A fair of sorts had come upon the land suddenly. The agora was alive with color and firelight in the evenings, heckling merchants in the early mornings. Vendors and craftsmen shouted, beckoned, and sold without pause for breath. Grand hunts went on, and groups of men returned from the near wilderness with limp animals over their shoulders. Fish, wine, armfuls of bread, and barrels of oil - all in preparation for a citywide feast, was the speculation. Theaters were dressed for epic plays, and stadiums readied for beast and sport.
It was curious. Athens celebrated often, but always with significant purpose. This fair seemed wasteful in its lack thereof. Stiles frowned, prying open a cardamom pod. Inside was a small seed. He dropped it in the growing pile. Scott watched him with an easy smile, absently grinding the black seeds into fine, gray powder. "What a scary face." He finally said. Stiles spared him a look.
"Are you not the least bit curious?" He asked, gesturing wildly as he was prone to do. The open window brought harsh sun and noise. Midday brought the distant roar of the market. Citizens, slaves, mysterious foreigners, confused livestock, and wood carts all mingling in a familiar cacophony. "No." Scott said. "I can't say that I am." Stiles found this disconcerting, to be so content with ignorance. He rolled a brittle pod between his fingertips, feeling the little veins and bumps. "I am." He huffed. "And you should be too."
"You're always curious, enough for us both."
"Is that an accusation?"
Scott smothered a laugh. "Must everything be some accusation against you?"
Stiles didn't answer, his mouth getting away from him as it always did. "This whole fair can't be for nothing. There must be a purpose. Appeasement? Of whom, the Gods?" He was muttering now, more for his own benefit. Scott wasn't bothered by this, only amused. Stiles had a vast mind. It was vast enough to sprout legs, as it wandered often; wondering, discovering, solving. He was insatiable in his pursuit of knowledge, unlike Scott. Scott was content with simplicity, accepting things as they were.
Scott didn't want much, but like any man, he still wanted. He sighed suddenly, dropping his bony chin in the cup of his hand. "I saw the Lady Argent with her father." He sounded sullen even to his own ears. Stiles stopped his nonsensical muttering. He looked at Scott expectantly. "She wore blue. I think it was silk." His eyes went soft and foggy. Stiles pursed his lips. Allison Argent, daughter of the wealthiest house in Attica, second in power only to Pericles.
The Argents had a reputation for ruthlessness, though Allison seemed sweeter than Sunday wine. She was a rare beauty, with skin like polished marble and hair falling over her shoulders in whispers of nighttime. She was a pretty piece of furniture most distinguished men sought to furnish their home with. Neither had ever spoken to her. They'd lose their tongues, possibly their heads. Slaves didn't speak to highborn citizens unless addressed directly. Somehow, Scott fell flat on his face for her. He spent his days thinking of her and his nights dreaming of her. As far as Stiles could tell, unrequited love was absolute misery.
"You're insufferable." Stiles flicked an empty pod and laughed as it bounced off the end of Scott's unsuspecting nose. Scott recognized the distraction for what it was. He made a huffy noise. "You're the insufferable one." He took the pestle and renewed his previous efforts. The seeds popped like cherries under the grinding stone. They worked until they had a fair ounce of cardamom powder. Herbs and spices were always in high demand, now especially. Their Master, who they referred to as Deaton per his request, trusted them enough to handle most requests.
Stiles stood, feet slapping the floor, and filled a sheepskin pouch with the freshly ground cardamom. "Perhaps you'd like to run this out?" He tried weakly, offering up the pouch.
Scott scoffed and jerked an unamused thumb over his shoulder, where sand and sunshine whispered through the open threshold.
Small, barbed rocks clung to the soles of his feet. Elbows beat against his ribcage, and sun fell on his head in unforgiving sheets. A crest of voices rising up, up. Stiles clutched the pouch to his breast and twisted between seizing bodies. He held his breath, peering over heads and shoulders. He could just make out the jagged, squarish top of the Acropolis. It stood tall and floral white, a sprinkle of trees jutting from the rockside.
A shadow suddenly stretched over him. He cursed his own inattention, as he nearly fell over the worn step of the south Stoa.
The Stoa was a noontime refuge, teeming with slick bodies by that late hour. It was a long structure with hollowed out insides and ribbed columns. Men gathered there to talk state and gesture madly. They cooled in the relative shade, wiping wet grime from their brows. Faint splashing and fairyesque laughter sounded from the neighboring fountain house. Stiles licked his dry lips and ducked between a procession of pony carts.
As alive as any red heartbeat, the marketplace was arguably the center of social Athens. It was unregulated madness, and Stiles knew to be wary. Merchants were thieves if nothing else. They'd bleed a good man dry, nary a drachma to his name, and do so cheerfully. He spotted a familiar booth in a shady nook and hastened over. He greeted the vendor with a scowl, she scowled back. They scowled more out of habit than genuine dislike.
"Morrell." He said shortly. She was tall, whip thin, and dark skinned. Her hair was like spilled ink,and her face somewhat cherubic. Though her soft, feminine features belied the harshness of her person. She was the complete opposite of his tender hearted Master, and not for the first time, Stiles wondered at their shared blood. They were siblings, supposedly.
"Do you have my cardamom?" She held out her hand, having little to do with pleasantries or idle chat.
"Pleasant as always."
She didn't say anything, just shook her hand impatiently. Stiles raised unimpressed brows and stuck out his own hand. "Five οbolus."
One should never let their product go without first receiving payment, or you'd never see a coin of what you're owed. Morrell was as underhanded as any vendor. Stealing came like breathing, second nature. She didn't differentiate between strangers and kin.
She scoffed and pulled five coins from the oxhide pouch at her hip. She dropped them in his upturned palm. He tucked them away in the stiff folds of his chiton. "Pleasure doing business with you." He said dryly, handing over the cardamom. She snatched it up and spared him a sickly sweet smile. She held the sheepskin at eye level, bouncing it absently. "I'll be needing three more ounces."
Stiles frowned hard. Her spite knew no bounds, which he learned quickly after their first few dealings. He had a scathing counter at the ready, but it was forgotten in the next breath. The constant roar of the market behind him fell to near silence, just bare whispers and restless cattle. It was immediate, like pinching out a candle's strong flame. Stiles stiffened. The dead air at his back hung heavy. Morrell was staring at something over his shoulder. Her dark eyes were big and unblinking.
thump, thump, thump, thump. It was faint at first, but growing louder. Soon, it was like thunder trapped in the earth. Stiles recognized it for what it was: marching. Strong soles smacking the ground in seamless unison. He turned, craning his neck. There were too many people to see through, and his unfortunate stature kept him from seeing over. The marching was so loud, it couldn't be more than a double pace away. He caught brief glimpses of crimson and dark metal. Then, almost mechanically, the crowd parted. Down the Panathenaic way, from the Dipylon gate, came a small army. They were red clad; tunics and cloaks whispering over hard, brown skin.
They wore flanged cuirasses, and fitted greaves clung to their shins. Doru and leather shields painted with the letter lambda were pulled tight to their bodies. Stiles held his breath. There were a hundred men, at least, each bigger and more unruly than the last. Spartan soldiers? He mouthed in confusion and slight awe.
Some strides ahead of the rest was their leader. He stood out, despite being a similar height and cut as the men tromping behind him. His presence made him seem bigger. He wore very little plating, his stomach and thighs visibly rippled with every step. His hair cropped out in small, black cliffs; his jaws were kept warm by coarse scruffle. His eyes looked black from a distance, but revealed themselves to be some kind of green the closer he approached. They flickered from face to slackened face. A short doru was held loosely in one fist, no shield to be seen. His utter lack of defense was either extremely good faith, or an overestimation of his own invincibility. Stiles knew this man to be King.
The procession of Laconians passed close, a scant five feet from the stall, but Stiles didn't move away. His nerves were a minor current beneath the rush and crash of his curiosity. As the King [Hale, King Hale, Stiles absently reminded himself] marched past, he glanced over. A quick cut of the eyes, nothing substantial, but those eyes found him easily enough. They looked at each other, just for a moment. His stare was like a jab to the throat, stunning him and stealing all his air. A small sound got stuck in his throat.
As suddenly as it snared him, he was left breathless in the kicked up dust. The Laconians marched on until they were just a faint sprinkle of red betwixt white roofs. The corpselike quiet instantly gave way to deafening, unintelligible noise. Everyone was wild in their distress; they clambered and shouted over each other. Stiles shared a considering look with Morrell before slipping back into the fray.
Spartan soldiers had come to Attica.
He crashed into the workshop and dropped his five obolus on the tabletop. They scattered and rolled over the edge, bouncing in the dirt. He didn't stop to gather them. "Scott! Scott!" But the workshop was empty. Groaning loudly, he hurried across the courtyard. Faint grunting sounded from the store house. He found Scott there, hefting a sack of sorghum over his shoulder. "Scott!" Scott started and whipped around fast enough to crack his neck bones.
"Gods, what are you trying to do?" He shot Stiles a reproachful look.
Stiles ignored the question. "Did you see them?" He asked excitedly. His cheeks were festival red, and his eyes shone like whiskey warming in the sun.
Scott had the good graces to look confused. "Who?"
"Of course." Stiles sucked in a big mouthful of air. "Did you hear them then? The marching?"
Scott frowned. He shook his head, sending his shaggy curls a'jostle. Stiles mouthed wordlessly, as he was a little appalled at Scott's nonethewiser nature. "The - the - !"
"Laconians, soldiers from the Capital." Deaton finished crisply. He nearly scared his young help out of their respective skins.. He stood in the doorway, casting broad shadows across the straw and silt. His dark face was grim. Scott promptly drained of color, rivaling the morning ash in his gray paleness, and dropped the sack at his feet.
"Spartans? Here?" His voice had gone faint.
Stiles snapped about, all big grin and feverish question. "You saw them too?"
"I haven't, though I knew to expect them."
"Why didn't you say?" Stiles looked positively scandalized.
"Little time. I was kept in Council overnight." He seemed to age decades in a single breath. The lines deepened around his closed mouth. "They've put us to work, boys. We report to the Panathinaiko at first light."
This earned him confused frowns from both. Slaves weren't permitted to participate or spectate in sport or games. Neither had stepped foot inside the Panathinaiko; they'd never bore witness to its climbing rings and proud ghosts. Deaton was constantly disheartened by their considerable lack of rights, however hard he tried to hide it. His smile was tired and seethrough. "The games begin tomorrow, midday. We'll be acting as onhand healers for the inevitable casualties."
Confusion gave way to excitement. Stiles bounced on the balls of his chalky feet and grinned with teeth and gum.
"Why now? They've never needed us before, only you." Scott was the one to ask, surprisingly.
Deaton scrubbed a hand over his shaven head. The short stubbles pulled on his callouses, and the sensation grounded him a little. "Some of our Spartan guests are joining the festivities. The Council expects they won't be holding back, their collective pride is something of legends." He laughed dryly. The excitement was quick to drain from the room. Scott and Stiles shared a panicky look. Neither had any great desire to get close and personal with a Laconian. No sane man did!
They knew not to argue. That night, little sleep was had. Stiles followed the blossoming, ceiling cracks with tired eyes. He twisted his fingers in the wool throw. He was too warm. The fleece ended up tangled tight around his ankles. He bit into the soft meat of his lips and chewed earnestly. He wondered at the particular stain of green that afflicted him so [malachite? olive?] and remembered a harsh, red backdrop with no small amount of trepidation. Scott had gotten to sleep minutes earlier. His muted snores were a tiny comfort. Stiles breathed harshly through his nose, flipping over and squirming in the timeworn dips of his bedding.
Morning came too soon.
They were up scant moments before first light. They bathed, dressed, and gathered a plenitude of linen wrap and herbal paste. Not much was said, as Scott and Stiles were still wary of the day to come. Deaton ushered them into the dim street with both hands warming between their shoulder blades. "You'll be alright. You are capable." He said. They breathed and took his confidence to heart. The walk to the stadium was hurried and muggy, as the sun was beginning to stab through tall cloud heaps.
They came upon the Panathinaiko soon enough, and it was something to see.
She was many things: big, beautiful, shining, and sloping. Ring upon ring of ascending, marble steps sat atop thick column supports. In the center was a long, ovular pool of freshly raked dirt and stone platforming. Torch baskets sprouted from the round corners like blackened saplings. Scott and Stiles openly gawped, their heads on a constant swivel. Despite their early start, they weren't the first to arrive. Men and women milled about like honey bees in the first of Spring, doing everything that needed doing.
They swept furiously with their straw brooms, filled each torch basket with dry kindling, and hung velvet drapery between every archway. Stiles laughed incredulously, temporarily forgetting his anxiety in the rock tunnels from which they came. "This is incredible!" He elbowed Scott in the ribs. Scott looked just as starstruck. He wore his signature dopey smile. "I wish we could've seen it sooner."
Stiles' face dimmed, before immediately brightening again. "We're seeing it now, that's what matters."
Deaton was secretly pleased with Stiles' positivity and near endless enthusiasm. It lightened his heavy load. The guilt of owning another human being was sometimes unbearable. He reminded himself it was for their own good. They weren't slaves under his roof, they were family. He inhaled his sigh and lead the way to their makeshift station. It was just inside the mouth of a ground tunnel. A long bench had been provided for their working convenience.
The morning hours were spent in preparation, though not much preparation was necessary on their part. The games were set to begin at noon and would continue late into the evening. Noon came quicker than Hermes. The Panathinaiko was suddenly throbbing with sound and spectators. Stiles watched, amazed, as the stadium filled one ring at a time. Deaton said there would be chariot races [two horses, then four horses], foot races, horse riding, and raw combat. Not to the death, he explained, but nonetheless brutal. Especially brutal, considering the few Spartan participants.
Stiles frowned. He sincerely hoped no Spartan would need his medical attentions. If rumors were to be believed, Spartans weren't the easiest to wound, and treating them proved an even tougher challenge.
Right on cue, a significantly smaller group of Spartans filed into the stadium. Their scarlet tunics made them easy to spot amidst the neutral colors of the arena. They stood very still and uniform with their fellow athletes; Stiles could just make out the tops of their unruly heads. He swallowed, suddenly parched. Scott hurried to his side and followed his gaze across the pit. "What are you thinking, Stiles?" He asked, a snitch of desperation in his question.
He didn't answer.
The games were kicked off with much pomp. Pericles offered a few words welcoming their Laconian guests and wishing every competitor the favor of Ares. Runners, for they were more sinew than brawn, lined up for the stadion races. One stade was the length of the stadium. Then two stades, to the end and back. Finally, a crippling seven to twenty four stades, long distance. They ran like Hades' hounds were at their heels. Onlookers screamed and stomped their delight. Some trackmen dropped from exhaustion, stuttering in the dirt. The shame and desperation of the fallen competitors only whipped the crowds into a bigger frenzy. Stiles found their bloodlust morbid and disconcerting.
Soon after the runners dragged themselves from the pit, horses clopped in to replace them. Simple chariots were at their backs. They bobbed their heads, stiff manes flopping against their powerful necks. Twelve laps later, and the crowd was hysterical in their excitement. Stiles could admit he was a little hysterical too
Jockeys and their aerodynamic steeds took position, preparing to kick up earth. Around, around, faster, faster, their final lap, just around the bend. Scott and Stiles were bumping shoulders, laughing raucously, and betting money they didn't have. Soon, the games had narrowed down to the simplest and harshest of human physicality [purple knuckles, cracked teeth, shattered finger bones, and swollen eyes]. Wrestling, regulated violence. Men shed their tunics and stepped into the hastily scratched circle.
The noise was deafening. Stiles couldn't hear himself think, let alone what Scott had been trying to say for the past five minutes. The fights, the Spartan contenders especially, were hard to watch. The sheer brutality turned Stiles' stomach. Men were tossed in the dirt like burlap sacks. Elbows dropped, knees thrown out, fists and legs snapping too quick to follow. Blow after terrible blow, until one fell. Three fair falls were necessary to win a match. It didn't take long for their bench to fill with the broken, purpled shells of once mighty and proud athletes. By the seventh match, some men were crumpled against the tunnel wall and curled in the dirt, as the bench was completely occupied.
Deaton tended to the more serious injuries. He set and wrapped all manner of broken bones. Scott and Stiles were left scrambling. They wiped sand and tacky blood from any open wounds and applied the crisply smelling salve with careful fingertips. As their patients weren't the kindest or most grateful, having just been publically trounced, they took care to be gentle and brief in their treatment. Stiles was kneeling at the feet of a Carian warrior. He pressed a wrapped ice chunk against the dark, almost black, smattering of bruises trailing his calf. Unlike his fellow wounded, he'd won his fight. He hadn't fought a Spartan, but a Crotone.
A piercing ripple of cries rocked the stadium on its old foundations. Stiles looked up, tweaking his neck in the effort to see. Two more men faced off in the pit. They stood with pulled back shoulders and dug their toes in crimson sand. One man, Stiles knew at first glance. His heart stumbled over itself, skipping a few beats, then thudding harshly. He wore no armor, no scarlet tunic. Just him and the red afternoon. His muscles jumped and rolled under his browned skin as he took a low stance. Stiles swallowed audibly.
"I thank the Gods this was not my fight." The Carian uttered warily. Stiles jumped, as he'd momentarily forgotten his place. He breathed a short apology and pressed the ice more firmly. The Carian flapped a dismissive hand. "Don't fret. It isn't every day one sees a Spartan, let alone a King, in battle."
Stiles turned to peer over the short wall again. The match was just beginning. The opponents circled, both looking for an opening. One was obviously more hesitant than the other. Unsurprisingly, the Spartan lunged first. He ducked and wrapped both arms around his opponent's naked midsection, slamming him down with devastating force. Even from that distance, Stiles heard his skull crack the ground. Fat, brown clouds rose up around them. The referee shouted, calling point. The King stood and backpedaled three steps. His opponent, a nameless Persian, was slower to rise.
Again, they circled. The Persian held himself tensely. His brow trembled and his eyes glistened with fever. He was terrified. The King smiled something cruel, Stiles could see the whites of his teeth, and jammed a knee into the Persian's soft belly. A stifled cry, and he was skidding out of the marked pit [point two]. The spectators were on their feet by this point, as were the presiding officials. With obvious reluctance, the Persian stepped back in the pit. The King wasted no time in meeting him with a chokehold. The referee called for time, but was ignored by all. Stiles held his breath without meaning to.
The King tightened his arm about that fluttering gullet, leaving no room for breath. It took scant seconds for the Persian to concede. He tapped his fingers desperately against the arm at his throat. The referee called point three, and no one voice was distinguishable in the uproar. The King released his opponent, and disappointment was barely perceptible in the downturn of his mouth. The Persian crumpled, gasping for air and mapping out the purple band circling his neck with disbelieving fingers.
His eyes moved over the sea of twisted, bobbing faces. He didn't throw his fists up or expel a masculine victory cry. If he felt anything positive in that moment, it was completely masked under the blank expression he wore. For a second time, that unrelenting stare found him. Stiles might have inhaled his own tongue. He blinked, too shocked to do much more. They watched each other for a breathless minute. Eyes, lidded with something, dropped down the length of his face. Stiles flushed to the roots of his hair. Zeus be damned, was he getting closer? He couldn't breathe. His heart was beating hard enough to leave webbed cracks in his ribs.
The closer his approach, the more panicked Stiles became. He felt his pulse in his temples. When he reached the mouth of the tunnel, Stiles decided he was going to die. The King was going to kill him for making direct eye contact, not once, but twice. He was suddenly right there, standing over him and casting shadows too long and dark. He cut a thin look at the Carian, who immediately stood. The King made himself comfortable on the bench, looking as though he'd claimed it for a new throne. The tunnel was silent, a mute pocket mid the outside clamor. They hadn't looked away from each other. Stiles couldn't. He told himself fear kept his gaze, nothing else. He was a scared mongoose to the King's hungry snake.
"My thigh." He murmured, spreading his legs. He drummed big fingers against his inner thigh. "I've bruised it."
With burning cheeks, Stiles looked at the aforementioned area. He determinedly avoided the nakedness between those powerful legs, as most men went without undergarments [out of preference or poverty]. He found nothing. There was no bruising or swelling, just sand and thick mats of hair. Stiles wasn't stupid. He knew a falsehood when presented so intimately with one, but he couldn't call the Laconian King a liar. He retrieved a new ice chunk and wrapped it in wool cloth. His ears burned as he held the ice in place. Anger and embarrassment were written plainly on his face. Unfortunately, the silence didn't last.
"You're a slave."
Stiles didn't look up. The King's eyes were weighty on him. "I am."
"Your name." He wasn't asking, but giving a command. Stiles bit the inside of his cheek. He wasn't one to take commands easily. Deaton asked, never commanded.
"Stiles." He answered quietly, hoping the King wouldn't hear.
Stiles grit his teeth. He loved his name. He chose it himself, it was the only thing he owned. "Thank you." He bit out. His teeth snapped noisily. A few seconds went by, then a few more. Stiles feared he may have overstepped himself. The King huffed, amused.
"Do you know who I am, Stiles?"
The way his own name sounded from that mouth, like a [sinful, terrible] promise, had heat pooling in his gut. Stiles licked his lips nervously. His hands loosened around the ice. "King Hale of Sparta." His voice was absolutely meek. He blushed hotly. A mean chuckle shook the King's chest. "Do you know my name?" He said. Stiles looked for a distraction in the bumps and dips of his pale knuckles.
"It would be disrespectful to address you otherwise."
Several more seconds were lost to a heady silence.
"Look at me." Another command, this one sharper than the last. After a split second of hesitation, Stiles did. The intensity of it was near painful. Again, he held his breath without realizing. Only when his lungs burned up did he allow himself a shaky inhale. He wanted to be defiant and turn his face away, but something kept his eyes tacked onto the unyielding lines of that Spartan face. Stiles hated this vulnerability, but he couldn't touch down to land.
"My name, Stiles."
Stiles did know his given name. He knew a lot of things. The King seemed to sense this.
"I - Your name..." He cleared his throat quietly. "Derek."
The Bouleuterion was a place of prominence and politics. The Council of Five Hundred met there regularly. It was a mostly open space. The slanting, tiled roof stopped midway across the hall, leaving half the chamber in shade. There were rows and rows of wooden benches curling around the center in an amphitheater fashion. Councilmen filled those benches, hardly a hairsbreadth between them. They murmured amongst themselves in hushed, conspiratorial tones. It was just after sunset. The games had ended with the moon's peak. Firelight shuddered lazily in iron baskets mounted all around the room.
Derek and two of his best men stood before that multitude of archaic bones, waiting to be addressed. Backs straight, shoulders broad, chins out; every inch of them was Spartan made. Derek pursed his lips. He was a little miffed at having been kept waiting so long. Pericles, perhaps the most prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens [the unofficial ringleader of these councilmen and their "democratic" city], was round faced with tight curls. His square brow hung low over nasty slits. Even before their meeting, Derek had cultivated strong feelings of dislike and mistrust for this man. Those feelings were only cemented upon seeing him.
He turned to face them. "King Hale of Sparta. I must say, you are your father's son."
His words brought silence to the room. Derek frowned, unsure how to interpret that. For the sake of diplomacy, he took it positively. "So I am, though my father is not relevant to what brings me here now."
"Oh? And what has brought you here, my King? We did not expressly request your presence, if memory serves correct." He had the audacity to feign ignorance. Derek was quickly growing agitated with his pussyfoot tactics.
"You deny any involvement in the Naxos blockade?" There would be no tiptoes, no carefully skirting the issue. Derek wasn't a politician, he was a leader. The chamber rumbled with hundreds of pitchy outcries. Pericles flared his nostrils in quiet anger. Short tempered, Derek was secretly pleased to learn. "No, we do not deny our involvement. The blockade was necessary." Again, a hush fell over the room.
"If we're speaking of necessity, the Delian League is no longer one. The war with Persia has ended, the only reason for its creation. Naxos saw the foolishness in bleeding tax money for an unnecessary cause." He boomed. His voice carried over the hall with definitive authority, reminding every man in it of who he is and why he's come to interrupt the unperturbed peace of their city. Pericles was unruffled. He laced up his fingers and rested them against his breast plate. "King Hale, please. This council was meant to be brief. Let us save those heavy topics for a later time. I want you and your men to enjoy our city, before politics ruins us all."
Derek ground his teeth. He suspected Pericles was going to waste as much of his time as he possibly could. "Of course." He agreed tightly.
"Perhaps you or your men have any requests, to make your stay more enjoyable?" He asked, ever the hospitable host.
Derek was seconds away from declining, as Spartans can carry most of what they need, but a thought struck him. He thought of a slave with more spark and dignity than most freedmen. A boy with more moles than there were stars in the sky, more pink in his cheeks than any poppy planted by Zeus.
"I do have a request, if you'd be so gracious." He smiled a dark little twist. "A slave."
"Of course. We have plenty of quality slaves, my King. I can have one outside your chambers before you arrive there."
"I have one in mind."
"And Gods, the way he looked at you! I feared he would lop your head off!"
Scott hadn't stopped ranting since their return home. Stiles didn't answer, or even lift his head. He stared at the dough caked between his fingers as he kneaded furiously. [Derek. Derek Hale. King Derek Hale.] That godforsaken name wouldn't leave him. It rolled around his head like loose stones in the back of an empty cart taking too sharp turns. The way he looked at him like, like he were the most interesting thing to breathe! It made his chest stutter, he hated it.
"Was he even hurt? He didn't seem hurt! I don't believe that Persian landed a single blow!"
Unlike Scott, Deaton hadn't said much at all. He asked if Stiles was alright, if the King had threatened him, but left it well alone after that. Unfortunately, Stiles wasn't blind to the concerned glances that came like clockwork. He couldn't so much as wrinkle his nose without Deaton reaching for a hanky. He flattened the dough with tightly balled fists. It relieved a bit of tension from his shoulders.
"Have you met him before? Why else would he - I - Surely you would tell me if you'd met the King of - Gods! - of Sparta!"
Stiles sighed. He just wanted to sleep deeply and dreamlessly. He didn't have any answers, and for once, he didn't plan on seeking them out. As far as he was concerned, King Hale was a best forgotten memory. Those tan mountains and subtle, liquid promises had no place in his life. He didn't want them. He glared accusingly at the dough.
"What kind of King - !"
A loud, slow banging on the outer doors interrupted Scott's fevered rant. He shouted and threw a hand over his thumping breast. Stiles jumped a little himself. They met eyes across the room. More shattering blows to their courtyard doors had Stiles on his feet. He scampered into the yard and yanked open the doors. Deaton was padding down the staircase behind him. Upon seeing two of the city guard, Stiles frowned. "You've woken my Master, what is it?" They could take his head for such rudeness, but Stiles couldn't find the energy to care. They took stock of him, as dry and unimpressed as could be. "Is this the house of Deaton?" One asked, Stiles couldn't tell which. Deaton stood at his back.
"It is." He answered softly. "What is this regarding?"
"One of your slaves. We've been ordered to gather him." They looked at him then. "The one called Stiles."
Stiles whitened. He felt his Master go still behind him.
"I - I haven't done anything wrong!" He defended immediately. Deaton laid a hand on his shoulder, which he only now realized was shaking. "I'm afraid I'll need a very good explanation before I allow you to take my property."
"We know nothing more than our orders. Pericles gave this order himself. You will be compensated."
They stepped forward. Stiles shrunk back. "No! This isn't - !" He was yanked from safety, as both men took him by his biceps. "Let go!" He squirmed, but to no avail. Their hands were tight around his arms, too tight. He was trapped between them, and their plating was cold against the naked parts of him. Deaton reached out desperately. "Sirs, wait, please! This must be some mistake, let me speak to the council!"
Scott flailed behind Deaton, peering over his shoulder and trying to squeeze past. "Stiles!" Deaton held him back. His face was so unsure, more unsure than Stiles could remember seeing him. Deaton was always sure. "Stiles, what is going on?" He sounded scared, terrified, for Stiles. Stiles wanted to cry, because Gods, he didn't know! "Go inside, Scott!" Scott didn't need to see this. "It's fine. I'm fine." He lied unconvincingly.
Without a parting word, the guardsmen turned and begun a hard march. Stiles jostled betwixt them. He could hear Scott shouting, Deaton frantically shushing him. His heart was stuck in his throat. Panic was an acrid taste on the back of his tongue. Their hands were vices around his upper arms, and he could feel bruises setting in purple. He dug his toes in the ground, trying to slow them. They didn't notice. "Will you let go of me? I haven't done a single thing, you do not need to drag me through the streets like a prisoner of war." He gritted out and jerked his arms down.
"Cease your struggles." One said, Stiles thought maybe the one on the right. For the sake of being difficult, he kicked his legs up. Then, as he was feeling particularly rebellious, he sunk his teeth into one of their easily accessible wrists. He bit hard enough that coppery blood splattered his teeth. The right guard, definitely the right one, shouted some indiscernible obscenity and wrenched his wrist from Stiles' mouth. "You little - !"
A flurry of hands and elbows had him down for the count. Stiles lay on his back, sand catching in his hair. He traced out the lines of Ophiuchus in the stars, eyes blown, and tasted the blood staining his front teeth. Fingers dug into his neck, and all the stars left the sky.
When Stiles awoke, he was freshly bathed and wearing unfamiliar silk. He smelled like actual soap. His bruises were wrapped and hidden from view. He felt softer. He was in a big bed, warmed by his body heat. It was so much bigger and warmer than any bed he'd ever lain in. The sheets were malachite green, and the multitude of pillows [too many for one head] were a matching shade. His head was sunken deep in their feathery depths, and his vision obscured by green, green, green. Despite the comfortable circumstances, Stiles was toeing the line of hysterics.
He sat up, the sheets and blankets falling away one layer at a time. The room was huge and much too nice for the likes of him. Indian rugs spanned the floor and silk drapes spilled down the walls, pooling at the square base of ribbed pillars. Stiles didn't feel right sitting in the middle of blatant grandeur. It wasn't meant for him; it wasn't home. It wasn't straw floors dirtying his feet or the lumpy bedding that left his back pleasantly sore every morning. He crawled to the edge of the bed and stood on wobbly legs. He looked down at himself and made a deeply offended noise. The silk garb he wore was short. So short, it barely brushed the tops of his thighs. Blushing madly, he tried tugging it down. It refused to stretch.
Chewing his bottom lip raw, he looked for a way out. He had no desire to be here, wherever here was. In plain view, a set of tall doors beckoned him. He eyed them nervously. Anything could be beyond those doors. Hurtful things, maybe the same guard he took a bite out of earlier. Or an empty corridor, and that thought filled his ears with sweet whispers of freedom. He padded across the room, the rug delightfully grating under his soles, and reached for the handles. Just as he had both palms pressed to the underside of cool copper, he felt a click. His heart jumped into his throat.
He reared back, withdrawing several steps. The doors swished open. He looked around for nothing and everything, frantic to put something physical between himself and whoever.
In stepped the King, and Stiles made this sound like a warbler choking on its own song. He preferred the two guards with a penchant for strangulation to King Hale and his enigmatics. He fumbled for purchase against a near desk. Because no, he didn't deserve the Gods' wrath. He was good, he was! "No - I - You..." Words completely abandoned him. Stiles was normally very good with words, he needed them. Words were his everything. "Why am I here?" He managed to summon a respectable bit of indignation.
Derek closed the door behind him. He looked at Stiles with an indescribable expression on his face, Stiles couldn't decide if it was even an expression at all. His eyes were dark, like pitch. Stiles could barely make out the green, and that really unnerved him. Those black pits raked over him in tedious inches, pausing on his bare thighs. Stiles flushed and viciously pulled on the obscenely short chiton. He held it in place; the fabric bunched in his fists. Derek smiled, but it didn't make him look anymore friendly.
"I asked you a question!" He snapped. His patience gone, his fear shoved into a mental box.
"You seem intelligent." Derek started, whilst absently shrugging out of his tunic. It fluttered to the rug, a splash of wrinkled red midst blue and purple patterning. Stiles blinked at the impromptu compliment.
"You truly don't know? You have no ideas?" He tapped his forefinger to his temple, and Stiles knew he was being mocked.
He laughed. It was harsh and guttural. "No, I do not. I haven't the barest idea why I was forcibly taken from my home, my family. Why I was beaten unconscious in the road, why I woke in this despicable room, or why you, of all people? You are a King, the King of Sparta. You must have more important dealings, crises to exploit, wars to win. Why bother with me at all? Do you have so much time on your hands, you've decided to toy with some slave in your spare hours?" He spat in one, powerful breath. His chest heaved. Stiles was more furious than he could ever remember being. His blood was so hot in his skin.
The King looked harder. His jaw visibly jumped. He took big steps towards Stiles, and Stiles, feeling stupidly brave, held his ground. The King was close enough to smell [faint sweat, earth, a pungent musk]. He smelled of toil and callouses, living and winning by the salty beads of his own brow. Stiles instantly liked it. He wondered what he smelled like, and if the King could smell him too. Nerves begun to get the best of him.
"You know my name, where I come from, yet you still say so much." He said lowly, crowding Stiles into the long desk. "Do you know fear?" His palms slapped the desk on either side of Stiles. He was trapped. Stiles did know fear, they shared an ugly past. He and fear never got on well. As Derek breathed into him, their fronts meeting intimately, Stiles found fear again. He turned his face away and glared at an oil painting on the far wall. It was a smeared rendering of Athena. Her cheekbones were fine and pink between the gold twists of her hair. He held his breath and let it out hurriedly.
"I will not apologize to you, my King."
Derek laughed. He brushed his nose along the barred chords of his throat. "I'm glad."
Stiles felt wet lips in the shallow dip of his collarbone, hands burning into his outer thighs. He stiffened. "I - don't - !"
"I saw you in the market. You weren't afraid, just curious. I thought, 'too beautiful to be a slave.' But you're more than what you seem to be, aren't you, Stiles?" Teeth were sharp in the meat of his shoulder. "You aren't a simple slave. You have pride, and that's a little unheard of. Then you were watching me as I fought. You couldn't look away, could you?"
Stiles was suddenly lifted off his feet and propped on the desk like a wheat doll. Derek pushed between his legs. A high, chittery noise escaped him.
"I remember the way you looked between my legs, like you belonged - "
"Stop it! I - don't say such things!" Stiles squirmed. Fury and mortification colored him stark red. He scrambled for purchase on broad shoulders, shoving with all his inconsiderable might. "I will not be your whore!" He hissed. Derek rocked into him harshly. Stiles nearly bit his tongue in two. His spine snapped inwards wantonly. He was starting to grasp the direness of his situation. His gut clenched. He gasped, because he couldn't really breathe. He was better than this. He didn't want these affections.
Derek pulled back to meet his eyes. "We'll see."