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Midnight Cinderella Imagines

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The Princess Elect’s fingers drum absently against the desk in the study.

Around her, the bureaucrats are gathered, a rumble of indiscernible noise murmuring through them. Behind her chair are Giles and Leo, and Louis is leant against her desk, while Alyn is stood near the wall with his arms crossed. Sid smirks away from his place behind Leo and Giles, leant half-upright against the windowsill. Giles sighs.

What’s the problem?

To put it simply, it’s the middle of summer, and Wysteria has been tasked by Stein to host an event between the two nations, somehow, to strengthen their relations and bring their people closer together. Every idea that’s been created has been either dismissed by the insatiable nobility, dismissed by Giles for being potentially suicidal for the country, or dismissed by Alyn for being a one-way ticket into a war.

Needless to say, she’s getting fed up. It’s hot, she’s bored, she’s surrounded by immensely attractive potential suitors, and she wants a decision made.

Sid snickers. “How ya holdin’ up, Princess? You’re looking pretty bored.”

She sends him a withering look, muttering, “I’m bored stiff. I just want a decision made.”

Louis makes a sound of agreement, tugging at his collar just a bit. “As do I. It’s too warm in here.”

“Tell me about it.” Leo drawls out, coming to perch on the edge of the desk, facing the princess. “Please, ___, just order them all to do something. Trying to make the stuffy lot happy is getting us nowhere, and I’m melting.”

Giles massages his temple, murmuring, “While I agree, please choose something suitable and appropriate. I am being entirely serious when I say things like this can end up in wars.”

Alyn rolls his eyes. “Geez. Just set up a game of capture the flag and be done with it. It’s what I do with my knights when they’re being fussy and won’t cooperate with each other.”

The princess stops dead. Her fingers cease their incessant tapping.

Leo chuckles, shifting around to face Alyn whilst pulling his shirt open even further, drawing some ecstatic squeals from the nobility watching him. “Alyn, we have to include the top diplomats and members of each country. Do you really think they’ll fancy running around a field and getting themselves all muddy?”

Alyn scowls. “If they were normal, they wouldn’t mind. It’s mud, not acid.” He scoffs, crossing his arms and averting his eyes. “Besides, who would the diplomats even be?”

Louis’ shoulders slump, beautiful face crestfallen. “Likely, it will involve the likes of myself, Leo and Giles, since we are at the top of the bureaucratic hierarchy. As for Stein, I would guess that the likes of Rayvis Harneit would be asked to attend, since he’s an archduke.”

The princess’ lips have been very slowly curling up into a grin. Now, her eyes practically blazing, she raises her head, drawing the attention of the suitors around her. Giles arches an eyebrow. “Is something amusing, Your Highness?”

She shakes her head. “No. Not at all.” She suddenly slams her hand down on the table and pushes to her feet, succeeding in making everyone in the room jump with fright. In a second, she’s speaking, declaring, “I have made my decision, and it is not something that has been discussed yet, but it’s not going to be. We are unable to make a unanimous decision, so I will make it on my own, as is my authority as the princess.”

Giles’ soul can practically be seen leaving his body and entering the atmosphere. The princess claps, announcing,

“This year, we will host a competition between our two nations, in a very simple and small-scale way! This is something that hasn’t been done before – we’re going to have a battle, named ‘Capture the Crown’!”

Silence. Complete and utter silence.

The monarch smiles smugly, moving out from behind the desk and calmly making her way to the door. “My decision is final. This is my order, as princess. I will negotiate with Stein. Alyn, Giles! Make the preparations – we leave for our allied nation tonight, and will have their agreement by nightfall. Am I understood?”

Giles doesn’t have the mental capacity in this moment to object. Alyn, exasperated but aware that there’s no use in attempting to change her mind, just groans and shoves off the wall, joining her at the door before leaving with her. It closes with a soft click.

Another heartbeat of silence.

And then, naturally, chaos.

The bureaucrats erupt in a frenzy, objecting instantly. Sid howls with laughter, and Louis drops his face into his hands with an inaudible whimper. Giles stumbles to the side, gripping the desk for support, and Leo just takes a second to process this before he collapses back, flopping back onto the wood beside Louis supine.

Only the princess… only the princess…

♡♔♡

Giles, Leo and Louis tried. They tried so, so hard, to persuade the princess to change her mind.

They failed. It was a valiant effort, though.

Now, they all walk down one of the corridors of Stein Castle, leading up to King Byron’s study, Albert and Nico leading them there. Alyn lags a bit behind, looking bored and uninterested.

“His Majesty is waiting for you inside, Princess.” Albert informs the sovereign, sounding less than pleased. He wasn’t impressed in the slightest by their hasty, unexpected arrival. “He informed me that the discussion to be had is just between the two of you, so we will wait outside. Please call for us if you need anything.”

The princess nods, expression calm and collected. “I will. Thank you, Albert.”

He nods back, coming to a halt before the door and knocking quietly. “Your Majesty, the Princess of Wysteria has arrived.”

“Send her in.”

The princess smiles at the sound of her fellow ruler’s voice. It’s been a while since she’s seen him. When Albert opens the door, she gives her escorts a nod, then slips inside, skirts fluttering behind her. When it’s shut again, Albert narrows his eyes, haze snapping to Giles. “I would appreciate it if you would explain just why the princess has decided to visit us so suddenly.”

The Chamberlain shares a look with Leo.

At the same time, the princess smiles brightly, making her way over to his desk. He visibly relaxes, returning the smile more subtly and gesturing for her to sit opposite him. “A pleasant surprise, Princess. It’s been some time since we last saw you.”

“Indeed, it has been. Unfortunately, though, I’m not here for pleasure. I have my decision in regards to the event you requested that we host this summer to strengthen our nations’ bonds.” She responds, now sat in the chair. His eye narrows with interest, and his smile morphs curiously, shifting into one of contemplation.

“Oh?” He leans forward, resting his cheek on his knuckles. “I’m glad, although I’m rather surprised by your wording, indicating that you yourself made the decision.”

Her eyes sparkle. “Yes. That’s because I did make the decision.”

He blinks. He wasn’t expecting that. “Without your nobility’s consent?”

She nods, expression sobering considerably. “Yes. They were increasingly unable to make any sort of decision nor come to a compromise with one another with the ideas that I put forward, so I took the opportunity to make the choice myself. It sounds unorthodox at first, but I would ask that you give me a chance to explain.”

His smile is gone as well, but his expression remains open. He nods, gazing down at her calmly. “Of course. I will do my best to keep an open mind about this. Present your idea.”

She straightens up a bit more, somehow, and exhales softly, then makes her bold statement. “I would like us to have a very small, very controlled game of ‘Capture the Crown’ with one another.”

The master of emotional control, Byron Wagner, genuinely can’t help but raise an eyebrow. “’Capture the Crown’? I assume this is similar to ‘Capture the Flag’.”

She hums in agreement. “Yes. It’s the same in essence, but simply different in that it would be smaller, and would consist of the crowns of both monarchs acting as the flags. The aim would simply be for each team to retrieve their country’s respective crown. I believe it’s a good idea, because while it will boost national pride, it will also enable the participants to see how much each side truly wishes to see their country prosper, theoretically increasing confidence between our countries in their plans to better themselves. However, I am aware that this is also a rather undignified, competitive game.”

She leans forward slightly, finishing strongly. “I propose that this game has a mere five participants on either side, including members of each royal court, using people in particular who we know will properly spread the word of the bettering relationship between us. I cannot have faith in any other method, because I think we both know that the nobilities of Wysteria and Stein are for some part unreasonable. By keeping the contest small and conducting it in an isolated location, it will minimise those involved, minimise the chances of a situation as a result of the nobilities, and allow the ultimate goal to be achieved, all while providing some harmless fun for those involved.”

His gaze never moves from her face. He thinks for a long, few moments, and she waits patiently, holding his stare.

Finally, he speaks again, asking only one question. “And who do you propose to be involved on each team?”

She smiles again, but there’s something close to satisfaction in her eyes, like she’s glad to be able to discuss this part.

“It worked out rather nicely, for the most part – the first candidates that came to mind were my preferred potential suitors for Prince Consort and those closest to them, meaning that the names I arrived with were Albert, yourself, Giles – since I quite frankly trust Giles with my life and don’t believe that he’d abuse his position – Leo Crawford, Louis Howard, Nico, Archduke Rayvis Harneit, Robert, and Sid. That would bring the total to ten, which would be preferable, but if I include myself, that brings the total to eleven. I’m not sure of who could be the sixth member of your team.”

Byron’s lips tighten, pursed tightly with his deep thoughts. He continues to study her, watching her closely. The seconds, then the minutes, tick by gradually, but she doesn’t falter, face set in confident determination.

Finally, a tiny, tiny little smile emerges on the young king’s face, gracing his chiselled, godly features. His eye glints with the blaze of the setting sun, swirling with a rare, playful glimmer that could melt the most frozen of hearts. “I have my answer, Princess of Wysteria.”

A breath-taking grin of her own forms. He reaches across the desk for her hand, and she extends it without hesitation. Her eyes track him as he slips his fingers under her own, raising the hand to his mouth. “And what would that be, King Byron?”

The smile shifts into a smirk, kissing at her flesh in a silent promise.

♡♔♡

Outside, Albert and Giles are both ready to lose it with stress.

Leo’s hand settles on his friend’s shoulder, and he gives the older man a marginally concerned look, advising, “Giles, you might want to breathe. I don’t think I’ve seen you take in a breath for two minutes straight.”

Said male hadn’t realised it himself. He heaves in a much-needed gulp of oxygen.

Then, the door opens, and Byron steps out before holding it open for the princess. He finishes saying something, to which she laughs angelically, nodding and exiting the room. Giles nearly collapses, and Albert just seems more worried, watching Byron smile softly and start walking down the corridor with her. Alyn and Louis share a baffled look, and even Nico pales, so used to his king informing him of what’s going on that he almost feels jealous of the princess.

Leo blinks once, then twice, then a third time, just to be sure he’s not hallucinating. “Does she remember we’re here? Or is he suddenly that charming that she’s forgotten?”

“No,” Alyn almost growls. “She’s smug. Look at her – she must have actually managed to convince him.”

She glances over her shoulder now, calling very coolly, “Alyn, Giles, Leo, Louis. Come – we’re going home. Everything’s taken care of.”

The three practically turn to stone. Albert and Nico all but sprint after their king, having learnt of her plan, and now succumbing to utter disbelief in that Byron might have agreed to it.

Not ten minutes later, the Wysterians are all in their carriage, and Alyn is on his horse beside it, still looking miffed at her self-assured attitude. Byron sees them off with a nod to the princess, and then they’re pulling away and returning to Wysteria, setting off on a long ride wherein the princess ends up nearly sending the three males riding with her into clinical shock at her results.

Byron just chuckles to himself quietly once they’re out of sight. Albert delivers him a wide-eyed, imploring look. “Your Majesty, please tell me you denied her this idea. Please, I beg of you to have rejected such a ridiculous plan.”

Nico just stares up at his king, gaze trained on the monarch’s face. Byron exhales softly, then turns around with a flutter of his cape, answering, “I hate to disappoint, Al, but I had no reason to refuse her.”

The knights nearly collapse. Albert can’t speak, so Nico does it for him. “K-King Byron?”

Byron finally allows himself an almost silly little grin, making his way back inside the castle, musing, “After all, who am I to deny true brilliance?”

♡♔♡

A month later, it’s time.

The terms have been set in further discussion between Byron and the princess; he requested that she be excused from participating, since she is, in all honestly, much more physically fragile than the other participants, not even because of her sex, but because she’s just petite and frail in build regardless. She agreed to this, seeing his objective point, and so offered in return that the king, whose health has improved steadily over the past year, will attend, seeing as he’s eager to get out and meet the representatives of Stein himself.

He’s also very much looking forward to hearing all the praise her potential suitors have for her, but he keeps that to himself.

The two teams’ members are almost completely convened. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, and all of the suitors but Giles are stood in the location of the “battle”, meaning a large field within the grounds of Wysteria Palace’s gardens, isolated and cut-off from the rest of the land by a ring of trees and vegetation. The sun is shining brightly, glaring down with an intense summer heat, on the field, painting it a gorgeous glowing jade. There’s a breeze, thankfully, stifling the temperature’s intensity enough to make it pleasant.

Along the length of the field is a large tent, like those used for outdoor soirées. Within it is a long, expansive table, set out with trays of food, from starters to mains to desserts, all at the moment covered and concealed to preserve them. The suitors are currently waiting inside the tent, clustered near the entrance.

Not too long later, thankfully, the princess emerges from the trees with Giles, the King of Wysteria tucked between them both, one hand in the princess’ and another on an ornate walking stick. He chats with her, evidently relaxed and pleased to be outside, while he’s escorted to the tent, a troop of Wysterian knights with him to act as guards. There are more dotted around the field of course, both Wysterian and Steiner, but that’s just to make sure everyone’s safe during the contest.

Well, in theory, anyway.

The suitors, Byron included, all kneel before the king when he enters the tent, and he simply smiles, instructing, “Rise, all of you. There need be no formality here, on this day.”

They do as he says. Byron gives the man a small smile, glad to see him again after so long. “It’s been some time, Your Majesty.”

The king laughs softly, releasing the princess’ hand to shake Byron’s gently. “Indeed, it has. Please, speak to me as you used to – we’re hardly estranged enough to need titles and honorifics again.”

Byron just chuckles quietly, nodding. “As you wish.”

The king sighs contentedly, taking the princess’ hand once more. She takes him over to the centre of the table, to the throne overlooking the field, where he thanks her and sits down with a grin. “Ah, it’s wonderful to be outside again, and on such a glorious day.”

She laughs softly, nodding. “It is.” As the few members of staff set about preparing a drink for the king, she wanders over to the suitors, beaming at them. “Are we all ready?”

Giles joins her and sighs, shaking his head. “Truly, Princess, if you weren’t so gifted and talented, I would think you were mad.”

“Some say madness is an obscure measure of intelligence.” Byron chips in lightly. He sends the Princess Elect an almost amused look. “Personally, I think this will be a rather interesting exchange. The only instances wherein we do things active in the presences of each other are when we are in hostile communications, so this will, perhaps, pave the way for a time when we can finally be relaxed and interact more freely with one another.”

Her eyes are practically glowing with life, and she nods fiercely, agreeing, “Exactly. Let this be the beginning of progress, toward a world where Steiners and Wysterians can finally be who they wish to be around each other, without all the formality and pretence of redundant tradition.”

She claps now, asking, “So, would we like to begin the competition? The sooner it starts, the sooner it ends.”

There’s a collection of head shakes, nods and dubious sounds. Not all are those of agreements.

She elects to ignore this, of course.

“Good.” She steps out of the tent, into the sunlight, with the ten following behind her. However, before they do so, all of them remove their swords and hand them to awaiting knights of both countries, and then Byron and Rayvis shed their capes, leaving them in their uniforms but now without the excess weight on their backs.

When the princess is in the centre of the field, she comes to a halt, turning back to them. “So, you all understand the rules. To my left,” She gestures in said direction.

“Is where the Steiner team will start. There is a podium there, as you can see, which currently holds my crown, representing Wysteria. On my right,” Another respective motion. “Is where the Wysterian team will start. The podium there holds King Byron’s coronation crown, representing Stein. It’s the task of both teams to retrieve their respective crowns from the opposing side’s podium, and then return it to their own podium, first.”

She pauses, then carries on, cautioning, “However, while this is a child’s game, we are not children, and the point of this is to better relations between our two nations, not worsen them. As such, this is not to be taken in a serious way. It should be, and will be, fun, and conducted in a respectful manner. No hostile actions are to be carried out, those being punching, kicking, scratching, biting, etc.

“To put it simply, there will be no fighting today. You may tackle your opposition, if you wish, but do not do anything more and most importantly, do not hurt them. Am I completely and utterly clear, considering that the diplomatic relations of our homes hang in the balance?”

Her long-winded explanation is met with nods all around. Satisfied, she grins. “As for the prize for the winner, that has yet to be decided. So, shall we begin?”

More nods. She gestures to her right once more. “Okay. King Byron, Albert, Nico, Rayvis and Robert, if you would, please go and stand on the podium over there. The rest of you, take your places on the Wysterian side.”

The suitors split into their teams of five, making their way over to their podiums. Albert and Alyn are glaring at each other across the field as they walk, Byron is expressionless, Nico now looks to some degree excited, Robert subtly, almost defeatedly amused, Rayvis is blank if not a tad irritated, Giles and Louis are identically exasperated, Leo seems cheerful and simultaneously somehow nervous, and Sid is blank for the moment, simply staring across at the other side when he reaches the end.

They’re all in position. The princess stands in between the two sides, out of the way of the potential conflict zone, with a gorgeous grin. “Are both sides ready? If you want to make any last-minute strategies, now’s your chance!”

Alyn huffs at the thought of this lot making a strategy, rolling his eyes. Deciding to stretch, he tugs at his arms, then shakes out his legs. This draws the attention of the Wysterians, who all look at him in synchronisation.

Bad choice.

Because then, they’re all left, staring in silent horror, as his bones seem to shift and move all over. He stretches his neck and fingers, cracking what sounds like every single joint in his body. They watch on like he’s grown four heads while his body pops, clicks and snaps inhumanly.

At the same time, Byron’s leadership tendencies have come out to play.

“All of you, I expect to win this.” He sends looks to those he refers to as he speaks, giving orders quickly but effectively. “Albert, keep Alyn at bay. Rayvis, you take care of Louis. Robert, you deal with Giles. Nico, you’ll go after Leo. Leave Sid to me.”

Albert’s face collapses into horrified, disbelieving shock. His mouth drops open, and he goes to protest furiously, but he’s cut short by the princess beginning to count down from twenty, causing the rest of his team to focus on Byron’s crown across the field.

It’s also now that Giles chooses to try and form a strategy, and hilariously, they’re near enough identical to Byron’s. “Alyn, you’re best-suited to stop Albert. Louis, stop Byron. Sid, run straight for the crown. I will stop Robert. Leo, you can have Nico. Rayvis can be dealt with by whoever has a spare moment.”

Leo blanches at the part about Rayvis, very briefly touching his hand to his forehead, chest, then left and right shoulders, before muttering out a rather blasphemous, “Lord in heaven, please don’t let any of us die because Giles is being stupid and is electing to ignore Rayvis. Also, please make Nico fall over.” He pauses for a moment. “And, please, let my abandoned future serve me well so I don’t pass out once I start running. Amen.”

Alyn fixes him with a heated glare. “If God’s real, he’s not going to help you.”

Sid sighs heavily. This whole thing is just stupid, stupid, more stupid, and a last little bit of stupid just to top it off.

The countdown is almost finished. The suitors tense, preparing for battle.

“Three, two, one, go!”

All of them lurch forward at once. Their speed is immensely impressive on a whole, but…

Well, let’s just say it’s apparent who exercises regularly and who doesn’t.

On the Wysterian side, Sid and Alyn are booth bounding forward, bolting across the field at a break-neck pace. On the other hand, Giles, Leo and Louis are immediately slower, but also weaker in stamina. Louis is straining after about ten seconds, and Giles fifteen, with Leo following swiftly afterward.

On the Steiner side, there are no weak points. Despite Robert’s docile and mostly sedentary nature, his… circumstances mean that he’s still very much in shape, and bounds across the field with considerable, focused speed. Rayvis is exactly the same, footsteps pounding against the earth while his eyes narrow in concentration. Byron keeps up with them both, even calmer than them, and Albert and Nico are darting ahead despite the latter’s shorter legs, their training giving them an edge over their team.

Albert and Alyn are like bullets, tearing across the space, and they’re heading straight for each other with a collective force that makes the princess cringe, covering her mouth with her hands.

Okay, maybe this was a bad idea.

Surprise, surprise.

The others haven’t failed to notice their teammates heading on the straight and narrow into death by blunt force trauma. Leo looks mildly worried, meaning deeply unsettled, and even Byron cuts a marginally alarmed look at Albert upon noticing his fierce pace. Granted, Byron’s thinking that he should probably worry about himself, since Sid’s barrelling straight at him and he’s got an extra two inches, as well as a bit more muscle, on him than the young king.

Sid’s not worried. He’s got a plan and doesn’t expect to have any contact with the Steiners.

Ah, false hope…

Nico and Leo are matched in speed, Nico’s determination balancing out Leo’s natural advantage of height, when paired with his slightly lesser pace. Rayvis and Louis’ eyes are locked together, never straying from one another, and if the princess wasn’t so terrified and drowning in regret, she’d find it rather alluring. Giles’ expression is grim as he runs at Robert, and the latter’s expression has remained the same.

However, Robert’s got a plan, so he’s smirking on the inside.

The princess shrinks back where she stands, not noticing the amused smiles the guards at her sides give her when she does.

They’re so close.

T-minus three seconds to impact.

Two.

One.

There’s complete and utter chaos. Madness is the only other word for it.

Albert and Alyn hit first. They slam into each other so hard their bodies catch on each other, and their legs are thrown out from under them, sending them spinning and crashing to the ground in a heap of limbs and Alyn’s cape, which he now regrets not taking off. Any grudges and grievances they’ve had with each other over the years now explode, resulting in them growling and grabbing at each other, rolling across the grass in a bundle of knightly fury and pride.

Moving on from that, there’s something even more mortifying than those two on the field.

Robert.

You’d think the painter wouldn’t be too keen on causing any damage or fighting properly, but… you’d also be completely wrong.

The second he comes in range of Giles, he swerves out of the way. He avoids the latter’s swipe of his arm, dodging out of the way and then swivelling around. In a move no one expects, his leg arcs up and around, swinging with such speed that it probably shouldn’t be allowed.

It collides with the back of Giles’ knees, quite literally sweeping his feet out from under him and sending him flying backward. As he goes down, Robert slams his hand against Giles’ chest, forcing him to crash against the ground with such power that he’s instantly winded, and essentially now useless.

The most frightening thing about this is that, after taking Giles down so mercilessly, Robert simply stands and smiles down at him, a kind smile with teeth and bright eyes, before he steps back and says, “No hard feelings, Giles. I owe this to Byron.”

Giles just coughs, chest and back aching and lungs spasming inside him.

Now, it’s time for the two ice cubes to collide.

Well, I say collide, but it’s not quite that.

It’s more like Rayvis has gotten hold of Louis’ arm so fast, he doesn’t have time to free himself before he’s thrown around, then launched backward and slammed into the floor hard enough to send the little breath in him rushing out. He chokes for a second, gasping in pain and from being winded, for the moment very much out for the count.

Now, logic would dictate that 6’0” Leo Crawford and 5’9” Nico Meier having a fight would end with Nico being pummelled into the ground.

Reality dictates that Nico is a scary little shit, and that you’re once again very wrong.

Leo’s swipes at Nico are well-aimed and fast. Anyone else would be out and down and hurting from them, but Nico’s height difference gives him the edge he needs to throw Leo off. He’s ducking and dipping around the taller male with such deft, nimble jumps and dances that Leo can’t get a solid hit in, and he swiftly loses his composure, enough so to give Nico an opening.

He takes it. He sprints at Leo from behind when he rolls up from a dodge, and his leg flies into Leo’s much like the way Robert did to Giles. Leo crashes down, but not before Nico sends his forearm slamming into his chest, knocking the breath out of him just before he hits the floor.

Things are not looking good for Wysteria.

Sid, a microsecond away from Byron, does not realise this, nor does he see Nico, Rayvis and Robert all sprinting straight at him from his downed teammates.

He barrels into Byron with his shoulder, succeeding in shoving him to the side with the brute force he uses. He smirks, making a beeline for the crown, thinking that he’s got this covered and sorted.

Surprise, Sid. Welcome to a little thing called life.

Nico, the dextrous thing, launches himself at Sid with immense speed, and using a power he should not be capable of, he pounces up and onto Sid’s back, arms locking around his throat and legs anchoring around his middle. He clings to him like a demented squirrel crossed with a koala bear, tipping back to throw Sid off-balance.

The expletives erupting from Sid are not for the faint of heart.

“You motherfucking little shit! Get the hell off me, you twisted, tiny bastard, or I swear to fucking God-”

You get the idea.

Amidst his screams, however, he doesn’t realise that the other three have now caught up.

Cue Byron, Rayvis and Robert throwing themselves at the poor male.

While the other three are still recovering from their unexpected windings, Sid crashes to the ground, two and two half-Steiners atop him, struggling desperately to keep him pinned down. He’s growling, shoving up and back at them, but there’s only so much even he can do when it’s these four in particular against one Sid.

“Hey, assholes!” He roars out, not amused in the slightest and extremely miffed that he’s taking the brunt of the damage. “You all wanna get your assess up and actually do something while I’m distracting the entire goddamn enemy team?”

They’re still recovering, poor things. It’s only been twenty seconds since the contest began.

Alyn has been wrestling with his rival this whole time, but now, he’s losing his temper and patience; they’re going to lose at this rate, and that’ll wound his national and personal pride immensely. He won’t disappoint his country, or his knights, or his king, or, most important, his princess.

Wait, what?

Albert currently has Alyn pinned to the floor under him, under his slight advantage in height and body set to trap him there. He’s not paying attention to his team swarming Sid, though, and Alyn swiftly comes up with a plan. An evil little smirk spreads across his lips, and he stills for a second, snickering out, “Hey, Albert. Surprise.”

He shoves one of his hands out from under Albert’s grip, fingers closing around Albert’s glasses.

Without a single shred of remorse, he chucks them a solid ten feet away from them both above his head.

Albert chokes out an indignant cry of shock, now blind and unable to work out where his own hands are, let alone Alyn’s.

Said knight uses this completely to his advantage, forgetting the rules for just a moment. His fist slams into Albert’s abdomen, but he doesn’t quite punch him, instead using the leverage to basically lift Albert up and throw him to the side, off him. He hits the floor hard and rolls, gasping for breath and curling in on himself around his stomach.

Alyn’s rolling up like thunder the second he’s free. He barrels it forward, making a direct beeline for the crown at such a speed that the princess wonders if he’s actually human. At the same time, the Steiners are still collectively restraining Sid, but Byron hears Alyn sprinting and glances to his side just as he bolts past. Instantly, he whips around to Nico, commanding, “Nico, get the crown! Go, now!”

Nico, the poor, dear boy, has never run so fast in his life.

Just as Nico takes off in pursuit of the crown, the other Wysterians have finally recovered from their hits and stumble upright, all three standing at the same time. It takes them a moment to get their bearings.

Albert’s scrambling around. His glasses are gone. Three of the Steiners are piled up on top of someone. Alyn’s going for the crown, thank God- oh, Sid’s the one being crushed and taking on three fifths of the enemy team, so that means-

Oh. Shit.

Nico’s bolting at the Steiner crown.

They all launch themselves into full-tilt sprints after him. He may or not be about to cry because it’s three on one – these three on one – and he personally thinks this is so, so, so unfair. Byron realises this himself, and becomes very aware that Alyn is perilously close to the Wysterian crown. He’s trapped, stuck for actions to take; Albert still cannot find his damn glasses for the life of him, and the combined efforts of himself, Rayvis and Robert are barely sufficient to keep Sid down.

If Sid gets up, Nico will actually end up dead, able to fly, in a tree or all of the above.

With no other choice, he reaches down and grabs Sid’s wrists in a painfully tight grip, then shoves them far up his back, twisting the thrashing male’s arms up. He howls in pain, something that makes Byron wince and internally apologise to his old friend, before he levels Robert with a deadly-serious stare. “Stop Alyn, both of you! I’ll keep him down! Go!”

They know when it’s wise to object to Byron. Now is not one of those times.

And so, the Bergenian Bros are up instantly, barrelling at Alyn.

Everyone on the floor or near to it, except for Albert, because he’s perpetually useless with his lack of glasses, can only watch and wait now. Sid’s growling even more, yanking on his arms and shaking at Byron, who’s straddling his back and trying desperately to keep him down. Nico’s nearing the Steiner podium, Byron’s crown clutched in his hands and Giles, Leo and Louis hot on his heels. Alyn’s nearly at the Wysterian podium, the princess’ crown gripped in his hands, and Rayvis and Robert are right after him just like the other three to Nico.

The princess has calmed herself by now and is sat next to the Wysterian king, watching the contest come to a dramatic, flourishing end. The king chuckles, picking up a macaron and commenting, “You really do know how to utilise your royal power wisely, Princess. It’s a good way to test your suitors’ abilities, too.”

She’s half terrified for their health, but she’s also sort of drooling on the inside because wow, they all look amazing battling it out like this. She almost doesn’t hear him, the macaron in her own fingers forgotten. “Yes… thank you. I was born to rule, I think…”

He howls with laughter. She can’t help but smile, laughing herself internally.

It’s going to be a tie.

Alyn’s nearly stumbling over his own feet, running at full speed for the podium. Nico’s the same, straining and pushing harder and harder to reach theirs first.

As predicted, they arrive at the same time. There’s chaos once again.

Both cry out, slamming the crowns on top of the podium. However, they didn’t seem to realise that they might need to, you know, stop when they reach them.

Both podiums tip over, sending the two with then to the ground, just as their pursuers launch themselves at them to prevent their victory.

The collections of screams that echo through the trees send birds flying away.

Nico’s basically dead, because he’s got three minimum-height 6’0” Wysterian men on top of him, and Alyn’s hurting because he’s pretty much been impaled by the edge of the podium.

Rayvis and Robert are regretting the past ten seconds because Alyn’s armour is hard and hurts. A lot. Especially when it chins Rayvis and stabs Robert in the shoulder.

For a long few seconds, there’s just panting, and gasping, and moaning and groaning, and if anyone were to hear it without visual context, there would be many serious concerns raised. Byron, just about thrown from Sid by this point, releases his arms and rolls off him, collapsing on his back beside him. Both heave in heavy breaths, and Sid looks about to pass out, well and truly crushed by the Steiners by this point.

Albert still hasn’t found his glasses. It’s an understatement to say he’s about to cry.

Seeing this, the princess bounces up with delight at the result, sprinting to the middle of the field and announcing brightly, “And, it’s a tie! Everyone wins!”

They all expect her to laugh and say it’s a joke. She doesn’t.

Cue ten men instantly wanting nothing more than death.

However, she swiftly lets them know that their efforts weren’t in vein, adding, “But, I’ve got a potential prize for all of you, since you all technically won. That’s if you’re interested.”

Heads pop up all over the field. Albert’s is facing a tree because he’s basically blind, but that’s beside the point.

“Since you’re all my potential suitors, would a kiss on the forehead suffice as a reward for your efforts?”

Leo rises like a phoenix from Nico, tearing up from him and darting over to her immediately. Nico shoves Giles and Louis off him with a whimpered apology, dragging himself up and almost limping over to her. Sid can barely move, but he manages to stand, teetering perilously as he stumbles to where she’s standing. He got jabbed with elbows so many times, and he can feel it so much right now.

Leo arrives before the princess, and she reaches up, cupping his face very gently and tenderly. She then leans up when he lowers his head, brushing a soft, slow, affectionate kiss to his forehead. She repeats this action with Nico and Sid, and even with their flushed faces from running, the distinctive explosion of red in their faces from their blushes can be seen instantly. She’s so cute and that probably wasn’t quite worth the pain but it’s still a hell of a reward.

They also may or may not stand there together, touching their foreheads like idiots and grinning because she kissed them.

Well, that, or because they can feel their concussions coming on.

“I will accept that reward, Princess.” Byron calls over to the princess from his place on the floor, leaning back on his elbows on the floor.

She grins and laughs, studying his windswept appearance and heavy breathing. She kneels next to him, cupping his face and kissing his forehead just as lovingly as she did with the others. She heads over to Giles and Louis as well, kissing them too and beaming proudly at them, before standing and walking away.

Louis’ oxygen-deprived brain and body just frazzle out completely. He’s trying so hard to stifle the massive grin breaking out on his lips and is covering it with his hand, but he can’t shake it off and just collapses back onto the floor in this dazed, loved-up bundle of icy fluff.

She then makes her way to Alyn, ignoring his sputtering and huffing when she takes his face in her palm and kisses his forehead. He erupts in an almost inhumanly strong blush, to which she just giggles, heading over for Albert. Still rooting around for his glasses, she spies them in the glass and picks them up, then heads over to him and kneels before his frantically-searching form.

“Albert,” She announces her presence, reaching up for his face. He freezes when her hand comes in contact with his face,

“Wha-”

She kisses his forehead tenderly, grinning all the while. His blush rivals Alyn’s and his failed attempts at further speech clearly show his embarrassment. She just laughs, taking his hand and pressing the glasses into it. He manages to put them on, staring after her with wide eyes as she walks away.

Last but not least, she arrives at Rayvis and Robert’s location of collapse, and kneels down to kiss both of their foreheads as well. Rayvis can’t help but smile, and then grin, and then look away with a massive blush because he’s ecstatic from the contact. Robert’s beaming away, eyes softer than ever, and is just as gentle when he reaches up, cradling her face as she draws back. He leans up, pressing his lips to her forehead as well.

That’s a guaranteed way to be glared at by nine people in a second flat. The princess just laughs, thanking him quietly, because she understands that he did it to congratulate her on her own victory, in making the whole day happen.

After this, the boys head inside for a while to wash and change, and also take stock of their injury inventory.

One word: Ow.

All of them are bruised and battered in some way from tackling, fighting, throwing and chasing each other, but Albert, Alyn, Nico and Sid are the worst off, practically black and blue from their unfortunate targeting by the others.

Once they’re changed again, they return to the tent in the field, where the princess and king are waiting. They’re sat down and invited to eat whatever they want for their efforts, and Albert, Nico and Alyn nearly cry because they’re knights and don’t usually get to eat at banquets, which is basically what this may as well be.

“Well, that was certainly an effective way to bring our nations together.” The king comments after eating a macaron. “Very well done, Princess. You never cease to amaze me.”

“Thank you very much, Your Majesty.” Said Princess Elect responds, grinning at him. He grins back.

“So, did this bring you any closer to choosing a Prince Consort?”

The suitors freeze. They didn’t realise that this could affect their potentials.

The princess just hums, eyes rolling around the expectant faces staring back at her around the table. Finally, she purses her lips, musing, “Maybe. I think it might have helped at least a bit with deciding.”

Giving away no hints, she plucks another macaron from the dish, singing out, “Your Majesty, perhaps we should make this an annual tradition, so as to keep bringing our countries together, while simultaneously helping me to choose a Prince Consort?”

The answer doesn’t come from the king. It comes from the ten men sat around the two monarchs.

“No.”