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Apokine Cassander is brought into their advisor’s office right before the weekend.

“You're getting married,” Ryat says, not looking up from a holoscreen that was in their desk.

Cass very carefully doesn’t have any outward reaction, although a close observer might notice the slight downturn of their lips.

“You know, I always thought that marrying the princess to overthrow the kingdom would be a little bit more violent.”

Ryat sighs, looking up at Cass over their glasses.

“Not to me, and not to overthrow anything. You're facing a mutiny from your planet. They didn't like a monarchy, they were barely okay with the demarchy, they're none too pleased for their dead God to come back to life to rule over them again.”

Cass did have an outward reaction to that, sitting down in front of their advisor and putting their face in their hands. “I’m getting married... as a public relations tactic?”

Ryat paused before looking back down at their work. “Yes, you've got the weekend to meet all of the candidates we've selected for you and find one, or ones, that you like.”

“To spend the rest of my life with,” Cassander intoned, their face becoming Apokine, as the full understanding the weight of the situation settled in their chest.

Ryat nodded. Cassander stood and walked out of the door - slowly and with army precision in every step. They walked all the way to their suite, very calmly and with great poise as benefitted their station, before they let themselves panic and call Aria.

“Hi Aria, how are you, I’m great. Apostalos is wonderful this time of year; I miss you dearly; I have a weekend to find somebody to marry; what's up with you?” They said in a rush, hurriedly stipping off their cape, their bangles, their golden crown. They didn’t want to feel the weight of the Apokine on them when they talked to Aria about this.

Aria laughed the high, drunken laugh she has. Cass smiled, imagining the sunset-orange flush in her cheeks and the way her feet kicked out when she laughed, too drunk to stop the impulse.

“Got anyone in mind?” said Aria.

“No,” said Cass, “Do you?”

“No but I'm sure I could find someone in this bar who'd be willing to marry you.”

There was a muffled sound of someone talking, the background noise of Aria too loud for Cass to properly make out who it was.

“Oh, I've got someone right here,” said Aria.

“Oh no,” said Cass, feeling panic rise again, “Aria don't--”

Marrying some stranger from whatever bar Aria was currently in was almost as bad as whoever the empire would pick out for them, and infinitely more embarrassing. There was a fumbling noise as Aria handed her phone to someone, which at least meant it was someone Aria trusted enough to not steal her phone. Cass braced themselves, reading their most royal tone as they tried to think of a diplomatic way to turn someone down.

“Cass!” yelled a slurred voice. A voice they knew.

Cass almost laughed with relief, letting themselves flop back down on their bed.

“Mako?” said Cass.

“Cass Cass Cass!” said Mako again.

He was laughing as he speaks and Cass can picture the wild arc of his hands. They relax back into the mattress and close their eyes, the image of Mako behind their eyelids. An image from simpler times.

“Aria says you need a fiance, and I am here to tell you that I volunteer my services,” said Mako.

Cass laughed. “Mako, I think they're hoping I find someone who has a little more firepower on their side.”

“I have firepower!” said Mako, offended. “I can have as much firepower as you need! I -- stop it Aria, this is important -- How many mechs do you need?”

“Mako,” Cass tried again, “no, it's not that, it's more someone who can have firepower but also show up to dinners and I think they already have people in mind.”

“But they don't know you,” said Mako. “You need someone who knows you, not a firepower at dinner.”

Cass laughed again. They can feel the tension coming out of their shoulders. They'd missed this, the ease of speaking to someone without watching themselves, worried that the whole world was going to come down around them on one wrong word.

“Mako-“

“Sorry,” said Aria. She sounds a little out of breath. “Mako stole my phone and made a run for it. Anyway, like I was saying, I can find you someone.”

“Please don't,” said Cass, tone stern even though they couldn't chase the grin off their face if they tried. “I just… I needed to talk to someone about this without all the… you know. Formalities.”

“Alright,” said Aria, drawing out the word, “but if you change your mind, you let us know. I know a lot of good-looking people.”

“Thanks Aria,” said Cass.

“I do!” said Aria, laughing. “Try to have fun with it, Cass. And if you're not, just say the word and I'll be over there. I can make it fun.”

“Yes, yes. You know a lot of good-looking people,” said Cass.

Aria gasped. “How did you know?”

Cass laughed. “Bye Aria. Remember to drink water before you go to sleep. Tell Mako too.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Aria, “you too, Cass. Love you!”

She made several over the top kissing noises into the phone before she hung up. Cass let out a sigh, their old comm unit a small, warm weight on their chest.

Well. That didn't exactly help their situation, but they did feel better. They'd take the small victories where they could get them.

-----

“Do I have to wear a dress?” Cassander asks, two hours into the fitting.

All of the attendants nod, only the one directly ahead of them reflecting the forlorn look that Cassander hadn’t quite been able to keep off their face. The others studiously ignore the way Cassander awkwardly smoothes down the front of the dress. They’ve never been particularly comfortable in satin, it clings to their hips in a way that makes them feel clumsy, too aware of their own movements.

Ryat sighs, and clicks a button.

“Felix uses le/ler/les pronouns - a close family friend of yours, especially before the war. Le is a historian, and I think you two will get along well, especially since le wrote a dissertation on mech construction techniques.”

Cassander nods, and moves their leg a bit too much and gets poked with a pin. The attendant makes an apologetic expression, but Cassander waves them off before the speak. Their green blood is quickly wiped up and a bandage is sprayed onto their leg. The dress is taken off of them to be finished for the dinner tonight.

Cassander watches it disappear into another room before they look down at their leg. They can barely see the outline of the bandage, and only because they know it’s there. The dress will cover it anyway, and they’ll look just as they ought to. Apokine.

---

Cass looks at the spot where they got pricked earlier, the mark still hidden, their eyes trailing to the old scar just above their knee. It was just a scrape, albeit a deep one. They had been too focused on Aria, a dislocated shoulder and intense electrical burns that had kept them up way past their threshold for sleeping.

Cass remembers waking up in the small bathroom attached to their room on the ship, Mako sitting on the floor applying antiseptic to the cut, and then soap and water, and antibiotics and finally wrapping the knee in some gauze, far more thorough and more delicate in his movements than Cass would have thought.

Cass remembers blinking a few times, not quite sure what was happening: Mako never looked this serious, this worried about anything. Cass moved their hand and touched Mako’s cheek as Mako moved to put his forehead on Cass’ knee.

“Hey,” Cass said, their voice scratchy from yelling earlier and sleep.

Mako only nodded. Cass felt the puff of warm air on their knee from Mako’s shaky exhale.

“Hey, we’re okay. We’re all okay. Thank you for patching me up,” Cass said, working to smile even through the bruise on the side of their face.

Mako nodded again. He kissed Cass’ knee, on top of the gauze, and it made Cass laugh for the first time that week. The job had been long and scary and, anyway, Cass had healed enough of Mako’s cut knees since they started working together.

When Cass woke up, they were still on their bed with Mako on top of the covers next to them. They remembered the light of the holoscreen illuminating Mako’s features, some flickering cartoon. He hadn’t stirred when they’d turned it off, and it has seemed a shame to wake him.

When they awoke the next time, Mako was gone.

--

Felix is... nice. Le’s nice. Le is nice. Koda is sitting next to them at this official diner, and keeps laughing into their napkin at the polite nodding and attempts at interested conversation Cassander dutifully makes.

Koda knows them entirely too well.

Felix is kind of... boring. And Koda knows it. And can see the recognition on Cassander’s face. Sure, le wrote a paper on mech design throughout the centuries of a planet that they’re both deeply patriotic for it’s just. Felix is very boring. Cassander has spent hours listening to Mako talk through a manual reboot of his room’s stereo and it was more interesting than this.

Le’s pretty, though. A complimentary dark blue skin color, and longer hair than their own. Felix’s hand feels big in their own, and they’re an accomplished dancer, if a little stiff. Felix keeps le’s hands right at Cassander’s waist, never tries to draw them in for anything untoward. And it’s... nice. Cassander could see themselves marrying this pretty, boring person if it meant they didn’t have to feel anything besides polite interest. Cassander thinks they remember how to be polite. They could be polite, and have a polite marriage, and their life would be very peaceful and quiet.

It’s strange, that thinking about that future makes their stomach twist into knots.

“Hey, can I cut in?” a voice calls, and suddenly Cassander is flush against someone shorter than them, someone not at all polite.

Cassander is whisked away before Felix has a chance to really protest, gasping at the way this person’s hand is all the way around their waist as they’re led to the outside walkway. The gardens are quieter, the sound of the party fading to a murmur.

“Excuse me, sir,” says Cassander, trying to go for icy more than interested.

They try to release themselves from the person’s grasp, but he’s strong, his arm moving to the small of their back, right where Cassander is ticklish, where Mako always- Oh.

Mako twirls them until the sound of the party fades a little more, sitting the two of them on the edge of a fountain. And it is Mako, in the flesh and impossible as always. His pink hair is a bit more pale than the last time Cassander had seen him, the jacket is new and falling off of his frame a bit, but the look in his eyes is something Cass could never quite forget, as bright as the stars above.

Cass feels a sharp pang of homesickness for dimly lit ship corridors on a ship that was always a quarter falling apart. They put that feeling aside, and aim for a chiding tone.

“Mako Trig, you’re supposed to be on Vox, undercover and under the radar, I believe,” Cassander says to the shock of pink hair just below their chin.

“Yeah, well, it helps to have almost a dozen versions of you to be able to just throw out into the galaxy so that you can come visit your best friend when they’re having a bad week,” Mako says, still keeping his hand mere seconds from tickling Cass again.

Cass looks around. “Aria’s here? Why didn’t she come say something to me?”

Cass half stands before Mako pulls them back down, huffing a laugh. Their shoulders bump together as Cass sits back down.

“No, dummy, it’s you. If you’re going to get married in the next few weeks, I wanna meet all the people that are vying for your hand. It sounds like one of those old romance movies that Aria always makes Jacqui watch.”

Mako takes Cass’ hand, lacing their fingers together and putting both of their hands on top of Cass’ thigh. They used to sit like that when they’d watch a scary movie together, squeezed onto Mako’s bed. The difference now is that Mako still has not looked at them, looking out instead into the rose garden, a favorite of Cass’ parent.

Normally Cass feels like Mako is always staring. They wonder what kind of week he’s having that he would come all the way out here to see them. It is nice on him, to visit. They’d been wondering if he’d come out to see them.

“Wait, have you ever been to Apostalos?” Cass asks.

Mako finally looks at Cass. “Nope, but no time like the present. Aria can show me your palace while we hide from your suitors, it’ll be fun!”

“Oh, no. You can’t hang out in the castle. Let me take you to like, the actual good places on this planet."

"Oh yeah?" Mako wiggles his eyebrows.

Cass rolls his eyes, but his cheeks hurt – he hasn't kept a smile up this long in months.

"There's this Old-Mesh arcade that Sokrates and I used to sneak to as kids; a natural history museum that Euthane always hid in; there's this place where I actually learned to make pasta one summer-"

"Not that horrible squid pasta!" Mako yelled, beginning to lean away from Cass and waving his hands over his face.

"Shut up! You used to eat it all the time!" Cass shoves Mako shoulder, playfully.

Mako, ever dramatic, keeps tipping back and back. He grabs Cass' arm, making Cass overbalance, dragging them both into the fountain. The water is clear and beautiful and absolutely freezing. Cass sputters; their dress is ruined, makeup running all down their face, and they turn, ready to yell at Mako, and their voice dies in their throat.

Mako's makeup is also ruined, his skin going darker as the highlighter he was wearing drips into the water. His clothes also seem to be running off of him. It’s very… It’s… Cass is having trouble forming thoughts about what it is, actually. It’s hard to stop their eyes from paying attention to Mako's chest.

"Is your jacket... dissolving in the water?" Cass asks, once they find their voice.

"Oh, yes, that's, uh, a new fashion that Aria is trying to push. Easily removable, biodegradable, good if you don't want to pack all of the clothes when you return home... Y'know how Aria is. Nothing can just be just one thing."

Cass nods. "Please tell me your underwear is not made of this, though."

Mako laughs, loud. "I honestly cannot remember."

Cass sighs, as dramatic as Mako in their own way. "I will call and get someone to bring you a coat.”

--

Apokine walks into Ryat’s office the next day, with an apology on their tongue. It’s rehearsed, and Ryat will surely know that, but in some ways that might help, to show that they’ve thought deeply about their responsibility, even though most of the night was spent thinking about the way Mako grinned up at them when they’d draped a jacket around his shoulder.

Ryat speaks before they can. “Well done, the media loves your new boyfriend.”

“I just want to say I am sorry for leaving the party last night, I was- what?”

“Is boyfriend not correct? Does September have pronouns I’m not aware of?” Ryat begins again.

They pull up multiple news sources, all with pictures of Cassander and Mako helping each other out of the fountain. Some are grainier than others, which adds an edge of salaciousness to them that makes something twist in the pit of Cassander’s stomach. The clear pictures aren’t really that much better, capturing Mako’s slowly melting jacket in perfect quality.

Cassander groans loudly. “He’s not-. We’re not-. He’s, uh, we’re just friends. It’s not like that. It can’t be like that.”

Ryat looks up at Cassander over their glasses. “Are you asking me to set you up on more dates?”

Cassander grits their teeth and nods.

Ryat smiles, sharp teeth peaking out through thin lips.

“I want to hear you say it to me so I know I will not get yelled at next time you end up in a fountain.”

“Ryat, I would like you to set me up on more dates with other nobles,” Cassander grits out. “Please.”

“What about speed dating?”

Cassander leaves without another word.

Aria texts him; he sees it during a fifteen minute lunch break between two different hour long meetings.

“i had no idea you were this famous” with a screenshot attached of an Aria Joie fansite. “ARIA JOIE BACK UP DANCERS FIND LOVE IN EACH OTHER’S ARMS?!?!?!?!”

Beneath it is a picture of Cass and Mako, Cass is throwing their own shawl over Mako, and Mako is looking up at Cass with a small smile on his face. Cass looks... happy. The happiest they’ve seen themselves in quite some time.

They save the photo to their phone, and sends Aria back three different emojis of disgust.

“don’t attack this messenger of truth&love” is what they get back ten minutes later, accompanied by several Sailor Moon emojis.

---

Cass goes on a few more planned outings with other potential suitors: a royal cousin, a movie star, a very pretty person that owns a big charity. But they’re too nice (there was no need to bow that deeply to them) or too polite (three hours of small talk is absolutely the most Cass can handle, thanks) or too self-centered (actually, no, the small talk was better compared to someone talking about themselves for three hours without pause) and it sucks.

By far Cass’s favourite part of their dates are when they get to sneak out after every mandated outing to take Mako to see the Apostolos from their childhood. Everything seems new through Mako’s eyes, and it’s easier to remember the good times they had with their siblings. It’s even easy, sometimes, to remember the bad, when Mako is next to them, his head leaning against their shoulder as Cass talks.

Ryat walks into Cassander’s private quarters, the Apokine’s hair still wet from a shower and Mako Trig laying down on the couch. Cassander stammers for a moment, stumbling to find an excuse for Mako to be there but Ryat waves them off, apparently unsurprised by his presence.

“Apokine, Mr Trig, I have good news and I have bad news.”

Cassander nods. Mako mouths “Mister Trig?” towards Cass, who shrugs.

“The good news is that we can have you two married by tomorrow,” says Ryat, “the bad news is that we do not have time to plan an official ceremony, so it will just have to be a small gathering of some nobles and Mr Trig’s family.”

“Married?” yelps Mako.

“I, uh, what?” says Cass faintly. They’re not sure their brain has gotten past the first part of Ryat’s sentence.

Ryat nods, turning around to pull the pieces of information from their holopad to the large screen in the Apokine’s living room. Pages of data, charts, video clips, photos - they flick onto the screen as Ryat works.

“Indeed. Most polls are showing favorable towards Mr Trig, as well as public opinion of yourself, Apokine, since your not-so-secret rendezvous with Mr Trig, and your… other meetings. It would be wise to be married while public interest and enjoyment is at an all time high.”

Mako bounces off the bed to get closer to the screen, peering at a pie chart. “You want me to marry Cass so that... people like them? I’m not married to them and I like them.”

Ryat nods. “Yes, I agree, however, other people, and specifically other Aposolisians, do not like them and they do not have the chance to get to know them as… intimately as you have.”

Cassander makes a protesting noise at Ryat’s tone, but if Ryat notices, they ignore it.

Mako nodded. “The Apokine is too busy being the Apokine to try to become Prom Queen. Makes sense.”

Ryat laughs and any further protests Cassander was about to make disappear under surprise. Cassander has never heard anything more than a polite chuckle from Ryat before. If they didn’t know Mako, they would think it spoke well of him that he could bring such a lively look to their usually serious advisor.

But they do know Mako. They know he snores, especially when he’s got a cold. They know his preferred outfit is whatever is most likely to give Cass eyestrain. They know that, however charming he might think he is, he’s just as likely to talk them into more trouble than to talk them out of it.

They also know that he’s the one that bought squid soup whenever Cass got sick, and that he would make a fool of himself a hundred times over to make Cass laugh and never regret it, and that he always came through for them, when they really needed it.

“I’ll do it,” Cassander says, surprising all three of them.

Ryat nodded, already beginning notes on their holopad. Mako nodded too, going up on tiptoes to peer over their shoulder.

“Dibs on Aria for Maid of Honor, though,” he added, more to Ryat than to Cass.

Cass smiled. “Fine, but I have final veto on your outfit.”

Mako rolled his eyes. “Fine, but I’m still wearing heelies.”

“No,” said Ryat and Cass in union.

Mako cackled, but he didn’t argue back, so Cass took it as a win.

 

--

 

Cassander had to leave for their extremely-emergency wedding outfit fitting, which left Mako alone with Ryat. He called Aria, who was already, thankfully, on her way with Jacqui and the Makos in tow. They were taking some kind of fast and dangerous route to get around any reporters that might be either following them or hovering around Cass, but she did manage to send the files to 3D print his ideal wedding outfit. Aria was a good friend that way.

“Hey, Ryat!” yelled Mako, leaning around the corner to where Ryat was overseeing the setup of the printer, “What do I like... have to do? As the crown prince or whatever.”

Ryat looked up at him before looking back down to where they were inputting three different types of synthetic fabric into the three different needles to create his suit. They held their phone away from their ear for a moment, and Mako could hear the distant sound of a fight between two different Makos about the best flavor of ramen. Mako… wasn’t quite sure how they’d gotten Ryat’s number, but they were Makos.

“Nothing, Mr Trig.”

“Yeah, but I thought I had to like,” Mako waves a hand, “help with positive PR or whatever, you know, make people like them.”

So ridiculous, as though Cass wasn’t the most likeable being in the galaxy already. They were an extremely charming, extremely handsome prince. They hardly needed him to make them likeable.

Ryat humed thoughtfully. “Something about you just... centers the Apokine.” They paused. “They... smile a lot more when you visit.”

Mako makes a face at them. “What?”

“What?”

“What do you mean Cass smiles a lot more when I’m around?”

Ryat gives him a strange look. “Have you not noticed?”

“I mean, sure, they don’t smile much when I watch their press conferences or speeches but you’re not supposed to smile during those,” said Mako. “Or, I don’t think so. I always got the impression that politicians were kind of supposed to be a serious bunch.”

“Yes, but, Apokine has to hide the smile when they know that you are in the crowd. They have been taking you to see the sights, yes? They are always a lot more agreeable to a longer meeting after those trips.” Ryat smiles to themselves as they input something on the printer. “It is working wonders for diplomatic relations.”

“So I’m just going to... be around?”

“You will take dinner every night with the Apokine, appear at public events like openings, etcetera,” says Ryat, “Nothing too strenuous, I assure you.”

“Mhm, great, I’m also a super spy so some of that might be difficult,” said Mako thoughtfully, “but I think it’ll be okay. I’m great at time management.”

--

The wedding is small. Euthane is there, sitting ramrod-straight in their wheelchair next to Cassander, their military uniforms freshly-starched mirrors of each other. Mako actually looks... If Cassander is being honest, their breath leaves their body in a rush as they first see him.

Mako looks… He looks… he looks good.

He’s wearing a very pale pink floor length dress, with small flowers trimming his waist the same color as Cass’ hair. Cass wonders who thought of that.

Aria and Jacqui are wearing matching maroon suits and the Makos are wearing things that Cassander assumes are probably previously-vetoed Mako wedding outfits: see-through shirts, booty shorts, tie-dyed hair. But the Mako in front of him, the one he knew first, looks amazing.

Mako ruins it a bit, blowing kisses to Aria as he walks down the aisle, and winking at Lazer Ted but Cass is still a little breathless when Mako appears before him. They can see his hands shaking, just a little, as he hands his bouquet to Aria.

Cass takes Mako’s hand, unable to look away from him, as the high priest speaks through the shortened version of the grand ceremony. Mako looks at Cass, a small smile on his face.

“I wish AuDy was here,” Mako says softly, squeezing their hands, before beginning to do the typical vows.

And then it was quiet. And everyone was looking at Cassander. Ryat looked nervous, Jacqui gave them a thumbs up, and then Mako squeezed their hands again.

“Baaaaaaabe, you gotta do the vows too.”

There’s a ripple of laughter, and Cass feels something unknot in their chest.

“Oh, right, uh, I do.”

Mako laughed, and Cass was sure that was not the actual vows, but it didn’t real matter, did it? Suddenly there was a ring on his finger, and Mako had a ring on his too and the ring looked nice on Mako’s hand, and nice on his own, but Cassander thought the rings looked the nicest when Mako took Cass’ hand in his own and tugged him forward for a short kiss.

--

Mako knew he would never be able to kiss Cass again, so he wanted to make this one count.

He wasn’t stupid, he knew that Cass was just doing this for their own safety, and the safety of their people in that overly self-sacrificing way of theirs, but this… Mako wanted, just for a moment, to forget all the other reasons that Cass might be doing this and let himself believe the one, impossible reason he wanted Cass to do this for.

He thought of the way Cass’ hair looked when they just got out of the shower and how their hand felt holding his and the sound of the microwave when Cass would reheat leftovers for Mako. He thought about all of that, and he tugged Cass close to him, sliding his arms around their waist, and kissed them.

And, like a miracle, they kissed back.

--

Cass felt like their world had shifted just a little as Mako pulled away.

Sure, they had thought about what kissing Mako would be like in the way they thought about how good Mako looked shirtless and what Mako sounds like when Cass goes too off script with a pasta recipe and other... non-Mako related things. But this is... better.

This is amazing.

They’re a little sad to stop, actually.

Well. One more kiss can’t hurt. It is their wedding day after all.

Something settles deep within them, their arms going around his shoulders to keep him close. They sigh into his mouth, and then clutch Mako tighter when his knees seem to buckle.

Jacqui wolf whistles and Mako pulls apart. She’s only a few feet away, but it feels much, much farther to Cass.

They’re still touching him, their fingertips on the back of Mako’s neck and Mako’s on Cass’ lower back but the space between their mouths feels insurmountable to Cass. Mako taps lightly on Cass’ back, and moves further away, out of their hold, their hands still touching.

He turns towards the crowd, but Cass can’t quite make themselves look away from Mako.

“Too bad no reporters were here to see that, huh?” he says to the crowd, a beaming grin on his face like when he’s getting away from some absolutely ridiculous scheme that is five seconds away from blowing up in their face.

Their friends laugh. Cass half-turns back towards Mako, but he’s already bounding out, showing off his ring to the other Makos. Cass presses their lips together, their hands flexing at their sides for a moment, as though they’ve forgotten what to do with their hands now that they’re not holding Mako.

Jacqui whispers something to Aria, who nods without looking back at her, raising her eyebrows at Cass. Cass decides to leave that look as indecipherable for now, looking towards Ryat, who gives a very small thumbs up to them. Mako must be rubbing off on them already.

Euthane takes Cassander’s hand, and they almost flinch at the unexpected contact. “We should celebrate.”

Cassander is so very glad, suddenly, that they’re here. They nod.

“Guys, let’s eat,” Cass shouts to the room at large.

The Makos woop, thundering out of the room with the amount of noise of a much larger group. Cassander, the Apokine, sits at the head of the table, Mako to his left and Euthane to his right. Mako is drinking a lot of champagne.

Aria stands up, clinking her glass with a spoon. Cass sends her a panicked look and she grins. This does not make Cass feel any less worried about what she’s about to say.

“Hello, all. We are here to celebrate the very real marriage of Cass and Mako Trig.”

The table laughs. Ryat looks shocked that Cass thinks that they might actually believe that Cass took Mako’s last name; Euthane is quietly laughing.

“Thank you. Now, not all romance can be like Jacqui and I’s: full of danger and almost killing each other and coffee dates, but Cass and Mako are a bit like that, too.” She finishes her glass of champagne and another one is brought to her. “Thank you. Um. Okay. Mako says I wasn’t allowed to talk about their first date, or when Mako knew he wanted to marry Cass, but he’s also now not allowed to hurt me without it being a total political scandal and he would never do anything to hurt Cass’ standing, especially now, but.”

Cass looks to Mako, who is sipping his champagne now, slowly. Cass thinks he might be IM’ing into Aria’s set up a hundred-thousand threats, but they can’t be sure. Cass really wants to know what Mako thinks their first date was like, though. Cass hopes they went somewhere nice - in his imagination, at least. A diner, perhaps, something lowkey, something they could have afforded as part of the Chime; Cass teasing Mako about getting breakfast food for dinner while they stole bits of waffle off his plate.

Aria clears her throat, jolting Cass from their daydream.

“But, uh. Anyways. Mako missed Cass a lot while they were gone rebuilding their castle or whatever, and Ryat told me Cass, uh, smiles a lot more when Mako is around so. I think they’re going to be very happy together, if they don’t cause an interplanetary incident. Thank you.”

She bows, and Euthane and Ryat politely clap while everyone else hoots and hollers. Lazer Ted stands up, presumably to also do a speech. Cass begins to shout against it, but Mako scoots his chair over so that they’re sitting next to each other.

Mako puts his head on Cass’ shoulder, immediately distracting Cass from whatever nonsense Lazer Ted is saying.

“Hi,” he whispers, smiling up at Cass.

Cass whispers “Hi” back.

“You look very nice tonight.”

“You’re very drunk.”

“Our friends are really happy for us. Ted wrote a new song for us to dance to.”

“Absolutely not,” says Cass, reaching for the water jug, “Please drink some water. I don’t want you to start your time as part of a royal house with a hangover.”

Ted is up, and he’s moving, he’s grooving. There’s a light show and puppets and different Makos are wearing hats to be different people in the Story of Mako and Cass, but Cass doesn’t hear any of it. They feel Mako curl into their side, and watch him slowly drink from Cass’ cup of water even though they poured him a perfectly good cup of his own.

“I don’t want to dance tonight,” Mako says quietly, mostly curled up in his chair.

The party has started tapering off, just their friends left on the dancefloor. It’s probably for the best, Mako looks ready to fall asleep in his dress and although Cass knows that Mako’s slept in worse positions in less comfortable clothes... that doesn’t mean he has to anymore.

Mako’s married to the Apokine, after all. He deserves better than this.

Cass picks Mako up, cradling him against their chest. “You are all more than welcome to continue having fun, but the bride and I will be retiring. Goodnight everyone, and thank you for coming.”

Cass leaves, carrying their husband to their room. It isn’t until they get to their suite that Cass realizes. There’s only one bed.

They sigh and place Mako down on the bed. He rolls onto his side, his hand curling around the edge of the pillow.

Cass rubs a hand over their face, slowly taking off their own suit jacket, the bolo tie, the crown, the dress shirt - dropping them all on the floor, too tired to worry about keeping things tidy. They look at Mako, asleep on the bed, curled up.

Cass is mad, just a little bit: Mako looks so peaceful like this, like the fate of a dying royal line doesn’t rest on the two of them now, like he doesn’t feel the pressure that’s heavy upon them both.

But also Cass is mad because Mako is definitely not sleeping in their bed in that beautiful but probably itchy dress. They sigh.

“Hey,” they whisper.

Mako doesn’t move.

“Hey!” they whisper, slightly more loud.

Mako rolls over to look at Cass, blinking sleepily at them.

“Mako, we gotta get you out of this dress.”

Mako laughs, wiggling his eyebrows. “I’m too tired to consummate tonight, Cass.”

Cass feels themself flush. “Absolutely not. I just don’t want to hear you whining tomorrow about how badly you slept because you wore a dress made out of synthetic potatoes.”

“It could be comfortable, you don’t know,” Mako says, his eyes slipping closed again.

Cass pats Mako’s cheek. “But is it, Mako?”

Mako sighs, and sitting up with a groan. Cass smiles at the small victory. The two of them remove the pieces that make up the dress until Mako is just in his binder and bright pink underwear.

“The binder, too, Mako,” they say, already reaching out to pull it up. “You can’t sleep in it, you know that.”

Mako whines. “I didn’t know that marrying you would mean I would have to be babied a lot more.”

Cass huffs. “C’mon, baby.”

Cass sees a small flush go through Mako’s whole body, and they grin. Mako pulls it off, and very tiredly the two of them go through post-binder stretches together - Mako because he has to and Cass to show solidarity and also because they know from experience that it’s the best way to get Mako to actually do them.

Then it’s just the two of them - just underwear and matching wedding bands. Cass swallows hard, looking up at the ceiling. They’re not touching Mako but they can feel the heat of his body across the bed from them.

“Uh, so,” Cass says. “Weird day, huh.”

“Cass, I’m kinda too tired to deal with you freaking out about us getting married today,” says Mako, patting Cass clumsily on the shoulder. “It was fine, I don’t regret it, I’m going to figure out how to get a slurpee machine onto the royal grounds, but can we please go to sleep.”

Cass nodded. “Yeah, okay. Do you want to be big spoon or little spoon?”

Mako laughed through a yawn. “Do not even think about touching me while I’m this tired and this drunk.”

He leaves his hand on Cass’s shoulder though, warm on their skin in the dim light coming from the bathroom. Cass normally slept in the dark, but Cass knew Mako had been having nightmares since they left September. The light wasn’t so bright it kept them awake.

Mako’s hand on their shoulder helped too.

---

Mako and Cass take a late, late brunch with their friends the next day. Ted and the Makos spend the entire meal trying to eat Cass (and now Mako) out of castle and empire, while Aria is on her datapad making plans for The Righteous Vanguard to make an official statement, a congratulations to the happy couple as well as the acknowledgement that they are allies; that they’ve always been allies. Jacqui is mostly nursing a hangover, very quietly rubbing her hand on Aria’s back and suggesting strong synonyms for the press release.

Cass breathed in deep. This - this sureness and safety - could not last but for the moment, Cass breathed it in like a fish being thrown back into water. Mako looked at them and smiled. He leaned up in his chair, his chair pushed close to Cass’s so that they were sharing the same side of the table.

“Hey” said Mako quietly, “thanks for not being too weird last night.”

Cass frowned. “I was weird last night?”

“Yeah, but like, normal weird. Good weird, I guess,” he shrugs. “Didn’t try to have sex with me or spoon or make me dance with everybody.”

Cass looks at Mako, really looks at Mako. He thinks Mako got a new ear piercing, his hair looks back to its original bright pink, but he still looks tired. And a little uncertain. It makes Cass miss when the two of them were just kids on the run and breaking laws to do good things. Mako used to laugh a lot louder, and his shoulders didn’t carry the weight they do now.

“Mako, hey, look at me.”

Mako looks up, still kind of fiddling with his three dimensional fidget spinner.

“I am still the Cass that makes you bad pasta and won’t finish Marielda because Maelgwyn’s storyline makes me wanna cry too much. Just now, we’re uh, married. I’m never gonna take advantage of you because there’s a ring on your finger.”

Mako nods, looking so relieved that Cass would be a little offended that Mako thought he was capable of doing anything like that if the thought didn’t make them want to cry.

Cass holds up his pinky; Mako pinky swears.

“Okay, but they did just start redubbing Spring season, so you’re going to have catch up. I am going to use this ring to make you watch anime,” and just like that Mako’s smiling again, poking his tongue out at Cass.

Cass scowls at their pinkies, still intertwined. “That wasn’t in the vows.” They sigh. “But I do, I guess.”

Mako pumps a fist. “Yes.”

Larry catches them holding pinkies of all things, and takes a bunch of photos that Cass just knows are going immediately up on the Mesh. Cass groans, but Mako kisses his pinkie before they untangle, so Cass thinks it’s going to be okay.

They spend the rest of the day in diplomatic meetings, trying not to get distracted thinking about why his pinkie still feels tingly-warm where Mako touched them.

---

They honeymoon, obviously. Their people expect it.

It’s not the worst thing in the world. If they’re being honest, it’s actually nice, to get away a little, hanging out with Mako while they show him around their personal vacation planet, a leftover relic from when they were just a child of an Apokine and not the Apokine. It’s a breath of fresh air, except for the fact that they have to sleep in the same bed because they brought their own group of journalists to watch the happy couple.

It was Ryat’s idea, choosing the team that covers the news makes their news more favorable, but they still have to be the happy couple. The two of them picnic on now-their private beach and Mako makes Cass rewatch Winter while they intentionally eat from the same popcorn bowl so that reports “accidently” get a photo of them being cute together.

Cass sees that photo later, and cannot help but stare at their own face. Their expression is… it’s different to the other paparazzi photos of them. They can’t really place it.

Maybe Ryat’s right, about his smiling more. It certainly feels easier to do, when Mako’s around.

The honeymoon ends a week too early when Mako gets an assignment. It’s not so unexpected, Cass knew it was his job after all, but they’d thought perhaps he’d be given a little more time. He’s only been there a few days, but the first day Cass wakes up without him they frown at the empty side of the bed before their sleepy mind catches up to them.

(The night before, Cass begs Mako to not do anything too stupid while he’s not around to watch Mako’s back. They pinky swore on it.)

Ryat covers from Mako’s absence much more smoothly than Cass is able to, making statements about how Mako isn’t used to the spotlight. Cass finds it hard to keep a straight face when they’re asked follow ups about that - the idea of Mako as any kind of shy wallflower is unimaginable.

Still, the press seems to buy it, the tabloid pages remarking on the Apokine’s forlorn nature in the absence of their husband.

“It is doing wonders for your popularity,” says Ryat, “it makes you seem very sympathetic. Just try not to go overboard.”

“I’m not doing anything,” says Cass.

Ryat hums, their face unreadable as they turn back to their holopad. The room is quiet for a few minutes. Cass reads and rereads the first five sentences of the report in front of them.

“He should be home soon,” says Ryat.

Cass looks up. “He should? What did you hear?”

Ryat blinks. “Nothing confirmed. Just… I wouldn’t worry.”

“I’m not worried,” says Cass.

Ryat hums again. This time, Cass is very able to read the expression on their face.

“I’m not,” says Cass.

“Of course,” says Ryat smoothly, “I only meant to tell you, for scheduling reasons.”

“Oh,” says Cass, “Right. For the schedule.”

“Yes,” says Ryat, “speaking of-”

They go through Cass’s diary for the next few days. It’s all stuff Cass already knows, really, but it does make a good distraction. Not that they’re worried about Mako, because they’re not, he’s more than capable of handling himself.

Except, also, he remembers the times that he wasn’t, especially when Cass wasn’t around.

And then one morning they wake up and Mako is asleep next to them, still in his clothes. His hair is a little greasy and there are dark shadows under his eyes, his breathing deep and even.

Cass watches him for a long moment, flinching as his phone buzzes on the bedside table. When they look back, Mako hasn’t stirred. He lets out a long breath and then gets up, tucking the blanket a little higher on Mako’s shoulders before leaving.

Mako makes his public reappearance in style, showing up as Cass is coming out of a diplomatic meeting in a playsuit made of floaty, mint green fabric that flutters as he throws himself dramatically into Cass’s arms and insists that Cass take him to a private lunch.

Cass catches the members of the diplomatic parties entourage nudging each other and feels their cheeks flush in response.

He does take Mako to lunch, of course, and they eat in their private chambers. The two of them can already see the tabloid headlines (and Mako brightly grins at the game), but still, it’s nice to be able to relax in Mako’s company without pretence. Cass lets Mako convince them to watch just one Winter episode after lunch, come on Cass, leaning comfortably against Mako’s side.

Ryat raises their eyebrows at his lateness to the next meeting.

“Sorry,” says Cass, straightening their jacket before they head into the room, “I got caught up with Mako.”

Ryat nods, and says no more of it.

--

It begins to be a bit of a pattern really - Mako leaves for a mission (Every single time Mako leaves, he pinky promises to be careful.) and it seems to take mere hours for the press to miss his presence, Cass and Ryat cover for his absence as Mako’s shyness, and then a few days later Mako reappears, embarrassing Cass in public by bringing them armfulls of flowers or posting terrible poetry online or insisting on Cass coming with him to lunch.

“I admit, I do not mind that part so much,” says Ryat, “it makes scheduling your post-lunch meetings more difficult but at least I know that you did actually eat something.”

“You’ve been talking to Aria,” says Cass.

“Perhaps,” says Ryat. They pause in the doorway for a moment. “There are many people who care for you, Apokine. We… it’s good to see you taken care of, and happy.”

Cass is glad that Ryat leaves after that - they’re not sure what to do with their words, or the odd expression on Ryat’s face.

A few minutes later, Mako bounds through the doorway and drags Cass outside for a walk through the gardens and an impromptu picnic. As always with a public outing, there are reporters, kept at bay by the high walls although their cameras are not. Mako plays it up, swooning into Cass as he fixes their plates, wriggling his way onto Cass’ lap as they eat.

How Mako manages to eat while seemingly keeping his arms wrapped around Cass’s waist they will never figure out. It would be annoying, if Mako didn’t keep making him laugh.

Ryat’s words soon fade from Cass’s mind.

--

Each night, Cass carefully leaves the bathroom light on before they go to bed and, each night, Mako shoots them a grateful look.

He still gets nightmares sometimes. So does Cass.

They don’t talk about it, but Mako’s hand will find his in the darkness. They never knew having such a small anchor point could help so much.

On the nights Mako isn’t there, they curl onto their side and breath deep until the morning.

--

Of course, it can’t last.

They’re a few months in to this whole... thing when Mako starts to get visitors. Which, listen, Cass doesn’t mind. Mako’s allowed to have friends and it’s fine. It’s completely fine. They don’t mind that Lazer Ted is there again in their private apartments again without Mako asking again.

“It’s just that it would be nice if you could let me know before he gets here,” says Cass, absolutely not yelling.

“But it was a surprise!” says Mako, “I can’t tell you if it was a surprise, that’s the whole point!”

“But I don’t want a surprise,” says Cass, continuing to not yell, “I want to be able to sit down and relax!”

“But LT’s a friend,” says Mako, “you can relax with your friends!”

“He is not my friend,” says Cass, and, okay, maybe he is raising his voice a little.

“We’re married,” says Mako insistently, “my friends are your friends!”

Cass is so tired and they just want to sit down without having to hear Lazer Ted’s new pitch about HD HoloCandlesTM.

“Mako, just because we signed a paper doesn't mean shit and it doesn’t mean I want random people in my private space every other week!” They, maybe, are yelling, just a bit.

Mako freezes, his cheeks turning a very pale, icy blue.

Cass’s stomach twists as they replay their words. “Wait, Mako-”

Mako waves a hand, stepping backwards. “No, yeah, totally, I mean, obviously, we’re not really married, so like, why would you, I mean, I totally get it, totally, of course. So, okay, I’m just gonna- I’ll get Ted and we’ll get out of your hair for a bit-”

“Mako, you know that’s not what I meant, I-”

Mako’s eyes flash. “Then what did you mean?”

Cass opens their mouth, but no words come to mind.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” says Mako.

Mako steps away, and they hear the sound of him hustling Ted out the door. The room suddenly seems still, airless. Opening a window doesn’t help, only bringing the distant sound of their people below.

They work a little on an upcoming speech, or try to, before giving up for the night. They leave the bathroom light on, just in case.

Mako doesn’t return.

--

They’re not told until the next day that Mako’s taken an undercover mission, a much longer one than his usual. Six months, at least. Cass tries not to think about all the things that “at least” could mean; tries not to think about how Mako didn’t pinky promise to stay safe this time.

Ryat sighs. “I did have a plan for this, although I was hoping I would have a little more lead time to get things properly prepared.”

Cass clears their throat. “Uh, yeah. Sorry, it- it was sort of out of his hands, you know?”

‘Of course,” says Ryat, “it just means I’ll have to move some things around a little.”

It’s a simple concept really, and one Cass knows Sokrates used a few times to get out of public-facing trips. A few high-level medical experts are called to the palace, and Mako is pronounced sick, and therefore is given an excuse for being out of the public eye. The tabloid press run with it, much to Cass’s relief.

Six months, however, is a long time. A few months in people start to send flowers. Then heartfelt cards, full of very personal well wishes. At five months, a shrine starts forming along the gates of the palace.

Cass is trying very hard to think of it all as ridiculous, instead of anything less than silly. (It’s all too easy to imagine the level of public mourning if something happened to Mako while he was undercover.)

So Cass replies to as many of the cards and letters as he can, and thanks their people for the flowers and their kind words, and earnestly promises to pass them all along to Mako, who they swear is making a wonderful recovery.

Whatever confidence they’re trying to project it must not be enough - the headlines focus on their Apokine’s distress, experts of all kinds commenting on Cass’s tone of voice, their posture, the meaning behind the small downturn of their lips.

Ryat sighs. “You should not watch that. I will tell you if there is anything of note.”

“No, I know,” says Cass, not looking away from the screen, where someone is analysing their pronounciation of the word ‘chrysanthemum’.

Ryat pauses. “I am sure he is fine.”

Cass nods. “Yeah.”

“It has only been five months. There is no reason to think anything is awry.”

“Yeah,” says Cass again.

Ryat sighs. They prompt Cass to go to bed before they leave, although Cass can’t really see the use of it. They don’t really get much rest, staring up at their ceiling in the dark.

They keep the bathroom light on. Just in case.

--

Aria visits, Jacqui in tow, around month three.

“We know that Mako is okay,” she says, as soon as she is done hugging Cass for ten minutes straight.

Cassander nods, “Of course he is okay.”

Jacqui shakes her head. “No, like, we know that he’s okay. We got contact from another Mako, confirming that everyone was okay. They should be home soon.”

Cassander nods again. “Good, everyone here really misses him.”

Aria shakes her head, and then pulls Ryat away to plan a party or something.

Jacqui taps her very big arm against Cass’ normally-big arm. “You should tell him you love him when he comes back, okay?”

Cass looks at her. “Why would I tell him that?”

“Because it’s been the truth as long as I’ve known you and I’m tired of watching you two only going ninety percent in because you’re afraid.”

Cass shakes his head, “It’s not like that.”

“Whatever, Apokine, I’m just saying that not everyone should be at gunpoint to ask someone out to coffee.”

--

It has been six months, five days, three hours, and approximately twenty-one minutes when Cass sees Mako again.

Or, more accurately, when they see a Mako again.

They can tell immediately that it’s not their Mako. His hair isn’t sitting up in the right way, the laces of his shoes are done up right-to-left instead of left-to-right, and the set of his shoulders is all wrong. Really different though, is his eyes. He’s smiling, sure, and it is a real smile, but it’s lacking the warmth that Mako has, whenever he sees Cass after he’s been away.

“Hey,” grins the Mako, leaning back on the couch, “so, did you miss me?”

“No,” says Cass.

There’s a crash, and their Mako slams open the door to their bedroom. “I knew you were still mad at me! It’s so unfair! Lazer Ted’s not even that bad! And it’s not like he was around every day, you just-”

“No,” says Cass, “I mean, I didn’t miss Clone 2- no offence-”

The Mako waves a hand. “None taken.”

“How did you even know it wasn’t me?” says Mako, waving a hand back and forth between himself and the other Mako, “we’re literally the same.”

“Not completely,” says Cass, “they’re not you.”

Mako goes very still and Cass’s stomach twists.

“I, uh,” Mako swallows. “Other people don’t really notice.”

“Other people should pay more attention,” says Cass, “besides, no one’s ever as happy to see me as you are.”

“Sure they are!” says Mako.

“Not like you are,” says Cass.

“Oh,” says Mako, his voice small.

They stare at each other for a long moment. Cass takes a step towards Mako-

“Uh, yeah, so I’m gonna go-?” says the Mako.

Cass blinks. They’d forgotten that he was there.

“Cool,” says Mako. He doesn’t look away from Cass. “Say hi to the others for me.”

There’s the sound of their door opening and closing. Cass still can’t make themselves look away from Mako.

“I… I did miss you,” says Cass. “I kind of miss you every time you’re gone, actually.”

Mako takes a step towards them, cautiously, and then another. If Cass reached out, they could touch him. His fingers flex.

“I guess I-” Mako wrinkles his nose. “I did miss you. I do. I just, last time I was here-”

“I should never have said that to you,” says Cass, and they can’t stop themselves from reaching out, putting a hand on Mako’s arm. “It’s- I know you’re just doing me a favour, with the marriage thing, but I- you’re important to me-”

“You’re important to me, too! And it’s not- I’d do it again in a heartbeat Cass.” Mako’s expression softens. He looks the way he does in the early morning before he’s fully awake. “You’re very easy to be married to, most of the time.”

Cass huffs a laugh. “So are you. Most of the time.”

Mako smiles, and Cass feels something in his chest clench because they missed that expression, missed Mako, so much.

Mako touches his cheek, a light brush of fingertips. “Cass? You okay in there?”

Cass swallows. “I just- I was worried, when you were undercover. I kept thinking about all the things that could happen, and that the last thing I said to you was- and then we didn’t pinky swear-”

“Hey, no, it’s okay,” says Mako. He lets his hand drop to Cass’s shoulder. “I’m okay, see? And don’t worry about that stuff, water totally under the bridge, I mean, I know we’re not actually married-”

“But we are,” says Cass.

They’re close enough that they can hear Mako’s sharp inhale of breath. “Cass-”

“We are,” continues Cass, because if they don’t say it now they never will, “We are and I- there’s no one else I’d rather be married to.”

Mako gives them a lopsided smile. “Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of why I had to step in in the first place.”

“No, I-” Cass swallows, takes a breath, tries again. “Mako, there isn’t anyone else I’d rather be married to because I want to be married to you.”

Mako’s eyes go wide. “You mean like… married-married?”

“I do mean like-”

Their words are cut off as Mako surges forward to kiss them. It’s an awful kiss, really. Their noses bump into one another’s, their teeth clack together, the angle is all wrong. Cass wouldn’t trade it for the world.

They pull Mako close and Mako follows, gripping the fabric of their shirt tight. They run their hands up Mako’s back and tangle in his hair. Mako makes a small sound into their mouth, and Cass can feel him go up on tiptoes, pressing closer. They huff a laugh into his mouth, shuffling them both backwards towards the couch.

As soon as Mako gets the idea of where they’re going he follows enthusiastically, pushing Cass down and sitting on their lap.

“This is-” Mako gasps as Cass nips at his lower lip. “You have no idea how many times I thought about doing this.”

“Making out on the couch?” says Cass.

“Yeah,” breathes Mako, the sound of his voice hitching as Cass kisses a trail down his neck. “Something like that.”

--

“I can’t believe we could have been doing that the whole time we’ve been married,” says Cass.

Mako nods and then makes a face. “Aw man, Aria’s totally never going to let me hear the end of it.”

“Aria?”

“Yeah,” says Mako, “she was always like, you should just make a move Mako, like, what kind of advice is that?”

“Terrible,” says Cass, “although-”

They pull Mako closer to them and Mako laughs, wriggling against his side.

“Yeah, I guess,” says Mako, “although we totally have like, the rest of our lives to make up for everything.”

Cass kisses the top of his head. “Mmm. We’ll just do it all again but for real this time.”

Make laughs. “Yeah, we- oh! Wait!”

He sits up, leaning off the bed to rummage around in his bag.

“Mako, what-”

“Just give me a sec, I know I have one in here some-ah ha!”

Mako pulls himself back onto the bed, holding out a ring-pop. It’s blueberry lemonade, Cass’ second favourite flavour.

Mako clears his throat, his expression serious. “Cass, will you marry me?”

“Mako, we've been married for like almost a year.”

“Yeah but like. Neither of us asked the other person, and since we’re doing this for real this time…”

Cass laughs. “Yes, of course.”

Mako slides the ring onto their finger, his serious expression lasting until Cass holds up the ring, examining it in the light. He laughs, wriggling back against Cass’s side.

“I don’t think I can wear this every day though.”

“Of course not,” says Mako, “ring pops are special occasion jewellery. This is just for us.”

Cass smiles. “Yeah. This is just for us.”

Mako holds his pinky up, and Cass pinky swears, and Mako holds it. Cass laughs, until he notices Mako putting Marielda on. He groans, and then orders popcorn with his other hand. Mako kisses him right under the jawline.

“My vow renewal is going to have a clause about how much butter you put in the popcorn,” Cass says, but Mako just hums along to the theme song, pretending he can’t hear. It’s perfect.