ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2013-03-22 03:25 am

Fake News | Jon/"Stephen", correspondents, Jane Fonda | PG-13 | Collar U

Title: Collar U
Rating: PG-13
Cast: Jon/"Stephen", background Olivia/Kristen and Steve/Nancy, other correspondents, Jane Fonda
Contents: Sexual predator Jane Fonda.
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.

D/sverse, high school/college AU. Stephen's family doesn't believe in sending uncollared submissives to college, so Jon offers to collar him, at least through graduation. Cue a year of awkward deception, GSA shenanigans, platonic bed-sharing, one threatening incident with a certain pushy senior, and the triumph of the power of unrecognized romantic attraction friendship.

One of the shorter entries for my [community profile] longfic_bingo card, prompt "collar" or "pretend relationship". (This is Stephen's collar, by the way [source].) Mirror on the AO3.




{+)

(I. Summer)

(+)


"There's no good reason for uncollared subs to be at colleges in the first place. If they want to meet eligible young doms, there are easier ways to do it! And even if they want to study too, what if it turns out their major doesn't fit in with their eventual collaring dominant's life plans? Complete waste of time, that's what I say."

Everyone at the lunch table was staring at Stephen by this point. Jon decided to bring up the obvious. "Stephen. You're an uncollared sub."

"Exactly! So I know what I'm talking about!"

"But...you want to go to college," protested Jon. "Last week I was helping you finish your application for Dartmouth!"

Stephen gazed at him with a perfectly straight face. "I don't remember that."

Jon made a couple of incoherent twitchy noises, then buried his head in his hands.

"Maybe you should be eating better," added Stephen, helpfully liberating Jon's Doritos from his tray and replacing them with a handful of carrot sticks. "I hear poor diets can cause memory problems."


(+)


Stephen was fine, in great shape, never better. And if he just happened to be going home as soon as the bell rang, skipping out on the debate team meeting, so what? Not always going to clubs was his right as an American. It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that he would have seen Jon there.

Which was good, because Jon cornered him at his locker anyway.

"Come on, Stephen, just talk to me," pleaded Jon, following him down the hall. "Just a quick chat. A minute. Two, tops. Then I'll disappear and you can get on with doing whatever you want."

"There's nothing to chat about!" said Stephen, tugging the straps of his backpack tighter over his shoulders. It really should have protected him better, with the Captain America patch on the back and all. "I'm only letting you follow me because I'm humoring you."

"Good enough for me," said Jon. "Humor me on this, then. You know it's illegal now for colleges to be dom- or dom-and-switch-only, right? And that they're not allowed to discriminate based on whether you're collar-bound, right?"

"Don't patronize me, sir," snapped Stephen as they emerged into the chill, bright afternoon. "Everybody knows that."

"And you know you've got a good shot at this?" Jon had no problem keeping pace with Stephen as he wove through the maze of other students waiting in twos and threes for their buses. "I mean, sure, your grades aren't always all that, and neither is your spelling, and starting off your application essay with Why I Am The Greatest American Who Ever Lived might have been a little over-the-top — this isn't helping, is it?"

"Not really!"

Jon winced. "Sorry. But my point is, even with all that, you've got a lot going for you, okay? And a bunch of these schools are going to see that."

"Which would be very useful if I were going to any of them," agreed Stephen, kicking a couple of small rocks out of his way as he stalked down the sidewalk. Stupid rocks. This whole stupid state was full of them, every lawn carpeted with decorative rocks because there wasn't enough good honest dirt on the Jersey shore to grow actual grass, or at least not the kind of grass you would want in a lawn. "But I'm not, so who cares?"

"As of last week, you!"

"Whoa there, easy on the history lesson, Professor!" said Stephen, then had to catch himself and take a couple of breaths, because strong history departments were one of the things he had been looking for while applying, and.... "Let's grow up here and take a realistic look at this. Going somewhere away from my parents, without a dominant, who's supposed to look out for me? All I'm going to do is get myself in trouble. Why should they start shelling out thousands of dollars for that when I can stay here and meet nice doms at home practically for free?"

Somehow, Jon was unswayed by this flawless logic. "Stephen, I...I've been looking up scholarships anyway," he began. "If you want to come over and go through them...I mean, you're not gonna get anything from the Norman Schulevitz Foundation, but there are a ton of others, and lots of them have rolling deadlines, so...."

"We have the money, Jon."

"Oh," said Jon. "Sorry, I thought...when you said...." He trailed off. "Hang on. Are your parents refusing to pay for college because you're not collared?"

"Jon, have you been listening to anything I've been saying?"

"But that's insane," said Jon weakly. "Who the hell gets collared at seventeen — sorry, seventeen and a half — these days? What do they expect you to do, work retail until you meet a cute dom in the checkout line?"

"Of course not, Jon."

"Oh, good—"

"Thanks to the Obama recession, retail jobs now require a bachelor's degree."

Jon groaned. "That just makes it worse! Is there seriously no other reason? I mean, good god, I'd collar you for the next couple years if that was all it took."

The words sent an unpleasant jolt through Stephen's chest. "You can't collar me. You're a sub."

"Okay, A, that's legal in Jersey now, and B, I'm a switch, thank you very much."

"So you've got a W on your driver's license," said Stephen with a dismissive flick of the hand. "Big deal. You're still the worst brat on the debate team."

The tension seemed to have broken; Jon smirked, not unpleasantly. "I think you will find that the worst brat on the debate team is you, my friend."

"No, no, it only looks that way because I don't respect any of you as much as I would my own dominant," Stephen assured him. "When I get collared — really collared — I'll be the sweetest, most loving, most obedient submissive some lucky dom has ever known."


(+)


A few days later, Jon was dragged out of sleep at half past one by his ring tone.

He answered without looking, and only really tried to shake himself awake when he heard sniffling on the other end. "J-Jon?"

"Stephen?" mumbled Jon, fighting back a yawn. "Wha's goi'n on?"

"Jon," said Stephen wetly, "did you mean it?"


(+)


The rest of the year was a whirlwind of exams and acceptance letters and preparations for the ceremony.

Jon got hastily transferred into the dom-only sex-ed class — there still wasn't an option tailored for switches, you had to guess at the end of junior year which one would be more relevant to the rest of your life, so he'd gone with the subs — and had to scramble to catch up on half a year's worth of material. Stephen did most of the coordination for the wedding, on the pretext that he was getting it all approved with his collaring dominant-to-be; in fact, Jon only got to veto a handful of things, and mostly the ones Stephen hadn't been too invested in anyway.

With one exception. In spite of all Stephen's hinting, wheedling, and eyelash-batting, Jon had no intention of buying a three-hundred-dollar sterling silver collar with Swarovski crystals even for someone he was genuinely collaring, much less a friend he was doing a favor.

Money was the only factor that really kept Stephen in check. His parents were grudgingly on board with the idea of paying for Stephen's education at this point, but not about to bankroll any kind of extravagant ceremony for him to get collared by a switch, much less some dodgy kid from a no-name family who wasn't even Catholic. Jon's mother made a brief offer to take out a loan for the sake of "his special day"; fortunately, he managed to convince her that they really loved the idea of a simple ceremony before the suggestion got back to Stephen.

The week after graduation, they put on a couple of rented suits and signed papers at the courthouse, then went down to the beach where the chairs and flowers had been laid out. Stephen got on his knees and offered Jon the traditional key (all symbolic, these days; his collar's clasp was magnetic) on a simple leather pendant, which Jon accepted before fastening the collar, white leather with stylish knotwork and silvery metal accents, around his neck.

They kissed for the benefit of attendees not in the know, retired to the hotel they'd gotten for the night, and settled in to eat chips and watch Batdom movies until they fell asleep.


{+)

(II. Fall)

(+)


Try as he might, Stephen rarely remembered that he was supposed to be walking at least a half step behind Jon. When they showed up at the seminar room for their first class (Latin 101; Stephen had been so excited to take it, and Jon just needed to fill his foreign language requirement), Stephen had pulled out in front of him.

The front row was all knee cushions, each with a short desk-stand to write on; the second row alternated cushions and regular chairs. Stephen grinned and hugged his textbook. "Dibs on the front row!"

"Uh, I think..." Jon laid his hand uncertainly against the back of Stephen's neck, over the clasp of the collar. "I think the second row is supposed to be for, you know...couples."

"You can sit right behind me," Stephen countered. "That won't be any different than sitting next to me. Except for the part where it means I get to sit in the front."

Jon sighed. "Fair enough."

As per Winnstead College policy, collar-bound couples were put in the same courses whenever possible. Stephen also got to kneel in front of Jon in their afternoon sociology course, which they'd both gone for after realizing it had enough data analysis to check off their required math credit. The cushions were a courtesy, though, not a requirement for sub students, and their intro journalism course (Jon was set on it for his writing credit; Stephen was set on having Jon help him out with writing assignments) was simply around a table with identical chairs for everyone.

The two also, as a matter of policy, got a single dorm room with a double bed. Same bland wooden style as all the other furniture, though — i.e., not much in the way of posts or bars your submissive could get tied to — so evidently they only cared up to a point.

"Not the most efficient setup," grumbled Stephen one evening, sprawled across the entire mattress with one of his textbooks open over his face. Outside of the cozy little hideaway this provided, he could hear Jon typing. Probably something productive, too, the showoff. "What if I have to put you On Notice for something? Bad enough that I can't even throw you out of my room — I should at least be able to banish you from my bed."

"Stephen," said Jon, "if you get mad at me, I'm sure you'll find a way to let me know."

Stephen sulked. "You're just trying to make me feel better."

He didn't mention that it worked.


(+)


It was mostly doms and switches who piled into the biggest common room every Friday night to watch the game.

A handful of subs rounded out the crowd, and Jon knew at least two of them were mainly there to cuddle with their dominants. Kristen, for instance — cute brunette, only freshman sub besides Stephen on the debate team — kept grumbling about the dynamist foundations of the game until Olivia, another cute and tiny freshman but heaven help you if you crossed her, delivered a firm enough shushing. Even Jason, a switch, usually made decisive-sounding predictions about how the game was going to end up, but turned out to be throwing together random strings of jargon if you actually listened. Sam was the one who only yelled at the screen when it was called for.

Stephen routinely turned down Jon's invitations to join them. Which was fine with Jon. Sure, they got to spend time apart, what with Jon's soccer practices and Stephen rehearsing with the student a capella group and the single class they each had alone, but it was nice to be able to relax with their separate friend groups too.

Of course, the absence of Stephen was what led to one of the older doms snuggling up to Jon from behind the couch and running her palms possessively down his chest.

"H-hi, Jane," stammered Jon. "Listen, uh, you're very attractive and all, but I—"

Before he could successfully tell her off, she had found the key hanging under his shirt herself. "Well, well, well," she murmured, hooking her fingers under the cord where it lay around his neck and drawing it up and out. "Never would've pegged you for the type to collar someone. And so young!"

"High school sweethearts," put in John Oliver — one of Jon's soccer teammates, and the only sub he knew for sure to be in this crowd for the love of sport[s]. "You must have noticed Colbert around campus. Willowy, glasses, dark brown hair? Very attractive young sub, and I say that in an entirely heterodynamic way?"

"He's been hard to miss," said Jane. "So you're his dominant? That explains a lot."

Jon was trying to twist out of her grip while fumbling for a napkin to wipe pizza grease off his fingers. Once they were more or less clean, he grabbed the leather cord and slid it safely back under his shirt. "Whatever you might be implying, Stephen and I are very happy and stable together, all right?"

As if on cue, a familiar voice rang out from the back of the room: "Is Jon in here?"

"Over here," called Jon, waving, and using the gesture to subtly elbow Jane out of the way.

Stephen scampered through the general debris of soda cans and pizza boxes to behind Jon's spot on the couch. "You didn't tell me there was food at these things," he complained.

Jon picked up his slice again from the paper plate on his knee. "There's food because everyone kicks in a few dollars to buy it," he pointed out. The game, which had been stuttering and stalling for a few minutes now, chose that point to finally cut to commercial.

"Uh-huh." Suddenly Stephen's face was right up next to Jon's, Stephen's teeth closing around a mouthful of Jon's pepperoni. Jon barely managed to hold onto the pizza as Stephen tore off a bite and chewed.

"Good enough?" asked Jon dryly.

Stephen swallowed. "Eh," he said. "Needs barbecue sauce or something. Anyway, Jon, I came over because I've been rearranging our shelves, and you need to move some of your stuff."

"Wait, what? Why?"

"My trophies are too crowded," said Stephen matter-of-factly. He had about a dozen of them from various sources, mostly for participation, though he'd won a couple of particularly stylish ones in middle-school horseback riding. "They need room to breathe! I'm thinking some of your books could get shoved under the bed. Or maybe your CDs. Why do you have so many CDs, anyway? We have iTunes for that now."

"Hey, I spent years building up that Springsteen collection!" protested Jon. "And just because you can't appreciate the beauty of a good album cover—"

"I can appreciate those plenty!" said Stephen. "In JPG format! Now are you going to come and decide what to move, or are you going to leave me to figure it out all on my own?"

Jon threw a pained look at the TV screen. "Can't this wait an hour or two?"

"An hour?" moaned Stephen. "For a whole hour you want to abandon my poor trophies to be like — this?"

After about ten seconds of Stephen's imitated gasping, choking, and pained wheezing, Jon caved. "All right, all right, I'm coming," he grumbled, scooping up his pizza and the half-empty soda can sitting at his feet. "Olivia, text me if anything exciting happens, will you?"

As he was accompanying Stephen out, Jon heard someone mutter a none-too-quiet "Whipped." He did his best to shrug it off. He would just as soon have told everyone there what was really going on, but Stephen was against it, so, whatever. Let them think what they wanted.


(+)


Stephen walked with Steve through the student center into one of the meeting rooms, took one look at the bowl of rainbow flag pins on the center table, and tried to turn around and walk right back out again.

"Ah-ah-ah!" yelled Steve, grabbing his shirt. "No backing out now. You lost the sing-off fair and square."

"But it will be completely pointless for me to be here," complained Stephen, even as he was dragged in. "I'm straight. Completely and totally straight."

"And it's the Gay-Straight Alliance," said Steve. "Now quit complaining and grab a chair. Or a cushion. Whichever you prefer."

Stephen sank to his knees on a cushion. It wasn't a very comfortable one, but if there was any place he wanted to assert and emphasize his gender identity, it was around these...people.

Apparently today was Vocabulary Day at the GSA, because once the meeting came to order the club president, a senior dom Stephen didn't recognize, wrote a long and stupidly unpronounceable string of letters on the room's single battered blackboard. "Anyone here who already knows what all these mean?" she asked.

Only one hand shot up. Stephen was entirely unsurprised to see that it belonged to Kristen from debate club. "Gay, Bidynamic, Non-Dynamic, Vanilla, Agender, Queer, Questioning, Switch, Straight Ally," she recited.

Under his breath, Stephen muttered, "Sinner, sinner, sinner, sinner, don't know what that means, sinner, possibly-sinner...."

From the end of the couch beside him, Steve thwapped him on the back of the head. Not in a trying-to-dominate-him way (Steve was dating the dom now sitting next to him, and they had both insisted that neither one was the sub in the bedroom no matter how cleverly Stephen tried to pry the information out of them), just a shutting-up-a-stupid-friend way. Stephen himself did that for other people fairly often.

Kristen just sighed. "Internalized self-hatred is always so sad."

"There's no 'self-' about it!" cried Stephen, ducking to avoid Steve and nearly falling into the lap of the sub sitting cross-legged on his other side. "See this beautiful collar? I have no interest in anything other than a good God-sanctioned heterodynamic relationship."

"Oh, sure," said Kristen dryly. "That's why you're always submitting so meekly when your partner is around."

"I accept your apology," said Stephen. "And he's not my partner, he's my dominant. Or do you people not have a problem being switchphobic?" He wasn't entirely sure that was a word, but it made Kristen wince and look abashed, so it was good enough for him.

"Let's get back on-topic," said the president sharply, and that was it for the argument. Satisfied, Stephen got back on his knees, adjusted his collar so the knotwork was centered on his neck, and was content to spend the rest of the meeting in silent judgment of everyone there.


(+)


Jon woke up in the middle of a December night, shivering. (Why had he gone to college in New York, again? Oh, right: because it was the only place both he and Stephen had applied and gotten into.) He tugged at the blankets and found them all wrapped tightly around Stephen.

"Gimme," he mumbled, shaking Stephen after trying to pry a few covers off of him. "C'mon, wake up, I'm freezing over here."

Stephen groaned and twisted away from him. "Get'cher own."

"You've got 'em all!" Jon gave the big quilted one another yank.

"Mmrgmph," protested Stephen, holding on to it.

"Dammit, Stephen, give me a blanket or I'm uncollaring you!" snapped Jon.

The grip on the covers slackened.

Jon managed to drag the puffiest of the covers across his side of the bed, and huddled resentfully underneath it. He was still stuck awake and chilly until the space had warmed up a little, while Stephen had probably dropped right back to sleep....

"You p-promised."

"Huh?"

"All four years," hissed Stephen. Jon had been wrong: he was wide awake, and angry. "You promised, Jon, you said you'd do that for me, you can't go back on it now!"

"I know, I know," said Jon, rolling over so his face was only half-buried in his pillow. "Wouldn't really do it, geez, relax."

"You can't," repeated Stephen, voice cracking.

"Stephen." Jon slipped without thinking into his most calming, authoritative voice. "There's nothing to worry about. You are legally collared and you're going to stay that way. Now be a good boy and go to sleep."

Stephen didn't say anything more after that.

The next day, neither one mentioned what had happened — in fact, Jon had forgotten all about it until something jogged his memory that evening in the dining hall. (Apparently the waffle station was reminiscent of Stephen.) Well. That was awkward, but it could have been a lot worse.

You couldn't dominate someone who didn't want to be dominated. Hurt them, sure, and if you had the right leverage you could force a person to do things; but it wasn't domination without willing submission. If Jon had tried that with Stephen in almost any other frame of mind, Stephen would have laughed in his face, or maybe gotten offended by the whole idea. And if last night's Stephen had done anything other than submit, they could've been up a whole lot longer while Jon tried to reassure him in, well, less-dynamic ways.

So yeah, it had all worked out for the best. As long as Stephen didn't feel any need to get defensive about it after the fact, there was no reason Jon needed to worry about it further.


(+)

(III. Winter)

(+)


Fresh from a bracket-securing win, the whole soccer team plus a crowd of admirers piled into the sports bar a couple blocks from campus. Stephen hung off of Jon's arm for the first few minutes, then released him into the company of his triumphant teammates and slouched in one of the adjacent booths with a couple of people he didn't know, a soda, and a bowl of stale pretzels.

He was very proud of Jon. Really! It was just that this bar was pretty boring. Nothing on the TVs but two or three different games from sports Stephen didn't follow; no dance floor, not that it would have helped, as there was no good music; and a strict enough attitude re: alcohol that he couldn't even get away with sips from older classmates' drinks.

It was a relief when an upperclassman dom touched him on the shoulder and offered to escort him home.

"Not very generous of your dominant to leave you unwatched," she remarked as they strolled down the sidewalk. It was already dark out, but still early enough for people to be walking their dogs or loitering at the bus stop, working around the few stubborn piles of snow leftover from the storm the week before. "Letting you get bored, then staying behind while you head off alone?"

"I know, right? He's very inconsiderate sometimes," said Stephen. Not that this was a dodgy area, but you could never be too careful. "Jane, was it?"

"That's right." Jane put a friendly arm around Stephen's waist. "In fact, he seems to leave you unsupervised fairly often."

"Well...he understands that I need my space," hedged Stephen, sensing that this was going into suspicious territory. "I'm a strong, independent modern sub! Jon takes care of me when I need it. Except for when he's being terrible and neglectful, obviously."

It worked; Jane didn't make any more insinuations about the possible falseness of Stephen's fake relationship as they cut through Lot B and came up around the back of the dorms. Instead she talked about how nice it was out here, how beautiful the stars were, how she hoped Stephen hadn't been drinking because a sweet young thing like him could get taken advantage of that way, and so forth.

When Stephen let himself into his building, Jane followed him on in. "Oh," he said, "are you in this dorm too? I thought it was mostly freshmen."

"I'm seeing you back to your room," said Jane pleasantly. "That's not a problem, is it?"

A flush rose on Stephen's face. "No! Not at all. Very chivalrous of you."

As Jane walked him up the stairs, she added, "It's funny, but somehow I can't imagine your Jon...oh, let's say...spanking you."

Stephen nearly tripped over a step. "Um! He, ah, he really doesn't do that, exactly. I mean, that isn't his style, if you know what I mean."

"I see." Jane's fingers caressed the length of his spine through his not-very-heavy coat. "More of a bondage kind of guy, is he?"

"Yes! That's exactly it." He shrugged the coat off, a move which had the bonus of pushing her hand off him without being rude about it.

"Hmm. Funny how I've never seen you with rope marks."

"Ah," said Stephen, turning on the landing.

From here, his and Jon's room was the first one on the left. The door was currently populated with a whiteboard (currently empty), a couple of Doonesbury strips (Jon had clipped them from the newspaper; Stephen still didn't understand why they were funny), and their name tags (on colorful card stock, cut into fish shapes). Stephen's fish name tag was covered in glitter, the results of a September hall-bonding exercise; Jon's had come out of the same with nothing but a smile on its face.

"Well, it's been really great talking to you today," said Stephen, opening his door and stepping over the perpetual pool of glitter gathered in front of it. "We should do it again some time."

Jane stepped in too, and closed the door behind her. "You poor thing."

"Sorry?"

Jane's coat seemed to fall back off her shoulders of its own volition. "You don't have to hold back," she said, leaving it behind as she backed Stephen toward the bed. "Not with me. How long have you been...unsatisfied? When was the last time you got to embrace your fantasies?"

"What — what's going on?" stammered Stephen. Sharp-nailed hands caressed their way up his chest.

"I've been dreaming about your lips for a while now," cooed Jane, and covered his mouth with her own.


(+)


Jon couldn't have left too long after Stephen did. He'd been checking on Stephen every couple of minutes, but of course his friend had to evaporate completely between one look and the next.

He traded a couple of final high-fives and backslaps with the closest adjacent teammates before shrugging on his faux-leather jacket (it was comfortable, okay?) and stepping out into the still-not-spring chill. Stephen was nowhere to be seen on the way back; maybe he was just out of Jon's line of sight. Too bad. Jon would have run to catch up with him if he could.

Not that Jon was going back just to be with Stephen, mind you. He had an early class tomorrow, that was all.

The front door of the building had a sticky lock, and Jon had to fight with it a couple of times before it would let him in. Some of the newer buildings had digital locks that would recognize your student ID, but not the freshman-sophomore dorms. All was quiet on the first floor, though the TV was flickering in the common room at the far end of the hall; Jon headed in silence up the stairs.

His room was already unlocked, the handle turning smoothly under his hand...

...and inside, a couple on the bed in the dark, all rustling fabric and heavy breathing and soft, warm noises.

"Oh, sorry—" said Jon automatically, taking a step back.

The dim figure of Stephen twisted. "Jon, help!"

Jon smacked on the light and leaped forward.


(+)


Momentarily blinded, Stephen felt rather than saw as his would-be assailant was hauled off of him. Soft caressing hands scratched at his torso for a second and were gone; one second lips were sucking on his neck and the next there was only a wet spot and a sudden breeze. There was a thump as what must have been Jane hit the floor; Stephen yanked his shirt down and pulled his knees up to his chest.

"Fonda," hissed Jon. "The hell is wrong with you? Stephen. Are you hurt?"

Was he? Nothing broken, nothing bleeding... "'M okay," panted Stephen.

The shapes in front of him blurred into focus. Jon was, improbably enough, standing tall in front of the bed, fists clenched and shoulders heaving. Jane was picking herself up off the floor past him. Her lipstick was smudged; it didn't seem to matter to her confident smile. "You're lucky I don't hit switches."

"You'll be lucky if you don't get expelled," snapped Jon.

"For pinning down a cute sub? That's not an expellable offense, that's Friday night."

"Get out of our room."

"Maybe you just don't like seeing this one pinned at all," purred Jane. "Did he know that when he let you collar him? Was he all right with signing up for a lifetime of never being held down again, never getting that delicious thrill of knowing that no matter how much he struggles, someone else is in complete—"

"Sorry, did I give you the impression that I cared what you thought?"

"I—"

"What I do with my submissive is none of your goddamn business," said Jon, cold and furious. "And it doesn't change the fact that you have no right to touch him. You keep your hands off him, you don't even look at him the wrong way, or we're gonna have a problem, understand? Now get out of our room."

Stephen had never heard Jon like this in his life. He was getting the shivers just listening to it, and he was the one Jon was protecting.

Jane left. She tossed her hair and muttered something in a tone of delicate Southern dismay, but she left.


(+)


"I'm fine."

"Stephen, you're not fine."

"I am too!" snapped Stephen, as if expecting Jon to just ignore the fact that he was still curled up in the fetal position on the bed, still trembling once in a while under the calming hand Jon had had on his shoulder for the past ten minutes.

"Even if you are," allowed Jon, reluctantly, "we should still call Public Safety. Better to have her called out now than give her the chance to pull that again, maybe with some sub who won't, uh, won't take it as well as you are."

"Called out?" echoed Stephen. "For what? All she did was touch me...and kiss me some, and, and say things...she didn't get any farther. No proof she would've tried to."

And even if she had, the odds were stacked against Stephen getting any justice for it. Jon knew the statistics: nine out of ten charges thrown out on the grounds of I swear, Your Honor, we had a safeword, or on the prejudices of a judge who still thought subs were always willing to be dominated, deep down...

Stephen was still talking. "So what'm I supposed to accuse her of? All I've got is 'well, Officer, another dom was being a little too pushy.'"

Jon tensed. "What do you mean, 'another'?"

"The rest aren't that bad!" said Stephen quickly. "Just normal doms being too pushy. I'm a very attractive sub, you know...and even with the collar, there are rumors...people sometimes get the wrong idea."

"Because of me," realized Jon. Because nobody ever saw him dominating Stephen in public, and at first glance he looked like the kind of guy who might not be up to it in private, either.

"It's no big deal. Nobody's harassed me about it except Jane." Stephen paused. "Well, and Steve. The singing Steve," he clarified.

"What did Carell do?" If that guy had hurt Stephen, Jon was going to rip out his voice box.

Stephen shuddered. "He made me go to a GSA meeting."

Jon stared for a couple of seconds, then slumped back against the wall, and ran his hands through his hair, relieved and tired and coming down from the adrenaline rush all at once. "Good god, Stephen, don't scare me like that."

"Sorry, Jon."

"You're sure you don't want to — with Fonda...?"

"She's graduating anyway," said Stephen in a small voice. "She'll be gone in a couple months. Please, Jon, let's just let her go."

"Okay," said Jon at last. "And you know — if you ever change your mind — I've got your back? A hundred percent?"

Slowly, Stephen began unwinding his limbs from the tight ball they'd been curled up in. "Yes, Jon."


{+)

(IV. Spring)

(+)


It was weird, the difference in perspective a night could give you.

Stephen had been prepared to get shaky and scared around Jane, and sure enough, it gave him a start the first couple of times he spotted her across the dining hall. But when she failed to harass him, or approach him, or even throw so much as a suggestive look his way, the worst of the hypersensitivity faded. As long as Stephen had friends around (and with the number he had, it wasn't hard), he was basically okay.

What really commanded his attention in the days that followed was Jon.

Everything about Jon seemed different now. What had so clearly been a bratty streak a mile wide now looked like the confidence of a certain snarky type of dom, with the self-assurance of being in his own territory no matter where he happened to be. Sure, sometimes he was clearly spoiling for a fight, and often with people who had no intention of backing down. But did that mean he was hoping to lose? At this point Stephen was convinced Jon could out-dom any of their classmates if he tried.

And sure, he never tried to push around the subs he met, or even put them in their place when they were pushing him around. But what if he really believed all those fancy modern ideas about doms not disciplining anyone they hadn't collared? And did it even cost him anything not to try in the first place? Stephen kept studying Jon when they were around mouthy or bratty subs, searching for the barest flicker of suppressed irritation, finding nothing. He wasn't being bullied or harassed by them. If anything, he seemed to find them cute.

Look at him one way, and he was easy to take for a sub. Tilt your head just so and look again, and he might have been a quiet, indulgent, but thoroughly capable dom. If they could have seen him set aside that balance and break out the steely righteous anger he'd used on Fonda, any sub on campus would have been kneeling for him in a heartbeat.

Stephen would have been kneeling for him, if Jon would only give the order.

He tried, at least, to show Jon he could be good. As spring break rushed up on them, Stephen made sure Jon got all the blankets he wanted during the night, and offered to open the windows for him when the afternoons got warm. He didn't interrupt when Jon was trying to do homework; he didn't insist on Jon dropping everything to help with his own. He even joined Jon and the sports-watching group once, kneeling obediently at his side, and made it through almost half the baseball game before dozing off on the carpet.

They went home for the break, and Stephen kept up the streak of politeness as they greeted Jon's mother and hauled their suitcases inside.

It had been their mothers who hashed out the vacation agreement, while their children wisely stayed out of the way. The happy couple had already stayed in Stephen's parents' guest room for the longer break that fell around Christmas, so now it was time to pack into Jon's house for the short vacation that kicked off around Passover. This place wasn't big enough to have a guest room, and with Jon's brother also home for the holiday, they had to fit into his childhood bedroom. (Stephen was worried for a bit about where this Elijah guy was going to sleep, but luckily he never showed up.)

The house was also, it turned out, so small that while Stephen was pretending to be sleeping peacefully at a reasonable hour, he couldn't help but overhear Jon and his mother talking in the living room.

"He seems a lot less disorderly than he did when you two came over in December," Jon's mother was saying. "Now, dear, you know I was hoping you'd settle down with a nice Jewish dom, but if your sub can keep this up it won't be a bother at all."

Miffed, Stephen laid his fingers against the faint marks on his neck left by wearing his collar during the day. Him, a bother? Honestly! At least she appreciated what he was doing now....

"Mom, please," said Jon uncomfortably. "Stephen's just quiet because he had kind of a rough time earlier this semester. He'll bounce back."

"...Oh dear."

"It's a good thing!" insisted Jon. "So you can't be too hard on him when it happens, okay? Sure, he's kind of annoying sometimes, but he wouldn't be Stephen if he weren't. And I wouldn't have wanted to collar him if he weren't Stephen."

There was a silence as Jon's mother turned this over. "You know, sweetheart," she said slowly, "that I will love and support you no matter what your life choices are, right?"

"What?"

"I know that Colbert couple are a bit too...traditional, for some of these modern alternative lifestyles...but you know, even if it's not something they would approve of...."

"Mom, it's fine!" stammered Jon. "Whatever you're thinking, it's not going on with us, okay? Now would you quit looking for things to worry about and accept that everything's fine?"

Stephen rolled over and turned his face to the wall. Everything was most definitely not fine. No wonder Jon hadn't bothered to praise him for being so good — Jon hadn't even understood what he was doing. Which meant no matter how hard Stephen tried, it wouldn't make a difference. You couldn't submit to someone who didn't want to dominate you.

Well. In that case, Stephen would just have to make Jon want to dominate him.


(+)


Around a low corner table in the student center, the mini Latin 102 study group spent half an hour reviewing verb conjugations, then transitioned into an unstructured session of freeform griping.

"I swear I got dinged for gender on every noun on the last assignment," groaned Olivia. "How is that possible? If there are only two, even when I'm wild-guessing, I should get at least fifty percent, right?"

"Three," said Jon.

"Three percent?"

"No, Latin nouns have three genders."

"Which means you're only guaranteed twenty-five percent," declared Stephen, evidently picking the number out of a hat, "and should probably lose even more for your blatant switchphobia — word copyright Stephen Colbert."

"Stephen...." began Jon. He'd already said Be nice half a dozen times this week. It didn't seem to be sticking.

"Your math sucks," said Olivia, "and you can't copyright a word that already exists. And I'm pretty sure the extra gender isn't switch in the first place, because I would have remembered that."

"Are you sure, Olivia? Are you really sure? Because let's think about this logically: what else is it supposed to be?"

Jon facepalmed, then ran his hands through his hair. This was giving him a headache. "Adynamic. It's adynamic, okay?"

Stephen froze for a couple of seconds, then swooned dramatically across Jon's lap. (The nice-ish compact armchairs were up to the load, but only just.) "So it's just Ancient Rome that was switchphobic," he concluded. "Bidynamiphobic? I'll come up with an original word later. My blood sugar is obviously low right now. Jon, get me another drink."

"I will if you get off me," sighed Jon. He'd been planning to grab himself a can of soda from the café downstairs anyway. "Where's your meal card?"

"Dunno," said Stephen, the picture of helplessness. "Use yours."

"I'm not using mine. You'll never pay me back."

Stephen hoisted his upper body out of the swoon, leaning on his elbows on the arm of the much-abused chair. "Jon!" he exclaimed, pouting prettily. His bright brown eyes were huge and imploring; his hair and collar were artfully askew. "All that is mine is yours already, remember? Or don't you love me any more?"

He would have looked beautiful if Jon had slapped him right there.

But this was broad daylight and in public, so Jon held back even his more harmless dominant impulses and made himself relax. "You can find your meal card, or I can sit here and not get you anything. Up to you."

Stephen's fundamental lack of patience finally won out over his need to sulk. He slid mournfully off of Jon's lap and went digging through his bag.

When Jon got back upstairs, with a ginger ale for himself and a vitamin water for Stephen, he found Stephen explaining how obviously "America" would be a dominant noun. Jon had already heard the preliminary outline of Stephen's plan for the next writing assignment: "Why America is the greatest most perfect country God has given humanity on this Earth." Apparently Stephen's strategy for filling 500 words was to cram in as many flattering adjectives as possible.

"Jon!" said Olivia as he sat down, flashing an over-bright grin. "And what are you doing for the freeform paper?"

"Um," said Jon. "Why Batdom could beat Superdom in a fight."

Olivia and Stephen both stared.

"What?" demanded Jon. "She said we could write on anything we wanted!"

"Well, yeah, but you're obviously wrong," said Olivia. "Superdom wins that fight, easy. Hello, super-strength? And invulnerability?"

"Okay, no, just listen to me here," said Jon, pushing his notebooks out of the way and popping the tab on his soda. "Superdom's so used to being powerful enough to win any fight on strength alone, she hasn't really cultivated any skills. Batdom's cultivated everything. He's a genius, he invents his own gadgets, he's an amazing detective — he was the first person in the world to figure out her secret identity, remember? If nothing else, he can definitely figure out Kryptonite."

"Jon, you are completely overlooking the fact that Superdom is the all-American superhero," protested Stephen. "In the DC universe, anyway. If you're arguing there's a fight she can't win, that means you hate America."

Jon wasn't even going to try to fight that one.

"Would've thought you'd be more of a Wonder Sub guy, anyway," said Olivia.

Stephen glared. "What, just because I'm a sub, I have to like Wonder Sub?"

"No! I mean, you kind of look like him. Gel down your hair and pull out a little curl over the forehead, and you could pull it off as a costume, easy. Wouldn't even have to get ahold of the cute starry briefs — just put on a nice suit and tell everyone you're Clark Prince."

The indignation vanished in an instant. "Jon, picture it!" cried Stephen, grabbing Jon with such enthusiasm that he nearly sloshed the ginger ale across the table anyway. "Isn't she right? I would be perfect!"

"Yes, you'd be great, please calm down," said Jon, now willing himself not to have a heart attack over the narrowly-averted demise of his psych notes.


(+)


Stephen was, if he did say so himself, a champion at attention-getting.

The only course he shared with Jon this semester was the second level of Latin, which cramped his style a bit, but when they weren't in class or at practices he monopolized Jon's time as much as possible. He stole food off Jon's plate in the dining hall. He slammed history papers down on Jon's desk and demanded editing help, then argued with all of Jon's suggestions. He followed Jon to the weekly sports-watching nights (which turned out to be a total whip-fest), and knelt at Jon's feet for the duration of the games, at the perfect angle to ask Jon what was happening every five minutes.

Late at night, just when Jon was drifting off to sleep, he would find Stephen poking him in the side "just wanting to talk." During the day, if Jon was busy trying to chainsaw zombies in Doom 3, Stephen would pull off his headphones and insist on a favor just in time for Jon to get jumped by a demon. And if Jon ever asked for his help with something, Stephen was busy -- honestly, couldn't Jon see how hard Stephen was studying?

One evening Stephen came home from rehearsal to find Jon lounging on the bed, a heavier-than-usual psych textbook open across his knees. "Stephen!" exclaimed Jon, closing the book a little too vigorously. "You're, uh, you're back early."

Stephen narrowed his eyes. "Not really. What were you looking at?"

"Narcissistic personality disorder," said Jon. "And how to cure it."

"Jon, I know you have a bit of an ego sometimes, but it isn't that bad." Stephen leaped a pile of dirty laundry and perched himself cross-legged on the mattress next to Jon. "Seriously, what were you looking at? Was it something to do with me?"

With a resigned sigh, Jon let the book fall open again. "You tell me."

Stephen took in the chapter header, the charts and infographics, the columns of text with vocabulary words highlighted in bold blue. Kind of like House of Leaves, only easier to understand. Symptoms and treatment of post-traumatic stress. "No. No, none of this applies to me. Why would it? I'm not traumatized."

"Yeah, all right," said Jon. "But, um. You know it would be okay if you were going through some fallout, right? With what Fonda put you through, it's completely legitimate—"

"But I'm not going through fallout!" cried Stephen. "I'm fine! Don't you believe me?"

Jon grimaced. "It's not like you hiding your feelings on something really important is unprecedented, here. And then there's the whole cultural thing where subs are socialized not to be up-front about what they want...."

"Well, obviously!" (This was what came of letting Jon listen to too much Dan Savage.) "How else would we be socialized? You want us all raised as little doms?"

For a second Jon just stared at him, not saying a word, interrogating Stephen with his eyes alone.

They were so close. Jon could have grabbed the back of his neck and yanked him down for a kiss in a hot second. Stephen swallowed just thinking about it, larynx bobbing against the supple leather of his collar.

Then Jon sighed and closed the book again, more gently this time. "Okay, okay, you're fine," he said, shoving off the far side of the bed and plopping the text with a thud on the least cluttered corner of his desk. "I'm gonna go throw some of this laundry in the wash. You got any quarters?"


(+)


The library was packed in the last week before finals hit, but if Jon tried to work on his own laptop he would keep getting distracted with MMOs or arguments in the comments of Huffington Post, so he settled in at one of the school computers. He even managed to knock out half the page count of this stupid paper before the people beside him and in the next row started looking up and around.

When he pulled off his headphones, the Springsteen was replaced with an equally familiar voice...and not an equally inspiring one.

Jon didn't log off or pack his things, barely paused long enough to save the file, just pushed back his chair and headed for the stacks. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Nancy Walls, from journalism last semester and econ this one, converging on the same point. They found their targets in the middle of the 300's: Steve and Stephen, shouting at each other about something undoubtedly nonsensical at the top of their respective lungs.

Steve was plenty toppy, not at all your stereotypical gay dom, but Nancy didn't seem worried about her ability to confront him. She got between the two, gave Stephen a shove in Jon's direction, and started hissing orders at Steve; Jon gratefully grabbed Stephen from behind, hands closing over his mouth, and dragged him backward. By the time they got into the aisle Stephen had stopped mumble-yelling through the muffling of Jon's fingers.

"Not a word," snapped Jon, letting go and getting a handful of the front of his shirt.

Breathing heavily, red in the face, but not trying to reply, Stephen allowed Jon to haul him past the computers and the front desk. Jon wasn't sure what he would have done if Stephen had been any less compliant. God, people were staring. What was Stephen thinking?

They hit the front steps, stumbling out into the night air.

The instant they made ground level, Jon unhanded Stephen once more and whirled on him. "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded. "It's one thing when you're a pain in my ass, but everyone else's? People are trying to study in there! You know, to get an education? Everything I've given up to make sure you get one of those things, you'd think you could show a little respect!"

Stephen still hadn't quite caught his breath. The lamp across the path made a bright halo of his fluffy hair. "Given up...?"

"Given up!" repeated Jon, voice low but seething. "I didn't go to my first-choice college. I can't be honest with my own mother. I can't date — can't have sex — and it's not like I don't have options, do you have any idea how often I'd have John Oliver on his knees in the locker room if — but no, until graduation it's just me and my hand. Because of you!"

"I—" Stephen licked his lips, blinking rapidly. "I'm sorry," he said, shaken, vulnerable. "If it's too much to ask—"

"It isn't! What's too much to ask is all of that plus putting up with it when you are completely out of line!"

"Then why don't you make me get in line?" cried Stephen in a half sob.

Jon's world seemed to do a ninety-degree turn around him. He could've sworn even the crickets stopped chirping.

"You've been hitting on me?" he said stupidly.

Stephen gulped wetly. "Took you long enough!"

There was a low brick wall around the front of the library, surrounding the flowerbeds that flanked the staircase a couple steps above ground level. Jon took a couple steps toward it and snapped his fingers at his side. "Down."

Stephen scrambled after him, dropping into a fluid kneeling position beside his feet. Jon took a seat on the brick, caught Stephen's head, and held it against his thigh as every interaction of theirs from the past couple of months rearranged themselves in his head. He could feel Stephen shaking, sniffling, but ready and willing under his hands.

First questions first. "Since when are you even into me?"

Stephen tilted his head up to look plaintively at Jon, cheek smushed against Jon's khakis. "Only since you rescued me and it was the hottest thing I've ever seen."

Which could mean he was confusing gratitude with attraction, or..."Was that by any chance the moment you stopped seeing me as secretly a sub?"

"Could've been," sniffed Stephen.

Which meant he'd been escalating in his bratting for Jon ever since...No. Not since he'd gotten a clue. It hadn't started until after a couple weeks of Stephen being subdued, passive, non-argumentative...shell-shocked from the assault, Jon had thought, and maybe that was part of it, but..."And after that you started trying to be good."

Stephen dropped his eyes. "You didn't even notice."

Jon worked his fingers through Stephen's hair, started massaging his scalp. "Do you, uh...do you think you could be good for me now?"

"You're sure you wouldn't rather go tie up John Oliver?" said Stephen bitterly.

This time it was Stephen's hair that Jon got a generous handful of. Stephen caught his breath as Jon forced his head sharply back, locking eyes with him. "I didn't ask about John Oliver. I asked about you."

"Yessir," gasped Stephen.

"Can you be a good boy for me?"

Stephen's eyes were going glassy. "Yes, please."

"That's better." Jon loosened his grip to the gentler caress. "Here's what we're going to do. You interrupted my work in there — other people's too, but at this point apologizing to them would just mean taking away more of their study time — so we're going back in. I'll sit down at my computer and put in another half hour at this paper. You'll crawl under the desk and curl up by my feet. You'll be out of sight, and you won't make a sound. Even if you get stepped on." A thought struck him. "You gonna have to hit the bathroom first, or anything?"

"No sir," breathed Stephen.

"Okay. If you need anything like that while you're down there, tap my leg three times and I'll let you up."

"Yes sir. Thank you, sir."

Jon thought he'd covered everything, but it never hurt to check. "Any questions?"

Stephen swallowed. "A-after the half hour...what happens?"

"We go back to our room. Sit down. Have a real talk, one of the nice long ones." Limits and safewords and expectations and, wow, it was a good thing Jon had paid attention in that dom sex ed class last year. "And then...."

He hesitated long enough that Stephen got up the nerve to prompt him. "And then?"

Jon smoothed down the soft waves of hair he'd yanked into chaos. "And then...maybe we take some of our wedding presents out of the packaging?"


(+)

(V. Seasons of love.)

(+)


The big we-survived-another-semester end-of-the-year soiree, in the upstairs lounge of Jon and Stephen's building, was absolutely not rife with underage drinking. If you asked, everyone there would firmly deny it, provided they were still sober enough to understand the question.

Somewhere in the evening Jon noticed that Olivia was swaying a little too much, and asked if she wanted help back to her dorm. When she admitted that, yeah, maybe she could use a hand, Jon tapped Stephen on the shoulder. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Be good."

"Yessir."

"I'm glad you two got sorted...whatever it was you had to get sorted," remarked Olivia, remarkably articulate for someone so wobbly, as they emerged into the warm spring air and crossed the quad to one of the adjacent buildings. "Was really hoping you'd figure it out before I took off."

"Wait, you're leaving?" asked Jon.

"Uh-huh. Got me a transfer to Sorkin U. Next semester, California! Been great knowing you guys, though. We'll have to stay in tweet."

"Yeah," agreed Jon, and made a mental note to ask Stephen once and for all how Twitter worked. "Say, uh, is Kristen going?" He knew Steve and Nancy were both transferring to somewhere out west, different schools, but not too far apart....

"Nah. C'mon, that would be weird," said Olivia, giving him a friendly elbow to the ribs. "You gotta pick a school based on where you're gonna learn best, right? I mean, I'm still totally into Kristen, but you don't go to a school just because you're into someone unless you're dead certain you're gonna be forever. We can't all be you an' Stephen, y'know."


(+)


They came clean to Jon's mother one evening after making her dinner. It didn't hurt that Stephen had to be kept on a short leash in the kitchen to avoid leaving it a wreck or just overdosing on sugar, providing more than a few opportunities for reassuring PDA.

A few weeks and one switch of residences later, they simply made a point of coming down to breakfast with prominent rope burns standing out like cuffs on Stephen's wrists. His parents, they agreed, never had to know anything had been different.


(+)


The first GSA meeting of the year lured people in with free snacks, a prospect which involved Stephen making a last-minute run to the corner Walgreens and grabbing the first five boxes of overpackaged cookies on the shelf.

He texted Kristen (who had been elected the new president, to nobody's surprise) to let her know they were almost done while Jon was ringing up the purchases, and they hoofed it back to the student center just in time. Jon got the receipt to the club treasurer, Stephen saved him a seat, the rest of the old and new attendees dug into the food, and Kristen finished writing GBNDVAQQSSA on the shiny new whiteboard with a rainbow sequence of markers. "All right!" she chirped, after calling the meeting to order. "Does anyone already know what all these letters mean?"

Stephen, now kneeling on a cushion beside the chair he'd staked out for Jon, kept his mouth shut. No telling what Jon would do to him if he started calling people here sinners, and he didn't want to find out.

The rest of the group cobbled the acronym together, calling out guesses that got more and more ridiculous as they whittled the string of letters down. Even the wallflower freshmen were relaxed and giggling by the end of it. At least, until one guy decided to kill the buzz. "Seriously?" he demanded — Stephen recognized him from one of last year's history classes, Aasif something — "We're going to talk about straight switches as oppressed now? What, having full legal recognition since the '60s isn't good enough for you people?"

"Hey!" snapped Stephen. "You, sir, are contributing to bidynamiphobia erasure! My own collaring dominant is a switch, so I know all about it. It's astounding how many people find it hard to believe that he's fully capable of tying me up and—"

Jon snapped his fingers in front of Stephen's face. Stephen let the topic go, but made a point of sulking about it.

Aasif did a double-take. "Wait, you're his...? I thought you were a dom."

Jon raised his eyebrows. "Can I tell you something? That is literally the first time anyone has told me that."

Stephen cuddled against his knee, pleased and understandably smug. It wasn't like Jon was acting any different in public these days. People were just starting to take notice of this fine slice of heterosexual all-American sub at his side, who deferred to him with the most obedient (usually), sweet and loving (tough love still counted), and not at all bratty (unless he had a really good reason) submission his lucky dominant could possibly ask for.

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