Title: Fate Plays Chess
Author: Claire Watson
Fandom: Teen Wolf, Skyrim
Genre: Action/Adventure, Crossover, Dimensional Travel, Fantasy, First Time, Romance, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Derek Hale/Stiles Stilinski
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Dark Themes, Death-Major Character, Death-Minor Character, Discussion-Murder, Discussion-Rape, Explicit Sex, Murder, Violence-Canon-Level
Author Notes: Non-consensual Permanent Body Transformation. Some dialogue is taken directly from a Skyrim playthrough. For a glossary of Skyrim terms, please see the appropriate Tab in the Summary file.
Beta: Alinora Malina
Word Count: 67,832
Summary: Set in early S3, after the fight with the Alpha Pack in Frayed. Stiles decides not to take Scott’s word for it that Derek is dead and goes to check. That is only the beginning of a journey that spans dimensions and time, and Stiles’ choices will save or doom more than one world.
If every universe can be likened to a bubble, floating amongst a cloud of bubbles that can randomly be either very similar or incredibly different, then it is reasonable to expect the beings that govern those universes to have the same amount of variation.
Most of these bubble universes are run by ever-changing committees made up of the strongest resident gods, with the majority of these gods so focused on the preservation of the bubble they inhabit, that they often remain unaware of what is going on in the bubbles surrounding them.
Now and again gods will arise that operate beyond that level, sometimes they become head of their local committee and sometimes they remain on the outskirts, content, for the most part, to watch the goings on of those more active, intervening only to avert imminent destruction.
Sometimes, one universe’s gods will not have the capability to do what needs to be done to maintain the integrity of their bubble.
In order for their universe—and therefore themselves—to survive, they must look outside their own bubble and into their neighbours, offering their specialisations in trade for assistance.
Imagine the consternation of a group of divines as the single remaining candidate to be the lynchpin world’s champion in the foretold confrontation that was imminent, was slain before the prophecy was activated, therefore dooming the world, and subsequently them, to extinction.
“Why wasn’t anyone watching?! This is what comes of creating a chaotic destroying force and then setting it free with nothing but a tenuous prophecy to restrain it!” Arkay—God of the Cycle of Life, Death, and Mortals’ burials and funeral rites—fumed as his fellow divines looked on with shock and horror. “I always said it would end in tears! But no! Our brother wants to play around with prophecies and champions and world ending doom, and the rest of you decide to indulge him! And now we might as well kiss it all goodbye!”
“Pointing fingers isn’t particularly helpful,” Julianos—God of Wisdom and Logic—said, voice flat and expressionless. “What we need is a solution. The facts are these; the prophecy calls for a mortal born with dragon blood to be our champion, and no such mortal can be found in all of Nirn. How can we solve this?”
“Can we not just gift another mortal with dragon blood and have them be our champion?” Dibella—Goddess of Beauty—suggested. “That’s how mortals ended up with the dragon blood in the first place.”
Julianos shook his head. “No. The prophecy is clear that our champion must be born of the blood of dragons.”
Dibella shrugged. “Then we gift several mortals, and have Mara ensure that they procreate immediately.”
Mara—Goddess of Love and Compassion, the Mother Goddess—bristled. “Love cannot be forced, Dibella. It may be nurtured, and aided, and smothered, and killed, but no being can compel love in another.”
Dibella sneered back. “I didn’t speak of love, only procreation. The one isn’t necessarily dependant on the other.”
“Regardless, it doesn’t help us,” Arkay interjected before another argument could begin. “The signs are already appearing. We don’t have the time required to wait for a champion to be born and then grow old enough to be a match for Alduin. A toddler champion will not suffice; we need someone well grown, if not actually adult.”
“Why can’t our eldest brother work his speciality then?” Kynareth—Goddess of Air, Wind, Sky, and the Elements—suggested.
“Because it would be against the rules,” Akatosh—Dragon God of Time, and chief god of the pantheon—responded with a deep sigh.
This is true. Even the gods have those that oversee them, beings with metaphorical clipboards, red pens, sharp pencils, and inconvenient questions. They spend the entirety of their actuality trying to find fault with those that have been tasked with running the various universes, and nothing satisfies them as much as being able to put a metaphorical big red ‘X’ through the metaphorical paperwork and pop those universal bubbles out of existence.
The last thing any pantheon of divine beings needed was to be caught breaking the rules, and events surrounding prophecies tended to be given extra scrutiny.
“What if—” came a voice from the edge of the group.
Talos—the Hero-god of Mankind—was a latecomer to the pantheon. The first mortal to unite Tamriel under one rule, he had ascended into god-hood and joined the other eight divines.
“Don’t be shy,” Dibella said, smiling with a sweetness that was obviously feigned. “Come on, Talos. Tell us what you think.”
Talos ignored her. “I’m sure some of you will recall that incident in my youth where I was transported away from Tamriel for a time.”
Something in what he said caught Akatosh’s full attention. “Yes,” he said slowly. “There was an anomaly caused by some rather esoteric experimentation undertaken by the Psijic Order. If I recall correctly, it took some time for everything to be sorted out and to arrange for your transportation back. It was a nightmare getting all the documentation for the temporal displacement in order, and we still owe a few favours from that time.”
“Yes,” Talos nodded. “From Tamriel’s perspective my disappearance lasted only a night, however in truth, I was away for much longer than that. Several decades passed for me in the world that I found myself in. I fathered a family that I watched grow to adulthood before being brought back, whereupon the years I had lived were stripped from my countenance and my memory. Those memories were restored to me upon my ascension.”
“Are you going to get to the point anytime soon?” Dibella asked, drumming her fingernails on the arm of the chair she was sitting in.
Mara leant forward. “You think your line might yet be intact,” she realised, excitement infusing her voice. “If we can find a suitable descendant, one of an appropriate age and with the dragon blood, we can bring him or her to Tamriel. Thus, the prophecy can still be fulfilled!”
Julianos raised his eyebrows. “Providing, of course, that we have something suitable to trade with. Regardless of their ancestry, this Dragonborn we wish to borrow will be under the care of someone else. We can’t just take people. We’ll end up in more trouble than we’re in already.”
“How do we even approach this?” Stendarr—God of Mercy and Justice—asked.
“If someone can set up a meeting, I’m happy to try my hand at the negotiations,” Zenithar—God of Work and Commerce—offered.
There was a long moment of silence.
“Oh, come on, one of us must know someone who can help,” Kynareth said impatiently.
“There’s a being I know who would be able to step in and mediate,” Arkay said, although he sounded somewhat reluctant. “A—well, a colleague of mine, I suppose. He’s generally kept quite busy in His own universe, but He’s been known to travel from place to place. He’s considered a little… eccentric. Regardless, He may be our best option. I can ask, at least.”
Akatosh nodded. “Very well. Arkay, get together with Zenithar and see what you can come up with. Talos, you should probably join them since this is your descendant under negotiation.”
There was agreement all around. They had a way forward, and the colossal screw up that might have meant their end—along with the end of the universe they inhabited—was on its way to being rectified.
In the otherwhere, a different plane, a place where enormously powerful non-corporeal manifestations of belief meet, a bargain is struck. A champion is chosen, and the path forward prepared.
But there is truth in the quote that “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force”. And almost immediately, something happens that was not planned.
Well, not by those who thought they were making the decisions, at any rate.
Stiles frowned as he took in the empty expanse of the abandoned mall where Scott had said the fight had been.
He wasn’t sure if he’d made the right choice, telling Scott that he was feeling unwell and to give his excuses to Finstock. It was entirely possible that this move would see him being dumped from the team altogether—Coach didn’t like slackers, and this wasn’t the first time that Stiles had blown off a big game in order to do wolfy stuff for Derek.
Some guesswork coupled with the building layout for the area that he’d managed to find online led Stiles to where Derek lay alone, splayed out on the remains of an old elevator that had clearly been crushed by a falling body. Or falling bodies, Stiles corrected himself, noting indentations that indicated that either Derek had fallen, taken himself up three floors and flung himself back down again, or there had been another body here at one time.
Well, Scott had told him that both Derek and Ennis had died. It appeared the Alpha Pack were rather more conscientious about removing their fallen comrades from the field of battle than the Beacon Hills werewolves. And going by the fact that Derek was still here to find, it looked as though Scott had been right about his death, for once. For someone with super senses, Scott was wrong about this stuff an awful lot.
Stiles crouched down beside Derek’s body with a sigh. He was going to have to find some way to move it; he couldn’t just leave it here for animals to get at. He and Derek hadn’t always seen eye to eye—what with all the threats of violence and that time that Stiles had suggested he be left to die—but in between all that had also been the mutual life saving, the knowledge that even when Scott was too busy with his love life to notice that Stiles was in trouble that Derek would save him. In fact, Derek seemed to be the only one who remembered that Stiles was still a breakable human all the time, instead of only when it was time to show off.
Derek may have frequently made poor decisions that made him look like an asshole, but Stiles had come to realise that it wasn’t deliberate. Derek was doing the best he could, trying to protect the largest number of people possible all the time. And really, looking back, one of the biggest flaws in Derek’s character that Stiles had initially perceived had been what had seemed like an unreasoning distrust of all the Argents, when only one—or two, perhaps, Stiles was still unsure of Gerard’s contributions to the Hale fire—were known to be evil.
In retrospect, Derek had been right all along. Every single Argent that Stiles had met had proved to be only too happy to murder and torture werewolves on the flimsiest of evidence, or even just because they wanted to.
Eyes pricking with sudden tears, Stiles reached out to sweep away some rubble from where it was resting against Derek’s face. He stilled as his hand brushed against warm skin.
Wait a minute. Derek had been here for hours, according to what Scott had told him about the fight. There’s no way a dead body that had laid in this abandoned mall would still be warm, which meant… Derek wasn’t dead?
Stiles’ heart leapt in his chest. Derek wasn’t dead! Oh my god, Scott was wrong about this again? What was the point of having enhanced senses if he never bothered to use them? Did he even check? Or did he just expect Derek to be dead? Unless werewolves had something freaky going on which kept them warm after death. Unlikely, but then Stiles’ crazy meter had been wonky ever since he discovered werewolves even existed, so that was no indication.
Stiles looked closer at one of the injuries he could see, watching intently. Was that—
Maybe not. Or maybe yes? As he continued watching he could see tiny signs that Derek’s healing was there, but incredibly slow. For a werewolf, anyway.
Shit. Derek was alive, and his healing was compromised by something. This was not the place he should be. Stiles stood and fished his phone out of his pocket to call Scott. Hauling Derek around by himself was likely to result in injury to himself and even more injury to Derek. This was werewolf business anyway.
Scott’s phone went straight to voicemail. Stiles scowled as he pulled up Isaac’s number, annoyed that his best friend was unavailable right when he was needed again. Isaac’s phone rang five times before cutting off. The next try went straight to voicemail. Stiles felt affronted. That scarf-wearing bastard rejected his call!
He wasn’t about to call anyone with the last name ‘Argent’ for this, and he didn’t have numbers for the rest of Derek’s ragtag pack. The only option he had left was either his dad or Melissa, and neither seemed like a good idea.
“Sorry, dude,” Stiles muttered as he tried to figure out the best way to lift Derek without aggravating the worst looking of his injuries. “This isn’t going to be fun for you. Believe me; I’m not going to be enjoying it either.”
A fireman carry was probably the best option. It was something his dad had made sure that he knew how to do, although he’d never lifted anyone with this amount of musculature before.
With a bit of effort, Stiles managed to get Derek up over his shoulders. Step by step, he walked towards the stairs that he’d come down. Making his slow way upwards was the hardest thing he’d physically had to do since holding Derek’s head above water in the school swimming pool. At least this time if he failed it didn’t mean Derek’s certain death.
He was nearly at the top when it happened. One of the stairs wasn’t as stable as it seemed, wobbling threateningly when Stiles trod on it. He instinctively moved back, but the unexpected movement threw Stiles’ balance right off, and he and his cargo tipped sideways and backwards.
“Shit!” Stiles yelled as Derek slid from his grasp. Losing his burden did nothing to halt his own fall, and it felt like everything was happening in slow motion as he and Derek both toppled head first into the centre of the stairwell.
Out of nowhere, something that looked like a portal opened up, swallowing Derek entirely. Stiles followed, close enough on his heels to almost touch, and just had time to witness a dizzying kaleidoscope of colour and light before everything went black.
Stiles regained consciousness alone in an unfamiliar wintery landscape.
It was hard to stop himself from panicking slightly when he realised that Derek was nowhere in sight. As grumpy and taciturn as Derek could be, they had a well-established ‘saving each other’ thing. It was therefore highly unlikely that he’d just leave Stiles here of his own free will, meaning that either Derek hadn’t come through the strange portal to the same place, or something had happened to him since then. Also, regardless of what was or wasn’t happening with Derek, Stiles clearly wasn’t dressed for these conditions. He was a little surprised that he was only shivering mildly, given the thin shirt and jeans he was wearing. There was snow. He had somehow lost his shoes. Why wasn’t he colder?
“This is some weird-ass shit,” he said aloud, just to make sure he hadn’t switched bodies or something freaky like that. It was a relief to hear his own voice coming out of his mouth. “Right. So, in the middle of nowhere, it’s cold and snowing, I’m by myself, I’m not wearing much, and I have no food or shelter. I suppose the first thing I should do is find a river or something, so I at least have some water.”
He poked around until he found a tallish tree that looked fairly climbable, and started up, swearing to himself as the rough bark scratched him. This stuff always sounded much easier than doing it. It was worth it though, because a little height gave him a view of a gate of some sort. It was clearly man-made, although rather more basic than he was used to. Not only that, but he could see small human figures, too. Yay! He was found!
Stiles did a little shimmy in celebration, which turned out to be a bad idea. He ended up losing his grip on the tree trunk and descending a hell of a lot quicker than he’d gone up. It was possible that his saviours from probable death were the small branches that broke his fall back to the ground. Amazingly, he wasn’t even knocked out. Stiles lay on the ground for a while wondering if this would be considered good luck or bad luck in the overall scheme of things.
It was as he was wiping his hands on his shirt that it occurred to him that the people at that gate might not be friendly. He paused momentarily as he held a swift internal debate on the pros and cons of direct contact versus surveillance. In the end, he decided that it couldn’t hurt to get the lay of the land before blundering in. After all, it wasn’t as if he had any nifty werewolf powers to protect him if things went south, not like some others that he could name.
Turns out that perhaps covert surveillance wasn’t his strong point after all. He only really had enough time to register that the people guarding the gate were dressed in some sort of medieval style uniform, complete with swords, bows and arrows, axes, etc. before he was made.
The man who questioned him didn’t seem to appreciate his inability to give any useful information, and Stiles saw the sword pommel moments before it connected with his head, turning everything black.
When he woke, it was to the sound of wood moving over stone, the jingling of harness. His hands were bound in front of him, and he was in a cart with three others, similarly bound. One particularly fierce looking dude—dressed in what looked like a bear fur coat—was also gagged. Stiles looked at him with some interest, wondering what the significance was.
“Hey, you!” the fair-haired man seated directly across from Stiles said with a friendly smile. “You’re finally awake. You were trying to cross the border, right? Walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us, and that thief over there.”
That sparked an exchange with the aforementioned thief. Rather than protest that slur to his character, he confirmed it by relating his thwarted plans to steal a horse. Stiles shook his head sadly. It was no wonder he’d been caught, really, if that was the level of competency he was operating under.
The conversation shifted to the fierce-looking man with the gag. The chatty one introduced him as Ulfric Stormcloak, the true High King. It meant nothing to Stiles, but the thief recognised the name all too clearly.
“Ulfric? The Jarl of Windhelm? You’re the leader of the rebellion. But if they’ve captured you… Oh, gods, where are they taking us?”
Stiles’ mood dropped. Great. He’d walked into some sort of political power play, and these Imperials no doubt thought he was connected to this Ulfric and his rebellion somehow. Hopefully, he’d be able to convince them that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the meantime, he needed to be on the lookout for some way to get out of the situation he’d found himself in.
The cart they were in was driven through a set of gates into a village of some sort. Off to the right, an older man in fancier armour sat on a horse talking to some robed individuals that didn’t look quite human. Stiles watched, wondering what was going on. Were they some sort of supernatural creature? Was that what this was all about?
The man across from him saw where his attention had drifted to. “Look at him! General Tullius, the Military Governor. And it looks like the Thalmor are with him. Damn elves. I bet they had something to do with this.”
Elves then. Stiles turned that over in his head as his cartmate started talking about the village they’d entered, Helgen, speaking wistfully of mead with juniper berries. It was easy to recognise what the man was doing. Talking to fill the silence, to give everyone—and himself—a reprieve from the thought their inexorable fate. In another time and place, it would be Stiles fulfilling that function. At present, it was better to listen, since it was possible that the information he was hearing could be useful down the line. Providing he got free, of course. And that this whole thing wasn’t some elaborate hallucination.
His half-formed plan of taking a run for it died when the horse thief—who tried it first—was brought down long before making it to freedom. If his choices were having his head cut off or being filled with arrows and then left to die, then the headsman seemed the better option.
His hopes rose briefly when the man with the clipboard noted that he wasn’t on the list, only to be dashed when the Captain insisted that he was to be executed with the rest.
For a moment he thought he heard the echo of a distant voice, words shivering through the air, but no one else seemed to notice.
There was a sense of inevitability about the whole thing, as if there was no way out. Stiles watched with a sort of detached horror as a man was beheaded right in front of him, the body kicked over and the head falling into the box. Ralof—his chatty carriage companion—spoke of the dead man’s fearlessness.
Then Stiles’ name was called, and his feet took him forward almost without his input.
The voice echoed through the air again, louder, almost a physical sensation. This time Stiles wasn’t the only one to hear it, although the Imperial soldiers clearly dismissed whatever it was as unimportant.
Stiles laid his head down on the block as instructed, hoping that these weren’t going to be his last few moments, that his father wouldn’t have to go through the rest of his life wondering what had happened to him, possibly believing he’d run away. Would Scott look very long, he wondered? A year ago, he would have answered his own question with an unequivocal yes, but things had been changing since Scott was bitten.
Would there even be any trace of that weird portal thing that had appeared out of nowhere?
Because he was looking towards the sky, Stiles had a great view of the dragon that flew in and began to rain fire and destruction down. There was literally fire falling from the sky, great balls of flame that destroyed everything that they collided with.
Helgen immediately turned into chaos, and Stiles was all too happy to take advantage of it.
After fighting their way through the basements and caves of Helgen, Stiles decided to accept Ralof’s invitation to his sister’s home in Riverwood. From there he’d hopefully be able to rest long enough to recover, deal with the emotional fallout of having killed several people, and make a decision about what to do next. He’d managed to scavenge some coins and a few other useful looking items, and Ralof had assured him that his sister would be only too happy to help him out.
Ralof’s sister Gerdur was an efficient and direct woman who ran the mill that the small village was built around. As Ralof had said, she was generous with her thanks for Stiles’ assistance in helping Ralof escape both the dragon and the Imperials.
Stiles felt that any exchange had been fairly equal, but he wasn’t in a position to decline her generosity. With that in mind, he agreed to her request to take news of the dragon to the Jarl at Whiterun—although he wasn’t so sure that’s what he wanted to do at all. He took some of the offered food and a few coins gratefully and said his goodbyes before making his way over to the inn, a sturdy looking building that boasted the name ‘The Sleeping Giant’.
A man behind the bar welcomed him, offering him food, or drink, or a warm bed.
Stiles only had eyes for a figure seated at one of the tables. He knew those shoulders, even if the clothing was unfamiliar. “Derek?” he asked, voice high with shock and hope.
Derek swivelled around, his expression one of relief. “Stiles!”
Stiles had never thought Derek looked more beautiful. Which was saying something, because Derek could have made a killing as a male model. But here he was, dressed in threadbare clothing and with a dirty face and bloodstains up his arms, still looking good enough to grace the cover of GQ.
All of a sudden, everything seemed so much better. For one, Derek was looking considerably healthier than when Stiles had been trying to carry him out of that abandoned mall.
Stiles had to resist the urge to give Derek a hug.
After that first moment of relief, Derek’s face twisted into a familiar scowl. “Stiles! What have you done? Where are we?”
“Excuse you,” Stiles replied, remembering all over again why he and Derek weren’t buddies. “This clusterfuck had nothing to do with me, I’ll have you know. I was in the middle of rescuing your sorry ass when a portal appeared out of nowhere, so this is probably somehow your fault, not mine!”
Derek practically radiated scepticism. “I’m sorry, in what way were you rescuing me again? I appear to have missed it.”
“Yes, well, that was because it was your unconscious, wound-raddled body I was hauling to safety!” Stiles retorted. “Everyone else thought you were dead, but I decided to go and check, and lucky I did, cause who knows who would have turned up after me?”
“What? From where?” Derek asked, eyebrows drawing together.
“Oh nowhere exciting, just the bottom of a lift shaft!” Stiles said triumphantly. “I only had to drag your overly muscled gym-body up a number of flights of stairs. Nothing difficult or anything!”
Derek seemed to shrink back on himself slightly and turned back towards his mug. Stiles ran the last few minutes over in his head and realised that Derek can’t have liked hearing that his pack had just left him where he’d fallen. His mood softened.
“Well, that’s what you have me for,” he said, trying to sound matter of fact. “We save each other, you know?”
Derek didn’t answer, but Stiles didn’t let that deter him.
“But hey, I’ve got a new crazy story to add to the pile,” Stiles said, glancing over at the dude with some sort of guitar, who was watching them idly. “Let me get something to eat, and I can tell the story about how I escaped from a dragon attack!”
That got Derek’s attention. He jerked his head up to look wide-eyed at Stiles, who gave the table a victorious slap with both hands as he rose to go and talk to the barkeeper.
Derek was appropriately surprised and horrified by the story that Stiles related to him. Not that a casual observer would be able to tell, but Stiles had made a study of Derek’s micro-expressions, and was gratified to see it paying off.
Also, this was one time that the creepy lie detector thing came in handy since Derek knew that despite how insane the story sounded, Stiles was telling the truth. Sure, he may have embellished a few parts, like he didn’t actually save any helpless maidens—although that one Stormcloak chick was grateful that he and Ralof arrived and turned the tide against that torturer—but the meat of the story was true.
Stiles also mentioned Gerdur’s request that he travel to Whiterun to inform the Jarl about the dragon.
“We might as well,” Derek said with a shrug. “Gerdur seems pretty sensible. I spent a couple of hours chopping wood for her so I could afford a room and food. As soon as we’ve done that, we can start looking for a way home. I’ll need to find something else to wear, though. These clothes are barely holding together.”
“Yeah, I’ll want something else too,” Stiles said, looking down at the Stormcloak uniform he had put on at Ralof’s urging. “Something a little less political maybe. I’ve got no wish to ever see another headsman’s block in my life.”
They shared a room in the inn that night, both to conserve funds and for safety. Stiles felt a bit awkward about waking with an erection beside the epitome of male hotness, but Derek didn’t mention it, and so he decided not to either.
As soon as they’d packed their stuff they paid a visit to the general store, just in time to witness a rather heated argument between the two siblings who seemed to be running the place.
Between selling the items Stiles had picked up and what Derek had earned the previous day chopping firewood, they had enough to get some very basic looking iron and leather armour. It wasn’t the best looking stuff, but it had the advantage of offering some protection and also not making them look like beggars or people with fixed political alliances. Stiles got changed quickly and then sold his Stormcloak gear as well.
After promising to be on the lookout for the golden claw that the brother and sister had been arguing about, Stiles and Derek headed along the road towards Whiterun.
It was a beautiful day. The air was clear of the pollutants that even the less built-up parts of the United States had accumulated, and the wildlife was abundant. Almost too abundant. They were nearly mowed down by a deer that was trying to escape a scraggly looking wolf, which then turned on them.
Stiles maybe expected Derek to do some kind of mystical werewolf thing to subdue the wolf. Instead, he smacked it in the head with his iron axe, killing it instantly. Stiles watched in shock as Derek proceeded to make quick work of removing its skin.
“What?” Derek asked, looking up halfway through.
“I thought you might be able to command the wolf or something,” Stiles said, aware even as he said it how lame that sounded. “Cause, you know, you’re a werewolf?”
“You mean the same sort of ‘command’ as I have over humans?” Derek gave him a withering look and turned back to his task. “Besides, I was thinking that when we get to Whiterun I might see if I can turn my hand to making this into something. Or I could sell it, I suppose.”
Stiles closed his gaping mouth with a snap. “You’re going to ask a blacksmith for lessons?” he asked. “How long is that going to take? How long are we going to be in Whiterun, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Derek said, stuffing the wolf pelt into his pack. “It might end up to be no use at all. But I’d prefer to have it if I need it.”
“Were you a boy scout, then?” Stiles wondered as they resumed walking. “Or a packrat? How did I not know this about you? Wait, wait. You turned up in Beacon Hills with little more than the clothes on your back! This isn’t adding up!”
Derek sighed. “Two words. Bank account. On that note, subject closed.”
Stiles turned that over in his head as they walked. It kind of made sense, providing the bank account was large enough that making bargains on purchases wasn’t a priority. He shied away from considering just how Derek would have so much disposable cash on hand. The Hales hadn’t been billionaires or anything, but they were known to have been rather well off.
Since he was very much Not Thinking About Life Insurance Policies And Fiery Deaths, Stiles had to cast around for another topic of conversation.
“Did you stop by the Guardian Stones?” he asked. “The three stones all grouped together overlooking the river? I picked one at random, and Ralof told me it wasn’t too late to gain control of my own fate. Right. Like that’s going to happen. If there was any way for me to ‘control my own fate’, would I be here in this crazy world? No electricity, basic plumbing, swords and bows and axes, and worst of all, no wi-fi! How am I going to cope with no wi-fi, Derek? Lack of stimulation is going to drive me nuts! Oh, hey, pretty stick.”
“How will you tell?”
Stiles poked the walking stick he’d just found in Derek’s general direction, but decided to count that as a win. “Well?”
“Did you activate one of the Guardian Stones?”
Derek’s shoulders moved in what was probably a shrug. “I touched one of them, got some sort of static shock.”
Stiles was about to ask which one he picked, but that’s when they rounded the corner to find three dudes standing around, drinking and cheering at themselves.
“Hail, friends!!” one of them said with all the joviality of a happy drunk. “It’s good to see other merry souls enjoying this fine day. Ah, but you look tired. Come, share a bottle of Honningbrew Mead with us!” He brandished a bottle with the same label as the two bottles of mead Gerdur had given him.
Stiles glanced over at Derek. This might be a chance to get some information on the region. “Sounds good,” he said, fishing around in his pack. “In fact… Here!” He brandished both bottles. “Allow me to contribute!”
“Ysmir’s beard! You’re one after my own heart. I would love another bottle. This good deed should not go unrewarded. Here, take this!” The stranger pulled a golden necklace with a circular amulet on it out of his pocket and handed it over. Then—without bothering to take either of the bottles Stiles had offered, he and his two friends moved off down the road, lifting their voices in song.
Stiles was left standing there, mead in one hand and the necklace in the other. “What the fuck?”
Derek didn’t look any less confused than Stiles felt.
“Let’s just get to Whiterun,” Stiles said, shoving the mead back in his pack. He inspected the necklace, which was giving off a strange tingle. “Hey, I’m going to try this on. Be ready to knock me out if it turns me into something weird, okay?” And before Derek could object, he shoved the chain over his neck.
“Stiles!” Derek growled, reaching out and grabbing his shoulders. “Don’t… you can’t take stupid risks like that! What if it’s dangerous?”
“Huh,” Stiles murmured to himself as he picked up his walking stick, pretending to ignore Derek’s hissy fit. “My backpack seems lighter than it was before. Sweet!”
Shortly after that, the hilly, forested, landscape gave way to a rolling landscape of tussock filled plains. The breeze was picking up as they approached the signpost at the crossroads.
“Not that we’ll be needing that signpost,” Stiles mentioned, looking over to the left where a fortified town rose into the sky. It looked to be built on several levels, culminating in a large, ornate wooden structure at its summit. “How much would you bet that the Jarl lives at the top, right over there?”
“No bet,” Derek replied, nodding a greeting to a man in uniform—probably a guard—patrolling nearby. “Come on.”
Stiles glanced up at a building to the left. “Hey, this is where that mead that Gerdur gave me is brewed. Good to know.”
“You planning on becoming a drunk?”
“Who knows? The future is never certain, after all. And if we never find our way home then it might be something I seriously consider!”
Whiterun’s walls looked formidable, and at the gates, the guards refused them entry until Stiles mentioned the dragon and Riverwood’s request for aid. The guards directed them to Dragonsreach, which turned out to be the name of the tall building they’d seen from the road.
“Do you really need me to visit the Jarl with you?” Derek asked, once the gates closed behind them. “I didn’t see the dragon, so I don’t think I’ll be much help.”
Stiles frowned. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I don’t have a problem going alone, but what exactly were you planning to do in the meantime?” He followed Derek’s gaze over to where a woman with long hair was grinding an edge onto a sword outside a building with a hanging metal sign that proclaimed it to be a blacksmith. Stiles rolled his eyes. “Right. Well, have fun. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to show you everything you want to see.” He stomped off up the hill before he could hear Derek’s reply—if he even made one.
The next level looked at first to be mainly housing. Several children were running around shouting insults at each other, and over to one side, a man and his wife were having a heated argument about a lost sword. Then there was what looked like a park or something with a great, dead tree in the centre. Stiles spent several moments looking up at it, wondering at its significance. He couldn’t help but remember the White Tree of Gondor, and the prophecy that had surrounded it. Hopefully, the similarity was a coincidence. He decided to stay away from it in the meantime, just in case.
The stone steps up to Dragonsreach started at the edge of the dead tree park area, and Stiles headed up them feeling quite a bit of trepidation. He wished Derek hadn’t decided to go and flirt instead of coming with him, not that he would have told Derek that. It was just that the last time he’d been in the presence of a Jarl he was very nearly getting his head cut off, or being chased around Helgen by a dragon.
Stiles came away from Dragonsreach feeling rather conflicted. On the one hand, head still firmly attached to his shoulders, yay! On the other, the Jarl had made it clear that he wanted Stiles to help his court wizard with a project, which would delay Stiles and Derek from searching for a way home, boo.
The Jarl had given Stiles an axe from his personal armoury as thanks for the information. Stiles couldn’t help wishing that he’d just passed on some gold or something.
He’d asked Farengar—the court wizard—what he knew about portals and had been told to direct his inquiries to the Mages College at Winterhold.
So, what to do now?
He made his way back down to where Derek was listening intently as the woman from before leaned against a post and instructed him while he fiddled with a helmet at the bench by the front door.
She greeted him with a friendly smile. “Got some good pieces out here, if you’re looking to buy. More inside.”
“Thanks,” Stiles replied, nodding at Derek when he looked up from his work. “I might go in and have a look around.”
The man behind the counter inside was a heavily muscled man with hair all over his face who introduced himself as Ulfberth War-Bear. He looked Stiles over before offering him a selection of swords and daggers. “If it’s bows and the like that you’re after, The Drunken Huntsman might have a better range.”
“I haven’t really decided on a weapon yet,” Stiles confessed. “I don’t really know all that much about them.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” Ulfberth said with a smile. “My wife, Adrianne, is the one who forges all our arms and armour since I’m no good with forge or anvil. I’m a decent fighter though, and I can walk you through the basic forms if you want to see where your talents lie.”
“That would be great!” Stiles accepted gratefully.
For the next couple of hours, Ulfberth walked Stiles through the use of blades and blunt weapons, moving from daggers through to the huge warhammers such as the one he carried himself.
Stiles wasn’t particularly shocked to discover that the two-handed weapons were both too heavy and too slow to be of any interest to him. He was better with shorter blades, but where he performed best was with the mace, followed by the dagger.
“You might do well as an archer,” Ulfberth suggested as he carefully put the weapons they had been using back where they belonged. “Now, are you interested in armour as well?”
Since Derek was still busy outside, Stiles agreed with enthusiasm, and began learning of the differences between light and heavy armour, hide, leather, iron and steel.
Aside from the occasional pause when a customer arrived, Stiles spent most of the day soaking up information. Adrianne came inside for a couple of hours at midday—Derek remained outside, working the forge—and expanded Stiles’ knowledge further, discussing the various metals not currently available in the shop and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
That night Stiles and Derek shared a room in The Bannered Mare. Stiles waited until they were alone in their room with the door closed before he revealed both the request to go to Bleak Falls Barrow to retrieve the dragonstone and the suggestion that the Mages College at Winterhold would be the place to look for magical answers to their problem.
Derek received the information with his habitual frown. “So, what should we do?”
“I think we should head to Winterhold,” Stiles said firmly. “I can’t be the only one Farengar is sending to Bleak Falls Barrow after all, and the dragons aren’t really our problem. Why don’t we go and see if this College can help us? If it turns into a dead end and we have no further leads, then we can come back and see if this dragonstone thing is still important.”
“Alright,” Derek nodded. “Now, I want to get some sleep. If you want to keep talking, I suggest you go back out to the common area.” With that he rolled over, presenting his back to Stiles’ affronted stare.
“Excuse me? Are you kicking me out?”
“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to rip your throat out. With my teeth.”
Stiles grinned to himself as he lay down next to Derek. While it would probably have been a lot more fun to have been stranded here with Scott, being with Derek wasn’t so bad.
He lay awake for a time, the sounds of laughter and singing tickling the edge of his consciousness through the regular rhythm of Derek’s breathing. He fell asleep while straining to hear the words of a song about a ginger called Ragnar.
The next morning they were up bright and early. They called their goodbyes to Adrianne as they went past, and then made their way to the Whiterun Stables, where a carriage and driver were waiting to take travellers anywhere they wanted to go.
The wagon driver, Bjorlam, charged them fifty gold each for the journey, but Stiles was of the belief that if it got them closer to home, it would be money well spent.
“Besides,” he said to Derek as the wagon travelled past the Honningbrew Meadery, “now that you’ve learned some smithing skills, we’ll always have something to fall back on.”
Derek was laid out on the bench with a hat that he’d picked up somewhere covering his face. “Shut up, Stiles,” he said, the hat muffling his words. “Throat. Teeth.”
“You know, the more often you use that threat the less scary it is,” Stiles pointed out.
Derek removed the hat so that he could glare in Stiles’ direction. His hair was sticking up slightly at one side though, and it was considerably less intimidating than Derek had no doubt intended it to be.
Winterhold turned out to be a frozen ruin of a town. There were no fortifications, like there had been at Whiterun, and even from the point that Bjorlam dropped them off, Stiles could see several houses that were missing walls, and in some cases most of their roof.
Despite the inhospitable nature of the landscape, there was an inn not far from where they were. Glad to be out of the chill wind, Stiles and Derek made their way inside to ask about the College.
“It’s just north of town,” the innkeeper said amiably.
The College turned out to be an imposing looking structure with a narrow bridge connecting it to the rest of Winterhold. It was guarded by a strange looking woman who introduced herself as Faralda.
“Cross the bridge at your own peril,” she said imperiously. “The gate will not open, you will not gain entry.”
“Oh,” Stiles said, feeling a little taken aback. “Why are you out here?”
“I am here to assist those seeking the wisdom of the College.”
“Well, that’s where we were headed,” Stiles said, injecting as much enthusiasm as he could into the words. “Can we go in?”
“Perhaps. What do you hope to find?”
“Knowledge on travel between worlds and realities,” Stiles replied. “Portals to other planes and universes.”
Faralda nodded. “A noble goal. It would seem the College may have what you seek. The question now is, what can you offer us?”
Stiles was stumped “Well, what you want?”
“Not just anyone is allowed inside. All those who enter must show some degree of skill with magic. A test, if you will.”
Stiles glanced back at Derek, who was looming behind him like some kind of bodyguard. Faralda had yet to address him, and it was creeping Stiles out slightly. Still, they needed entry to the College. “Sure,” he said, voice wavering only slightly. “I’ll take your test.”
“Excellent. A standard spell for those skilled in destruction magic is the firebolt. Casting one onto the seal here would be sufficient.”
“Uh, I don’t know that spell,” Stiles said, his stomach twisting uncomfortably.
“No? If you think it’s within your capabilities, I’d be happy to sell it to you for thirty gold. Or you could try your luck with the various court wizards around Skyrim.”
“I’ll just buy it from you,” Stiles said with a weak smile, handing over the thirty gold.
In return, she passed him a greeny-grey book with a stylised flame symbol on the cover. Stiles hesitantly opened it, wondering if he’d just wasted thirty gold. What were the chances he’d be able to learn this spell well enough to get them into the College? He might find he can’t even read whatever language the mages here utilised. Still, if there was any chance of getting home it was worth a try.
As he’d somewhat expected, the language on the page was one that he didn’t recognise. He was about to hand the book back when the whole thing dissolved into light and then entered his head through his eyeballs. He was quietly freaking out about that when he realised, all of a sudden, that he knew how to cast the spell Faralda was asking for.
He raised hands that were only slightly shaking and gathered his energy while focusing on the idea of a firebolt, before releasing it with a gesture. A ball of fire flew through the air to smash into the seal with an audible whoosh. The fire flickered out, leaving several scorch marks as a testament to its passing.
“Well done indeed,” Faralda said, her voice warming considerably. “I think you’ll be a splendid addition to the College. Welcome, apprentice. When you get inside, you’ll need to speak to Mirabelle Irvine, our Master Wizard. Now please, follow me.”
Stiles managed to wait until they had crossed the extremely narrow and dangerous looking bridge and Faralda had left before turning to Derek, who still hadn’t said anything. “Did you see that? I cast a fireball, dude! I just concentrated a bit and then bam! Fireball, right there! Did you see it? A fireball!”
“Pretty sure she called it a ‘firebolt’,” Derek remarked.
Stiles wasn’t interested in Derek’s attempt to harsh his squee. “It took seconds to learn, and then I could just do it! It was amazing! I wonder what else I can learn?”
“How to get us home, maybe?”
“Yes, but Derek, just think! If I can learn how to cast fireballs so easily, maybe I could learn other stuff that could help us when we get home!”
Derek sighed but didn’t argue so Stiles counted that as a win.
“Right, thank you! It will be awesome, I know it will! Now, we need to find someone called Mirabelle something.”
Mirabelle Irvine continued the trend of pretending Derek wasn’t there. In fact, all of the senior wizards ignored him. His three fellow apprentices all noticed him tagging along, thankfully. Stiles was beginning to wonder if he’d gone a little crazy.
Especially since one of his fellow apprentices—J’zargo, who spoke of himself in the third person—seemed to be some kind of cat. Stiles wasn’t sure what to think of the whole thing. Another apprentice, Brelyna,—who was a dark elf, apparently—very helpfully explained all the races that he could be expected to encounter and their historical relationships with each other.
“Wait,” he said at one point. “You’re saying that there are orcs here. And that they have green skin and huge tusk-like teeth, and yet are a race of elves? And that there are bipedal talking reptile people, as well as cats?”
“Would you like me to draw up a chart?” Brelyna asked him with some concern. “Truly, it seems very strange to me that you’ve reached the age you have without knowing these things.”
“Yes, well I had a very sheltered childhood,” Stiles replied. “I would greatly appreciate that chart, thank you.”
They were soon sent out for a ‘field trip’ to some ruins located close to Winterhold, an excavation that their teacher Tolfdir had insisted would be an invaluable experience for them. Derek hadn’t said anything for hours, and Stiles was beginning to get a little worried.
“Are you alright?” he asked under his breath.
Derek gave a minimalist shrug. “I don’t see how helpful this is.”
Stiles shifted uncomfortably. In truth, he hadn’t been trying too hard to get answers to his questions. He was just so fascinated by the magic that the College was teaching and thrilled that he appeared to have an aptitude for it. Plus, throwing fire? So cool. And he’d seen one of the other dudes throwing ice as well! “Tolfdir won’t let us progress until we’ve proven to him that we can handle ourselves properly,” he said, knowing even as he said it that it was a pitiful excuse. “As soon as we get back to the College I’ll pester him until he tells me who the right person to talk to is.”
Derek made a small ‘hmph’ noise. “And if he still doesn’t want to tell you?”
Stiles raised his eyebrows. “Are you casting doubt on my ability to be so incredibly annoying that he’ll tell me what I want to know just to get me to go away?”
That caused Derek to crack a smile, the first one Stiles had seen since they left Whiterun. “I suppose you should go with your strengths.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles said, giving Derek a friendly shove. It was like pushing a boulder, Derek didn’t budge an inch. “Come on. We might as well see if we can learn something while we’re here.”
Less than twenty-four hours later, Stiles and Derek were entering the College grounds again, this time looking for the Arch-Mage.
“Look at it this way,” Stiles said guiltily. “If this giant glowing orb thing hadn’t come up, how long do you think it would have taken before we got an interview with the Arch-Mage?”
“We should just pass on the message from Tolfdir and get out of here,” Derek said, eyebrows low and hooded.
“You think?” Stiles asked. “What if these Psijic’s are the ones who can help us?”
“What if they can’t, and we just end up getting more involved in whatever is going on here?” Derek returned. “Strange people from a mysterious order of monks appearing in private visions, weird writing that starts glowing and makes you feel faint—I can practically smell the trouble on its way.”
“I feel like this is kinda my fault—” Stiles began, only for Derek to interrupt him.
“Don’t. If it hadn’t been you pulling that thing off the wall, it would have been someone else. This would have happened regardless, just without you in the middle.”
“Alright then, say we just leave, let this play out however it’s going to without our help. Where were you planning to go? Who were you planning to get help from?”
Derek was the master of angry silence. Sometimes it really amazed Stiles that this guy was an alpha.
“We might as well see this through,” Stiles went on as they entered the entryway to the Hall of the Elements. “It feels important, you know? And then if we still don’t have any answers we can—I don’t know—figure out what to do and where to go.”
The eyebrows eased back slightly. “Fine. So long as we’re still trying to get home.”
That made Stiles angry. “You think I don’t want to get home? You think I’m not terrified about what might happen to my Dad, to Scott? Fuck you, Derek.” He turned on his heel and shoved open the door to the stairwell leading to the Arch-Mage’s quarters.
The stairs were long and steep, and by the time he reached the top Stiles’ anger had burnt itself out. There was no point in being angry at Derek for saying stupid shit. Hell, it wasn’t like he had much of a leg to stand on. He decided to just let it go, and concentrate on what he was there for.
Arch-Mage Savos Aren was a dunmer, a dark elf like Brelyna. He listened to the message Tolfdir had asked Stiles to relay and gifted him with a Staff of Magelight in thanks, before giving him instructions to undertake further research.
“There was something else I wanted to ask you about,” Stiles began, glancing at Derek.
“Is it a matter of immediate life and death?” Aren asked, looking up from where he was stashing a few interesting looking items into a satchel.
“Uh… no?” Stiles replied. “Probably?”
“Then I’m afraid it will have to wait,” Aren said, a definite note of dismissal in his voice. “When I return, be sure to have the information I asked you to find ready for me. I will no doubt be able to answer your questions then.”
“Right,” Stiles muttered. “Sure thing.”
The Arcaneum—or library—was located between the ground floor and the Arch-Mage’s quarters. The head librarian—Urag gro-Shub—was clearly one of the orcs that Brelyna had told him about. It was lucky that she had, or Stiles and Derek might well have given offence. As it was, it was pretty hard not to stare.
The sight of all that knowledge in one place made Stiles’ fingers twitch, but he restrained himself to passing on Aren’s request.
Only to find out that the three volumes likely to be of any use had recently been stolen by an apprentice called Orthorn, who’d run off to join up with a group of mages who had left the College under a slight cloud. gro-Shub was evasive about the details, and what he did say left Stiles consumed with curiosity. The grumpy orc handed over a map with Orthorn’s probable location—Fellglow Keep—marked on it clearly.
On their way out of the Arcaneum, Stiles and Derek were accosted by a sneering golden-skinned elf who demanded to know what was going on.
Stiles had always made a point to be unhelpful to assholes. “Sorry, no time,” he said, heading for the stairs down. “Maybe talk to one of the senior wizards, rather than an apprentice who’s only been a member of the College for the last day.”
According to the map, Fellglow Keep was in a hilly region to the northeast of Whiterun.
“We could head back there,” Stiles suggested. “Rest up, say hi. You can work your frustrations out in the forge, providing Adrianne doesn’t mind. Then we head out and pick up those books before travelling back to the College.”
“Fine,” Derek said. “Let’s get going.”
“I wish there was a cart driver here,” Stiles groused as they trudged their way out of Winterhold. “I hate walking in the snow.”
A month and a half later, Stiles was mostly silent in shock as Tolfdir gave him the Arch-Mage’s robes and the key to the living quarters at the top of the tower.
Tolfdir congratulated him once more before departing. After climbing the steps and surveying his new digs, Stiles turned to look at Derek.
“Did that actually happen?” he asked, feeling extremely bewildered.
Derek’s eyebrows were high on his forehead. “Which part? The part where we battled a crazed altmer wizard bent on world domination for control over a giant orb of power, or the part where three magical monks appeared out of nowhere to teleport the Eye of Magnus somewhere?”
“The part where they made me Arch-Mage. Me, Derek. I’m not even old enough to drink, and at present I’m not at mastery level of any of the disciplines! I’m also actively trying to leave this crazy world forever, and they must know this considering all the questions I’ve been asking!”
Derek shrugged, his armour jingling slightly with the movement. Stiles eyed it, still amazed that Derek had learned how to make such amazing stuff in such a short time. Although all that practice with the dwarven metal certainly helped. Lugging the stuff out of Mzulft had been tedious, but Stiles couldn’t really complain since smithing made Derek so happy. It had been good to rest for a couple of days, and selling the items Derek had made was increasing his haggling skills as well as lining their pockets quite nicely.
“Do you think I’m a bad person?” Stiles asked impulsively. It was something that had been on his mind for a while now. “Because of the people I’ve killed, I mean.”
Derek frowned. “You mean the bandits? And the necromancers in Fellglow keep?”
“You remember that I was right there killing them alongside you?”
“Yes, but you’re…you know,” Stiles said with a vague gesture. “More attuned to your primal being.”
“Most werewolves go through their whole lives without killing another person,” Derek said with a pained grimace. “But I suppose I know what you mean.” His head tilted to one side in consideration. “Even in the packs, killing is supposed to be a last resort. So if you’re a bad person, then so am I.”
Stiles flopped down into a nearby chair. “It’s worried me a bit.”
Derek took the seat on the opposite side of the table. They sat in silence for a while.
“In my head it’s alright because it’s not like I’m running around killing kids and torturing people,” Stiles said eventually. “The people that I’ve killed are bad people, right? An asshole torturer, people who wanted to cut my head off for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bandits who prey on travellers, those wankstains in Fellglow keep that were torturing the vampires. But shouldn’t I feel worse about it?”
“I think that in this place the rules are a bit different,” Derek replied. “I’m pretty sure that every single person that we’ve killed here would have killed us without a second thought. Or maybe imprisoned us and experimented on us before killing us. Maybe you’re just good at compartmentalising.”
“Maybe I was always a psycho,” Stiles said moodily. “It’s not like my hands were clean before we got here. You do remember whose bright idea it was to set Peter on fire, don’t you?”
“You do remember who ripped his claws through his own Uncle’s throat, don’t you?”
“So, you think we should just accept that we’re terrible people?”
“I think that we should remember that we’ve been thrust into an impossible situation,” Derek said with a certainty that Stiles found very reassuring. “We didn’t ask to be sent here, after all.”
“There’s no real answer then.”
Derek shrugged. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a bad person.”
“Thanks,” Stiles said with a faint smile. “Backatcha, wolfman.” He yawned. “Come on,” he said wearily. “There’s a decent bed in here—although I can’t see how having a sabre cat head, bear head, and a wolf head coming out of the wall above the bed is conducive to a good nights rest. Let’s get what sleep we can. Then I suppose it’s time to head south. The Eye of Magnus isn’t going to be bothering anyone here anymore, so we can concentrate on this ‘Path of the Dragonborn’ that the Augur mentioned.”
Derek frowned. “I thought you wanted to learn more about magic.”
“Duh,” Stiles said. “But the Augur said that we can’t get home until the ‘Path of the Dragonborn’ is complete.”
“What—” Derek began, hesitating and then falling silent.
“What…” Stiles prompted.
Derek tried again. “The Augur said that time would be remade,” he said.
Stiles blinked. “What? When?”
“I went back to see it while you were helping Brelyna with her research that time. I’d just realised that not only were the moons here not affecting me, but that I wasn’t tied to the lunar cycle back home, either. I wanted to know… if it could tell me…”
Stiles waited, wondering why he’d not thought to make another trip to the Augur. It was the only entity that had been of any use in their pursuit of a way back home, after all. Had he been that distracted by this whole Eye of Magnus thing that such an obvious step hadn’t occurred to him?
Even with the heavy nordic carved armour obscuring Stiles’ view, he could see that Derek was hunching in on himself slightly.
“What’s left of my pack is all alone,” Derek said finally. “There’s an alpha pack making trouble, and as far as they know we just vanished off the face of the earth.”
Stiles nodded tightly. He’d been trying to avoid thinking about how his Dad was reacting to his disappearance. After Claudia had died, Noah had crawled into a bottle. The only reason he’d clawed his way out again was the knowledge that Stiles needed him, and even then it sometimes seemed a close run thing. As the weeks had dragged on with no way home conveniently appearing, Stiles had started to wonder if his Dad would survive his loss.
“The Augur said that when the task was complete, the Gods would remake time, that we wouldn’t lose anything.”
“Why did you wait until now to tell me this?” Stiles asked, moving into Derek’s space as his temper rose. “Did you somehow think you were the only one concerned about what was going on back home, or did you just not care about how worried I’ve been?!”
“I didn’t know if we could trust what it’d said,” Derek said, raising his voice to match Stiles’. “I didn’t want to say anything until we had some kind of proof that it had a, I don’t know, ability or sight or something, and wasn’t just saying what it thought people wanted to hear.”
Stiles held on to his anger for several moments more, wanting to find fault with that reasoning. “You should have told me,” he said finally. “We’re in this together. It’s not going to work if we can’t communicate with each other.”
Derek nodded, but Stiles knew better than to trust that the appearance of agreement would get Derek to change his ways.
“It’s too late to go through this now,” he said, shaking his head and stifling a yawn. “It must be well past midnight. Come on, let’s get some sleep. We can figure out what we want to do next in the morning.”
A stray thought had him perking up again. He reached over and prodded his bedmate, making sure he was awake. “Hey, Derek, does this mean that we can take a little time to explore our interests here? You can find a smith who can teach you further, and I can learn more magic!”
“Go to sleep, Stiles. We’ll talk in the morning.
The next morning, Stiles insisted on visiting the Augur of Dunlain to hear the words for himself. He came back up from the Midden Dark happier than he’d been since he first met up with Derek in Riverwood.
“I’ll stay here and learn magic,” he suggested to Derek. “Why don’t you head back to Whiterun? We’ve got plenty of gold, certainly enough to pay for that homestead we found for sale, the one just up from the Battle-Born Farm. You can use that as a base and see if Eorlund Grey-Mane is interested in giving you any training. And I think I remember you mentioning that you were thinking of joining the Companions, that fighters guild based in that building that looks like a Viking longboat? You can do that too, if you want to.”
Derek nodded in agreement. “What about the ‘Path of the Dragonborn’?”
Stiles tapped his fingers along the Staff of Magnus, which he’d taken to carrying with him. “Well, we’re currently in Frostfall. According to my charts, that’s the second month of autumn. Why don’t I head back to Whiterun at the start of First Seed? We can spend all spring and summer on this ‘Path of the Dragonborn’, and then decide how we want to spend next winter?”
“That sounds fair,” Derek said. He frowned. “Are you going to actually stay here in Winterhold, or are you going to get bored after a while and decide to investigate some ruins nearby?”
Stiles shrugged. “I don’t know. Are you going to stay in Whiterun, or are you going to try your luck against those huge sabre cats on the plains?”
“I’d just feel better if you had an armoured warrior to take with you when you go exploring. There have been a number of times when you would have been overwhelmed if I wasn’t there to distract everyone.”
“Yes, and just as many times you would have been overwhelmed if I wasn’t there to thin out the numbers!” Stiles said defensively. He narrowed his eyes. “If this is your attempt to make me take some warrior along to babysit me every time I venture outside the gates, then I’m going to have to insist that you take a mage.”
“Agreed,” Derek said quickly. “I’ll find a mercenary I’m happy with to send along with you, and you can find a mage to send with me.”
Stiles was left feeling that Derek had somehow outmanoeuvred him. He really didn’t like it, which was maybe the reason for his next decision. “Actually, you know that J’zargo was talking about wanting to see more of Skyrim, and he owes me after that mess with the exploding fire cloak scrolls. I’ll ask him if he wants to go with you.”
The satisfaction he felt at Derek’s almost imperceptible wince was probably petty, but Stiles was okay owning that. Sometimes being petty felt great. And despite Derek’s disconnection to the lunar cycle that controlled earth, he still had his enhanced senses and werewolf healing so it was unlikely that J’zargo would kill him. Not unless he was really trying, anyway, and since he didn’t consider Derek his competition he would have no reason to.
There were times that Stiles really resented Derek and his insistence that he had to take Stenvar with him if he was going to leave the College. This was not one of those times.
“It’s not even a tomb or a cave or anything,” he muttered to himself as he sent arrows into every bandit he could see. There sure were a lot of them.
“You’re making me angry!’ Stenvar bellowed over to the right as he swung his greatsword around in a wide arc that took out three bandits at once.
Half an hour later Stiles finished going through the corpses and searching the camp for any valuables. He figured it was only fair, since it wasn’t like these bastards were going to need them anymore. Served them right for attacking travellers, really. And what was with that pit of sharpened stakes? Enough to give Stiles the shivers.
The book teaching a spell that transmuted raw ore either from iron to silver or silver to gold might come in useful though.
“Remind me to tell Turrianus to get bent next time he tells me about something he needs to be picked up,” Stiles said to Stenvar as he looked around one last time. “Here, you might as well take these potions. They might come in useful.”
Stenvar gave a great laugh. “Ah, you will not listen! Anyway, I’d rather fight bandits than Draugr. At least bandits know when to stay dead.”
“I always feel a little weird about making them dead, though,” Stiles said, referring more to his lack of concern over the amount of killing he’d done since arriving in Skyrim than any soul-searching over their right to life.
“They made their own choices,” Stenvar said with some finality, echoing Stiles’ thoughts.
“I guess,” Stiles said with a shrug. “Come on, Rorikstead is that way.”
“Have you considered taking the roads?” Stenvar asked as they passed close by a giant camp. “There might be fewer bandits, trolls, and bears.”
“Yeah, might,” Stiles replied, scanning the surrounding area for anything that might mean him or Stenvar harm. “The roads may be marginally safer, but going cross country is rather more profitable. We need some way of paying for the mead bill you rack up whenever you’re at The Frozen Hearth for more than a week.”
“I get bored,” Stenvar shrugged. “It’s why I became a mercenary in the first place. Guard work doesn’t hold enough excitement for me these days.”
“Well, you can’t say that I don’t provide plenty of that.”
Stenvar laughed again. “Derek of House Hale did promise that you could not be considered boring. I am glad I don’t have to find him and kill him for lying to me!”
Stiles sighed. There were times that he missed Derek’s taciturn company.
On the second of First Seed, Stiles arrived at the Tundra Homestead outside Whiterun. Derek wasn’t home, but since he’d sent a key with the courier who delivered the letter informing him of the purchase of the property, Stiles just let himself in.
Stenvar followed, looking around with interest. “It is a fine place that you have here,” he said jovially. “Do you have any ale or mead?”
“Help yourself to whatever you can find,” Stiles said, wandering into the bedroom. Well, at least there were three beds in there. He lifted a pillow off the big bed, fluffing it experimentally. Nice.
Derek arrived that evening, dressed in an impressive looking set of black armour with glowing red accents that made him look more than slightly demonic, although no less hot.
Stenvar whistled. “That’s some mighty fine armour you have there! Daedric, if I’m not mistaken!”
J’zargo came in on Derek’s heels. “Always he must craft his armour himself. J’zargo is quite weary of investigating ebony mines and fighting necromancers and hagravens in search of daedra hearts. He would be better suited to other work.”
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and right at that moment, Stiles could well believe it since Derek actually looked happy to see him. That smile on his face looked like the genuine article. It was nothing like the wide, flirty, fake, smile Stiles had seen him utilise on previous occasions when he needed to charm someone. It was small, but it reached his eyes. Eyes which lingered over Stiles like they were thirsty for the sight of him. Stiles felt himself go all tingly.
J’zargo was looking between Stiles and Derek with interest. “So, J’zargo’s time here in Whiterun is coming to a close. J’zargo will be sorry to leave the warmth he has found here but he will be glad to return to his studies at the College. The next time the Arch-Mage visits, J’zargo will have outstripped him entirely!”
“Thank you for all your help, J’zargo,” Derek said with an awkward sincerity that Stiles privately thought was adorable.
“J’zargo will sleep one more night here and then be on his way.”
“I’ll be releasing you from your contract as well,” Stiles said to Stenvar, who was on his way through his fourth bottle of mead judging by the empties sitting on the counter.
“My skill with a blade is making you feel inadequate? Ha, ha, only kidding, friend. I suppose you’ll be wanting your gear back then,” was the cheerful reply.
“Nah,” Stiles flapped his hand dismissively. “I think you’ve earned it. Just consider it a bonus for keeping me alive all this time.”
“Well, I’ve enjoyed working for you,” Stenvar announced. “You’ve taken me some strange places, but I’ve seen things I would never have believed existed. I’ll head back to Candlehearth Hall. If you ever want my company again just come see me there! If you bring any more of that fancy mead, I’ll waive my usual fee!”
That night they all imbibed little too much—even J’zargo, who produced a supply of skooma from somewhere. Stiles decided that he didn’t want to know. He wasn’t too drunk to notice that Derek took several hits of the illegal substance as well.
There were only three beds, so Derek and Stiles shared the big one the same way they’d always done when they wanted to conserve funds or when there were no double rooms available. Stiles slept deeply and woke feeling more refreshed than he had in some time.
J’zargo and Stenvar packed up their things and headed out together bright and early, leaving Stiles and Derek alone together.
“You look well,” Stiles said as Derek showed him around the grounds. He poked at the vegetable garden that seemed split between the production of cabbages and potatoes. “I mean, how are you? What did you get up to these last few months?”
Derek’s eyes crinkled slightly at the corners, although his mouth barely moved. “Oh, this and that. I joined the Companions and did several jobs for them—killing bandits, retrieving stolen heirlooms, that kind of thing. I did some odd jobs for people in Whiterun—Adrianne wanted a sword delivered to her father, and then the Jarl’s wizard had something to be delivered to the market district, and then Amren needed someone to retrieve his old family sword that had been stolen by some bandits. You know.”
Stiles’ eyes widened in astonishment. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say so much at one time before!” he blurted.
Derek shrugged. “Here, come and have a look at the smithy attached to the house. There’s no proper forge, but luckily both Adrianne Avenicci and Eorlund Grey-Mane allow me to use theirs.”
Stiles only knew the basics of smithing, mostly things he’d picked up watching Derek learn, but he could appreciate a well laid out crafting area. “So, I take it Grey-Mane agreed to teach you?”
“I had to join the Companions first, but I was thinking about doing that anyway. He’s a gruff man, but knowledgeable and kind.”
Stiles made an unattractive snorting sound. At Derek’s pointedly raised eyebrows, he explained. “It’s just weird to hear you describe someone else as gruff. Don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true.”
Derek shrugged again. “So, are we going to Bleak Falls Barrow to pick up this dragonstone?” he asked, not bothering to be subtle about the change in subject.
Despite his reputation, Stiles could, in fact, take a hint. It helped that he knew that he had the next several months to worm all the interesting stuff out of Derek anyway. “There are some things I’ll want to offload at the general store first,” he mentioned, following Derek back inside.
“Here,” Derek said, going over to a chest and lifting out a beautiful if deadly looking bow that matched the dark armour he was wearing. “I made this for you, since last I knew you were still carrying around that dwarven bow I made you. I see you’ve still got it.”
Stiles ran his hands over the curves and pointy bits. “This is a badass looking bow, Derek.” He took one of the arrows Derek held out and tested the draw before sighting and loosing it. The release was smooth and quiet, the arrow moved swiftly, and the thunk as it buried itself in one of the target style decorations sitting high on the wall showed the power of the weapon. It would be excellent for long distance sniping. “Derek, you made this? This is amazing!”
“I also made you a set of light armour,” Derek went on. “The best light armour that I have the materials for is what they call glass, a mix of refined moonstone and refined malachite. Eorlund told me that there’s an enchanted ice that can make a stronger, better, armour without sacrificing the manoeuvrability, but he’s never had the chance to work with it. The glass set is down in the basement.”
“Dude, this place has a basement?” Stiles asked. “Cool. Come on; take me to see this armour.”
Even though it was light armour, it was still rather heavier than what Stiles had been used to wearing. He spent the day with Derek in Whiterun, getting rid of anything saleable and greeting the people he’d met the last time he was there.
One thing that he noticed immediately was that the guards were all calling Derek ‘Harbinger’ in tones of great respect.
“Harbinger?” Stiles asked, unable to stop himself after the third guard congratulated him on ‘slaying those Glenmoril Witches’.
“I’ll tell you about it later,” Derek responded tersely, sounding more like the Derek Stiles had known back in Beacon Hills.
They finished up their day in The Bannered Mare, sharing a drink with Adrianne and Ulfberth before making their way back to their cosy little homestead by the river. Despite there being two empty beds in the same room, neither suggested that they shouldn’t share, and Stiles woke up from another refreshing sleep with Derek’s warmth at his back.
They set out the next morning for Bleak Falls Barrow, following the road most of the way towards Riverwood before leaving it to take the path up the hill. The air was quite chilly and Stiles took every opportunity to test his new bow out, bagging several rabbits, a deer, and two wolves.
“What?” he said when he noticed Derek rolling his eyes. “There’s this lady in Riften who taught me a neat way of preserving meat so that it doesn’t spoil, and don’t try and tell me you can’t think of something to use the pelts for.”
“I’d like to get there sometime today, Stiles,” Derek replied. He was watching the path ahead keenly.
“Something interesting in that direction?” Stiles asked as he put everything away and got ready to move on.
“There are some bandits up ahead,” Derek answered. “They’ll no doubt attack us as soon as they see us.”
“I know, right?” Stiles grumbled. “It’s crazy how many homicidal nut-jobs there are in this place. With the number I’ve killed you’d think they’d be rather more few and far between at this point. Still, it’s a chance to pick up some gear and coin. Give me enough warning and I can check out the distance I’ll get from this bow.”
While they were talking, the sky had clouded over. Derek sniffed the air. “Snow,” he said shortly.
“In spring? Just what we need,” Stiles muttered.
There were three bandits holed up just ahead in a derelict tower. Stiles managed to snipe two of them with his bow, and Derek took the remaining one out with a rather impressive looking axe and dagger combo that took the bandit’s head clean off.
“Are you showing off?” Stiles asked suspiciously as he looted the corpse of the leader, finding nothing aside from an amethyst and a few coins.
Derek ignored him. “There’s nothing in this chest but a couple of steel weapons and a small health potion,” he reported from the lookout perch.
“Bring the potion, leave the rest,” Stiles instructed.
Derek was frowning as he handed the potion over for Stiles to store.
“You totally were showing off,” Stiles said as they continued. “Not that I blame you, that move kicked ass. If I could do that I would be doing it all the time. Would you consider teaching it to me?”
“It’s a bit limited. It can only be used as a finishing move,” Derek warned him. “It’s terrible defensively, leaves you open. If you’re serious about one-handed weapons you’re better off learning the more traditional moves first.”
“I’ve been considering carrying a mace,” Stiles revealed. “That way I can throw fireballs or lightning with one hand, and have a close-combat option for when things get a bit hairy.”
“Right, I’ve seen people doing that,” Derek said, eyebrows drawn together.
Stiles sighed. “You mean, right before you killed them, don’t you?” He shook his head. “Maybe I’m just not cut out for melee fighting.”
“No, I think it’s a good choice for you,” was Derek’s unexpected reply. “The biggest issue I’ve seen with it was the wielder’s inability to split their concentration enough to be properly effective with either, let alone both. But you’ve always excelled at doing several things at once.”
“You mean you’ll teach me that move?”
“That move is for a bladed weapon, it won’t work with a mace.” Derek shook his head. “Amren might know of something to interest you. Or I could teach you the war axe, or more traditional one-handed blades like sword or dagger. Either way, you need to gain a certain proficiency before you start relying on it in a fight.”
“Something to think about when we’ve finished here,” Stiles said as they rounded the bend to the sight of nordic architecture. “I think this is it. Bleak Falls Barrow.”
“Complete with bandit infestation,” Derek noted, lifting his axe and dagger into the ready positions as a cry of alarm rose from the structure ahead. “After you.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Stile murmured, lining up his first shot.
Bleak Falls Barrow turned out to be fairly typical for nordic burial sites.
“What I don’t understand,” Stiles said as he pocketed another stamina potion, “is who exactly is running around distributing potions and leaving torches lit in these places?”
Derek was frowning again. “You’re not going to use those, are you?” he asked, disapproval all over his face. “You have no idea how long they’ve been here, or the skill of the person who made them.”
“Relax,” Stiles said with breezy self-assurance. “My restoration magic is usually up to the task. If that’s not enough, then Colette Marence—the restoration master at the College—is only too happy to provide me with all the scrolls I need. I’ve tested them extensively, and they’re always excellent.”
Derek’s frown deepened and he looked Stiles over critically. Stiles waited patiently for whatever it was that Derek was thinking to percolate through enough that he could verbalise it.
“If you’re not using them, then what are you doing with them? Why collect them at all?”
Stiles snorted. “Selling them, of course. Oh, don’t look at me like that! I always tell the buyers that they’re ‘found’ potions and that I can’t guarantee their potency or even their effectiveness. Stenvar used to use them as well, of course. Said he wasn’t too keen on fancy mage business.”
Derek shook his head and carried on down the corridor. They arrived just in time to watch a bandit pull a lever that resulted in him being showered with poisoned darts. He died almost instantly.
“Another candidate for the Darwin Awards,” Stiles said as they proceeded cautiously into the room and saw the puzzle the bandit had been trying to solve. “These things aren’t exactly rocket science, you know. And look, the missing plate is over there on the floor! Not that noticing it would have helped this dude; he didn’t manage to even get one of the three right.”
Before too long they heard a voice calling for help. It was coming from beyond a doorway that had a thick web blocking it. Derek sliced through it, and together they faced the injured spider on the other side.
If this had happened directly after Stiles had found himself in this place, the size of the spider might have terrified him. But by now he’d seen a number of things considerably scarier, and gigantic arachnids no longer had the power to unnerve him. He dropped his bow to his right hand and lifted his left, channelling electricity directly into the huge creature. Given its size, it was rather difficult to miss, and it lasted only two seconds before it died.
Stiles lifted his hand and blew on the tips of his fingers, before using them to wipe imaginary gore from his new breastplate. “No need to thank me, just part of the service,” he said to the room in general.
Derek rolled his eyes and strode forward to where a bandit had been wrapped in web and was now struggling to get free, pleading for help, promising to show them a great treasure.
Stiles watched as Derek obligingly cut the man down, shaking his head as he showed his appreciation by taking off.
“Well, that’s gratitude for you,” Stiles said, joining Derek. “Come on, this dragonstone has to be around here somewhere.”
The distinctive sound of draugr shuffling about had them readying their weapons again. It looked like their fleeing bandit had woken too many to handle on his own, and he now lay dead on the floor.
After taking care of the remaining draugr, Stiles shrugged and started rifling through the bandit’s gear as well. “Well, well, what have we here,” he said as he lifted out a golden claw. “This is what the store owner and his sister were telling us about. We might as well return it to them.”
“Whatever,” Derek said indifferently. “Come on, I’m getting sick of this place.”
The barrow went on and on, but eventually, they found the dragonstone on the corpse of a draugr guarding another one of those walls with writing that glowed and made Stiles feel funny. It was also carrying an ebony blade that reminded Stiles that he was considering weapons training. He lifted it and hefted it a few times. It was heavier than it looked, and Stiles very nearly sliced his foot off.
Derek took it off him. “I’ll carry that,” he said firmly. “And maybe we’ll start you out with a dagger. Hopefully, you’ll be more of a threat to your enemies than yourself.”
“Oh ha ha,” Stiles muttered sarcastically. “I’ll have you know that that was completely intentional.”
“Right. Well, come on. If we hurry we can get the claw back to that shop before it closes.”
“Keep your fur on, I’m coming,” Stiles grumbled.
The nearby exit from the whole complex was on a hillside, Riverwood in the distance across the river off to the left.
“What should we do after we drop off the dragonstone?” Derek asked as they picked their way down the rocky area towards the river.
Stiles considered that thought. “Well,” he ventured, sneaking glances at Derek to see if he could decipher his reaction, “I received a letter from the Jarl of Falkreath asking me to visit him if I want to become a Thane.”
Derek stopped and looked at him. “What?”
“I know right?” Stiles said, nodding. “Here, I’ll show it to you. It says that he’s heard of my exploits and thinks I may be of some use to him.”
Derek stared at him a bit longer. “Well, why not?” he said abruptly, turning away and picking up the pace.
“Why not?” Stiles asked aghast, trotting after him. “What do you mean, ‘Why not?’? There could be nefarious plans afoot! We could be falling right into them! We could be walking into a trap!”
“Falkreath isn’t far from here,” Derek commented. “Shall we see what the Jarl wants before we head back to Whiterun?”
“Derek! Don’t ignore me, Derek!”
After checking his map Stiles realised that Derek was right, Falkreath really wasn’t all that far away as the crow flies. And if they followed the river around, that would take out a great deal of the road distance.
Despite all the greenery around, the main town in Falkreath gave off a gloomy atmosphere not helped by the townspeople’s predilection for naming all of their buildings with a general ‘death’ theme. They’d arrived before the Jarl was giving audiences, so Stiles and Derek spent the morning running an urn down to the cemetery for some coin and helping a local farmer harvest his vegetable crop.
This Jarl wasn’t anything like Balgruuf in Whiterun. He seemed very self-absorbed, and the reason he wanted Stiles to work for him was that he didn’t want his own people to know that he’d been in collusion with a nearby nest of bandits. Apparently, the bandits had decided they should reduce the Jarl’s percentage of the takings, and in retaliation Jarl Siddgeir wanted them wiped out.
It wasn’t all that far, so Stiles and Derek agreed to take the job. Returning back several days later with news of their success had the Jarl pleased enough to offer Stiles the chance to buy a house in Falkreath and the title of Thane. Stiles agreed, since there seemed no great reason not to.
“So,” he said as they walked over to the general store to sell the spoils from their bandit raid. “Are we going to buy a house?”
Derek’s eyebrows were set at confused disapproval. “We already have a house. Why would we need another one?”
“Oh, come on!” Stiles said, doing his best ‘coaxing’ voice and hoping it didn’t sound as whiny as he suspected it did. “What harm does it do to have another one? And you have to admit that Falkreath is pretty beautiful.”
Derek didn’t look convinced. Stiles broke off the argument to talk to the man behind the counter of Gray Pine Goods, since he generally got better prices for their wares than Derek did.
He resumed the argument as soon as that was done. “Look,” he said, taking a different tack. “It doesn’t really matter if we need it since I’ve decided that I want it. I’ll find out how much a house here is, and then I can pay for it out of my share of the proceeds. Fair?”
“Fine,” Derek growled, stalking back towards the Jarl’s Longhouse.
The Jarl’s steward didn’t have any houses to sell, but she did offer them a property overlooking the lake where they could build their own. The cost of the land was well within Stiles’ means, so he handed over the gold in return for the deed.
“Come on,” Stiles said, tucking the deed into his pack. “We can go and look at the site and then we can make our way to Whiterun. Besides, working on the house will give us something to do next winter.”
Derek’s eyebrows looked like they were going to lift off his face. “You’re planning to build the house yourself?”
“How hard can it be?” Stiles replied. “Wait! Don’t answer that. It doesn’t really matter though; we can always hire people to do the work and just supervise them.”
Derek just shook his head.
The property site was a charming spot with a great view. Stiles kind of wished they could get down to building their house right then, especially as it seemed that a lot of building materials had already been delivered and were sitting there waiting.
Still, he had agreed to get the dragonstone to Farengar, and he needed some time to decide what kind of house he wanted to build as well.
When they got to Dragonsreach, Farengar already had a visitor. There was something familiar about her, and she looked to be involved with the dragon project.
Stiles handed over the dragonstone.
Almost immediately Irileth—Jarl Balgruuf’s housecarl—ran in to tell them of a dragon sighting by the western watchtower. She invited Stiles along to hear the guard’s report, since he had the most recent experience with dragons.
Stiles and Derek exchanged shrugs and followed her up a wooden staircase to what looked like a wide open council area, with a carefully marked map in front of two giant doors that must lead to outside.
Stiles listened with interest as the terrified guard spoke of running for the hold, certain that the dragon would swoop down at any moment. The Jarl issued orders to Irileth to take some men to where the dragon had been sighted, and then turned to Stiles.
“There’s no time to stand on ceremony, my friend. I need your help again. I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this dragon. You survived Helgen, so you have more experience with dragons than anyone else here. But I haven’t forgotten the service you did for me in retrieving the dragonstone for Farengar. As a token of my esteem, I have instructed Avenicci that you are now permitted to purchase property in the city. And please accept this gift from my personal armoury.” He passed over a dwarven war axe, before dismissing Stiles and turning to his steward, clearly taking Stiles’ compliance for granted.
Stiles was all ready to tell the Jarl where he could stick his orders, when Derek nudged his arm.
“Let’s go,” Derek said quietly, eyes shining, “I want to see a dragon.”
Stiles sent one more frown at the oblivious Jarl’s back before nodding at Derek and making his way back downstairs and out the front doors. “Just remember that not all of us have werewolf healing,” he said as they jogged down the stone steps towards the Cloud District.
Stiles was silent on the way back to Whiterun to report the defeat of the dragon to the Jarl. Whatever it was in that swirly windy thing that had been transferred from the dead dragon into him had awoken something inside him that he wasn’t sure he liked.
The awestruck guards had called him ‘Dragonborn’, and insisted he try to ‘Shout’. Stiles had tapped into that feeling, and the noise that he produced had almost visible force behind it. That had clinched it for the guards, and Derek had yet to say anything. Stiles wondered what this meant, whether this was part of the path that the Augur had said he must walk before being returned to his correct universe.
The whole thing was making little sense.
“You smell different now,” Derek said abruptly as they neared the Whiterun Stables.
“Whatever it was that you absorbed from the dragon, it made you smell different,” Derek said, not that his explanation helped Stiles at all.
Stiles opened his mouth to ask what Derek meant by that when the ground shook beneath them and thunder sounded directly overhead despite the clear sky. On the edge of the thunderclap a voice could be heard, calling something in a language that Stiles didn’t recognise.
Then it stopped. Clouds quickly gathered, and by the time they got to the city gates, it had started raining.
Stiles turned to Derek. “This whole thing is nuts,” he began. “It makes no sense. But if going through with it means that we get home, then I guess that is what we have to do. Still, I want it on record that I protest this whole business.”
“I’m not sorry that it’s you rather than me,” Derek replied. His frown softened. “You’ll do fine, you know. You’re possibly the most adaptable person I’ve ever met.”
“Yes, well,” Stiles said, feeling a little flustered. He sneaked another glance at Derek’s face. “Shall we get on with it then? The sooner we get this done, the sooner we get home.”
Less than an hour later, they were walking down the stone steps from Dragonsreach towards the Cloud District for the second time in one day. This time Stiles was silent with shock. He remained silent through the streets, all the way back to their cosy little homestead in the tundra.
“I’m going to have a dip in the river,” he said, after dropping his gear off just inside the door. He really needed to let off some steam.
“I’ll come with you,” Derek offered. “The mudcrabs can get pretty belligerent, and I think there’s a sabre cat lair nearby.”
“I can look after myself!” Stiles said, turning on Derek angrily, fast enough to see him flinch. Normally he would have found that concerning, but right now Stiles didn’t care. “I might not be an all-powerful werewolf with shiny healing powers, but I’m a powerful mage! The Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold, in fact! I don’t need you to protect me from every little danger anymore!”
“Fine,” Derek said stonily, putting his gear away with a care that for some reason only infuriated Stiles more. “I’ll be at the smithing station. Give me a yell if you need me, yeah?”
Stiles was so angry he wanted to break things. “I said I don’t need you watching out for me! Just leave me alone!”
“It may surprise you to discover that not all of my plans revolve around you. In case you hadn’t noticed, Stiles, smithing happens to be a hobby of mine,” Derek said with sarcasm that rivalled Stiles’ own. “One I plan to indulge this afternoon. If you can’t stand to be within range of my senses, I’d suggest you go upstream a ways, since moving the smithy station would be rather difficult.” He turned on his heel and was gone.
Stiles managed to maintain his fury all the way to the river. The freezing cold water served to simultaneously refresh and restore him, and by the time he emerged fifteen minutes later his anger had died, leaving only the fear that had been fueling it.
His path back to the house took him past the smithy. Derek looked all set to ignore him, and in truth, Stiles couldn’t blame him. He stopped for a moment, mesmerised by the smooth motions as Derek shaped metal to his desire. His work had gained a deftness and control that had only been hinted at during those first days in Whiterun, when they’d both been so hopeful that the College would hold the way home.
The bite of the wind broke him out of his contemplative daze. “I’ll get dinner on,” he said as Derek moved from the anvil to the grinder. “Come in when you get hungry.”
He stayed long enough to see Derek give a sharp jerk of his head in acknowledgement, and then went inside. Pottering around the fireplace kept him distracted enough for a little while, and it wasn’t until a basic stew was in the pot and the small housekeeping chores were taken care of that Stiles had time to properly reflect on what had been said in Dragonsreach.
“Do you want to tell me what that was all about?” came the familiar voice from right behind him.
Stiles jumped, his heart leaping into his throat. “Oh my god, creeper-wolf, don’t sneak up on me like that! How can you sneak so well while wearing heavy armour?”
Derek gave him a glare reminiscent of the first days of their acquaintance. “Some of us have an inherent grace and style, and are able to walk around without tripping on every tree root in the vicinity.”
“Right,” Stiles said, doing his best to muster up his old snark. “You keep telling yourself that, Fido.”
Derek shook his head, but his shoulders relaxed slightly. He went downstairs to remove his armour, and when he came back, Stiles had the stew ready to be ladled out. They were silent for the brief time it took them to eat. Stiles’ stew was edible, but still barely palatable.
One thing this adventure—or nightmare, but adventure sounded less terror-inducing—had done for Stiles was make him appreciate the convenience of supermarkets and the range of seasonings and spices always available, not to mention things like fridges, stoves, and microwave ovens. Although he had noticed that his ADHD was a lot better than he’d expected it to be when he realised that he was stranded without his medication. He wasn’t sure what that meant.
“You ready to talk yet?” Derek asked when they’d finished eating.
“Yeah, imagine that, me having to be coaxed to talk about my feelings by the master of the angsty silent brood,” Stiles said, moving over to stretch out on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“No one would believe me,” Derek agreed solemnly. “Other than your dad, maybe Lydia. Peter.”
Stiles lifted his head to give Derek a questioning look.
“There are people around you who have noticed that you use words as a distraction,” Derek informed him. “You talk a lot, share a lot of minor details about what you do every day. It gives the impression that you overshare, that everything’s out there for everyone to see. But anyone who’s paying attention can hear that it’s all just surface stuff. You keep your inner self tightly guarded, and who can blame you? You might think no one’s noticed, but we have.”
Stiles blinked furiously. “Something from the ceiling must have fallen in my eyes,” he said, not even trying to sound convincing as he swiped at the moisture that had appeared there.
“Right.” Derek nodded. “Now, you haven’t answered the question yet.”
Stiles snorted. “You’re like a dog with a bone. No, wait, sorry, that was uncalled for.” He sighed. “I’ll tell you, I’m just…”
“Freaked out,” Stiles corrected. “You heard the guards, and the Jarl and his brother, right? Comparing me to Tiber Septim?”
Derek cocked his head slightly to one side. “The name is familiar, but I can’t quite place it.”
“He’s the dude who united all of Tamriel under one rule,” Stiles replied, head thunking back onto the pillow. “The first Emperor. The coins are named after his dynasty.”
“Right, the septims,” Derek nodded.
Stiles gave a humourless laugh. “I’m sure you’ve heard that priest dude who’s set up at the base of Dragonsreach preaching about Talos, the hero-god of mankind? Well, Talos was another one of Tiber Septim’s names. The Talos they worship, that they’ve hung the pivot of the Stormcloak rebellion on, is Tiber Septim.”
Derek frowned. “You think they’re going to expect you to be a legendary hero, the same as him?”
“It’s already started,” Stiles said unhappily. “The guards, the Jarl and his brother. Going on about me being Dragonborn. Insisting I go and see some mystical monks who live high on the tallest mountain around. I’m not psychic, but I do have enough foresight to see how this is going. I don’t want to be a big damn hero. That was always Scott’s dream, not mine.”
“I thought you wanted to be Batman?”
“What I liked about Batman was that he kicked ass even though he had no special powers,” Stiles replied. “Aside from monumental wealth, I suppose. That’s kind of a special power all on its own. Still, in some ways, he was a real dick. He kept capturing and incarcerating the same villains again and again, refusing to use lethal measures. And as a result, those same villains were constantly getting free and going on further murderous rampages. He should have killed them, if not the first time he defeated them, then at least the second.”
“You don’t think Batman was a metaphor about a man continually having to triumph over his own base nature?” Derek asked. “Like a comic book reversal of Fight Club?”
“Who knows?” Stiles shrugged. “Still not something to aspire to. Not for real, anyway.”
“Then why do you go on about him so much?”
Stiles flapped a hand. “It’s part of my persona. The shrink I was sent to see after my mom died gave me a pretty good indicator of what society would consider to be acceptable ambitions and role models for pre-adolescent boys.”
“Your shrink advised you to develop a persona?” Derek sounded incredulous.
“No,” Stiles admitted. “But I tailored my persona to his reactions since I didn’t enjoy the sessions, and wanted to finish them without a detrimental label tied to my life. It seemed like a good idea to continue with it as a preventative measure.”
Derek shook his head, but didn’t say anything.
Stiles sighed, feeling bone-weary all of a sudden. “I just want to get back to my Dad,” he said, rubbing his hand over his aching eyes. “They’re setting me up to be a hero, and you said it yourself, I trip over every tree root in the vicinity. I’m going to fail, and my Dad is never going to know what happened to me.”
“We are going back,” Derek’s voice was lower than usual, intense. “Because it’s not just you, there’s me too. I know, I’m no more legend material than you think you are, but between us we’d make one pretty good hero, I think. We’ll do this together, you and me.”
Stiles removed his hand from his eyes and gazed at him. “Okay,” he said, after a moment. “We’ll do it together.”
Something changed between them after that conversation. It felt like an invisible barrier that had been between them had disappeared, leaving both of them more ready to offer touch as a means of reassurance
They continued sleeping in the same bed, but instead of maintaining a respectable distance between their bodies Stiles started waking up either curled around Derek or being cuddled quite firmly. Stiles soon discovered that Derek often woke in the same condition as he did. They still didn’t talk about it, but they no longer tried to hide it either.
There were the other innocuous touches as well. Hands brushing together as they passed various items to each other, sitting side-by-side and rubbing shoulders rather than opposite each other when they ate in an inn or tavern. Derek started clasping his hand to the back of Stiles’ neck once or twice a day, and Stiles got used to ruffling Derek’s hair, which was soft and fluffy now he wasn’t assaulting it with product on a daily basis.
This new closeness wasn’t helping Stiles deal with the crush that he had on Derek. It was bad enough when he was just looking, the guy was prime spank bank material after all. But learning that Derek was a considerate housemate who always cleaned up after himself as well as finding out the dude liked making things with his hands and then presenting them as gifts, and the way he now offered the occasional small smile and could relax in his presence—Stiles was self-aware enough to know that his feelings were growing deeper by the day.
It wasn’t until he was getting regular physical contact again that Stiles realised just how much he’d been missing it. It had been months since they’d been stranded in this strange world, months where most of the skin-on-skin contact he’d had was in violence, when people were trying their best to kill him.
When he thought about it, it would have been even longer for Derek. Derek’s sister had been dead for over a year now, and who would have stepped into her place to offer the casual, reassuring touches that family bestowed upon each other without thought. Peter? Not likely.
Of course, there was always Miss Blake. Derek had looked to be getting pretty cosy with her not long before their trip into weirdsville. He was probably missing her.
“You must be real pissed that this whole thing dragged you away from your girlfriend,” he said as they were clearing out their kitchen before their trip to High Hrothgar. “Sorry, dude. That’s pretty shitty.”
Derek looked up, eyebrows drawn together. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Oh, you guys were just casual?” Stiles replied. “Well, that’s good I suppose.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Derek said impatiently.
“Miss Blake,” Stiles said, wondering if Derek had thought he was keeping her a secret. If so, he needed some better skills.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Derek repeated, going back to chopping vegetables for the stewpot with considerably more force than he had been using previously.
Stiles sat back on his heels. “Miss Blake,” he repeated. “Jennifer Blake, our new English teacher.”
Derek shrugged. “I think Isaac’s mentioned her, but I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Derek, Scott told me that you rescued her when Boyd and Cora were moon mad,” Stiles said slowly, trying to figure out what Derek’s memory loss could mean. “You let them rip you up so that they would be distracted. And Scott mentioned that he’s smelt you on her a couple of times since then.”
Derek put his knife down and gave Stiles his full attention. “I remember going in to get Cora and Boyd,” he said. “I don’t remember anyone else in there.” His frown deepened. “But if there was no one else there, then why did they need to be distracted?”
“Something or someone is making you forget her,” Stiles said grimly, a sinking feeling in his stomach at the possible connotations that presented themselves. “Who? And, perhaps more importantly why? I mean, it’s probably her. Considering all the other weird stuff that’s happened in her class, it’s pretty damning. She has to be part of what was going on, either a victim or the bad guy. And given your memory malfunction along with our recent luck with new faculty, I’m going with bad guy.”
Derek was looking thunderous. “I don’t like my mind being messed with,” he bit out. “I don’t care why, I want it to stop.”
Stiles nodded. “I’ll make enquiries at the College. They may know some way of protecting the mind, for when we go back. Then we can get some answers.”
“When we get back I’ll find out who’s responsible and rip their throat out.”
“Yeah, I know, dude,” Stiles said fondly. “With your teeth.”
“Don’t call me dude.”
Taking advantage of his new position as Thane of Whiterun, Stiles bought the house right next door to Derek’s favourite smithy.
“Come on, it makes sense!” he insisted when Derek objected. “There might come a time when a house located inside a defensible city comes in handy! Also, I want it, and we can afford it! That housecarl the Jarl assigned to me, Lydia, she can stay there so it’s not like it’ll be empty when we’re not there.”
Derek sighed. “I suppose it will make stumbling home from The Bannered Mare at three in the morning a bit safer,” he acknowledged grudgingly.
“I’ll just arrange for Adrianne’s father to organise the furnishing, and we can make that trip to see the monks in High Hrothgar. Hey, do you think Uthgerd would be interested in being a steward? Cause I could use someone to live in the Falkreath house and take care of it.”
Housing situation sorted for the moment, Stiles decided it was time to give his pack a proper clear out. He’d been in the habit of putting random interesting things in, and he was getting close to the pack’s magical weight limit. He started by pulling items out one at a time to decide whether he really needed them. “Why am I even carrying some of this stuff?” he muttered, looking at a pile of alchemy reagents that he had carefully stored away. It was next to a group of soul gems, divided neatly into piles based on value, with separate piles for filled gems. There was the odd nugget of gold or ebony, two flawless sapphires, and a heap of amethysts.
Then there were all the small things that Stiles had been carrying around with the vague idea that they’d be useful one day. A piece of mammoth tusk, some leather strips. A lot of it had been in his pack for a very long time, and he’d never once used any of it.
“What the hell,” said Stiles, and proceeded to tip everything out. When his pack was empty of everything—including septims and lockpicks—he began the task of deciding what was truly important enough to carry around with him.
He was debating on the importance of carrying the official Arch-Mage’s robes with him—they weren’t much when it came to physical protection, but did reinforce and augment his magical stores when worn, and they were pretty light, so maybe it would pay to keep them on hand—when he heard Derek coming down the ladder.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” Derek said, taking in what was happening with one swift glance.
“Do you know how much absolute crap was in here?” Stiles demanded, picking up a wooden plate and waving it in front of Derek’s face. “I seem to have a hoard of cabbages and leeks, and why do I have so many cheese wheels? It’s ridiculous! Thank goodness the magic on these packs has a good preservative function to it. And look at this! A plate, Derek! A wooden plate! I have no idea how that even got in there! And I had three ruined books and two empty wine bottles! We don’t even drink wine!”
“So get rid of them,” Derek said with a shrug.
Stiles scoffed. “Of course I’m going to get rid of them. What is baffling me is how they ended up in there in the first place, and why I never noticed them before.”
Derek watched Stiles’ careful sorting process quietly for several minutes. “Do you think I should clear out my pack as well?” he asked.
“Can’t hurt,” Stiles replied, looking with disdain at the clothes—if they could truly be called that—that he had been wearing when he’d nearly had his head cut off. He kicked them away and moved on to his pile of leather, weighing the options.
Derek’s pack wasn’t full of vegetables like Stiles’ was, but it did have a rather large pile of salmon, rabbit, venison, and goat meat, and even more cheese. It was also no surprise that Derek was carrying a lot more crafting materials around with him. Stiles was at first a little astonished by the sheer weight of it all put together, before remembering that Derek’s werewolf physiology gave him super strength.
“You know, I quite often forget that you’re a werewolf,” he said offhandedly, poking through some of the unsmelted ore samples. “Hang on; is this what moonstone looks like before it’s melted into ingots? It’s kind of pretty.”
There was no answer, and he looked up to find Derek studying him with a strange look on his face. “What?” he said, wondering if he’d somehow managed to smudge himself with charcoal. It wouldn’t be the first time, and Stenvar never bothered telling him, finding it hilarious.
“Nothing,” Derek said finally, going back to his task.
Stiles shrugged and continued stuffing the leather he had chosen into the bottom of his pack, where it would act as another layer between the rest of the contents and whatever weather managed to get through the tough outer casing.
After some internal debate, he decided that six staves were enough. He didn’t use them often, but they were very useful if he managed to exhaust his magic, and he’d prefer to lug around a bit of unnecessary weight than be without them when he truly needed the help.
It didn’t take long to get organised, and when they were finished Stiles and Derek locked up and headed out.
“It’s weird how normal it seems now,” Stiles said reflectively as they made their way to the main road. “Killing bandits and sabre cats, carrying a pack that by rights should weigh a couple of tons but instead is light enough that I sometimes forget I’m wearing it. Chatting with cat people and lizard people and green people with tusks. At first I was a bit in shock, you know? And now it just seems…”
“Normal,” agreed Derek with a nod.
That seemed to be all he had to say on the matter, and so Stiles turned his attention to their surroundings, keeping watch for anything that might try to jump out and kill them.
Stiles wasn’t particularly surprised when the trip to High Hrothgar that Jarl Balgruuf had sent him on led to another quest to retrieve some mystical horn, it was just par for the course. They fought their way through Ustengrav only to find that the horn had already been taken, replaced with a note from someone who directed him to meet with them in Riverwood.
Rolling his eyes at all the drama, he and Derek made their way back to The Sleeping Giant Inn. Their contact turned out to be the owner of the Inn, Delphine. She was also the person who had been visiting with Farengar when they had gone to hand over the dragonstone.
She tried to be mysterious at first, but after some annoyed questioning she revealed herself as part of an ancient society called the Blades. The Blades were dedicated to the eradication of dragons and had been forcibly disbanded by the Thalmor. She insisted that Stiles prove himself as Dragonborn before she would reveal anything further.
“You know, if I wasn’t so set on getting home I’d just tell her where to stick it,” Stiles said conversationally to Derek as they made their way to Kynesgrove, a small mining village near the site Delphine had determined the next dragon would rise from. Not that he was particularly worried about the dragon, since they’d met and defeated quite a few at this point.
“I wouldn’t blame you,” Derek agreed.
“Where do these people get off, just sending me here and there?” Stiles went on. “I mean, I’m the Arch-Mage! Not to mention a Thane in two separate holds. It’s not like there’s anything they can do to make me do what they want, so why aren’t they more respectful?”
“It’s a mystery for the ages,” Derek said amiably. “Come on, let’s get this done.”
“Are you even paying attention?” Stiles demanded as they neared the top of the rise.
“You’re so right,” Derek replied, “now hush. I hear a dragon voice. Delphine better get here soon, or it will be all over.”
Stiles fumed, but did as Derek commanded. Not because he had to do what Derek said, but because he wanted to. So there.
Having proved himself as Dragonborn, Stiles expected Delphine to have some interesting information for him. He was wrong. She had a whole lot of nothing, and a wild plan to find out something that inevitably put Stiles in the hot seat.
Before he knew what was happening, Stiles was being sent to infiltrate the Thalmor embassy. Derek was forbidden from accompanying him—apparently, his presence would ‘ruin’ the plan—but had promised to be lurking in the woods nearby in case Stiles needed assistance.
“This makes no sense!” Stiles hissed as he got changed into the fine clothes that Delphine had brought for him to wear as a disguise. “If they have any kind of intelligence network then they’re going to know exactly who I am! The whole thing is madness! Also, what is even the point? What are the chances that they’ll conveniently have their entire plan written down where I can find it in the short amount of time before it’s discovered that I’m a spy, which is only an issue if they don’t make me at the front door! This is insane!”
“I’ll be right outside,” Derek said tightly, straightening the collar of the garment and then clasping his hand over Stiles’ neck. “Just remember, if you think they’re on to you give me the signal.”
Stiles snorted with laughter. “Oh my god, this is the wrong time to give me a fit of the giggles, dude. If I go in there with the hiccups I’m not going to last a second!”
“You’ll be fine,” Derek assured him. “If in doubt, nuke the shit out of them with that Lightning Storm you’ve been practising.”
“I can’t keep it up for all that long,” Stiles replied, feeling more relaxed as Derek’s confidence influenced his mood.
“You don’t have to,” Derek promised. “As soon as I realise what’s happening I’ll be on my way in. Between the two of us, we’ll have it covered.”
Sure enough, the Embassy job ended in a slaughter. Amazingly, the Thalmor did have information lying around that Delphine considered useful. Apparently there was a member of the Blades who had escaped them, and they had tracked him to Riften.
“Once again we get the dirty work,” Stiles muttered as he and Derek made their way through the Ratway, the warrens underneath Riften that housed the Thieves’ Guild headquarters, amongst other things. “Literally, in this case. When we’re done here I want a holiday. Let’s go back to Falkreath and see if Uthgerd has managed to furnish my house yet.”
“You don’t want to hang out in Whiterun?” Derek asked, peering around a corner, head cocked to one side in order to hear what was up ahead. “If you never plan to stay in that house beside the smithy, why did you even buy it?”
“Cause I like the idea of having lots of houses,” Stiles mumbled. “And it’s terrible, Derek, I can’t stay there anymore, that’s where Lydia lives. You know she sits around watching us sleep? And eating. It’s creepy.”
“You think I’m creepy,” Derek reminded him.
Stiles rolled his eyes behind Derek’s back. “You were creepy. And if you start stalking teenage boys again when we get back home, then you will be creepy again.”
“I wasn’t stalking,” Derek stopped and turned back around so that Stiles could see his face. “I was worried about Scott losing control and killing people, and he refused to let me train him so the only thing I could think of to keep people safe was to—”
“Stalk him,” Stiles nodded. “Yes, as we’ve already established. And it was creepy.”
Derek made a noise of pure frustration. “Oh, for… let’s just get on with this, shall we? I want to just find this guy and get out of here.”
The member of the Blades they were looking for was a man named Esbern. After they escorted him back to Delphine, he instructed them to meet him at a place called the Sky Haven Temple, which apparently held something called Alduin’s Wall. Nice and ominous, considering that the dragon from Helgen who later turned up bringing a dragon back to life in Kynesgrove was called Alduin. Esbern offered to travel with them, but Stiles declined, saying that they had some other urgent business first.
That urgent business primarily involved spending a fortnight enjoying their house in Falkreath. They got the house finished and cleared out several groups of bandits nearby. They were going to do some fishing and swimming in the lake as well, right up until Stiles saw a group of slaughterfish taking down one of the big deer. After that he decided to maybe steer clear.
“This was nice,” Derek admitted, passing the lockpicks over to Stiles to pack as they got ready to leave. “It’s a nice house.”
Stiles squinted over at him. “Are you feeling well, dude? Was that physically painful for you?”
“Shut up,” Derek said, the twitch at the corner of his mouth making the glare he tried to give pretty ineffective. “Let’s go.”
Alduin’s Wall spoke of Alduin’s cruel subjugation of man and mer, the dragon war that followed, along with his banishment from the flow of time by use of an Elder Scroll. It foretold his eventual return, and that only the Dragonborn would have any hope of defeating him.
“Fan-fucking-tastic,” muttered Stiles, grateful for Derek’s strength and warmth at his back. “I fucking well knew it.”
Esbern and Delphine reluctantly agreed that Stiles needed to talk to the Greybeards at High Hrothgar, so Stiles and Derek set out to climb the seven thousand steps again.
“And now we need a fucking Elder Scroll,” Stiles said as they began down the mountain from High Hrothgar. “Still, it will be good to see if gro-Shub has picked up anything on defending against mind control.”
“I thought you might have forgotten about that,” Derek said quietly.
“Hell no,” Stiles replied emphatically. “You’re not the only one interested in protecting his mind. The closest solution I’ve been able to come up with on my own is wearing enchanted rings and amulets with the Resist Magic enchantment. It won’t be foolproof, but it will be better than nothing.”
“Would enchantments against the kind of magic in this universe even work against the magic in another universe?” Derek asked doubtfully.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
Urag gro-Shub had come to the same conclusion about mind magic that Stiles had.
“I had these made for you in anticipation of your request,” he said, showing them several rings and necklaces. Stiles could feel the strength of the enchantments contained within them. They were some of the strongest he’d come across. “I’ll let you have them for a bargain,” gro-Shub went on, “because you’re the Arch-Mage.”
Stiles quite happily forked over the gold that the grumpy orc asked for. He and Derek put their new jewellery on immediately, and Stiles—for one—felt instantly better for it.
“I’ve also heard of another way to raise your magic resistance,” gro-Shub said after pocketing his gold. “I was unable to verify it so I cannot recommend it with any certainty. The Temple of Mara of Riften has been rumoured to be able to bestow a blessing that increases your magic resistance permanently.”
“I’ll look into it,” Stiles said with a nod. “Thanks. Now, we’re also on the lookout for an Elder Scroll. You wouldn’t happen to have any of them here, would you?”
gro-Shub scoffed at the idea but was able to give them a couple of texts that referenced them. One of the books looked to be the writings of a madman. gro-Shub gave them directions to where the author was last seen, a crazy old mage who had made a lair out of an iceberg some ways north of the College.
“Thanks,” Stiles said again.
Septimus Signus spoke in riddles, but it seemed less like the deliberate holding back of information and hoarding of knowledge that Deaton liked to indulge in, and more a level of crazy that made him unable to do anything else.
He gave Stiles and Derek a cube that he wanted to be transcribed, something called an attunement sphere that would unlock a door, and directions to the Tower of Mzark in Blackreach, where the Elder Scroll could be found. It involved going through Alftand, which he was good enough to mark on their map.
“More dwemer ruins,” Stiles said with disgust, holding his new dragonbone bow at the ready. It wasn’t quite as impressive looking as the daedric one, but it performed better and in the end that was what really mattered. The new dragonscale armour Derek had made him was much nicer than his old glass set. Flexible and light, and better suited for camouflage, as well as having a high protective rating. It turned out that there were some advantages to periodic dragon attacks. Between them, Stiles and Derek probably had the biggest stash of dragonbone and dragonscale in Skyrim, maybe this whole world.
“The name ‘Blackreach’ doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, either,” Derek remarked. “Hey, didn’t that guy at the Mages College want you to find him ten dwemer cogs?”
“If he wants ten dwemer cogs then he can come and get them himself,” Stiles snarled as another mechanical spider dropped out from wherever they lived when they weren’t trying to kill people. Luckily an arrow in the right place was enough to bring them down, although they were tougher than the real spiders that could be found topside. “I am the Arch-Mage! I’m not some errand boy!”
“You know, you keep saying those words,” Derek said, mouth twitching up at the corners. “I do not think they mean what you think they mean.”
“You have to stop quoting awesome movies when we’re in mortal danger,” Stiles begged as he stopped beside the dead mechanical spider and wrenched what looked like an intact soul gem from its interior. “It’s getting more and more difficult to stop myself from jumping you, you know.” He carefully examined it for breakages before stowing it away.
He looked up at Derek, only to find himself being looked at somewhat assessingly. “What?”
Derek shook his head slightly. “Sorry, it just occurred to me… how long would you say that we’ve been here now?”
Stiles shrugged. “You mean here, as in Alfthand? I’d say three or four hours. Or here as in this universe? I’d say a couple of months short of a year. Why?”
“Right,” Derek hesitated. “It was September when we left. That means I would have had my birthday sometime in Sun’s Dusk. It didn’t even cross my mind.”
Stiles laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean, dude. Hey, if we’ve been here eight or nine months, then that means I missed my birthday too!”
“Did poor widdle Stiles miss out on his sweet sixteen?” Derek asked with mock sympathy, coming forward to take point.
“It would have been my eighteenth, birthday, I’ll have you know,” Stiles groused. “I was going to buy a lottery ticket and go skydiving.”
Derek stopped walking. “So right now you’re eighteen.”
Stiles nodded. “Yep. Right now this fine ass is legal. No longer jailbait, for what it’s worth. I still have exactly zero people lining up to despoil me.”
Stiles stopped beside Derek and peered ahead, trying to figure out what the delay was. “One what?”
“One person lining up to despoil you.”
Stiles’ heart started to pound so loudly he could hear it in his ears. Surely Derek hadn’t said what he thought he’d just said. “Can you even have a line of one? And are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Depends on what you think I’m saying.”
“That you want to play hide the Polish sausage with me?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “If that means that I’d like to ‘take our relationship to the next level’? Yes.”
Stiles looked around at the slightly battered dwemer architecture, the oil-slicked floor, the hissing steam vents, the pipes that might spit out either dwarven spiders or dwarven spheres at any moment. “Alright.”
“When we’re somewhere safe,” Derek said, the corners of his mouth quirking up. He leaned in and swiftly brushed his lips against Stiles’ once. “Right now we have a task to accomplish.” With that, he turned and carried on, as if he hadn’t just turned Stiles’ world upside down.
Stiles blinked a few times, lifting a hand to touch his tingling lips before hurrying to catch up. “Wait! What?” He almost absentmindedly killed another spider. “How? When? Come on, Derek, you can’t just say stuff like that and then carry on like normal!”
“Concentrate on what you’re doing,” Derek scolded him, picking up an intact arrow and passing it over before doing the usual search of the spider. Nothing interesting this time.
“How can you expect me to concentrate when you go and drop a bomb like that on me!” Stiles exclaimed loudly, triggering two dwarven spheres to emerge just ahead of them. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“Wait till we get home,” Derek repeated.
Stiles sighed, realising that Derek was unlikely to relent. “Yes, dear,” he muttered running his fingers over his tingling lips again. “This sucks. I’m going to be fighting with a half-filled love pump for the rest of the trip.”
Blackreach was an enormous underground city, housed in a cavern and lit by the phosphorescence of glowing mushrooms similar to those that could be found in other caves all over Skyrim. Unlike those, these mushrooms were huge, towering far above the buildings, sometimes swaying gently in some imaginary breeze.
It was also the home of quite a number of falmer—snow elves that had somehow been blinded and twisted and now lived underground along with their chaurus pets. The chaurus were insectoid but otherwise appeared to behave around the falmer as a sort of dog.
“Ugh, this is disgusting,” Stiles said under his breath as he shot another arrow into a slimy chaurus cocoon, making it explode with stinky green sludge everywhere.
“Be thankful you don’t have my sense of smell,” Derek grumbled. “I think out of all the horrible things that we’ve come across in this universe, these have to be the worst.”
“They are so incredibly gross,” Stiles agreed. “Worse than draugr or those giant spiders that wrap people up. They’re a visceral gross though. I’m still a bit hung up on soul gems.”
Derek grimaced. “I know what you mean. No one here really seems to care though, for all that Nords go on about Sovngarde.”
“The whole idea gives me a headache. Cause there’s a whole thing about the souls that fit in the smaller gems,” Stiles said. “You can stick a chicken soul in a petty soul gem, did you know that? So then the question is, do chickens have souls? If they do, then what would normally happen to them if they die—is there some chicken heaven or something? Which makes me consider vegetarianism. On the other hand, if there is no chicken afterlife then are soul gems actually capturing souls, or is it something else that they’ve just been calling a soul?”
“You’ve been thinking a lot about this.”
“Well, I wanted to learn how to enchant things,” Stiles explained. “And the whole ‘using souls as fuel’ thing is kinda a deal breaker for me. At least it is if they’re actual souls. If I could get reasonable assurance that they’re something else, some other kind of energy or something released at death and the person or being is not being harmed or affected by my use of the ‘soul’ after their death, then I would immediately begin practising and learn everything about enchantment that I could. But as it stands, I’m stuck. Right on the verge of vegetarianism.”
“I don’t think you need to worry about having to become vegetarian,” Derek offered. “The natural cycle of our world is predator and prey, carnivore, omnivore, and herbivore. Humans are omnivores, it’s natural for them to eat prey animals. Just perhaps make sure that your meat is ethically sourced.”
Stiles considered. “That is a very good argument. Fine, I can keep eating meat, which is what I wanted to do, so yay. But that doesn’t help me with the whole enchantment dilemma.”
“There may be no way to find an answer,” Derek said.
“I know. So no enchanting for Stiles. Which is a pity, cause I’ve seen some amazing things that I could have done with our armour and weapons.”
Derek considered that for a moment. “Can we pay someone to do them for us?” he asked.
“Well, there’s a guy at the college who takes commissions,” Stiles said thoughtfully. “I’ve done some pick-ups and deliveries for him. It might be a bit costly, but what else are we going to spend the gold on? Also, while it would be kinda morally grey as far as the consumption of souls goes, the overall expenditure of filled soul gems would overall be much lower since we wouldn’t need to take my learning curve into account.”
“You don’t want to buy more houses?”
“Nah,” Stiles said with a grin. “I think three will be enough. Plus my quarters at the College, of course.”
“And mine at Jorrvaskr.”
Stiles made his ‘yuck’ face. “I can’t go in there,” he complained. “The Companions all look at me funny.”
“You mean like how all the mages look at me,” Derek replied, voice bland.
“Derek, they look at you like they want to climb you and take a trip to pound town.”
“No, they look at me like I’m some kind of exotic species that needs to be studied.”
Stiles shook his head. “We’re not going to agree on this. Come on; let’s just concentrate on finding this Tower of Mzark and grabbing the Elder Scroll. Then we can go home and spend some time burping the worm in the mole hole.”
“Oh my god, where do you come up with these?”
Finding the Tower of Mzark involved traipsing all over Blackreach, which was huge considering that it was a single underground cavern. At various points they came across access shafts to the surface, all locked down from the inside. Stiles and Derek took advantage of every opportunity to get some fresh air and opened each one up again.
“But aren’t we just making it easier for the falmer to get up to the surface?” Stiles asked the second time they returned to the gloom.
Derek didn’t look particularly worried. “We’ve seen signs of them near the surface before,” he reminded him. “I imagine they’re perfectly capable of locking and unlocking these lifts themselves.”
“I suppose,” Stiles said doubtfully.
“Let’s try over here,” Derek said, indicating a general southwesterly direction.
After all the hassle it took to find the tower, getting through it and transcribing the cube and removing the Elder Scroll turned out to be rather simple. There was another exit from the tower straight up to the surface.
“Let’s never go down there ever again,” Stiles said vehemently. He gazed around at the snowy landscape considering their next move.
“Shouldn’t we be taking the cube back to Septimus Signus?” Derek asked.
“You know, I don’t know if I can be bothered,” Stiles replied. He turned to Derek. “Why don’t we just hire a courier to take it to him? I don’t really feel like freezing my ass off to play delivery boy, and I’m more concerned about getting rid of Alduin so that we can go home anyway.”
Derek shrugged. “Fine by me.”
“After we stop off at Whiterun,” Stiles amended. “You and I have some business to attend to.”
Derek sent him a look which heated his blood so fast he wondered for a brief moment if he was actually on fire. “After you.”
They stopped off in Whiterun first to find a courier for the cube, and to unload their loot. Stiles took advantage of Derek’s habit of getting into long involved discussions about smithing with Adrianne to stop by Arcadia’s Cauldron to see if she had something they could use as lube. Arcadia was as helpful as always, and Stiles was soon back.
Ulfberth watched Derek and Adrianne with approval. “It is good that Adrianne has someone to talk about her craft with,” he said when he saw Stiles watching him watch his wife. “Many smiths charge a lot of gold to learn from them, but Derek is always willing to teach for free. Not many are so generous.”
Stiles smiled at him. “Adrianne was generous with her knowledge first,” he reminded him. “You were too. Derek and I are both very grateful for the time you took with us when we were new here; you taught us some basic skills that have been invaluable.”
Ulfberth waved the comment away. “It was nothing,” he insisted.
“Right,” Stiles returned. “Nothing.” He nodded over towards where Derek was demonstrating something to Adrianne, gesturing with his hands in a way that obviously made sense to her given the way she was nodding away. “And so is that.”
“Where are you off to this time?” Ulfberth asked, changing the subject.
“We’re taking a holiday at the Tundra Homestead,” Stiles said. “When that’s done we’ll be headed back to High Hrothgar.”
“You sure spend a lot of time with those Greybeards.”
“Not really my choice,” Stiles said with a grimace. He gave a short, humourless laugh. “Hey, you want to hear something amusing? The Blades and the Greybeards appear to have a rather acrimonious relationship, it seems. Neither one can stand the other, for reasons neither have properly divulged to me. The Blades insist the Greybeards are cowards who lack the courage to use the power they have for good, and the Greybeards insist that the Blades are reckless and arrogant and meddle with matters that have nothing to do with them. Both sides gave me a good talking to about the importance of not letting myself being used as a tool, and didn’t seem to see any irony at all that they said this both before and after giving me tasks and instructions that they insisted that only I could perform.”
“That sounds frustrating,” Ulfberth said sympathetically.
“I don’t know if you guys use the saying ‘two sides of the same coin’ here, but those two groups epitomise that perfectly. If we didn’t need to get this all over with in order to be able to go home, I’d refuse to deal with both of them on principle.”
“I’m sure you’ll find your way,” Ulfberth said with an encouraging slap to the back that only staggered Stiles slightly. “Adrianne and I will miss your periodic visits and tales of valour, but it will be good for you to be back where you belong.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, wondering if he sounded as cynical as he felt. “Some days that life seems more and more like a dream, and not always a good one. Still, it’s what I’m working towards.”
“If you can get rid of the dragons, we’ll be in your debt,” Ulfberth declared.
“Not sure about all dragons,” Stiles temporised. “Alduin is the goal, and he’s the leader, but I don’t know if that will automatically reverse what he did with bringing those other dragons back to life or not.”
“Well, whatever happens, there’ll always be a bottle of mead here for you if you need it.”
Full armour was only sexy until it was time to get it off, Stiles decided as he struggled out of his dragonscale chestplate. Once he got it off, he looked at his sweaty undershirt with a bit of dismay. A tentative sniff did nothing to allay his fears. He winced at the thought of how he must smell to Derek’s enhanced senses.
“What say we go and take a dip,” Derek suggested, pretty much reading Stiles’ mind. “Bring some soap; we can have a good wash while we’re there.”
Walking naked together to the stream was a little weird. It wasn’t like it was the first time Stiles had seen Derek naked after all, it’s just that with the day’s plans ahead of them that nakedness seemed a hell of a lot different.
Derek brought his dagger with him, and Stiles made sure to ready a few fire spells in case they were interrupted by some of the more aggressive wildlife. The mudcrabs, in particular, seemed to have no sense of preservation.
The washing itself was rather fun. Derek was in a playful mood, initiating a good-natured splash fight. Their only interruption was from a rabbit that was being chased by a sabre-cat, and between Stiles’ fire and Derek’s dagger, that confrontation was over in under a minute. The brief fight just served to invigorate them more.
When they’d had enough of the water, Derek led the way back to their house, with Stiles following just far enough behind so as to have a prime view of Derek’s naked ass. The brief jog was enough to get them dry without getting them sweaty again, and by the time they made it through the front door a number of mutant butterflies had set themselves up in Stiles’ stomach.
“So, it’s probably important for you to remember that technically I’m still a virgin,” Stiles said as he fiddled with the small bowl of lube that he’d picked up from Arcadia earlier, feeling nervous all of a sudden.
Derek slowly raised one eyebrow in that effortlessly sexy way that simultaneously made Stiles horny and annoyed. It was a state he was used to being in when it came to Derek, although admittedly there had been less of the ‘annoyed’ since they had wound up in Skyrim.
“I don’t mean that you should be thinking about it the entire time,” Stiles went on hurriedly, “not unless you really want to, anyway. Just, you know, don’t expect a lot at first.”
“I was wondering at the use of the word ‘technically’,” Derek admitted, and took the bowl of lube from his hands and set it down beside the bed before he walked back over to stand in front of Stiles. He put his hands reassuringly on his shoulders. “Everyone was a virgin once, you know. So long as you don’t try anything like BDSM or water-sports without proper prior discussion and consent, and listen to me if I say no, then whatever you do or don’t do will be okay. You can touch me with your hands and mouth as much as you want, wherever you want.”
Just the thought of what he could do with that permission turned him on enough that Stiles reached out and dragged his hand in a curved motion from Derek’s left shoulder to his left hip, where he gripped the smooth skin, digging his fingers in slightly.
With a serious look on his face, Derek mirrored his actions.
“This is real,” Stiles said, the feel of warm skin under his hands ratcheting up his eagerness. Without thinking any more about what he was doing he leaned forward to give an open-mouthed kiss to the shoulder he’d just touched, revelling in the taste, and smell, and warmth. The way that Derek’s nipples tightened and the hitch in his breath made him even more aroused.
Derek’s grip on his shoulders spasmed for a brief second, and when Stiles looked up, it was to see that Derek’s pupils were blown wide. A feeling of power unlike any he’d ever felt before swept through Stiles, as he realised that Derek was as affected by him as he was by Derek.
“This is going to be the awesomest first bang ever,” he said fervently, before leaning forward and kissing Derek with all the skill and enthusiasm that he possessed.
Somewhere in there must have been the signal Derek was waiting for, because he went from passively accepting Stiles’ touch to being an active participant. He returned Stiles’ kiss with a hunger that Stiles hadn’t been expecting, running his hands down Stiles’ back until he reached his ass, cradling one cheek in each hand before pulling him close, bringing their naked bodies together and tumbling them to the bed, rolling slightly so that Stiles ended up on top.
The feel of his hard cock rubbing up against Derek’s warm skin brought Stiles closer to the edge than he wanted to be this soon. He broke the kiss with a gasp.
“Let go,” Derek whispered hoarsely. “It’s okay, just let go. I want you to, Stiles.”
The sound of his name on Derek’s lips was all that it took to send Stiles hurtling into orgasm.
“Yeah, like that,” Derek said, and pulled Stiles even closer so that Stiles’ cock was sliding through his own come, now all over Derek’s skin.
“Oh god,” Stiles said when he could speak again, “that was amazing. That was the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
“It gets better,” Derek promised, releasing Stiles’ butt to run his hands up and down his back in a manner that was both soothing and exciting.
“If I say that I don’t believe you, will that make you prove it?” Stiles asked, reaching down to hesitantly run his fingers along Derek’s unflagging erection. “I kinda feel a little bad that you didn’t get to come too.”
“Don’t,” Derek said with a groan, thrusting into Stiles’ hand. “I’m enjoying the wait.”
Stiles gave him a look that he hoped expressed his disbelief. “Not getting off is more enjoyable than getting off?” he asked sceptically.
“Knowing that you’re very definitely going to get off, and working your way up to it slowly,” Derek said, taking both of Stiles’ hands in his and raising them above his head, rolling them both over so that he was straddling his groin. He thrust down, grinning when Stiles’ cock began to thicken again. “Look who’s ready for round two.”
Being held in place by Derek was far more exciting than Stiles had expected. Whenever he’d watched bondage porn he’d always felt like he resonated more with the dominant rather than the submissive, but the way he was feeling now, perhaps being restrained would be better than doing the restraining. He could feel his heart racing, and his skin was heating up as Derek raked his gaze over him.
“Oh, you like that,” Derek murmured, shifting his weight in a tease that simultaneously aroused and frustrated Stiles. “Tell me what you want.”
“I want to fuck you,” Stiles gasped, letting his body writhe and enjoying the flash of fang that Derek displayed in answer, “I want you to fuck me. I want to suck and be sucked, I want you to hold me down and come all over me. I want everything.”
Derek gave a subvocal growl, leaning down to breathe in his ear. Stiles could not believe what a turn on warm breath in his ear was. He whimpered, trying to get more friction on his cock.
“I think that first I’ll fuck you,” said Derek, voice quiet and intense. “You’re going to lie there and take it. If you’re good, I’ll let you come with my cock in your hole, let you feel what it’s like to clench around something thick and hard when you come.”
Stiles moaned, feeling his cock get even harder.
“After that, you can fuck me,” Derek went on. “I’m a werewolf, the way that I heal means that each time I’ll start out nearly as tight as a virgin. It’s going to be hot, wet, tight, incredible. Every. Single. Time.”
“Oh god,” Stiles choked out.
“Hold onto the headboard,” Derek advised, releasing Stiles’ wrists and picking up the pot of lube.
Stiles did as he was told, reaching upwards even as he watched Derek’s mouth meander down his body, human teeth scraping at his nipples before moving lower. By the time Derek’s mouth reached Stiles’ cock, he felt like he was ready to blow again.
“I don’t know how long I can hold on,” he warned, even as he felt his fingernails scraping against the wood above him.
“You’ll hold on, all right,” Derek made his thumb and forefinger into an improvised cock ring. He slid his other hand around Stiles’ hip, letting his fingers drift into his crack but studiously avoiding the tight entrance. “For exactly as long as I want you to.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles said helplessly as Derek hovered like that for a long moment, close enough to his cock that he could feel his warm breath, close enough to his hole that if he only moved his hand a little bit, it would be right where he wanted to be touched. “Please, Derek, please!”
“Since you asked so nicely,” Derek murmured before licking the cock in front of him slowly with a flat tongue from base to tip. His middle finger rubbed gently against Stiles’ entrance, pushing gently. Not enough to get anywhere, just enough to hint at what was to come.
If Derek hadn’t been holding him back, Stiles knew he would have shot his load right then and there.
“Hmmm,” Derek murmured, the vibrations feeling amazing against Stiles skin. “Maybe it would be best to get you off again before I get my cock in you. I want you to be able to enjoy it, after all.”
“Yes! Yes, that sounds like a great plan!” Stiles babbled, twitching his hips as he tried to get more friction.
Derek’s hand disappeared for a moment, and when it returned his fingers were slippery, and they pushed more insistently at Stiles’ hole until one of them nudged just inside, just a little.
“Oh my god, Derek!” Stiles shouted, desperate. “I’ve managed to get three fingers in before, please just—” he broke off with a moan as Derek did what he asked, sliding the finger deeper, much deeper.
“Like that?” Derek asked solicitously, moving the finger around in a small circle before withdrawing it nearly all the way, only to thrust it back in again.
“You, you can give me another one,” Stiles gasped out, his whole body tingling. He was rewarded with another finger, and Derek’s mouth closing around the head of his cock. He didn’t suck, or lick, or do anything at all other than let it rest in the smooth, wet, heat of his mouth.
Stiles was still obediently holding onto the headboard, but his gaze was firmly locked on the sight of his cock in Derek’s mouth. Then Derek shot him a heated look and simultaneously rubbed his fingers over his prostate, ran his tongue lightly over that spot just under the head of his cock and released the tight hold that was preventing Stiles from coming.
Stiles instantly came so hard he saw stars. The realisation that Derek hadn’t removed his mouth from his cock and was swallowing only drove him higher.
When he came back to himself, he was lying limply on the bed. Derek was lying beside him mouthing at his hip, his whole body radiating tension. “Come on, big guy, fuck me,” he said with lazy satisfaction, rolling onto his front. He spread his legs and tilted his ass in invitation, hoping that Derek would get the message.
Derek did, although he seemed determined to take his time about it. He started with one finger again, before working back up to two, then three, going slowly and pressing open-mouthed kisses with just a touch of teeth to Stiles’ skin. When he added his little finger, Stiles wondered if he should be worried. Almost as the thought crossed his mind, Derek spoke.
“Don’t worry, there will be no fisting the virgin,” he promised. “I just want to make sure you’re ready.”
“Trust me, I’m ready,” Stiles assured him. Amazingly, he was beginning to feel stirrings of interest from his cock already.
“Yes, you are aren’t you,” Derek said, almost to himself. He got to his knees behind Stiles, keeping his right hand working at him while the other smoothed up and down his back.
Stiles could not believe how sexy that felt. He shifted to give his trapped cock more room to move, and Derek removed his fingers. “What? No!” Stiles objected loudly, until he realised that Derek wanted the use of both hands to lift Stiles ass a bit higher.
“Make sure you’re comfortable,” Derek advised him, voice slightly unsteady.
Stiles hurriedly positioned the pillows in the way that a lot of porn watching had told him worked well, and looked over his shoulder to watch Derek coat his cock with the lube.
Derek stroked himself several times before using that hand to test Stiles’ hole again. Stiles spread his legs wider, by now almost fully hard again.
The feel of Derek’s cockhead nudging at his opening was quite different to the feel of fingers. Stiles pushed back into it doing his best to relax. He was rewarded with Derek’s moan as his cock slipped in past the tight ring.
The preparation had obviously been pretty good, since Stiles felt nothing but great. “Deeper,” he said, pushing back again.
Derek’s hands grabbed him by the hips. “Just be patient,” he said tightly. “Unless you want this all over in the next ten seconds, that is.”
“Feeling a little on edge, are we?” Stiles asked impishly, giving a little teasing wiggle of his hips. That earned him a loud slap on his ass. The sound was more shocking than the sensation—Stiles barely noticed the sting—and he felt it go directly to his cock. It was his turn to moan.
“Well now, that’s interesting,” Derek said, and some of the tension had left his voice. He slowly began to push deeper, gaining an inch and then withdrawing again, only to go further on the next push.
Stiles did exactly as Derek had said he’d do, he lay there and took it, mouth hanging open as the pleasure rocked through him with every drag that Derek’s cock made past his prostate. Before too long Derek was all the way in, right up to the base.
He paused, and leaned over Stiles’ back to whisper in his ear, “Want me to fuck you now?”
“Oh god, yes,” Stiles agreed hurriedly.
“Not god,” Derek replied, beginning a slow steady rhythm that had Stiles feeling his body start building towards another orgasm. “Just Derek.”
“You think you’re funny?” Stiles asked.
Derek did a twist shimmy thing that made his cock rub against Stiles in all the right places. “I don’t know, what do you think?”
“I think you can think whatever you want, so long as you do that again,” Stiles gasped out, whimpering when Derek did it again. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, again, but I don’t think I’m going to last much longer,” Stiles managed to get out.
“Good,” Derek said, the edge of a growl in his voice only getting Stiles closer to the edge faster. He reached down with the hand that still had lube on it and began to stroke Stiles’ cock.
The feel of Derek’s hand stroking him was enough extra stimulation to send Stiles over again. He could feel himself clenching around Derek’s cock, and god, Derek was right, it was amazing. As soon as he’d stopped coming, Derek grabbed his hips in both hands, growled low in his throat and shoved his cock as deep as it would go, grinding there as he came.
In the intimacy of the afterglow, Stiles felt able to talk to Derek about something that had been on his mind for some time.
“Being here has been good for you,” he said, stretching his limbs out to make sure they all still worked while Derek gave them a quick wipe down with a handy cloth, turning away to get rid of it once he was done. “You’ve been able to relax.”
Derek was silent for a moment, before rolling back to curl into Stiles body, resting his nose in the juncture between his neck and his right shoulder.
“When I got back to Whiterun with J’zargo,” he began, his words easily discernible despite the slight muffling, “I realised that there were no expectations of me. I didn’t have to worry about keeping anyone safe. You were my only concern on that point, and you were snug within the confines of the College. Not to mention that you have an uncanny knack for surviving through things that should by rights have killed you.”
Stiles felt his face grow warm.
“There was no one that I’d disappointed, no one who had any preconceptions about me at all,” Derek went on. “No hunters to be afraid of, no one to be responsible for, no one to answer to. Not even the moon. There was just me and what I wanted to do.”
For the first time since he’d met him, Stiles actually tried to put himself in Derek’s shoes, look at events from Derek’s perspective and through lenses coloured by Derek’s experiences. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Oh, he’d tried several times to see things from Derek’s perspective, in a way, but it had been a limited effort that was primarily based around trying to predict Derek’s actions so they could be accounted for or countered, rather than going deeper into the reasons why he was the way he was.
Stiles had always known that Derek pretty much had the tragic backstory from hell, but he hadn’t converted that into internal pressures that would produce day-to-day behaviour. It was just easier thinking of Derek as an over-secretive, violent jerk who spent far too much time wallowing in his man-pain.
One thing that was pretty clear was that after Laura’s murder and the discovery of Argents putting down roots in Beacon Hills, Derek’s best move would have been to run. Run back to where he and Laura had been safe. The only possible reason for him not to was—
“Scott,” Stiles said as it became obvious to him. “You stayed because of Scott.”
Derek didn’t seem to have any trouble following his thought migration. “He was so very new and so vulnerable. He smelled like Hale, family. I couldn’t let him face the Argents alone. He needed training and discipline, and he needed it fast or he was going to end up another trophy for them.”
Stiles’ mind flashed to what big game hunters normally kept as trophies, and he shuddered as the image of Scott’s severed head mounted on Gerard’s wall popped up. “I’m sorry that we were less than appreciative of your efforts.”
“Yeah, well I’ve always had difficulty communicating,” Derek said, like Stiles didn’t already know. “It doesn’t matter as much when everyone around you can scent your emotions. Laura—” he stopped for a moment, back tensing slightly in a way that would normally be hidden by his clothes, “—indulged me in my silence, after…”
Stiles filled in the blanks. Derek had spent the years between the fire and Laura’s death not needing to use his words, and then had been thrust into a volatile situation with an already belligerent Scott, and Stiles, who used words as weapons and tended to steam-roll over people verbally as it was. Scott, who didn’t have the understanding or the inclination to decipher non-verbal cues, and Stiles, who was blind and deaf to them.
Considering all of that, it was probably lucky things hadn’t turned to shit even more.
Poor Derek, who had been trying to do the right thing but somehow kept getting it wrong, who every time he failed got his mistakes thrown back in his face, like Stiles and Scott had never screwed up. Derek who, all things considered, wasn’t actually all that much older than them. Only four years. That wasn’t long really, but he looked more like a grown-up than them so the divide had always seemed much bigger.
“I’m glad we came here then,” Stiles said fiercely. “I’m glad you got the chance to just be. And I’m glad I got the chance to get to know you properly, cause I was missing out big time and I didn’t even know it.”
Derek was silent for a while, but the silence was comfortable and for once Stiles didn’t feel the need to fill it up. He was involved in a lazy internal debate about the merits of either getting up and preparing something to eat or having a sleep, when Derek’s voice, unusually hesitant, broke into his musings.
“What will happen when we get back?” Derek asked.
Stiles felt a nasty smile cross his face. “We’ll find those Alphas, and when we do they’re going to find out just how much I’ve learnt about destruction magic,” he promised.
Derek snorted into his neck. He even did that attractively. Stiles was mildly incensed about that on behalf of awkward and ungainly people everywhere for all of two moments, before the sexiness of the whole situation over-rode that and started his love muscle preparing for another workout.
“I mean with this,” Derek clarified, giving his hips a twist and a thrust that was more than enough to bring Stiles to near readiness.
“Whatever you want to happen,” Stiles answered with a groan, wondering if it was possible to over-strain your dick with too much sex.
Derek raised his head to give Stiles a familiar glare.
“No wait, I’m not being glib,” Stiles insisted. “You’re the one with responsibilities, the one with a history of people taking sexual advantage of you. No! Don’t look like that, it’s not your fault! But you’re the one with the most on the line here. If the Augur is right about time turning back, then I’ll be underage again. Not by all that much, but it’s enough if someone wants to make a big deal about it. I mean, that was the point of that question about my age, right? You wanted to be sure I was legal now?”
Derek nodded slowly, the scowl softening into thoughtfulness.
“There’s a part of me that’s a bit pissed off about that,” Stiles said honestly. “I mean, my ability to understand the ramifications and to make informed choices didn’t actually magically undergo any significant adjustment over the last several months, but I do get it. I know why it’s important to you that you’re not taking advantage of me, and I’m pretty sure that you want to able to look my Dad in the eye and say that you waited. Then there’s also the fact that we got here eventually, and right now I can’t be mad at you for more than about a second and a half before I remember that thing you did with your fingers and your tongue and I don’t care anymore.”
Derek’s eyes had widened slightly. It made him look absurdly young. “You’re going to tell your dad about this?”
“Of course,” Stiles said. “Not about the finger thing, but about there being an ‘us’. As soon as it’s legal, I’m going to tell everyone. I’ll be telling the cashier at the grocery store and the dude at the farmers market. I’ll slip it into conversation when I pay for gas. In fact, next time we’re in Whiterun everyone we meet is going to hear about it. This? You wanting me? This is better than if I’d won the lottery.”
Derek’s mouth was twitching at the corners again. “Yeah?”
“Hell yeah,” Stiles said, hoping for a full-blown smile. “You win the lottery and you have to keep that shit quiet so the bloodsuckers don’t start popping out of the woodwork. Also, there’s a saying that money can’t buy happiness, and your dick made me extremely happy not very long ago.” There was that smile! “I’m extremely happy with what I’ve got, thank you very much.”
He pushed Derek onto his back and rolled into a sitting position on top of him. Derek let him, smile still in evidence.
Stiles did his best to repeat the hip twist thrust that Derek had just used on him and was gratified to see his eyes widen and his pupils expand. “Looks like it’s time to get happy all over again,” he commented, leaning down to run his tongue up Derek’s chest, along the side of his neck and then up behind his ear. “I think that it’s time to take you up on that offer to let me fuck you now,” he murmured softly.
Derek brought his hands down, over and behind Stiles ass even as Stiles reached one hand down to grasp the rapidly hardening cock beneath him.
“Good,” Derek said, voice dropping an octave. “I couldn’t agree more.”
“I’m glad you’re going to tell your dad,” Derek said a bit later. “Not the finger thing, but that we’re together.”
“Yeah, he really doesn’t need to know the details,” Stiles said, then made a thoughtful noise. “Scott, however, definitely needs to know about the finger thing.”
Derek’s eyebrows twitched in the precursor to a frown. “What?”
“Oh yeah,” Stiles said, feeling vindictive glee rising in him. “I’m gonna tell him every toe-curling detail. I’m gonna make him wish his ears would fall off so that he could stop listening. I think I’m gonna use purple prose as well, just to really twist the knife.”
“You’re getting way too much pleasure thinking about this,” Derek commented, his brow relaxing.
“It’s going to be epic,’ Stiles stated. “He’s going to suffer for exactly as long as I had to. I timed him, you know. Counting the seconds was the only way I could keep my sanity while he described the exact texture of her thighs to me. Scott McCall is going to know what true vengeance is, he’s got six hours and fifty-three minutes and twenty-five seconds of it coming his way. I need to start preparing.”
“He subjected you to nearly seven hours of talk about his sex life?” Derek asked incredulously.
“I know, right? It was over time rather than all in one go, and that made it worse. Every time I saw him he’d ambush me with new material. It started out innocent enough—all about how amazing her eyes were and what a great kisser she was. Then he had to give me every single detail as soon as he got to second base, and I didn’t even think to start timing him until he was nearly at third. Because of our long friendship, I’m magnanimously waiving that untracked time.”
Derek looked vaguely sick at the idea of being subjected to hours of Scott going on about Allison Argent’s everything. At least, that’s what Stiles assumed was making Derek appear nauseated. It was making him feel sick just remembering.
“Can we stop talking about Scott?” Derek had just a hint of a whine in his tone.
“Of course,” Stiles replied, since he’d really rather think about Derek. He stretched out, enjoying the feel of naked flesh sliding across naked flesh, the intimacy of the moment.
There was a time when he’d fantasised about having all of this with Lydia Martin. Looking back, part of the allure was her insistence about never looking anything but perfect, even in PE gear. He’d always wanted to be the person she could let that go with, the one person in the world that she would allow to get her dirty. Knowing her better, learning more about how her mind worked made that fantasy fall away, and with it a lot of the intensity of the attraction. Not that she wasn’t still beautiful, but he didn’t really yearn for her anymore.
Derek was different. He’d always recognised that Derek was panty-dropping gorgeous—in that first interaction with him in the preserve while searching for Scott’s inhaler he’d nearly swallowed his tongue—but Stiles’ reaction to his looks had been very swiftly put to one side when they suspected him of being the one who bit Scott.
By the time that had been cleared up and there was time to relax, he knew too much about Derek to put him on the same kind of pedestal he’d had Lydia on. The attraction to him could be as easily ignored as the attraction he felt towards Jackson and Danny. Worthy of the spank bank, and not much else.
Coming here, getting to know Derek without all of the detritus of their lives in Beacon Hills, had allowed him to see the reality of Derek, and once he truly saw him, how could he fail to love him? And it turned out that the reality of Derek Hale was a million times better than all his fantasies of Lydia Martin had ever been.
“You’re still thinking,” Derek mumbled, face gravitating to his preferred spot at the base of Stiles’ neck.
“It’s what I do,” Stiles said, running his hand down Derek’s smooth back and watching the sigh of pleasure it evoked.
“Mmmm,” Derek murmured. His breathing evened out into the familiar pattern of sleep. Stiles lay there, mind whirring away, and felt so happy he thought he might burst.
Stiles and Derek stayed holed up in their house enjoying each other for well over a week. They only went into Whiterun twice during that time to buy food—and for Stiles to make another trip to Arcadia’s Cauldron for lube—and otherwise stayed put.
Eventually, they agreed that they should really get on with saving the world from Alduin so that they could go home.
“Wouldn’t it be good if we could just fly up there?” Stiles said wistfully, staring up at the mountain that loomed high above them. “I mean, I know for a fact that you can see Whiterun from the courtyard of High Hrothgar. But in order to get there, we’re going to have to travel all the way to Ivarstead before going up the seven thousand steps. It seems like such a waste of time when it’s just there. Why couldn’t you have been a were-pegasus?”
“A were-pegasus,” Derek repeated, coming to stand beside him.
“I would normally have suggested a were-dragon, but we’ve been killing dragons left, right, and centre since we dropped that dragonstone off to Farengar and I’d be very upset if anyone tried to kill you, so were-pegasus.”
Derek sighed. “I suppose it’s no more ridiculous than a were-dragon. Now come on, we’d better be going.”
“Don’t forget to pack the Elder Scroll,” Stiles called after him. “Imagine how embarrassing it would be to turn up and realise we left it in our other pack.”
By now they had traversed the seven thousand steps so often that they no longer bothered to stop periodically to take in the view. The aim was to reach the monastery, and that was all they cared about.
They made their way up the final path to Paarthurnax, the leader of the Greybeards.
“You have it,” he said, his slow and measured utterance sounding surprised and impressed. “The Kel—the Elder Scroll. Tiid kreh…qalos. Time shudders at its touch. There is no question. You are doom-driven. Kogaan Akatosh. The very bones of the earths are at your disposal. Go then. Fulfil your destiny. Take the Scroll to the Time-Wound. Do not delay. Alduin will be coming. He cannot miss the signs.”
“Well, that puts a dampener on things,” Stiles muttered as they moved to the Time-Wound. “Doom driven, am I? That’s what everyone wants to hear as they’re about to open up some Aedric artefact, one of the ones that routinely sends those who try to read them blind, or mad, or both.”
Derek was frowning, but it was his ‘I’m helpless to do anything and angry about it’ frown rather than an ‘angry at Stiles’ frown.
“Here goes nothing,” Stiles said, holding his breath as he pulled open the Elder Scroll. For a few moments, he saw a circle that had been divided into twenty-four equal slices, overwritten by various symbols and diagrams. Then the whole thing began to glow with a fire that felt like it was being imprinted onto his eyeballs. Part of his mind wondered if this was how the scrolls blinded people, even as the symbols and diagrams all coalesced into a vortex of colour that seemed to drag him forwards into its depths.
The Elder Scroll showed him a vision of the past, of the events that had occurred in this very spot. He watched as an armoured woman slew a dragon, and listened to the discussion that followed between her and her two male companions. They awaited Alduin, had hoped to draw him out and intended to defeat him there once and for all. The prospective use of the Elder Scroll was raised, the brewing argument diverted by Alduin’s arrival.
Stiles paid close attention and was able to pick up all three words of the Shout that forced the great dragon out of the sky and to the ground where it was more vulnerable. Despite this, the fight was going badly until the Elder Scroll was brought into play. Stiles watched as the man holding it used it to banish Alduin.
“It worked!” one of the two survivors said as Alduin disappeared. “You did it!”
“Yes,” the man holding the Elder Scroll replied in tones of unutterable weariness. “The World-Eater is gone. May the spirits have mercy on our souls.”
With that, Stiles was flung out of the vision.
He registered his return to reality just as Derek called out, “He’s here!”
The fight with Alduin would probably be counted as a success, despite his escape at the end. The Shout that Stiles had located the Elder Scroll to find had worked, allowing him—along with Derek and Paarthurnax—to do enough damage to force a retreat.
Paarthurnax suggested that to find Alduin’s location, one of his lieutenants should be called, captured, held within Dragonsreach—which had been built to house a captured dragon—and interrogated.
“I’m not going to torture anyone,” Stiles declared, squaring his shoulders as Paarthurnax’s scrutiny intensified.
“You will not be required to,” was the answer. “Once you have captured the dovah and bound him so that he must hear you, merely demonstrate your thu’um the way I showed you when first we spoke. He will recognise your strength. Combined with the news of the defeat Alduin suffered here today—he will submit to your mastery.”
“Still sounds dodgy,” Stiles muttered. “I don’t like the idea of luring him in to capture him. If we do this, we’ll have to set him free afterwards. I only kill those who attack me; I refuse to be no better than an Argent.”
“Your conviction does you credit,” Paarthurnax said in his usual measured cadence. “Go to the Jarl at Whiterun and convince him of your need. I trust in the power of your thu’um, your voice.”
Stiles looked down to where Whiterun was clearly visible, a long, steep drop away. He gave a huge sigh. “Sure. Well, we’ll be seeing you, I guess.”
Jarl Balgruuf was not terribly impressed with the idea of having a live dragon in his house. Particularly not when either General Tullius or Jarl Ulfric might use the opportunity to seize Whiterun.
After some discussion—and after Alduin’s part in everything was revealed—the Jarl agreed to capture a dragon provided both General Tullius and Ulfric Stormcloak agreed to a ceasefire while this was happening. Stiles agreed to talk the Greybeards into hosting the talks, and he and Derek left Whiterun.
“Back up to High Hrothgar,” Stiles lamented.
“All this cardio is good for you,” Derek said unsympathetically.
Stiles considered that. “I am in the best physical condition of my entire life,” he grudgingly agreed. “I just wonder if I’ll get to keep it when ‘time turns back’.”
“The only way you get to keep it is by using it,” Derek said. “If you spend all your time in a computer chair or on the couch, then it won’t matter if it carries over.”
“Will you still love me if I get flabby?” Stiles asked, only partially joking.
Derek rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t your muscles that I fell in love with. Why ask questions that you already know the answer to?”
Stiles shrugged. “Sometimes it’s nice to hear it out loud.”
“Yes,” Derek said meaningfully. “I suppose it would be.”
Stiles blinked. “Are you trying to tell me that I’m an uncommunicative brute of a man who doesn’t share his feelings?”
It was Derek’s turn to shrug. “If the shoe fits…”
“Somewhere, somewhen, my father is busting a gut and has no idea why,” Stiles muttered. He raised his voice. “Well then, take this! Derek, you are undeniably handsome and fit. But I love you because of the way you keep trying to do the right thing, no matter how many times fate kicks you in the testiculars. I love the way you try to be generous in secret—I know who’s paying Arcadia to look after Lucia, you know—I also suspect that you are a big donator to charity back home. I love the way you focus on something when it interests you, I love the way that you treat your friends, the lengths you’ll go to to make them happy. I love you.”
Derek didn’t reply, but he had that small smile hovering over his mouth and for once his brow was free of tension.
Stiles waited a few moments. “Well?”
“Don’t you have something you want to say to me?” Stiles demanded.
Derek nodded solemnly. “You’re right. Thank you, Stiles. I love you too. Would you like to take the cart to Ivarstead?”
Stiles outwardly spluttered with indignation, even as he was melting on the inside. He loved it when Derek relaxed enough to gently tease him, and he loved it when Derek smiled.
The Greybeards were reluctant to get involved in politics, but finally agreed when Stiles said that he was doing as Paarthurnax had advised.
Then it was off to see the leaders of the two opposing forces in the civil war. They arrived to see Jarl Ulfric just as he was giving an impassioned speech to the man who turned out to be his second in command.
Stiles approached him when they were done.
“Only the foolish or the courageous approach a Jarl without summons…,” Jarl Ulfric said impassively before frowning slightly. “Do I know you?”
When prompted the Jarl remembered Stiles’ presence in Helgen and commended him on escaping the dragon with his life. He seemed to assume that Stiles had approached him in order to join the rebellion, and directed him towards his second, Gunmar, before visibly dismissing him.
“I’m actually here about something else,” Stiles said, drawing his attention again.
Jarl Ulfric clearly had opinions about the Greybeards, but he agreed that a ceasefire was a good idea. However, he refused to promise to be there until General Tullius also agreed to attend personally.
“But Alduin has returned!” Stiles said, annoyed with all the posturing.
Jarl Ulfric was well versed in the history of his people and knew what Stiles spoke of immediately. “Alduin?” he breathed. “The World-Eater? If that’s true, that changes the situation.”
With Jarl Ulfric’s agreement obtained, Stiles and Derek made their way to Solitude, just in time to witness a man being executed. They elected not to watch.
“That General Tullius just loves executing people, doesn’t he?” Stiles said sourly, uncomfortably reminded of how close he’d come to having his own head chopped off. “Come on; let’s go grab a bite to eat while we wait for the whole thing to be over.”
“I’ve lost my appetite,” Derek growled. “I’d prefer to just look around the city. Not sure I want to eat anything in a place called The Winking Skeever.”
“Skeever’s are pretty gross,” Stiles agreed. “Do you know that some people eat them? Ugh. Alright then, come on.”
They wandered around for a while. Solitude was close enough to the ocean to have the salty tang to the air, but far enough away from the docks to avoid the smell of dead fish. It was high on the cliff, and had some spectacular views.
“We’d better get this over with,” Stiles finally said with a sigh.
Together they made their way to Castle Dour and spoke with the General. Stiles told him of the plans to hold a cease-fire while the dragon menace was dealt with.
“They are getting to be a problem,” General Tullius mused. “It’s getting difficult to move troops around without them coming under attack from a dragon. Even Ulfric might see the sense of a truce under these conditions.”
“So you’ll come?”
“Yes, yes, fine,” General Tullius said. “I’ll come to this Greybeard council. For all the good it’ll do.”
Stiles was happy to take that agreement and get out of there. Even with Derek at his back, he was leery of the possibility of the General recognising him and deciding to complete what had begun back in Helgen.
Once they were safely outside the gates, Stiles heaved a great sigh of relief. “Back up the steps,” he said, injecting more cheeriness into the words than he really felt. “Do you get the feeling that ‘the Dragonborn path’ that the Augur spoke of might be nearing its completion?”
Derek shrugged. “I have no idea, but then I’m not the fabled Dragonborn.”
Stiles scowled as they began trudging their way towards the Throat of the World and the peacekeeping summit they had been at such pains to organise. “See, this is one of those things that I don’t understand. How can I possibly be Dragonborn? It literally means ‘born of the blood and soul of the dragons’. How can I be eligible? I’m from a whole ‘nother universe!”
Derek shook his head but didn’t say anything.
“The history says that mortals were blessed by Akatosh, the eldest of the Nine Divines. Or was it Kynareth? I can’t remember. Let’s just say Akatosh, for the purposes of this discussion. The question is, how could Akatosh have possibly blessed me? Why do such a thing? Why not someone from this world? That prophecy Esbern spoke of is old. Alduin’s Wall was created over millennia and a half ago! None of this makes sense.”
“At least you’re supposed to be here,” Derek said after Stiles had been fuming away to himself for several minutes.
“It’s pretty obvious that you have a purpose here,” Derek explained. “Regardless of how sensible it seems, the fact remains that you are the instrument of an ancient prophecy. I serve no purpose whatsoever. What the hell am I doing here?”
“Oh,” Stiles said, feeling a little taken aback. He’d not really considered that before. He’d been so caught up in the ridiculousness of the situation and his unhappiness as being dragged here and there by people who seemed to feel they had a right to send him again and again into mortal danger without even paying him that he’d forgotten to consider what it might be like for Derek.
After all, he knew what it was like to feel like you’d suddenly been demoted from one of the main players in the story—even if it was only a lame high school drama about two loser best friends—to unimportant sidekick in a superhero movie. The franchise might be an upgrade, but the role was not.
“Ah, shit,” he said, feeling like a heel. “I’m doing a Scott, aren’t I? I went right ahead and made it all about me without bothering to consider your feelings. Of course it’s worse for you. You’ve gone from a starring role in a supernatural drama to being the sidekick in a slapstick comedy. Look, I know that it’s not just about me, okay? Quite frankly, if you hadn’t been dragged to this crazy-ass place with me I would probably have come to the conclusion that this was all some delusion and that I might as well join Septimus Signus and spend all my time freezing my ass off up north.”
Derek shook his head, a tiny smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. “To tell you the truth, being your sidekick has been significantly more relaxing than whatever was happening in that supernatural drama you mentioned. I just sometimes wonder why I’m here.”
“I suppose you might be here cause I threw you through the portal,” Stiles admitted guiltily.
Derek’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Last time you told this story you were heroically hauling my overly muscled werewolf ass up the stairwell next to the lift shaft and this was probably all my fault.”
The laugh Stiles gave sounded fake even to him. “Did I say that? Well, it was less throwing and more dropping really. Or falling, it might have been more like falling from about three-quarters of the way up. And I think we can probably make an educated guess that the portal was there for me, rather than you. Maybe. Possibly.” He glanced at Derek’s face. “Almost certainly,” he amended.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Derek said, resting his hand on Stiles’ shoulder for a moment. “We’re here now, and we’re working on getting back.”
Stiles grimaced. “Yes, we are. The next step being the fun task of trying to get General Tullius and Jarl Ulfric to agree not to attack Whiterun. That is gonna be so much fun.”
The meeting between the Imperials and the Stormcloaks was every bit as fraught as Stiles expected it to be, if not more. Elenwyn, the Thalmor Ambassador whose party Stiles had infiltrated on Delphine’s orders, was there, along with both Delphine and Esbern. Delphine nearly came to blows with the Greybeards’ spokesman even before the talks began, fighting over Stiles and who should be the ones to lead him on his path. What a clusterfuck.
Then the thing began, and Stiles really didn’t like how often he was put on the spot and asked to make the decisions. He supposed that it was his own fault for using his influence as Dragonborn to bring them all here in the first place.
Regardless of his efforts, it would all have fallen to pieces if Esbern hadn’t made an impassioned speech about Alduin just as Jarl Ulfric was about to storm out.
In the end, an agreement was reached and Stiles was given leave by Jarl Balgruuf to capture a dragon and hold it at Dragonsreach. Esbern was able to pass on the name of a likely dragon, Odahviing, and the meeting split up.
“There is one more thing I must speak with you about,” Delphine said looking serious and stern as she approached Stiles immediately afterwards.
“Is whatever you have to say vitally important to the defeat of Alduin?” Stiles asked.
“Not precisely. It concerns—”
“No,” Stiles replied firmly, holding a hand up as a barrier when she went to speak again. “I said no. Right now Derek and I have a task to perform. Our primary objective is to defeat the World-Eater and stop him from, you know, eating the world. When that’s done, we may or may not seek you out to hear what you have to say, depending on how we feel. In the meantime, we have nothing to talk about.”
“La la la laaa!” Stiles said loudly. “I can’t hear you, what a shame, come on, Derek.”
He caught a glimpse of Delphine’s baffled face as he wrenched open the door. It was a petty sort of satisfaction, but then sometimes the petty satisfaction felt amazing.
Since Whiterun was so near their main residence, they stopped over for a night, glad to get the chance to sleep in their own bed. Despite the extremely enjoyable and energetic sex, Stiles found that he couldn’t sleep. He considered doing another pack clear out, but he didn’t want to wake Derek, who was a very light sleeper.
So he left Derek to snuffle adorably into the pillows and sneaked outside to watch the aurora lighting up the sky with beautiful shimmering greens. He watched for what felt like hours before finally feeling tired enough to join Derek in sleep.
Odahviing arrived shortly after Stiles shouted his name into the air, circling the huge porch and attacking the guards there. Stiles used Dragonrend, the shout he’d learned from the Elder Scroll, to bring him to ground. The Jarl’s guards were swift to spring the trap and latch the huge collar, trapping him.
After a short discussion, Stiles had the information he’d been looking for. Alduin had travelled to Sovngarde to devour the souls of the dead in order to restore his strength after his defeat at the Throat of the World. The gateway to Sovngarde was in an old Dragon Cult temple called Skuldafn, probably chosen because it was unreachable except by flight. Odahviing also agreed to take Stiles there upon his release from the trap.
“Derek will be coming along as well,” Stiles said, gesturing to Derek who as usual was standing at his left shoulder.
Odahviing examined Derek for a moment and then turned his gaze once more to Stiles. “If you command that your ahmul, your husband, is to fly with us, then that is as it shall be, Dovahkiin.”
Stiles might have made some issue of the use of the word ‘husband’, but they were interrupted by Farengar, who arrived fully intending to harvest the captive dragon for samples.
“Ah, no,” Stiles said firmly, moving to stand between the court wizard and his prey. “We don’t experiment on captive sapient or sentient beings. Not while I have anything to say about it, anyway.”
“I would only take the samples if he were to agree,” protested Farengar.
Stiles folded his arms. “He can’t consent as a prisoner. If he agrees to give you the samples once he’s free again, then fine. Derek, can I get you to release our new friend? I think it’s best if I stay here for the moment.”
Derek nodded and headed up the stairs to where a Whiterun guard was standing over the lever. There was the sound of a brief discussion before the yoke disengaged, releasing the prisoner.
“Saraan uth,” Odahviing said in the tongue of the dragons, “I await your command, as promised. Are you ready to see the world as only a dovah can?”
“The sooner this is over with the better,” Stiles agreed, trying not to show just how eager he was to get to ride on a dragon. This was like all of his childhood dreams come true! Well, maybe without the world on his shoulders, and there didn’t seem to be any ankylosaurus’ around, but still pretty amazing. “Come on, Derek. This is going to be better than any roller-coaster!”
Odahviing stood patiently while Stiles and Derek climbed up on his back and got seated, Stiles in front with Derek pressed up behind him. Then he spread his wings and leapt upwards, buffeting the Great Porch where he had so recently been imprisoned.
Those great wings beat several times to gain altitude. Just on the edge of his hearing, Stiles heard Irileth say, “They’re either the bravest people I’ve ever met, or the biggest fools.” And then Whiterun disappeared behind them.
Odahviing roared as he flew, and Stiles couldn’t help but Shout his joy to the sky, too. At his back, Derek let out the fearsome roar of an Alpha werewolf, and Stiles felt his heart lift in elation. This might be the only time in his life he would ever experience anything like this, and he intended to enjoy every second.
Aside from its remote location, Skuldafn appeared rather similar to various other Dragon Cult temples that Stiles had traipsed through in his time in Skyrim. Odahviing dropped them off at the edge, told them that he would await news of the victor, and left.
Normally Stiles and Derek would have investigated the entire place thoroughly for loot. Right now, Stiles really couldn’t be bothered.
They made their way through the Temple of Skuldafn, killing draugr and the odd frostbite spider as they went. There were various traps and puzzles to navigate, but nothing that one or other of them hadn’t come across in other locations.
Finally, they reached the top, stepping out onto the roof of the Temple. A desiccated dragon priest mummy-thing presided over what was clearly a portal, guarded on either side by huge dragons.
Stiles tensed for a fight, but soon noticed that although the dragons could quite obviously see them, they had made no move to reveal their presence to the dragon priest.
An eyebrow exchange with Derek indicated an agreement to ignore the dragons and hope that they would continue to return the courtesy.
Two minutes later the dragon priest had dissolved to ash. The two dragons remained watchful and still, and Stiles and Derek had to decide what to do now.
“I’m pretty sure that if I stick the staff back in this thingy here that the portal will open again,” Stiles said, the base of the staff hovering above the socket that the dragon priest had removed it from only minutes before.
“It might pay to wait,” Derek cautioned.
“The sun’s nearly down,” Derek said, indicating the horizon where Stiles could see the truth of his words. “We’ve been going all day. Why don’t we take the night to get some rest and go through the portal when we’re not exhausted.
Stiles considered this, glancing again at the two dragons who were doing rather good impressions of statues. “Not out here though,” he said, deciding that Derek had a point. “We can use that side room right near the temple door. I can put a few runes on the floor and walls so that we can get some warning if there are any more of those spiders around that we didn’t already get rid of or some draugr that’s still lurking around.”
So they did that. They woke the next morning to undisturbed runes, and fortified themselves with as a good a breakfast as they could scrounge together without using anything that needed cooking. When they were done, Stiles picked up the dragon priest’s staff and they made their way back outside.
The two dragons were still there, and still remained unmoving but for their eyes.
“That’s so creepy, dude,” Stiles muttered even as he used the staff to re-activate the portal.
“Yeah,” Derek agreed. “We should grab hold of each other before going through, in case going through one at a time means we get separated, like when we first got to Skyrim.”
It seemed like a sensible suggestion and so with Derek’s arm around Stiles’ shoulders and Stiles’ arm around Derek’s waist, together they entered the portal that would take them to Sovngarde, where Alduin feasted on the souls of the fallen.
They emerged at the top of a set of wide stone stairs that were bracketed on either side by great statues of men. Nords, probably, considering everything. At the bottom of the steps was a path that disappeared into a thick layer of mist that shrouded everything below the steps. In the distance a sort of shouty song was being sung, Stiles couldn’t make out the words, but it brought to mind drinking and feasting and mead. There was a feeling that they were supposed to go there, but walking through the mist seemed like a bad idea.
“This mist doesn’t feel natural,” Stiles said, skin itching at the feel of magic that infused the air. “I wonder if Clear Skies would work to get rid of it?” He concentrated for a moment, and then called out lok-vah-koor pushing his magic behind it to amplify it.
The mist cleared, revealing a warrior in the uniform of the Stormcloaks. He warned them that the mist was perilous and that Alduin lurked within, hunting souls to gain power.
“I suppose that kind of makes sense?” Stiles said dubiously. “Well, not really. I can absorb dragon souls, but that’s apparently because I was born with the blood and soul of a dragon myself. How the hell is Alduin doing this? Does he have some sort of filter or converter or something?”
“Don’t think too hard about it,” Derek recommended. “You’ll just give yourself a headache.” He turned and spoke to the Stormcloak. “We’ll be doing our best to get rid of Alduin once and for all. It might be best to wait here for a while. If we succeed, the path will be safe again. If we don’t, the path will be no more perilous than it already was.”
“You speak wisdom, kinsman,” the man replied. “I will wait here.”
“Kinsman?” Stiles asked as they made their way along the path.
Derek shrugged. “Adrianne and Ulfberth did a couple of tests on me,” he said. “Apparently my resistance to cold means that I’m likely of Nordic descent.”
“I wonder what I am then?” Stiles wondered.
Derek sighed. “As far as we could determine, you would probably be half Nord, half Breton. Your tolerance of cold is very Nordic, but your aptitude with magic and general features are apparently very Bretonish.”
Stiles blinked. “Huh. Considering we’re not even from this world, that’s quite an achievement.”
“Compared to you having the blood and soul of a dragon?”
“You have a point.”
The mist rolled in again, so Stiles repeated his shout. As the mist cleared, he could see a building up ahead.
“Wow,” Stiles said. He squinted. “Is that building on a sort of island? Is that a bridge made from a skeleton?”
“It looks like bone of some kind,” Derek agreed, looking at the structure critically. “Not sure if it’s a skeleton or just a useful arrangement.”
“We can ask that dude,” Stiles indicated an extremely tall, bare-chested man carrying what looked a great deal like an ancient nord style battleaxe in pristine condition.
It turned out that the gigantic man was Tsun, the god of trials against adversity, and he intended to test their worthiness to cross the whalebone bridge into the Hall of Valor, otherwise known as Shor’s Hall.
“Right, whalebone,” Stiles said, nudging Derek in the ribs. “Can’t say I’ve seen any whales since we’ve been here. Nor any other signs of whales. Mammoths, yes. Shouldn’t it be a mammoth bone bridge?”
Tsun asked them by what right they requested entry. Stiles mentioned he was the Arch-Mage and Derek revealed that he was the Harbinger of the Companions. Tsun appeared to appreciate both these roles and challenged them to trial by combat.
“Just once I’d like to see these things decided by a trial of wits,” Stiles muttered even as he readied his bow. Derek was hefting his axe, the dagger held low and to one side, and watching Tsun carefully for an opening. “What happens when a restoration mage arrives, huh? Trying to fight this dude would be madness.”
Derek grinned, flicking a glance his way. “Madness?” he said. “This is Skyrim!” and then he leapt into the attack.
“You have got to stop doing that when we’re fighting,” Stiles muttered, waiting for a good shot and then loosing an arrow into Tsun’s upper arm. Or well, it would have been into his upper arm if it hadn’t glanced off and bounced away. “Shit.”
Tsun was perhaps the best fighter that Stiles and Derek had ever faced together. Stiles ended up being rather happy for his restoration training. The fight lasted for some time before Tsun stepped back, settling his weapon back in its usual holster on his back.
“You fought well, I find you worthy. It is long since any of the living has entered here. May Shor’s favour follow you and your errand.”
“I hear you, dude,” Stiles said, giving a little wave as they walked past and onto the whalebone bridge. “Fuck, this thing’s not the safest bridge I’ve ever stepped on.”
“Stop your foul whining, you filthy piece of distended rectum,” was Derek’s reply.
Stiles felt himself go hot all over, and had to stop for a moment to shake the feeling off. “Derek, I’ve told you before that it’s not appropriate to talk dirty to me while we’re in the middle of something!” he said, hurrying after his boyfriend.
“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries,” was his only reply.
The inside of Shor’s Hall was pretty much what Stiles had always imagined Valhalla would be like, only without the busty serving wenches.
They were met several steps in by a Nord in ancient armour who introduced himself as Ysgramor. He welcomed them both, explaining that those inside had been forbidden from going out to challenge Alduin, and directed him to three warriors who had been waiting for their arrival.
“I feel like I should have known who that was,” Stiles said as they made their way over to three familiar faces, the same that he had seen in the vision the Elder Scroll had given him.
“He began the Companions,” Derek replied. “He was the first Harbinger. I’ve walked in his tomb. I wonder if he knows?”
Stiles cast a look around. There was a significant lack of large television screens or such with which the living could spy on the dead. He told Derek as much. “Unless they’re going old school and peering into pools of river water or some such,” he admitted.
The three warriors who had been instrumental in banishing Alduin into the time stream were delighted that they could finally go out and engage the world-eater again.
Before too long they were fighting in earnest. Alduin had a bad habit of summoning mist to conceal himself in, but Stiles and the three dead guys all knew Clear Skies, so it never lasted for long. So long as they could keep him on the ground he was vulnerable, and Stiles found that if he kept applying Dragonrend, issuing a fresh Shout the moment he’d recovered from the last one, then Alduin was forced to crawl around on the ground, just like the men he was fighting. And the woman, of course. Men as in race, different from Mer and Dov. Stiles wasn’t being sexist.
“Do you know you’re saying that out loud?” Derek asked, landing beside him in a crouch.
“Of course I do,” Stiles lied. “Keep your eyes on the fight!”
Derek laughed, twirled his axe in an entirely unnecessary and showy move that had Stiles’ mouth turning dry and leapt back into the fray. The three dead guys were harrying their foe, and Stiles was putting arrow to bow as frequently as he could, in-between shouts.
Alduin grew more and more desperate. He growled out something in the language of dragons that for once Stiles didn’t need to have interpreted. Didn’t every villain say something like “No! It’s not possible! I cannot be defeated! I will live forever, curse you!”
Then it was done. Alduin, the World-Eater, was defeated once and for all. He roared to the sky as he thrashed in his death throes, his life force swirling out faster and faster and shooting out to the skies. His flesh melted off his bones, leaving an inky black skeleton behind, which then disintegrated. Finally, there was nothing left of Akatosh’s firstborn.
Stiles had expected to feel elated, but in truth, he only felt weary. According to the Augur, he and Derek would be able to go home now. He couldn’t wait to see his dad, to make sure he was alright.
Derek came to stand beside him. “Hey,” he said softly.
Stiles smiled. “Hey,” he returned, before reaching out to bring Derek’s face close to his for a thorough kiss. When he released him, he was pleased to note the slightly glazed eyes and the reddened ears.
“What was that for?”
Stiles grinned, happiness starting to bubble up inside him. “Didn’t you know? After defeating the bad guy, the hero gets the girl!”
Derek scowled. “I’m not a girl, Stiles.”
“Maybe not,” Stiles said with a playful leer. “But you sure are pretty.”
Tsun approached them, congratulating them on their success. “That was a mighty deed! The doom of Alduin encompassed at last, and cleansed is Sovngarde of his evil snare. They will sing of this battle in Shor’s hall forever. But your fate lies elsewhere. When you are ready to return to your rightful realm, just bid me so and I will send you hence.”
All around them, those who had survived Alduin’s onslaught began chanting some sort of praise thing. To be honest it made Stiles pretty uncomfortable. He turned to Derek.
“What do you say? We ready to blow this popsicle stand?”
“Yeah,” Derek said with a soft smile. “I’m ready to go home.”
Stiles turned back to Tsun and gave him a two-finger salute. “Make it so, Mr Tsun,” he said, using his free hand to grasp hold of Derek.
“Return now to your home, with this rich boon from Shor, my lord: a Shout to bring a hero from Sovngarde should you have need.”
Stiles dutifully learnt all three words of the Shout that Tsun offered him, more for politeness than for any other reason. Although that didn’t stop him from making plans to try it out once he was back home. Probably out in the preserve somewhere, where the sudden appearance of a hero of Sovngarde wouldn’t be all that noticeable.
Still holding Derek’s hand in his own, he turned expectantly to Tsun.
Tsun smiled and Shouted something in their direction. The world went black.