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and what happens after

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Khura’in changes Klavier, or at least the Klavier that Apollo knows.

Three days after arriving, he finally gives up the pretense of staying at a hotel and moves his luggage into Apollo’s spare room. It takes them two trips to move all five suitcases, one of which Apollo is certain contains nothing but guitars.

Klavier shrugs off the question as the two of them hoist each suitcase up the back stairs of the office. “I didn’t know how long I would be staying.”

They leave it at that.

Klavier adjusts to the time difference far more gracefully than Apollo, “the perks of years of touring,” he says, but Apollo still catches him up until the early hours of the morning pouring over Khura’nese legal texts in the kitchen. With his hair tied up and out of the way of the glasses on his nose and a pen stuck gently between his lips, he manages to get through the majority of the books tucked onto the shelf in the main office. He calls Apollo over from time to time to translate the more difficult passages he can’t make out, and Klavier’s notebooks steadily begin to fill. Apollo grows used to the slight blue glow of the computer screen illuminating the space under his bedroom door, the sound of keys tapping a becomes a lullaby as he drifts off to sleep each night.

The leather pants don’t last long in the face of the Khura’nese summer. The black silk shirts go soon after. It shouldn’t surprise Apollo that Klavier’s wardrobe might consist of clothes other than his rock-god getup, but the first day Klavier offers to accompany Apollo at a crime scene dressed in a simple (but perfectly cut) linen shirt and dark jeans, Apollo nearly falls down the stairs.

Klavier chuckles gently at his reaction but says nothing.

“You’re looking…. very un-foppish,” Ema comments when they arrive, her gaze sweeping over Klavier from head to toe.

Klavier gives an exaggerated wink, “And you, Fräulein, are still as cheerful as a ray of sunshine. Übrigens, does Prosecutor Sahdmadhi import those Snakoos for you specifically? I have looked everywhere.”

Ema stares at him with wide eyes for a full five seconds, her hand raising to touch the side of her face in apparent shock before she’s able to recover and her face falls back into the annoyed frown Apollo has come to associate with her whenever Klavier is present.

“Never mind,” she amends, rolling her eyes and turning back to her instruments to hide the soft blush that colors her cheeks. “He’s still the same glimmerous jerk,”

But Ema sends them off with a few bags of the snacks, regardless.

It turns out that Klavier hadn’t been lying when he’d said he was in Khura’in to work on an album.

Whenever Apollo returns from the courthouse, he’s greeted by the notes of a guitar drifting in from the crumbling flagstone courtyard in the back. Sometimes he stops to listen, learning in the doorway to watch Klavier work. Klavier still keeps much of the same jewelry he’d worn at home, though the chain with the Gavinners’ logo has been replaced by something smaller and more delicate. The silver rings catch the sunlight while he plays, the sun glancing off in bright flashes with each chord change. Apollo learns quickly not to expect full songs, more a handful of notes played over and over in different variations as Klavier works out new melodies. But they’re nice, regardless. Softer overall, more technically demanding, and all in the major key. They sound so little like the Gavinners’ old songs that even Apollo can stand them.

“Are you going to play me one anytime soon?” he asks Klavier one day when they are sitting around the kitchen table, Apollo surrounded by a small mountain of case files while Klavier jots down notes in a book of half-blank staff paper. Apollo rarely uses his office downstairs now, finds that he can focus far better when Klavier is seated across from him and humming gently under his breath.

The corner of Klavier’s mouth turns up in a soft smirk at the question, “Why? Are you concerned they might be about you, Schatzi?”

“No.” Apollo frowns in confusion before adding, “Are they?”

Klavier’s answering smile is vague.

Apollo resolves to pay more attention to the songs in the future.

On their free days, Apollo takes Klavier around the city. He doesn’t remember much of it, the majority of his time there having been spent up in the mountains and on the run with Dhurke, but they make due. Klavier has stopped wearing his fair hair tucked into a nondescript baseball hat, has swapped the pitch black aviators that covered two-thirds of his face for something far more manageable. The occasional teenage girl will still approach him, blushing profusely as she asks for a picture or an autograph (Klavier, to his credit, is always thrilled, responding in a mixture of broken Khura’nese and English that sounds just as excited as his fan) but for the most part it is Apollo who has become the more recognizable of the two. Regardless of where they go, people seem to notice him instantly, dropping whatever they’re doing to rush over and thank him for his part in removing Ga’ran from power, to share stories they remember of Dhurke, or simply to ask for legal advice.

Fame and Apollo don’t mix well. He flushes and stammers his way through each interaction, trying his best not to say anything too brusque. Klavier watches from several steps away, a smile and a barely repressed laugh playing on his lips when Apollo glances back at him with wide eyes, quietly mouthing the word help. He handles it far better, has had too much practice not to, extracting them from whatever lengthy story Apollo is being subjected to with a dazzling smile and a handful of placating words that seem to leave the majority of the population charmed.

“This is a nice change of pace,” Klavier laughs and places one of his dark hats on Apollo’s head with a dramatic flourish. The bill slides forward, covering his eyes. “You need this more than I do.”

After that, Apollo stops gelling his hair back on days he isn’t working. He buys clothes that aren’t dyed in his signature, blinding red. He even wears Klavier’s hat.

It seems to help.

There are some things, however, that Apollo wishes wouldn’t change quite so much.

The first time Klavier places his hands on his hips, leaning forward enough that the loose braid he’s tied his hair back into falls forward over his shoulder, Apollo nearly loses his train of thought entirely. The gesture itself is familiar, one he’s seen Klavier perform often enough over the course of their acquaintance, but it feels different now that they are here, alone in the office.

Back home it had seemed entirely affectative, one more carefully scripted action in the character that Klavier Gavin persisted in. The one crafted to make Apollo bristle uncomfortably and Trucy giggle and anyone else watching think, “oh, that Prosecutor Gavin, such a shameless flirt!”

But there is no one else watching the two of them now.

Apollo eyes Klavier cautiously, too aware that with his waist bent just slightly they are nearly the same height. It would be very simple, Apollo thinks, to lean forward, to thread his fingers through the loose strands of Klavier’s hair, to press their lips together. Apollo is far too in the habit of telling only truths to pretend he’s never wondered what kissing Klavier would be like, but before it had always seemed like the kind of intrusive daydream one tried their best to ignore.

This feels real.

This feels dangerous.

“Forehead?” Klavier prompts, still smiling gently despite the touch of concern coloring his features.

Apollo takes one, too large step back and turns quickly before Klavier can notice the tell-tale flush to his face.

“That's fine,” he replies, though he can’t quite remember what he’s agreeing to.

Klavier pauses for a long moment- Apollo can nearly feel the stillness in the air between them- before he straightens his posture in a rustling of clothes and leaves the room altogether without another word.

Good going, Justice.

Apollo only sighs.

It is nearly July before Apollo decides to visit the mountains where he’d grown up. He isn’t sure why it suddenly calls to him; after all, he’s spent nearly a month in the country without so much as a second thought about it. But the photo of Dhurke and Nahyuta on the wall reminds him each time he steps past. Vague wondering over whether it's still standing gives way to the inexplicable urge to confirm that it was once actually real, until one day Apollo is standing before Klavier in the entrance to his office, a backpack dangling from one of his fingers. 

“You’re sure?” Klavier asks, still holding the pen he’d been using to scribble notes in the margin of a case file between his fingers as he looks up.

Apollo’s nod is resolute.

They borrow a car from Datz, a derelict relic of nearly twenty years past that has no doors and no roof except for a piece of canvas that, theoretically, snaps into place above their heads, but in reality seems only to flap around in the breeze. Klavier’s eyes actually seem to sparkle when he’s handed the keys and Apollo glances between him and the machine with a feeling of unsettling dread.

It drives, but only barely, lurching around the corners of the mountain roads as Klavier struggles with the gearbox, sounding almost gleeful when he announces, “I think we lost second,” over the sound of the protesting engine. But by some miracle they make it, the car screeching to a halt at the side of a wide patch of road where it is safe to park without fear of teetering over the side of the mountain.

The trail to the house has always been difficult to find— a necessity when one is the leader of a rebel faction and also a father— but with so many years of neglect and overgrowth on top of it, it takes Apollo nearly half an hour to locate the correct path—

“When you get back, I might not be here to meet you,” Dhurke said, crouched down with his elbow resting on one knee so he and Apollo were the same height. “You might need to find the house on your own. Can you remember the way?”

Apollo nodded with all the solemnity a nine-year-old could muster, feeling as though he was accepting a mission of the highest secrecy from the leader of the Defiant Dragons, not speaking with his father. He’d felt that way often lately, as Dhurke’s work pulled him from their little cabin more and more frequently. The man who walked through the front door of their house seemed a little less like their father each time he returned, the features of his face more and more resembling the hard statues of stone that lined the mountain shrines. Each time he and Nahyuta ran to him, throwing little arms around his neck in greeting, it took longer for that stone mask to fall away, to melt into the laughter and jokes that they had always known. It frightened Apollo; what if one day Dhurke came home and only the dragon was left?

But it was only his father with him then, laughing loud and long at the seriousness of Apollo’s gesture. “That’s good,” he said, “sometimes even I have trouble. Do you want to hear the song I sing to remember it?”

—Apollo hums it gently under his breath as he searches now.

“What is that?” Klavier asks. Up until that moment, he’d been leaning against the hood of the car, watching quietly as Apollo moved from tree to tree, searching. But he is closer now, near enough that when Apollo glances back over his shoulder, he can see the bemused expression that stretches the corner of his mouth upward into a badly repressed smirk.

“Dhurke taught it to me when he sent me to the states,” Apollo explains, not pausing in his search, “It’s mostly nonsense, but…” He glances behind one particularly tall tree, pushing aside a flowering vine just above his line of sight. There is a small plaque of wood nailed into the trunk there, shaped like a triangle pointing up into the sky. Apollo remembers it being a bright shade of teal, but it has faded with weather and time until it resembles more of a pale, gray-blue. It’s been nearly fifteen years; Apollo is only surprised he’s managed to find it at all.

Klavier makes a soft noise of appreciation as Apollo steps back to survey it.

“Lead the way, Herr Explorer,” he says with a grin and an overly dramatic flourish of hands. Apollo rolls his eyes, but doesn’t argue.

They spend another hour pushing through a maze of tree branches, wide ferns that reach across the forest floor, and a tangle of grasping vines. At times, Apollo thinks he can hear Klavier humming his song from earlier. He catches snippets of the melody, entwined with the sound of birds calling to each other from across the canopy and the sound of leaves rustling along the floor around them, until the sound of the moving water rushes up to meet them and, all at once, they are through.

The river is just as he remembers, banked by jagged steppes of gray stone that lead the way to the coursing current, likely higher than usual given the rain. In the distance, he can see the bridge that Datz and Dhurke had built, surprisingly still standing, though some of the planks of wood that stretch their way across have a dark and almost rotten look about them. He wonders if it is safe to cross.

Apollo is hardly aware that his feet have stopped until Klavier has drawn up next to him, dropping his backpack on the ground with a thud that draws Apollo from his thoughts. It seems strange, suddenly, to see Klavier here. Apollo tends to think of his life in two distinct parts, Khura’in and the United States, nearly always separated by extended time and distance. The sudden overlap is jarring.

“You weren’t joking, ja?” Klavier says, reaching behind his head to gather the hair up and off of his neck and into an elastic band. Pieces of hair stick to his skin where a slight sheen of sweat has gathered and there is mud speckled in small patches across the skin of his face. It’s distracting to see Klavier when he is like this, layers of meticulously crafted perfection stripped aside until he is suddenly, strikingly real.

“Sorry,” Apollo returns, unsure if he is apologizing for the length of the journey or for staring.

Nein, alles gut. I like an adventure from time to time,” Klavier smiles, before looking off into the distance. “Is that it?”

He points to a structure on the other side of the river, almost hidden by the cover of the neighboring trees. Apollo raises his own hand to block out the sunlight that beats down around them, squinting his eyes to better see—

Nahyuta always made it to the top of the boulder before he could. Apollo blamed it on the fact that, at a year older, his brother’s arms and legs were both longer and stronger. But coming in second never stopped Apollo; even if it took him twice as long, he would never quit, only accepting Nahyuta’s offered hand when he was close enough that he could make it on his own if he wanted to.

“Look at us!” he called when he’d reached the top, waving his arms wildly above his head, “We’re the bravest explorers in the whole world. We climbed Mt. Poniponi!”

Datz was sitting cross-legged in the dirt near the front of the house, sharpening the blade of a knife. He glanced up, looking at the two of them with a laugh that crinkled the corner of his eyes.

“You two had better watch out!” he called, placing the knife down at his side and wiggling his fingers ominously in their direction, “If you’re not careful, the Poniponi Dragon will gobble you both up.”

Nahyuta looked unimpressed. “There’s no dragon on Mt. Poniponi.”

“There is now!” a voice boomed from behind them. Apollo spun around quickly to see Dhurke swinging a leg over the top of the boulder, reaching out in feigned menace with his tattooed hand and giving a loud roar.

They’d scampered down the other side of the rock, shrieking with laughter as Dhurke chased them around the clearing. Despite Apollo’s best efforts to dart to safety under the fallen trunk of a nearby tree- being small had some benefits- Dhurke caught him first, scooping him up and into his arms as if Apollo weighed nothing at all. Apollo thrashed and kicked his legs, trying his best to free himself, only to find Datz had decided to join their game, unceremoniously snatching his struggling form from Dhurke’s arms and holding him in a grip tight enough that Apollo had no choice but to admit defeat as Dhurke went racing off after Nahyuta.

They’d all collapsed into a laughing heap in front of the house sometime later, struggling to catch their breath in the heat of the afternoon sun.

“You always win,” Apollo complained, pushing lightly on Dhurke’s shoulder in an annoyance he didn’t quite feel.

Dhurke laughed, “Of course, son. A dragon never yields, I thought you knew that.”

—The sound of a warbaa’d calling from a tree somewhere in the distance pulls him abruptly from his memories. Back in the real world, the house looks far less memorable. Time and the elements seem to have eaten most of the structure away. Apollo isn’t certain he could enter if he wanted to; portions of the roof seem to have caved in, leaving bare wooden beams to protrude into the sky like a rib cage in a skeleton, more like a warning to stay away than the safe harbor he remembers.

This is it? He wonders, staring at the patches of wall where plaster had been chipped away and only bare brick remains. This was the home I dreamed about for so many years?

Klavier is still standing beside him, glancing at him from over the rim of his sunglasses, which he has pulled down to the tip of his nose. “Apollo?”

“Sorry,” Apollo says again, running a hand across his eyes as if he might be able to physically push the memories out of his mind, “It’s a lot. I didn’t think it would be.”

And it is a lot. Apollo had expected to feel the loss of Dhurke standing here among the remnants of the place he had once called home; he hadn’t expected to feel the weight of so much missed time mingled among it. When he was younger, Apollo had indulged in a fantasy where Dhurke had changed his mind, had brought him back to fight Ga’ran alongside the Defiant Dragons. Life would have been difficult, of course, but easier in many ways than the parade of foster homes Apollo had stumbled through in the states. What would it have been like, he wonders, if he’d never left at all? The thought fills him with a sense of grief so heavy that, for a moment, it is hard to stand at all.

When he open his eyes again, Klavier has removed his sunglasses completely and is gazing off into the distance, his blue eyes focused somewhere far past Apollo.

“It was difficult returning to Germany after my parents,” he begins slowly, expression unreadable, “and even harder after Kris, ja? Everywhere I went had some sort of memory attached; it didn’t matter if the memory was good or bad, it was always painful. Most of the time it seemed easier just to forget, but...” he gestures in front of him, a slight wave of a hand that seems particularly ambiguous.

“What changed?”

“Time,” Klavier says with a small laugh before turning his gaze back to Apollo, “and perspective. Don’t force it, Liebling.”

Klavier is always honest, it is a certainty that Apollo can depend on, but he is not always so forthright, especially about the version of himself that existed before the lights and the cameras the Gavinners ushered into his life. It is a fact that renders his statement all the more meaningful, which makes Apollo reluctant to let the subject drop despite the ghosts of his own imagination that already circle around the two of them, unseen in the air.

“What were your parents like?” Apollo asks gently, curious.

“Neither were lawyers, if you can believe it. That was my grandfather,” Klavier smiles, as if telling a joke, “They passed when I was young, so many of the memories are hazy now, but… they were good people. I will take you to meet them sometime, if you would like.”

“And… do you have good memories of Kristoph too?” Apollo isn’t sure why he asks, really, except that he has memories of his own that he can’t seem to force into alignment with the person he had seen on the stand during that final trial. There was a time when asking Klavier had seemed out of the question, when the wrong phrase could collapse an unrelated conversation into forced, plasticine smiles and hasty retreats. Now, half a world and several years away, the question seems less volatile.

Apollo still watches Klavier carefully as he considers his answer.

“He was not always a monster,” Klavier shrugs eventually, “I can grieve for the children we once were without condoning the person he became, oder was? And he brought you to me, however unintentionally it was done. There is that to be thankful for, at least.”

The words are striking in more ways than one. If Dhurke hadn’t returned him to the states when he had, Apollo thinks, he would never have been there to comfort Clay after the death of his mother. He would never have been able to help Trucy clear her father of murder charges that would have sent him away from her forever, leaving her alone again. Apollo would never have met Klavier, would never have helped him to clear the darkness from his heart. Yes, he’d missed years with Dhurke and Nahyuta that he’ never be able to reclaim, but he’d gained something too, hadn't he?

He glances up to Klavier, “Something good from tragedy?”

Ja, exactly,” Klavier smiles, though it is still somewhat sad.

They hike back to the car in relative silence after that, each lost in their own thoughts.

Apollo doesn’t quite understand why Klavier’s words leave him feeling warm.

It takes two months of exhaustive study of Khura’nese law before Klavier agrees to stand beside him in court. Apollo tries to tell him that the laws under Ga’ran don’t matter so much, that the whole point of their presence in the courtroom is to help rewrite those laws to better serve the people of the Kingdom, but Apollo learns very quickly that Klavier is a perfectionist first and a rational human being second. Klavier expresses his disdain for the thought of stepping behind the bench in a courtroom whose system he does not know both inside and out, and though Apollo knows that the motivations are strikingly different, the attitude reminds him so strongly the elder Gavin brother that Apollo doesn’t press much.

The case is simple and fairly straightforward, and Apollo is fairly certain his client is innocent, a luxury he isn’t always afforded in Khura’in. It doesn’t stop Nahyuta from presenting a strong argument for the prosecution, complete with evidence that sends Apollo tripping over himself as he attempts to untangle the truth.

The Klavier who stands beside him at the bench throughout is not the Klavier he remembers from the States. There are no theatrics, no thinly veiled flirtations with the witnesses, and certainly no air guitar. He stands with his hands hooked in the pockets of his pants, interjecting only to point out whatever missteps in logic Apollo will inevitably make.

“It’s your show, ja?” he says, “But if I were Prosecutor Sahdmadhi, I would see that line of thinking from a mile away.”

“That’s only because you know me,” Apollo replies with his finger to his forehead as he puzzles through a particularly difficult piece of witness testimony. It doesn’t fit, despite how well crafted it appears to be, but Apollo can’t seem to place how.

The smile Klavier returns is impossibly fond. “Perhaps,” is all he says.

There seem to be no sides for Klavier, though he stands behind the bench for the defense, only his dedication to the ultimate truth. Much like in the past, he challenges each conclusion Apollo thinks self-evident, only now it is gently across the surface of their kitchen table in preparation and not hurled in his face through the middle of the court. Where Apollo’s mind works in a direct, albeit sometimes irrational sequence, Klavier’s penchant for the creative allows him to craft arguments that circle around the facts before tightening into an unsuspected and lethal noose. While he doesn’t wear a magic armband that allows him to perceive a witness’s lies, he does possess the uncanny ability to goad even the most stoic of witnesses into speech, gently stoking the flames of their ego at just the right moment until they inevitably reveal something Apollo can use.

“There,” Klavier indicates with a small nod of his head and a smile that seems intentionally subdued but victorious all the same. Apollo feels his own grin fall into place as his fists slam against the bench, the surge of adrenaline that accompanies it coursing through him.

In the end, the witness is arrested, their client exonerated, and Apollo turns to Klavier with a look of triumph as they enter the defendant’s lobby. He doesn’t expect the look of unadulterated affection spread across the former prosecutor’s face, nor the way he offers a warm, “Ich gratuliere, Schatzi. It seems I missed seeing you in court more than I realized,” that nearly catches the breath directly from Apollo’s lungs before Nahyuta and Rayfa make their way to the room.

“Well done, Horn Head,” Rayfa says, tipping her head in congratulation. “I hadn’t considered that the murder weapon may have been disposed of at the altar. You and your paramour are an admirable team.”

Apollo blinks. “My what?”

“Paramour,” Nahyuta supplies, raising a pale eyebrow in Apollo’s direction. “She means lover.”

From behind him, Klavier exhales what sounds like a short and surprised laugh. “Prosecutor Sadmadhi, I did not expect you to be so candid.”

“Forgive me,” Nahyuta replies with a slight bow of his head in Klavier’s direction, though he sounds overall less than apologetic, “I thought it was common knowledge.”

It is all Apollo can manage not to gape.

“Oh come now, I am not so ignorant,” Rayfa continues as though none of them have spoken. There is a smugness in her tone that is difficult to overlook, “You live together, do you not?”

“Nein, Fräulein, you misunderstand,” Klavier interjects before Apollo can even begin to formulate a response, “Herr Forehead and I are simply colleagues. Staying at the office cuts down on the commute, ja?”

The snort of laughter that escapes Rayfa at Klavier’s chosen nickname for Apollo is certainly unbefitting a royal priestess- even Nahyuta has the audacity to look amused- but Klavier continues, his smile still in place. “I assure you, Your Benevolence, nothing untoward is occurring between your newest brother and me.”

Rayfa looks entirely unconvinced, but in a stunning moment of previously undemonstrated tact, she doesn’t press. The soft hmph that escapes her lips, however, makes the magnanimous nature of her gesture somewhat less than convincing.

“If you insist,” is all she says, “Come then, Braid Head, we will leave the colleagues to their celebrations. We have paperwork to file.”

Nahyuta’s incredulous gaze lingers long enough to be poignant before he turns to join her.

Apollo spends the trip back from the courthouse casting surreptitious glances at Klavier whenever he thinks the other isn’t looking, trying to make sense of the entire exchange. In truth, he cannot explain why Nahyuta and Rayfa’s assumption bothers him so much, or why Klavier’s assertions to the contrary seem to bother him even more.

It rains again that night, in heavy droplets that fall down from the skies and envelops the city in a blanket of warm, humid air. The weight leaves Apollo feeling unusually restless. Klavier comments on it at several points through the evening, pointing out the deeply set frown that had taken over Apollo’s features sometime after they’d returned from court as though his unique brand of teasing might be enough to rid Apollo of it entirely. But with each charming, lopsided smile that Klavier sends in his direction, Apollo’s mood seems to worsen.

After the third such conversation on the subject, he leaves the room entirely, heading for bed.

But he doesn’t sleep, instead laying on top of his still perfectly made sheets and listening to the way the rolling of thunder in the distance mingles with the sound of Klavier’s typing from just outside the door. It shouldn’t be so agitating to hear Klavier’s frank assessment of their relationship when Apollo has done nothing but dance around his own feelings since long before Klavier arrived in Khura’in. But he finds it impossible to push the thought from his mind despite his best efforts, so much so that, without stopping to consider whether or not it is something he will later regret, Apollo stands.

Klavier glances up as Apollo enters the room, reaching absently to remove the glasses from his eyes as a fond smile settles across his features. How Klavier works like this, Apollo will never know; the only light in the kitchen comes from one cool bulb that buzzers above the small sink, almost matched in brightness by the glow of Klavier’s computer screen and the occasional flash of lightning from the window on the far wall.

Schatz, did I wake you?” Klavier asks. The concern in his voice palpable, and it makes Apollo suddenly so nervous that he feels his stomach flutter in response long before he is able to speak.

“What Princess Rayfa said today,” Apollo starts. “We need to talk about it.”

“Ach, is that what has been bothering you?” Apollo knows Klavier well enough to see when he is covering up his actual emotions with the facade he applies in public; his tone now is light and artificially pleasant, matched by the plastic quality of his suddenly hardened smile. “You should have said sooner. I can return to the hotel if you are worried what people will—“

“Tell me why you’re here,” Apollo interjects, crossing his arms over his chest. “In Khura’in, in my house. I need to know.”

Outside the window the rain seems only to fall harder, the tempo drumming into an erratic frenzy of noise that mirrors the sudden escalation of tension in the room. Klavier hesitates, and the bangle around Apollo’s wrist pulses in time with the beating of his own heart. It seems to quicken with each additional moment it takes Klavier to answer, until, finally, he says, “I didn’t think I was being so subtle, Liebling.”

“No, not like that.” Apollo shakes his head firmly, stumbling through his words before he can second guess himself. “No more nicknames, no more hints. If what you said to Rayfa was true, if we’re just colleagues, that’s fine, but I thought—”

He doesn’t realize that Klavier is moving until the sound of the chair scraping against the hardwood floor startles him mid-sentence, the words falling flat between them as soon as he finds his feet. And it shouldn’t be so surprising that Klavier is moving forward, towards him, and not away like Apollo had worried he might, but Apollo still finds himself doing nothing but staring as Klavier takes the three resolute steps to him across the kitchen. He often forgets how tall Klavier actually is until they are standing face to face; Apollo glances up to meet Klavier’s bright blue eyes, heart pounding loudly somewhere near the base of his throat, at the same moment that Klavier reaches for him with both hands.

And kissing Klavier Gavin is not what Apollo had imagined it might be when he allowed his own imagination to wander. He had expected smooth perfection and coaxing fingers that left him fumbling and flustered and feeling decidedly out of his depth. But Klavier leans in to Apollo now with an impatience that Apollo can tangibly feel in the sudden, firm press of his lips, the fingers of each warm hand curled firmly around the edges of Apollo’s jaw to hold him in place as though he might slip away if Klavier is not very, very careful. It is abrupt and too eager and Apollo takes an unintentional half-step backward under the force of it. He can feel the solid wood of the closed bedroom door pressed firmly against the skin of his back before his own hands raise, grasping onto Klavier for either some semblance of balance or to pull him as close as he possibly can. In this moment, with his head spinning and the encompassing warmth of Klavier’s body pressed against his, Apollo cannot be sure it isn’t both.

It ends just as suddenly as it begins, with Klavier pulling back just enough that he can glance into Apollo’s eyes, though Apollo can do little but blink at the sudden lack of contact. “What was that?” he asks, somewhat annoyed at himself for how rough his own voice sounds in his ears.

“Apollo, I have been in love with you since the start of our very first trial. I was only waiting for you to notice,” Klavier murmurs, still cradling the side of Apollo’s face in one of his hands. Apollo can feel the rough pad of Klavier’s guitar-calloused thumb brushing gently against the edge of his bottom lip as he talks; the sensation is so distracting that Apollo almost misses the implication of the actual words, “How could you not know that by now?”

“You flirt with everyone.” Apollo intends it to be a solid point in his own defense, but his heart is beating too fast for the words to come out as anything but a rush of poorly articulated breath.

Klavier’s lips turn up into a small, amused smile that draws Apollo’s attention completely. “And did you think I would fly halfway around the world for just anyone as well?”

“Yeah,” Apollo admits quietly. “Kind of.”

Klaiver laughs; this close, the sound makes Apollo feel dizzy and wanting and astoundingly foolish all at once. “You have a better opinion of me than I deserve, then,” he says warmly, “But I can assure you I do not make a habit of kissing people I only somewhat like, despite what the tabloids might say.”

“Then do it again.” It’s phrased like a request, but Apollo’s hands are still fisted in the fabric of Klavier’s shirt and his tone is demanding. “Please.”

And Klavier does, again and again until Apollo is left breathless and burning in his arms.

Things change little after that, all things considered.

The spare bedroom becomes spare again, though it fills quickly with all manner of instruments and recording equipment that Apollo would prefer were left behind in the studio. Klavier’s is exactly the kind of eccentric who wakes in the middle of the night, stumbling from bed and into the other room with a not-so-gentle slamming of doors as he rushes to record whatever new melody has come to him in his dreams. Apollo complains bitterly, of course, some of us have cases to defend in the morning, but he enjoys drifting back off to the sound of Klavier’s clear tenor more than he could possibly care to admit.

Klavier, Apollo discovers very quickly, is nearly as affectionate in his action as he is in words. Just like the host of diminutive pet names that scatter throughout both their public and private conversations, his hands seem to find their way to Apollo’s person like they are magnetized regardless of the setting. Without the scrutiny of stardom and it’s ever-present cameras, Apollo finds that even when out and about in the city Klavier’s hands are always lingering near the edges of his hips, brushing against the skin of his shoulder, catching Apollo’s lax fingers up between his own. Apollo finds himself wondering if Klavier is making up for the sheer amount of time in which this kind of gentle, casual touching was not permissible. The thought makes it difficult to be annoyed at the ever-present pressure of fleeting fingers against the small of his lower back or brushing gently at a stray piece of hair that has fallen into his eyes. And sometimes, Apollo discovers, he is the one who reaches out first.

It should take months of paperwork and quarantine, but one of the few benefits of having a Prince Regent for a brother is the expedited approval of Mikeko and Vongole’s entrance papers. They arrive one balmy afternoon in late August accompanied by one Trucy Wright- legally, this time, with her passport waving in the air as she barrels through the front door.

“I can’t believe how long it took you!” she exclaims, smacking one of her satin gloves across Apollo’s shoulders, “After I went through all the trouble of practically spelling it out!”

Apollo glances to Klavier, who shrugs as if to say don’t look at me, I didn’t tell her. “How long what took?” he asks.

Trucy reaches into a pocket, pulling out what looks to be a rubber snake and a series of mismatched playing cards before she finally seems to find what she’s looking for. “C’mon, you didn’t really think you’d get away with it did you?” she says, handing Apollo a folded piece of what, at a passing glance, appears to be newspaper, “Khura’in isn’t as far away as you like to pretend, Polly.”

Apollo unfolds the bit of paper gingerly.

INTERNATIONAL ROCK STAR ENGAGED TO KHURA’NESE ROYALTY! the headline reads in large, black letters. A picture has been printed underneath. It is innocuous, really, snapped from far enough away that it is difficult to see the fingers laced together as they walk or the slight incline of Apollo’s head against Klavier’s shoulder, but it is most certainly them.

“I’m not royalty,” he mumbles at the same time that Klavier gives a poorly muffled laugh which he only just barely manages to turn into a cough when Apollo turns to him with a glare. “And we’re not engaged.”

“Close enough!” Trucy calls with a grin, “Daddy says congratulations, by the way, and wants to know what the dress code is at a Khura’nese Royal Wedding.”

“Very formal,” Klavier responds immediately, “Herr Wright will likely need a new suit.”

“That’s it, I’m leaving,” Apollo says, turning before either of them comments on the flush to his face, and heads up the stairs after Mikeko.

Of course, Trucy manages to coax both him and Mikeko down before long with promises of dropping all talk of weddings and providing a preview of her newest magic act instead. Apollo pointedly ignores the page of the tabloid where someone- most like Klavier- has pinned it to the bulletin board near the front of the office.

“You’ll be my assistant today, right?” Trucy asks.

“I don’t really get to see the show if I’m in it.”

“That is a sacrifice you’re going to have to make,” she replies solemnly, “Think of the audience!”

Apollo frowns. “What audience?”

But somewhere around the time Apollo has finished hoisting one of Datz’ old parachutes over a rope as a makeshift curtain, people begin to arrive. At first, it’s only Ahlbi, who is nearly barreled over by one of Vongole’s enthusiastic greetings the moment she realizes that another dog is present. The sound of their exuberant play echoes through the floors of the house and sends Mikeko scurrying somewhere back up the stairs.

Ema appears at the door with the results of a test apparently important enough for a personal delivery, but not urgent enough to keep her from staying for the show instead of relinquishing the results. By the time Apollo has made it down the back stairs with Klavier’s requested keyboard and enough chairs to seat everyone, Nahyuta and Rayfa have also made an entrance. Apollo watches as Nahyuta makes a deep bow of apology to a protesting Trucy, while Rayfa eyes the ramshackle stage with an air of obvious distrust. Even Datz manages to stumble his way into the office before the show begins, tears nearly streaming from the corner of his eyes with laughter when he notices Apollo don Trucy’s proffered hat and cape.

Viel Glück, Forehead,” Klavier says, leaning over to press a kiss quickly against Apollo’s temple before he can object. Apollo hardly notices the sound of Ema’s heckling and Trucy’s knowing grin as he takes his place beside her on the stage.

In a moment, Klavier will play the opening notes of Trucy’s chosen fanfare and the show will start. The sound of enthusiastic clapping and Rayfa’s astonished “Pohlunka!” will almost drown out the sound of Vongole and Shah’do’s barking as Trucy pulls a startled Mikeko from her magic panties. Even the neighbors will open their windows at some point, leaning out into the courtyard to better see the show. And when it is over, Klavier will catch one of his hands in his own, pulling him behind the screen of the parachute curtain to place a firm and fond kiss at the edge of Apollo’s laughing mouth.

But for now, Apollo stands on the little stage, looking out with an undeniable feeling of warmth spreading through him that has very little to do with lingering embarrassment. It seems like a very long time ago, now, that Apollo lost hope of ever returning to a family in the shadows of the mountains of Khura’in. He’d staggered through much of his adult life thinking that the only person he could truly rely on was himself. And now… Apollo glances to each individual face in the group surrounding him, his own tiny grin clinging to the corners of his mouth.

Maybe Khura’in has changed him, too.

“You okay, Polly?” Trucy asks, leaning forward onto the balls of her feet as she tries to peer into his eyes.

Apollo nods.

“Yeah,” he says, “I’m fine.”

And, for the first time in awhile, he truly means it.