“Your highness.” Derek gives a small, regal smile - and isn’t it funny, how such a thing as generic as a smile can convey rank in that way, betraying superiority over others - and releases Stiles’ hand from where he’d caught it mid-punch. (An accident. Mostly.)
“Prince Derek,” Stiles says, aiming for respectful decorum even through the tangible annoyance in his tone. When sneaking around the palace, he prefers not to be followed, and does not have control over his actions might he hear footsteps behind him. Hence, the near assault on the crown prince of Beacon Hills.
“You might find yourself in safer company with a sword for defense, instead of fists.”
Stiles smiles - sneers - politely. This is a game they’d often played when they were kids. Years have passed but Stiles still remembers the objective: to feign pleasantries so the Kings, their fathers, didn’t sense the dislike they had for each other. Normally they’d only play when they had an audience; they were currently alone.
Calmly: “I might find myself in safer company, if visiting nobility stayed in the guest quarters they were given.”
The smile that passes Derek’s lips this time is decidedly less princely, instead there’s a mischievousness Stiles recognizes from memories of 14-year-old Derek.
He says, “Apologies. It’s just you’re dressed for a ride, yet your waist is absent a scabbard.”
Here it was, the reason for sneaking around his own home. If Scott caught word that Stiles tried to ride to the camp his father was being held at to haggle for his release, he’d find himself tied to a chair until sense returned.
“I often go without a blade,” Stiles says, “As I never had the patience to hone the skill.”
He prefers to exploit enemies from the pages of books, is more useful crafting war strategies than leading the front line. He had, of course, the best teachers at his disposal and couldn’t have gone all his life without wielding a sword under their instructions, but there was a level of dedication that was needed to become fluent in the art. Stiles had directed that dedication elsewhere.
Now, on the brink of war, his father a flaunted captive of the Argents, and no one to represent the royal family on the battlefield but him, he wishes he’d have returned to the training ring more often than what was mandatory.
They were positioned close to one another in the palace hall, the wall torches making a show of wild shadows across Derek’s face. There was now a groomed beard where before were adolescent blemishes, there was a strong structured jaw, and a broadness that made their near-same height feel exaggerated.
Even more so when Derek leaned close in a manner of not wanting to be overheard, “War is inevitable.”
Stiles felt wholly aggravated at this point. “And?”
“And you can’t stop it. My parents will join as a display of loyalty to yours, and the both of us will end up on the field.”
None of this was unknown to him. “What would you have me do?”
A crease has formed between Derek’s dark eyebrows. Stiles lost track of when their game had stopped.
Like it was obvious, “I would have you not fall into a trap. Yes, I know you were visited with news of your father, you’d have to be blind to not see how eager you were to leave with the messenger.”
“Fall into a trap,” Stiles echoes, tone completely absent of the politeness from before. “You see me as a child, too naive to know the difference between truth and deceit?”
“I see you as desperate,” Derek argues, “As any son would be in your place. The Argents trade in master swordsmen, it is not speculation to say you can not win this way, it is truth. They will have stationed the best of their men to guard your father, and if you were to ride in, sword less, and alone, they would strike you down. Your kingdom would he heirless, your people without a ruler, those you love robbed of you-”
“Stop.” Stiles fists his hair with both hands and turns from Derek, so the side of his face is visible only.
Long, aching moments pass where Stiles labores through the act of breathing. When it doesn’t take his whole strength to do so, he drops his hands, rings his fingers around his wrist, still turned from Derek.
His voice shakes, another sign of his weakness. “You think I don’t already know this?”
A noise of anger and disbelief parts from Derek’s lips. “Yet you would still go?”
“I would have this done,” Stiles closes his eyes. “Three months is a long time to wait for news of your father’s life.”
Another moment of silence passes. Then, Derek’s hand grips his elbow, stilling the restless movement of his arms.
“There are other ways.”
Stiles scoffs, an airy, short burst of laughter. “Have you already forgotten? I can’t wield a blade.”
He hasn’t let himself admit how much of a drawback this truly is. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure why he was admitting it to Derek now, they’d never been friends.
Stiles turns back around and finds Derek with a expression he isn’t familiar with. With a softness to it, it was wholly genuine.
Derek says, “I’ll teach you.”
COVERED IN FEATHERS \o/