The Chores Can Wait

Second Part

The carriage had turned back into a pumpkin by the time that the bells had stopped chiming, barely out of sight of the castle, and Phillip had been forced to walk the entire way back to his own much smaller and less welcoming castle. Nearly four and a half miles, in all. Oddly enough, he hadn't minded in the least. In fact, he had smiled the whole way back.

The next morning Phillip woke exhausted but happy. Despite himself, he had enjoyed his night thoroughly. And he was actually looking forward to going back to the royal castle in three days time.

"Why've you been smiling all morning?"

"My darling Sara," just the use of her name in such a way made his stepsister shrink a little further back into her chair at the kitchen table, utterly confused and more than a little frightened by this unusual behavior, "why, exactly, do I need a reason to smile on such a beautiful day? The sun is shinning. The birds are singing. I dare say that all is right with the world."

Sara looked out the window. It looked like it was about to storm. And she was pretty sure that the only bird that she heard was the one currently being gobbled up by the barn cat.

"It's a positively perfect day, and that is reason enough to smile, my robust little sister." Sara actually jumped when Phillip deposited a plate full of pancakes on the table in front of her. It was the first time that Phillip had seen the girl react to food with anything but a favorable sort of lust. It only made him smile all the wider. "In fact... you could say that today is like something out of a fairy tale."

His stepsister didn't understand him at all. And Phillip really didn't care. Just for now, this was his fairy tale, and he was Cinderella. And Cinderella didn't care what his family thought.


The next seven days passed more quickly for Phillip than he could ever remember any before them having done. When at last the night of the second ball came, Phillip couldn't get the women of the house out the door fast enough. He even helped the remaining maids pull Sara into her corset, and he brushed out Mary Sue's hair himself before throwing Alice her cloak and holding the door open for them all. If Lady Astare thought that something was amiss then it didn't bother her overmuch, and she went off to the ball thinking that it was nice that her worthless stepson had at last learned his place.


"Certainly got that lot out in record time, now didn't you?" The pixi appeared with a pop of magick, seemingly from out of thin-air, and began laughing gleefully. "Good job, sweetheart!"

"Don't call me sweetheart." There was no malice in his voice. Phillip was in a fabulous mood. He tried not to think over much on why that was so, but with Christabelle flitting about his head it seemed that Phillip was not to have that luxury very much longer.

"You're certainly in a good mood." He cringed when she spoke. He'd hoped that they'd be able to do without so much conversation this time. "Looking forward to seeing your fair prince that much? See, I told you that my plan was a good one."

"Who says that I'm in a good mood because of Prince?" Phillip knew that there was little chance of her believing him, but he put up a token argument all the same. It was just how he was. "Maybe I'm not even in a good mood. Ever thought of that? You don't know me all that well, after all."

"Oh, I know you well enough. And you're definitely in a hurry to see that handsome young prince again tonight."

"Am not."

"Why does that bother you so much, sweetheart?" Christabelle seemed honestly puzzled by Phillip’s refusals, and she paused to hover in mid-air, looking at him directly in the eye as though she would find the answers written clearly across his face. "This is how fairy tales always work. Love at first sight."

"I'm not in love with anyone!" Really, he wasn't. Or, at least Phillip was relatively certain that he wasn't. It wouldn't, after all, make any sense. They'd only met once, spent one (admittedly, very long) night in conversation together. It wasn't enough time for love. Even in a fairy tale. "I'm not in love at all."

"If you say so."

"Just get me dressed, would you." Then, as the pixi pointed her wand at him, a slight frown on her tiny face, Phillip added a hasty, "Please."


The second time around it had taken far less time to get Phillip dressed. Perhaps because this time he hadn't been arguing the whole while. His flowing robes were similar to the ones that he had worn to the first ball, only this time in a midnight blue trimmed by silver thread. Christabelle had told him that she daren't dress him in anything more dress-like, lest he give the game away. She'd said that his figure was slightly too masculine for what she'd originally had planned. For that Phillip was eternally grateful.

"M'lady." Phillip barely resisted the urge to cold-cock the doorman, remembering at the last moment that his greeting had not been an insult at all. "Welcome back."

"Um, thanks?" He wasn't sure if he was supposed to curtsey to the doorman. So he didn't. Better to be rude than to make an even bigger fool of himself than he surely already was.

"The prince said to stop you should I see you this evening."

Phillip's heart froze for an instant, and a cold panic swept through him at the mention of the prince. Had he been found out? Or, worse yet, was Prince angry with him for his abrupt departure from the last ball? He didn't want to think about why there was a sudden tightness in his chest. It wasn't because Christabelle had been right about his rapidly developing feeling for Prince. Really, it wasn’t. Besides, Phillip had known from the beginning that his pixi-godmother's plan would end in disaster, possibly in blood (he hadn't decided yet rather it would be his, for deceiving the royal family, or Christabelle's, for coming up with the idea in the first place) but a part of him had still wished to have another night or two of his fairy tale.

"He had a message for you."

Phillip had been about to run, already having picked up his skirts and turned back toward his coach, but the words stopped him mid-motion. He ignored the hopefully prickling of emotion that suddenly filled him, but he strained his ears all the same, wanting desperately to know what Prince had wanted to say to him.

"His highness said that, should I see his handsome young companion who had so unceremoniously made her escape at the previous ball, that I should tell her..." Phillip was utterly still, waiting for the next words with baited breath, "It was a perfect view, was it not? He said that you would understand."

Phillip smiled, broad and beaming, and ran off towards the interior of the castle. He even gave the doorman a curtsey as he passed.


"I guess this means that you're not mad at me for running out on you last time?"

"Perhaps." There was a twinkle to Prince's warm brown eyes, his smile was easy and real, and a weight suddenly lifted from Phillip's chest. He'd been waiting for four days to see that smile. "Although, I think that it will really all depend on the greeting that I receive."

"And what sort of greeting would you like, your majesty?" He wasn't sure if it was a good idea, but Phillip moved closer to Prince anyway, a matching smile on his painted lips. Although, in all truth, he was trying for coy. He doubted that it was working though.

Prince looked thoughtful for a moment, but then, lightening fast, he reached out to Phillip and grabbed his hand. He pulled the other man near, until they were so close that Phillip could feel Prince's breath ghosting across his face, so close that Phillip could smell the sweet treats that the golden haired royal had surely been snacking on only moments before. And, for the second time that night, Phillip’s breath caught in this throat.

"You know," Phillip could feel Prince's hand sliding slowly down his mostly bare arms, leaving prickling goose pimples in its wake. Phillip knew that he should pull away, but he stood riveted to the spot, holding his breath while he waited for Prince's next movement. "It is only proper for a lady to allow her gentleman a kiss upon meeting each other again. Especially when he did not get a proper good-bye upon parting."

"A kiss?" It sounded like both the worst and the best idea that Phillip had ever heard.

"A kiss." Prince reached the end of Phillip's arm and at last took his hand in his own again, bringing it up to his lips before turning it over and laying a kiss upon Phillip's wrist. His lips lingered for a moment on the soft skin there, his breath ghosting warm against the chill of the night, and Phillip's eyes fell shut for an instant as he savored the simple contact. Then Prince stepped back and Phillip had to resist, not the urge to pin the other man against the wall and show him what a real kiss was, but the desire to throttle the noble for being such a tease. "It is, after all, only proper."


"Excuse me?"

Phillip smiled sweetly and replied, "Nothing."

Their greeting set the tone for the rest of the night. It was fun and flirtatious, filled with laughter and stolen touches. They still joked about the near frantic searches that some of the noble ladies and princesses were participating in with the hopes of finding the elusive prince, and they still had a blast watching the women give each other evil looks as they eyed the competition, but they also spent more time this evening talking about each other. Although on more than one occasion, with both word and touch, Phillip feared that he had let the game go too far and that it had led to his discovery.

"You know," Prince said thoughtfully, taking Phillip's hand in his own for what seemed the hundredth time that night, "your hands are rather rough. Not at all like the hands of most of the ladies here."


"Oh, don't get me wrong, it wasn't meant as a complaint." Prince laid a kiss across Phillip's knuckles, right on top of his most recent woodcutting wound, before speaking again. "The women here, the women that my father and mother always want me to meet, are so soft. As though they are dolls who must be put on a shelf and admired, but never touched. They'd break if you were too rough with them. But not you. You're so very different than them."

"Thank you?"

"You're welcome." The impish smile was one that Phillip was fast becoming fond of. "In fact, I think that I'm the delicate one here. And, do you know what?"

Phillip shook his head, confused by this turn in the conversation. Phillip had thought that the type of girl that the prince was describing was exactly the type of woman that a man like him would want. Although, he did have to admit that Prince was the smaller and prettier out of the two of them. Not that he was exactly what you would call delicate either, his lean muscles spoke of long hours of training and his hand did not look to be a stranger to the sword at his side, but he wasn't burly or bulky in the least. And there was a sweet softness about his features and a graceful air to his entire being. Phillip found that he rather liked that.

"I kind of like it." Prince said with a wink. "Maybe I need someone who can get a little rough with me. Manhandle me, so to speak. And a china doll can't do that, now can she?"

Phillip didn't know what to say, but then, as a gaggle of giggling girls came perilously close to their hidden enclave, Phillip put Prince's theory into action. He was bigger and stronger than the prince, having maybe three inches on him in height (which made him again grateful that Christabelle hadn't given him high heals that would have made the difference between them awkwardly unbalanced) and his shoulders were broader, so he grabbed Prince in his arms, spun them around, and pulled them both further into the darkness. Prince's breath caught in his throat when he was pushed up against the wall, grasping at Phillip's robes as their bodies were pressed close, before a barely stifled moan escaped his parted lips.

"Shhhh." Phillip knew that he should move, that he couldn't let Prince press too closely into his body, lest he find out that there were no soft curves hidden beneath his robes, but he couldn't seem to make himself pull away. Instead, he leaned closer to Prince and whispered in his ear. The resulting shiver sent a thrill through his entire body. "Can't make too much noise, or they'll hear you. Then they'll probably try to steal you away from me."

"Then you'll have to keep me quiet." The feeling of his companion's hot breath against his ear had left Prince wanting more. And this seemed the perfect opportunity to do what he had been wanting to do since meeting the strange Cinderella so many days ago. So, he turned his head to the side and crushed his lips to Phillip's painted ones.

Phillip knew that this was wrong. That he should stop. That he was closer to giving away his secret than he ever had been before. And this wasn't how he wanted Prince to find out about him. He could just picture how badly it would go. Phillip’s heart hurt at the very thought. But, as Prince's hands wandered across his back, pulling him closer, the other man's mouth devouring his as though it contained the most delicious of sweets, Phillip couldn't force himself to pull away. The press of the noble's body against his felt right. And oh so good. It left him without the strength to pull away. Consequences be damned.

Neither was sure how long they went on, entwined as they were in their heated embrace, but it felt like forever. And not nearly long enough. Then, from the very edge of their hidden alcove, came the discrete sound of a throat being cleared nearby. "I dare say that you'll draw quite a bit of attention to yourselves if you get much louder," was all that the butler said before turning away and walking back out toward the revelers and the ball that had become so very inconsequential to them both.

Prince and Phillip both laughed breathlessly as they fought to regain their composure. They both seemed to have come back to their senses, and they resisted reinstating the kiss again, lest they lose control and be caught by the would-be-brides who danced mere feet away. They both knew that it would not be a pretty sight if one of the young princesses were to see them. In fact, the very thought sent a chill through Phillip's blood. From the shudder that he felt from Prince as the blonde looked past his shoulder and out onto the dance floor, he suspected that the other man's thoughts ran along the same lines.

They did not, however, pull apart completely.

"So," Prince finally said, the old hint of mischief in his still somewhat breathy voice, "is that a dagger in your pocket or are you just that glad to see me?"

Phillip paled instantly, although he was grateful to the shadows that surrounded them because it meant that Prince could not see the effect that his joke had caused in him. He grimaced momentarily, angry with himself for letting things get so out of hand so very fast, but he quickly regained his composure and came up with a quick and (hopefully) witty retort.

"Yes, actually, it is a dagger." Phillip reached into the folds of his robes and pulled out the ornamented dagger that Christabelle had given him. He repeated her reasoning for having given Phillip the dagger in the first place, word for word. "One can't be too careful these days, what with the often times grabby hands of impertinent young men to deal with."

Prince gasped in mock shock, leaned in for one last kiss, and then slid along the wall to sit upon the edge of a darkened window, his hands up in a sign of surrender. "Women these days!" There was barely suppressed laughter in his words, but he tried his best to keep his face sober. "I understand a message when it is given so clearly. I shall endeavor to behave myself in the future."

"A shame." Only a small part of him meant it, but Phillip sighed anyway and went to stand on the other side of the window, facing Prince. "Speaking of women these days... don't you feel even the slightest bit guilty for not being out there with them? I think that your father expects you to pick a wife by the time that this spectacle is all over with."

"Who says that I won't?" Phillip wasn't sure how he felt about those words, so he chose to ignore them. It was easier that way. After all, it wasn't like Christabelle had been right, it wasn't like he would be the one to win the prince's hand. If that was already decided, then what right did he have to be jealous? He wasn't angry with the woman who would eventually be the bride of his stunningly handsome blonde prince. Really, he wasn't. "Besides, I've put in my time with that lot, remember?”

Phillip must have looked confused, because Prince suddenly glared at him and pointed a finger accusingly. "I distinctly remember a certain beautiful young brunette having abandoned me at midnight during my last ball and leaving me to fend for myself with the jackals. Ring any bells?"

"I'm sorry?" What else could he say? Phillip shuddered at the thought of how Prince's night had gone after the amorous women had gotten a hold of him. "Was it really that bad?"



That night, in accordance with the deal that they had struck after much talk of the madness of princesses spurned, Cinderella had given her prince fair warning before making good her escape. This time, well before the clock had begun the first chime of midnight. Neither had been happy about it, but at least it had prevented Prince from accidently being spotted by his would-be brides. And Phillip hadn't been left walking home in the dead of night with a trail of mice and lizards following after him.

"Why do you keep doing that?"

"Doing what?" Phillip smiled as he turned to face Mary Sue, and not just because he was still in a very good mood from seeing Prince at the ball the night before. He knew that smiling at them, and letting them see the sincerity behind his dark green eyes, was scaring the hell out of his stepsisters. They thought that he was going mad. He wondered how long it would take them to start wondering which of them he would go after first when he snapped, and the thought made his smile ever wider.

"You keep touching your lips and sighing," Sara answered for her sister. "You've been doing it all day."

"I hadn't noticed." He could still feel the gentle pressure (and sometimes not so gentle pressure) of Prince's lips against his own. In fact, he could still feel the other's body pressed tight to his if he concentrated on the memories hard enough. He could still smell Prince's sweet cologne in the air, as though they had parted mere moments ago and not the night before. It was no wonder that he was smiling.

"Well, you have been." When Lady Astare entered the room it wasn't hard to stop smiling. In fact, it was hard to even think of smiling ever again when the woman was in the same room as he. Phillip turned his back as quickly as he could and started sweeping the great room with all of his concentration. "It's a disgusting habit, and I have no idea where you could have picked it up all of a sudden. And while cleaning, at that? It’s unsanitary. Stop it this instant."

"Yes, Stepmother." His hands tightened on the broom handle, but he was otherwise the picture of obedience and gracious servitude. He had learned from an early age that it was the easiest way to get rid of her. It was never a good thing when she stuck around and paid too much attention to her son. It ended in blood or tears. Sometimes, both.

The two girls and their mother sat down on one of the room's three couches, ignoring Phillip so completely that one might have thought that they'd forgotten that he was there. It wasn't hard for them. They’d had years of practice.

"I saw that horrid girl again at the party last night."

"Which one?" Sara snorted as she shoved her third doughnut of the morning into her mouth whole, not even bothering to chew the thing. Crumbs sprayed across her sister's dress while she talked. Mary Sue didn't even bother to brush them away, as they went so well with the ones that already littered her attire. "They're all horrid if you ask me!"

"That mannish looking brute that the prince was chasing after on the first night."

"Oh, her."

It wasn't his stepmother's tone that made Phillip's body tense. It was the fact that he knew, with utter certainty, that they were talking about him. He'd honestly forgotten until that very moment that his stepsisters had even been in attendance at the prince's balls. Or that they were looking to woo the prince. His prince! It made him sick to his stomach to even think of one of his stepsisters so much as talking to Prince. Let alone becoming his bride. Then Phillip reminded himself that Prince had better taste than that, and he relaxed instantly.

"Did you see those ridiculous robes that she was wearing?" Phillip was mildly offended, even if he had said something along the same lines to Christabelle when she had been dressing him. "Doesn't her family know how to dress her properly? Or doesn't she have one? Maybe she's one of those orphaned nobles who are looking to marry up in life."

"But he was running after her when she left that first night." Phillip hadn't even noticed that Alice had entered the room until she spoke. "He seemed pretty concerned that she was leaving."

"Maybe she's a sorceress and she bewitched him to act like that?" It was honestly the smarted thing that Phillip had ever heard Mary Sue say. Even if it was utterly and completely untrue. Even her mother's eyebrows shot up at her daughter's sudden burst of creative reasoning.

"That would explain why he was nowhere to be found until after she left last night." Sara caught onto the idea like it was the last drumstick at a turkey dinner, her eyes gleaming as she concocted a convoluted tale in her head. "She must have put a spell on him to keep him from dancing with us. She wants him all to herself!"

"Perhaps." Even Lady Astare couldn't quite make herself believe what her daughters were saying. But she let the ramble on all the same.

"He did seem quite dazed when I finally saw him last night."

"You actually saw him?" Alice hadn't thought that anyone had found the prince last night. After two balls, she had yet to catch so much as a glimpse of the elusive royal. "What was he like? Was he handsome?"

"Oh yes." Mary Sue preened as her sisters looked to her, eyes alight with curiosity, waiting for her to tell them all about her miraculous sighting. Phillip thought that they looked ridiculous. Even Lady Astare seemed to be waiting with baited breath to hear what the prince had been like. If only they knew that what Mary Sue had seen paled in comparison to Phillip's up close and personal audience with the royal heir. It made him want to laugh.

"I heard that he was a little on the girly side."

"Oh no, he's very fetching. He has dark blonde hair and pale skin. And his ears are pointed, just like all of the pure-blooded noble daemons." She waved her hands around, gesturing wildly, and Phillip suddenly wasn't sure if she was describing Prince or a flock of seagulls. "And he had the prettiest blue eyes that I've ever seen."

"They're brown." Phillip hadn't meant to speak, it had just come out, his need to correct Sara feeling almost like a desire to protect Prince (although, from what, he wasn't sure) making the words just sort of tumble out of his mouth without his brain's permission.

"And how, exactly, would you know that?"

Every eye in the room was now on him, and Phillip felt like a deer caught in the hunter's sights. He was frozen, his mouth suddenly refusing to work for him, his mind unable to come up with a good explanation as to why he would know more about the prince than the ladies whom had attended his balls. Especially when he was supposed to have been home at the time.

Lady Astare was looking at him suspiciously. She seemed to be examining him, as though she hadn't seen him in a very long time, and the stare made Phillip very uneasy. Even more so than her attentions usually did.

"Must have seen his picture in the paper." The excuse would have to do. He didn't know why it wouldn't. After all, who would suspect that he had been visited by a meddling pixi intent on dressing him up as a woman and fixing him up with a prince in some bizarre fairy tale parody, all as penance for a wizard having saved her life once? Even he couldn't believe it... and it was his life! "Gotta go. The firewood needs chopping."

Phillip had never thought that he would be glad to have a list of chores as long as his arm to do every day. He'd been wrong.


"Well, someone is certainly anxious to be gone."

"Am not." There was little heat in his words. A few weeks ago Phillip would have treated the comment as an insult, now... he was just in a hurry to be done with dressing so that he could get to the ball. He was even letting Christabelle dress him in the dreaded glass slippers that she'd tried to get him to wear to the first and second balls.

Phillip had been pacing ever since his stepmother and sisters had left the house, and Christabelle would have found it annoying as she tried to dress the young man, except that it was proof in her eyes that her plan was progressing perfectly. So, instead of being angry or annoyed, she could barely keep herself from laughing every time that Phillip's eyes went to the window again to take another look at the coach that would soon see him on his way.

"I thought that you weren't going to fall in love with the Prince."

"I'm not." There was far less conviction in his voice than there had been the last time that they'd had this argument. "I just like spending time with him, okay. He doesn't treat me like a nobody. He actually likes me! It's a welcome change."

"Are you going to admit that I'm right when we're at the wedding?" Christabelle already had her outfit picked out. It was florescent green and would make her glow like a miniature sun. She might even put on some dainty glass slippers like the ones that she'd just put on Phillip. "And don't you dare try to say that I'm not invited."

"There won't be a wedding." Then, reconsidering his words, "at least, not for me. Prince is going to find a nice girl to marry and he'll get his happily ever after, just like he and his family want. She'll make a good princess, maybe a queen someday, and their children will be beautiful and perfect. It's what princes do."

"If you say so." She wanted to ask why, if there would be no hope of a future for Phillip and his prince, was he in such a hurry to be at the party? Why be so excited about seeing a man who was going to marry another in a few months time? But she didn't. It would be detrimental to her master plan. Instead, she waved her wand one last time and announced, "There. You're all done."

"Thanks," Phillip said as he made for the door. Then, hoping to lighten the mood, he added, "Don't wait up."

"Wait!" Christabelle yelled as the last swirl of Phillip's maroon robes disappeared out the front door of the home.

"What?" He didn't even bother to go back inside. Pixis might be small, but he was pretty sure that they had good hearing. At least, he thought that he remembered hearing something like that somewhere. Probably in a book.

"I almost forgot," Christabelle fluttered through the doorway, waving something shinny and glittering in front of Phillip's face. "Don't forget this. You may need it."

"I already have enough jewelry on." Phillip answered, looking at the delicate bracelet that was hanging from the pixie’s hand. "Thanks anyway."

"This is not just any piece of jewelry," Christabelle said with a flourish, dropping the bracelet and waving her wand, making the adornment latch itself around Phillip's wrist before it could hit the ground. "I have something important that I have to take care of out of realm. I'll be away for a few days, and I might not be back in time for the last ball. I've left some things in your room so that you can dress yourself, but if you need any help just think of me while holding the bracelet and I'll come to you straight away. It’s got a longer range than the pendant that I gave you before."

"You make it sound like I'm completely incompetent." Phillip wanted to sound accusing, but really, he was touched. He'd actually become quite fond of the meddlesome pixi, and he felt bad for having kept her from something that was obviously important to her. He would have felt guilty, if only he wasn't in such a hurry to be on his way.

"Promise me that you'll call for me if you need help?"

Phillip glared at her, his look saying clearly, how hard can it be to put on a dress and dab on a bit of rouge? Christabelle just glared back.

"Promise me."

"Okay," fighting with the pixi wasn't getting him any closer to Prince, and that was where he wanted to be right now. Swallowing his pride, giving up on the argument more easily than he had any other in his life, Phillip said, "I promise. Now, can I go?"

"On your way then!" With a wave of her wand, Christabelle shut the door in Phillip's face, laughing at the squawk of indignation that she heard from the other side of the wooden structure. Then, unable to resist one last parting remark before she saw the boy get into his coach, she used her magick to make her voice carry and shouted after Phillip. "Don't do anything that I wouldn't do… and be sure to do everything that I would!"


"Lady Cinderella."

Phillip wasn't sure how the doorman knew his supposed name, so it was with caution that he approached the man, careful to keep his scarves pulled tightly about himself, not stepping fully into the light of the torches that stood at either side of the door. At least with Prince they were always in the shadows. He didn't like being called out into the open. "Yes?"

"The prince has given me a message for you." Again? For a moment Phillip feared that Prince had asked his servant to tell him that he was no longer welcome or wanted, that he thought their last encounter had been nothing but a series of mistakes and poorly made decisions, but then he remembered the smile that had accompanied their parting kiss at the last ball and he told himself that he was being stupid. "He is, regrettably, delayed. His mother cornered him this evening, asking details of the mysterious young lady that has taken him away from the festivities on the past two evenings, so he will not be waiting for you at your usual hideout. He has asked that that you wait for him, he will be along shortly."

"Oh," Phillip pitied Prince ever so slightly. He had told him one evening that once his mother got talking, especially about her plans for her children's lives, it took a great deal to shut her up. He envied him the love of a parent, but neither would he reverse their positions. "Thank you."

Phillip was about to pass by the doorman, intent on hurrying to his and Prince's usual secluded alcove, when the man again spoke. "It is most peculiar."

"Peculiar?" Phillip did not like the wording that the man had chosen. He wondered how much the observant servant suspected, or even knew, about who he really was. There was a stab of panic deep in his heart. This wasn't how he wanted things to end. "What is peculiar, kind sir?"

"The prince's behavior, as of late." Phillip grew more nervous, but then the old doorman's face broke into a wide smile, and Phillip suddenly saw him as less sinister and more kindly. His next words made him even less apprehensive. In fact, it made his heart soar. "The prince has never taken to anyone like he seems to have become taken with you. He likes everyone, he is known for his kindness, but always there is a distance. Yet, now, all he can talk about is you and how much he looks forward to seeing you again. Your beauty, both of face and of soul, is all that we have heard about at the castle these past days. It has done our hearts good; those of us who have watched the young prince grow into manhood, those of us who love and care for him, have recently seen him come alive like never before. For that, I wish to thank you, my good lady."

At the end of his speech the doorman bowed low, the first time that Phillip could ever remember anyone doing that to him, and he ushered Phillip in with a grand wave of his arm. Phillip wasn't sure what to say. Either about the man's kind words, or of what they meant for his relationship with Prince. It left Phillip both confused and immeasurably happy.

Phillip muttered a quiet, "Thank you," and hurried inside. He wanted to see Prince now more than ever.


"I'm sorry." He wasn't sure if it was the now familiar voice or the kiss to the back of his neck that made Phillip shiver. "Have you been waiting long?"

"Not too long."

Phillip and Prince were both smiling when they at last met face to face, happy to see each other again at last, and that alone was enough to scare Phillip down to his core. It wasn't supposed to be this easy. He wasn't supposed to feel like this with a person that he had never met a month ago.

"My mother insisted on grilling me about the mysterious Cinderella." His hand found Phillip's instinctively, pulling them both further into the darkness of their alcove. "I barely got away. And you don't even want to know how much negotiating it took to keep her from dragging you into her apartments the moment that you stepped foot on the palace grounds. She's ever so anxious to meet her youngest son's chosen one."

Phillip tensed instantly. He didn't like lying to Prince. He thought that maybe he had let things go on for too long, even if he did feel like it hadn’t been nearly long enough. He had never intended for it to be this way. But, when he opened his mouth to correct Prince, the words would not come. Phillip wanted to believe that it was fear of the scene that they would cause, and the appearance of the palace guards, that kept him silent. He didn't want to admit that the fear might be for a far different reason.

"I'm sorry." Prince took Phillip's silence for a different sort of hesitation. "This is all moving too fast, isn't it? I never meant for it to be like this. It's just..."

"Just?" He had to know. Had to know if Prince was feeling the same things that he was. Even if Phillip wouldn't admit what those feelings were, even to himself.

"I've never felt like this before. I've been attracted to people before, sure, but I've never felt this connection. This instant closeness. This sureness." His smile was meant to be reassuring, but it seemed just as nervous as Phillip felt. "It's like something out of a fairy tale romance."

"Fairy tales aren't real." He remembered telling Christabelle the very same thing. He had believed it more back then. "People like me don't get happy endings."

"Maybe sometimes they can." It felt nice to be pulled into Prince's embrace, but Phillip was afraid of where the conversation was going. So, instead of letting the comforting embrace be gentle and kind, reassuring, he brought their lips together and made it something hotter and infinitely more intense. Kissing was so much easier than telling the truth. So much easier than having his heart broken.

The kiss seemed to lighten the mood considerably. After that it was gentle touches, playful flirtation, and talk of everything except what they should be talking about. They both knew that they were avoiding saying something that needed to be said, but some unspoken sense told them both, especially Prince, that it was best to let it go. Just for now, Prince promised himself. Always and never, Phillip answered silently.

"You seem not to want to talk about them," Phillip tensed instantly, only relaxing when a more unexpected question came out of Prince's mouth than the one that he had been dreading. The one that they were both avoiding. "…but, isn't your family here. Surely someone in the family must have been invited to the ball. Or are you really all alone?"

Prince seemed so sad at the mere thought of Phillip being alone, of having no one to care for him, that he felt the need to answer truthfully. Or, at least, as truthfully as he could without giving too much away. "They're here. Somewhere."

"I take it that you aren't close?"

"You could say that." Then, thinking that he might have sounded a bit cold, Phillip heaved a sigh and pressed on. "I'm, well, sort of... adopted, I guess you could say. I've never really belonged. And the animosity in our family, for the most part, is mutual." The look on Prince's face said all that Phillip needed to know. "Trust me; if I had anywhere else to go, then I'd have been gone a long time ago. But the circumstances of my birth leave me with too few options."

Prince looked sad again, and Phillip regretted having said anything at all, but then Prince smiled and it was like watching the clouds part to reveal a bright and shinning sun. "Then we just won't invite them to the wedding. You'll have all the family that you need now, any way."

Phillip was speechless. It was simple, said almost in jest, yet what Prince had just said was possibly the kindest and most loving thing that he had ever heard in his admittedly unfortunate life. He didn't know if Prince understood just what his words meant, just how deeply they touched, but Phillip was unable to find the words to express what he felt. It caused a peculiar sort of pain deep in his already confused heart.

A touch to his cheek brought Phillip back to himself, a soft voice whispering across his cheek as fingers moved against his face, "You're crying." Petal soft lips replaced the fingers, kissing away his tears, "I'm sorry. I never meant to make you cry."

"Thank you." It wasn't in response to the apology, but he knew that Prince would understand anyway. "And, I'm sorry."

"What could you possibly be sorry for?"

It was now or never, Phillip decided. He couldn't lie to this man any longer, this person who had stolen his heart so completely in such a short time. His fear was still there, but his resolve stiffened as he watched Prince look at him with gentle confusion written across his handsome face, honesty and affection in his every look, gesture, and expression. And, Phillip noted with rising hope, there was something else. Something more. Something that made him believe, however fleetingly, that Christabelle might be right. That there really were such things as fairy tale endings, love at first sight, and happily ever afters.

Then it was all ruined by an oh so polite clearing of the throat from just outside the shadowy confines of their secret alcove.

"I am sorry to interrupt, my lord, m'lady, but you wished for me to inform you of the time when it reached eleven-thirty, did you not?"

Phillip wasn't sure if he was relieved or angry. Maybe a little of both.

"I have to go."

"Why?" He hadn't tried to argue the last time. Now, however, it didn't seem right to the noble that he let his companion escape without an explanation. Or, perhaps, Prince was just trying to delay their parting. Either way, he grabbed onto Phillip's hand and refused to let go. "You don't need to go. Stay. Stay here with me." His voice was quiet, but it held heat, and passion, and above all, determination. Phillip felt his heart skip a beat at the words. It had never mattered to anyone before if he stayed or if he went. It made his response all the harder. "Please."

"I can't." He felt like he couldn't say it enough tonight, "I'm sorry. So sorry."

Prince didn't seem happy about it, but at last he heaved a great sigh and let Phillip's hand fall from his grasp. He even managed a shadow of his usual mischievous smile, although there was no hint of his twin dimples. "I suppose that a few days doesn't really matter, in the grand scheme of things. Next week is the final ball, the one at which I will announce my decision, and then you won't have any reason to leave me ever again. I can be patient until then."

The fourth ball. Phillip still didn't know what he was going to do about that. But, that was a problem for another time, so he simply leaned in and gave Prince what he hoped was not to be their final kiss. "I'm sorry."

"Just go," he tried to keep his voice light and playful, sensing that any delay was making his Cinderella suffer. He even managed a pout for effect. "I'll just hide here in the darkness. Alone. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

"You do that." He was glad that their parting would end with a smile instead of tears. It was easier to walk away that way.

Phillip had nearly made it back to the front doors, shaking off the helpful servant who'd offered to escort him to his coach, but he couldn't resist one last look back to see if Prince was still visible in the shadows. That was when he bumped into a lacy body that had suddenly appeared in his way. Phillip turned to apologize, hoping that he hadn't done anything so disastrous as causing some marriage-happy would-be-bride to spill punch on herself (although, secretly, it might not have bothered him as much as it should) when he saw the worst possible sight that could have met his shocked eyes.

"Mother was right... it is you!"

Sara, his stepsister, somehow shoved into a green taffeta dress three sizes too small for her lumpy figure, was staring at him with fury in her eyes. She pointed an accusing finger at him, and that one simple motion made him freeze, rooting him to the spot better than any restraint or magick ever could have.

"This isn't..." Isn't what? He couldn't even think of a convincing lie. There was no good reason that he should have been there at the ball, disguised as a woman, instead of at home doing the chores and waiting for his family to return. He was suddenly surprised that the charade had lasted so long.

He didn't wait for his sister to say anything else. Phillip grabbed the mass of his robes and ran the remaining few feet to the doors, ignoring the curious looks that he received from the other party goers, not even stopping when one of his glass slippers fell from his foot to be discarded on the edge of the dance floor. He didn't stop running until he had made it to his coach, which was waiting for him, his lizard footman ready at the door. He flung himself into the carriage and shouted at once for the coachman to leave as fast as the pumpkin would carry them.

Phillip did not look back.


Part 1 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Cinderella ~~~~~~~~ Part 3



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