The Tailor and the Prince
"Make certain to get my measurements exactly right," the pink haired woman snipped. "I won't stand to lose my chance with the Prince, all because you messed up my dress."
"Of course, my lady," he smiled blandly, though inwardly he thought he would like nothing more than to accidentally stab her several times with his needles.
He wouldn't, however, because this was his profession and he was damn proud of it, even if some of his customers had him dreaming at night of sticking his assortment of needles in their eyes and sewing their mouths shut.
To think I once nursed a crush on her, he thought wistfully, watching her traipse out of his shop once he was finished with her measurements and had jotted down the long list of demands she had had for this particular dress.
He still considered her quite beautiful, with her shiny locks as pink as the cherry blossom she'd been named after and her light green eyes, which shone like chrysoprase gemstones, the sort he'd only see once before welded into the earrings of a rich older woman. She was bright and intelligent, the sort of girl everyone would love to have in their family. He'd dreamt for years what it would be like if she would return his affections, whether her lips would taste as sweet as they looked like.
Then he'd started working as an apprentice to the local tailor, she had started attending parties of the higher classes and he witnessed her change from a nice, cute girl to a beautiful woman who doled out sharp and biting comments to the lower class people as easily as she smiled prettily at the lords and ladies who organised all those fancy parties.
It had been quite the sobering wake-up call when he realised that the type of class one belonged to mattered more to her than how the person really was. They had shared the same class in school for years, but the moment he'd decided that creating clothes was a lot more fun than crunching numbers or learning foreign languages, he'd ceased to exist for her.
Now he was just the tailor who sewed the dresses she wore to impress older, far more rich men.
It had hurt, in the beginning, to realise that status mattered more to her than the person themselves, but he had got over her eventually. Getting over his crush had been made easier when he'd been subjected to her snippy attitude several times, even getting berated if the dress wasn't to her liking.
It was difficult to keep liking someone who treated you like dirt.
Now she was just one customer out of the many who visited his shop daily, albeit one he could never get rid of quickly enough. She was a paying customer, however, and he could use every coin she would give for her multitude of dresses.
Really, he would like to know where she kept all those dresses; she must have a room reserved for them alone with the amount of times she visited the shop!
Snorting softly, he studied the sketch he'd made as she'd rambled on and on about what kind of dress she needed to have in order to attract the Prince's attention. It was a very elaborate dress with four layers, a very detailed design of cherry blossoms with the specification that the thread had to be silver, and the edges of the sleeves had to be adorned with very small stones, coloured pink and green. She'd requested – well, more like ordered – that the main fabric used for the dress would be silk and while that meant he would earn a hefty sum for this particular dress, it also meant he would be spending many a nights working on it, both because of the elaborate design and because he had to be careful not to ruin the dress. Silk was way too expensive to mess around with.
The bell ringing gently at the door announced a new customer and he looked up, smiling friendly, recognising the blonde woman as Yamanaka Ino, the only heir to the Yamanaka Flower Business. She stood to inherit a very large business – rumour had it that they even delivered to the King himself, though they refused to deny or confirm it – and while she could also often be found in the company of lords and ladies, she was a tad friendlier than Sakura.
"You have time for a measurement?" she inquired; her heels tapping loudly on the dark wooden floor. She appeared to have come straight from the flower shop, as she was dressed in a simple light blue dress with a coat thrown on top of it to protect her against the chilly wind.
Naruto checked the time, noticing it was inching towards six o'clock. Oh, no wonder his stomach was starting to feel rather empty. Putting the design for Sakura's dress in a map with all the other orders yet to be made, he gestured for her to take place on the wooden stool, while he selected a fresh sheet of paper and retrieved his pencil from the desk.
"A special occasion or an addition to the wardrobe?"
"Special occasion," she told him, preening a bit. "I will be attending the Royal Ball."
Of course she would. Checking a sigh, he started measuring her shoulders first, listening to her musings about what kind of dress she wanted with only half an ear.
It was going to be a very long two months.
The whole country had been in a tizzy ever since the royal family had announced they would be organising a Valentine's Day Ball; the festivity meant to find a suitable partner for their youngest son. Women especially were going crazy about that announcement, all of them hoping to be the one to catch the youngest prince's eye.
Naruto didn't know what the fuss was all about. They had never even seen the youngest prince – the man keeping to himself in the royal castle – so how could they be so certain that they would like him? Why were they raving about a man when they didn't know how he looked like? He could share the likeness of a troll for all they knew.
"Of course he's handsome," Sakura said patronisingly, when she came to check on the progress of her dress. "Have you even taken a good look at the King and Queen? There's not a doubt in my mind that he shares the beauty of his parents."
She giggled then, covering her mouth with her hand. "And should he look less than them, then the many luxuries he'll shower his Intended with, will surely make up for anything he lacks in the looks department!"
That seemed to be the main consensus underneath the ladies who visited his shop: even if the Prince was the ugliest, foulest creature they would ever met, his richness would more than make up for it.
Naruto could only feel sorry for the anonymous Prince; how could he ever be happy, knowing that people only wanted him because of his looks or his riches?
He didn't envy the poor sod at all.
Three days before the royal ball found Naruto equally in despair as furious as he stared at the full rack of expensive, very time consuming dresses which would never be picked up by their original owners.
One by one the women had cancelled their order at the very last minute, choosing instead to have their dressed be made by a shop rumoured to be in employment of the Queen herself. They had no certainty whatsoever that this particular shop was the one who'd received the Royal Seal, but the rumours had done the trick: they had all flocked towards the shop at the other end of the village, only cancelling their order at Naruto's shop once they had been certain they would receive a new dress at the other shop.
All those hours he'd spent painstakingly making certain that every stitch was perfect, every button and pearl sewn in the correct place … All the money he'd put into acquiring enough expensive cloth to satisfy the customer's demand … He might as well have poured the coins in the drain or even the damn sewer, because his investments had gone up in smoke. He'd counted on earning all that money back once the dresses were picked up by the women, knowing that his creations were worth the price he put on them.
Now he was left with nothing but a bunch of unusable dresses. Oh, perhaps a future lady would take a fancy to one of them, request him to alter it to fit her measurements, but after so many time in this profession, he knew that chance was slim to none. Most women preferred their dresses to be as original as possible, abhorred the thought of using another one's design even.
All that work, all those hours he'd poured into the dresses, wanting them to be perfect – all of it had been for nothing. They hadn't even had the grace to cancel their orders on time.
Slumping down in his chair, filled with bitterness, he listened listlessly to the storm howling outside, heard the rain beating down on the windows and the roof, the wind rattling the frames violently. The storm today had most people staying inside, leaving him with not even a small commission to make it through the week.
"Damn it," he whispered, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyelids; frustration having some tears burning behind his eyes.
What was he going to do now? The couple of orders which hadn't been cancelled and were scheduled to be picked up in two days weren't enough to cover the costs he had had to make over the past two months. Why hadn't they warned him on time? Why had they waited until he'd wasted all his time and a lot of money in procuring the materials before they'd sent a message that they didn't want their dresses anymore?
The bell ringing, immediately followed by the sound of howling wind, had him looking up surprised and he blinked at the sight of a gentleman practically rushing into the store before he slammed the door shut behind him, cutting off the sharp wind and the streaming rain. The man was dressed in a long, dark coat, which looked absolutely drenched, and a black top hat which he removed soon, muttering something underneath his breath.
When he turned around, surveying the shop curiously, Naruto got a good look at him and was definitely certain of it: this man belonged to one of the highest classes in their society, no doubt. The clothes on their own screamed 'fancy and expensive', a hint of a dark green silk shirt visible when the man casually unbuttoned his coat, and if that hadn't been enough on its own, he possessed the kind of features one could only expect to see within the high society.
His skin was the kind of pale tint that everyone with even the slightest bit of money and title strived to have; his eyes were black and piercing; his mouth not too full, not too thin, coloured a pale pink. His cheekbones looked sharp enough to cut at the barest touch and his aristocratic looking face was framed by black-blue bangs, his hair spiked slightly at the back of his head.
He carried himself with full confidence, even in the unknown surroundings of a tailor shop, and his strides were measured, yet purposeful as he walked around the room, taking in the various jackets, waistcoats, regular coats, shirts, and trousers in various styles displayed against the walls. There was a section for hats as well, though Naruto purchased those from a specialist, and a shelf with several types of ties neatly displayed.
Naruto had never seen him before, of that he was certain. There was no way he would ever forget this man, not with how almost unnaturally good looking he was. It wouldn't surprise him if that man had made a pact with the Devil himself in exchange for those otherworldly looks.
A visitor to the village then? Perhaps distant family of someone living here – although if that was the case, then certainly the familial resemblance would be hard pressed to be found, considering none of the villagers came close to possessing the sort of beauty that this man did.
"Seeking shelter from the rain?" Naruto casually asked, rising up from his chair. It was rather late in the evening and he wondered absently what purpose had driven the man to go outside in this ugly storm and at this hour.
"Partly," the man replied; his voice a smooth and deep baritone, which for some reason had Naruto straightening his back at once. "One of the wheels of my carriage suffered a mishap and I'm waiting for it to be repaired. As it stands, I'm in town to purchase a suit."
"Let me guess: for the Royal Ball," Naruto smiled cynically and the man looked at him curiously, nodding quietly.
Bitterness still having the upper hand, he couldn't stop himself from mockingly going on, "Perhaps you are better off requiring the services of the Hyuuga Elite Clothes and Tailor? According to the rumours they create wardrobes for the Royal Family themselves! Of course, they're just rumours," he placed a hand on his chest, "but when have rumours ever not been true, hm? You wouldn't possibly want to miss out on giving your commission to a shop with the Royal Seal!"
Sarcasm coated his words as heavily as the rain still beating down against the windows and at any other moment, Naruto would have felt ashamed for speaking so freely around a potential customer – a very high end one at that – but today he was completely fed up. How was he supposed to feel when people preferred listening to rumours instead of trusting his craftmanship? He had made a name for himself for a reason; he didn't need to live on rumours because he knew his work was damn good!
Apparently the majority of his customers thought otherwise, however, or at least they held a different opinion when it came to being dressed for the Royal Ball.
"Losing customers to this other shop?" the man inquired calmly, not appearing ruffled in the slightest at being nearly verbally attacked.
Naruto grunted, scowling slightly. "I have no idea whether the loss is permanent, but to be quite frank, sir, if it will be, I am not so certain whether I will mourn the loss." He half-heartedly swept his hand over the rack of finished dresses. "Seeing as they only cancelled their order at the last minute – apparently forgetting that my time and these materials don't come for free – leaving me with dresses I'm unable to sell, I'm not very eager to make something else for them."
The man approached him, studying the dresses with a keen eye. Black eyes turned towards Naruto, interest lurking within their depths. "You designed and made all these dresses yourself?" he questioned.
Naruto wondered whether he was imagining the note of impression he thought he could detect in the man's deep voice.
"Yes, I did, sir. Unfortunately I don't earn enough to hire an assistant, so I am the only one who designs and makes the clothes." He sighed, staring forlornly at the collection of dresses, muttering underneath his breath, "I can't even stand the sight of them anymore. What am I to do with dresses I can't sell?"
He startled slightly when the man brusquely turned around and marched over to the left side of the store where he regarded a finished suit with scrutinising eyes. Swiftly he turned around on his heels to look at Naruto again, running his hand lightly across the left sleeve of the thin, stark white shirt. "So you created this suit as well?"
The blond man nodded slowly, uncertain as to where this conversation was going. "Yes, sir, everything save for the hats are designed and made by me."
The man hummed, taking two steps back to consider the suit at a distance. He surprised Naruto by walking over to the door and disposing both his coat and his hat on the hooks available.
"Sir?" Naruto eyed him uncertainly, biting down on his lip. Did the removal of the coat mean the man wanted to be measured or was he merely making himself comfortable whilst waiting for either the storm to subside or his carriage to be repaired?
"I did mention that I was in town to have a suit prepared for the Royal Ball," the man smiled faintly, approaching him again. "I'm not a man who's swayed by rumours. I have seen enough of your craftmanship to trust in the quality of your creations. If you don't mind, I'd like you to create my suit for me."
After a short glance at his watch, he looked up and added apologetically, "You will, of course, be amply rewarded for your trouble, both because of the late hour and the close deadline."
"Sir, you could have woken me up at the strike of midnight and I would still be delighted to make your suit," Naruto told him sincerely; relief chasing away the bitterness and the anger as he realised that perhaps this month was not lost yet. "The close deadline is not a problem at all, I assure you. I'll be more than happy to create your suit. All I need are your measurements and for you to tell me what exactly you have in mind. If you will, please stand still while I will start with measuring your shoulders."
The man did as he was told, smiling faintly, holding as still as a statue when Naruto started carefully measuring his shoulders, checking twice to make certain he wouldn't write down a mistake.
Silence reigned for a little while in the shop as Naruto continued measuring the man; the only sounds the scratching of his pencil on the paper and his murmured requests of moving in certain ways so he could take complete and proper measurements.
While the man looked slender, it was clearly a deception for Naruto could feel how muscled he really was, how firm, when he set about measuring his chest and his arms. Did he train with any sort of weapon like swords or was it just to keep in shape? Whichever the reason, it clearly worked for him and Naruto caught himself musing that the partner of this man was – or would be – one very happy person. Considering his looks, however, it would be a great surprise if the man was still single. Surely someone had snatched him up already?
Those questions, even inside his own mind, made him pause and he felt his cheeks heat up a bit, scolding himself for thinking about something like that. It wasn't any of his business whether this man was still single or not, even if he was easily one of the most handsome men he'd ever seen.
It was difficult not to think about it, though, when he was hyper aware of the dark gaze trained upon him, following his every movement. Those eyes almost felt like a caress against his skin and the heat in his cheeks intensified and he forced himself to focus more on the numbers on his sheet and less on the man in front of him.
"What kind of design do you have in mind, sir?" he inquired, retrieving a fresh sheet of paper from his work desk.
"Nothing too pompous," the man replied readily and nodded at the suit he'd been staring at before. "That particular design has taken my fancy actually, but add a long waistcoat to it. Not too many buttons, however. I'm not fond of spending hours trying to button my clothes." Humour ran like an undercurrent through his voice and Naruto found himself smiling in response.
"Certainly, sir," he agreed, tracing the outline of the suit quickly. The waistcoat he drew in more detail as that was a new feature and he needed the man's consent before going through with actually making it. "Any colour in particular?"
"The outer wear should be black," the man stated and considered his thoughts for a moment before adding, "Let's make the shirt a deep blue, like the colour of your eyes now that I think about it."
Naruto uttered an odd choking noise but the man went on, completely oblivious to the tailor's embarrassment, "The shirt should be easy to move around in; I despise it when my clothes are too restrictive. I'd like to breathe after all. As for the materials – I leave that to your judgement. I have never been that terribly interested in cloth material and do not know much about it. I'll leave that to your discretion."
"Of course, sir, thank you for the trust," Naruto said, a tad overwhelmed. He questioned just who this man was exactly that he had no trouble trusting a tailor's judgement over his own.
It stood in sharp contrast to the many ladies he'd served before, who all seemed to be under the impression that they knew more about design and materials than him, the tailor.
The man waved his hand dismissively as if his show of trust was of no importance. "When do you think you'll be ready with it?"
Blue eyes flicked up towards the ceiling and its aged wooden beams, as he considered the question. "In two days' time during the late afternoon," he stated and grimaced slightly. "I realise this leaves you with not that much time before the Royal Ball, but - " He quietened when the man raised a hand.
"No need to apologise; after all, I'm the one who waited this long to purchase a suit," he smiled wryly. A curious look crossed his face and he tilted his head slightly to the right. "Are you going to attend the Royal Ball by any chance?"
A snort escaped Naruto before he could stop himself and he blurted out, "No, why would I? In fact, I cannot help but feel sorry for the youngest Prince."
"Oh? Why is that?" The man looked oddly intrigued.
Naruto couldn't help but roll his eyes as he turned around and put his papers down on the desk for the moment. "Well, this ball is meant for him to find a partner, right? I'm certain the King and Queen mean well, but the majority of the women who'll attend this ball are only interested in two things: the Prince's looks and his riches," he said flatly. "Nobody knows how he looks like, but most of them assume he has to possess beauty merely because his parents do. And even if he's found to be ugly, these women comfort themselves with the thought that at least they'll be able to spend their life in luxury, should he pick them."
He shook his head in disgust and sneered, "That's all they seem to care about: looks and money. They don't care about the Prince himself, aren't interested in him, but in what he can offer them. They treat him as some sort of prize, a way to get higher up in society. They don't care about the man himself. I cannot help but pity him, for everyone deserves to be loved for who they are and not simply because they look nice or are rich."
"You feel quite strongly about this," the man remarked, studying him intently.
Naruto shrugged stiffly. "I have no idea what kind of person this Prince is, but nobody should have to deal with money hungry wenches like the ones who'll be attending this ball. As a tailor, I'm privy to all sorts of conversations, my lord, and hearing some of these women jabber on about a man they have never met before whilst still planning out their entire lives with him is both disturbing and appalling. We can only hope the Prince falls in love with someone who's deserving of him and who isn't interested in merely his looks or his money."
Seeing the man stare at him in fascination, he reddened and cleared his throat, looking away in embarrassment. "Apologies, sir," he said stiffly, busying his hands with the tape measure. "I came off too strongly and shouldn't have run my mouth about other people."
The man shook his head lightly. "Your honesty is more refreshing than offensive, I can assure you," he said calmly. "I think the Prince might agree and be grateful for your thoughts, should he be able to hear them."
Naruto huffed a bit amused. "I very much doubt that, my lord, but it's nice to hear that the Prince would appreciate the thoughts of a commoner nonetheless," he said in jest, privately thinking he was more likely to end up in prison for insubordination for daring to presume things about the Prince.
He looked out of the window and noticed that the storm had lessened up quite a tad since the man had stepped into his store. "The storm is subsiding," he muttered, not really meant to be overheard.
The dark haired man glanced outside as well and inclined his head. "So it is," he murmured and stepped off the stool, retrieving his coat and his hat. "I look forward to seeing the final product."
"It will be ready on time," Naruto promised, clasping his hands together to avoid further fidgeting. He would have to pull an all-nighter for sure, again, but this man didn't give him the impression that he would stiff him, so the lost night would be worth the fee he would receive for this work.
"My assistant will stop by to pick it up and deliver the payment," the man declared, slipping on his coat and settling the top hat back on his head. "As for the Royal Ball, might I suggest you attend it, regardless of your feelings concerning the personal matter of the Prince's quest?"
He rested his hand on the doorknob and smiled mysteriously. "I think you will find that it will be an interesting ball."
"I don't know," Naruto hesitated, furrowing his eyebrows.
In spite of the many announcements and the general state of excitement and uproar the village had been in ever since the Royal Ball had been made official, he had never once considered attending it. As far as he knew the ball wasn't restricted to only the upper classes, but nevertheless, the idea of being surrounded by people all belonging to the higher classes, while he was considered to be one of the lowest, a mere worker, set him on edge. He would never be able to feel comfortable at the castle when other people would doubtlessly wonder why someone of his low status was attending the ball.
"Well, I would very much like to see you there," the man smiled and was gone, out of the door, before Naruto could react to that.
Naruto gaped, watching the door fall slowly shut. He was left reeling from the encounter and he scratched his head, looking back at the design he'd just created.
"What a strange man," he said wondrously and shook his head.
Well, no time for dilly-dallying; he had a suit to create!
It was only much later, when he was debating which material to choose for the shirt, that he realised he'd never caught the man's name.
Nervously he adjusted the white-orange fox mask he'd created for himself yesterday morning, watching through lowered eyelashes how ladies in beautiful, colourful dresses flounced past him, chattering with other men attending the event.
He still didn't know why he had decided to come after all. There was no reason for him to be here, at the Royal Ball, which some of the other people's looks made quite clear. Self-consciously he wondered whether it was obvious that he wasn't high born like they were and couldn't help but fiddle with his mark once more.
The only grace he had was that this ball was a masked event; an effort to add to the allure he assumed. Everywhere he looked, he saw nothing but masks covering the upper half of people's faces; some of the creations more extravagant than others, having large feathers or colourful gems sticking out alongside the edges. They complemented the dresses and suits the attendants had decided to wear and he was a tad gratified to see that none of his creations stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the rest.
He himself had gone for something rather simple, as he hadn't had really the time to create something elaborate – nor had dared to, to be honest. He preferred to not attract the wrong sort of attention tonight, thank you. He'd chosen a simple fox mask, going for white and dark orange as the dominant colours. He'd coloured the outlines of the eye openings with black, making the blue colour of his own eyes pop out and attract most of the attention. He'd gone as far as lining the fox ears with some fake fur and they felt soft underneath his touch.
For the clothes he'd gone with a simple black jacket and trousers, one of the first designs he'd ever created on his own and which he was still proud of. He'd combined it with a light blue shirt; the buttons a pearly white instead of black. His clothes didn't look as fancy as some of the others did, but he thought it was still suitable enough for a Royal Ball. The guards outside, at least, hadn't turned him away on account of being underdressed, so he was going to assume he looked nice enough.
As to why he was here after all … He had yet to figure that out. Just because the mysterious man from three days ago had said he was expecting him?
Naruto scoffed, making a woman narrow her eyes at him before she moved away. He wanted to deny that he'd come all the way here just because that man had told him to, but why else would he be here? He wasn't like the majority of these people here, who only were interested in the Prince because he was rich or supposedly good looking. He wasn't shallow like several of these wenches who were flirting with other men at the moment, regardless of the fact that they were supposedly attending this ball to catch the Prince's attention.
What was he even trying to accomplish here?
He sighed silently, discreetly looking around. He hadn't been able to spot the man who'd invited him yet and he was starting to wonder whether he was arriving late. Perhaps he wasn't interested in the Prince himself, but in the possible business he could conduct with other people here – if he was a businessman of course.
That still didn't answer the question as to why he had invited Naruto, of course, but …
He remained in the large ballroom for a while longer, trying not to be blinded by the gleaming plates awaiting the arrival of food or the glittering shine of glasses as people took advantage of the wine being served. The entire room had been decked out in soft pink and bright red, somehow without coming across as too gaudy which was quite a feat if you asked him. Given that this ball was held on Valentine's Day, naturally it wasn't really a surprise that they would use the colours red and pink to decorate the place.
It looked at least miles better than some of the too bright pink dresses which some ladies had thought would make for appropriate wear for night.
When the stares of some people became too difficult to ignore and it didn't look like he would find the mysterious man anywhere in this room, he decided that leaving the space for some fresh air would be ideal now. Who knew? Perhaps he would encounter the man somewhere in the corridors or he might even be in the gardens.
If not, at least he would be away from those heavy stares for a while.
He had overheard a guard relaying directions to the gardens earlier before to someone who looked new to the staff, and so he set off to follow the route, only vaguely aware that they were announcing the Prince's arrival right when he slipped out of the grand ballroom. Well, that didn't really matter to him. He was here for the man who'd invited him, not for the Prince.
The guards stationed in the corridors eyed him when he passed them, but they didn't make any move to stop him so he presumed it was okay to make his way to the gardens. He figured that as long as he didn't accidentally enter a room he wasn't supposed to be in, they would leave him alone.
"Oh wow!" He gasped silently when he walked through a set of heavy, dark wooden doors, coming out right into the gardens.
The gardens were amazing! There was a big fountain a bit further away; a mermaid pouring out the water through the seashells in her hands. Large hedges with small, dark berries created a natural barrier around the gardens, aided by the presence of thick, gnarly trees. Some of the branches were tangled together, creating a natural roof. The dark green grass was kept meticulously short and ended in straight lines next to dark grey tiles.
Large rose bushes had been planted at the front and some of them had already started to bloom; blood red and soft yellow peeking from within green covers.
A low bank in front of the fountain attracted his attention and he tentatively sat down on the cold stone, looking around in wonder. The gardens had something magical, especially with the lanterns giving off a soft glow to chase away the approaching darkness. There were also white roses blooming in smaller bushes, he noticed amazed, and even not fully bloomed yet, they appeared to faintly glow in the light of the lanterns.
To think the royal family woke up every morning to a wonderful sight like this … No wonder so many people wanted to be a part of this family.
"Here you are; I was already starting to think that you were never going to show up."
The deep voice coming from the doors startled him badly and he whipped his head around, his mouth dropping open in surprise.
There the man from the shop stood, dressed in the suit Naruto had sewn for him; the lights from inside the corridor illuminating the outline of his body. His mask was a deep black, save for the small, blood red rubies decorating the outlines of it, which made him look even more mysterious than before.
"You recognised me?" Naruto asked dumbly, a bit thrown off by how good the man looked in the suit. Even though he hadn't been able to return to try on the clothes, the suit looked perfect on him, fitting him very well.
The man smiled and walked over to him. "I know no one else with that particular shade of blond hair. Looking at your eyes does confirm to me that I have found the right person, though." His smile had a teasing edge to it now. "They're quite the arresting shade of blue if I may be so bold."
Against his will Naruto found himself blushing, momentary at a loss for words. That had to be a first, considering he normally always knew what to say.
"You look very nice," the man complimented him.
Anyone else would have sounded mocking, but Naruto could detect nothing but sincerity in his voice and he looked away, warmth curling up in the pit of his stomach. "Thanks," he muttered and cleared his throat, running his fingers self-consciously across the right fox ear. "You yourself look amazing," he found himself saying before he could think twice.
The man hummed and looked down at himself before raising his head to look at the blond man again. "You should thank the tailor; he performed an amazing feat," he said with a straight face.
"I will be sure to do so." Naruto found himself grinning, ridiculously pleased with the compliment.
Seeing the man look so amazing in the suit he created and hear him being so positive about the clothes, made up for the misery some of the ladies had put him through this week.
The man sat down next to him, so close that their thighs almost touched. Even with the small distance between them, Naruto was very aware of the other one's body heat.
"I do not believe you have greeted the Prince already, have you?" the man inquired curiously.
Naruto shook his head, looking down at his hands resting in his lap. "No, I have not, sir."
The blue eyed man shrugged lightly. "I only came to this ball because you requested my presence, my lord, even if I still do not fully comprehend why. I wish the Prince well, but I do not want him to think that I am like all these other people, vying for his attention when I do not even know him." He shuddered. "The last thing I want him to assume is that I'm only interested in his looks or his money."
The dark haired man eyed him thoughtfully. "I very much doubt the Prince would assume such a thing."
"Even so, I do not prefer to be lumped together with the rest of them." Naruto waved vaguely at the doors. He looked at the man curiously. "I'm surprised you're here with me instead of inside, meeting the Prince. Is that not why you came to the ball?"
That, for some reason, had the man chuckling amused. "No, I did not come here to meet the Prince. He is not the one I'm interested in, if I have to be honest."
"Oh? Who are you interested in then?" Naruto inquired, before realising that that sounded quite rude. Flushing even harder, he hastily waved his hands in the air, squeaking out, "Please pretend you didn't hear that! I'm so sorry, that was rude of me!"
The man smiled, however, not looking offended in the slightest. His voice was as smooth as silk when he replied, "I'm interested in the one with the pretty fox mask and the even prettier eyes."
Naruto was certain his head was flaming red now, with how hot his skin felt. "That's – that's an odd thing to joke about, my lord," he stammered; the rushing of his blood loud in his ears.
"It would indeed be an odd thing to joke about if I was joking," the man said affably, "but I'm not. With your permission I would very much like to court you."
"You don't even know me!" Naruto protested instantly; fearing his head was going to explode any second now with how hot he felt.
"I do not know your name, that's for sure," the man said. "Something we'll have to rectify now. I'm Sasuke."
"Naruto," the blond answered automatically and he bit down on his lip. "But knowing each other's name does not constitute really knowing each other, which is rather a prerequisite for courting someone, don't you think so?"
A part of him wondered just where he had heard the name 'Sasuke' before. It sounded so familiar for some reason, but how was that possible? He couldn't remember ever having come across someone named Sasuke before.
Yet he thought he should know the name from somewhere before, should recognise the man next to him as someone else than just a customer of his shop.
"I know that you're honest," Sasuke began easily; his dark eyes starting to glitter. "I know that you're a hard worker, as evidenced by the suit I'm wearing and the many dresses you managed to finish on time. I know that you're - "
He was interrupted by one of the doors opening and a large, broad shouldered man with spiky orange hair stepped outside, wearing a crisp, dark blue suit. His red-orange eyes slid from Naruto to Sasuke and then he bowed slightly.
"Your Royal Highness, the Queen is wondering when you will return to the ball. She wants to introduce some people to you," the man announced.
Sasuke shook his head. "You can tell Mother there is no need to introduce me to others, for I already have found the one I wish to court."
The orange haired man blinked slowly, looked at Naruto before bowing once more. "Certainly, Your Royal Highness. The King and Queen will be pleased for sure."
The two exchanged more words for a bit, but Naruto didn't hear the rest of their conversation, frozen as he was at the revelation which had just been dropped on him like a bomb.
Sasuke. Prince Sasuke. Royal Highness.
He had been talking to Prince Sasuke, the one who they had organised this ball for, the one who'd given up his years of solitude to find someone worthy of marrying him.
Prince Sasuke had walked into his shop three days ago. The Prince had personally asked him to make his suit. Prince Sasuke had invited him to the ball and had left the festivities in order to search for him.
Prince Sasuke had just asked for permission to court him!
He jumped up and stumbled away from the bank; his heart thudding wildly in his chest. The Prince looked at him surprised and rose up as well.
"You're the Prince?!" Naruto exclaimed strangled, not knowing what to do with his hands and ending up burying his hands in his hair, tugging at the locks in a stupid attempt to make sense of all this. "Prince Sasuke? The Prince they organised this entire ball for?!"
The Prince blinked and tilted his head to the side. "Yes, I am. You look a bit – out of sorts about that," he remarked carefully.
The laugh which escaped Naruto leaned dangerously towards the unhinged side and he clamped his mouth shut to swallow the rest of the hysterical laughter, trembling all over as if it was exceptionally cold.
"I just can't believe – you're the Prince!" he choked out, unable to get past that revelation. "Why are you even talking to me?"
Why was the Prince talking to a lowly commoner like him? Oh god, he'd been talking about the Prince to the Prince himself, he realised with growing horror. He'd called those ladies 'money hungry wenches' right into the Prince's face! What had he done?!
"Because I like you," Prince Sasuke stated calmly. "And as I've stated before we were interrupted, I would very much like to court you with your permission, of course."
"You can't like me, you're the Prince!" Naruto feared he was going to faint any second now; the realisation of who he was talking to, who he had been conversing with so frankly just three days ago, hitting him like a ton of bricks.
Prince Sasuke removed his mask abruptly and raised an eyebrow. "I do not see why I can't like you, simply because of my title," he said calmly; his dark eyes gleaming in the light of the lanterns. "When I met you three days ago, I was charmed by your frank honesty and impressed by how hard working you are. You are very kind and your words of that night have proven that you are not as shallow as some of the attendants present tonight."
He took a step closer. "If I had any doubt in my mind that the words you spoke were false, then tonight proved you didn't merely use fancy words. You came to this ball, not to meet the Prince but to meet the man who'd invited you. When everyone else instantly stopped acknowledging their partner the moment I appeared in the ballroom, you on the other hand left and went to search for the one who'd invited you."
Another step closer.
"You do not care for my looks or riches as you have proven tonight by refusing to meet me in my position as Prince. You're smart as shown by how you are managing the tailor shop all on your own. You're honest and kind and more hard working than most people I know. You're also the most beautiful man I have ever met, with eyes that could put even the finest diamonds and sapphires to shame and hair brighter than all of the gold in the world. I might not know everything about you yet, but I know the most important part and that is that you would make the most magnificent partner for me if you would do me the honour of courting you," he finished; his features soft and completely unguarded.
"I'm … I …" Naruto was lost for words entirely; uncertain what to make of the emotions waging war inside of him.
The Prince wanted to court him? He, the one everyone ignored except for when they needing his sewing skills? The one who was considered to be so low in society in spite of his tailoring skills that none of the ladies – or men – ever showed interested in him?
How had he gone from once crushing on Sakura to being asked to be courted by the Prince himself?
"What about your family?" he asked uncomfortably, hunching his shoulders. "I do not think they would be happy to have you courting a commoner."
Surely they would desire a high society girl or boy for their youngest son? Someone from the aristocracy perhaps or one of those fancy lawyers? Someone who had actually grown up in the world that the royal family dwelled in, someone who knew a lot more than just designing and sewing clothes. Certainly they would not want a lowly commoner, a tailor, to join their family?
"If my family is the only objection you have, let me reassure you now: they will be happy with whoever I choose, no matter the rank, because this is my choice and their only desire is to see me happy," Prince Sasuke stated. "They could not care less about your upbringing, as long as you make me happy."
"How can you be so certain that I will make you happy, though?" Naruto questioned, wrapping his arms around his torso. "You have only spoken to me once before, my Prince, and that is not enough to make a judgement about my ability to make you happy for the rest of our lives. You might find that I vex you instead, should you get to know me better."
"I am a good judge of character, Naruto, and I know that you and I can be good for each other," the Prince smiled. He reached out a hand. "Should my instincts turn out to be faulty, however, then the Courting Process will show us that. I would very much like to court you, Naruto, because nobody has ever interested me as much as you do. Should you not share my sentiments, then I will retreat and I will not bother you again. I do not wish to force my feelings upon you; just know that my intentions are sincere," he said softly.
Naruto gazed at the hand stretched out towards him; his stomach performing several odd flips. If he accepted the Prince's hand, it would mean accepting to be courted by him. It would mean that his world as he had known it so far would be completely turned upside down.
His days before tonight had been set in a routine he'd been following for years. Get up early, open his shop, work whole days and sometimes even whole nights, send off orders once they were finished, close shop and go to sleep. That had been his life for years now; a life he'd expected to live for many years to come.
Now the man standing in front of him was asking him to abandon that life, to say goodbye to everything he knew. Because he knew that if he accepted the courting, nothing would ever be the same again.
Did he want things to remain the same, though?
Slowly, tentatively, he presented his hand, allowing the prince to grasp it gently. He licked his lips and, voice a bit husky, he said, "I would like to be courted by you, my Prince."
"Just Sasuke is fine," he said and his smile was so sweet, so joyful, it made Naruto's breathing hitch and he stared in wonder at the other man.
The Prince – Sasuke – surprised him by carefully removing his mask and he blinked, his face oddly naked when the fox mask was pulled off him.
"You really are so beautiful," Sasuke whispered and then all Naruto could see was shining, dark eyes before soft lips touched his own in a tender kiss and his own eyes fell shut; the kiss, even as light as it was now, sending sparks through his lips, kindling a fire he hadn't known existed within him.
So this was what had all the ladies blushing and giggling when they discussed their paramours with each other. For the first time in his life, Naruto thought he could understand them.
When their kiss ended and they slowly pulled back, Naruto's blush intensified when he saw the admiration with which Sasuke looked at him.
"Thank you for allowing me to court you," Sasuke murmured and lifted Naruto's hand to kiss the back of it. "I will prove to you that I'm worthy of your affections."
Dazedly Naruto thought it should be the other way with him proving that he was worthy of the prince, but all thoughts like that were quickly wiped out of his head when Sasuke pressed a sweet kiss against his cheek and whispered, "I'm glad I invited you."
"I'm glad I came," Naruto smiled, cautious hope for the future settling in him.
His life would definitely change starting tonight, but … Blue eyes found and locked onto black ones.
It was a change he would welcome with all his heart.