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“Never fear! Your lord and savior Claude is here!”

“Get out!”

Okay. 

Rude. Very rude and unnecessary. What could he have possibly done to deserve such a horrible greeting?

“That’s not nice, Lysithea.” Claude tuts, the shop door shutting behind him, the jingle of its bell resounding. “Did you know that every time you say something mean, you get shorter and shorter and turn into even more of a baby than you already are?”

“Shut up!” It’s only through pure instinct that he manages to dodge the sippy-cup aimed at his head, wincing as it hits a nearby wall. While the sight of a child chucking an item with that much strength and ferocity could shake even the most steeled of nerves, it only causes a mild spike in Claude’s heart rate. This wasn’t the first time he’d brought it upon himself and it wouldn’t be the last. 

Who could blame him, though? Teasing the little brat was one of his greatest joys.

“Now, now, lay off the tantrums.” Claude walks over to pick up the abused container. Thankfully, it isn’t damaged and none of its contents have spilled onto anything. “Gods, these are sturdy. Your mommies only get the good stuff, huh?”

“Only the best for mommy’s little angel.” Hilda appears from the back room, zippering shut a backpack in her hand. “But what did I say about throwing things, Lizzy?”

Lysithea shuffles her feet, a pout forming on her lips.

“T’not throw stuff…”

“And?”

“…Only do it if Claude’s being a dumb-dumb.”

“That’s my girl.” 

“Can you not promote violence against me?” He tosses the cup over, Hilda catching it with ease and handing it back to her daughter. “Uncle Claude will be very heart-broken if you ruin his beautiful face.”

“You’re ugly.”

Lizzy.” Hilda scolds in a firm tone. “You know why it’s not right to say that.”

“But Mommy…!” She whines, stomping her feet. “He’s making me mad!”

“That doesn’t make what you said right.” Hilda chides. “Can you tell me why it’s wrong?”

Despite having grown used to watching these sorts of exchanges, it never quite clicked for Claude that his best friend was a mom now, who had to do mom things like tell her kid off and be responsible and teach her how to be a functional human being. What a concept. 

Lysithea seems like she wants to argue, but deflates as soon as she’s met with the severity in her mother’s expression. Nice to know he wasn’t the only one who broke under it.

“It’s wrong because…” The little girl frowns, rocking on her heels. “Because everyone is beautiful.”

“Right. So what does that mean you have to do?”

“…Apologize.” It’s hilarious how pained the pint sized ball of rage looks to have to go through with it, but the tiny solider marches on regardless. What a champ. “Sorry, Claude. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Apology accepted.”

“But I still don’t like you.” She jabs quickly, because of course she does.

“Hey, I’ll take it over an I hate you. We’re cool now.” He crouches so they’re eye-level, holding out his fist, which she bumps enthusiastically.

“Great job! Mommy is so proud of you, sweetie. That was super mature on your part.” Hilda commends, smiling when Lysithea puffs her chest out with pride. “Even though Claude acted like a big baby, you were the bigger person.”

“‘That’s ‘cause he’s not a big person like me.” Lysithea smirks, deriving pleasure from mocking him. He had to admit, she learned from the best. “I have to be more mature than him, ‘cause he can’t be.”

“Man, getting roasted by the mommy-daughter dream team. What’s my life come to?” Claude walks over to initiate their totally rad, super secret and excessive handshake with Hilda, complete with Lysithea yelling at him in the background. Apparently, she was the only one allowed to be friends with her mother. “What’s cookin’ good lookin’?”

“Oh, you know, same old same old. Got my nails done yesterday.” Hilda flaunts them, the glossy pink complimented by an elegant flower design made up of white paint and rhinestones. Claude whistles in approval. They were rockin’. “I may or may not have messaged about it.”

“Two-hundred and fifteen notifications didn’t do them justice. They’re hella lit, Hilda.”

“Thanks, my dude. Lizzy got hers done, too.” At the prompting, Lysithea holds her hands out shyly, her design matching Hilda’s perfectly, the difference being their purple color. “Mari’s are blue. We had a family day out, you could say.”

“Damn, that’s adorable. I’m just wondering why I wasn’t invited. Could’ve had the entire color spectrum between all of us. For shame.

“Next time.” Hilda promises, blowing a kiss at him, which he catches and pretends to have been impaled in the heart with. “Thanks for coming over, by the way. Really appreciate it.”

“No problem. Bros before having a social life.”

“I am your social life.”

“You got me there.” Claude leans against the register counter. “So…what exactly do you need me to do?”

“Cover for me.” Hilda explains, helping Lysithea get her backpack on. “I have to run because we’re getting a few concept pieces finalized.“

“I helped!” Lysithea exclaims, all too happy to explain her contributions. “I drew a lot of the designs. They’re gonna be the best, because my drawings are always the best.”

“They sure are, sweetheart.” Hilda showers her cheeks with kisses. “Marianne went ahead to check up on a few things while I picked Lizzy up. I told her she could just give everything the go ahead but she wants all of us to be together for it.”

“She’s a fucking angel.”

Language. But yeah, she is the sweetest fucking angel what the hell did I do to deserve her?” Hilda swoons, hugging Lysithea close, who wholeheartedly accepts her affection. “I have the best wife ever and I wanna scream it to the world!”

“You did do that, though?” At their wedding, where both he and Hilda got hammered enough to climb onto the roof of the reception hall and started screaming like banshees, Hilda screeching at the top of her lungs about how much she loved Marianne while tears poured out of her eyes, carefully applied makeup running down her face and onto her dress, completely ruined. It was a good time, all in all. 

Their hangovers the next day weren’t, but it was Hilda’s wedding dammit of course they were going to go all out.

“I did, didn’t I?” She sighs, a dreamy look in her eyes. “I love my life…Anyway,“ She snaps out of it, snatching her purse from the counter. “You know your way around. Just be the good retail employee you were born to be.”

“Everyone’s dream.”

“Exactly. Help customers out, be polite and friendly. We’re not usually too busy this time of week, so it shouldn’t be too much to handle. Of course, I’ll pay you.“

“There’s no need for that.” Claude immediately turns her down. “I don’t want your money. That means nothing to me, besides being the sole reason I can support myself.” He pauses dramatically. “However, dear Hilda, there is something else I value. Something worth its weight in gold.” He smirks as terror dawns on her face. “You know exactly what’s up.”

“…Damn.” She holds a hand to her mouth. “I fucked up.”

“Royally. You owe me a favor.

Shit.”

“You’re not supposed to say bad words, Mommy.” Lysithea scolds idly, drinking juice from her cup as she watches their exchange with curiosity. “That’s a no-no."

“Sorry, honey. I—Whatever.” Hilda grabs Lysithea’s hand, rushing towards the door. “Whatever!”

“You owe me!” Claude yells after her. “Big time! I’m not going to stop being annoying about it!”

“Can’t hear you!” Hilda calls back, stepping outside. “Running away from reality at the moment!” She waves through the store window, Lysithea giving him the stink eye before they walk off, disappearing from sight. 

Ambling behind the register, Claude taps his fingers against the glass case displaying an assortment of jewelry. He wasn’t too worried about holding down the fort. He came by often, had extensive knowledge on every product, and knew enough about where everything was to make sure everything ran smoothly. Hilda and Marianne trusted him with that information, which made him feel good, and motivated him to do right by them.

Besides, they’d only be gone an hour or two at most. He could handle it.

 


 

Hilda ends up being right about it being a slow day. 

Only a few customers stop by in her absence. Regulars at that. Claude is familiar with most of them on account of how frequently he visits, making friendly conversation while sneaking in suggestions to buy some of the newer arrivals. It helps that he was born with an ineffable silver tongue, because he’s ringing up purchases and solidifying their loyalty to Freikugel n’ Blutgang without breaking a sweat.

It isn’t until he’s an hour and a half into his shift covering duties that anything truly interesting catches his eye.

Claude, caught up inundating their group chat with memes because he knows how much it pisses off his friends, almost misses the chime of the door, announcing another customer’s arrival.

“Welcome to Freikugel n’ Blutgang.” He greets without looking up, distracted by the profanities being hurled his way by both Leonie and Lorenz. “We’ll help you shine and stuff.”

“Ah, um, hello.” 

Claude hums, sending one last retaliation message in his defense before setting his phone to the side, ready to put his incredible marketing skills to the test again. 

Looking up, he’s met by one of the most appealing sights he’s ever had the pleasure of bearing witness to.

Flaxen hair, shimmery blue eyes, and an incredibly confused expression on his face. Yeah, this new potential sales number was right up his alley.

Claude observes the out-of-place, heavenly specimen of human existence for a few moments, more out of awe than anything else. Watches him nearly bump into a mannequin decked out in necklaces and bracelets, frown at a stand stocked with innocent cat-eye sunglasses, pick up and put down a variety of different hair clips, and overall seem very uncomfortable and lost in the world that was fashion accessories.

Who was Claude not to lend a hand?

“Need any help over there?” He asks, stifling a laugh as the poor guy startles.

“Um…” The man glances around, clearly overwhelmed by all the color and decor, nodding after a moment of contemplation. “I—Yes, I would greatly appreciate it.”

“Anything in particular you’re looking for?” Claude rounds the counter, the response to his question a troubled frown.

“I think there is? At least, I thought I would have an idea when I started searching, but I’m not any closer to knowing what to buy.” The poor soul admits. “I’m not well-versed in this.”

“That’s fine. Difficult to know much about what you’re not interested in.”

“How did you know?”

“It’s kinda obvious.” Claude gestures to his relatively plain outfit. A sweater and slacks, with a light jacket on top, either black or blue or both. “Not that you don’t look nice, but you’re not fooling anyone.”

“Ah.” The guy nods, cheeks tinting the slightest bit of pink. It’s adorable. “Seems I’ve been outed.”

“It’s cool. All that matters is wearing what you like and what you’re comfortable in.”

“I agree but, um, about your help…?”

“Right. Can you give me a few details?”

“I want to buy a gift for a close friend.” He explains. “She’s finally earned her PhD, so we plan on celebrating with her.”

“Nice! Props to her.”

“We’re incredibly proud.” The blue-eyed stud smiles. Claude tries desperately not to swoon at the sight. “All of her efforts have finally paid off.”

“Guess she deserves this present you’re getting her.”

“Definitely.”

“Do you know what she likes?” It would be a stupid question to ask in most scenarios, because what close friend wouldn’t know that? Call it a hunch, but Claude had the feeling this customer was the type to put himself through the wringer over getting the perfect gift and completely miss the obvious. Best to approach this patiently. “Or what she usually wears?”

“Um.” There’s that completely befuddled look again. “She isn’t too flashy. Her clothes are very nice and the colors are normal.”

“Anything else?”

“…I’m sorry. I never place much attention on clothing. I know that she’s a lovely person. That’s all I can say with confidence.” He seems ashamed by his words.

“Hey, that’s all right.” Claude quickly tries to comfort him. “You’re just not into the superficial stuff. You like spending time with her and that’s all that matters to you when you’re together, right?” 

Claude isn’t sure what he’s expecting the response to be, but he certainly isn’t anticipating the way the man’s expression lights up, as if he’s said some grandiose and profound statement that deserves his complete and total respect and admiration.

He kinda likes it.

“Absolutely!” The now happy stud responds. Claude doesn’t know the last time he met someone who was this easy to read. Emotions practically danced across his face at a mile a minute. “I understand that it doesn’t excuse my inability to find a suitable present, but that’s how I feel. You’re rather wise, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely.” Not, but the handsome man currently lavishing Claude with praise didn’t need to know that. “You could say everyone I know comes to me with any and all problems for resolution. That’s how wise I am.”

“I would imagine. They’re very fortunate to have you.” Confused and adorable shopper smiles. Claude isn’t a religious man, but he thanks whatever beings above for his existence at that very moment. “I think I’ve thought of something.”

“I bet you have.”

“Yes. Earrings.” The beautiful adonis says with renewed confidence. “She tends to wear a different pair everyday. They’re always unique and very classy. Would you happen to have anything like that?”

“Even if we don’t, I’ll find whatever you need.”

“That sounds promising.”

Claude leads him over to the display case, pointing out a few different options he thinks would suit the undoubtably lovely and intelligent, newest PhD holder. The even lovelier customer makes more than a few cute faces as he contemplates which pair would best get his feelings across. A furrow of the eyebrows, lips pursing into a pout, yet another terribly bemused look of total desperation, before he finally settles on relief.

“These. They’re perfect.” He says, declaring the winner. “I’ll take this pair.”

“Nice choice.” Claude replies, tapping on the counter. The man's eyes flicker away for a brief second towards his fingers. When they return to look at the earrings, their spot within the glass case is vacant, Claude already bagging them. “They’ve got a nice, rustic yet modern touch to them. And you can never go wrong with stars. I bet she’ll love them.”

Radiant blonde beams. Claude makes a note to call his parents to thank them for conceiving him, the weirdness of such an action be damned. He rings the purchase up, not bothering to contain a smile at the sight of the man’s wallet, imprinted with adorable blue lions and paw marks. It just got better and better with this guy, didn’t it?

“You make sure to have fun and drown this wonderful lady with compliments and encouragement.” Claude says, handing the bag over. “There’s no limit to being a proud and supportive friend.”

“I agree wholeheartedly.” The guy says with the utmost sincerity. “There’s no point in a gift if she doesn’t know why I’m giving it to her, after all.”

“There sure isn’t. Isn’t emotional security a wonderful thing?”

“Yes. As is emotional stability.”

“You’re amazing.” Claude says without a hint of embarrassment or shame. “Have you got a name or am I gonna have to make one up for you?”

“What were you thinking?”

“Guy with Emotional Stability. Nice, isn’t it?”

“Doesn’t roll off the tongue very well.” Guy with Emotional Stability laughs. That laugh. Damn. “I’m Dimitri.”

“Dimitri is way better.”

“Thank you. I’ll pass along your approval to my father.” A sense of humor, too? Divine providence at its best. “And yourself?”

“I’m Claude. But you can call me Claude.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Claude. I appreciate your help in such a trying time.”

“No problem. Glad to be of service.”

It isn’t until Dimitri is long gone and there is no longer an ass to stare at that Claude realizes he forgot to get a number out of that exchange.

 


 

“Damn. You hecked up. Royally.”

“You don’t need to tell me that.” Claude whines, fiddling with the napkin on his lap. He doesn’t even know why he’s bothering with it, given Lysithea is making no effort not to make a mess of her food and as such, provides the perfect excuse for him to do the same. “I know I done went and goofed.”

“I mean, it could be worse.”

“Yeah?”

“No.”

“Thanks, Hilda. You’re a real pal. Super encouraging.”

She shrugs, taking a long sip of her wine.

“I’m just telling you like it is.”

“I don’t want that. I want false assurances and sugar-coated words.”

Hilda laughs.

“And you came to me, why?”

“I have no idea.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Claude.” Marianne, the absolute angel descended from heaven, tells him from across the table, currently trying to convince Lysithea to choke down her veggies. “There’s a chance you’ll meet again. You can ask him then.”

“But Mariiii,” Claude pouts, craving comfort and understanding. “What if we don’t? What if I never see him again? I’ll have to live with regret for the rest of my life. That’s not cool.”

“Even if you don’t, there’s no cause for worry.” She smiles sweetly. Both Claude and Hilda make a series of strangled noises at the sight. It’s too precious. “There are many wonderful people in this world. There’s no reason you won’t meet someone who’s as delightful as you are.”

“You mean it?”

“Of course. They’ll be stumbling over themselves trying to charm you. And then they’ll realize it’s quite a difficult feat, because there’s not a soul who can match up to how endearing you are.”

Marianne!” Claude practically heaves, clutching his chest dramatically. A darling angel princess. That’s what Marianne was. The pinnacle of humanity. What everyone should strive to be. He loved her so much. “Marry me, please.”

“I’m flattered, but I already have a lovely wife and am very much in love with her.” Marianne laughs softly when Hilda screeches, allowing her hand to be kissed over and over again by her beloved.

“Silly dumb-dumb Claude.” Lysithea smirks, her haughty expression up there with the best of them. “As if my mommies would even think about marrying you. You can’t even talk to pretty boys right.”

“Your daughter just ended my life.” Claude slumps forward onto the table. “This savagery is unprecedented.”

“Lizzy’s going to rule the world one day. She’s getting a head start by pummeling weaklings like you. Aren’t you, princess?” Hilda coos. “You’re going to trample any and all weaklings, aren’t you?”

“Like the scum they are!”

“Lysithea, please don’t say things like that.” Marianne sighs. “Being a kind and benevolent ruler is all I’ll ask of you.”

“Yes, Mommy.” Lysithea all but melts under Marianne’s gentle gaze, leaning against her, allowing her hair to be brushed back. “I’ll be kind and benevolent to all the scum.”

“While you’re at it, may I request a certain pretty boy’s number?” Claude asks, because Lysithea not ruling the world when she grew up wasn’t even a possibility. He may as well take advantage of it. “You’re bound to have that information when you’re micromanaging everyone’s life under the new regime.”

“Don’t wanna give it to you.”

Claude resigns himself to living a Dimitri-less life for the rest of his days. He hardly even knew him.

 


 

Claude doesn’t pine.

No, he certainly doesn’t.

Nope.

After all, it’s hard to pine when all you have is a name and the memory of a perfect smile and a nice bum to go off of.

His friends get sick of it the twentieth time he mentions it.

“Can you, like, not be an annoying little shit?” Leonie demands, rolling her eyes as he groans into the coffee she’s just served him. “I’d really appreciate it.”

“But I’m sad right now.” He whines, about to rest his forehead on the display case containing a variety of different pastries and cakes. One vicious look from Leonie though, and he’s throwing himself onto a nearby table instead. There’s no other occupant within the bakery, meaning he’s free to make a fool of himself without worry. “I need to vent my feelings. It’s only healthy.”

“If you want to vent, go to someone who gives a damn. I’ve got a business to run.” A pretty great one, in Claude’s humble opinion. Leonie was a wonder when it came to baking, her skills known far and wide throughout the entire shopping district. He considered it a blessing they were friends, because that meant he got leftover privileges and went home with heaven on a platter any evening he happened to stop by.

“You’re so mean, Leonie.” He cries, waving his cup around. “Here I am in pain and you don’t even care!”

“I’ve gone numb at this point.” She states without a trace of compassion. “Besides, I don’t know what to tell you. You missed your chance with the guy. Either hope you happen to run into him again or get over it. There’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

“But I don’t want plenty of other fish. I want beautiful, sunshine man and his emotional stability.” Claude slurps his coffee obnoxiously, catching the freshly baked croissant Leonie tosses him expertly. “Shoulda reeled him in when I had the chance.”

“First off, don’t ever make fishing puns in my presence ever again. Second, yeah, maybe you should have. Third, I have to go check on a few things in the back. Cover for me?” Leonie doesn’t even wait for his response, the double doors leading to the kitchen rattling behind her. 

Claude sighs, rising to post himself behind the counter.

He knows he’s being a little melodramatic (okay maybe excessively melodramatic), but he can’t help it. It feels like he’s missed out on something that could have been great. He’s always hated that feeling, which is why he usually made an effort to jump on anything even remotely promising. Why he hadn’t done that this time was as much of a mystery to him as it was to anyone else.

Admittedly, he might have gotten too caught up checking out those wonderfully thick thighs to actually take advantage of the fact that he has at least two or three functioning brain cells. Maybe four on a good day.

Ah well. C’est la vie.

…Or maybe not?

Because, as luck would have it, c’est not la vie.

Claude is taking a particularly long drink of the ambrosia that was Leonie’s hand roasted coffee, when a familiar face arrives on the scene, accompanied by a beautiful companion.

“Oh.” Who else but Dimitri stands before him, looking equally as surprised as Claude feels. “It’s you again.”

“What?” It isn’t as elegant a greeting as it should be, especially when Claude is confronted with the very reasoning behind his recent suffering. To his defense, he’s kinda munching on a croissant and trying to drink his coffee at the same time, which can make it rather difficult to come across as anything except someone who doesn’t have their life together.

Ah well. C’est la vie.

“Claude, wasn’t it?” Dimitri smiles (that damn smile oh sweet merciful heaven). “It’s nice to see you.”

“He’s the one you mentioned the other day, right?” The equally as radiant and downright stunning companion says. “What a lovely coincidence.”

“Hi.” Claude chokes out like the fool he is, trying not to suffocate on coffee and croissant, as per usual demonstrating the art of the bisexual disaster, setting them both aside haphazardly. “Fancy meeting you here. I’m Claude, by the way.”

“I do recall you being Claude.” Dimitri’s eyes glitter with mirth. “I’m Dimitri. Not to question or insult your memory. Just…in case you don’t remember.”

“How couldn’t I?” Claude breathes out. Okay, maybe he was pining. He turns his attention to the woman currently observing them with interest. “And to whom do I owe this pleasure?”

She giggles. 

“My name is Mercedes. Dimitri is a good friend of mine. He mentioned you helping him pick these out for me.” She gestures to the earrings she’s currently wearing. “I absolutely adore them! Thank you so much for your help in getting them to me.”

“Just doing my job and making sure lovely ladies like you receive only the finest of jewelry.” He grins. “Your friend over here was very helpful in telling me exactly what you would like.”

“Not entirely.” Dimitri modestly insists. “I don’t know what I would have done without your guidance.”

“Probably curl up into a ball and cry.” Claude jokes.

“He knows you so well, doesn’t he?” Mercedes teases, laughing as Dimitri’s face flushes. “Thank goodness you avoided that outcome.”

“Yes, it’s a great relief.” 

“Is there anything I can help you with right now?” Claude asks. “Unless this visit was strictly to get another dose of my dashing good looks?”

“Yes—I mean, no! N-Not that you aren’t handsome or anything, you are!” Dimitri stutters through an explanation. Claude takes it all in with pleasure. “A-And I don’t mean that in a weird way or anything but—I just—! That is—!”

“We’re here for coffee and bread.” Mercedes shows mercy on her bumbling friend. “I happen to be a regular here. Leonie is very talented, isn’t she?”

“For sure. She’s the sole reason I get up in the morning with the motivation to be a decent working class citizen.” Claude snags a pair of tongs. “What’ll it be?”

Mercedes picks out a few pastries and he boxes them, preparing two cups of liquid survival serum afterwards. Dimitri catches his eye when he returns with them.

“Do you work here as well?” He asks, taking his drink with a curious tilt of the head. “It must be very hectic for you, if that’s the case.”

“Nah, I was stopping by for breakfast. Leonie’s a good friend of mine, you see. She’s taking care of something right now so I’m helping her out for the moment.”

“I see.” Dimitri nods. “Then, you actually work at that other store?”

“Nope. Was helping another friend out that time, too.”

“Amazing.” Dimitri’s eyes glitter. Apparently, he’s impressed. “You’re a very well-rounded person.”

“I’ve dabbled in a little bit of everything over the years. You can say I’m the personification of a liberal arts degree.” Claude says proudly. He may not have any specific talents besides working a crowd, but he knew a lot about all sorts of subjects. It was a fun pastime, learning about any and all topics just for the sake of knowing about them. “Comes in pretty handy during situations like these.”

“I’m envious. My friends tell me I can be very single-minded in what I do.” Dimitri laughs self-depreciatively. “I’ve been making an effort to be more open with how I approach everything, but old habits die hard I suppose.”

“I mean, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that.” Claude responds. “I’m jealous of people who can pour so much of themselves into a single passion. Nothing’s ever popped out at me and had me wanting to pursue it without a second thought. It’s probably why I’m here, serving you coffee, even though I’m not a barista and have no interest in being one.”

“I’m thankful either way.” Dimitri rewards him with a bashful upturn of his lips. “I wouldn’t have met you otherwise.”

“Uh…”

“…Have I overstepped?” Dimitri panics, looking from Claude to Mercedes to his feet and back to Claude. “I-I apologize. I hope that wasn’t weird of me to—“

Can I get your number?” Claude blurts out ineloquently, inadvertently startling Dimitri. Looks like this time, his brain was a little too over eager for those sweet digits, rather than too distracted. “I like talking to you.” 

Gods, he was a dumbass. What was he saying? He was supposed to be skillfully prodding information out of the guy, not floundering around like a school boy with a crush!

“…Really?”

“Yeah. We’ve had, like, two conversations but…yeah. You’re nice and emotionally stable.”

“And you’re emotionally secure, if I recall correctly.” Dimitri pulls out his phone and, dammit, even his case had cute little lions on it! What the actual fuck? “Um, I’d like to speak with you more, too. If that’s all right?”

“Yes. That’s—Yes.” They exchange numbers. At one point, Claude glances up to see Mercedes nodding approvingly. Looks like he has mom’s blessing. “Guess we’ll talk whenever. Fair warning, I can be pretty annoying and excessive with texts. Just letting you know.”

“I’m not all that great at messaging. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“A happy medium. We’ll make do.” Claude grins. Dimitri returns it happily.

The pair leave, Mercedes suggesting they speak again soon, because she’s also interested in learning more about him. It’s a nice idea, he thinks as he watches them go, eyes straying downward, along the outline of Dimitri’s broad back and beyond.

Claude may or may not get distracted by that wonderfully plump ass again.

He definitely does.

“Did I miss anything?” Leonie asks when she finally returns, covered in flour. 

“Only my revival.” Claude brags, whistling a jolly tune as he makes for the exit. “See ya later, Leonie. Love ya!” The door jingles closed behind him.

“…The fuck?” Leonie says, completely lost.

 


 

They start talking. 

They even meet up a few times. 

Short meetings, nothing serious. Coffee and the like. 

It’s nice. 

Pretty okay. 

Normal.

But who was Claude kidding, it’s great. Phenomenal. Brilliant. 

Dimitri is sweet and kind and shy. Apprehensive when he doesn’t really need to be, open to any and all of Claude’s ramblings that usually end in philosophical debate over their values. It's surprising, because he’d expected their conversations to never stray from the light-hearted territory he assumed Dimitri would be most comfortable with. That’s not at all the case. Dimitri proves himself to be learned and willing to challenge his own preconceptions. He takes delight in dissecting different viewpoints and offering his own.

And to think Claude thought he’d found himself a boyish cinnamon roll. He struck gold this time around, because an intellectual to boot? Bless his very gay heart.

To add to his suffering, Dimitri also happens to be gentlemanly to a fault. He holds doors open, takes the street side of the sidewalk, and insists on paying for meals. Rather than forced, it comes across as his natural instinct to message Claude whenever they go their separate ways, concerned about whether he's made it to his destination safely.

Usually, Claude would categorize the behavior as patronizing, but coming from Dimitri, it’s ridiculously endearing.

But what really strikes him as peculiar as they continue to encroach one another’s territory, is the duality of his personality. Because while Dimitri can certainly hold a serious and profound conversation with him, the opposite is also true. By which he means—

The guy’s a dork. He’s equally as strait-laced as he is air-headed, oblivious, and downright scatterbrained.

And did Claude mention dorky? 

Because yes, Dimitri was a dork.

This becomes especially apparent when he discovers that Dimitri wasn’t lying about his atrocious texting skills. He’s so slow at responding and his messages are full of errors, unnecessary semi-colons, oddly placed capitalization and exclamation marks.

It’s adorable, especially when he pictures him hunched over his phone, making cute faces as he tries to decipher the garbage text lingo Claude purposefully sends to confuse him. He would feel bad about it, but Dimitri is always so earnest about figuring it out by himself, he can't help but keep it up.

“Is there any reason you’re so bad at it?” Claude asks at one point, chewing thoughtfully on a gummy worm. They’re eating frozen yogurt at Annette’s, another one of Dimitri’s friend’s shops. The owner, who the store is named after, is a cute one. Bubbly and cheerful, her frozen yogurt to die for. “You were born in this century, weren’t you?”

“My hands are big.” Dimitri responds, put out by his teasing. It takes Claude a ridiculous amount of self-discipline not to make a lecherous comment in turn. “My phone is too small.”

“You should get a bigger one.”

“It wouldn’t fit in my pocket.”

“You could get a bag. Like, a fanny pack or something.”

“I tried once.”

“What happened?”

“It was forcibly taken from me and tossed into a fire pit.” Dimitri says without a shred of humor, turning glum as he recalls the tragic memory.

“Without your stuff, I hope.”

“I was granted that mercy, yes.”

“Would it make you happy if I bought you one?” Claude asks, because you bet your damn diddly he was going to march straight to Hilda and Marianne’s to put in a custom order for one afterwards. “Because I’m willing.”

“Would you?”

“Anything for you, big guy.” Dimitri shone with happiness. Needless to say, Claude found himself down a significant amount of money after that exchange.

So basically, what he means to say is, life is great.

And Claude is very very gay. In general.

But especially for Dimitri.

“Ugh, just looking at you makes me sick.”

“And what have I done to offend you this time, my lord Gloucester?”

“Oh, please. You practically have hearts in your eyes.” Lorenz huffs with derision, snipping a few unruly stems from the bouquet he’s currently arranging. It’s one of the most relaxing things Claude has ever witnessed. There was a reason he always stopped by whenever he was particularly stressed about anything. Not that he would admit it. “You’re a mess.”

“As I’ve always been. You know this.”

“I do. That doesn’t make it any less disturbing to witness. Still fawning over tall, blonde, and petulant?”

“Um, it’s tall, blonde, and precious.” Claude scoffs. “Please show my honey muffin the respect he deserves, thank you very much.”

“He sounds like a killer combination. Especially for you.”

“He is. He is and I’m done for, Lorenz.” Claude groans, fiddling with a vase of marigolds. They’re beautiful. They remind him of the sun. The sun reminds him of Dimitri. Therefore, Dimitri is the sun that nourishes Claude’s gayness. “Finished. Dead. Lost to this world.”

“No, you’re not. You’re alive and well and on a mission.”

“And that is?”

“Courting tall, blonde, and precious, you dolt.” Lorenz says with a kind smile. “Don’t die before you’ve even managed to hold his hand.”

“I wanna hold it so bad. So, so bad.”

“Then make it so.”

“I can’t. He makes me nervous.”

“You? Nervous?”

“Lorenz, he’s a vision. I walked into a lamppost because I got distracted by his fucking jawline. I’m starting to question whether I ever had game in the first place, because I am making a complete clown of myself out there.”

“Isn’t that a positive, though? You wouldn’t be making a fool of yourself if you weren’t completely taken with this fellow.”

“I guess.” Claude is well aware he was sinking deeper and deeper into Dimitri hell and he wanted nothing more than to stay there forever and hear more about how much the guy loved dogs and hated Rubik’s cubes. “I’m so fucked.”

“Slow down there, you lascivious toad. You haven’t even held his hand yet.” Lorenz sets his work to the side with a frown. “Not that I’m not completely invested in your tale of woe and failure, but would you mind doing me a favor?”

“I mind a lot, actually.”

“Good. Go polish the windows.” Lorenz ducks behind the register counter, tossing him a spray bottle and rag. “I clearly have a sign that says don’t touch and what do people do? They touch.”

“Probably because you have a sign telling them not to.” Claude shrugs. “It’s too tempting.”

“Are you admitting to your guilt?”

“…No?”

Get out there.”

Claude makes sure to stomp outside as obnoxiously as he can, blowing his friend a raspberry and grumbling about the lack of respect offered towards his person. So what if he smudged the window on purpose to piss Lorenz off? He should still be a good friend and encourage him in all his endeavors!

Despite his reluctance at being forced to work, he gets one side done without issue. It’s tedious and annoying and honestly makes him consider not going through the effort of messing with Lorenz if this is what awaits him as punishment.

Then again, annoying Lorenz is great fun and totally worth it ninety-eight point six percent of the time. How could he stop?

Then he reconsiders again, when he’s having a rough time reaching one stupid dusty corner with a smudge that couldn’t have possibly been his doing because he couldn’t reach that far in the first place. 

Claude wasn’t exactly short, but it was times like these that made him wish he was at least six feet. Or that it was possible to swap heights with people. Lorenz certainly didn’t need to be as tall as he was!

Just when he’s considering forcing Lorenz to be his footstool, the rag in his hand suddenly isn’t there anymore. Blinking, he turns, only to find none other than Dimitri taking care of the accursed dust’s baneful existence.

“You looked like you were having trouble.” Dimitri explains sheepishly, handing the rag back. “I could see you from across the street.”

“That’s kinda embarrassing.” Claude casts a quick look in the direction he assumes Dimitri came from. Directly across from Lorenz’s shop stands a records store. “You’re into vinyl records?”

“Not really. I own a few, but that’s only at the insistence of Felix, another friend of mine.” Dimitri explains. “He’s very passionate about them. I was visiting him when I noticed you.”

“He’s the guy who’s always running that ginger out of his store, right?”

“You know him?”

“No, I just have sources.” If there’s one thing Lorenz is good for, it’s keeping Claude up to date on any and all drama taking place within Garreg Mach Plaza. Felix and his elusive yet not so elusive lover were often at the forefront of conversation, and since Lorenz basically had a front row seat to their turbulent love affair, Claude and his gang were usually the first to know about it. “They’re very bad at being discreet from what I hear.”

“Try telling them that.” Dimitri sighs, the weight of his frustration clear as day. “It’s the cause of many a headache for myself, especially when they have a spat.”

“You poor soul. You have my condolences.”

“They are greatly appreciated.” Dimitri shifts his attention back to the rag and bottle in his hands. “Is this another one of your jobs?”

“Something like that.” Claude casts a dirty look through the glass, its target unfortunately nowhere in sight. “You can say this is a form of repentance, but to be honest, I don’t feel too guilty about what I did in the first place.”

“You’re quite the trouble-maker, aren’t you?”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it.” Claude winks, relishing the pinkish tint Dimitri’s cheeks take on. “Say, do you plan on sticking around?”

“The area you mean?” At Claude’s nod, Dimitri answers. “I do. I’m actually on break right now. Felix refused to have lunch with me, so I was heading out on my own.”

“He’s missing out. You’re great company.” Claude swings open the flower shop’s door. “Yo Lorenz! I’m leaving! Here’s your stuff back!” He tosses the bottle and rag carelessly across the room. Lorenz walks in just in time to gasp at his behavior.

“How dare you!”

“I’m sorry!”

“No, you’re not! You’ll pick those up and finish cleaning this instant!”

“Can’t hear you!”

Claude!”

ThanksIloveyouforgivemebye!” Claude shuts the door, snickering at Lorenz’s appalled expression, before gesturing for Dimitri to follow him.

“Where are you going?”

“To grab some lunch. Interested in joining me?”

“I would like that.” Dimitri’s pleased smile is short-lived. “Is it all right to leave, though? He seemed angry.”

“It’s all right. I’ll make it up to him.” That was a promise. As fun as it was to poke fun at him, Lorenz was his boy. He would pay him back somehow. “Any preferences?”

“I know a nice place, if you’re interested.”

“Lead the way.”

 


 

Dimitri takes him to a very nice place.

It’s quaint and peaceful. There’s plenty of lighting and flowers everywhere, creating a homey and fresh atmosphere for patrons to relax and find solace in. Claude is surprised he hadn’t stumbled upon it yet, considering the amount of time he spent in the area.

“The owner is a good friend of mine.” Dimitri tells him once they’re seated. “He’s very talented.”

“He’s got good taste, too. This place is adorable.” It left Claude wondering if a woodland sprite or two would appear, hidden amongst all the beautiful flora scattered everywhere. He would have brought his ocarina to set the scene if he’d known. “Feels like we’re in a forest.”

“Calming, isn’t it?” Dimitri preens at the compliment, no doubt flattered on behalf of his friend, the absolute angel. “I’m a regular visitor, especially when I need to unwind. And also…” His demeanor turns sheepish. “I’m a menace in the kitchen. This place is one of my only forms of sustenance.”

“Really?” Claude laughs. Even a seemingly perfect prince had his flaws, it seemed. “Any reason why?”

“I’m…very strong?”

“That’s not a sufficient enough explanation for me.”

“I…tend to damage any and all cooking utensils.” Dimitri admits. “I’m not good for anything that requires a light touch or precise measurements. I’ve also been told I have rather strange tastes.”

“Nobody’s flocking for you to set up dinner parties?”

“Any and all offers on my behalf are shut down immediately and without hesitation.”

“That’s so sad. I would eat anything you made, no matter how terrible it was.”

“You’re a kind soul in a sea of cynics, Claude.”

They both peruse their menus and eventually their orders are taken. Claude settles on whatever Dimitri suggests, despite his reluctance on account of his supposedly bad tastes. Whether it ends up being true is irrelevant, because Claude doesn’t care either way. He’s just glad he’s on a lunch date with the guy.

Okay, so maybe not a date, but it’s something.

“You said you’re on break. Do you work around here?” Claude asks, genuinely curious. Dimitri hadn’t alluded to anything involving what he did for a living throughout any of their conversations.

“I do. I’m a business owner.”

“Another one to add to the list. Seems I exclusively attract entrepreneurs these days.” It was honestly a little ridiculous. Was he the only one missing out on the sole proprietor bandwagon? “What kinda business is it?”

“Sport’s equipment.”

“You’re a jock?” Claude buries his face in his hands. Could this get any worse for him? At least that explained the bod. “Oh no.”

“What?” Dimitri blinks, face blank. He’s so confused it’s almost funny. In fact, it is funny. “What’s wrong?”

“I bet you played, like, six different sports during your school years and made varsity for all of them.”

“I don’t see how that’s relevant?”

“You’re not denying it?”

“Why would I deny the truth?” Dimitri’s confusion shifts to awe. “You’re very good at deducing. Is your actual profession an investigator of sorts?”

“Not even close. Although, I’m very flattered you think so highly of my skills.”

“Do you ever plan on telling me about it?” Dimitri inquires. “What your actual job is?”

“If I told you, I would lose the illusion of mystery. Don’t you like viewing me as the mysterious and ethereal enigma I am?”

“I don’t care much for mysteries.”

“You wound me.”

“Sorry. That’s just my honest opinion.”

“And it’s very much appreciated.” Claude assures him. “I guess I can. It’s not really much of a secret anyway.”

“Then?”

“I’m a—“

At that precise moment however, their food arrives. Claude soon forgets all about their conversation, much too distracted by the delectable meal ordered for him on behalf of his lunch companion.

Whether he notices Dimitri’s frustration with the abrupt interruption, Claude won’t ever say.

 


 

It’s not as if Claude’s trying to hide what he does for a living.

He really isn’t. He’s not embarrassed or ashamed or whatever other excuse one might usually come up with to hide their profession from their loved ones. What he does isn’t worth hiding, nor does he have any reservations about sharing it with anyone who cares enough to ask. It’s simply a matter of the topic not coming up in conversation naturally enough for him to say what it is.

But that might be a bit of a stretch. It has come up. Multiple times in fact. The thing is, Claude is nothing if not a little sadistic at heart and admittedly finds great amusement in having Dimitri agonize over what he’s assumed to be a hidden and well-buried secret Claude refuses to disclose.

 It’s not. it never has been, but that hasn’t stopped the apple of Claude’s eye from guessing himself silly over a decidedly inconsequential detail.

He could tell Dimitri. Could disappoint him with what he believes is a mundane and not at all impressive answer. Cease the joy of a good mystery and do away with their game.

But that wouldn’t be very fun. No, not at all.

So Claude keeps him guessing, because it’s fun and entertaining, even if watching Dimitri fail to procure a straightforward response makes him feel a little bad. 

And, hey, if it happens to be a messed up sort of appeal for attention, so be it.

 


 

“Thanks for helping out, Claude. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem, Ignatz.” Claude sets another box full of new merchandise down, wiping the sweat from his brow. Physical labor was something he tended to avoid, but who was he not to help out a pal in need? “You’ve got some pretty cool stuff this time around. Never seen paint this vibrant before.”

“I’ve had my eye on it for a while.” Ignatz replies, in the midst of running through his inventory of stencils. Apparently, he’d decided on dedicating the day to spring cleaning, which meant closing up shop and completely rearranging everything, a task that was best done with a few extra hands. “Someone came in and asked for it the other day. I thought it was as good a time as any to stock up on it.”

“Looks pretty cool. Hell, I may even buy some.”

“We both know why that isn’t a very good idea.”

“Aw, c’mon. I’m not that artistically challenged.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. You always make a mess.” Ignatz complains, idly pushing his glasses further up his face. “Remember the hair incident of Guardian Moon’s past?”

“So I got a little excited. Big deal!”

“Lorenz refused to crawl out of bed for a week!”

“Who told him to grow his hair out that long in the first place, huh?”

Claude.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll stick to the basics under constant supervision.” Claude folds his arms against his chest petulantly, further grumbling. “Don’t see what the big deal is. Orange is kinda his color. In a ‘not his color at all’ type of way.”

“I think so, too!” Raphael chimes in, stepping into the room with about four times the amount of boxes Claude brought in. “Lorenz looks great most of the time, though. He’s a handsome guy. Just like you two!”

“We’ll never want for self-confidence with you around, Raphael.” Ignatz chuckles. “But I’d really rather avoid another incident like that in the future.”

“But isn’t it through chaos and adversity that true art is created?” Claude argues. “That’s when it’s as raw and emotional as it can be, right?”

“Claude, you are not convincing me into a repeat of that disaster.”

“But—“

No.”

“Cheer up, buddy.” Raphael clasps a hand on Claude’s shoulder when he notices his sulky demeanor. “At least your hair hasn’t been turned orange against your will.”

“I would rock orange hair.”

“You sure would.”

Claude spends the remainder of the morning and afternoon helping reorganize and take stock with Ignatz and Raphael.

 It requires a lot of effort, and only reminds Claude of why he hadn’t chosen to make like his friends and open up a business. Just the thought of having to return to the same old place day in and day out, manage its upkeep and renovate every so often was enough to make him antsy. He didn’t know how any of them did it. Their dedication was pretty darn admirable.

By afternoon, he’s soaked in sweat, cranky and tired. He doesn’t mind helping out, especially when his friends need it, but Gods did he hate manual labor.

I’m turning into Hilda, Claude is thinking to himself with more than a little amusement and terror when the sudden chime of his phone garners his attention. Much to his delight, it’s exactly who he needs to feel better about his aching muscles.

 

ARE yOU::;; free?  The message reads. Claude can’t reply fast enough.

 

for you, i’ve got all the time in the world 😉

 

That’s vERY generou;;;S of You. I wanTeD to aSk if yo;;u wo”uld like to MEeet a cheriSHE;;&D friend of mine. You’re free to DECLINE?1!/.

 

Claude’s brows furrow at the request. That was odd. Not that he was put off by the idea. He’d become somewhat acquainted with the people he’d dubbed Dimitri’s Defense Force, and found them all endearing. Dimitri seemed beyond ecstatic to find he thought so.

 

fine by me 🤟 where should we meet

 

Claude is directed towards a nearby park and told to wait by the southern entrance. Messaging back an affirmative, he bids both Raphael and Ignatz farewell before scampering off like the love lost fool he was, throwing caution to the wind and rushing away to meet up with his charming not-boyfriend.

Which was a shame really, because Claude thought they would make awesome boyfriends. 

When he makes it, Dimitri is already there, standing tall in all his glory. Claude is halfway between not having a stroke at the sight of him dressed casually in joggers and a hoodie when the startling realization that he’d just run all the way across the shopping plaza soaked in sweat and very much not looking like a million bucks hits him with the force of a brick wall.

‘Oh fuck.’ His thoughts screech to a sudden halt, because gods he looked a mess and this was how he was meeting the man of his dreams ‘Shit, shit, abort, abort—

“You’re here, Claude.”

Fuck.

So much for ducking behind a bush and calculating the distance between his home, the time required for a quick shower and the amount of apologies Dimitri deserved for his lateness, all for the sake of not looking like a sweaty slob.

Fucking hell.

“Yeah, I’m, uh, I’m here.” Claude laughs weakly, nervous and feeling like a complete dumbass. He could have easily avoided this but he was too caught up in pining. Gods, what this man did to him. “Kept you waiting?”

“Not at all.” Dimitri takes a moment to look him over. “…You look nice.” 

Is that a blush on his face?

“Haha…” Claude grins sheepishly. “Was helping a friend fix up his shop. I’m a right disaster aren’t I?” Not that he looked bad in his sweats and plain t-shirt, but it wasn’t how he preferred to present himself. There was a difference between strategically disheveled and a hot mess. He preferred the former. “Probably shoulda not come here like this.”

“I-I think you look great.” Dimitri blurts out, going all shifty-eyed. “You always do.”

“Flatterer.” Claude teases, laughing as Dimitri gets even redder. Well, looks like there was nothing to worry about. This oddball was full of surprises. “So, where’s this friend of yours? Don’t tell me I scared them off.”

“I doubt you could.” Dimitri clears his throat, taking a step to the side. “Here he is.”

Claude blinks.

“He’s…a bit hairier than I was expecting. Gotta say, that is one beautiful coat.”

“Did you hear that, Areadbhar? He complimented you.” Dimitri’s expression melts into one of pure adoration and affection as he crouches down. Instantly, the once stoic and statuesque dog Claude hadn’t even noticed due to its stillness pounces on his owner, bursting with enthusiasm. Dimitri coos at him, burying his hands into the silky, pure white fur while Areadbhar enjoys every single second of it, nuzzling his owner’s face and neck. It’s an endearing sight.

Claude doesn’t usually get jealous of dogs.

But man, is he jealous of a dog right now.

“Claude, this is Areadbhar. Areadbhar, this is Claude. He’s a very good friend of mine. I’d like it if you two could get along.” Dimitri motions for Claude to come closer. He does, albeit hesitantly. 

He’s never owned a pet before, through lack of interest mostly, and never found himself in the presence of anyone who did. When he was younger, the only companion he’d ever wanted was a wyvern, and since those didn’t exist according to his very exasperated parents, he refused to own anything out of petulant loyalty.

“He doesn’t bite, does he?” Claude asks with a nervous laugh. “Because I’m only into a very specific sort of biting.”

“He won’t.” It takes a second for his comment to sink in for Dimitri, who stumbles on his next words because of it. “I—I, ah, you sh-shouldn’t be afraid. Areadbhar is very friendly. Hold out your palm.”

“Just hold it out?”

“And don’t be afraid. He’ll sense it.”

“Can he sense that I don’t want him to bite my hand off?” Rather than be offended, Dimitri only smiles encouragingly.

“You’ll be fine.”

“If you’re sure.” Claude slowly holds his hand out, careful not to make any sudden movements that may startle the fluffy beast. Areadbhar sniffs at it, regarding him curiously, before bumping it with his cold nose, rubbing his snout against Claude’s fingers.

“You can pet him.” Dimitri translates. “He’s giving you permission.”

Claude starts off hesitant, slowly growing more comfortable as his touch is received positively. Soon he’s on his knees and then, he’s sitting on the grass, an armful of dog enthusiastically licking at his face. 

“I don’t know how to feel about this.” He laughs, part hysterical and part fascinated. How had he gone this long without knowing how great dogs were? “But I think love it? He’s so fluffy?”

“Grooming him can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it.” Dimitri informs him, content to sit back and watch Claude fall in love with his dog.

So worth it.” Claude sighs, burying his face into the snow white fur. “Thank you, Areadbhar. You’ve made my life.”

The dog lets out a delighted yip in response.

After basking in Areadbhar’s noble presence for a while, they get around to taking him on a walk through the park. They run into a few of Areadbhar’s fellow canines, but Claude thinks he’s being completely objective and not at all biased when he says none can match up to his regality.

“He’s a really chill dog.”

“He’s been that way since he was small.” Dimitri tells him, shaking his head with amusement when Areadbhar decides to investigate a particularly suspicious patch of flowers. “I was worried training him would be a difficult undertaking, but he’s always been incredibly well-behaved and receptive. He hardly ever barks and makes friends wherever he goes.”

“Sounds a lot like you. Not that I’m comparing you to a dog or anything—“ Claude wants to hurl himself onto the nearest freeway. What the fuck was he saying? “You’re not. I just meant you’re similar to your dog in personality, not that you remind me of a dog. There’s a difference. Not that there’s anything wrong with Areadbhar being a dog, I just meant—You know what? Never mind. I’m never opening my mouth ever again.”

“I think I understand what you mean.” Dimitri looks more amused than bothered by his word vomit. “I’ll take it as a compliment. Who better to be compared to than Areadbhar? He’s the pinnacle of everything good and just.”

“Ain’t that the truth. Right, stud?” Claude calls out. “You’ve got all the boys and girls swooning over your righteousness.”

Areadbhar looks back at them, standing proud, undoubtably understanding he was being complimented.

“I’m glad you like him. I was worried you wouldn’t.” Dimitri confesses, appearing guilty. “He’s very special to me, as strange as that sounds.”

“It’s not strange at all. Pets are family. Of course you want them to get along with everyone around you.” Claude says. “I’m glad he didn’t bite my face off. That would’ve been unfortunate.”

“It’s a relief.”

“Isn’t it? What would you do if I wasn’t my usual stunning self?”

“It wouldn’t change anything.” Dimitri surprises him with an earnest answer. “I’d enjoy spending time with you anyway. It’s one of my favorite pastimes, you know.”

“You’re such a sap.” Claude grins, bumping Dimitri’s arm with his fist. “Thanks, though. I’d like you even if you had your face bitten off by a dog, too.”

“As reassuring as that sounds, let’s make an effort to avoid it.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.”

Eventually, they stumble upon a nice place to take a break. Under the shade of a tree, Dimitri takes a dish out of his bag and offers Areadbhar some water, which he gratefully laps up. Claude flops down onto his back, appreciating the coolness of cover.

“Thirsty?”

“Hella.” Claude replies without thinking, accepting the water bottle Dimitri hands him. He was thinking of a different variety, but he was pretty parched, too. “Thanks.”

“You should probably sit up.”

“Don’t feel like it.” Claude gulps it down, grimacing when he feels the water run onto his chin and down his neck. Sitting up was definitely the better idea. “Ugh.”

“I told you.”

“You did. I should’ve listened.” Claude sighs, sitting up, wiping away the stray streams of water with his shirt. “I’ve probably got grass stains everywhere, too. They’re such a pain to wash out.”

“Mm.”

“Not that it happens all that often.” He tugs his shirt a few times, not caring all too much about stretching the collar, more concerned about trying to take advantage of the faint breeze blowing through the area. It was way too hot, even for him. “I’m not as athletically inclined as you are.”

“Hm.”

“But I guess it’s not all that big a deal. I kinda like doing laundry.” He brushes his hair back with another sigh. “Clean clothes are the best.”

“…”

“Dimitri?” Claude looks over at him, blinking when their eyes meet, Dimitri immediately snapping his attention back to Areadbhar, who’s now lounging on his back. He pets him almost absentmindedly.

“It’s nothing. Sorry. My mind was elsewhere.”

“Somewhere good I hope.” Claude jokes, not expecting the violent shade of red that overtakes Dimitri’s ears and neck. “Sure you’re okay?”

C-Completely.”

“All right. Well, drink some water.” Claude hands the bottle back. “You’re looking a little hot under the collar there.”

Dimitri proceeds to tip over, flopping down next to his dog, his back to Claude. 

“I-I’m fine. Don’t worry for me.”

Claude is understandably confused, but decides not to press it. Dimitri was allowed to be weird if he wanted to be. 

For lack of anything better to do, he pats his head, ruffling the flaxen locks.

“There, there. Take your time and cool down.” When Dimitri lets out a strangled cry, he smiles. “Typical winter baby behavior. Guess a little heat was bound to get to you. Doesn’t help that you’ve got that sweater on. Why don’t you take it off?”

“I don’t have anything on under it.”

“Oh.” Claude briefly considers convincing him to take it off anyway, but ultimately doesn’t. From what he knew and could observe, Dimitri was no slouch when it came to staying fit. The way his body pulled against his clothing when he moved made it obvious. So no, Claude was definitely not going to tell him to take it off, because he wasn’t going to risk getting hot and bothered in a public park. Just the thought of explaining himself to his thick-headed and dense prince made him shudder. “You’re not going to have a heat stroke, are you?”

“I’ll be sure to tell you long before it comes to that.”

“Appreciate it.” Claude huffs out a laugh. “Push comes to shove, we’ll have a nice little swim in that fountain over there. I know Areadbhar’s been eyeing it for a while now.”

“That’s illegal.”

“I’d break a few laws for you.” 

“Please don’t.”

“I guess. Since you asked so nicely.”

“You’re always very obliging when it comes to me.” Dimitri’s shoulders shake with laughter. Claude wishes he could see his face, just to see if he was failing to hide a shy grin. “I feel I don’t deserve it.”

“It’s not really about deserving it or not. I do what I want, and what I want, is to spoil you rotten.”

“That isn’t necessary, but I appreciate it nonetheless. You’re—“ Dimitri’s voice hitches briefly. “You’re a good friend.”

“Yeah.” And just like that, Claude changes his mind about being able the see the other’s man’s face. If he could, Dimitri would undoubtedly see the disappointment on his own face. “I am, aren’t I?”

 


 

Coming together to hang with his friends is a weekly thing.

They’re all busy. They all have their own lives to get in order and annoyances to deal with and bills to pay the rest of the week, which makes it especially important to meet up and enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis.

That used to mean getting hammered at karaoke or driving around in Leonie’s pick up with the stereo blasting or throwing eggs at houses and getting citations from police officers. 

Times are different now, though. They’re adults. Not kids anymore. Which is sad but good at the same time. They don’t worry about the same things they once did, don’t fight or get excited the same way they did when they were in school and had nothing to lose.

Now that they’re mature, wiser, and somewhat less stupid, getting together had taken on a different meaning.

What the fuck, Claude? You just snaked me out of Atlantic Avenue!”

“That’s the name of the game, Leonie. Get good.”

Oh, yes. Friday Night Board Game Beatdowns. This week’s selection: Monopoly. The perfect activity for all civilized and well-adjusted adults.

Leonie groans, racking up more losses than she could reasonably afford. A few unlucky rolls had landed in her in jail and she had nothing to show for it.

“I hate this game. Why do we even play it?” She complains, finding solace in her bag of chips. “Capitalism is overrated.”

“Says the proprietor of a well-established business.” Lorenz responds, his risky play having rewarded him in spades this particular session. He was dominating thus far. “I’d say I feel sorry for you, but I really don’t.”

“Asshole.”

“Music to my ears, dearest Leonie.”

“Honestly, I still have no idea what’s happening.” Raphael admits, frowning down at the board. He’d done well enough, despite fumbling a bit with rent and mortgage payments. “Aren’t games supposed to be fun? Not, y’know, full of math and stuff?”

“That’s what makes it interesting. It’s cool how complex it can get.” The designated banker, Ignatz, says. Initially having sat out of the game, he was called into action when Claude was caught swindling funds. He would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for Lysithea calling him out on it.

Speaking of Lysithea.

“Are you going to roll or not?” Claude asks, watching her shake the dice around in her closed fists for a second straight minute. “I’m not getting any younger.”

“No, you’re not, because you’re a dumb old man who should shut up!” The little girl scowls. “Watch me win, everyone!” With a flourish, she tosses the dice with precision, tumbling to give her a pair of snake eyes. “Yeah! Baltic is mine!” She turns to face Hilda, who’s lap she’s currently seated atop upon their fluffy carpeted floor. “Look Mommy! I got Baltic!”

“You deserve Baltic, sweetie.” Hilda replies with a kiss to her temple. “Stole it from right under Lorenz’s nose.”

“I beg you to reconsider, Lysithea.” Lorenz says in the most convincing manner he can. It’s a lost cause, because the moment he showed interest was the moment Lysithea decided she wouldn’t give it up for anything. That’s just how kids were. “I’ll happily trade—“

“No way. Nu-uh. Baltic is mine, forever and ever.” Lysithea smugly holds the card to her chest. “I’ll never give it to you.”

“Not for any of my properties?”

“Nope!”

“Not a one?”

“Never!”

“Not even the boardwalk?”

“You can keep your crummy boardwalk!”

As Lorenz continues to bicker with a child one fifth his size, Hilda turns her attention to Claude.

“You okay?” She asks quietly, a concerned lilt to her voice. “You’ve been kinda spacey the entire time. Something on your mind?”

“Not really.” Claude says, knowing Hilda would see through any pretense he attempted to put up. She raises an eyebrow, and he figures there’s no point in hiding anything from her. “…Feeling kinda down actually.”

“About what?”

“You know what.”

“I do?” Hilda pauses, frowning, before understanding dawns on her. “…Tall, blonde, and pure?”

Precious. But I guess pure works, too.”

“What happened? Did he hurt you?” Hilda’s eyes flare with rage, her expression venomous. Claude’s reminded yet again why he’s fortunate to have her on his side. “If he did, there’ll be hell to pay.”

“Nah, nothing like that. I’d kick his ass myself if it were that.”

“And I’d be there to help.”

“Again, not necessary. I’m just—We’re friends.”

“And that’s not what you want.”

“Not in the least.”

“Did you consider, I don’t know, telling him?” 

“I’m a coward.” Claude groans, burying his face in his hands. “I freak out every time. The other day I tried, panicked when he took me seriously, and started talking about dragons instead.”

“Dragons are hella cool.”

“They’re the coolest.”

“Doubt that got your thirst across very well, though.” Hilda says with a sigh. “I mean, what can I say? There’s no other way around it. You have to tell him. He’s not gonna know otherwise. From what you’ve told me, he’s as thick as a brick and you chickening out isn’t doing either of you any favors.”

“I know, I know.”

“Tell him, Claude. Worst comes to worst, it’ll be awkward between you two for a while. You can still be friends and not have it be weird after you get over it. You’ll be fine.”

“You think?”

“I know.” Hilda bumps him on the shoulder. “And hey, it’ll only be weird if he isn’t interested. Who said he wasn’t? You’re a fucking ten out of ten knockout in both looks and personality and you damn well know it.”

“You bet I do.” Claude finally finds the unpleasant uncertainty he was burdened with diminishing into something resembling confidence. Everyone deserved a Hilda in their life, honestly. “I’ll tell him. You ready to be my best woman?”

“Hell to the yes—“ 

The sudden shriek of the smoke detector interrupts any and all conversations going on. There’s the sound of frantic footsteps, before Marianne pokes her head into the living room, looking both embarrassed and terrified at the same time.

“The cookies are on fire!” She exclaims, holding out a tray of flaming dough. “I don’t know what I did but they’re on fire!”

“Marianne!” Hilda is instantly on her feet, stumbling over to a nearby cabinet. “Why’d you grab the tray? You’re going to burn yourself!”

“I panicked!” She squeaks when the fire grows larger.

“Put it out!” Lorenz yells, taking cover behind the couch. “I have too much hairspray in my hair to risk immolation!”

“What happened to it being all natural?” Leonie drawls sarcastically. “You’re telling me you don’t roll out of bed like that?

“I was lying! You all know this!”

“Whoa!” Lysithea’s eyes light up, her fingers twitching. “That’s so cool, Mommy! Can I hold it?”

“Absolutely not, Lizzy!” Hilda warns, hauling a fire extinguisher into her hands and readying it. “Don’t get any closer!”

“But it’s cool!”

“What’s cooler is not hurting yourself.” Ignatz says, gently holding her back. “Let’s watch the pretty fire from a distance, okay?”

“Okay. If you say so, it has to be a good idea.” She says, pouting, but allowing him to shield her from the ever-burning flames.

“Should I punch it?”

No, Raphael.” Everyone says simultaneously.

“Just a suggestion.” He shrugs.

“Wait! Hilda!” Claude gets up quickly when he notices her misjudging the direction of the foam. “Over there! Over—!” He barely reacts in time to cover his face when the nozzle sprays him, covering him in pure white suds. Hilda swiftly redirects it towards Marianne, who yelps as both she and the cookies are drowned in foam. The tray falls to the floor in her surprise, clattering as the smoke detector finally stops piercing their eardrums with its shrill sound.

“Are you all right, angel?” Hilda tosses the extinguisher to the side, rushing to gather Marianne in her arms. “Are you hurt? Do we need to go to the hospital?”

“I-I’m fine.” Marianne insists, wiping her face. “Shaken is all. That…wasn’t a very good idea.”

“Stupid cookies.” Hilda kicks the tray in retribution. “Scaring you like that. I’ll crush them.” She kisses away her wife’s fear, nuzzling her cheek. “As long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters.”

“What about me?” Claude complains, covered head to toe in foam. “I’m not all right. Look at me!”

“I think you look better now.” Lysithea deadpans.

Leonie winces.

“Ouch. Talk about a roast. You okay, mate?”

“Barely.”

“Does this mean no cookies?” Raphael asks hesitantly.

Hilda sighs. 

“Who wants to go out for ice cream?”

The whoops that follow are more than answer enough.

 


 

 

 

“You need a suit?”

“It’s only appropriate. I’m attending a wedding you see.” Dimitri explains as they walk towards his tailor of choice. Partially the fault of Claude’s cowardice, he suggested they meet up with the intention of spilling his guts, which remained his objective for all of five seconds before he’d gotten distracted by Dimitri’s collarbones, and somehow within that time he’d mindlessly agreed to accompanying his unmercifully attractive friend. “As you know, I’m not fond of restrictive clothing.”

“I couldn’t tell with the millions of sweaters and joggers you own.”

“I’ve kept up my own illusion very well, haven’t I?” Dimitri laughs. “Unfortunately, I cannot show up looking anything less than impeccable. The bride will have my head.”

“Don’t see why it matters. Your face’ll probably end up distracting everyone from what you’re wearing anyway.”

“In a good way?”

“In a great way.” Claude winks, holding back a snicker at his companion’s blush. “I think I can give you pretty good advice when it comes to choosing what you want. I would never lead you astray.”

“Not even for a good laugh?”

“Well…”

“I shouldn’t have asked.”

Seiros’s Needleworks is a fairly small shop, tucked between a martial arts academy and a used bookstore. There’s a window display, showing off unique and extravagant formal wear. The colors are vibrant and flamboyant, eye-catching to anybody who happens to pass by, contrasting with the dull architecture of the building.

Part of Claude is questioning whether this is the right place for Dimitri to custom order a simple suit but unfortunately, the opportunity to voice his skepticism is lost, as Dimitri is holding the door open for him before he can bother convincing him otherwise.

Despite what the display might have lead Claude to believe, the inside is equally as bland as the building. Everything is a neutral black or gray, the occasional flashes of color limited to odd fixtures or knick-knacks scattered on tables and shelves. Chairs are lined against the wall and a table with fashion magazines scattered atop sits at the center of the room. The magazines are tattered and well-read, the edges frayed from excessive handling. That has to be the only explanation, as the issues are dated more than two decades back.

“Hi.”

Claude snaps his attention to the reception desk, a man who could not look any less disinterested with his existence staring into the very depths of his soul.

It’s unnerving, though not necessarily discomforting.

“What’s up?” Claude responds automatically, never one to shy away from greeting a stranger. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“It’s sunny.” The guy responds without a trace of emotion. “Warmer weather always brightens my day. I’m happy.”

Are you?’ Claude wants to ask but doesn’t, because that would be rude and he was a lot of things but intentionally rude wasn’t one of them.

“I can tell. You’re looking rather chipper today, Byleth.” Dimitri responds, making his presence known. “A nice day is always enough to raise your spirits, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s good.”

There’s a beat of silence. Claude would usually consider such a blatant lull in conversation awkward, but neither Dimitri nor Byleth look particularly bothered by it. Whatever they seem to be communicating within their heated stare down, he assumes it isn’t worth wracking his brain to decipher.

“As you know, I’m here for a suit.” Dimitri finally says after their weird little mind chat.

Byleth nods, rising from his seat and gesturing for them to follow him behind a curtain dividing the front of the shop from the back. 

As they pass by the desk, Claude happens to catch sight of a notebook littered with doodles of cats. They’re pretty good. Not Ignatz level, but decent nonetheless.

“Cats are awesome.” He says without thinking.

Apparently, it’s the right thing to say, because Byleth turns briefly to give him an approving nod.

“They are, aren’t they?”

“I prefer dogs.” Dimitri feels the need to mention.

I know.” Both Claude and Byleth say instantaneously. They exchange a look, and the proverbial ice between them breaks for good.

Thankfully, Byleth has already prepared an assortment of different suit styles and fabric samples for Dimitri to choose from. Claude is relieved, because as confident as he is in his tastes, suit shopping isn’t exactly an area he’s well-versed in. He promised taste, not expertise.

“Is there anything in specific you want?” Byleth asks, fiddling with the sewing tape hanging around his neck. “Like, single-breasted or double-breasted or…do you want the flappy things to be unique or something? And I guess there are the, uh, cufflinks? Yeah, cufflinks. Do you want cufflinks? I hope you don’t because they’re a pain to order.” 

“Make the flappy things as unique as they can be.” Claude answers in Dimitri’s stead, because while the sheer panic and confusion on his angel’s face is hilarious, he doesn’t want to be there until midnight. He has no idea what Byleth means by flappy things, but he’s going to trust his gut and go for it. “And I guess single-breasted. He’d look nice in something like that, don’t you think?”

“Probably.” Byleth shrugs. “Personally, I think dressing up is kinda dumb. Why can’t we just walk around in our pajamas and not be judged for it? Just go in your pajamas, Dimitri.”

“You know exactly why I can’t do that.”

“Actually, shouldn’t button up pajamas count as a suit?” Claude muses aloud. “They have the same basic structure. The only difference is that you sleep in them.”

Byleth stares at him in astonishment.

“…You’re so right.” He breathes out, amazed. “Dimitri, you should—“

“I’m not going in my pajamas. I don’t have a death wish.”

Claude manages to list out a few specifications he think would be the most flattering on Dimitri for Byleth to take note of, the man of the hour being of absolutely no help as he frowns at a wall of bow ties.

Soon Byleth takes all of the measurements he needs (the effort it takes not to admire Dimitri’s sculptured body reaches levels of near asceticism), making a few off hand comments about the weather and cats and his herb garden along the way.

“That should be all.” He says when he’s done. “I’ll call you sometime next week. Earlier if all goes as planned.”

“Really?” Claude doesn’t bother containing his surprise. “Don’t these things usually take a few more fittings?”

“That would be annoying. Once should be enough.”

“Huh.”

“Byleth is an experienced tailor.” Dimitri tells him, slipping his sweatshirt back on. Claude pointedly does not look at the expanse of skin of his navel as it’s hidden away behind cotton and polyester. “One look at you and he has all the information he needs.”

“That’s…pretty impressive.”

“It’s my job.” Byleth says simply. “I don’t like to waste time. Sure you don’t need one?”

“What? Me? No.” Claude shakes his head. “Just Dimitri. Maybe another time.”

“Actually—“ Before Dimitri can finish his thought, the sound of the shop door opening and closing reaches them, followed by the shuffling of feet. The curtain is tugged on, but not drawn aside.

“Byleth?” An unsure voice calls out. “Are you there?”

Yes.” The entirety of Byleth’s demeanor abruptly changes, a brilliant smile erupting on his features. “With a client.”

“Whoops. Sorry. I can leave if—“

“Stay.” Byleth nearly tears the curtain apart in his rush to push it aside. Opposite, stands another man, face slightly obscured by the brim of his snapback. “Hi.”

“Hello.” 

“Anything to report?”

“Just lunch.” The guy holds up a plastic bag with a smile before turning his attention to the other two people in the room. “Hey Dimitri! Nice to see you.”

“Likewise. You’re looking well.”

“Thanks! And what’s your name, stranger?”

“Claude.”

“Claude! Right. I’ll remember that. Sorry for interrupting.” He says sheepishly. “Didn’t mean to. I just wanted to catch Byleth before he left. Tracking him down can be difficult on the best of days.”

“I was going to wait.” Byleth says bluntly, not a hint of uncertainty present in his tone. “For you.”

“I appreciate that.”

“I wanted to eat with you.” Byleth takes a step closer to him, hands twitching as if he wants to reach out. He doesn’t. “I’m happy you’re here.”

“And I’m happy you’re here.” The guy says, expression lighting up. “You’ve been busy lately, I thought you might like some company. It made me sad to think of you cooped up in here by yourself. I know you like your alone time, but I worry anyway.”

“I’m fine.”

“I know you are. And if I’m being honest…I’m mostly here because I couldn’t help myself.” The man admits, his hat unable to conceal the flushing of his face. “I wanted to see you. It’s always the best part of my day.”

Byleth’s posture goes rigid. Claude has a feeling he knows exactly why.

How comforting. To think he wasn’t the only ridiculously smitten guy in the world.

“Have you got a name, stranger?” Claude asks, smiling in amusement when the two finally remember there are other people in the room. He nudges Dimitri, but in typical Dimitri fashion, he only looks lost. “A friend of a friend is a friend indeed.”

“That’s a nice philosophy to live by. I’m—“ At that precise moment, there’s a loud screech next door, from the direction of the martial arts academy. It’s followed by violent thumping against the wall. There’s more screaming until silence reigns. “—But mostly everyone calls me GK. I don’t mind, since it sounds cool and is a lot easier to pronounce.”

Claude thinks it sounds a little dorky, but not in a bad way. It suits GK, who seems like a standup kind of dude. 

Judging from the way Byleth looks like he wants nothing more than to toss them out and spend the rest of his time staring at the guy, Claude figures he must be right.

“As fun as this has been, we’ll be on our way. Don’t want to hold you up anymore than we already have.” Claude displays how benevolent and perceptive he can be, not missing the way Byleth perks up at the idea of them being gone and having GK all to himself. “I’m sure whatever you come up with will be great. Right, Dimitri?”

“Of course.”

“Me too.” GK chimes in. “You’re so talented, Byleth. I wonder if you can make me a suit one day?”

“I’ll do it right now.” Byleth snatches his notepad and sewing tape, frantic. “Whatever you want. Just. Tell me.”

“Hold up a sec. Not now!” GK laughs off his antics good-naturedly. “Right now, we’re going to eat.”

“I can eat and make a suit. I’m talented.”

“I agree, but I’m going to have to decline. I’d rather just have a nice lunch and chat with you. Would you like that?”

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Taking that as their cue to leave, Claude bids them both farewell, Dimitri doing the same, and just like that, they’re outside.

Not a second sooner, the open sign is flipped to closed, the door locked behind them.

“Is that all you needed?” Claude asks, curious about whether Byleth was currently ravishing GK within the privacy of his store. That prompts him into thinking of himself ravishing Dimitri, and that’s when he decides not to think about it any longer.

“It should be.” Dimitri replies. “I have a pair of shoes at home that should match anything.”

“Cool. I’ll be seeing you then.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yup.” As much as it pained him, Claude had actual work to do. “Gotta head back to my super secret job. I’ve got an appointment soon.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Why? Figure you’ll miss me?” Claude is only teasing, but leave it to Dimitri to reply in earnest and be an adorable cinnamon roll nobody deserves.

“I will.” He says, disappointment seeping into his voice. “I was hoping we could spend more time together.”

“All the more reason to appreciate it whenever we are together.”

“I’d like more.” Dimitri says. Claude’s heart nearly stops. “It’s frustrating how little time there is during the day.”

“We could always host sleepovers.” It’s a joke but it’s also not and Claude might sound a little desperate when he says it. 

At least Dimitri laughs. “We’re a bit too old for that aren’t we?”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“I certainly do.” Dimitri’s face softens, fond in a way that makes Claude’s insides twist. A moment of silence passes between them where Dimitri’s fingers twitch, Claude resisting the urge to sway forward and fall into his arms. “I—Can I ask you something?”

Anything.” Claude breathes out, because he can’t stop staring at Dimitri’s lips and there’s hardly any space between them. All he has to do is take a step or two and they’ll be—

“Would you happen to be free the Saturday following the next?”

“…I’m sorry, what?”

“Will you be free the Saturday following the next?” Dimitri repeats patiently, apparently not irritated with how long it takes him to respond to a simple question.

“Why do you ask?”

“That’s when the wedding is. I was wondering if you wanted to accompany me.”

“As your plus one?”

“If that’s all right with you.”

“That would be awesome!” Claude wants to jump for joy. Wants to call Hilda up and screech at her. Wants to announce to the world his undying affection.

Be Dimitri’s plus one? To a wedding, no less? That was a step up wasn’t it? He was making progress, right?

Amazing.

He goes to respond, Dimitri’s pleased smile encouraging him, but then he recalls that it would probably be a good idea to check if there’s anything he has planned before giving an answer. That’s what a responsible adult would do, after all. 

He digs his phone out of his pocket, unlocking it and giving his schedule a quick once over.

And then his heart drops.

Because there, noted on the Saturday following the next, is a work request.

Fuck.

“I can’t.” Claude tells Dimitri, all sorts of sad. Damn it all. “I have work on that day.”

“O-Oh, well, there isn’t much to be done if that’s the case.” And then Dimitri looks disappointed and it makes Claude feel like a sentient garbage can for getting his hopes up. “Don’t worry about it.”

“If it makes you feel better, I definitely would have gone with you.”

“It’s all right, Claude.” Dimitri’s smile is tight and sad and, ugh, Claude wants to blame all of the fates for this despite not believing in them in the first place.

“I’ll definitely make it up to you. I promise.” Claude says, because there’s not much else he can do about it. “We can dress up and go have cake and it’ll kinda be the same.”

It won’t be, but the way Dimitri looks ever so slightly consoled makes him feel a little better about it.

 


 

The Saturday following the next arrives and Claude can’t help but feel glum about it.

It doesn’t help that he wakes up with the beginnings of a sour mood, only made worse when he burns his toast and realizes he’s out of jam spread when he goes to eat it straight out of the jar out of frustration. He stubs his toe on his coffee table, runs out of hot water halfway through his shower, has to run out for toothpaste when he realizes he’s out, gets drenched in mud by a speeding car on his way back, has to take another shower with ice cold water, gets an angry visit from his landlord about a complaint mistakenly filed against him and not the annoyingly loud neighbor next door, who is coincidentally currently blasting his shitty as fuck music at full volume, managing to get blamed for that, too.

To top it all off, he checks his inbox by chance and reads a last minute email informing him that the time he was originally scheduled to show up for his gig was erroneous, the correct hour attached. He checks the clock and, surprise surprise, he barely has any time to get his equipment ready and dash off if he wants to maintain any semblance of professionalism.

A shitty day, a shitty mistake, and a shitty Dimitri-less weekend. 

Exactly what Claude needed.

Without a moment to waste, he’s out the door and shoving all of his stuff into his car as fast as he can physically manage. At the very least, he’s granted a sliver of mercy from the universe, his junkyard bait car starting without issue with a full tank of gas to go along with it. Traffic ends up being horrible as it always is, but that’s normal and unavoidable. He accounted for it beforehand because he’s nothing if not partially prepared for half of the situations he finds himself in.

When he arrives at the venue, he’s met with one Hubert von Vestra, who’s very existence shakes Claude to the core, and is passive-aggressively directed towards where he’s expected to set up and prepare himself for the upcoming show.

“Claudie-kins. Always a pleasure doing business with you.” Dorothea greets him at the makeshift stage, still decked out in her wedding dress and veil. The room in empty, save for all the staff double checking everything to ensure perfection. “Forgive the little mix up. Wasn’t intentional at all.”

“You know I can’t stay mad at you, Thea.” Claude pauses. “Actually, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to come in after the guests arrive?”

Claude.” She gives him a flat look. “You know Edie.”

“On her wedding day?”

“Once a control freak, always a control freak.” They both look over to where Edelgard is currently barking orders at overworked and understandably terrified staff members, who scramble not to incur her wrath. She’s a vision in every sense of the word, her dress flowing elegantly with every step she takes, hair done up into a chignon. The nasty snarl on her face only serves to enhance her beauty. “She refuses to let anyone in until she decides everything is perfect.” 

“So where are your guests?”

“Waiting in the lobby. I told Caspar to stall them.”

“You mean choke slam them.”

“Eh, whatever works.”

Claude!”

“Rest in pieces.” Dorothea offers a sympathetic smile, walking off so as to not have to deal with her domineering wife. Not that it would ever be an issue for her, considering Edelgard worshiped the ground she walked on.

Now, him on the other hand.

“Edie.”

“Don’t make me choke slam you.”

“Pardon me, Edelgard. My queen. My highness. My beloved tyrant. I’m here.”

“What you are, is late.”

“And who’s fault is—“ At the venomous glare sent his way, Claude stops short. He doesn’t want to die. Edelgard owned an axe she kept above the mantel of her fireplace, for fuck’s sake. “Um, I’m here now, though. At your service.”

“As you should be.” She doesn’t even try to hide her displeasure with his presence. “Honestly, I don’t know what Dorothea was thinking contracting you. She has such odd taste.”

“I don’t think you of all people should be talking, Ms. ‘I watch reality shows for the story.’ You’re not fooling anyone.”

Three-Hundred Sixty Five Day Fiancé is the pinnacle of entertainment and you will not imply otherwise.”

“To each their own, princess. I’m not judging.” Except he sort of was, but she didn’t need to know that. “Y’know, you should chill out. You’re already married. All your guests want to do is eat and have a good time, and I’m here to provide that last part.” To emphasize his point, he reaches behind Edelgard’s ear, magically producing a flower. 

Her expression remains stone-cold. Talk about a tough crowd.

Magic.” She scoffs, accepting the flower from him anyway. “I thought you were a comedian.”

“I’m whatever I need to be whenever it’s needed. An all-in-one performing arts package. You should be grateful.” 

“I’ll be grateful the moment you prove yourself to be as talented as Dorothea says you are.”

“Oh, I don’t plan on disappointing.”

With that, Claude focuses his attention on preparing his props and set pieces. Dorothea had requested a sultry magician, which was exactly what he was going to give her. He makes a quick run to the restroom to change into the wrinkly suit he pulls out of his duffel bag. It makes him look like he just rolled out of bed after a nice night in.

Sultry? Check.

He slicks his hair back, allowing a strand or two to fall into his face. He may also spend a ridiculous amount of time editing selfies and staring at his own reflection in the mirror, astounded by how attractive he is, before finally heading back to do what he’s being paid to do.

When he returns, the hall is finally flooded with life and cheer and congratulatory words for Edelgard and Dorothea. He spots them upon an elevated platform, perched on regal thrones and sat before a table carved from the finest of woods and lined with vibrant strips of gold.

Leave it to Edelgard to be so unnecessarily extra. It was almost kinda cute.

But then he remembers her axe and how she’s kinda mean, especially towards him.

It still isn’t enough to change his mind, though.

“Are you going to earn your paycheck or are you going to stand around gawking?”

“Please don’t sneak up on me, Hubert. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“That was the intention.” Hubert walks past him. Not before sending him a terrifyingly crooked smile. 

Claude barely represses a shudder.

Shaking it off, he strides up to the stage, all confidence and laid-back chill. He catches Edelgard’s gaze on his way, who nods, and then Dorothea’s, who blows him kisses and makes a heart shape with her hands.

It was time to shine.

“Evening, beloved guests of the brides.” He drawls the moment the mic is in his hand. “The name’s Claude and I’ll be your MC slash entertainment for the evening. As a rule, if I’m not completely plastered and making a fool of myself by the end of this, feel free to refund your bridal shower gifts. Edelgard will be more than happy to go through with it.” 

“I’ll hang you by your balls if you don’t get on with the entertaining!” Edelgard yells from her throne, inciting the laughter of her guests.

“Love you too, Edie. Anyway, we had a little hold up at the beginning of the night, but I see it’s all been sorted out. Shout out to my boy Caspar—“

“FUCK YEAH!” Said boy hollers from a table farther than Claude can see beyond the stage lights.

“—for keeping it together. You did good, mate.”

“THANKS.”

“Welcome. To start, I think we’d best acknowledge what we’re all here for.” Claude snatches a glass of champagne from a passing server, holding it up in the air. “Cheers to the wonderful couple!” Applause and the occasional whoop follow. “Let’s give them a hand for finally getting their acts together and tying the knot. You made her work for it didn’t you, Thea?”

“You bet, sweetie!” Dorothea answers cheerfully, much to Edelgard’s obvious embarrassment. “Worth every second!”

“A toast! To a happy life and a happy pair of wives!” Claude exclaims, the rest of the room following suit.

It’s so easy for him to fall into the role of an entertainer. When he’s on stage, everyone’s attention centered on him, a feeling of unparalleled exhilaration fills him to the very brim. Nothing else matters besides ensuring that everyone around him is laughing and finding amusement in the performances he comes up with. Sometimes they work well, other times he needs to improvise when he finds an act falling flat. 

Despite how terrifying those moments are, when he’s scrambling to come up with something that will stick and cause the room to roar with laughter, he never gets tired of it. Never grows tired of the rush of endorphins at the sight of a happy and properly amused crowd.

He loves it. Loves making people happy, if even for a brief moment. There’s no other feeling like it.

 


 

His performance goes off without a hitch for the most part.

Dorothea wanted magic, so Claude does his best to give her magic. 

He has a lot in his arsenal, from simple to complex. Crowd pleasers, every single one of them.

They’re skills he’s picked up over the time he’s spent aimlessly wandering from profession to profession. Most learned in between jobs, on the internet, though books and word of mouth. They aren’t all too difficult to enact, but that’s likely because he’s practiced them to such a degree they are burned into his memory. 

Illusions are especially fun to mess around with because Claude knows how little people pay attention. He’s been done in by the very same tricks he now uses to wow, so he has a very good idea of vantage points, perspective and perception. The brain works in mysterious ways, imperfect in its immense power. It only makes sense for Claude to exploit it to the best of his ability. Hilda’s always said it suited him.

There are always questions about how he does what he does, but for the most part, everyone is usually content to enjoy his tricks for what they are and not allow the inner workings to hinder their wonder.

“Look at these lovely flowers.” Claude comments at one point, having produced one of the many vases of flowers placed on every table onto the stage. There are gasps, full of surprise, because where on Earth did he get those? They weren’t there before and he hasn’t stepped off the stage a single time. “Y’know, I hear flowers are a great way to get across just how much you care about someone. A friend of mine is always drilling that into my head and now I can’t look at the things without thinking about my future spouse and whether or not they’ll have allergies because if they do, there go the damn flowers for anniversaries or birthdays or whatever else married people come up with to celebrate the mediocrity of their lives.” He pauses. “Another toast to the happiness of the newlyweds!” His faux bitter tirade is met with hoots of agreement. “Now, let’s see if I can’t find someone to take these off my hands.” He hops down the stage with the vase in one hand and mic in the other, spotlight following him as he wades through the tables. 

His initial plan is to hunt out some unsuspecting elderly married woman. Get her to titter and mock her husband before finishing it off with a decent punchline.

That plan completely flies out the window when he’s shocked into stillness by the sight of familiar blue eyes boring into him.

Well damn.

Who was Claude not to take advantage of such a lovely coincidence? 

Demeanor shifting, he’s unable to contain his wry smile as he strides over.

“How about you, sir?” Claude leans against the table, nodding at the rest of its occupants, who eye him curiously as he focuses in on the prince who’s taken up so much space within his thoughts as of late. “What’s your take on flowers and their relevance?”

Dimitri stares at him, struck into silence. It allows Claude a moment to take in his appearance.

Byleth truly was talented, because the suit fits Dimitri like a glove, hugging him in all the right places and falling loose wherever necessary to provide comfort. His hair is somewhat less of a messy mop, slightly trimmed at the ends. It’s been styled, contrasting with the usual lack of care Dimitri tended to treat it with, framing his face wonderfully.

He’s so perfect it hurts.

“Uh—“ His part intellectual part airhead struggles to come up with a response. Claude doesn’t mind. He waits, while the rest of the room laughs at Dimitri’s plight. “They’re nice?”

“I agree. Do you know anything about flower language?”

“N-Not at all.”

“Unsurprising.” There are a few chuckles at that. “It’s an old form of romance. I don’t think most people think twice about what flowers symbolize nowadays. As long as they’re pretty, what does it matter?”

“That’s sad.”

“Isn’t it? Take a look at these for instance,” Claude places the vase onto the table. “We’ve got yellow and striped—what, carnations? That’s disdain, I think. And we’ve got impatiens for impatience, tansy’s for hostility —wow great choice there— and…death? Asphodel’s are for death.” He turns towards Edelgard, seated across the room, genuinely taken aback by her decorative choices. “I’ve got to ask, what the hell were you thinking with these? They all have aggressive meanings?”

“Yes.” She smiles at him, delighted by his realization. “They do.”

“…Okay, then.” Claude directs his attention back to Dimitri. “Why don’t we change these up a bit? I think everyone in this room would appreciate something a bit more cheerful—Besides you Edelgard!” He cuts off the bride before she can monologue about why he’s very wrong about that. She settles back into her seat with a huff, Dorothea giggling at her grumpiness. “To start, give us some myrtles.” With a wave of his hand, the Asphodel’s slowly shift, morphing into his desired flower.  “Much better.” That earns him a fair bit of applause, especially when the guests realize the same has happened to the flowers at each and every one of their tables. “Those are for good luck in love and marriage.”

“Thanks, Claudie-kins!”

“Delighted to serve, Thea.” Claude focuses back on Dimitri, who’s got an adorable twinkle in his eye at the seemingly impossible feat. He’s staring at Claude with an amalgamation of emotions, which spurs him into wanting to keep it there for the duration of his final little showcase. “Y’know, I thought this would be enough, but now I feel like showing off.” In a flurry, Claude taps each and every flower, getting them all to shift and change into different varieties. It gets the crowd excited, questioning how he’s pulling it off at all their tables simultaneously, but he’s barely listening to it. He’s too fixated on the delight on Dimitri’s face.

“Geraniums, lilacs, daisies, angelicas… honeysuckle and jasmine.” He only realizes he’s going overboard when a few thumps and yelps indicate the vases can no longer carry the weight of the amount of flowers he’s magicking into existence. They don’t match and Lorenz will certainly have his head for not at least trying for an appropriate arrangement, but Claude can’t bring himself to care. Not when Dimitri looks so happy about it. “…And how about some gardenias, too?” With a flourish, he finishes his magic show up, bowing when he’s lavished with praise and the sound of Caspar demanding he ‘SHOW HIM HOW THE FUCK HE DID THAT WHAT THE FUCK.’

“Thank you! Please enjoy the rest of the night. The cake’ll be out in a few I hear, so don’t leave yet.”

He shuts the mic off with a sigh and becomes yet another face in the crowd. He’s exhausted but satisfied. Hubert should be pleased. At least, as pleased as he can ever be with anyone who isn’t Edelgard.

“Claude?” The soothing sound of his prince's voice reaches his ears.

“I’ve still got one trick left up my sleeve.” He says before Dimitri can distract him with his perfection. Reaching down, he grabs the other’s hand. Lifting it to his lips, he presses a kiss to the soft skin, his fingers curling around Dimitri’s wrist. From the edge of the cuffs, he pulls, a stem and then the petals of another flower appearing. It’s a rose, because even Claude can be a cliched romantic every once in a while. He wraps Dimitri’s fingers around it, because the guy is frozen in place, too red in the face, unable to form a single sentence. 

“This one is special. Just for you.” Claude winks, walking off without another word.

 


 

The night finally winds down.

Claude is full of more cake than reasonably acceptable. It’s not his fault Edelgard is always so extra about everything and ordered a thirty-odd tier cake because she’s extra and Edelgard and very very extra. How was he not supposed to go up for seconds and third and fourths?

He’s regretting it now. He almost thinks getting drunk would have been a better alternative. At least then he wouldn’t remember feeling like he was going to be sick.

“Too much cake?”

“Way too much cake.” Claude repeats, face buried in his arms. He’s seated at an unoccupied table, waiting for everyone to finally clear out so he can go home with the knowledge he was going to be getting a nice, juicy deposit in his bank account. “I think I’m gonna barf.”

“Is there anything I can get you?”

“No. Stay and listen to me complain. That always makes me feel better.” Dimitri still has the rose, Claude notes when he bothers to look at him, twirling it between his fingers. “Bet you were surprised to see me.”

“It was a pleasant surprise.” Dimitri sits beside him. "Especially now that the mystery of your employment has been solved. Although it hardly feels fair, given that I played no part in discovering it.”

“It wasn’t ever a secret. I just thought it was fun to see you get frustrated about it.”

“How cruel.”

“Yeah. I’m a meany-head, I hear.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Dimitri laughs. “It was fun while it lasted, coming up with the most ridiculous of professions for you to secretly have.”

“Any ones worth sharing?”

“I rather enjoyed the one where you were actually an extraterrestrial sent to investigate human customs and employment. It explained all the different jobs you claimed not to have.”

“Wow. Did you think of that?”

“It was Ashe actually. He enjoys those sorts of conspiracy theories.”

“It’s always the cute ones.” To think an adorable chef would be the one to save them from imminent invasion, Claude muses with a snort. “I’m just your average performer with a track record consisting of MCing, magic, stand up comedy, and theatre.”

“That’s quite the repertoire.”

“Hire me for your next birthday. I’ll make it worth your while.”

“I’d rather invite you over for a casual evening of card tricks.”

“Would I be getting paid?”

“That depends on your currency of choice.”

Claude stares.

And stares.

And stares.

Dimitri clears his throat, fidgeting at the intensity of his gaze.

“I, ah, would like to ask you something.” He stammers, not quite meeting Claude’s eyes. “If I may?”

“Yeah?”

“Those flowers,” He stares down at the rose in his hand. “What did they mean? The ones at the end.”

“You really wanna know?”

“I’m curious.”

“Is that what you’re calling it?” Claude sits up with a quiet laugh. “Caught your interest, haven’t I?”

“As you always manage.”

“I’m just that charismatic. Careful not to get caught up in it.”

“I’m afraid it’s too little too late for that.”

Claude hums, dragging the vase at the center of the table over. It, like all the others, lacks the initial pessimistic and downright nihilistic bouquet of old, housing instead his own haphazard arrangement.

“Pay attention.” He says lightly. “This may be a bit much for you to process all at once.”

“I can handle whatever you throw at me.” Dimitri says it softly, still not looking at him but paying attention nonetheless. “Please proceed.”

“Geraniums.” Claude gently rubs a thumb over one of their petals. “True friendship.” He catches Dimitri’s smile at the edge of his vision. “Nice, isn’t it? Don’t think any of my friends would appreciate me sending them these, though.” Lorenz maybe, but also not at all, because he’d whine and complain at how carelessly Claude handled them.

“I would.” Dimitri, the sweetheart, replies.

“Ah, but you’re not quite a friend, are you?” Claude continues to the next. “Lilacs. Youthful joy. Suits us, doesn’t it? We’re young and wild and free to do what we want.”

“Not everything we want, but I can attest to the sentiment.”

“Whatever you say, boy scout. Daisies. Innocence and purity.”

“Oh?”

“You’re as pure as they come, Dimitri.”

“You would be surprised.”

“Delightful. I’ll take you up on that enticing invitation soon enough. Angelicas.”

“Inspiration.” Dimitri answers for him. “My father would send me those whenever I mentioned having a difficult time staying motivated during university.”

“That’s sweet. My dad would always threaten to kick my ass and tie me to a cargo train if I ever even thought about dropping out.”

“Really?”

“No. That was my mom. Honeysuckle.” Claude pauses at this one, because he can feel things heading in one direction but he’s unsure if it’ll be welcome, despite Dimitri’s obvious interest. “Honeysuckle. Affection.”

“A broad definition.”

“It all depends on perspective, like all the rest of these. Hell, I’m sure all of them probably mean ‘fuck off and never speak to me again’ in one culture or another. Perspective, you see.”

“What’s your take?”

“Aggressive affection and need for hugs.”

“I rather like that one.” Dimitri’s soft laughter warms Claude’s very being. “Continue.”

“Jasmine. Not any old jasmine. No, these are white.”

“They are.”

“Sweet love.” The type that tends to drown Claude more often than not. At least where Dimitri is involved.

“As opposed to bitter?”

“That sounds kinda sad.”

“Just a thought.”

“A sad one.”

“Where affections are involved, sadness usually follows.”

“I guess love’s inherently bittersweet, isn’t it?” Claude muses. “You’re giving yourself over to someone else completely. You’re a husk, because you want them to have everything, even if it means being left with nothing.”

“I was under the impression it meant sharing in equal parts. Thus, never leaving the other without something.”

“I like your idea better, even if I don’t fully believe it.”

“I doubt anyone does.”

“You’d think the one thing everyone’s always clamoring for wouldn’t involve suffering when you actually get it.”

“Love and pain go hand in hand, do they not? A symbiotic agony. ”

“That’s awful.”

“In a sense. But it’s also wonderful.” Dimitri smiles down at the rose in his hand. “You’re not alone, which makes it bearable. Carrying burdens is easier when you’re not the only one shouldering them.”

“Sharing misery.”

“Sharing happiness.”

“And everything in between.” Claude clicks his tongue. “We both sound like we’re geriatrics on our deathbeds. Where are the lilacs when you need them?”

“I’m afraid everyone swiped them on their way out. They’re convinced you’re either a fraud or an actual sorcerer.”

“Jokes on them. I’m both.” Claude grins at Dimitri’s exasperation. “Gardenia.”

“They’re lovely.”

“A favorite of mine.” He quiets briefly, staring at them. “Secret love.”

“An all too common circumstance.” Dimitri murmurs.

“All the worse when you know it isn’t welcome.”

“Have you ever thought that?”

“Who hasn’t?” Claude responds, but he knows it isn’t the answer Dimitri wants. His pout makes that obvious. “I’ve thought it before, but not as of late.”

“Why is that?”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” Claude laughs as Dimitri grows flustered. “Dodged a bullet on this one, didn’t I?”

“You don’t actually believe that, do you?”

“I don’t believe a lot of things. I’m confident, but never about what really matters.”

“As is the case with most people.”

“Even you?”

“Myself included.” Dimitri nods, his pink cheeks all too enticing. So enticing, Claude reaches over to brush a hand against one, its heat a comforting presence along his fingers. He catches the near imperceptible shiver that wracks Dimitri because of it. It’s how he knows he hasn’t misstepped.

“You don’t happen to know what a rose means, do you?” Claude continues, because he’s in too deep to stop now. He turns in his seat, hand moving along Dimitri’s jawline, feeling the way it clenches under his touch. “Because I don’t really remember.”

“You don’t?”

“Nope. You’re going to have to remind me.” Claude leans forward, smiling at the way Dimitri sets a hand on his waist. How firm his hold is. “Serial amnesiac whenever it's convenient is another one of my many professions. It’s very helpful whenever I return to my people and they try to probe my brain. Can’t destroy humanity if I can’t remember their weakness.”

“Have I ever told you how incredibly ridiculous you can be?”

“No, but I like how it sounds coming from you.”

“You’re such a handful.”

“Would you want me any other way?”

“Absolutely not.” Dimitri sets the rose to the side, cupping Claude’s cheeks. Cradles them as if he’s something precious. Something not be harmed. Something he holds in high esteem. Claude likes it. Loves it. Wants more of it. “I’m rather fond of the trouble you cause.”

“That so?”

“I wouldn’t have accepted that otherwise.”

“You know what it means, then.”

“Even a man as ill-learned in flowers as I am knows precisely what it means.” And with only a hint of hesitation, Dimitri finally kisses him and all is right with the world.

 


 

“Never fear! Your lord and savior Claude is here!”

“Get out!”

Ah, familiarity.

With guest.” He adds, the door shutting behind them. Dimitri shifts uncomfortably next to him.

Lysithea stares, sippy-cup brandished in one hand, toy pirate sword in the other, before backing down.

“…You can come in.”

“Appreciate it, short-stuff.” And because Claude can never quite learn his lesson, he nearly gets beaned in the head with a titanium (probably) sippy-cup. It doesn’t hit its intended target thankfully, because Dimitri is an angel lion man with ridiculous reflexes who snatches it out of the air before it can murder him. “Thanks, babe.”

“You shouldn’t provoke brilliant young women like that.” Dimitri scolds, handing it back to Lysithea, who is awe-struck by him. “My apologies for his inconsiderate language. I must say, you have quite the throwing arm.”

“I’m on a softball team.” She says shyly, watching Dimitri from beneath her eyelashes. “I’m the pitcher.”

“For good reason. I can tell you have a talent for it. I’m sure not even middle-schoolers possess that kind of power and aim.”

And because Dimitri always knows how to say the right things despite not meaning to, Lysithea brightens, cheeks flushing pink with pride and wonder and respect.

“You’re the pretty boy, aren’t you? The one Claude was too big of a dumb-dumb to ask for his number?”

“What?” Dimitri turns to look at him.

“I’ve...been exposed?” Is all he can offer in response.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Lysithea smiles, and it’s so pure and angelic Claude can’t help but feel some type of way about it. Maybe if he stopped provoking her every chance he got, she wouldn’t want to maim him whenever they saw each other. “I don’t know why you’re with him, but I like you. Do you wanna meet my mommies? Maybe they’ll adopt you so you can be my little brother.”

“I would love to be your little brother, but I doubt my father would be inclined to give up custody of me.”

“Hm, okay.” She nods, understanding his plight. “But do you want to meet my mommies?”

“Who’s going to meet your mommies?” Hilda steps out of the backroom with Marianne.  The former eyes Claude for all but a second before smirking. “Tall, blonde, and pure.”

Precious.”

“What?” Dimitri blinks, confused.

“You must be Dimitri.” Marianne steps forward, a friendly smile on her face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise…?”

“Marianne.“

“And I’m Lysithea!” The little girl exclaims. “But you can call me Lizzy. If you want.”

“And I’m Hilda, Claude’s oldest pal and number one fan. Looking forward to getting to know you. Claude won’t shut his mouth about how wonderful you are, but I’m a skeptic by nature. Hope you prove me wrong, because if you don’t—“ Hilda’s smiles turns threatening. “Well, let’s not think about that possibility.” 

“Noted.”

“Good.” And just as quickly, Hilda’s back to her usual default, charming and friendly and manipulative. Claude loves her so much. “Now that we’re all here, let’s get going! I’m starving.”

“Me too!” Lysithea says as she sidles up to Dimitri, holding her hand out to him. “You can hold my hand if you want, just so you don’t get lost. That’s what big sisters do. Protect their little brothers.”

“Thank you. I feel safer knowing you’re here to guide me.” Dimitri takes it with a warm smile and the two walk out of the store, the smallest of the pair already chatting the taller of the two’s ear off, all while he nods along.

Both Hilda and Marianne grant Claude approving looks.

“Lysithea’s never quick to grow attached to anybody.” Marianne says, surprised but not displeased. “I see you’ve found your almost match in terms of charm.”

“Yeah. If Lizzy already likes him, he can’t be all too bad.” Hilda nudges him in the side. “Ya did good, magic man.”

Claude laughs, happy and content.

“I did, didn’t I?”