ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2013-02-14 03:14 am

Fake News | Jon/"Stephen", Trevor Potter, others | PG-13 | A River So Long (2/3)

Title: A River So Long: being a multi-season Love Story in three Acts, color-coded for Your Convenience (brought to you by Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) (Act 2)
Characters/Pairings: Jon/"Stephen", correspondents, OC
Rating: PG-13
Contents: Sex, drugs, rock'n'roll
Disclaimer: #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement. 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.

8) Prompt: Stephen's tirade on election night. "Then you realise you made a terrible mistake but it will be too late, you had the chance but you rejected him and now [Mitt Romney] will never want your [vote] again." We all know he meant "Jon" instead of "Mitt" and "love" instead of "vote."

After getting off to a rocky start, Stephen and Jon try to maintain their fledgling relationship. Can it stand up to the pressure of an election year?

AO3 mirror | Act I | Act II | Act III






Act II. The Blue State
Election season.





February.

For the record, Stephen had every intention of fulfilling Jon's request. Eventually. When he got up the nerve. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week.

In the meantime, it wasn't exactly a pressing issue. It wasn't like back down South, where a couple of straight-laced God-fearing all-American men couldn't even be friends unless they backslapped hard enough and never talked about anything too fruity, like women as equals or the existence of emotions other than anger. Here in the liberal stronghold where he was unlucky enough to be living and earning millions of dollars, you could practically tongue-lock each other live on televison and the public would dismiss it as "such a beautiful friendship."

This kind of froufy openness meant Jon shouldn't have any trouble waiting for him. Jon had already been in the habit of mentioning Stephen warmly on a regular basis, shoving his naked affection for the man in everybody's faces. Why couldn't he just keep doing that indefinitely? He didn't need to lie or do anything unusual to spend time with his boyfriend; he could say "Sorry, I'm busy, having dinner with Stephen tomorrow," and everyone would know exactly as much as they needed to without batting an eye.

So Stephen was going to be brave and fess up to the whole thing in public one of these days, but there wasn't any real reason for it. Which, if you think about it, made him all the more brave for making the plans at all. He was very impressed with himself when he thought about it, enough that he needed to take a couple of days to recover from how impressive he was.

And his plea for delay had nothing to do with the fact that he now had enough untraceable cash to buy and sell a dozen younger, hotter, less picky partners if he felt like it.

Not in the beginning, anyway.





When Valentine's Day itself rolled around, Jon woke up at half past six to find Stephen doing the world's most terrifying cat-staring-all-up-in-your-face impression.

"Gyargh!" he choked, pushing Stephen away until their noses were several feet from each other instead of like three inches. "Oh my god don't scare me like that. What are you doing? Is anything wrong?"

Stephen pulled Jon's cream-colored comfortor more snugly around himself. The fact that he pulled it off of Jon in the process didn't seem to bother him. "What'd'ya get me?"

"...what?"

Stephen's eyes narrowed. Jon couldn't help but notice how the hue made Stephen's skin look pink and appealing (and brought out the warm browns in his eyes), in sharp contrast to the way Jon always ended up feeling kind of ashy in comparison to his own furnishings. "Don't tell me you forgot to get me a Valentine."

"Apparently your Valentine is the full use of my bedcovers," said Jon dryly. "C'mere. It's cold."

Though he didn't let it go without a good long pout, Stephen submitted to snuggling. "I want chocolate."

"There's probably some chocolate in the house," allowed Jon.

"Is it heart-shaped? Wrapped in a ribbon? Packaged in sparkly red?"

"Uh...."

"Jo-on! If you don't buy into prepackaged consumer rituals in the gaudiest and most commercial way possible, how am I supposed to know if you care about me at all?"

Jon nuzzled his neck, unworried. When exactly had Stephen's pouting shifted in his mind from annoying to adorable? "Stephen, we have work in an hour, and I'm not going to waste any of that traipsing through the slush to get you chocolate. Because I want to spend as much time as possible with you. Okay?"

When Stephen spoke again, the indignation had mellowed right out of him. "I guess this once I'll allow it."





March.

Documents in hand, Jon stopped at to Stephen's apartment, not bothering to go all the way up to his own. Stephen was watching TiVoed Game of Thrones from behind the couch, and paused it in a hurry when Jon found him. "Jon! I'm fine. Never better. What are you so suspicious for?"

"Um," said Jon. "I was actually just here to give you some good news."

At last Stephen spotted the envelope in his hand, the twin of the one Stephen had gotten a couple of days earlier. "They came back clean?"

"Yep. Everything's clear."

"We can stop using condoms?" breathed Stephen.

Jon grinned and sketched a bow, sweeping the envelope like a doffed hat. "We can stop using condoms."

Stephen, who had been shocked and affronted when Jon insisted on putting safe sex back on the table ("If one of us has something, the other probably has it by now anyway!"), dragged him over to the couch for a celebratory blowjob.

The TV screen was frozen on a still of a striking, disapproving older redhead, which Jon was afraid was going to do strange things to his mental imagery. But then Stephen's face was between his legs already breathing hard though he hadn't even gotten Jon's pants off, and, mmm, that was a pretty all-encompassing sight....

"So glad you're a dude," murmured Stephen. Jon had to focus to understand the words, what with Stephen's lips moving right there and all. "If you're gonna be living in sin, with another guy is the way to do it."

"Hey now," said Jon, because if you were going to be pedantic you couldn't just let it slide because the circumstances were distracting. "Gonna have to take issue with your phrasing there."

"Of course you are." Stephen started undoing Jon's fly. "But you can't argue the principle. It is way cheaper to be in a relationship where you can put out all you want without pressuring the country as a whole to subsidize it."

Okay, now this was starting to harsh Jon's buzz. (He kind of wanted to punch whoever had decided to reignite a public debate on contraception in the first place.) "Stephen, that's not fair," he said, squirming in an effort to find an angle that would make the arm of the couch a more comfortable pillow. "There are lots of women on birth control for medical reasons that have nothing to do with sex. And even when they're not, insurance covers Viagra, right? It covers STDs. If I had accidentally given you herpes back in January, wouldn't you want the treatment?"

"That's different, Jon! Herpes can be contracted by a single unplanned incident in college when you're young and impressionable and have had a couple drinks and it turns out the square-jawed football player called Duke knows how to say a couple of phrases in Quenya. Being on birth control implies premeditated sluttitude."

It was high time for a strategic withdrawal in Operation: Lie Down Comfortably On This Stupid Couch. Jon sat up. The sudden height advantage was arresting enough to make Stephen stop nibbling on his boxers and glance at his face. "Seriously, Stephen, you have to knock that off. The insults, I mean."

"I have free speech!" protested Stephen. "Just like Rush Limbaugh!"

"Yeah, and I have the freedom to control access to my pants. Limbaugh is, for a variety of reasons, not allowed anywhere near them. You want to hang on to your own all-access pass, you don't call women on birth control sluts. You don't call any woman a slut. Or...or a whore, or anything like that. Got it?"

Stephen's brows furrowed. "What if she's eighty percent of the female characters on Game of Thrones?"

"...If someone literally has a career as a prostitute, and if it's relevant, you may refer to them a prostitute," allowed Jon. "But that's all."

"Oh, fine." Stephen rested his head on Jon's thigh. "Are you going to go back to making sexy faces now?"

Jon had a feeling he was pretty much tapped out on sexy faces for the moment. Then he made the mistake of glancing at the TV screen again, and yeah, that lady really did not approve. "Finish your episode," he said instead. "I'll even watch with you. Unless you wanted to be behind the couch again? What were you doing there, anyway?"

"I'm not scared of the dragons!" blurted Stephen. "Or the wolves! Or the bears. Are there bears? It seems like the kind of universe that would have a lot of bears."

"Dunno." Jon shifted positions so he could be the big spoon. "Are there bears in the books?"

Stephen managed to put aside some of his terror to be condescending. "You're cute," he said, handing Jon a throw pillow long enough for both their heads to rest on. "You think I've read the books."





April.

Ducking into the break room for a soda and some Doritos (so Stephen had rubbed off on him, so sue him), Jon nearly ran into a huddle of excited correspondents, several of whom clammed up in a hurry. "Hey, guys. What's going on?"

Al immediately straightened up and adjusted his glasses in an authoritative manner. "Well, I can tell you one thing," he said, in his most professorial voice. "It's definitely not an illegal betting pool."

"Guys, it's fine. Jon's cool," said Sam, trying to sling her arms over the shoulders of Al and a nervous-looking Jessica. "Hey, Jon, how about it? You want to get in on this?"

"Depends on what we're betting on," said Jon. Also, who was running the pool. He scanned the circle and settled on Jason, judging by the clipboard and the fake glasses.

It was Wyatt who answered him. "Which former Republican primary candidate will be the first one to have a possibly alcohol-fueled public breakdown in the street."

"I have dibs on Herman Cain," added John Oliver. "I know this man. I have spent time with this man. He is a lock. There will be tears involved. Also, pizza. Possibly rants about space aliens."

"Speaking as someone who traveled extensively with the Gingrich campaign," put in Sam, "I am all in. You have no idea the kind of Cheese-Whiz-fueled benders already going on in the back of that bus."

"I really want it to be Ron Paul, 'cause that would be hilarious," said Wyatt casually. "But I don't know if it's worth putting money on."

"Al was just about to flip a coin to decide whether to go with Santorum or Perry," said Jason to Jon. "Unless you wanted to call one of them first?"

Sure, why not? "Put me down for fifty on Santorum."

"Ooh!" exclaimed Jessica, while Jason was scribbling the information down. "Ooh, ooh, I got one! I'm betting on Colbert!"

A start ran through the group: Jon and John flinching, Sam and Wyatt frowning, Al and Jason freezing. "Does he really count?" asked Wyatt. "I mean, he was more of a wannabe candidate than an actual candidate. No offense," he added to Jon, as Al and John both inched nervously away from him.

Jon rolled his eyes and focused on the newest correspondent, who had finally caught on and was subtly tensed to dodge if he started yelling. "Relax, I'm not offended. I just don't want you to waste your money. Stephen's my...my very good friend, and I'm not going to let him get himself in trouble like that."

("Isn't it hard to be a model of responsibility when you got wasted in a zeppelin earlier this year?" murmured Wyatt. John shushed him.)

"Hey, boss, I appreciate that you're friends and all," said Jessica. "But if I had a nickel for every time one of my friends did something stupid that was out of my control, I...well, I'd still be working here, because this job is awesome. But I'd have a lot more nickels."

Sam came to the rescue. "You're probably too young to be gambling anyway," she announced. "We have an age limit of twenty-five or older for that sort of thing."

Jason frowned over his clipboard. "We do?"

"Yes, sweetie, we do," said Sam, glaring daggers at him in a way that added, and if you value your sex life, you will "remember" that in a hurry. "How about this: Jessica doesn't bet, and we all agree that whoever wins will take her out for a milkshake afterward."

There were general murmurs of agreement from all assembled. Jessica was mollified. "I do like milkshakes."





"So, hey, I had another moment the other day," said Jon, over the most halfhearted seder ever. Seriously, he had thrown together some matzo ball soup, hard-boiled eggs, and a medley of whatever bitter-looking vegetables were sitting around in the fridge, and was probably on like his sixth glass of wine. (They were small glasses, okay?)

"Uh-huh," said Stephen through a mouthful of egg. (He had snuck his share of the vegetables onto Jon's plate earlier while Jon was distracted for a moment. Not that Jon blamed him.) He swallowed, wiped his mouth, then added, "Don't worry, it's a natural part of getting older. Although if you try to use them as an excuse for forgetting my birthday, I'm disowning you."

"...I didn't mean a senior moment, babe. Let me finish, okay? I mean, a moment where you came up and I wanted to use the word 'boyfriend' and then had to do an unconvincing fumble. I think people are starting to wonder if we've had another fight or something, because I keep tripping over calling you my friend."

"Maybe that's good," said Stephen. "C'mon, Jon, look on the bright side. If people think we're secretly at each other's throats, they'll be less likely to notice that we're secretly boning."

"Stephen, you remember that the goal is to be not-secretly boning, right?"

The uncertainty on Stephen's face was worrying. Jon wasn't kidding himself, he had known Stephen was flighty going in, but this was kind of a big deal.

Then Stephen pushed back his chair and put down his wine. "I was going to save this for later, but I think maybe you could use the pick-me-up. Especially since this holiday of yours is a serious downer. C'mon."

"It is kind of a sober day of remembrance of the historic persecution of my people," pointed out Jon, following him out into the living room.

"Yeah, and it knocks right up against the sober day of remembrance of the tragic murder of my Lord and Savior, but that doesn't mean we can't get chocolate and jelly beans out of the deal."

Stephen led Jon to one of the bookshelf cabinets and dug through his designated drawer. He had claimed a drawer or a cupboard in just about every room in the aparment, and, since they weren't exactly needed for anything practical when his whole apartment was a couple of floors down, filled most of them with knicknacks. Jon had thought it was adorable, if ridiculous, and hadn't paid them any attention since the original claiming spree.

He was paying plenty of attention now, when Stephen whipped out a couple of glossy tickets. "Ta-da."

"You got me Springsteen tickets," breathed Jon.

"I got you live VIP Springsteen tickets," elaborated Stephen. The green flecks in his eyes were practically sparkling with pride. "Signed merchandise and a backstage tour included with the package."

Jon had a vague suspicion that Stephen might have made this purchase with SuperPAC money, and that this was somewhat less than ethical. He would have chastised Stephen about it, but he was too busy trying to lick the tickets. "Hngh."

"Ah-ah-ah!" Stephen whipped the fragile prizes out of reach of Jon's tongue. "Save that for Bruce. And, in the interim, for thanking me."

"You're gonna get some thanks, all right." Jon wound his arms around Stephen's shoulders and gave him a quick kiss. "So, uh. Are you trying to imply that this can be, like, a date? Of the public kind?"

Stephen winced. "Tell you what. I will spend the whole thing adjacent to you, and will graciously avoid any complaint about certain performers' upcoming fundraisers for certain non-Romney Presidential candidates. And if there are lyrically-induced moments of high emotion, I will permit you one or two enthusiastic hugs in full view of the public."

"Stephen, just because you're bribing me with Springsteen doesn't mean you don't have to be reasonable," groaned Jon. "I'm going to need at least eight."





June.

Jon wasn't (entirely) stupid. He knew he was being manipulated. It was just that Stephen was too good at it for him to mind yet.

Besides, the situation wasn't exactly out of control. Jon knew how much he could push Stephen around if he tried; the bruises, which he had caressed every few days until they faded from Stephen's body, were proof of that. No wonder Stephen felt he had to resort to bribery, right? Jon owed it to him to be a little indulgent.

During their July vacation, Jon was on the brink of resolving to end the indulgence and put his foot down tonight, when Stephen returned to the beach house with a double-whammy of gifting and guilt. "It's for you," he said, pressing the bag into Jon's hands, "but you have to promise to share this time, okay?"

"Of course," said Jon, switching over to a new resolution: that tonight would be all about cuddling and making Stephen feel cared for. "You want it rolled, or baked?"

Stephen frowned. "I thought we were the ones who got baked."

"No, I meant, like, in brownies."

"Uh-huh. Uh-huh, I see. So...those are uppers, or what?"

"They are brownies!...Stephen, are you sure you got actual weed here? You didn't just hand money over to the first guy you saw who looked like a long-haired surfer type, did you?"

"Don't make fun of me for not knowing your drug lingo, Jon," sulked Stephen. "And no, he was not just a long-haired surfer type. He was a long-haired surfer type filling a whole cart at the A&P with nothing but Doritos. You have to admit, that's a very promising sign."

Jon sighed. "Okay, I'm making brownies. That way, if we don't get high, at least we won't feel like complete morons."

He ended up hand-feeding bits of brownie to Stephen while they sat on the porch and got caught up on campaign ads. It was a lot more palatable that way. True, Stephen tried to seize a few of the openings they provided to explain to Jon how liberalism was ruining the country, but when Jon could shut him up by giving him a couple of fingers to suck, that was downright bearable.





July.

The turning point was probably the evening when Jon ducked into the kitchen for a drink and found Stephen's fridge stuffed to the gills with boxes of Chick-Fil-A.

"This isn't just about some guy's right to be a dick," he tried to explain. He hadn't realized this at first either, so it was only fair to give Stephen the benefit of the doubt. "Part of the company's profits go to anti-gay organizations. When you buy from them, some of your money eventually goes into those campaigns."

Stephen, who was up on a stepstool to rearrange his display shelf of commemorative plates from P. K. Winsome, shrugged. "So it's just like funding a cause directly, only I get chicken out of it? I'm a kingmaker, Jon, I gots to make some kings. But I also gots to eat, you know?"

"This isn't like buying an autism education bumper sticker, Stephen! This is people fighting against you. Against us!"

"When you have enough money, you can lecture others on right and wrong regardless of your own moral failings. Have we learned nothing from the Gingrich campaign?"

Jon was too taken-aback to answer right away. His voice, when he found it, was dangerously low. "Is that what I am to you, Stephen? A moral failing?"

Stephen took a breath to answer, then caught himself. He didn't look all that troubled. Just confused, as if Jon had asked him to solve a complicated math problem.

Jon waited.

"I...no," said Stephen. The white-knuckled grip he had on the edge of the shelf belied his mildly puzzled manner. "No, that's not right...I don't feel so good. I think I need to sit down...."

On instinct, Jon stepped forward, and was there with an arm around Stephen's waist when Stephen stumbled down from the footstool. His brow was furrowed, eyes unfocused; the green flecks in the irises seemed to get brighter or darker every time they changed angles, until at last he was sinking into one of the kitchen chairs.

"It's not about you being a moral failing," repeated Stephen, one hand locking around Jon's wrist. "We're just very concerned about the free-speech rights, including speech in the form of money, of people who think you are. That's just strategy! Wedge social issues drive out the base on election day. It's the way to get the most bang for your buck. And we have to get as much bang as possible, because Jon, what if we slack off and Romney loses? What then?"

Then maybe you can go back to normal, thought Jon, with the quiet desperation that he was starting to recognize as a constant in his life these days. The feeding frenzy will slow down, so I can stop having to haul you back from FOX's latest rhetorical cliff every couple of weeks. The donors will lose interest in Colbert SuperPAC, so you won't have any money left to dazzle me with. Maybe you even pull a Cheney, and feel free to admit a more lefty attitude toward the queers — specifically, this queer — once it's too late to make a political difference.

Stephen was still talking. "You need to stop shoving your liberal socialist anti-religious agenda on me. It's very rude, Jon, and disrespectful of my feelings, and it's not appropriate. Not in a friendship, and not in a—"

"Okay."

"—deep emotional relationship with...what?"

"Let's just...not talk about politics for a while," said Jon. "Either of us. Let's kick all those cans down the road. Can we do that?"

Stephen gazed at him for a long, confused moment, then relaxed and patted Jon's arm. "I'm glad you've learned to see reason, Jon."

All Jon could think was, I hope I'm not making a huge mistake.





August.

A week of shows in Tampa, a week after that in Charlotte. The only moment Jon found to catch up with Stephen was on the plane ride in between.

"Our hotel is actually in South Carolina," he said, knowing that would make Stephen happy. "The ones across the border were all filled up by the time our people started booking."

The blocky, washed-out image of Stephen on his phone screen smiled with pride. "Sounds right. Those North Carolinians have no understanding of proper Southern hospitality."

"I know, right?...Hey, babe, are you okay?"

"What? Me? Fine! Never better!"

"You look kinda flushed, is all."

"I had a very inspiring guest last night," said Stephen primly. "I may or may not still be recovering."

"Yeah? Who was it?"

Stephen fidgeted. "You remember Clint Eastwood's inspiring and pointed interrogation at the RNC the other day?"

"I remember Clint Eastwood," hedged Jon. It had been the most unsettlingly hilarious thing he'd seen all month.

"Well...I got his chair."

"His...chair."

"It was a very eloquent piece of furniture, Jon!" cried Stephen. Was it the bad Skype connection, or was he sniffling? "It was a ringing endorsement for the power of hope. It's making me feel a lot of feelings."

Well, stop the presses. Stephen admitting any feelings at all beyond anger was a major good sign in Jon's book. "Can I ask what kind of feelings?"

"Feely feelings! Jon, I...." Stephen swallowed. "I'm in your bed right now, and it smells like you, and I really want you to come home. Can you come home?"

"Not yet, sweetheart," said Jon gently. "There's another week of shows to do, and I promised to be at this fundraiser for veterans tomorrow morning, and...I love you, though, okay? And I'll see you very soon."





September.

Jon had his stuff packed in record time, skipped half the post-DNC wrap events, peeled off enough bills for Jessica to buy twenty milkshakes, and caught a flight home almost three hours earlier than originally planned.

He thought about calling Stephen, but decided against it. By the time Stephen would be expecting to hear from him, he'd be walking in the door. And wouldn't the look on his face be worth everything? Joy was a rare commodity with Stephen, reserved for special occasions like riding ponies and earning a tiara and and watching American gold medal wins in the Olympics. If this was going to be one such occasion, Jon wanted to be there in person.

His grand plan was somewhat derailed when he let himself into Stephen's apartment and found it empty.

"Look on the bright side, Stewart," he said to himself. "At least now you can shower and change before you jump the man." Sure, he had kind of hoped Stephen would be interested in washing his back, but he could work with this too.

He left his suitcase in Stephen's apartment, shoving it into a corner where it wouldn't be immediately obvious, in case Stephen came back here before he did. Then he headed up to his place, trying to picture what clothes he had that weren't grey T-shirts. Most of the stuff he'd purchased during his brief stint running ColbertPAC had been given to charity in a fit of shame, but there had to be something left that Stephen would like, right...?

Once in his front hallway, though, Jon had to revise his plans yet again. That was definitely mattress-squeaking coming from his bedroom.

I'm in your bed right now, and it smells like you.

Jon was hit with a delicious rush of electricity. Had Stephen been sleeping here for the entire two weeks? How often had he been...enjoying himself...to the tune of those leftover sensations? It was touching and sexy.

Toeing off his shoes, Jon crept on sock feet down the hall.

He kept up the quiet until the last second, swinging the door open and smiling warmly. "Hey, babe. Want a little help with—?"

Stephen squeaked in astonishment. The smile froze on Jon's face.

And the chiseled younger man who had been jerking Stephen off while licking his chest stopped both actions and yanked a pillow protectively in front of his own crotch.





Only with a violent effort of will did Jon keep his seething anger in check while Hot Young Guy ran around looking for clothes.

"Jon, I don't want you to overreact to this," said Stephen, holding the bedsheet over himself. "Barry and I were just—"

"Stephen? Shut up," hissed Jon.

"Sorry, man," panted Hot Young Guy — Barry — as he hopped into his pants. Jon turned furiously away from the great view of his sculpted butt, only to get a great view of Stephen staring at said butt. "Stephen did not mention you."

"I'll bet he didn't," said Jon darkly.

Barry had thicker, darker curls than Jon had ever had, plus smooth brown skin and a lyrical accent. Stephen had always been weak for accents. With the exception, to Jon's great dismay, of Yiddish. "I swear, I never would've gone home with him if I had known—"

"Home?" interrupted Jon. "This is my fucking bedroom."

That stopped Barry in his tracks. Gaping at Stephen, he said, "The hell were you thinking, man?"

"Out!" snapped Jon, pointing to the hall.

Barry grabbed his hoodie and — a camera bag? — and jogged past him. Jon followed the kid to the door, watched as he retrieved a thick coat and a pair of scuffed boots from the entryway, and all but shoved him outside. He could finish dressing in the hall. Or the lobby. Or the front stoop, for all Jon cared.

"You do a great show!" called Barry, in the last second before Jon slammed the door behind him.





Stephen was still concealing his body under the sheet when Jon stalked back in. Like he had any modesty left to preserve.

"You need to leave too," said Jon.

If Stephen stuck around much longer, he was going to get punched. And that would hurt Jon's hand.

"Jon, come on, stop and think about this," said Stephen. "He doesn't mean anything to me—"

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" At least if Stephen had fallen in love, maybe Jon could have understood—

"—but you left me alone for two weeks! A man has needs, Jon!"

"I was alone too!" shouted Jon. "And somehow I managed not to trawl the Carolina section on Rentboy.com!"

"That is not fair. Barry is an artist. He's only using online advertising until he gets his big break!"

"You actually got him from—?" Spitting mad, Jon forced himself to stop, before he gave himself an asthma attack. "Forget it. I don't care. Where you met, how long it's been, what kind of photos of you he got while he was here—" ("Tasteful ones!") "—I don't care, I don't want to know, I just want you out of here."

"Fine." Stephen got to his feet, twisting the sheet like a toga, and began his own less frantic hop around the room. "We'll talk about this later, when you've calmed down."

Jon took a deep breath. Then another. "I'm not going to calm down, Stephen."

"Sure you are. We'll go to a Mets game, I'll get you a skybox seat, we'll have a couple of cocktails and talk it all out—"

"Stephen. Stop it. It's over."

Stephen frowned. Pulled his shirt over his head. Was still frowning at Jon as his head pushed through the collar.

"I'm going to get my stuff out of your apartment, and then give you back the key," said Jon. "You're going to do the same. Anything you don't take, I'm dumping at the nearest Goodwill."

"Jon...."

"Have you been safe? No, don't answer that, I'm getting tested either way. And you better pray it comes back clean, because if I have to think about how long this has been going on, or with how many people—"

"It was only because I missed you!" yelled Stephen. "I only needed something because I missed you so much, because of how much I love you!"

"Maybe I would buy that line if you acted like it!" shot back Jon.

"What—?"

"You don't, Stephen! You're affectionate when it's convenient for you, and a dick when it's not. I ask you to do one serious, meaningful thing for me, and you blow it off for months and months — do you even understand how that hurts? And you buy me all these stupid extravagant bribes and kid yourself that that makes it okay. That's not love! That's — that's treating me like eighty percent of the female characters in Game of Thrones! And I'm done with it, you understand? I am done."

Stephen was still, red-faced, nostrils flaring. "You hurt me too, you know," he said fiercely. "You gave me bruises, Jon."

"And I apologized," snapped Jon. "And if you had decided to kick my ass to the curb anyway, you would have been completely within your rights."

Stephen didn't have anything to say to that.

Jon didn't follow him to the door. He stayed rooted to the spot until he heard it slam.





He wanted more than anything to crawl into his own bed and have a good cry, but obviously that was out.

Instead he ended up in a guest room, curled around the childhood teddy bear that had been hastily stuffed in a drawer and ignored since Stephen first began sleeping over.

It hurt like hell. He felt like an old-growth forest after a wildfire, burned out in the first rush of anger, left charred and empty in its wake. But even in the sobs where he was missing the good times with Stephen most desperately, there was one more thing he couldn't help but feel. Or not-feel.

The weight of that lump of quiet, constant anxiety was gone.





October.

Stephen stumbled through the next two months of shows in a daze.

Something had gone horribly wrong, and he knew it. But it was so hard to think about any problem that couldn't be solved by burying it in large piles of cash.

They didn't have to do tosses anymore. That was convenient. Or not convenient, depending on what time of day it was when Stephen thought about it.





November.

...and then it was election night, and they were doing a toss, live, and what was Stephen supposed to say? He hadn't even seen Jon for weeks now. Not even passing in the lobby — maybe Jon was coming and going at odd hours, or maybe he had bought a new apartment in the building next door, or he could be helicoptering in and out from the roof for all Stephen knew.

Stephen ended up sticking his fingers and ululating over whatever Jon's opening was, then babbling mindlessly until they were out of time. Jon sat back and let him. Probably for the best. Stephen had always been the better babbler.

"I love you!" yelled Stephen at the last half-second.

The audience laughed, because such a beautiful friendship, right? He caught the noise plus Jon's wince on the monitor before the connection flickered off.