“I just don’t understand why you’re doing this,” Stiles said, helping Scott shrug into his suit jacket.
“It’s tradition,” Scott said. “And besides, you know Gerard’s been on my mom’s ass about me finding a mate; she gets enough from him already, the least I can do is attend a ball.
“And dance with a bunch of noblewomen,” Stiles said, turning Scott around and pinning his royal seal medal onto his jacket, “who will all be masked.”
“I didn’t say I think it’s normal,” Scott pointed out, check his reflection in the mirror. “But neither is most of the stuff I have to do as the Prince.”
“Well, that’s the truth,” Stiles said. “Just don’t let anyone bully you into dancing with them all night – this night is for you and you should be spending it with someone you actually like. Not like last time.”
“Hey- Ms. Bates is very kind,” Scott countered, offended on his courtier’s behalf.
“She’s also very boring and much, much older than you,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes. Scott’s kindness and ability to get along with almost anyone would make him a good king one day, but it also meant he spent a lot of time talking to nice, but boring people, and he was too kind to weasel his way out of those conversations. “And besides, you have to spend at least some time tonight trying to find a mate.”
“I know, Stiles,” Scott said, sighing at what he called Stiles’ mother-henning.
“So, do you have anyone specific in mind?” Stiles asked, getting out Scott’s boots that he had shined to perfection earlier.
Scott blushed lightly. “Yes. But I don’t know if she’s even coming.”
“Scott, all the women in the kingdom will be here,” Stiles said. “And besides, have you seen your adorable face recently? Who wouldn't want to come?”
“It’s not that she wouldn’t want to…” Scott trailed off, messing with his cuffs as Stiles helped him into his boots. “I don’t know if her family would want her to.”
Stiles stood and sighed. “Of course. You would choose Allison Argent. Out of all the girls in the kingdom, you choose the one whose parents wouldn’t be leaping for joy if you asked her to marry you.”
“Who said it was Allison?” Scott said, pretty unconvincingly.
“Oh, please. I’ve seen you two dimpling at each other every time her grandfather comes over to frown at your mom,” Stiles said, “Why would you choose anyone easy? That wouldn’t be any fun.”
Scott sat heavily on the mattress. “It’s not like I can help it! I know her family hates that a werewolf is going to ascend to the throne, but she’s different. And I know that if we got together her family would cause drama, but it would be worth it. She’s amazing.”
“Not to mention it’d be a wonderful political move,” Stiles said, sitting across from Scott at the desk against the wall. “Showing you and the Argents can play nice? Talk about public support.”
“Yeah, but you know it’s not like that,” Scott assured him. “I really do genuinely like her.”
“I know, buddy, trust me,” Stiles laughed. Though Scott was extremely self-sacrificing, he would never initiate a political marriage. He would feel too guilty at putting someone in the position of having to marry someone they don’t love. Scott’s belief in true love was truly something to marvel at.
“But it’s all probably useless,” Scott pouted. “There’s no way her family will let her come.”
“Hey, chin up,” Stiles said. “If anyone could find a way, it’s Allison. Did you see her at the archery range the other day?”
Scott smiled weakly. “Is it stupid for me to be excited?”
“No,” Stiles said simply. “Anyone would be excited to find someone they might want to spend the rest of their life with.”
Scott smiled over at Stiles and waggled his eyebrows.
“What?” Stiles said, narrowing his eyes at Scott. “What’s with the face?”
Scott scoffed. “You know what’s with the face.”
“Are we talking about your crooked jaw again? Because I don’t think Allison will think it’s a problem.”
“Shut up. Stop trying to distract me,” Scott said firmly.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because I was about to ask you about your love life,” Scott pointed out, looking at Stiles accusingly.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Why do you want to hear about my boring love life? It’s the same as ever. It’s not like there’s a huge amount of options in the palace. There are other servants, and I get to see them, but they’ve all pretty much known me since I was born. The mystery is completely gone.”
“What about Lady Martin?” Scott said, tilting his head. “I thought you liked her.”
“Lydia Martin is a goddess,” Stiles stated. “But you’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to think that we would ever make it in a romantic relationship – and I’m not just talking about the class difference.”
Scott nodded in agreement, grimacing. “But there hasn’t been anyone else? No one’s caught your eye?”
Stiles shook his head. “Not everyone is able to fall in love through a series of glances across a crowded room.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Well, you never know. There will be literally hundreds of single girls here tonight. Maybe you’ll meet someone. Not to mention they each have to have an escort with them, and I bet at least one of these women have a hot brother.”
Stiles smiled at Scott’s eagerness to pair him off. “I highly doubt these girls, or their brothers, will even look twice at the prince’s servant. Besides, I’m working tonight. I don’t need the distraction.”
Scott got that look on his face that meant he was about to do some Real Talk. “Stiles, it’s okay to want things. You deserve the world, and I just want you to be happy.”
“I know, Scott,” Stiles said, smiling. “But tonight's your night, and I want you to have fun without worrying about my love life, okay?”
Stiles smiled as he watched Scott fidget nervously, eyes searching the room. “Allison not here yet?”
“Not that I can tell,” Scott said, grimacing. “Tradition states that everyone has to mask their scent along with their faces. It’s weirdly disconcerting – all these people around and I can’t smell half of them.”
“Weird,” Stiles said. “Now you know how I feel. I’m actually kind of enjoying how squirmy this is making you.”
“Yeah, well, it’s freaking me out,” Scott said. “What if I meet someone I really like and she turns out not to be Allison?”
“Then you like someone who isn’t Allison,” Stiles said. “Seriously, it’s not even close to a big deal, calm down. You like who you like and you marry them, and you get your happily ever after. Now, stop fidgeting. They’re about to start lining up to meet you, and you need to make a good impression.”
Stiles moved to the side so Scott could have some semblance of privacy as he met each girl, but close enough that he could step in if a girl got handsy. This was Scott’s show, Stiles just had to sit back, watch and prevent any potential molesting.
Stiles looked to his right and saw a tall, broad-shouldered man standing nearby in front of the brocade curtains hanging around the thrones and dais. He was ridiculously attractive, despite the prominent frown his face was set in.
“You know, I think you’re the only person in this room less excited to be here than I am,” Stiles said, leaning towards the handsome stranger, figuring Scott could probably handle it on his own for a bit. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
The stranger huffed out a laugh. “Glad to exceed your expectations.”
“Well, you know I'm not going to let you go now,” Stiles said. “We’re kindred spirits.”
“Are we now?” the stranger said, eyes still fixed on the crowd in front of him, his voice a low mumble that seemed to vibrate through Stiles’ chest.
“We are,” Stiles insisted, nodding solemnly. “I’m assuming you’re here to chaperone your sister? I’m a chaperone, too, of sorts.”
“I’m here for my youngest sister, yes,” the man said, his tone betraying how little he was enjoying the evening.
Stiles spotted the insignia on the medal pinned to the man’s chest, eyes lighting with excitement. “The Hale pack! And you’re a born were?” Each member of the aristocracy wore a medal with their house sigil, rank and birth status. There had been debates of late as to whether the weres’ statuses should be marked on their medals; while some saw it as a point of pride to denote whether they were born or changed, others saw it as an invasion of privacy at best, and a forced registration process at it’s worst.
The man visibly tensed, instantly vigilant. “Yes, I am. Why?”
“This is so exciting,” Stiles said, practically bouncing with excitement. “My best friend was bitten, but I haven’t really had a chance to meet any born weres.”
His shoulders loosened when he heard Stiles’ tone. “So you aren’t worried about a werewolf becoming king?” he asked, looking quizzically at Stiles.
“Not in the slightest,” Stiles said. “I’m not Gerard Argent. I know that being a werewolf doesn’t change who you are as a person. Scott was bitten after I met him and he’s still the same guy.”
“Scott? As in the prince?”
“Yeah, he and I go way back,” Stiles said, smiling at the memories of the hijinks he and Scott had gotten into.
“So, would you say he’s a decent man?” His eyes flicked over to one of the girls waiting patiently in the back of the room for her turn to approach the prince.
Stiles smiled at the protective nature. “He’s the best. He’s honestly one of the truest friends I’ve ever had and he’ll make an amazing king one day. Are you asking for your sister?”
“Yeah,” he said, looking out into the ballroom. “She’s very important to me. If she does end up with the prince, I want to know he’s worth it.”
“I wouldn’t worry, if I were you,” Stiles said. “He’s got his eye on someone else. Not sure if she’s here tonight, but, no offense to your sister, I don’t think he’s really looking for anyone else.”
“You’re pretty close with the prince, then?”
“Yeah, we’re good friends,” Stiles said, trying to figure out why this man was so interested.
“Not wearing an outward sign of your rank, then?” he asked, looking briefly down at Stiles’ chest where a medal of rank would hang. “That’s almost downright revolutionary.”
“On, no. I’m-”
The man’s head turned suddenly, apparently hearing something Stiles’ human ears couldn’t pick up.
“Excuse me,” he said, giving a slight bow. “It’s my sister’s turn to meet the prince - I have to actually do what I came here to do and chaperone.”
Stiles looked after him longingly before reigning in his dopey grin and returning to the task at hand of ensuring Scott’s safety.
When the man came up with his sister, he didn’t acknowledge Stiles past a brief look in his direction, his demeanor formal and rigid. Stiles had to fight to hide his disappointment.
After each girl had been formally introduced to Scott, the dancing portion of the evening began. Hundreds of couples swept across the dance floor, but everyone was watching Scott, and who he would choose as his partner.
Stiles remained on the outskirts of the dance floor, ensuring Scott was in sight at all times, sometimes intervening to prevent girls from enticing him into a second dance when it was clear Scott was ready to move on. He had made his way through most of the girls in attendance by the time he trudged over to Stiles as the latest song ended.
“What’s wrong? None of the girls live up to your lofty standards?” Stiles joked.
“No, of course not,” Scott said, always the gentleman. “They’re all perfectly lovely - and beautiful - it’s just-” He paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “I don’t feel anything, with any of them.”
“You know, your mother would let you delay your choice another year,” Stiles said. “I know it’s traditional to choose at 18, but the Queen is a reasonable woman. If you truly want to wait-”
Stiles was cut off by Scott’s arm swinging up to hit Stiles on the chest, winding him slightly. Stiles followed his gaze to where he was staring raptly at a girl who had just entered, standing at the top of the stairway that led to the dancefloor. She was wearing a gorgeous light purple dress, almost the color of wolfsbane - a favorite in court fashion for its forbidden allure - wearing a black lace mask that was nearly the same color as her hair, which fell in gentle curls onto her pale shoulders. Stiles could tell even without any supernatural senses that Scott was absolutely gone. Stiles watched as he practically floated over to the base of the staircase, meeting the girl at the bottom step and holding his hand out to ask her for a dance.
Stiles smiled happily, glad Scott had found someone, but it was hard to tamp down the sudden surge of jealousy. Scott was the prince, and had all the privileges that came along with his position. While he got to hold a ball to help him find his one and only, Stiles was constantly surrounded by people who were either restricted to marriages that suited their status, or who knew him too well to consider him a romantic prospect. Stiles had long since come to terms with the idea that he’ll most likely live and die by Scott’s side and remain a bachelor all his life, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t dreamt of what it could be like.
Stiles’ mother and father were a bit of a fairy tale around the servants’ quarters. The handmaiden to the then-Princess falling in love with an up-and-comer in the palace guard that quickly found favor with the Head of the Watch. They’d started sneaking glances whenever they crossed paths, but the handmaidens to the princess were expected to remain unattached so as to keep their focus on their duties. They all slept in an antechamber to the Princess’ rooms and did not have homes of their own. Their free time was spent in dormitories on the castle grounds. In short, these women worked day and night to live up to the honor of their position so close to the royal family.
Still, John and Claudia found a loose brick in the wall of the castle, and whenever they could sneak away from their duties, they would leave letters for each other behind the it. When the Princess inevitably found out about the budding romance, both John and Claudia were willing to give up their position in order to stay together. However, Melissa reacted by revolutionizing the strict guidelines for her handmaidens in order to allow them to have families of their own. It was the first moment in which the Queen’s subjects saw her as being on their side, a reputation that led to great celebration when she ascended to the throne.
Stiles had dreamt of finding a love like his parents’ since he was a child, a love so strong that it forever changed those who witnessed it.
He stepped on to the terrace overlooking the palace gardens, sighing as he leant his arms on the low wall.
“So it looks like the prince has found someone.”
Stiles started at the unexpected voice, looking around for its source. The man from before was standing by the edge of the terrace.
“So it would seem,” Stiles said, smiling lightly at the knowledge that Scott had found someone. “Your sister is safe, at least for tonight.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” he said. “She’s been dancing all night with Duke Lahey.”
“Isaac?” Stiles asked. “Good for them. That kid deserves something nice in his life. And I can’t help but notice you don’t seem nearly as worried as before. Should I be insulted on Scott’s behalf?”
“Isaac has been an auxiliary member of the Hale pack ever since his father’s death.” The man’s voice was casual, but his eyes dared Stiles to comment.
Of course Stiles knew about the controversy surrounding the elder Lahey’s death. Many suspected Isaac himself, but Stiles saw the way he flinched whenever his father raised his voice or gestured emphatically. Stiles didn’t think Isaac had had the strength to kill his father in those days, though he had since become a strong, confident man under the guidance of the Hale pack. And even if he had been the one to kill his father, Stiles felt it would have been deserved.
“Then I’m happy for them both,” Stiles said. “Love is in the air tonight, apparently.” The last part came out a bit more bitter than Stiles had intended.
“No noblewoman caught your eye?” the man asked, his tone playful while his face remained stoic.
“They are so far out of the realm of possibility, I don’t even bother looking. And besides, I’m much more likely to be interested in the chaperones than the noblewomen.”
The man’s eyebrows shot up at that, regarding Stiles as if with a new perspective. “Really?”
Stiles winced slightly, unsure of whether he’d offended Derek. “Yes. I mean, I’m all about equal opportunity attraction, you know. And these girls came looking for Scott. I’m a bit of a downgrade from a prince, don’t you think?”
“Not at all,” the man said, the corners of his mouth ticking upwards. “You’re a… welcome surprise. A breath of fresh air.”
Stiles blushed and tried to keep his mind from racing ten steps ahead - this man was nobility, a chaperone for a member of the Hale pack, one of the most prominent werewolf packs in history, even after the fire that killed many of the oldest members. After Laura took over as alpha, her tenacity and excellent judgement made them arguably stronger than ever. And yet, he certainly seemed to be expressing interest in Stiles, of all people.
“I tend to grow on people,” Stiles said, and he could feel himself starting to ramble, but couldn’t quite stop himself. “But not in a good way - I just hang around long enough that you get used to me. But eventually most people tend to get sick of me. You know, except Scott, and my dad. I tend to rant, you see, and I get obsessed with things, and I like to read too much, and I get it in my head that I know more than I actually do. This one time, I accidentally started debating werewolf rights with Gerard Argent, which I don’t think he much appreciated.”
The man’s smile had widened as Stiles spoke, and he began to shake his head slowly in a sort of amused disbelief as Stiles recounted the tale of his exchange with Gerard Argent. By the time Stiles had confirmed that he emphatically disagreed with the crotchety old man, the stranger had cupped his hand around Stiles’ jaw and was stroking his thumb across his cheek. His face had gone back to a more stoic expression, but there was still a hint of a smile around his eyes.
Stiles stopped talking and focused on how it felt to have the heat of the man’s palm against his skin. Before Stiles could react, the man had leaned down and kissed him.
Stiles closed his eyes and fell into the feeling of the warm lips pressed against his own. He was entirely lost in the kiss when the clock chimed midnight and the doors to the ballroom flew open, revealing the girl in the black lace mask. She ran quickly into the gardens, disappearing behind the trees and hedges. Stiles was frozen to the spot, shocked by the sudden turn of events. Before he could fully process what had just happened, Scott burst through the doors, eyes searching wildly.
“What did you do?” Stiles asked, running up to his friend. “I can’t imagine what you must have said to send a girl running off like that.”
“Nothing!” Scott exclaimed. “We were getting along so well, she was amazing, but then it was midnight and she was telling me she had to go and running off.”
“Did you at least ask her name?” Stiles asked, exasperated. This could only ever happen to Scott.
“No!” Scott wailed. “I need to go after her!”
“She’s long gone, Scott,” Stiles said. “I don’t know if you can find her now, not unless you somehow got her scent.”
“No, I didn’t,” Scott said. “How are we going to find her?”
“This might help.”
Scott and Stiles spun in unison to face the man from before. He held up a shoe, an ornate, glass shoe.
“This is hers?” Scott asked, dashing over to him and taking the slipper in his hand gingerly.
“Yeah, there can’t be many shoes like that lying around,” Stiles says, eyeing the shoe, somewhat concerned with why anyone would subject themselves to glass footwear for an entire evening.
“Let’s go,” Scott said urgently, tugging on Stiles’ wrist. “We need to figure out a way to find the girl who both fits this shoe, and has the other one.”
Stiles resisted, turning to face the man from before.
“It was good meeting you!” he called, “When can I see you again?”
Before the man could answer, Stiles was pulled off of the terrace by Scott’s eager hand. Swept up in the idea of finding Scott’s one true love, Stiles followed as they sped down the corridors of the castle to Scott’s personal study.
“So… who was that guy you were talking to?” he asked, trying to keep his voice casual.
“Just some escort,” Stiles said, looking down at the map spread across Scott’s desk. “We could maybe start from the south end of town and move this way-”
“Stiles, seriously,” Scott said, grabbing Stiles’ wrist and looking him in the eye excitedly. “You two seemed like you really hit it off.”
“He was just here escorting someone from the Hale pack,” Stiles said, trying to avoid this topic. “I didn’t even get his name, so you can stop interrogating me.”
“You don’t even know his name?” Scott asked. “I can’t believe I made you leave before you got his name! Do you want to go back, I bet he’s still out there somewhere.”
“No, it’s fine,” Stiles said. “I mean, did you see him? No way would he be interested in me. We just got swept up in the moment and the ball, and he was bored. And besides, I had a lot of chances to ask his name, it wasn’t because you dragged me away so suddenly.”
“Stiles, I swear to god, one day you will listen to me and stop doubting yourself.”
“One day, I’ll get you to focus on something for more than 10 minutes,” Stiles said. “Seriously, we should work our way over from this end of town and move east.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “All right, but once we find the girl in the black lace mask, we’re finding him.”
“Okay,” Stiles agreed, but he was mostly just humoring Scott.
No way someone like that wants anything to do with him.
At this point, if Stiles never saw another woman’s foot, he would die a very happy man.
So far that day, he had been subjected to the feet of more than 80 different women. Each had made some effort to convince the prince that she was the girl in the black lace mask, shoving their foot into the shoe, contorting their toes to try and make it fit. But seeing as the slipper was glass, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room as far as fit went. Stiles had tried to be polite and humor their attempts to squeeze their foot in, but after having to slather one woman’s foot with oil in order to get it out of the shoe, he had stopped going along with trying to fit the shoe on people who obviously wouldn’t fit.
Scott was starting to doubt himself. The only two places they hadn’t checked were the Hale mansion and Argent Manor. Despite Scott’s eagerness for Stiles to go to the Hale mansion, Stiles wasn’t having it.
“The only girl from the Hale house that was at the ball was Cora Hale, and I have it on good authority that she spent most of the evening with Isaac Lahey, and that she didn’t arrive late.”
“I know that,” Scott said. “But they don’t know that I know. It’s the perfect excuse for you to go and find your mystery man!”
“I promised we could look for him after we find your mystery girl,” Stiles reminded him. “I’m not going to just show up and start asking everyone I see if they know a tall guy with dark hair, light eyes, and a gorgeous smile.”
“Why not?” Scott asked. “Don’t you want to find him?”
“He thinks I’m a noble!” Stiles called out, turning his horse to a stop in front of Scott’s, preventing them from going any further. They were on a country road that led out to the larger estates on the outskirts of town, mostly homes used by nobility when they were at court.
“What?” Scott asked, humbled slightly.
“He assumed I was there chaperoning, and I never got a chance to correct him.”
“Oh, Stiles,” Scott said sympathetically. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you or want to see you again.”
Stiles scoffed. “You know, you only say that because you’ve never been on the other side of it. If you fell for a commoner, well, you’d be bucking tradition, but your mother would mostly be okay with it. But me? There aren’t a lot of nobles who would stoop so low. Falling in love with a servant doesn’t exactly go well if your parents are looking to go up a rung on the social ladder.”
Scott nudged his horse to move so that Stiles had to look him in the eye. “That may be true, but I still think you should try. If he rejects you, then you’re in the same place you are now. But what if he does like you and is interested in seeing you again? What if you choosing not to go after him is what prevents you from finding the love of your life?”
Stiles smiled wryly and guided his horse around Scott’s. “Not everyone’s life is a fairy tale.”
The lane leading up to the Argent’s house was lined with white birches that seemed to glow silver in the moonlight, especially on full moons. Stiles had spent many years looking down the lane and imagining what the manor looked like. It wasn’t until much later that he was actually allowed to go to Argent manor, and it was every bit as impressive and imposing as he’d imagined.
The Argents rarely hosted events within the walls of their manor, so Stiles had never actually been inside, only stopped by to deliver invitations. As he and Scott rode up the lane, Stiles got more and more excited to finally see inside.
“They’re not that scary, Stiles,” Scott said. “It probably looks like a normal manor.”
“You’re forgetting Kate,” Stiles said, thinking back to Chris’ sister, who had been banished after her attempt on Scott’s life when it was revealed he was a werewolf. “She’s scary. And Victoria. Those Argent women are scary, are you sure about this, Scott?”
“Way to be supportive about my future wife,” Scott said.
“You don’t know that,” Stiles said, trying to manage Scott’s expectations, just in case. “The girl in the black lace might not be Allison.”
“I know,” Scott admitted. “I’ve just got this feeling that it was her.”
“And, she would have a reason for not telling you who she was,“ Stiles pointed out. “Namely, her family might have murdered her if she’d asked to go.”
“Chris Argent isn’t so bad,” Scott said. “He loves Allison and wants her to be happy.”
“You better hope you have him on your side, then.” Stiles said. “And hope Gerard dies sometime soon.”
Scott’s mouth turned up at the corners. They didn’t speak as they approached the mansion. They both dismounted and walked up to the door, Scott adjusting his jacket nervously. Stiles gave him a look and mouthed at him to calm down, before raising his hand to knock on the heavy wooden door.
One of the Argent’s servants opened the door and bowed graciously, leading them to the parlor to wait for their host.
Scott was visibly nervous, fidgeting with his collar and cuffs, clenching and unclenching his fists.
“You need to calm down,” Stiles muttered. “They’re going to think you’ve come here to kill someone.”
“I’m just nervous,” Scott said, eyes flitting around the room. “What if it’s her, and her family goes crazy and exiles her to keep us apart? Or what if they kill me?”
“What if it isn’t even her, and we need to keep looking?” Stiles suggested. Scott glared darkly. “I’m just saying.” Stiles held his hands up defensively.
Stiles stood diligently at Scott’s side waiting patiently, the shoe weighing down his shoulder bag with the possibility of what could happen. He was happy for Scott, really, but he couldn’t help but feel a little bitter over the fact that his whirlwind evening didn’t end so happily. Stiles’ life wasn’t one that included grand gestures; last night had been like a fairy tale, but it wasn’t real life, and it was time to face the facts that he wasn’t destined for a grand romance.
Chris Argent walked into the room, looking like he had just sucked on a lemon. “Your Royal Highness, thank you for coming to our home.”
“Thank you, sir,” Scott said, “for allowing me into your home.”
“I apologize for the remainder of my family’s absence - they are all previously engaged.”
Stiles had to resist rolling his eyes. No doubt the rest of the Argent family was sitting somewhere else in the castle doing absolutely nothing except fuming that there was a werewolf sitting in their formal parlor.
“That’s quite all right, Lord Argent,” Scott said. “You may guess why I’ve come.”
Argent nodded solemnly. “And my daughter is certainly willing to come meet with you, but I would rather speak with you first.”
Argent offered Scott a seat in one of the grand armchairs, sitting across from him in the other.
“As you are no doubt aware, my family has had a complicated relationship with your kind,” Lord Argent said seriously. “But I’ve seen firsthand what a relationship like that can do, on both sides. My sister’s banishment perhaps came a few years too late. Her actions against you, and the Hale family were inexcusable.”
Stiles perked up. What did Kate Argent have to do with the Hales?
Scott simply nodded; apparently his best friend had been keeping something from him.
“That being said, I cannot speak for the rest of my family - they might not take very kindly to a match between you and my daughter. However, while they may make my life difficult for it, you have my blessing.”
Scott’s mouth dropped open for a moment before he seemed to pull himself together. “Thank you, sir. You will never know what that means to me.” He offered his hand for Chris to shake.
Lord Argent shook his hand and gave him a brief smile. “I know you to be a good man, and I personally believe you will make a wonderful king. It would be an honor for you to include my daughter in your life.”
The fact that Lord Argent was taking this so well was a bit surprising - Stiles figured he must have discovered that Allison went to the ball after all, or he wouldn’t be this calm in accepting the fact that Scott would want to marry Allison.
“You can come down now, I know you’ve been listening,” Chris called up the stairs.
Allison poked her head around the corner before stepping out into view and gliding down the staircase. Scott only had eyes for her, and something told Stiles that trying on the slipper was probably unnecessary at this point, but he figured they should anyway, for propriety’s sake.
“If you wouldn’t mind, my lady,” Stiles said, gesturing to the chair to the side of the base of the stairs. Argent and Scott came to stand at the base of the stairs, Scott almost visibly buzzing with excitement.
Stiles moved to kneel and test the shoe as he had done with every other young lady they’d visited, but Scott stopped him, taking the shoe himself and kneeling in front of Allison. He smiled winningly, but not without a hint of nerves.
When Stiles saw the heel of the slipper fit snugly around Allison’s heel, a noticeable wave of relief went through Scott, and his and Allison’s smiles lit up the room. Stiles couldn’t fight the grin that crept onto his own face at the sight. Even Chris Argent was smiling, clearly glad for his daughter’s happiness.
Scott stood and wrapped his arms around Allison, bringing her up with him to twirl her around, her feet leaving the ground to reveal her mismatched shoes.
After that, the entire city seemed to descend into wedding planning. The castle was bustling with the preparations for the visitors that would inevitably be coming to wish the new couple well. A new set of rooms were aired for Allison’s personal use before the wedding, after which she would move to Scott’s quarters with her own study and parlor attached.
The supplies for the wedding were streaming in at a near constant rate, and even the merchants in the town were swept up in the frenzy.
In all the excitement, Stiles had managed to avoid thinking about the man from the ball. And when he did think about it, only sometimes, when he wasn’t occupied with other things, he determined that the potential pain of rejection was too much a risk. The odds were certainly not in his favor in terms of his feelings being returned once the man discovered Stiles was only a servant.
Luckily, it seemed Scott had forgotten as well. He spent almost all his free time between his political responsibilities with Allison. They were always taking walks in the gardens, or going on rides into the forest, or spending time at the archery range so Scott could learn more about Allison’s favorite sport.
So it seemed Scott had stopped meddling in Stiles’ love life, until Stiles received the portion of the city to which he was personally responsible for delivering invitations. He stalked over to Scott’s rooms, hoping for once he might be there.
“Scott?” he called accusingly into the study, finding Scott bent over his desk, quill in hand.
“Yes, Stiles?” Scott said, feigning innocence.
“You know exactly what I’m here about,” Stiles said. “I told you that I didn’t want to pursue it, that he would most likely reject me.”
“Stiles, don’t you at least want to find out?”
“No, not if he’s going to reject me!”
“That’s ridiculous,” Scott said. “And besides, you promised you would look for him once we found Allison.”
“Still!” Stiles argued. “I can’t just show up at his house with an invitation and then be like, oh and also, do you have any handsome young men hiding somewhere? I seem to have lost mine.”
“Stiles, I swear-” Scott said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t want to do this, but I am your Prince, and I can make you go. But I just want you happy, Stiles.”
Stiles smiled sadly. “I know, Scott. Thank you. I’m just- I’m not like you. I don’t really subscribe to the ‘better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all’ theory. You saw how it crushed my Dad when we lost my Mom.”
“Stiles, I promise, if you were to ask your dad, he would say the same thing I’m about to say,” Scott said, his regal voice fading a bit as he becomes more sincere. “Don’t let this be something that you think back on years down the line and regret not going for it. I know you, you’re curious. A few years from now you won’t be able to stop thinking about what could have been.”
Stiles paused, looking down at the paper in his hands, eyes focusing in on the Hales’ name. He knew Scott was right, that if he didn’t go for it he would always wonder what could have happened. And as long as he did that, he could imagine that they would meet again and fall in love and live happily ever after. But, then again, the likelihood of that happening if they don’t meet again is pretty small.
“But what if I find him again and he turns me down because I’m not a noble?” Stiles asks. “Life isn’t a fairy tale.”
“Unlikely things happen all the time,” Scott said. “For example, who would have guessed that Allison and I would actually be getting married? Who would have thought that your parents’ love for each other could have change the lives of all of the servants after them? Love can make crazy things happen.”
Stiles nodded and squared his shoulders. “Okay. Okay, I’ll go deliver these. And I promise I’ll deliver the Hales’ as well.”
“Good,” Scott said. “I don’t think you’ll regret it, in the long run.”
Stiles turned to leave, but stopped at the door. “Hey, Scott?” Scott turned to face him. “I know I’ve been being kind of an asshole about this, but I know you’re just looking out for me. So, thanks. You’re too good for me.”
Scott nodded and smiled, going back to whatever princely duty he was working on.
“Hey, Scott?” Stiles asked, remembering something from when they were at Argent Manor. “What does Kate Argent have to do with the Hales?”
Scott sighed and set his quill down, an uncharacteristically serious look on his face.
“Stiles, what I’m about to tell you is not widely known,” Scott said. “But I think you deserve to know. You might be a part of the Hale family soon - shut up, I’m being optimistic - and you should know their history.”
Stiles sat on the ottoman facing Scott. “You’re too serious, and it’s scaring me.”
Scott grimaced. “Everyone knows that many of the Hales died in a fire at the manor; what only a very small group of people know is that Kate Argent was the one who set the fire. The surviving Hales haven’t exactly been eager for everyone to know this, in the interest of keeping the peace, and out of respect for them, we kept their secret. I only know this next part because I was involved in Kate Argent’s trial; Derek and Kate were courting. Apparently she made Derek believe she loved him, that they had to continue in secret because their families would disapprove. That’s how she gained access to the Hale mansion.”
Stiles took a deep breath in, eyes wide. “So, Derek...?
“Has put the blame on himself ever since,” Scott said. “That’s why he’s been absent from court. He wasn’t even present at the trial, Laura came in his stead.”
Stiles nodded, trying to absorb everything Scott had just told him. “Do you remember Derek from before the fire at all?”
“I don’t,” Scott said. “But from what I hear, he’s a tall, dark-haired man who has grown into a wonderful leader, if still haunted by the deaths of his family.”
Stiles paused, summoning up his memory of the man from the ball. He matched Scott’s description, but then again, so did many men. Surely there would have been more of a fuss if Derek Hale had chosen to return to court. Unless he purposefully stayed out of the crowd, kept to the edges of the party and didn’t talk to anyone, except an annoying servant who wouldn’t leave him alone.
Stiles looked up at Scott, who was regarding him carefully. “I think I have to go to the Hales’.”
“I think you might,” Scott said, clearly putting the pieces together himself.
Stiles placed the invitations in the saddle bag as he stroked down Pilot’s mane gently, calming himself as much as the horse. He’d had Pilot since he was a child, and the horse was older than most in the palace stables, but was as reliable as the day Stiles first rode him (if not less likely to buck Stiles off into a pond in his old age).
“Hey, boy,” Stiles murmured. “Sorry we haven’t been out for a ride lately. There’s been a lot going on. Someday soon we’ll go on a ride just to enjoy the forest.”
He pulled himself up into the saddle and took a deep breath to calm himself.
“Everyone else first, Hales last,” he muttered, willing his heart to stop racing, his head to stop spinning. He had to get through the rest of the invitations, then he could start freaking out.
He moved through the town and surrounding manors almost without thinking, following the familiar route that he knew from delivering invitations to all of Scott’s previous balls. This time, though, it was hard to pay attention to what he was doing; he smiled warmly at the courtiers and servants, handing over each invitation with mechanical precision. He worked steadily until there was only one piece of rich, thick paper in the saddle bag, only one more stop to be made.
He paused in the market to buy a couple apples for Pilot and himself. He stopped and ate at the edge of the Hale land, leaning up against a large tree and enjoying its shade as Pilot munched happily on the apple and the tall grass.
Stiles closed his eyes and soaked in the cool, fresh air and the smell of the grass in the fields on either side of him. He tilted his head back to rest against the tree trunk and sighed, enjoying the calm that came with being out in nature. He always loved just sitting outside and soaking in the fresh air, just letting all his worries slip away and forget about his problems, forget about the stress of going to the Hales’.
He heard the sound of hoofbeats and reached a hand out to feel Pilot still munching happily beside him. It must be someone from the Hales’ going into town on an errand.
“Excuse me, this is private property,” a voice said, much closer than Stiles had expected.
Stiles’ head shot up and his eyes searched around, eyes landing on a man dressed in fine clothes dismounting from a tall horse.
“I didn’t know the Hale land extended this far,” Stiles said. By the time he had finished speaking his eyes met the man’s and they both stilled completely.
Stiles stared for a moment, absolutely lost in the eyes of the man he had honestly thought he would never see again. He took in the swirls of greens and browns in the man’s eyes and felt his heart skip and start to beat wildly in his chest. He willed himself to say something, anything, but his words caught in his throat.
The man’s eyes flicked down the length of Stiles’ body where it was still laid out against the tree as he walked towards where Stiles was lying, taking off his riding gloves in an extremely distracting way. Stiles jumped up gracelessly, hurriedly brushing off his trousers, looking guiltily down at his plain, untucked blouse and glancing at where he had hung his uniform jacket on the saddle horn.
“Hello,” Stiles said awkwardly, all his sparkling wit having completely abandoned him.
“Hello,” the man said, taking a step closer and fiddling with his gloves absent-mindedly. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
“Me neither,” Stiles admitted, looking timidly down at his shabby outfit in comparison to the man’s fine clothes.
“I’m just on my way back from a ride,” the man said, using his gloves he had taken off to indicate his horse where it was tied to a fence post.
“Oh, that’s nice,” Stiles said. “Did you have a pleasant ride?”
“Very,” the man said, fiddling slightly.
Stiles nodded silently, trying to decide what to say next without it being too awkward. “I was on my way to deliver an invitation for Scott’s engagement party,” Stiles blurted quickly. Way to go, he thought to myself. Well done.
“Well, if you’re on your way to the estate, would you mind if I accompanied you?” Derek said. “You can leave your horse with mine, and our grooms will stable it for you while you’re here.”
“Not at all,” Stiles said, breathing deeply to try and slow his racing heart.
Stiles walked alongside Derek in silence, thinking over what was about to happen. He had assumed that the mysterious man he met at the ball would remain just that, a fantasy he could return to whenever he dreamt about finding love; but now, here he was, walking next to him, knowing his name, knowing his title and his position. A servant like him would never merit this kind of individual attention.
“I’m sorry for intruding,” Stiles said. “Yours is the last family I’m delivering to today, and I was taking a quick break.”
Derek looked over at Stiles. “So the prince found the mystery girl?”
“Yes, in fact,” Stiles said. “Scott is to be married to Allison Argent.”
“Really?” Derek asked. “I can’t imagine that went smoothly.”
“Her father was all politeness,” Stiles said. “He felt that the match would make his daughter happy. And that there has been enough hatred against weres from the Argent family.”
Derek nodded sagely, a vein in his neck tightening the only sign of any reaction.
Neither spoke for several minutes, walking in slightly awkward silence down the pathway.
“Lord Derek, I apologize for being so frank, but why are you even talking to me? By now you must know that I’m Scott’s servant. I am not someone you should bother spending time with, and I understand if you would rather forget we ever met. I promise not to tell anyone about our brief... involvement.”
Stiles looked to his right to check Derek’s reaction and realized that he had stopped walking and was looking at Stiles from several steps behind him.
Derek regarded Stiles carefully. “I’m not all that bothered with your being a servant. I would, however, be interested in learning your name.”
Stiles was confused. “You don’t care that I’m not noble?”
“Why should I? I’m not the eldest. It’s Laura who gets the particular pleasure of having to choose someone appropriate to marry. And besides, I had my suspicions from the moment I met you. No noble acts quite like you do.”
Stiles paused. “Well you were clearly more observant than I was last night. I didn’t know who you were until after we’d already separated.”
Derek’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You really didn’t know? I’d assumed you recognized me. Now I’m the one who has to offer to pretend we never met. I would understand if you aren’t interested in getting involved, given my history.”
“Who said I was interested in getting involved before now?” Stiles said, immediately regretting that sarcasm was his default setting.
“Of course, I didn’t mean to assume…”
“Oh, cut that courtier politeness out - I would have to be blind to not be interested. If this is going to have to work, you’re going to have to learn to roll with the punches.”
“I can provide an itemized list of why you wouldn’t want to be involved with me.”
“So can everyone; yours might just be a little longer,” Stiles said. “Has anyone ever told you that you actively deny yourself things you want?”
“Who said I wanted you?” Derek said, a twinkle in his eye. “But yes, actually; my sisters, all the time.”
“Maybe you should start listening to them,” Stiles suggested, thinking back to what Scott had told him before he left and noting the irony. “But even if you aren’t bound by duty to your name to marry at your station, why would you choose me? A servant is quite the step down from a lord.”
Derek chuckled lightly. “It would seem we both excel at trying to convince one another we aren’t worthy.”
“Scott would agree with you,” Stiles said. “He’s always berating me for not having more self-confidence. But in this case, who could blame me? Most courtiers wouldn’t react so calmly to a servant propositioning them.”
“Oh, is that what you were doing?” Derek asked, eyebrow quirked teasingly.
Stiles rolled his eyes. It struck him how quickly they had been able to get back into comfortable conversation. He hadn’t met someone this easy to talk to since he and Scott became friends. No one seemed to be able to keep up with Stiles’ particular brand of quick wit.
They stopped walking, having reached the front drive of the estate, the grand building towering over them. Stiles had been here several times on official business, but had very rarely gone inside. But, that might change soon, if Derek was being truthful about his feelings. Stiles looked over at Derek with a fondness he normally reserved for his family, and Scott, and Derek caught him looking, giving him a small smile in return.
Neither one knew who moved first, but their lips met cautiously, enjoying the taste of each other after what was far too long. Stiles brought his arms up to grasp at Derek’s broad shoulders before slipping his hand to Derek’s chest, fingers searching beneath the collar, caressing Derek’s collarbone and revelling in the warmth of Derek’s skin against his. They were still pressed against each other, lost in the kiss, when they heard someone clearing their throat and sprung apart.
Stiles ducked his head, hoping he hadn’t just embarrassed Derek in front of a member of his family or caused a scandal.
“Derek, would you like to invite your friend inside?” a female voice came from the steps of the estate.
Stiles looked up to find Laura Hale smiling down at them from the top step leading into the home.
“Laura,” Derek said. “This is Stiles, Stiles, meet Laura Hale, first in line to the Hale estate.”
“My pleasure, ma’am,” Stiles said, bowing slightly.
“Oh there’s no need for that. Feel free to call me Laura,” Laura said. “Until I marry and become Lady of the estate, and you have to call me milady.”
“Laura’s engaged to be married; she can’t shut up about how excited she is.” Derek said, rolling his eyes at Stiles before looking back up at his sister. “What is it, Laura, eager to finally be able to officially boss me around?”
Laura chuckled, “Now, little brother; of course not. You already know I do that already.”
Stiles smiled at the lighthearted teasing between siblings, already growing to like Laura.
“Besides, why should I wait for a title to tease you when I could just tell Stiles here about how awkward you were as a child?”
Derek’s eyes widened briefly before he shook his head and walked up the stairs to greet his sister. “How was your trip? I trust you found your betrothed well.”
“Very well,” Laura said. “And you know I hate that word. It’s like Daniel’s been saddled with me like a burden.”
Stiles stepped hesitantly up to the same level as the two siblings. Laura turned to him and looked him up and down, assessing him more thoroughly than Stiles had ever assessed been before. For all her teasing and smiles, she was incredibly intimidating. Stiles assumes that will serve her well when she takes over the administration of the Hale estate after her marriage.
“So, Stiles,” Laura said. “Would you be the same man from the night of the Prince’s ball?”
“The very same,” Stiles said, nodding.
“I’m sorry I had to miss it - from what Derek says it was such a beautiful night, with all of its enchanting guests.”
The tips of Derek’s ears went pink, so Stiles decided to save him the embarrassment.
“I am actually here on official business,” Stiles said, reaching into his rucksack for the invitation. “The Prince would thoroughly appreciate your presence at his engagement ball, this next week.” Stiles glanced at Derek. “As would I.”
Laura took the invitation graciously, smiling at Stiles. “I’m eager to attend, and to give the Prince my congratulations. Derek will be there, I’m certain.”
As Derek sent an exasperated look towards Laura, who followed suit by sticking her tongue out, briefly enough that Stiles barely noticed, Stiles wondered what exactly he was getting himself into. Then he turned to look at Derek and saw his smile and the fondness in his eyes as he looked at his sister and Stiles realized, he didn’t really care.
It might not be a fairy tale, but Stiles didn’t want a happy ending anyway. Happy beginnings were much more fun.