“Stiles, you’re staring again.”
“I’m not staring,” Stiles retorts, immediately averting his eyes from the other side of the ornately decorated ballroom. A waiter passes in front of him and Stiles grabs two glasses of glistening champagne, one for him and one for Scott. He takes one sip, gags a little bit and as he looks around for somewhere to put the glass down, he finds himself glancing, once again, at the person standing directly opposite him on the other side of a dance floor filled with a swirling mass of dresses and expensive suits. This time, after only a few moments, Scott gently elbows him in the ribs.
Okay, maybe he’s been staring a bit. He’s genuinely trying not to, but when it comes to Derek Hale, werewolf and future king of one of the most powerful families in the land, Stiles has never been good at listening to the rational side of his brain. He practically grew up in the Hale’s castle; he started training with their emissary almost as soon as he could walk, right after the first sign of his spark appeared.
(He was four years old and he accidentally lit some of his hair on fire while throwing a temper tantrum. His mother had taken pictures for “future blackmail purposes”, but thankfully only after she put out the fire and made sure he was okay.
He’d kept his hair in a buzzcut until he turned seventeen. The smell of burning hair was a difficult one to forget.)
Stiles spent most of his early years being afraid of Derek. At first, it’d simply been due to his status as a prince, but after it became clear that Derek wanted people to treat him as an equal, he’d been scared simply because of how naturally intimidating the guy was. He had a habit of silently popping up in dark corners or sneaking into one of the training rooms and only making his presence known when Stiles or one of the other trainees messed up a spell.
He quickly lost count of the number of times that Derek’s unexpected presence had almost given him a heart attack.
But even though Derek was more than a little scary and frustratingly hard to get a read on, as he grew older, Stiles found it difficult to stay away from him. He even started looking forward to Derek’s random appearances in the training rooms, if only because it gave Stiles an excuse to talk to him for a few minutes.
Sure, Derek usually only said one word for every twenty of Stiles’ and sure, Stiles usually just ended up making a fool out of himself, but that wasn’t enough to put a damper on the crush that steadily formed over the years.
And yes, Stiles’ eyes may have developed a talent for seeking out Derek during formal events, but that was understandable. Derek looked incredible in suits, tie perfectly knotted, dark jacket clinging to his broad shoulders and narrow waist. As he grew older, he only became more gorgeous and Stiles had gotten distracted on more than one occasion by imagining what Derek’s dark stubble would feel like against his palms.
But still, all of that just meant that he knew how to appreciate the obvious. It did not mean that he had any feelings stronger than a slight crush.
Really. It didn’t.
“Is he pining again?” Allison asks Scott as she emerges from the crowd with Isaac at her side, both of their faces lightly flushed from dancing.
“I don’t pine,” Stiles retorts. “That’s immature.”
“You’re one of the least mature people I know.” This voice comes from behind him and Stiles spins around to find himself face to face with Lydia, a fellow emissary who finished her training a few years ago. She takes one look at him before smirking and adding, “And you’re definitely pining.”
“Your face is turning red,” Malia, Lydia’s partner, chimes in. “Why are you blushing?”
“I did not come here to be ganged up on,” Stiles says, standing on his tiptoes and looking for the nearest waiter. “I came here to get a little drunk and maybe, just maybe, make out with somebody in the gardens. You know, get into the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Is that so hard to ask for?” None of his friends answer him. Scott and Isaac have disappeared, presumably to go dance. Allison, Lydia and Malia, on the other hand, are simply staring over Stiles’ shoulder with wide eyes.
“What are you looking at?” Stiles asks, looking over his right shoulder. “Did someone just fall down the stairs? Please tell me it was Greenberg.”
“Other shoulder,” Lydia mutters from the corner of her mouth before plastering on a wide smile. Stiles turns around, just in time to find himself face to face with Derek whose mouth, per usual, is curled into something that could be either a smirk or a snarl.
“Sir Greenberg hasn’t fallen down yet,” Derek says. “But I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.” He nods at the others before leaning in closer, close enough for Stiles to smell his woodsy cologne.
“Stiles, could we talk? Alone?”
Stiles’ stomach plummets. He’s pretty sure that he knows what this is about; Derek must have noticed him staring at some point and is now here to reprimand him. He wants nothing more than to just disappear, or bolt through the crowd while Derek’s back is turned. But, knowing his luck, he’ll just end up tripping or crashing into a waiter, which would mean embarrassing himself in front of everyone who is anyone in the kingdom.
This is officially the worst Valentine’s Day he’s ever experienced, even worse than the one where he accidentally pushed Malia into one of the fountains in the garden.
(It’d been his first and last date with them.)
“Sure,” he manages to say, handing Allison his glass of champagne. “Lead the way.”
The last thing he expects is for Derek’s fingers to wrap around his. Stiles glances back over his shoulder, catches Lydia’s eye and gestures down at their interlocked fingers, hoping to convey how out of the blue this is. Lydia simply grins and waves before turning back to Allison and Malia.
His friends are the worst.
Derek leads the way through the crowd, which parts swiftly as a river around him. As they move, Stiles feels dozens of people staring at him, their eyes drilling into his back. He’s sure that it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the room knows that he’s holding Derek’s hand, and he’s sure that it’ll be weeks before the rumors start to die down.
Part of him wants to put a stop to that right now, yell out to the ballroom that this doesn’t mean anything, that it’s just the easiest way to get through such a crowded room without losing track of each other.
The more hopeful part of himself wants to wait a little longer, just in case it does mean something.
Stiles doesn’t try to ask Derek what’s going on; there’s too much noise for that. When they come to a stop, it’s right at the edge of the packed dance floor. Stiles’ stomach drops again; although dancing is something he’s tried to learn for years, he’s never gotten the hang of it. He’s memorized the diagrams that lay out all the steps, but somewhere between his brain and his feet, the instructions always get lost in translation.
(Come to think of it, that was how he’d accidentally pushed Malia into the fountain.)
“Are you asking me to dance?” he blurts out.
“I’ve found that it’s easier to talk business while dancing,” Derek replies, fingers loosening slightly around Stiles’. “Everyone is too busy focusing on the dance or their partner to listen in on anyone else.” Stiles can see the logic behind the idea, and it would certainly explain why Queen Talia never seems to leave the dance floor, but that still doesn’t mean that his legs will cooperate.
“You know, there’s probably a spell for that,” Stiles says. “To block your conversations from others. I mean, I don’t know it, but I’m sure one exists. Deaton probably knows.”
“Stiles.” Derek turns to face him and for once, Stiles can read his expression without hesitation. It’s nervousness. “Would you feel better if we danced first and talked later?”
“Wait,” Stiles says, replaying the question in his head a few times. “Do you want to dance just so we can talk or-”
“I want to dance with you,” Derek interrupts. “The talking is important too, but it can wait.” Derek ducks his head and rubs at the back of his neck, flushed pink right to the tips of his ears.
Holy shit. Derek Hale, certified werewolf prince, is actually blushing.
Stiles is pretty sure he had a dream like this once. He discreetly pinches his thigh, but he doesn’t wake up. Derek is still standing there, glancing at him with one eyebrow raised, mouth quirked into an actual, undeniable smile.
“I’m probably going to step on you,” Stiles says as the string quartet installed on a raised stage at one end of the room finishes their song.
“I’ll heal,” Derek shrugs, tightening his grip on Stiles’ hand and leading them through the people streaming away from the dance floor. In only a few seconds, they’re surrounded again. Stiles can feel eyes boring into his back again but he simply stands up straighter and fixes his eyes on Derek’s right shoulder. His tie seems to be growing tighter with each second that passes but he resists the urge to tug at it, mainly because he doesn’t want to drop Derek’s hand. Derek’s other hand settles on the dip of his spine, thick fingers splaying across Stiles’ back. After a moment of hesitation, Stiles drops his other hand to Derek’s waist. Even through Derek’s clothes, heat floods into Stiles’ palm, which only makes his skin clammier.
He quickly searches his mind for a spell to combat nervousness but, per usual, nothing comes up.
“You’re leading,” he says under his breath as the violin player starts up again.
“I’ll catch you if you trip.”
After that, there’s no time for talking. The number is an upbeat one and as Stiles moves, he pictures the step chart in his head. Almost immediately, he stomps on Derek’s foot and he winces as they momentarily fall out of step with the rhythm of the song.
The second time it happens, he mutters fuck and really thinks about letting go and darting into the crowd. No matter what Derek has to talk to him about, it can’t be worth embarrassing himself like this.
The third time, before he can curse again or try to break away, Derek pulls him closer, until they’re nearly chest to chest. His hand tightens on Stiles’ back and curls into his jacket, bunching the extra fabric in a way that reminds Stiles just how ill-fitting his suit is.
“You don’t have to try so hard,” Derek murmurs, his lips so close to Stiles’ ear that he can feel the words leaving Derek’s mouth. “Stop thinking about the step charts so much.”
“They’re the only thing keeping me from landing on my ass,” Stiles replies, hoping to God that the room is too chaotic for Derek to focus on his heartbeat, which has definitely skyrocketed.
“I told you, I’ll catch you if you trip. Trust me.” When Derek pulls back slightly, he looks more open than Stiles has ever seen, lips parted slightly, eyes locked on Stiles’ even as they continue spinning and stepping. After another moment (where he nearly trips), Stiles simply nods, tightens his grip on Derek’s waist and closes his eyes.
Amazingly, it makes things a little easier. He’s no longer distracted by the sight of any of the other dancers or the people in the crowd. The downside, of course, is that he can no longer see Derek but truth be told, he doesn’t really need to. He can still smell Derek’s cologne, hear the sound of his breathing and feel the reassuring flex of his fingers against his back every time they spin. The song speeds up as it nears the end and even when they turn into a quicker spin, Stiles manages to stay in step. It’s only on one of the last beats of the song that he loses his balance and stumbles over his own feet. But before he can crash to the ground or into another dancer, Derek pulls him back up, causing their chests to collide.
“I told you I’d catch you,” Derek says as they come to a stop. Stiles opens his eyes and finds Derek right there, his lips parted again, eyes catching the light and twisting into a kaleidoscope of different shades of green.
Stiles has definitely had a dream like this before, and he’s ninety percent sure it ended with them kissing.
He thinks about it for half a moment; thinks about crossing the space between them and capturing Derek’s lips with his own, regardless of the hundreds of people around them. But then the weight of everyone staring settles over his back again, heavy as a cloak, and he lowers his head, just enough so that he isn’t staring at Derek’s eyes or mouth.
“That was probably the worst dance of your life, right?” he asks, trying not to concentrate on the increasing murmur of the nearby crowd.
“Not quite,” Derek replies with a quiet laugh. “My mother used to make Cora and I practice together when we were younger. I stepped on her foot once and she bit my arm so hard I passed out. Took hours for it to heal.”
“That actually doesn’t surprise me.” He’s only interacted with Cora a few times, because she’s more intimidating than the rest of the Hale family combined. Before he can think any further, he hears the musicians playing a few practice notes, warming up for their next piece.
“So, this thing you need to talk to me about,” he says, swallowing past a lump in his throat. “Any chance we could go somewhere else?”
“Of course.” Derek drops his hand from Stiles’ back, but their fingers stay twisted together as he leads them off the dance floor. Once again, the crowd parts around them and the whispers are even louder this time, like insidious fingers brushing against the back of Stiles’ neck.
It’s going to take months for people to shut up about this.
Once they slip out of the massive ballroom, they quickly leave most of the chatter behind. The broad halls of the Hale castle are mostly empty, aside from a few couples tucked into the shadows behind pillars or curtains. Derek still doesn’t drop Stiles’ hand and even though Stiles can feel sweat beading on his palm, he doesn’t let go.
He’s going to savor this moment for as long as possible.
They stop in front of one of the massive doors leading into the royal library. Derek easily pushes it open with one hand and steps inside. As far as Stiles can tell, the room is deserted; there are only a few dim lights on near the door, while the actual shelves are plunged into silence. When Derek pushes the door shut, the sound echoes through the entire room.
“So,” Stiles says, turning towards the nearest table and flicking through a book that’s been left open, “what do you need to talk about?” He tries to sound as nonchalant as possible, but he’s almost positive that he fails. When Derek doesn’t answer after a few moments, Stiles turns around and immediately jumps, slamming back into the table.
Freaking werewolves and their ability to move almost soundlessly.
“Sorry,” Derek says, taking a step back. “I thought I had this all planned out, but now that we’re here…” He shrugs and ducks his head slightly, just enough for his eyes to be hidden. He looks nervous, almost vulnerable, which at least makes Stiles feel a little better about having what feels like butterflies in his stomach.
“Maybe it’ll be easier if you just come out with it?” he suggests weakly.
“Maybe.” Derek sighs and raises his head again before stepping forward, crossing most of the space between them. He’s silent for a few moments before he leans even closer and brushes his fingers against the inside of Stiles’ wrist, right where his pulse is thudding like a jackhammer.
“Stiles, can I kiss you?”
Stiles is pretty sure that he momentarily stops breathing. There’s no way that those words just came out of Derek Hale’s mouth, but he’s also certain that he didn’t mishear them. They’ve raised more questions than they’ve answered, and Stiles aims to ask those questions but at the moment, there’s only one thing that he can push out of his mouth.
Thankfully, Derek doesn’t spend any time waiting; he closes the space between them and slots his mouth against Stiles’. Stiles closes his eyes and slowly raises one hand to Derek’s hip, curling his fingers around it. In return, Derek trails his hand up the length of Stiles’ arm to his neck, hovering there for a moment before sliding into his short hair. The edge of the table is firm against Stiles’ back and it’s probably going to leave a bruise, but he could really care less.
Derek presses another, softer kiss against his lips after the first one ends. It takes Stiles a few moments to open his eyes and when he does, his vision is slightly glazed over, a result of the spark flaring up.
“Is that normal?” Derek asks, brushing his thumb along Stiles’ cheekbone and around the corner of his eye.
“Happens once in awhile,” Stiles says with a shrug, blinking until his eyes shift back to normal. “Can I ask you something now?”
“How long have you wanted to do that?” Derek turns red again and Stiles can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever get used to the sight of a veritable werewolf prince blushing.
“Let’s just say awhile. Until Christmas, I didn’t think you were interested, but you smelled different then. Even from across the room.”
“What did I smell like before?” Stiles asks, trying to ignore the heat pooling in his face.
“Magic, mostly. And anxiety.” Derek leans forward and presses his face into Stiles’ hair. In another universe, Stiles would probably consider it weird, but in the here and now, it makes him consider sinking to the floor and taking Derek with him.
“I just couldn’t figure out how to tell you,” Derek murmurs. “But my mother asked me to talk to you tonight and it seemed like this was the best chance I’d get.”
“Wait, so you haven’t actually asked me what you wanted to ask me yet?” Stiles asks, stomach dropping again. He’s spoken to the king and queen before, but the idea of Talia Hale wanting to specifically ask him something fills him with dread.
“I just wanted to ask if I could kiss you. But my mother wants you to have dinner with us tomorrow. She wants to talk to you about a job.”
“A job? What kind of job?”
“I don’t know,” Derek. “She wouldn’t tell me any details.” Stiles has to take a moment to try and catch his breath. The whole evening has been nothing but a whirlwind and he’s sure that it’s going to take weeks for him to truly process everything that has happened, even without taking into consideration whatever kind of job offer Talia Hale has for him.
“Well, obviously I’ll come,” he finally says, “but I’ll have to brush up on my etiquette first. I don’t remember the difference between a salad spoon and a dessert spoon.”
“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Derek laughs, pulling away and resting his forehead against Stiles’. “Besides, I’ll be there. I’ll catch you if you screw up.”
“Promise?” Stiles asks, grin unspooling across his face. Derek mirrors the smile and slides his hand back into Stiles’ hair, making a shiver go down Stiles’ spine.
“I promise,” he murmurs, leaning in for a kiss that’s even more earthshaking than the last. As his tongue brushes against Derek’s bottom lip for the first time, Stiles hears what sounds an awful lot like the door of the library creaking open. It closes moments later with a loud crash, but not before Stiles catches the sound of someone whispering rapidly.
Instead of chasing after the person or panicking, he says fuck it and boosts himself up onto the table, pulling Derek as close as possible.
If people want to whisper, let them. They’ll just be spreading the truth quicker and frankly, Stiles kind of wants everyone in the kingdom to know that he, Stiles Stilinski, is actually dating Derek Hale.
At least, he thinks they’re dating.
He’ll get a definitive answer on that later, after he gets sick of kissing Derek or needs to breathe, whatever comes first.
(He’s sure it’s going to be option number two.)