ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2011-11-24 12:00 am
Entry tags:

Fake News: Castles in the Sand, part 4

Title: Castles In The Sand (4/10)
Rating: PG-13
Pairings/Characters: Olivia/Kristen, Jon/c!Stephen, Congresswoman Duchess Norton, c!Stephen/Tad (subtext), Amy
Warnings: Fire!
Disclaimer: Characters belong to the Report. Names of real people are used in a fictitious context, and all dialogue, actions, and content are products of the author's imagination only.

Amazing beta job by [personal profile] queenfanfiction. Decorative capitals by Daily Drop Cap. Chapter index: Table of Contents




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Jon was halfway through his morning push-ups when Stephen skipped into the room. Fresh from the communal guest bathroom down the hall, he had gleaming scrubbed skin and hair combed into a dashing side part. "Going down to the Report. Be back later, okay?"

"Maybe you better not," said Jon, much as he hated to bring down Stephen's radiating cheer. "They're working pretty hard on the repairs and restocking. Land people like us would just get in the way."

"Not me!" exclaimed Stephen. "I already talked to Tad. He promised he'd show me how to help."

"Oh, well, in that case." Jon sat up and stretched, letting his muscles cool down. "Give me a minute to wash up and I'll walk you down there."

"That's okay. I remember the way."

"I'm sure you do. But, you know...just to be safe...."

Stephen's eyes narrowed. "What are you trying to say, Jon?"

"I just don't think you should be walking through town alone," admitted Jon. "At the Castle they knew you, and in En-by-the-Sea they're used to people from all over. But out here all they'll see is your ear and your accent, and...it hasn't been that long since the war, you know?"

"Oh, all right," huffed Stephen. "But it wasn't you Tad invited, okay? So once we get to the ship you have to promise to turn around and go straight back."

It struck Jon that this must be how it felt to have a teenager.

He was pulling on a fresh shirt when he came out of the washroom a few minutes later, and nearly ran into Olivia. "Are you guys going down to the ship? Can I come? I think I remember the way, but just to be safe."

"Uh, sure," stammered Jon. "Were you invited too?"

"I sort of invited myself," said Olivia with a shrug. "But the invite was accepted, so it's cool."


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Of course," said Stephen, loud enough for half the table to hear, "it can't be as good as what we have in Commedia."

Knives stopped with fillets of salmon half-cut; wine glasses paused in midair. Olivia, whose appetite had come back with a vengeance the day before, took another forkful of lemon meringue, but quietly.

At the head of the table Duchess Norton drew herself up, with an expression that looked as if she had been sucking on a lemon, and very much disapproved of both Stephen and the lemon. "Young man, the Eagle Islands are part of Commedia."

Whatever it was Stephen had been putting down in the first place (the meal? The hospitality in general? The flora and fauna of the islands, with their gigantic flowers and the largest animal about half the size of a unicorn?) faded into unimportance as he said, with breezy unconcern, "No, they're not."

"Excuse me?"

"It's Commedia Central," said Stephen patiently, as if explaining to a child. "The Eagles aren't central to anything. They're about as far away from the center as you can get."

"Be that as it may, Mr.—"

"Stephen."

"Stephen what?" snapped the Duchess.

Olivia swallowed quickly, intending to come to Stephen's aid. Before she could come up with a distraction, though, Stephen mumbled...something. To her ears it sounded like a cross between "freedom" and "freeman." The translation crystal subtitled it as "citizen."

"Mr. Freem," repeated Duchess Norton briskly. "You're not the brightest tool in the shed, are you, Mr. Freem?"

"Your Grace, please," began Jon; but Stephen cut him off, self-assurance back and flaring: "I'm not a tool."

"Of course not. Well, I'll have you know that I was personally appointed by Her Majesty as the administrator of these Islands. Now as for you, Mr. Freem, back in the Castle which you seem to think is the be-all and end-all of Her Majesty's territory...what exactly is it that you do?"

"I'm a performer," said Stephen, matching the Duchess' stern face eyebrow for eyebrow. "A very famous one, too. If you weren't way out here on the edge of civilization, you would probably have heard of me already."

This time it was the Duchess who cut off Jon's attempt at conciliation. "Not now, Sir Stewart. The gentleman and I are having a fascinating conversation. Well, Mr. Freem, let's see it."

Caught off-guard, though less badly this time, Stephen blurted, "See what?"

"Your performance, of course!"

"What, now?"

"We'll do an abridged version," interrupted Olivia, addressing the Duchess directly. "Or one good dramatic scene. And you'll just have to live without subtitles."

Duchess Norton ran her over with a none too friendly eye. "Are you a part of this man's performance, then?"

"I'm the best half of it!" exclaimed Olivia. "Oh! And we'll need to borrow some chairs."


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Five standing people and one hasty reorganization of tables later, Stephen was doing vocal warm-ups at the heart of the semicircle of viewers while Olivia molded the wood of the chairs into a tall, foreboding shadow.

"She does plan to put those back how she found them, right?" muttered the Duchess to Kristen, who had ended up with the dubious fortune of sitting at her right hand.

"It's just an illusion," Kristen assured her. "They'll go back automatically if Olivia loses focus, or runs out of power. Or if you were to, say, hit them with a rock."

"Why would I do that?"

Right. Talking up your girlfriend's combat abilities in front of your touchy host: probably a bad idea. "Uh, no reason. Hey, look, I think they're getting started."

Although most of the viewers wouldn't understand a word of it, the tension in Stephen's narration was palpable as he mimed the anxious descent of the Company through the mines. Crags and stalactites shifted around him, allowing him to walk in circles with ever-changing scenery; when he turned a corner and met glowing red eyes, there was a palpable gasp.

Olivia's jutsu rendition of the Shadow-Beast had been different in every show Kristen watched. This one coalesced from the shadows with broad ox's horns and claws like dragons' teeth. "'This foe is far beyond your ken / So heed my call and help me not!'" chorused Stephen, waving invisible allies forward with one hand and brandishing an imaginary staff with the other.

The creature's mouth opened in a mighty silent roar—

—and an arc of flame erupted across its head and shoulders, licking merrily up to the tip of each horn.

illustration

Stephen let out an unscripted yelp, jumping three feet back in one leap. By some miracle his recitation didn't break. "And so he swung his staff of oak / And said, 'Fell beast from paths below / My spells are old, my power strong / Beyond this point you shall not pass!'"

In spite of Olivia's firm (and clearly wrong) beliefs about the Shadow-Beast and fire, she had never before worked out the jutsu to portray it. Kristen fought back a shudder, and made a mental note to get over it and offer proper congratulations later, no matter how much it stung....

Something white flashed near Olivia's head.

It took a moment to find her—Olivia's ninja skills of invisibility were in full swing—but then the subtitles flashed again, clear as day: Call off your fire!

Under her breath, too low for the Duchess to hear, Kristen said, "What?"

Olivia's own speech was too muted even to lip-read, but she must have been clear enough, for the subtitles picked up again. I appreciate that you've finally admitted I'm right, but this is not a good time! Can't you see you're scaring Stephen?

"Hang on," whispered Kristen. "It's not your fire?"

Both women stared in mutual wide-eyed horror.

Stephen was reciting the apex of the battle in an ever-squeakier voice when Olivia yanked back the flame-touched shadow-arm that had been grasping for his throat. Kristen made a few frantic passes with her hands, to no avail; the outburst was already well beyond her control.

Though it wrenched her soul to do so, she hefted two silver pitchers of fruit juice from the table and leaped to her feet. Olivia caught on instantly and squashed the shadowy figure until it was low enough for Kristen to empty her entire payload over the spreading flames.

The illusion collapsed with a clatter. Where the Shadow-Beast had loomed lay a heap of chairs, some scorched, most wet, letting off a gently hissing cloud of steam.

"...and tumbled down the darkened depths / from whence his words were heard no more," said Stephen into the shocked silence, and bowed as if his life depended on it.


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After the Report's cramped bunks, the guest beds provided by the Duchess were downright luxurious. Modesty pushed Jon into a thin pair of boxers and thinner cotton undershirt; Stephen, with no such filter, stretched out naked on the gold-threaded sheets and let the breeze from the window flutter over him.

"Looks like you're making full use of the facilities," teased Jon, the mattress dipping under him as he ran a hand along Stephen's bicep down to his bare underarm. The men of Vulpis rarely grew beards anyway, but the morning after their landing most of Stephen's existing body hair had vanished, and remained meticulously absent ever since. "You like the smooth look?"

Stephen wriggled away from his touch. "That tickles," he complained, "and no. It's a pain and it takes forever. You wouldn't understand."

"Probably not." The only shaving Jon bothered with was his chin, and even that was prone to falling by the wayside at the height of a quest. "So why do you do it?"

"Because I have to, Jon!" The declaration started off firm, but rapidly flagged in strength as it went on. "I'm supposed to...to look...p-pleasing."

The surge of self-loathing as he realized where the belief had come from was palpable. Jon felt it; Stephen could feel that he felt it; Jon could feel how mortifying the knowledge was; Stephen could feel that Jon didn't judge; Jon could feel that that didn't help....

Outside the buzz of cricket songs rose and fell, playing in disjointed harmony with the not-too-distant waves.

"So, hey, you have a last name now." Jon swung his legs up onto the mattress, where he rested his arms on his knees and leaned back against the palm leaves carved into the headboard. "Officially endorsed and everything."

Stephen warmed to the subject change immediately. "It's not official," he countered. "It's not like she's a Commedien duchess. She doesn't get to endorse anything for me."

"Stephen, I hate to break it to you, but...."

"What kind of a word is 'freem', anyway?" said Stephen. He nudged Jon's elbow aside, and then his head was pillowed in Jon's lap, comfortable as you please. "It's a stupid word."

Jon stretched his legs toward the far bedposts, leaving his hands free. "You're the one who came up with it."

"Only because she caught me off guard!" said Stephen. "I didn't know these people were going to be prejudiced against the last-nameless."

Just say it, Jon told himself. "Why not change it to 'Stewart'?" Spit it out already.

"Any prejudice they had," he found himself saying instead, "you blew it out of the water with that performance. Even when Olivia's thing with the fire went wrong, it was impressive."

Stephen winced. "About that...."

"Hm?"

"As a non-Ring aficionado, I wouldn't expect you to appreciate this," began Stephen, fidgeting, "but the fact that the Shadow-Beast is on fire is a very important thematic element in the narrative. If Olivia knew how to pull it off, she would have done it long before now."

"But she said...." Jon blinked. "Okay, I thought she would know better than to spring that on you. But if it wasn't her, why lie? If someone on the island is running around setting fires, the rest of us should know about it. And if Kristen's powers are starting to come back, why isn't she shouting it from the rooftops?"

"What if she can't control them?" said Stephen. "That would be a good reason. Who would want to go on a long sea voyage with an out-of-control fire mage?"

Crickets.

"It's a quest," said Jon, tracing the line of Stephen's jaw. "I have to go, Stephen. It's what I do."

"You don't always! Sometimes you fight wars!"

"Well, yes. But I prefer quests."

"And other times you live with me! Do you like quests better than that?"

In a motion that his back would surely hound him about later, Jon bent down to pin Stephen with a kiss. It was a cruel trick, taking advantage of the reflex that still made Stephen go pliant and obedient when pulled into something sexual without warning, and he held it only long enough to be sure he had Stephen's attention before backing away. "I love you. More than—Stephen, you can't know how much I love you."

"Can so," said Stephen, more out of instinctive contrariness than any lingering anger. "Soulbond."

"Well, yes, there is that." Jon pulled Stephen's hand to his lips for a kiss that didn't require him to be a contortionist. Why had he been worrying so much? The bond they had already was deeper and more enduring than anything a ceremony could forge. "Then you know I'm not going to stop, no matter what else I have to focus on. And no matter what you decide to do."

"I...yes, but...!"

"I wouldn't ask you to give up the theater," Jon went on. "I wouldn't tell you to stop spending time with Tad and Amy. Don't ask me not to do this."


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Where are we going, exactly?" asked Kristen, pausing to kick an errant pebble out of her sandal before scurrying over the dunes to catch up. "If there's a nude beach on this side of the island, I expect some warning."

"Oh, relax," chided Olivia, tipping back her wide-brimmed straw hat to flash a disarming grin. "It's the good kind of surprise, I promise. Almost there."

Battered wooden piers stretched out into the surf every couple of hundred feet, mirrored by their just-visible twins on the next island over. Kristen had lost count of how many they had passed, and there didn't seem to be any other landmarks aside from the trees, but Olivia moved with a purpose that suggested she knew exactly where they were headed.

When she stumbled over the next dune, their target became clear: a pint-sized craft, smartly done up with blue trim and gull-white sails. Amy perched on the side, trailing her heels in the water.

"You're late!" yelled the air mage as they approached, the wind carrying her voice perfectly to their ears. "Step it up, or I'm taking off without you!"

"Oh, keep your hair on!" shouted Olivia in return. "At least we didn't pantyflash half the world on the way!"


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For as long as she could remember, Olivia had dreamed about flying.

In the long queasy weeks on the ship she had almost forgotten the incandescent jealousy at seeing Kristen drop out of the sky on Amy's arm. Not because she felt threatened on the romantic front—especially not after she learned about Amy's remarkable troll impression—but because she hadn't had a turn in the air. They all came back in a rush as Amy guided the craft out, powers carrying it along fast as a bird and perfectly level, toes a few inches from the deck all the while.

"You're not even breaking a sweat!" observed Kristen in awe. "Well, no more than you'd expect. With the sun, and the not wearing a hat...."

"Well, you know what they say," said Amy. "Hats may blow away, but skin cancer is forever."

"You haven't even seen the best part," added Olivia. "Amy! Show her."

The air mage grinned and let her grip on the elements fade. Still light on her feet, but with those feet now squarely in contact with the boards below, she skipped over to adjust the sail.

In perhaps half an hour the borrowed craft circled the second island, from the bay out to the open ocean and back again, with only old-fashioned non-magical seamanship to keep the wind and waves from having their way with it. Unlike the main island with its port and seaside businesses, this smaller one was largely forests, private beaches, and unwelcoming bluffs against which more than a few ships had smashed over the years. As long as you kept a safe distance, the view was glorious.

Olivia, who had seen it all before, kept her eyes on Kristen, and puffed up a little more each time the fire mage's gaze turned to her in disbelief. "It's a miracle," she said at last, as they sailed into the narrow channel between the second and third of the Eagles. "One of you is a miracle worker."

"Practice," said Olivia breezily, trying to pretend she wasn't fit to burst.

At last, the original beach in sight once more, Amy took back control. The sailboat rose to the top of the waves and skimmed arrow-straight over the water.

Olivia threw wide her arms and drank in the spray. "Suck it, seasickness!"

illustration


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Stephen couldn't remember who had come up with the idea of building a sand castle, but it was coming along stunningly. Much as he loved Castle Central, he had a lot of great ideas for ways to improve the design. It helped that Tad seemed to have a knack for finding the best shells, as if his thick dark frames were calibrated to pick them up, and he showed Stephen how to make turrets by dribbling wet sand through his fingers.

The plan had been to meet Amy and go right back to the Report, but they had showed up early, and Stephen was glad for it. He hadn't had this much fun on the beach since...well, ever.

"A masterpiece!" declared Tad, clapping his hands, as Stephen mounted a stray bluebird feather in the highest tower to serve as a flag. "I don't know how we're ever going to top that. Ooh! Can I bury you in the sand?"

"No!" yelped Stephen, scrambling backwards.

"All right, all right," said Tad. "It was just a suggestion."

He looked hurt, though, and it took Stephen a minute to parse the feelings this stirred up. Guilt? Tenderness? A sense that it would be okay to tell him...what?

Listen, Tad, there's a reason I freak out about being buried. It's also why I'm afraid of fire, and why Olivia comes up with excuses so she won't have to walk alone....

Not fair. That would get into Olivia's story, which wasn't Stephen's to spill.

Hey, Tad, guess what? This time last year, I wasn't a person yet.

Too much!

That was rude of me, Tad, and I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I have issues, that's all. And secrets. Lots of secrets. And maybe that means I'm not cut out to be that great of a friend.

I do want to be your friend, Tad. When you're not accidentally bringing up bad memories, you make me feel comfortable. And it lights me up when you smile.

Tad, I like your smile. And your hair, the way it falls loose. Jon's would curl like that if he let it grow, but he keeps it short, and always brushes it back.

Tad, I like....


The navigator's gaze had shifted to the bay, its every wave lapping nearer to their feet. (A stray curl fell over his frames.) "Aha!" he exclaimed (Stephen's hand jerked back). "There's the boat!"


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Lowering her voice so the men coming down the dock wouldn't hear, Kristen whispered something in Amy's ear as she guided the boat up to the pier.

"Dunno," said Amy with a shrug. Then, before Kristen could stop her, she hollered at the top of her surprisingly robust lungs, "HEY TAD! YOU THINK I'M TOUGH ENOUGH TO KEEP THINGS UNDER CONTROL IF SOME HYPOTHETICAL OTHER MAGE'S POWERS WERE MISFIRING A LITTLE?"

"I DON'T THINK IT," shrieked Tad in return. "I KNOW IT! HYPOTHETICALLY."

Swiftly they tethered the boat and stowed the sail: Kristen wincing, Olivia amused, Amy and Tad as blankly cheerful as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Stephen hung back at first, but once they had all climbed and/or floated up onto the dock, he clasped Amy's hand like she had just lifted him out of a mine.
politicette: (Default)

[personal profile] politicette 2011-11-24 05:48 am (UTC)(link)
Tad, I like....

STEPHEN COLBERT, DON'T YOU DO IT, BOY

I have 95 million feelings about this chapter and all of them are about Stephen/Tad. On one hand, noooooooooooo, Jon wants to marry him! ;_; They can't break up they're my one true pairing.

On the other hand I feel like it would be really good for Stephen to form a relationship as an independent citizen! Regardless of what it became, Jon/Stephen, in this verse, has its roots in Stephen feeling obligated to please Jon and interact with him sexually and IDK how healthy it is for that to be his primary relationship! EMOTIONS.

Clearly they should all just be happy poly puppies.

The small part of me not consumed with thoughts about this single line in the entire chapter is deeply perplexed by the Amy/"Stephen"/Tad friendship developing. It's almost my favorite thing... only... really different, and I can't decide if it's awesome or not because I'm too busy being confused!

Oh. The other thing! I'm having a lot of fun trying to figure out which of the girls is about to form a babby. Excessive seasickness points to Olivia, but dysfunctional fire powers say Kristen. I'm not comfortable making a judgement either way just yet, guess I'll just have to see*~*~
politicette: (Default)

[personal profile] politicette 2011-11-24 12:16 pm (UTC)(link)
WAIT I HAVE ONE MORE FEELING.

In a motion that his back would surely hound him about later, Jon bent down to pin Stephen with a kiss. It was a cruel trick, taking advantage of the reflex that still made Stephen go pliant and obedient when pulled into something sexual without warning

Joooooooon what are you doing. I hope your conscience is going to hound you about that later, too, because that is creepy as fuck dude.
ladyjaderains: (Default)

[personal profile] ladyjaderains 2011-11-24 07:55 am (UTC)(link)
First of all, I'm an idiot! After finishing 1-3 I figured out that I had totally skipped the beginning. Every time I think I've read all of your fic (not doc, stupid smartphones with their stupid auto correct) I realize that I managed to miss something .

As someone who started this story with an advanced, more "Stephen" Stephen and then went back and seen where he came from I have to say, bravo! The whole thing was so heartbreaking and endearing (seeing stars for the first time, frozen tears on his face, Jon merging his soul... gah and the list goes on). I am totally in love with this AU and if you were to write a version as epic as The Lord of the Rings I would not complain:) As soon as I got caught up I seen that you posted part IV and if I were physically able to I would have performed Ikkaku's "lucky dance".

I was really interested to see what you were going to do with Stephen's lack of body hair. Especially since he's stated/joked (I believe more than once) that he shaves his whole body before doing the Report. I was not disappointed. You have a really brilliant way of bringing the small, habitual qualities of Stephen's former status to the forefront in a much more powerful way than blatant narration. A skill that I must work on, I'm afraid:)

Unrelated to this chapter, the idea of Fred reminded me very much of something from an older anime called Ronin Warriors. Have you, by any chance, seen it?
queenfanfiction: Jon/Stephen, Rally buildup shows, caption "believe in the me / that believes in you" (LateNight JS/SC believe)

[personal profile] queenfanfiction 2011-11-24 03:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I'm having trouble deciding if I like Duchess ELEANOR MOTHERFUCKING HOLMES NORTON best, or Tad/Amy. IT'S A HARD CHOICE OKAY. xD

Either way, THIS IS SO AWESOME AND I LOVE IT. All the angst! All the LOL! All the fire ever! <3
kribban: (Default)

[personal profile] kribban 2011-11-24 11:33 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't have time to comment and am going away on a trip tomorrow: Let me just say that I've read ch 3 and 4.

I love the focus on Jon's work-out and wanting to be Stephen's personal body guard. I've said it before; the whole idea that he's a physically strong warrior is one of the coolest things about this verse.

So, if Vulpin was at war with Commedia but now there is peace? For how many years were they at war?

Jon mentions that Stephen's ear would give him away. I thought his ear was a birth defect, and not an ethnic characteristic?

SO much love to you for getting the person =/= human being-thing. It makes me wonder if corporate personhood exists there?

Re: what politicette said; maybe Tad is Stephen's first real "teen" crush? It's not a real romantic love, and it doesn't mean he'll cheat on Jon, but he now has the freedom to think and feel things he couldn't when he was growing up.

Also: inevitable conflict re: Jon's duties as a knight and soldier vs. Stephen wanting him to live a civilian life. I imagine it's a bit like being a Marine in the sense that you are always loyal to the Corps and that comes first.