The snow falls down so slowly it’s like time has stopped. Stiles has never seen this kind of weather before - the white decorating the bare trees and the flecks of snow catching on his coat. It’s his first white Christmas and he gets to spend it in a small European country he only learnt the name of about a day ago.
It’s beautiful everywhere he looks, but he can no longer deny that he’s lost.
His rental car broke down a few miles back and he hasn’t seen another soul since he left the world’s smallest airport. The sky is quickly turning dark, he can see his breath dance in the air in front of him, and there’s no signal on his phone.
“My dad’s gonna kill me,” Stiles mutters to himself. “First I miss Christmas and then I die in the freaking wilderness.”
Every step takes even more effort than the last, his feet dragging through the snow and his body shuddering as the wind picks up around him. He’s close to giving up when he sees a flickering light in the distance and he swears his mind is playing tricks on him.
The wooden cabin he finds looks like it belongs on a postcard, the roof covered in a layer of snow and a warm flood of yellow light coming from the windows. Stiles stumbles up the porch steps, a sudden hope rising through him as he sees a Christmas tree glittering inside near a roaring fire.
“Hello?” Stiles says, knocking on the door. He can hear his own teeth chattering. “H-hello,” he tries the handle. “Is - is anyone there?”
This is realistically his only chance at not freezing to death and he’s not afraid to break in. He knows how to pick a lock - if only his hands would stop shaking for long enough to do it.
But then the door swings open and Stiles sways forward. The warm air hits his skin and he longs to get closer, to get out of the wind, but then two large hands force Stiles to keep his distance.
“Who are you?” The stranger’s voice is rough and his eyes are a winter grey.
“I’m,” Stiles says, trying to concentrate. “C-cold. You?”
The man before him is perhaps more beautiful than seeing snow fall for the first time. His hair is a deep black and his cheekbones frame his face nicely. His soft, red sweater shows off his neck and collarbones and he looks warm.
The man stares at him, and then sighs. “Come in.”
Stiles shivers and doesn’t move, and then gentle hands guide him forward. The man swears and then he starts to strip Stiles of his frozen clothes. Stiles half-heartedly swats him away.
“Hey,” he says. “K-keep your hands to yourself. I d-don’t even know your name. I’m not that easy.”
He hears a snort, and then the man looks at him carefully. “I’m Derek,” he finally says.
“Nice to meet you, too,” Derek tells him. “Now are you going to let me take off your wet clothes, or are you going to do it yourself?”
“What?” he slurs.
Derek sighs and then reaches for Stiles’ clothes again. This time he doesn’t stop him, but his cheeks turn red when Derek removes his shirt, dries him down, and then puts something dry and soft over his head instead. Stiles barely moves, just lets the handsome stranger dress him.
“Here,” Derek says, more softly than before. He takes Stiles’ elbow and leads him towards the couch. “I’ll get you a warm drink. Try and stay awake.”
Stiles nods, and he wraps his arms around himself. He closes his eyes and the uncertainty of the night falls away. Everything is going to be okay, and his dad isn’t going to be eternally mad at him for getting lost and he’s - he’s safe.
Stiles shudders. This could have been a lot worse.
“Here,” Derek says, passing him a mug and sitting beside him. Stiles can feel his body heat even through the borrowed clothes.
“Thanks,” Stiles mumbles. His face is flushed and he’s not sure if it’s because of the cold, then the warmth, or because this stranger had to save him from himself. He looks around instead of meeting Derek’s eyes, and wow, everything here seems expensive .
A stone fireplace takes up most of one wall, with rows of wood stacked up on either side and behind the leather couch is a heavy wooden table with intricate carvings decorating the legs. At the corner of the room there’s a elegant, winding staircase that leads to an upstairs balcony.
“You’re American?” Derek prompts.
“Yes,” Stiles nods. “I’m here for the coronation, but my car broke down on the way back from the airport.”
Derek raises an eyebrow. “You have an invitation?” When he speaks his accent is more attractive than Stiles could have imagined.
Stiles shakes his head. “No - no,” he tries to laugh. “Of course not. I’m here for the press conference.”
Derek gazes at him. His eyes are serious but there is a kindness there - and maybe some amusement. Stiles is supposed to be good at reading people but he’s not sure about this one.
“I’m a journalist,” Stiles says, after the silence gets too much.
“You are?” Derek says.
Stiles nods. “Yep! I'm here to report on the prince's coronation.” He frowns. “And his stupid personal life.”
Derek still hasn't looked away. “Oh? And what do you know about that?”
“Nothing!” Stiles says. “My editor gave me this job and put me on a plane yesterday - yesterday! I didn't get a chance to do any research. I don't know anything except the vague rumours she told me.”
Derek drops his gaze and he turns away. The glint in his eyes has disappeared and Stiles didn’t even know he would notice a thing like that.
“I wasn't even sure if they spoke English here,” Stiles says awkwardly. He takes a sip of tea.
“We do,” Derek says, and he clearly tries to smile. “As well as French.” His hands flex over his knees and then very politely, he excuses himself. Derek starts to clear a few things away and Derek must know Stiles’ eyes are on him, but he doesn’t seem to care.
Stiles can hear the wind picking up outside and the crackling of the fire in front of him. Wild flames lick over the wood and Stiles holds out his hands, feeling the heat at his fingertips.
“You’re lucky you came when you did,” Derek says from behind him.
Stiles slowly turns, and he sees Derek standing by the window, his posture perfect. A shadow falls on the side of his face and he seems lost in thought.
“The snow is coming in,” he says. “We’ll be stuck here until at least the morning.”
“What?” Stiles says. “But -”
Derek turns and his lips quirk into a smile. “If the snow is keeping us in, then it will probably be keeping everyone in. You’re not going to miss your press conference, and trust me, you’re not going to be missing the coronation either.”
Stiles sighs and he collapses back onto the couch. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” he says, rubbing his eyes. He feels Derek sit down next to him. “Thanks for letting me in,” he says quietly.
“I couldn’t let you die in the cold,” Derek says, matter of fact, but then he pauses. “My family owns this cabin. I came here… to be alone. But I’m happy to have your company.”
Stiles smiles at him. “Dude,” he says. “Same. I know no one here and it’s Christmas Eve.”
“Well, you can’t be alone for that,” Derek agrees.
“Why’d you want to be alone?” Stiles asks, his voice a little awkward. But he feels like there’s nothing to lose because he’s alone with only one guy and they don’t know each other. They could tell each other anything.
“You can tell me,” Stiles says, bumping their knees together. Derek stills at the contact but then eventually he presses back into Stiles’ touch. Stiles’ heart leaps and he tries not to let it show on his face.
Derek opens his mouth a few times before he settles on his words. “I needed time to think. I’m starting a new job in the new year.”
“That can be scary,” Stiles says. “Change is scary. But at least you have a job - I’m just trying to hold onto mine even if it means writing about things that I don’t really care about.”
Derek sends him a sharp look. “You mean the rumours about the prince?”
Stiles nods. “Yeah. I’d rather inform people about what’s going on around them - like how will this coronation affect their lives? At the very least I could educate people back home about the political system of your country.” He winces. “I hadn’t heard of this country until a few days ago.”
“Hm,” Derek says.
Stiles gives him a lopsided smile. “But my editor wants me to write about silly gossip.”
Derek nods. “People read the gossip,” he says.
Stiles laughs. “They do. Do you?”
“God, no,” Derek says, voice firm. “But I understand that people do want to know what’s going on with those that make decisions for their country, and that’s their right. They want to feel close to them.”
“I guess so,” Stiles says.
“As long as it’s the truth,” Derek says. He raises an eyebrow. “I suppose it’s your job to find out the truth.”
“Yeah,” he says, and a part of him feels like Derek gets it, but that feeling falls away when Derek’s lips press together and his face darkens. The air seems to still and Stiles holds his breath as he waits for Derek to speak.
“I’ve heard of a few journalists who would do anything to get a story,” he says. “Even break the law.”
Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, I’ve met some people like that.”
“Would you do that?” Derek says, very pointedly and Stiles rolls his eyes.
“Dude,” he says. “My dad is a cop. He’d disown me if I ever broke the law like that. But, um, I have been known to do a few sneaky things here or there.” He tries to sound light and mysterious, but instead it’s a terrible attempt at flirting and Derek doesn’t react.
Derek stands and walks over to the kitchen. It looks modern and gleaming, and Stiles doesn’t think that he was invited to follow. He curls up on the couch and checks his phone again, but there’s still no signal and there doesn’t seem to be any Wifi to connect to here either.
Stiles sighs. He’d rather be at home celebrating Christmas.
“Are you hungry?” Derek calls out.
Stiles sits up straighter. “Um,” he says. “Yes?”
“Come here,” Derek says, beckoning him forth with his hand. Derek smiles gently at him, and Stiles feels like he’s been forgiven for his clumsy comments. “It’s only simple. I’m not a very good cook.”
“I’m sure it will be great,” Stiles says, sitting on the chair at the counter.
He watches as Derek rushes around the kitchen, muttering under his breath as he tries to remember everything. He glances at Stiles continually instead of focusing on what he’s doing, and it’s cute. About ten minutes later, Stiles has a steaming plate of meatballs and sauce placed in front of him.
“Thank you,” Stiles says, smiling. “It looks good.”
Derek wipes his brow. “I hope you like them.”
“So,” Stiles says. “Christmas is tomorrow. The coronation is tomorrow. Why aren’t you with your family?”
Derek takes a breath. “I’m supposed to spend the day with them tomorrow. But with the snow it might not happen.”
Stiles grimaces. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s beautiful though, outside.”
Derek’s smile grows soft. “Yes, it really is.”
“It doesn’t snow where I’m from in California,” Stiles says. He sighs. “I wish I was with my dad back home.”
“Christmas really is the time for family,” Derek agrees.
Stiles frowns. “And yet, you’re not with them.”
Derek bites his lip, his hands resting on the counter as he leans forward. “It’s complicated.”
Stiles raises an eyebrow, stuffing a bite of meatballs into his mouth and waiting for Derek to answer. Derek looks uncomfortable, but he doesn’t break.
“That’s such a bullshit answer,” Stiles says.
Derek looks taken aback.
“What?” Stiles asks.
He shakes his head. “People don’t… people don’t talk like that here.”
Stiles smirks. “I do.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Derek says.
Stiles hums. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you still haven’t answered the question.”
Derek grins at him and ducks his head. “Okay,” he says, and then he thinks. “My mom and my sisters really want me to take this new job. And I want to - I’m going to take it. But they’re worried that I won’t.”
“Why are they worried?” Stiles asks.
Derek takes a breath. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
“But a good opportunity?”
Derek nods. “You could say that.”
Stiles smiles at him. “I’m sure that they just want you to be happy,” he says.
“Yes,” Derek says. “I just needed some time.”
“How big is your family?” Stiles asks.
“Big,” he says. “I have too many sisters, and cousins, and uncles, and aunts.” Derek is trying to sound grumpy but he can’t seem to keep the smile from his face. He obviously cares about his family and it makes Stiles’ heart feel warm.
They talk for longer, and they move onto topics other than their jobs. Derek seems to loosen up, laughing more and being less careful with his words. He’s perfectly charming, and so polite, but his humor is subtle and easy to miss.
Stiles wants to know him for more than one night, but that seems impossible. They’re from two different countries, two different worlds.
He chuckles when he catches Derek yawning. “It’s getting late,” he says.
“Yes,” Derek says, rubbing his eyes.
“But it’s Christmas Eve,” Stiles says. “Stay up with me?”
“I don’t know,” Derek says. “It’s a big day tomorrow.”
“Please,” Stiles whispers. He sees Derek take a breath in, and then slowly he nods. Stiles beams at him. “Tell me about your favorite Christmas traditions.”
Derek grins and tells him about the food they eat every year, about how they go into the town and decorate the Christmas tree in the middle of the square, about how he and his sister used to wait up for Santa but then always fell asleep before he came.
Stiles smiles. “Christmas sounds magical here.”
“It is,” Derek says softly.
“My Christmases were very quiet after my mom died,” Stiles murmurs. “It was just me and my dad.”
Derek’s gaze is kind. “My father passed away recently,” he says. “It feels… heavy, celebrating tomorrow without him.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I can’t believe I left him alone. But I need this job.”
Derek clears his throat and straightens. They’ve been in the kitchen this whole time, exchanging stories and drinking hot cocoa. “I forgot about that,” he mutters.
Stiles stands and walks around to him. He leans back against the counter. “Forgot about what?”
They’re only a foot away from one another, standing almost too close, and Derek seems incapable of answering him. His eyes travel over Stiles’ face and every movement of his seems uncertain. Stiles isn’t sure if he’s reading this right, but all his body wants to do is kiss him.
“Is this okay?” Stiles whispers. They’re facing each other now, inching forward, both of them the same height. Their noses brush. Stiles can feel every thud of his heart. But he waits, because Derek still hasn’t answered him even if he hasn’t pulled away.
“Stiles,” Derek whispers.
“Yeah?” He can’t quite keep his balance, trying not to get too close.
“I - I,” Derek says. Stiles watches his throat move as he swallows and Derek closes his eyes. He thinks it’s going to happen, he thinks it’s going to happen, but then Derek takes a step back.
Stiles reaches for the counter so that he doesn’t fall over and he licks his lips. He can still feel Derek’s stubble against his cheek even if their lips never quite touched.
“I’m sorry,” Derek says. His face is a bright red and he runs a hand through his hair. “Please. Please don’t -”
“Don’t what?” Stiles asks. “Derek, it’s okay.”
Derek takes a few more steps backwards. His hands clench by his sides.
“Hey,” Stiles says. He points to grandfather clock against the wall. “Look at the time. It’s Christmas.”
“Oh,” Derek says.
“Happy Christmas,” Stiles says to him.
Derek smiles back. “Happy Christmas, Stiles.”
The snow has stopped falling by the early morning, and Derek helps him get to his car, get his suitcase, and then he drops him at his hotel. Stiles hesitates in the passenger seat of the car.
“Thanks for everything,” Stiles tells him.
“You too,” Derek says, and it sounds like he means it.
Stiles tries to smile and he wonders how he can possibly say all that he felt the night before. He had the most magical Christmas with Derek that he can remember, even though all they did was talk and watch the snow fall from the window.
“When do you go home?” Derek blurts out.
“The day after tomorrow,” Stiles says.
“That’s soon,” Derek says.
“Yep,” Stiles says. He lets himself look at Derek one more time and then he gets out of the car with a pathetic wave. Stiles feels almost like he’s lost something.
He tries not to feel sorry for himself and quickly gets ready in the small hotel room. He’s running late for the press conference but, pass around his neck, he makes it to the van with the other journalists. As they round the corner they see the castle - it seems much older than anything Stiles knows from back home and it’s breathtaking. It’s something out of a dream and he takes a few photos on his phone.
“Wow,” he breathes. The towers reach tall into the sky.
He follows the other journalists and he wishes a happy Christmas to everyone he gets a chance to talk to, but he spends most of his time listening to the others. He finds out that they’re not sure the prince is even going to turn up for the coronation and they all wait eagerly for the press conference to start.
The man at the front of the room clears his throat and he announces that the prince is at the castle and that the coronation will begin as planned. The other journalists ask questions but Stiles doesn’t know enough to ask his own, and his thoughts keep on drifting to Derek.
It lasts about ten minutes and then it’s over. It’s so underwhelming that he understands why his editor sent him and not someone more accomplished.
Stiles whips around. “Yes?” he says.
The man before him has a wary expression on his face. “Can I see your pass?”
Stiles fumbles with it in his hand, but he shows the man his pass and tries to smile.
“Follow me,” the man says, and then he’s lead through a hallway, past lots of maids and servants getting everything ready, through another back door, and into the side entrance to the cathedral. Stiles stares at the man.
“Wait,” he says. “I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I,” the man says grumpily. “But this is what the prince wants. Hide your pass. No photos. Don’t cause any trouble. I have eyes on you.”
Stiles nods slowly. He’s not going to fuck this up. He turns and sees the immaculately dressed guests walking past the large display of red and white flowers, past the Christmas trees at the ends of every row. There’s an orchestra playing soft music and it’s beautiful.
Why is he here? Why is he here? He doesn’t have an invitation.
Stiles eagerly watches as more and more people arrive, and he doesn’t recognize anyone but he assumes that they’re important. He’s at the very end of the row and not many people pay attention to him, and then everyone stands before the procession starts.
He can’t see much, just the back of the prince as he walks forward, the long, read cloak he wears dragging against the ground. And then, then he turns and Stiles’ heart drops from underneath him. It’s Derek. Derek is the prince.
He makes it back to his hotel with his head spinning. He spent the whole night with the prince, the prince , and he didn’t even know it. He almost kissed him.
Stiles drags his fingers over his lips. He knows so much, he remembers so much - he doesn’t think he could forget a single second that he had with Derek. What’s he supposed to do? He could do anything with this - he could tell his editor everything and it’s so, so tempting.
Stiles opens his front door a few months later, and his words die on his lips. Derek is standing there and it’s so far away from what he was expecting that Stiles loses his breath. But then slowly, slowly, they’re both smiling at each other.
“Your majesty,” Stiles says, smirking. He leans against the doorframe and folds his arms.
Derek huffs. “Stiles,” he says. “It’s good to see you.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says.
“May I come in?” Derek asks.
Stiles nods and lets him in. He watches as Derek takes in his surroundings, takes in the small home that Stiles has made for himself here. It’s nothing like the castle - but maybe a little like that cabin, warm and cozy.
Stiles licks his lips. Derek is so much more handsome than he remembers but then he also looks exactly the same.
“You didn’t write anything,” Derek finally says. His gaze is intent and Stiles meets it easily.
“No,” he says. “I didn’t.”
“Why?” Derek asks curiously.
Stiles feels his cheeks go pink. “Because… because I liked you, a lot, and I didn’t want to hurt you in that way.”
“I would have understood,” Derek says.
“But you would have been disappointed.”
Stiles shrugs. “I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
Derek looks at his feet and Stiles tries not to hold his breath. Just because he’s here doesn’t mean anything . Maybe he’s just curious - maybe he just wanted answers.
“I did write a piece,” Stiles eventually says. “About your country and its history and even though it’s small, the contributions it’s given to the world. But my editor wouldn’t publish it and I refused to write anything else. So I quit.”
Derek stares at him.
Stiles laughs. “I got another job.”
“As a journalist?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says.
“Oh,” Derek says. They stare at each other, maybe just to take each other in, and Stiles wonders what else there is to say. But it’s good to have Derek here even if it’s not going to last - his mind still drifts to Derek too often and Stiles hasn’t been able to let him go.
Derek takes a step forward. “You look good,” he offers.
“You too,” Stiles echoes, and then he can’t take it anymore. “Why are you here, Derek?”
Derek takes in a shaky breath. “I - I don’t know how you found my cabin in the middle of those woods,” Derek says quietly. “But it felt like that was exactly where we were both supposed to be. You and me together on Christmas Eve.”
Stiles’ heart beats loud in his chest.
“You almost kissed me,” Derek says. “And - and I wanted it. But I was scared.”
“Of me? Of what I would do?”
Derek nods. “But you didn’t do anything.” He clears his throat and then his voice comes out in a breathless rush. “And I - I was hoping that you might still be thinking of me the way I’ve been thinking of you.”
Stiles can’t hold back his smile. “Derek,” he says.
Derek steps towards him, a thousand times less cautious than he was that night. “Yes?” he says. He reaches forward and he cups Stiles’ face, his thumbs brushing down Stiles’ cheeks. Stiles feels his heart flutter and he answers Derek with a kiss.