Summary: When OC (Margo) can’t sleep during the social season, she goes for a walk and runs into someone unexpected.
Margo lay in bed, waiting for sleep that wouldn’t come. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t stop replaying the events of the day in her head. Of course Madeleine had been crowned the Apple Queen. Of course. With that smug smile as she waved to the crowd, clearly something she’d been practicing since she was a child. Ugh.
Margo wondered for what felt like the thousandth time why she was even participating in this social season as a suitor. Yes, she was a noble in Cordonia and, seeing as she was about Leo’s age, that made her an automatic contender for this dog and pony show. It was tradition, and if you were a noble in Cordonia, you didn’t argue with tradition. At least, that’s what her parents said before they shipped her off to the palace. Margo wasn’t even sure how much she liked Leo. She knew him loosely through courtly life, but she hadn’t spent much time with him one on one. In fact, most of what she had of him boiled down to his reputation, which wasn’t great. The irresponsible party boy and womanizer, he was such a sharp contrast to his serious younger brother. But, by virtue of birthright, the throne would one day be Leo’s. Margo wanted to believe there was more to him, if for no other reason than the future of Cordonia, but she hadn’t had much opportunity. All of their activities were heavily monitored by the press and Madeleine wasn’t above using those sharp elbows of hers to get closer to Leo at all times. Margo knew Madeleine was the clear frontrunner and the other suitors did, too. Adelaide and the queen were cousins and Madeleine knew just what to do in order to get public opinion on her side. Plus, Madeleine wanted it the most. Margo knew how this would end up and she was anxious to get the season over with so she could get back to her regular life.
So why couldn’t she sleep?
Frustrated, Margo kicked off the covers and climbed out of bed. She pulled on a pair of jeans and a hoodie and left her room, closing her door with a quiet click behind her.
Leo paced across his bedroom, trying to ignore his vibrating phone on the nightstand. He wasn’t sure which one of them was texting him, but he didn’t particularly care. The social season had been fun, at first. Who wouldn’t want a dozen women falling all over him? Well, to be completely accurate, eleven. But you could still have a lot of fun with eleven.
Lately, however, the reality of his situation had begun to set in. He’d always known he was going to be king someday, but things had shifted since the social season had begun. Leo rubbed at his chest but it didn’t do much to relieve the tightness that began to constrict his ribcage. He suddenly found it hard to breathe, his breath coming harder and faster. Fuck, was he having a heart attack? He couldn’t be having a heart attack, he was too young, wasn’t he? Jesus Christ, his dad would lose it if he had a heart attack right in the middle of the social season.
“Really, Leo? How in the seven hells do you expect to be king if you can’t even keep it together for one social season? Suck it up. You are not just a person, you’re the crown prince of Cordonia. You don’t get to have a meltdown when the entire nation is watching.”
Air. He needed air.
As Margo arrived at the orchard, she inhaled deeply, letting the fragrant air fill her lungs. A light rain had fallen after the festival and the scent still hung in the humid air as her sneakers tread across the wet grass. Everything felt cleaner, refreshed, and Margo felt herself finally start to relax…until she turned on a whim down one of the rows and ran straight into someone.
“Aaaah!” she shrieked, shoes slipping on the wet ground. She started to fall before strong hands caught her.
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
The familiar voice gave her pause despite her heart hammering in her chest and Margo squinted in the moonlight. She knew that voice. “Leo?”
“You scared me! What on earth are you doing out here?” she demanded.
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to be anywhere without a host of armed guards.”
“I’m not, but Bastien went to bed and the night shift is full of idiots,” Leo said with a shrug. “I came out here for some air.”
“Me, too,” Margo said. “But if you want to be alone, I can go back inside—“
“No, it’s okay,” he said. “Unless you want to—“
“No, it’s fine,” Margo said. They stood there awkwardly for a moment. “So, um, should we walk?”
“Okay.” They walked silently side by side down one of the rows of trees, Applewood Manor slowly receding behind them. “So, why are you out here so late?” Leo finally asked.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Margo said. “I was hoping a walk would clear my head.”
“So far all it’s done is scare me half to death, so no, not really.”
Leo laughed. “Fair enough.”
“What about you, why are you out here?”
Margo smirked, feeling emboldened by the darkness around them. “Seems to me you have a host of women at your disposal to help you with that.”
“I think I should be offended by that,” Leo said, sounding more amused than offended.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “I suppose that depends on what you’ve heard.”
“If I’m honest, I’ve heard a lot,” Margo said. “My fellow suitors are all rather…chatty.”
“And yet I haven’t had the pleasure of spending much time with you since the social season began,” Leo said. “Now I’m afraid they haven’t been saying very nice things about me.”
“I don’t enjoy waiting in line,” Margo said before wincing at her sharp tongue. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”
“Don’t be, it was refreshing,” Leo said. “Usually people just say that behind my back instead of to my face.”
“Technically, it’s nighttime so it’s hard to see your face,” Margo pointed out, relaxing a little.
“Eh, close enough,” Leo said. They walked quietly for a while, less awkwardly than before. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Do you want to be here? As a suitor, I mean.”
“You can be honest, you’re not likely to hurt my feelings,” Leo said.
“It’s not that, it’s just…I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about whether or not I want to be here. It’s expected of me, has always been expected of me. When your father announced that it was time, I just…came.”
“That’s fair,” Leo said, nodding. “I wasn’t exactly consulted on the matter either.”
Margo glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Based on your…popular reputation, I would’ve thought you’d enjoy this kind of thing.”
Leo shrugged. “It was fun at first, but as the season progresses…I don’t know. Reality is setting in, I guess.”
“How so?” When he didn’t answer right away, Margo felt a flush creep into her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be intrusive.”
“You’re not,” Leo assured her. “But I do wish you’d quit apologizing.”
“Sorry,” she said automatically. “Damn, sorry. Dammit!” Leo laughed. “It’s not funny!” Margo protested, unable to fight her own laughter.
“It’s kind of funny,” Leo said.
“I’m just going to be quiet now,” Margo said.
“No, don’t,” he said. “I mean, yes, I don’t think you need to apologize for everything, but it’s nice talking to you like this. I don’t think I’ve actually heard you talk this much before.”
“We haven’t had that many opportunities,” Margo pointed out. “I’m not exactly a frontrunner in this whole competition.”
“A competition,” Leo said, considering the word. “God, that’s a terrible way to pick a wife.”
“True, but we’re nobles,” Margo said. “You more so than me. We don’t get to pick our own fate.”
Leo considered this and sighed. “No, I guess not.” They lapsed into silence as they reached the end of the row. “Right or left?”
“Left, I guess.” They turned and started walking down the line of trees.
“So what would you be doing with your life if you weren’t here?” Leo asked.
“Probably getting set up on endless dates with dukes and lords by my parents,” Margo said.
“No, I mean what would you want to be doing?”
She paused for a moment, thinking. “I don’t know. No one has ever asked me that before.”
“I’m asking now.”
“Okay…well, I’ve always had an interest in science. I remember when I was a kid and we’d go visit my uncle’s place on the lake in Bellmere. Whenever there was a storm coming, I’d sit out on the dock behind the house and watch the lightning flash in the distance…I thought it was so beautiful and fascinating and powerful. I also thought it was so interesting how all the animals in the area could feel the charge in the air before we could, the way they responded to it. I don’t know, it always reminded me of how distracted people are, so consumed by all of our self-made problems, that we can’t even feel the shift in the air.” She glanced at him. “Am I making any sense?”
“Actually, you are,” Leo said. “I mean, I’ve never spent much time watching lightning, but I get what you’re saying about losing that natural sense or inner voice or whatever.” He paused. “I know I have this reputation of being…well, the way I am, but I think I do it a lot of the time because otherwise I’d just always be in my head. There’s so much that’s expected of me and I don’t always feel like I fit that role that’s been assigned to me, so I drown everything out. I couldn’t seem to get out of my head and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, which is how I ended up out here.” He paused, glancing both ways down rows of trees. “Right or left?”
“Right.” They turned right. “What would you want to be doing if you weren’t the crown prince?”
Leo chuckled. “No one has ever asked me that before.”
“I’m asking now.”
“Fair enough,” he said, thinking for a moment. Then he sighed. “This is so pathetic, but I don’t have an answer. I’ve never even thought about it, not really. I don’t feel like I’ve ever even had a moment to breathe, let alone think about being anything other than the king of Cordonia. Christ, I don’t even know the difference between what I actually like to do and what I’ve been trained to like to do.” He glanced at her. “I’m sure this gives you a lot of confidence in your future king.”
“Actually, I have more confidence in you now than when I left my room tonight,” Margo said. “I’d rather follow someone willing to admit they don’t know something instead of someone who pretends to have all the answers.”
“You wouldn’t rather follow someone who fakes it till they make it?”
“It sounds like you do enough faking.”
“Hmm.” They walked on in silence for a while. “Are you sure you’re not interested in psychology instead of meteorology? I feel like you’re analyzing me.”
“I’m sor—“ Margo caught herself. “I’m not trying to.”
“No, I don’t mean it in a bad way,” Leo said. “More like…you get me or something.” He laughed awkwardly. “I’m usually much more articulate.”
“You mean you’re much more articulate when you’re putting on a persona,” Margo pointed out. “From what you’ve told me, you don’t have a lot of practice just being yourself. But you don’t need to try so hard—I know you’re the future king and all, but you’re also just a person and it’s okay to just be a person.”
You’re not just a person, you’re the crown prince of Cordonia.
Leo could still hear his father’s words echoing in his ears, but they were quieter than before. He cleared his throat. “It’s getting late. What do you think about heading back?”
“Sure,” Margo said. She shivered slightly, the damp air seeping beneath her hoodie.
“Are you cold?” Leo asked, already shrugging out of his jacket.
“No, I’m fine,” she tried to protest, but Leo ignored her and wrapped his jacket and her shoulders as they turned and started to head back towards the manor. “Thanks.”
They walked back in silence, each consumed by their own thoughts as they walked through the orchard. They stayed that way until they reached her room, the hallway a much more deafening quiet than the orchard had been.
“Thanks for this,” Margo said as she handed back his jacket.
“Thanks for the walk,” he said. Leo started to speak again, then stopped.
“I know you don’t really want to be here competing, but maybe…I don’t know, we could be friends?” Leo asked. He winced slightly when he said it, as if he was already preparing for her to say no.
“Of course,” Margo said, smiling warmly at him. “Friends,” she added, holding out her hand to shake. He smiled, relieved.
“Friends,” he agreed as he took her hand and shook it. Although neither would admit it, they both felt a shift of electricity in the air. Leo cleared his throat again and glanced at her door as he took his hand back and stuffed it in his pocket. “Well…night, Margo.”
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