A/N: Special thanks to Franzise Deauxnim at the Court Records forum for proofing this chapter. I hope you guys enjoy it. Reviews are love and happiness.
Biting her lip gently, Vera sat back in her chair and sighed softly as she stared at the half-finished painting in front of her. She'd never had so much trouble focusing on her work before today. As she glanced over her canvas and set down one of the paints that she had brought with her to the office, her eyes fell on the young defense attorney laying on one of the couches and reading the large book in his hands.
True to his word, Apollo had picked her up at eight that morning to bring her to the Wight Anything Agency. Although a bit intimidated by the brightly colored office when they had first arrived, Vera found herself able to adapt to the new environment quicker then normal with Apollo by her side. A comfortable feeling had fallen over them as they both found themselves occupied by their own tasks, with occasional conversation passing between them.
As though sensing her gaze on him, Apollo's eyes suddenly shifted towards her, causing Vera to quickly redirect her eyes back to the canvas in front of her and try to look busy as her cheeks flushed furiously. Lifting her paint brush, Vera took a deep breath and glanced over at the various paints beside her, forcing herself to intently contemplate her next color choice in an attempt to take her mind off of her companion.
"What are you painting?" Vera jumped a bit as Apollo's voice suddenly came from behind her. In her efforts to take her mind off of him, she had failed to hear his approach. Seeing her reaction, Apollo's face creased with concern. "Are you okay, Vera?"
After taking another moment to collect her thoughts, Vera finally managed a quick nod. As the shock wore off a bit more, Vera found herself able to squeak out a stuttering response. "Y-yes. I-I'm f-fine."
Still worried by her response, Apollo frowned as he mentally berated himself for being so foolish. "I'm sorry, Vera. I didn't mean to frighten you..."
"You didn't," Vera interrupted him suddenly, the unexpected amount of forcefulness in her tone shocking Apollo into silence. Although she could feel herself begin to blush and she could hear her mind screaming at her to back down, she couldn't stand the thought of his being upset, particularly about something she had done. "I'm really fine. It wasn't you. I was just a bit distracted and that's not your fault at all. I-I'm sorry to have worried you." Her outburst came to an abrupt end and Vera fell silent again as she averted her eyes, suddenly overcome by an intense uncertainty as she tried to figure out what had just come over her. As the silence stretched on between them, Vera's face flushed to an even deeper red and she began to nibble on a fingernail as she waited for Apollo's response.
Apollo's soft chuckle broke through the lingering silence, dispelling some of the awkwardness in the situation. Surprised by his reaction, Vera allowed herself to sneak a quick glance at his face and found that his gentle smile had returned to his face again. "I think that's all settled then. Why don't we pretend this whole incident never happened?"
Smiling gently, Vera was quick to nod her approval. Suddenly the phone rang sharply, breaking the peaceful quiet that had overtaken the office. Startled by the unexpected noise, Vera jumped to her feet, knocking the paints beside her to the ground. Gasping softly, Vera fell to her knees in a single-minded attempt to pick up the fallen paints before they could spill onto the carpet.
As Vera reached for a bottle of red paint which had fallen only a few inches away, her hand collided with another's. Retracting her hand quickly, Vera glanced up at the source of the extra hand to see Apollo kneeling beside her as he helped to clean up the mess.
As their eyes met, Apollo withdrew his hand quickly, his face flushing furiously as he stuttered an apology. "I-I'm so-rry-y, V-Vera. I-I d-didn't me-an..." His voice trailed off as he looked away.
Vera could feel her own face redden as she pulled her hand away quickly, her previous task forgotten as she tried to make sense of the light flutter in her chest that occurred at his touch. Flustered by the experience, Vera found herself unable to speak for several moments.
The awkward silence stretched between them and was finally broken as the phone began to ring again. Sighing softly, Apollo smiled at Vera before excusing himself to go answer the phone. Vera found her eyes following him as he headed over to the table.
Putting the phone to his ear, Apollo said, "Hello? Oh, hello Ms. Hawthorne." Falling silent as he listened, Apollo began to search through the mess on the small table. Smiling triumphantly, Apollo liberated a small pad from the mess and laid it in front of him. "I'm afraid Mr. Wright isn't in now. Would you like me to take a message?" Apollo nodded as he listened. "Okay, I'll let him know." Hanging up the phone, Apollo sighed as he glanced around the room.
"Who was that?" Vera asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"An old friend of Mr. Wright's, apparently. I actually don't know much more. Mr. Wright doesn't talk about himself much and even Trucy is unusually quiet about her. Mr. Wright seems quite fond of her when he does talk about her, though. Anyway, she couldn't reach him on his cell phone and so she decided to try calling the office," Apollo answered as he cleared some of Trucy's magic tricks off of the large piano in the room. Hesitating for a moment, Apollo set the note on the table by the couch. "I never know where to put stuff for Mr. Wright. He doesn't really spend that much time here and there doesn't appear to be one area where he always looks. I'll have to remember to mention Ms. Hawthorne's call next time I see him."
"Wouldn't it be better to set it on the piano?" Vera asked innocently. "I thought he played."
"Not quite," Apollo said with a teasing grin. "Mr. Wright never goes near that piano if he can help it. Trucy tends to use it as a table for her props."
"Oh really?" Vera asked in surprise. As she began to question further, her eyes drifted back to the soiled carpet and she faltered for a moment. Reaching for a rag by her, Vera turned her attention back to cleaning up the spilled paints. As she began roughly scrubbing the floors, frustration ran through her as the paint failed to come off the ground. A sigh escaped her as she sat back for a moment and sadly inspected the mess in front of her.
"Vera, would you mind moving over for a second?" Apollo said as he knelt down beside her again, his sudden appearance at her side causing her to a jump a bit. Calming down quickly as he squeezed her hand reassuringly, Vera could feel her cheeks flush as he moved closer to her. Having not heard or seen Apollo leave, Vera was surprised to see that he was no longer empty-handed but instead was holding a small spray bottle and a sponge. Nodding timidly, Vera moved aside and watched with wide eyes as he began to remove the stain with a surprising ease thanks to the spray. As the last of the paint came off, Apollo straightened up and smiled at Vera. "There we go. All fixed."
Clapping her hands together in delight, Vera smiled brightly at him. "T-thank you so much! I was so worried..." Vera stopped speaking abruptly and her head jerked towards the door as loud voices began to emanate through it. Frozen in terror, Vera trembled as she backed away from the door as the door opened.
Mentally cursing, Apollo jumped to his feet and pushed the door shut. Locking it quickly, he turned to check on Vera who sat on the floor, chewing nervously on her fingernail. Settling down beside Vera, Apollo tried to ease her fears. Laying his hand on her arm, he said gently, "It's okay, Vera. I promise that you're safe."
His touch drawing her attention towards him, Vera took a deep breath and managed a small nod.
At the sound of the door being unlocked from the outside, Apollo shot Vera a reassuring smile, pleased to see her manage a weak smile of her own despite her fear, and headed out the door in an attempt to get a handle on the situation. To his surprise, Trucy and three of her friends were the source of the noise. Still distracted by his concern for Vera, he stared blankly at the kids for a moment before finally turning to Trucy. "Shouldn't you guys be at school?"
"Huh?" Trucy asked, confused by the question. "Not anymore, Polly. School let out fifteen minutes ago just like always." Crossing her arms in front of her, she commented thoughtfully, "I thought you knew that."
"Oh right," Apollo said slowly as he checked his watch. "I guess I... just forgot." As his eyes darted back towards the closed door, he added, "Time got away from me today."
"Is something wrong, Apollo?" Trucy asked, hearing the hesitation in his tone and recalling the strangeness of his behavior. "Why did you slam the door like that anyway?"
Pausing a moment to collect himself, he refocused on Trucy and her friends. "Nothing's wrong. It's just that Vera's here, and all this commotion is upsetting her."
"Vera? Why is she here, and why didn't you tell me? I wouldn't have brought anybody by if I'd known!" Trucy cried, placing her hands on her hips.
"Trucy, maybe we should go," suggested the girl next to Trucy with shoulder length, light brown hair. As Apollo took a closer look at the girl for the first time, a vague recollection crossed his mind. Although he couldn't remember where he had seen her before, he was certain that he had seen her face at a previous time.
Hesitating a moment as she considered the offer, Trucy finally turned back to her friends. "Why don't you hang out, Pearl. I'll only be a moment so I can check on Vera and get that book you wanted to borrow before you headed back to Kurain. Then we'll meet up with you guys." Trucy nodded at her two other friends who, after quick murmurs of consent, left the building. "So what's the best way for me to go into the office without scaring Vera?" Trucy asked worriedly. "And why didn't you tell me she was here?"
Sighing quietly, Apollo said, "The whole idea didn't even come up until I dropped her off at her home and it was late when I made it back to my apartment. I didn't want to disturb you and your dad with a late night call. It didn't occur to me that you would stop by with a whole big group of people like this, so..." Apollo's voice trailed off as he heard the door behind him open. Twisting around to face the door, Apollo's eyes widened in surprise as he saw Vera peeking through the half open door. "V-Vera?"
"I-I j-just wa-nt-ed to ch-eck on y-you," Vera said, her voice trembling as she spoke. As she got a better look outside and realized that only one stranger was waiting, her confidence built and she opened the door a little wider. "I-I was w-worried about you," she added shyly, her eyes falling to the ground.
A gentle smile crossed his face as a wave of pride and affection spread through him. Reaching for her hand, he wrapped his fingers firmly around her own.
Her confidence building from his touch, Vera glanced up to meet his eyes and smiled. Taking another couple of tentative steps, Vera moved to stand by Apollo's side, gripping his hand tightly. "Hello Trucy." Vera said with a smile. As she turned to greet the other girl, she hesitated nervously.
"Hi," the brown haired girl said brightly,extending her hand to Vera who shied away at first.
Finally, after gathering her courage and holding onto Apollo's hand even tighter, Vera swallowed nervously and accepted the other girl's hand. With a soft but surprisingly steady voice, Vera greeted the girl. "Hi. I'm Vera Misham. It's nice to meet you."
"I'm Pearl Fey," the girl chimed in pleasantly. "It's great to meet you also."
Apollo smiled as Vera relaxed, her tight grip on his hand loosening a bit. As she glanced over at him, their eyes met and they exchanged smiles. Things were certainly looking better each day.