Translucent hands trembled as he laid the cutlery out, his eyes blurring from unshed tears. He would get it right this time. He had to get it right. Cass folded the napkins into triangles, standing on the sparkling white dishes rimmed with gold. Two menus, one on either side of the wine bucket that held a red wine of some unseemly price range. He straightened the candles that were on the side of the table this time. (Cass remembered the time when the candles were in the middle and Geoffrey accidentally knocked them over with a wild gesticulation that caused the hot wax to land on Alexander's cheek. He winced to remember that night.)
"The package has arrived, Babydog," Malachi's voice crackled over Cass's earpiece.
Hastily, Cass lit the candles; he could see the flame through his hand. In the comm, he said, "Dude, we don't need codenames."
Erika chimed in, "Babydog is a cute codename!"
Cass chose not to respond, straightening the cutlery once more. Then straightening his tie, and pulling his cuffs down, and—the door of La Bella Gente swung open. The air felt charged; Cass's lips parted when he saw Geoffrey and Alexander walk in, arm in arm. The entire restaurant felt it, a hush falling over everyone. Though, they were all Cass's co-workers. They all knew his existence was at stake.
"Richard, engage," Cass whispered into the comm.
The host at the door welcomed the couple in flowing Italian then switched to English. "You have a reservation?"
"Yes, of course," Alexander said. "Under Page." He smiled, and it took Cass's breath away.
"Right this way, sirs," Richard led the men to the table Cass perfected.
A crackle in his head and Malachi said, "You look just like Alexander, Babydog."
Cass fought off his blush as he pulled out the chairs and offered to pour the chilled wine. "Yes, thank you," Geoffrey said, running a hand through his thick black hair.
As he filled their glasses, the red liquid sloshing elegantly up the sides, he described the Chef's special for the evening, listing foods that he knew they would never get but playing the part anyway. He finished with, "I'll let you peruse the menu for a moment," and backed away as the two men spoke in soft tones.
He went to the kitchen where Erika chopped up a pepper. "I think I want to be a chef," she said with a smile. "It'd be much more fun than a temporal regulator."
"Liar." Cass leaned against the counter, watching Erika's motions. "What's more fun than fixing the timeline?"
Erika tossed the pepper into a pot of simmering marinara with a laugh. "Not much, but I wouldn't be at risk of dislocation." She gave him a pointed look. "Seriously, Cass, how many times have you done this?"
A forced smile lit across his face. "Enough. I'll get it this time. I'll still be here come tomorrow." He hoped.
"Babydog," Malachi said over the comm. "They're ready."
"Knock 'em up, Babydog," Erika said to Cass's retreating form. He stifled a groan.
Smiling, he took Geoffrey and Alexander's orders, which never changed (pasta di mare for Geoffrey and lasagna for Alexander). Before he escaped to place the orders, Geoffrey stopped him. "Have I met you somewhere before?"
A blink. Another. This was new. "No, sir. I only just started working here recently."
"What did you say your name was?" Alexander asked, peering at him from behind thick glasses.
His breath caught. "Cass. Casimir." He cleared his throat. Trying to look anywhere else. The candles he set up perfectly, the quiet fountain, the tablecloth, the hardwood floor, the chandelier.
Alexander stared for a moment longer. "Ah, well, maybe you just have one of those faces." He glanced at Geoffrey with a raised eyebrow, his unwieldy brown curls pulled back from his face. Geoffrey shrugged.
Cass might have smiled. He could have very well grimaced. Shoving into the kitchen, he handed the order to Erika. "They recognized me," he said, breathless.
Erika arched a perfectly shaped auburn eyebrow. "Of course they did. You're like their love child."
"I am their—that's not what I mean." Cass sighed. "They've never recognized me before."
"Babydog," Malachi's alarmed voice over the headset. "We need to abort."
"What?! Why?" Cass started for the kitchen door, and as he reached to peek out, the door swung inward, smacking him in the forehead. He hissed out a breath. "Shit!" He squeezed his eyes shut, breathing through the pain.
"Oh, shoot, are you all right?"
Cass's eyes shot open. Alexander and Geoffrey stood in the doorway, concern bright on their faces. "I'm fine. Why are you back here? Did you need to speak to a manager? I just placed your order—"
Geoffrey smiled, big and welcoming, so many teeth. What Cass would give to be able to hug him again. "No manager necessary, just a moment of your time."
"Uh, no?" He pressed his hand to his ear. "Malachi, abort approved." No response. "Malachi?"
He turned to Erika, frozen in place mid-flip of a piece of grilled chicken. "What the fuck?" he muttered.
"What the fuck, indeed," Alexander said. He stepped into the kitchen and sat on the only clean space on the counter. "Casimir"—the disappointed sound of his dad's voice deflated him—"would you mind telling us what's going on? We've had this same date about forty-six—"
"Forty-eight," Geoffrey interjected.
"—times, and we don't like this restaurant that much," Alexander finished.
Cass glanced at Erika then back at Alexander. He clutched a little black box in his hand. "How did you get that?" Time-locking was theoretical, a black box shouldn't be able to do that.
"We invented it, Cass," Geoffrey said with a chuckle. "We wouldn't have left ourselves in an infinite loop."
The Executives made the rules of the black box, rules supposedly backed by the inventors. "I—" How much could he say without getting into trouble? Dislocated, he didn't have much time left anyway.
"We're not mad, Cass. We want to help," Alexander said with a smile.
Geoffrey added, "And I'm rather sick of pasta di mare." Crossed arms and an easy smirk.
Fishing into his pocket, Cass pulled out a small photo with a thin silver frame. He swallowed, stared at Geoffrey and Alexander in their tuxedos, smiling at each other with wedding rings glinting in the camera flash. It was slightly faded, but time had that effect on a lot of things. He glanced at his translucent hands. Himself included.
He handed the photo to Geoffrey, Alexander leaning over his shoulder to look. They looked up at Cass, the dampness on his cheeks. He forced a smile, wondering how translucent he was now. "I just wanted to see my dads again."