The horse whuffled Derek's hair affectionately as Derek patted its neck. He was hesitating, there was no other way to describe his actions. It had been four years since he'd left for the continent, four years of war with the Argents, and now he was in his old finery and reluctant to enter the ball. Back before, Derek had always looked forward to these dances- smiling and flirting because it was fun. But now Derek felt too old, too damaged to be around beautiful young men and women.
Since returning to London, and his family's town home, he had spent most of his time on solitary walks and in the reading room, barely speaking. He knew his family worried, werewolves needed to be around pack and were tactile, but he couldn't find the words to explain. He couldn’t bring himself to touch his nieces and nephews with his bloodstained hands. The last thing Derek wanted was to attend a ball where his senses would be overwhelmed and he would have to answer inane questions about his wartime service, but Laura had promised Derek he could retire to their family's country home after tonight; so he would make an appearance.
He took a breath and patted his horse one last time before striding forward.
"Lord Hale is looking well, don't you agree?" Stiles put on his most agreeable smile for the young woman as she fluttered her fan. They were standing with a few of her friends a bit away from the refreshments table, Stiles uncomfortable in his newly made finery and he couldn't for the life of him remember her name or any of the names of her friends. He had only agreed to attend Lady Martin's fete because his cousin was enamored of one of Lady Martin's friends.
"Yes, of course." Stiles subtly adjusted his fitted tunic and looked out across the brightly colored revelers, trying to remember who Lord Hale was. Stiles was pretty sure his cousin hadn't mentioned him, so he thought the Lord was probably a much older peer.
"He's been on the continent for the last few years but has retuned well-formed. It looks as if the campaign was a good fit for him." Stiles could only stare at the lady, trying to keep his incredulity from showing on his face, certain she would take offense. War was never a good fit for a man.
A young man came out of the whirling masses and pulled one of the ladies into a dance with an elegant bow. Her friends dissolved into gossiping whispers about the young man and Stiles tuned them out. He looked for his cousin, starting to let his irritation seep in. Stiles didn't belong here and he was frustrated to be abandoned. He excused himself from the group of ladies, grabbed a cup of punch for something to do with his hands and escaped the ball room.
He stepped out onto a balcony and sighed into the cool night air, feeling slightly better. He sipped his punch and sat on a bench in the darkness, staring up at the stars. He wanted to return home. He wondered if his father missed him, if Scott had made any progress in wooing Miss Argent, if the new lord would need his assistance.
He was deep in thought and didn't notice another presence approach on the balcony until the man spoke.
"Oh, pardon me." He man was outlined by the light from the hallway, his face shadowed as he looked over at Stiles. "I just wanted a moment, I'm sorry if I'm intruding."
"You're not, I was just thinking. The cold air is nice for that."
"It is indeed harder to think with so many attendees chattering loudly and asking to dance," the man said agreeably. He looked out over the balcony into the darkness and Stiles could see his shoulders slump a bit. Stiles felt a sudden kinship with this man. He raised his hands and called his spark. The noise from the ballroom became muffled and quieter.
“Any better?” The man turned in surprise and made a questioning noise. “You seemed stressed, we can still hear someone approaching, everything is just less loud.”
“Does it silence everything both ways?” The man’s head cocked sideways, questioning.
“Yes, it’s like we’re all alone out here.” Stiles flushed at the implication. “Um, well. All alone in that we’re alone on the balcony, and everyone is back through that doorway.”
The man chuckled lightly.
"I feel like an imposter in there," Stiles waved towards the dance room, changing the topic. "My father is a lawman in a smaller town a day from here, I don't belong. I'm only here by the grace of a cousin, whom I was visiting this past month. I'm to return home on the morrow. There was news we've a new lord come to stay at the manor and I'm to see if I can be useful for him or if I'm to leave to find a new trade." He grimaced at the idea of leaving his family, but if the new lord was suspicious of magic, or had his own spark, Stiles would be redundant and all but forced to leave.
"I'm sure any lord would find your spark useful," the man tried to comfort, awkwardly. Stiles couldn't help but be charmed. "I'm here because my sister insisted I attend before retiring to the country, I find I have no taste for the loudness of the tonne since returning from so long away."
"Ah. Well you can certainly hide with me, there is plenty of quiet out here." Stiles gestured to the other half of the bench. He could see the beginnings of a smile on the man's shadowed face and he walked over.
He exhaled happily as he took a seat and leaned back to look at the stars. The man was better illuminated from this angle, and Stiles' breath caught as he took in the man's perfect face.
Stiles opened his mouth to speak but remembered his companion's desire for silence and closed it.
“Do you have any magic for subduing scents?" The man asked almost sheepishly. "It's only that there is so much perfume, and I just," he fumbled to a stop and Stiles took pity on him.
"Yes, actually." He picked up a small stone from the ground beneath the bench and called his spark. The stone flared brilliantly for a second before the light was sucked back in. Stiles offered it to the man. "You can carry it with you, when you go back into the ball. The charm should last a few hours." The man stared at him in silence until Stiles fidgeted nervously. "My apologies, did I overstep? I do this for my best friend when he helps in the stables. He's a werewolf and his sense of smell is acute, so sharp scents can be painful for him. But you don't have to take it," Stiles dropped his hand as the man just continued to stare.
That seemed to break the silence. "No, no I would be honored. I was not expecting such a kindness, thank you." He reached over to pluck the stone from Stiles' hand and cradled it protectively in his palm.
Stiles flushed red and looked away.
They sat together for some time when a woman's voice, quieted but still audible, called from inside. "Derek! Cora, have you seen Derek anywhere?" The response was even quieter and Stiles' bench mate sighed before standing. Stiles saw the shadow of the man's arm tuck the stone into his breeches pocket.
"Those would be my sisters," The man- Derek- said almost reluctantly. "Thank you for sharing your bench."
Stiles smiled, "Any time."
Derek nodded to Stiles before returning to the lit hall and Stiles was left with an odd feeling that he had missed a huge opportunity.
Stiles climbed into the carriage happily, excited to be returning home. He knew the day long journey itself would bore him to tears, even though he had packed several magickal treatises to review. He could only hope his traveling companions would be interested in conversation.
His cousin had seen him to the carriage house, hugging him fiercely, but was soon gone to court Miss Martin's friend, having procured her father's acceptance the night before. He had been in raptures on the ride back from the ball and Stiles had listened in amusement, thinking of his silent, brooding companion. Stiles had looked for the man later but as he hadn't seen the man's face it was impossible to find him.
But now Stiles was settling into the bench seat closest to the small viewing window, his trunk packed and his book satchel in his lap. He would be back in Beacon on the Hills after nightfall, and back with his father.
Derek happily dismounted and rubbed his horse's neck before leading it to the stables. He took a moment to breathe in the scents of his new home as he looked around the front of the manor, and at the forest surrounding. The town he had ridden through to get to the estate was modest in size but prosperous, Laura had managed the accounts from London. Thanks in most part to the human who kept the peace crime was low and Derek was looking forward to the peace and quiet.
He took in another deep breath and ran his fingers over the small stone in his pocket. He had kept it long after the magic had dissipated, leaving him a touch stone to remember the boy on the balcony. That small kindness from a stranger after so long feeling isolated at war had warmed something inside of Derek that he had long thought frozen.
His thoughts drifted to the boy as they often had over the last four days of packing and travels. Derek cursed himself again for leaving before getting the boy's name. He hoped the boy's new lord would find him useful, but Derek selfishly wanted the boy for himself and for Beacon.
Derek opened the stable doors, pleased they had been well-maintained and the hinges did not screech and grate on his hearing. The stables were well lit and clean and Derek drew his horse over to be rubbed down. Eventually he would see if there was a boy in the town who would act as a stable hand, but Derek didn't mind tending to his horses. Derek straightened as he heard voices from the back, two boys, and something was familiar about one of the voices. Derek moved forward without thinking.
"But Stiles, you know his name! You could write to your cousin, see if he knows more about this man."
"It's no use, I only overheard his given name." The familiar voice was dejected and the was scuffling on the floor. "Not every story ends in epic love like you and Aly."
"Yeah," the second voice was dreamy. "She is pretty wonderful."
"Anyway, focus Scott. We gotta make a good impression on the new Lord. I don't want to leave Beacon, so you gotta help me."
"Wait," there was a pause. "What's that? Is there someone else here? I smell someone." Two faces popped out around the far stable and stared at Derek who was frozen in alarm.
"Who are you?" The familiar voice came from a familiar face, one Derek had thought he wouldn't see again, though the view he had in the shadows did not do justice to the boy's delicate features and bright eyes.
"I- uh-" Derek fumbled before being cut off.
"Stiles!" The second boy hissed. "That's Lord Hale!" The boy Stiles went even paler.
"Lord Hale, I'm so sorry!"
"I would prefer you to call me Derek," he ventured softly, hoping the boy would understand. The boy's jaw dropped and Derek smiled. "I didn't catch your name that night, nor your cousin."
Stiles opened his mouth and closed it a few times without noise escaping. Derek went cold, was he making a bigger leap than he had realized? Maybe the boy was friendly to everyone. Derek took a step back, wanting to escape.
"No wait!" Stiles flung out a hand towards Derek. "Wait, I was just surprised. I - I would like to call you Derek. I mean." He flushed and twisted his fingers together. "I'm Stiles." He stepped towards Derek and took one of his hands. Derek could smell the boy's interest and his fluttering heart.
Derek felt his wolf preen and felt a smile stretch across his face. He raised his free hand to caress the boy's cheek. "I'm pleased to meet you, Stiles. "