.

It’s been a week, and I’m worried how attached to you I’ve already become.

Eventually, Derek squeezes Stiles’ hand. “You don’t have to answer, if you don’t feel you can,” he says, and Stiles sighs with relief. His mouth and throat are still dry, but he chances a glance up at the king, who smiles, still clasping Stiles’ hand gently in his own.

“... I... I just...”

“Do you wish to come with me?”

Stiles nods without hesitation, surprising even himself.

This time, it’s Derek who sighs. He looks out over the tent, his lips turning down in a grimace.

“This won’t be fun, Stiles. We’ll be sleeping on woven straw mats on the dirt, under the stars. We’re going to pack just enough food and water to make it home. Your father can’t come.”

The wolf king turns to look at Stiles.

“Do you still wish to come with me?”

Stiles takes a moment, lets his gaze drink in the king. The man’s face is a myriad of contrasts, from the sharpness of his cheekbones hidden under his soft-looking short-trimmed beard, to the swirling hazel-green mixture of his shrewd yet kind eyes. The man is built like a marble statue - Stiles has seen him half-naked and sweating from having taken down a stag with his claws and fangs - yet sitting here, the king’s hands still enveloping his own, his skin, his touch, is tame, tender in ways Stiles has never before seen in another being.

He swallows again. “Yes,” he says in reply, his resolve forthcoming, even to his own ears.

Derek leans forward then stops abruptly, and Stiles watches him carefully. Blinking back the flickering of red from his eyes, Derek shakes his head like he’s trying to right himself. He looks up at Stiles, apologetic, almost embarrassed. “Sorry,” he breathes out, his voice sounding slightly strained. “Forgot myself for a moment.”

All at once, Stiles realizes what the king had meant to do.

And he’s not frightened by it, not put off by it at all.

Shaking his left hand free of Derek’s grip, Stiles raises his hands and presses his palms to either side of the king’s jawline, his thumbs coming to rest at Derek’s cheekbones.

Slowly, softly, with a resolve that astonishes even himself, Stiles pulls Derek’s head down as he leans his own toward one side, presenting his neck.

He feels more than hears Derek’s sharp intake of breath, given the stark contrast the juncture of his neck and shoulder gets as Derek then lets out a hot, shuddering breath against his skin.

Stiles,” Derek whispers with such reverence that Stiles can’t help the way his flesh erupts in goosebumps, the way his palms coast over Derek’s soft beard and cling to the lapels of the man’s shirt.

Warm lips are pressed just under his left ear, and a moment later comes the soft, wet caress of a tongue. Stiles knows, for a fact, that the exact place Derek’s tongue has laved is where he sports a line of moles, little ones, not half the size of his pinky nail, that curve from just below his temple to form a semi-circle that ends just below his ear lobe.

The idea is so strange to him, that someone might have looked at his moles and liked them enough to kiss them. It sends a strange little thrill through him when his suspicions are proven right, and Derek does the same exact thing to the next mole in line, then the next and the next.

The king has thought of what my moles might taste like, Stiles thinks, and the very concept is heady, intoxicating the same way potent wine is.

One of Derek’s hands is curved from under his right side, forearm resting across his upper back so that the base of Stiles’ skull is cradled in Derek’s palm. Derek’s other hand holds the both of them upright, seeing as how Stiles clings to Derek’s front with no regard in the way he’s halfway to being pushed backward onto the bed.

Derek’s nose coasts down the side of Stiles’ neck, the bridge of his nose and the slope of his forehead coming to rest against the junction of neck and shoulder.

“Tell me to stop,” Derek almost pleads, his voice hard. He sounds winded. “Tell me to stop and I will.”

Stiles can’t form words, which, for him, is quite the feat; the king has rendered him without speech by the means of a few, simple, open-mouth kisses. He tries to speak, though he doesn’t have the slightest clue what he might say to Derek in the first place. Instead, all that manages to fall past his lips is a soft noise, half-choked out of him as he tries to regain his breath.

Derek’s answer is a deep, rumbling growl that Stiles can feel in every inch of skin to skin contact they share.

In a heartbeat, Derek moves them, grabs him by the hips and maneuvers him so that Stiles is straddling the king’s lap. Derek’s lips press again and again to the underside of Stiles’ jaw, and Stiles cranes his neck backward feeling almost desperate in the way he aches for more. His heart is beating a staccato in his chest, echoing all the way up to his head, loud, like drums, like thunder.

Yet, Derek stills again.

Stiles can feel Derek’s hot breath against his collarbone. He grips Derek’s shirt, his hands having moved to loop around the king’s neck when they’d moved to their new position.

“Tell me to stop, Stiles, and I will.” Derek’s voice is low, gravely, begging.

The man beneath him is an apex predator. Stiles knows this; he’s not a fool. Derek may be gentle and kind and smile so sweetly at him, touch him with gentle reverence and ask his consent at every opportunity, feeds him until he’s full, dresses him in finery, but the man is a weapon wrapped up in olive-tanned skin. He sprouts razor-sharp fangs and claws meant for ending prey, commands an army of soldiers, runs an entire kingdom-

And the most frightening part of it all is how Stiles finds himself not frightened at all.

Sure, his pulse is strong and fast as adrenaline courses through him, practically makes his fingers quake. His silver tattoos slither across his skin like pleased beasts, following every touch Derek graces him.

But Derek touches him like no other has. There is no demand in the way the king dotes on him, kisses him, presses his tongue to the skin of Stiles’ neck; it’s as though he does so without a single thought of retribution, of what he might get in return - simply touching Stiles for the sake of it. And, well, Stiles would have to be an idiot not to have noticed the way the king kisses him; how Derek is slow when he does so, allowing Stiles every opportunity to turn away, to pull back.

What’s more, Derek’s never once kissed him on the lips.

He thinks perhaps that it’s a wolf thing, that a kiss on the lips is an intimate thing for Derek’s culture.

What he thinks more, however, is that Derek is simply waiting on him.

And, oh, that prospect makes Stiles’ heart beat even faster, the idea that the king is so patient that he’s been waiting for Stiles to kiss him.

He thinks to when he’d pressed a kiss to Derek’s cheek, the day of the festival when a giant stag had been dropped at his feet, at how Derek’s reaction was one of joy and hunger all at once.

Something clenches in Stiles’ gut, and unfamiliar feeling that’s not entirely unwelcome.

Stiles knows what it’s like to be wanted, at least physically. He’s no stranger to the looks the nobles would send him as he tended the wash or gardens, how they’d wear the same look as they called him to their bedchamber at night and pressed him down into the soft bedding and took what they wanted from him.

But none of it had felt like this; never has it felt like this.

He knows that Derek desires him. But this desire? This is so different that what he’s become accustomed to over the years. This isn’t physical, this is - this is -

“Oh, my love, my sweet,” Derek whispers.

And oh, oh-

That’s what this is.

Stiles feels almost drunk like this, feels like he’s floating, like his breath is coming fast and slow at the same time. His magic feels warm - hot - as it slides across his skin, eager for every kiss Derek bestows his skin. His head tips back, seemingly of its own accord, and the responding rumble that resonates through Derek below him makes his gut clench and his breath catch. An open-mouth kiss is pressed to the hammering pulse point of his neck, and despite knowing that Derek’s fangs could tear him to pieces, here, now, just like that, there’s no fear of physical harm in Stiles at all.

His father’s words echo through his mind;

“You’ve been mistreated for so long now, you’ve geared up to protect yourself from things before they even happen. You’re so used to the bad, you’ve trained yourself to expect it. But tell me this; what if nothing happens? What if Derek is sincere, and cares for you, and you marry him - mate him, whatever - and things go well?”

“...You’ve already got him, Stiles. I’m pretty sure you could ask for the moon, and he’d legitimately try to pluck it from the sky for you.”

Stiles takes in a staggering breath.

He thinks of Derek’s words, merely hours ago;

“But what about what you want?”

He lets go.

He pulls his right arm back from where it’s looped around Derek’s neck and presses his palm to the king’s softly-bearded cheek. Derek pulls away from where he’s been pressing kisses to Stiles neck as Stiles turns to face the king.

He takes one breath, then another, and another as he watches the king. Derek’s pupils are blown so wide, Stiles can hardly see the thin ring of red that encompasses them, even this close. The king’s panting, slightly open-mouthed, and he looks drunk, drugged, and oh-

In that moment, Stiles knows what it’s like to be powerful, powerful not in the way his magics make him, but to hold himself as a person, as an entity to be desired not simply for thirst of flesh on flesh contact, but because-

Because Derek, the wolf king, the man, is in love with him.

When Stiles presses their lips together, it’s a soft touch, a barely-there whisper.

Derek’s eyes widen, and Stiles knows that he’s holding his breath only because he doesn’t feel it between them like he had only seconds before.

Stiles,” Derek whispers, the name falling out of his mouth like a reverent prayer.

Stiles closes his eyes, and kisses Derek again.

The king reacts, but nothing like how Stiles had expected. And, well, why should he? Derek always seems so full of surprises.

Sure, Stiles had been kissed before, his lips taken by the nobles that looked only upon his body to slake their lust.

But this? This was as far from kissing as Stiles had ever experienced. Derek’s hands on him are tight, yes, but it didn’t feel like the king was holding him down; to Stiles, it felt as though Derek’s grip tightened in an effort to keep the man grounded, rather than to keep Stiles perched atop his lap.

Stiles has heard Derek growl and groan, but the soft sound the king lets out as Stiles presses their lips together again and again isn’t one of ferocity; it's a soft sigh, a light little whimper, like Stiles has stolen the very breath from his lungs.

Then hand that had been cradling the back of Stiles’ head twists around so that Derek is cupping Stiles’ cheek in his broad, warm palm. Derek’s fingers press into the short-cropped hair at the base of Stiles’ skull and the king lets out another soft, quiet whimper as Stiles gifts the man another press of his lips.

They trade kisses like that - slowly, eagerly - for what both seems like ages and mere heartbeats, and throughout the entire ordeal, Derek is nothing but a gentleman. He lets Stiles guide the fervor between them, the pace, the mans’ hands never wander past where the sit, one steadying palm and splayed fingers on the small of his back, the other cupping his face so, so sweetly.

What is surprising about all of this is that Derek is the one to finally pull back, who finally puts a small amount of space between them. Stiles blinks his eyes open, looking at Derek who appears just as disheveled as he, himself, feels.

It’s like every never on his body is wired, snapping and crackling like electricity as it arks across the sky in a storm. Stiles can’t recall the last time he’s ever felt so alive, and the way Derek’s looking at him? He’s never felt this needed, either.

Stiles pushes forward, feeling bereft now that Derek’s warm lips are no longer touching his own, but Derek pulls back slightly, moves his thumb from where it rests on Stiles’ cheek to press against his lips.

Derek smiles, a soft grin that looks equal parts drunk and feral simultaneously. He shakes his head ever so slightly before he moves forward and presses a kiss to the tip of Stiles’ nose.

“Deaton is here,” Derek says.

Reality doesn’t slam Stiles back into place. It creeps in slowly, slowly enough that he knows to stand instead of scramble off Derek’s lap. Derek helps Stiles up, their hands linked, and kisses the knuckles of Stiles’ hand before they separate entirely.

“I’ll speak to him about what’s going on, what he needs to make ready for the journey. If you’re still set on traveling with me, go speak with your father, tell him your goodbyes for the time being. If the caravan follows on its current course, he’ll arrive in the capital about four to five days after we do.”

Stiles nods, knows that his lips are curled into a shy smile.

Derek darts forward, slow enough that Stiles could stop him if he wanted. When Stiles does no such thing, Derek presses a kiss to his temple.

As Stiles races to the medical cart to speak to his father, he knows his cheeks are painted rosy, his smile wide.