Stephen first meets Alan Davies in a club somewhere in SoHo, after being dragged hither and yon by Emma's entourage in the summer of '94. He hasn't actually seen her for almost two hours and he frankly suspects she's gone off to suck face with that tousle-haired slut Greg, so when they stumble into the Laughing Cow Comedy Club at 11:45, Stephen tugging his scarf free from the claws of someone named Kate, hilarity is the furthest thing from his mind.
He's even annoyed, a bit, at the mop-haired thing onstage that everyone's laughing at. It's a grab bag of stand-up standbys, an idiotic assortment of observations about New Zealanders and jokes about his hometown, and the man seems more entertained by himself than he could ever entertain anyone else. There's nothing special in it, really.
But then someone heckles him, calls him a fag for telling a story about his cat, and before anyone can do more than "Ooo," the man onstage says, "You know, setting aside the fact that those of a homosexual persuasion, by and large, dress and talk and honestly smell better than somebody who, for a totally random kind of example, goes down to his local comedy club to get pissed and shout at people onstage - setting aside all that, right, you should be aware that fags and cats do not always go hand in hand, or hand in paw - you know, that's always troubled me. When you're in Mexico and someone wants to fight you mano a mano, what if you're fighting a dog? Is it mano a... what's the Mexican word for paw?"
"Pata," Stephen calls out, and the man squints into the lights, somehow finding Stephen amongst the crowd - or perhaps that's only Stephen's imagination.
"Gracias, senor," he says, and just like that he's talking for another twenty minutes about his cat, the famous Mexican gunslinger Senor Whiskers, and even the heckler is laughing. Stephen finds a table and doesn't get up when the rest of the group push on; he stays until the end, and after, he talks his way backstage.
"Senor Pata!" the man - Alan Davies, Stephen has to remember that for the towel monogramming - leans over a half-dozen muttering and smoking comedians to shake his hand. "Recognized that voice. You're a professor, aren't you?"
"Actually," Stephen clears his throat, "I'm actually--"
"You're one of the bits," Alan says confidently. "Bit of Fry, bit of Laurie. I always wondered which bits," he adds, cheeky. He doesn't have dimples. Stephen always imagined that if this sort of thing were to happen, it would be for someone with dimples.
They end up at some godawful all night fish and chips shop, and Alan splatters him with mayonnaise as he's waving his arms talking about, Stephen thinks, football, although it's hard to tell in between his enthusiasm and his tendency to talk with his mouth full. Stephen says, "Ah yes, the sport suitable for rough girls but not delicate boys," and Alan just laughs and says, "Think it's probably the other way 'round, although I'll tell you I've seen a few of the women's clubs, they'd just as soon knock your eyeball out as look at you. So maybe, yeah. Rough girls, I like that. Brilliant."
"You've got to rescue me," Stephen hisses at Hugh later, at home, running up an appalling phone bill to the States, where Hugh is guest-starring on something and it's a more reasonable hour of half seven. "I've fallen in love with someone from Essex. I quoted Oscar Wilde at him and he thought it was 'brilliant.'"
Hugh laughs and hangs up on him.
The best thing is to not indulge it, because he's seen friends and family do this, fall in love with pets or slightly underaged youths or people who don't speak English, and it always ends in tragedy. So he throws away the number Alan scribbled on a napkin and doesn't answer the three calls he gets from him, although if he listens to the answer phone messages a few dozen times, there's no one to fault him for it.
Ignoring a ridiculous flight of fancy becomes exponentially more problematic when Alan goes from a ridiculous comic to a ridiculous television superstar and everyone in the country falls in love with "Jonathan Creek." It comes to a head one morning in early March, a rare London fog snaking faintly through the streets, while Stephen is driving to a meeting with the BBC and hears some shouting behind him. He sees a dark figure in the rearview mirror dashing out of an alleyway, looking hunted, before making a beeline for his cab. Stephen's about to engage the locks when he sees a dozen photogs stampeding behind him - whoever this is, he's not a burgalar, he's a prize.
"Drive, just please drive away," the man gasps as he flings himself into the backseat. Stephen obligingly steps on the gas, leaving a paparazzi reaching for the doorhandle stumbling rather satisfyingly, a half-dozen flashbulbs going off to record the event. "You'd think they'd take a break after just killing a princess," the man says darkly; he straightens up and Stephen nearly swerves into a phone booth. "Sorry, anyway - thanks for not thinking I'm a robber or a tramp or something. Could you take me to Islington, please?"
"Certainly, Mr. Davies," Stephen says, and Alan looks up, startled, then immediately swarms forward to crane his head around the driver's seat.
"What the hell? You driving a cab now? We'll take all jokes about quitting your day job as read, yeah?" Alan says. "I suppose this explains why I never heard from you. All this time you've been on the lam. Or working for MI5, undercover as a cabbie. Top secret mission?"
"The Queen has commanded me to silence," Stephen says. "You should really put your seatbelt on, I'll get in trouble if there's an accident and you weren't wearing it."
"You'd get in trouble? My head would be all over the dash," Alan says, but instead of sitting back he contorts himself over and into the front seat, jamming an errant knee into Stephen's shoulder on the way. "Serves you right, not calling," Alan sniffs when Stephen mentions his injury, and any hope he'd had before now is comprehensively dashed.
They spend the rest of the day driving around London, picking up cab fares ("I'm in training," Alan assures them when they blink at him sitting in the passenger seat) and occasionally getting lost to a degree that has everyone locking their doors. Nobody recognizes them, between the Americans wanting to go to "that big ol' ferris wheel" and the busy City executives shouting into their mobiles and the hassled mothers bundling up their children after a busy day at private school, and Alan unwinds by degrees, his shoulders coming down from against his ears and his hand unclenching from the balled-up fists pressed against his thighs. He bets Stephen that he can't cross all twelve bridges in under an hour and crows, delighted, when he wins, makes Stephen drive them to his favorite pub and ducks out, "Back in a tick," coming back with two pints of beer and a bag of something already leaking grease through the paper, and Stephen drink drives for the first time in his life, a mouthful of Harp's before Alan takes away the glass and says, "Oi, both for me, you must drive responsibly, plus you now owe me thirty-two quid, twenty for the bet and twelve for the grub."
Alan heralds their arrival at the front door of his flat by belching hugely. "Mm, that was satisfying."
"And pungent," Stephen points out, rolling down the windows. "Good Lord."
"I say, you're such a rotter," Alan says in a truly horrible posh accent, grinning. "All right, time to face the music. Thanks," he adds, the door already opened and him half-out of the cab, "For," he waves vaguely, then seems to remember something and ducks back into the cab, collecting the pint glasses before Stephen can do much more than hold his breath.
"Don't let the paps get you down," Stephen tells him.
Alan makes a face. "Don't ever say 'paps' again, it sounds terrible coming from you. And don't let any more Americans into your car. And don't lose my number again, you disgrace to humanity." He nudges the door closed with his hip and leans down to rest his elbows in the window. "You know, Stephen? You and me, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
"Oh, good," Stephen manages.
The trouble is that Alan doesn't seem to have any interest in him, or at least not the kind of interest Stephen would prefer or even understand. He calls him up regularly enough -- "Look, I know it's against the Homosexual Code of Conduct, but I've seen you explain the offsides rule so if you don't come along to the game with me tonight I'll end up asking me ex-girlfriend, and it'd all end in tears, you're doing the world a favor Stephen--" and they have long, winding conversations that Stephen suspects are as baffling to Alan as they are to him.
"So if you could come back in your next life as an animal, what would it be?" Alan asks over the roar of the crowds. There's a yellow card on the field but Alan's watching him, smiling a little, cheeks aglow against the cold of the stadium.
"I don't believe in reincarnation," Stephen blurts, because he's a prat and can't keep his mouth shut.
Alan rolls his eyes. "Well, and nor do I! I know we've had our, what's it, theological discussion, neither of us hold with a higher et cetera," and he waves his hands around to indicate - honestly Stephen's not sure. "I'm saying, you know. If we're wrong."
"I make it a habit to always be right," Stephen points out, but considers the question and ignores Alan's murmured, "'ve noticed that." It isn't until after half-time, which Stephen likes to call intermission just to watch Alan laugh, that he comes up with, "I think a badger."
That makes Alan laugh again, covering his mouth so that he doesn't spray anyone with beer. "Yeah, suits you," he says.
"What about you?" Stephen asks, because there must be some reason Alan's asked, something deep and meaningful in the question.
"Oh, blue whale, definitely," Alan says. "Lie about, eating all day, that's the life for me. Of course," he adds, cramming a handful of food into his face, "That's pretty much all I do in this life too, if you think about it."
"QI" happens almost entirely by accident; Stephen will swear that up and down until the day he dies. He accidentally requests the producers to ask Alan to be a panelist for the pilot, and then accidentally insists that Alan be the permanent panelist for the first series, and the second. By the third there's no need, "QI" is as unimaginable without Alan as it is without Stephen himself, so really, when he says it's purest coincidence that they were put together, he's being almost entirely not untruthful.
The other problem is that Alan keeps doing things that are monumentally endearing. Aside from every time he opens his mouth and talks about bees or something, he has a tendency to fall asleep... everywhere. And anywhere. But mostly he does it on top of Stephen.
"Your shoulder's so nice and warm," Alan mumbles, rubbing his nose against the fabric of Stephen's jacket. "When're they calling us." It's the murmuring statement of a question one asks when one is mostly asleep, hoping not to be answered, and so Stephen stays still and continues his crossword while Rob and David argue about some accident on the tube that's holding up half the audience.
Jo appears out of nowhere, an unnerving capability, and glares down at them. She lights a cigarette and says, "Sod off," pre-emptively to a stagehand who's clearly about to remind her of the no-smoking policy. "So where are the two of you registered, anyway?" she asks.
"I'll have you murdered," Stephen promises, just as the director comes in and makes herding motions toward the soundstage. "Alan," he adds, softly. "It's time to get up."
"Mmm warm. Fuzzy. Blue whales," Alan replies. Stephen can see the curve of a smile, blurry with peripheral vision and affection.
"Come on," Stephen says, trying for firm.
"In a minute. Jeeves." And Alan cracks open one eye, smile spreading wide and guileless as he squints up at Stephen.
"You're a thoroughly terrible person," Stephen manages around the lump in his throat. He rather suspects it's his heart.
"Good job you love me anyway," Alan yawns, stale breath in Stephen's face, and clambers over him to the stage.
Stephen takes a moment to bury his face in his hands. When he draws them away, Jo is still there.
"Harrods?" she asks, exhaling a long stream of smoke.
Stephen's very busy writing and hiding from people in the privacy of his dressing room on set one week-end, when he hears someone in the hallway, shouting and getting louder. "Stephen? Stephen! The jig is up, I know you're here somewhere, it's a bit early for hide and seek - hello," Alan finishes as he opens the door.
"How did you know I'd be here?" Stephen asks, trying not to look at anything but Alan's face. He's got some kind of horrible multicoloured thing covering his torso, and his trousers aren't much better - a bilge-grey color that clashes horribly with his brown trainers.
"I deduced your presence from the fact that there was an ugly cab in the parking lot," Alan says. "And also, I called your flat and your poolboy said you were here."
"I don't have a pool," Stephen protests. Javier is a perfectly excellent assistant and unworthy of such a derisive epithet.
"Well, I'm sure he'd clean out your gutters with a wink and a smile," Alan tells him, and clears his throat. "So I was at Primark earlier."
"Buying new shirts, I see." He knows what's coming; all he can do is brace himself.
"D'you like it?" Alan asks, delighted, patting at himself. "Five quid. A bargain." The bag lands on Stephen's desk with a soft thwump; Alan's much louder as he insists, "Go on, then."
There's a wad of plain white tissue, stuffed in at the top with bad grace, and before he gets any further Alan snatches the bag back.
"Sorry, I don't think they snipped the tag off," he says, and turns half-away, perching himself on the desk to duck down and - he's pulling the tag off whatever it is with his teeth, that's awful, but Stephen is admittedly distracted by the swell of Alan's backside just a few inches from his elbow. "There," Alan says, triumphant, spitting something white and fluttering onto the floor. "Here."
Inside the bag is a tie, huddled at the bottom like a resentful snake unwilling to work for the charmer today. It's the same violently ugly pattern as Alan's shirt, like a rainbow got ill all over itself. "Oh, isn't this nice," Stephen manages. "It's very..." and all the good breeding in the world can't give him an adequate adjective for this moment.
"See, it matches! I thought we'd wear them on the show sometime. Be great, wouldn't it." Alan doesn't wait for Steve to retrieve the tie himself, instead yanking it out and putting it up on his shoulder to more easily illustrate the similarity.
"Indeed," Stephen says.
"Anyway, it's for your collection," Alan says as he slides off the desk and flings open the wardrobe doors where the collection resides, because as much as Stephen will admit that this has gotten well and truly away from him, he absolutely draws the line at taking any of these things home.
There must be almost a hundred ties, now, in various hues and shades and sizes, picked up at Primark or Marks & Sparks or whatever horrible tourist trap gift shop Alan's wandered into on his various travels. Most have been worn only once, the bright lights of the soundstage bouncing off iridescent bubble patterns or I HEART LONDON picked out in neon thread.
But more often these ties are touched, gently, a finger sliding down the cheap wool or faux silk or (in a few particularly awful cases) plastic, while Stephen wonders about the nature of time and distance and memory, if he can close his eyes and remember Alan thinking of him, months ago and miles away, tugging something free and wrapping it carefully in cheap paper to bring back to him.
"It looks good here," Alan says, voice quieter than it is normally, and Stephen looks up, startled, at the curl of Alan's strange mouth.
"Yes, it does," he says, too truthful.
"Well then." Alan dusts his hands off on his unspeakably ugly trousers. "Right. Chippie? Come on, you've probably been living on tea and your brains all day. Man cannot live on biscuits alone." And Stephen nods, closes his laptop, and pretends to straighten up while watching Alan close the doors to the wardrobe after pushing the new tie gently into its proper place.
Alan doesn't accept Stephen's various invitations with the same hesitation that Stephen is forced to accept his; Alan's equally game for a night of ballet or a soiree at Emma's new brownstone, although he does have a tendency to fall asleep at the former and eat rather too much at the latter. "Right, sounds like a night out for some bachelors," he says, voice warm over the phone line. "What should I wear? Bow tie? Waistcoat and tails? Monocle and top hat?"
"A pair of black trousers and a shirt that doesn't blind anyone will do," Stephen tells him sternly.
"I've got a pair of orange socks, can I get away with that?"
"Just don't take off your shoes like you did last time."
Alan laughs. "It's hardly my fault - you can't play Dance Dance Revolution in Oxfords, anyone can tell you that."
Stephen sighs deeply. "Yes, and under ordinary circumstances you can't play Dance Dance Revolution at an awards show party, either."
"I seem to remember you telling me that on the night," Alan says. There's some noises on his end, a clattering of pots and pans. "And I remember me telling you something like, 'that sounds like a challenge, Stephen.' And we all know how that ended."
"I'll pick you up at eight," Stephen says, instead of all the things he wants to say, about how Alan was horrible at the game, gleefully bad, betting twenty quid a dance and losing three hundred that night. It's all true, but irrelevant; Alan had laughed and collapsed in a heap in Stephen's car, turning the radio on and bravely suffering the buffeting of Stephen's ineffectual hands. "Eyes on the road," Alan had insisted. "Now, cabbie, second star to the right and straight on 'til morning, yeah?" and Stephen would have driven there, no questions asked.
Emma kisses him on the cheek and promptly dumps a large platter of hors d'ouvres into his hands. "Here, make sure people don't start eating their own fingers," she orders. "Hugh and Greg are fighting about how to coddle eggs, so I've got to plan a double homicide before we eat dinner."
"You want help?" Alan chirps. "With the cooking? Or the double homicide," he adds as Emma seems to notice him for the first time.
"Ooh, I'd love some," she coos, smiling at him and turning him around just in time to shoot Stephen one of those expressions he wish he didn't know as well as he does. Having friends for over thirty years is sometimes very hard.
"In a way I blame myself," Emma says later that night, tucked into a loveseat with Stephen and Hugh, holding a glass of wine in front of her so that she resembles nothing so much as a lurking alligator. "I've been distracted, and Hugh here has been on the other side of the planet. We weren't here for you in your obvious hour of very obvious need."
"There's nothing obvious nor very obvious going on," Stephen says, already coiled for a flinch because he's sandwiched between the only two people who know where all his sensitive spots are.
"Right, which is why you brought that along with you like some kind of three-legged dog," Hugh says mildly, gesturing at where Alan is chatting up some pretty young actress and sneaking crab puffs off an abandoned plate on the bookshelf.
"You wanted me to bring someone so you'd have an even number for dinner," Stephen appeals to Emma, who laughs in his face.
"I wanted you to bring someone to see who you'd bring, because I had a feeling it'd be that, and look, I was right. I'd say Hugh owes me money but neither of us were willing to bet against it." She nudges Stephen with her shoulder, knocking him into Hugh's bony elbow. "So come on. How long has this been going on? When did the tight bud of passion bloom into the flower of..." she trails off, bites her lip.
"Deflowering," Hugh offers.
"Tight bud of -- I beg your pardon," Stephen says. "There's no... budding. Or deflowering. Or flowers of any kind."
"Are you lying?" Emma demands.
"Is he lying?" she asks Hugh, who yanks Stephen's face around with one iron hand at his jaw.
"How much," Hugh says in a low, threatening tone, "Do you weigh?"
"I'm absolutely not going to answer that," Stephen says, trying hard not to splutter, "And furthermore--"
"How long have you and Alan been necking in your dressing room?" Hugh interrupts.
"We haven't," Stephen says, on firmer ground here, even though he's keenly aware that at least a half-dozen people can hear them and aren't really pretending not to. Alan's still absorbed in his tart and puffs on the other side of the room, thank goodness.
"Not lying, just a sad old fart," Hugh announces, and releases him.
"I hate you both," Stephen decides.
"Then I take it back, there's nothing obvious, it's just desperate and pathetic," Emma says, turning and tucking her toes under his thigh.
Stephen slumps back into the cushions. "This is dreadful."
"It is," Emma agrees. "What's more, I think that girl's about to grope Alan in a way that is not family-friendly."
"What?" Stephen says, alarmed, because people reach out for Alan all the time, in public, drawn to touch him, and it makes him miserable for days on end after an old lady reaches out to stroke his hair or someone punches him on the elbow, friendly, "Hey, yah, it's Jonathan Creek!"
"Yeah, going for the bottom in three two one, I should think," Hugh says, and pushes him off the couch.
Sure enough, the girl looks poised to strike at any moment, although Stephen takes heart in the fact that Alan's face is so stuffed with food that he'd probably end up coughing bits of hors d'ouvres all over her should she try anything. "I think we'll be going now," Stephen says, sounding possibly more belligerent than he ought to, but Alan just grabs another flute of champagne on the way out and knocks it back, stumbling into the guest bedroom to retrieve their coats.
It takes longer than it normally does for Alan to find his sleeves, which could mean anything really; what's unusual is the way he leans against Stephen when he attempts to help, turning his body into the crook of Stephen’s arm and hiccupping quietly into his champagne. “I wonder why they call them flutes,” he says, and it’s the way he says floooots that finally clues Stephen in. “I bet you’d know.”
“Darling, how many of these did you have?” Stephen plucks the glass from slipping fingers and steadfastly ignores the way Emma and Hugh are staring at him as if he’s just done something terrifyingly adorable.
“You know everything, you know?” Alan giggles, wrinkling up his nose in delighted, ignorant bliss. “I bet you’re ace at pub quizzes. Emma Thompson,” Alan says because he can’t seem to break the habit of using her first and last name -- d'you know how brilliant she is? Alan had said after the first time Stephen had introduced them. Have you seen her in Nanny McPhee?—“Emma Thompson. We need to take this man on a pub crawl.”
“Oh, we do,” Emma agrees with a dawning sort of twinkle in her eye.
“Alright, come along now,” Stephen says, drawing them away, “I don’t know why they’re called flutes off the top of my head, but I can tell you why they’re no longer in the shape of Marie Antoinette’s left breast.”
“You really do know everything,” Alan says, with so much amazement in his voice that Emma’s hand flutters up to her chest like she can’t help herself, and there’s a collective sigh from the people left at the party.
“Where can I get an Alan?” Hugh asks Emma, showy enough to be a joke, but quiet enough that Alan mightn’t actually hear.
"Hey, can we listen to that Benny Hill CD I got?" Alan asks as Stephen herds him down the stairs. "It's supposed to be brilliant. After you tell me about Marie Antoinette’s breasts."
"Yes, of course," Stephen says, because his life is hopeless.
The thing about Alan—the biggest thing, the kicks-him-in-the-teeth-every-time thing—is the look on his face when he’s learning something; he soaks it up and while he doesn't always remember it later that year or that day, sometimes he does, chewing it over in his brain and coming up with things Stephen could never have imagined. When Stephen explains about champagne evaporating faster with a larger surface area, Alan’s eyes are wide and focused. “Does that mean, like, at a party with a lot of champagne evaporating out of Marie Antoinette’s breasts everywhere, does that mean people were breathing champagne?”
“No, that’s not quite how evaporation works,” Stephen tries, but the imagery is lovely and he’s willing to let it drop.
“Oh,” Alan says, tapping the side of his nose, “Gotcha. Evaporation means that somewhere out there, it is raining champagne.”
Stephen can’t help laughing, he really can’t. Here in the darkness of his retired old London cab he has no audience to set straight, no fact-checkers to impress; he can tilt his head back and laugh at the thought of puddles of fizzing alcohol -- and of Alan, splashing through it all in his Wellies.
Then Alan pops in Benny Hill, grinning at Stephen while he does it. Alan talks back to the CD all the way to his flat, eyes half-closed and shoulders loose, the lights of London flashing against his cheek. He doesn’t stop talking when Stephen puts the light on his cab and gets out with him, walking up the stairs to the front door, the burble of Alan's voice warm against the cold winter air.
Stephen stares down at his gloves, lax in his hands, turning them over and over in some kind of attempt to jumpstart his courage, because it's true, everything that Hugh and Emma said: it's pathetic and desperate. His heart has been sitting in his throat for so long it feels like he can't breathe around it any longer. He's ready to say something, do anything, when Alan turns from the unlocked door to smile up at him, lopsided and happy, and there's no bravery that can face that unscathed.
"Is this where you kiss me goodnight, then?" Alan says, posing against the door like a femme fatale in a noir film, albeit slightly more masculine and infinitely more dangerous. It’s meant to be a joke, painfully obvious, like a punch to Stephen’s floating rib, but it’s Alan’s strange soft voice and soft strange smile that Stephen always needs to sway closer to. They're already so close that the steam from their breath is indistinguishable one from the other, and Stephen has just enough brainpower to notice Alan's gaze flick down to his mouth, as if surprised to see it there, before--
Before his gloves drop out of his hands, and Alan makes a dismayed noise and nearly topples off the steps trying to grab them as they skitter across the ice. Stephen ends up with handfuls of Alan and no gloves at all.
"Sorry," Alan says. "'M a bit pissed."
"Evidently," Stephen says. "I should -- early day, tomorrow."
"Yeah," Alan says. "Yeah, I'm sorry. Sorry about that."
"Drink plenty of water," Stephen reminds him, and Alan looks up from where he's turning the doorknob very carefully.
"I promise," he says, very serious.
Stephen manages to wait until he hears the lock reengage from the other side before he gives up and lets his forehead rest gently on the door.
His phone hums in his pocket.
CLEARLY YOU SHOULD JUST GO FIND SOME PROSTITUTES, says Emma. There's another buzz, this time from Hugh. DON'T YOU HAVE A SECRETARY WHO'S GAGGING FOR IT? MIGHT BE A BETTER BET.
Stephen turns off his phone for the next twelve hours and arrives on set in a moderately foul mood, which isn't helped at all by the sight of Alan and Jo whispering to themselves in a corner of the green room. He abandons them to sulk in private until he's called for rehearsal, and makes a point of picking out one of his own ties, a sober grey affair, even though he's not sure who he's making the point to.
Alan is very quiet for most of the rehearsal; suspiciously so, but Stephen blames that on the heroic amounts of champagne he'd put away the night before. They get through it, and then through the audience filing in, and the introductions and the buzzers, and then.
"What is special about the Juniper berry?" he asks, and there's a slap of the buzzer and the sound of bees swarming, Alan's noise for this game. "Yes, Alan?"
“So last night," Alan says slow and deliberate, looking a little wild about the eyes and oh, God, whatever he's about to say, he's about to say it on national television, "Did everyone really think we were having it off after we left the soiree?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Stephen can see Jo slump over, her head on the desk, and that gets a hesitant sort of a laugh, but Stephen can't hear much over the roar in his ears and the tinny sound of a QI Elf in his earpiece, "Stephen? Stephen? Harry, he's not responding - emergency measures."
And the blessed sound of the claxon goes off, DO THEY THINK WE'RE DOING IT? flashing behind on the screens, and the audience's laugh is real now, on solid footing, and it's enough for Stephen to laugh and turn to Rob and ask the same question, and get the same response, a louder laugh this time, and the adrenaline pounding in his chest settles down. Alan looks ready to rebel at any moment, but Stephen can see Jo digging her nails into his arm behind the desk and whatever amount of blood she's drawing from him, it keeps him quiet.
Stephen can't remember the show five minutes after it wraps, which is four and a half minutes after he shot out of his chair and escaped to his dressing room. He slams the door shut and locks it for good measure; and there's a certain dark satisfaction when he hears the thump five seconds afterward, something heavy crashing against it. "Ow," and of course it's Alan.
"Go away," Stephen says, but he has to ask, "Are you all right?"
"Hit me head on the door, 'sallright. I thought it was unlocked," he adds, accusatory, though it's hard to know from behind the door. It also sounds like he's pinching his nose from where it collided.
"Well, it isn't, so if you'd please go, that would be much appreciated."
"Stephen, can't we just--" Alan's voice is cut off with a yelp, and there's only ominous silence after that. Stephen decides that cowardice is the better part of valor and starts noting improvements to be made if he is to spend the rest of his life in this room.
He's contemplating the addition of a skylight twenty minutes later when there's another rattle of the doorknob.
"You’ve got to come out sometime, you know," Alan says.
"Didn't Jo chase you away once already?" Stephen says, because it's a good guess that's what happened.
"I deployed evasive maneuvers. Come on, I went to the sweets shop and got you those Swedish chocolatey potato things you like.”
“We've discussed this - they're German and they’re not actually made with potatoes," Stephen says, because he's never been able to resist a teachable moment. "Listen, I’m terribly busy and important, I appreciate the gesture, but dying of mortification is a feat best accomplished alone.”
“Are you mortified that I just today realized we’ve been dating for months,” Alan asks, sounding genuinely curious, “Or are you mortified that I mentioned you took me to a soiree on national television?”
"There's nothing mortifying about a soiree," Stephen protests.
"Right, bunch of people wearing posh clothes and talking about the Swiss Alps and eating fricassees, that's not a silly waste of an evening," Alan says, and it's a rise, Stephen knows it's a rise, but he pulls the door open anyway to defend his right to a soiree now and then.
And Alan's just standing there with that familiar smile from last night, the one Stephen recognizes from the times that Stephen laughs at his jokes or there's a beautiful play in the game or a sunset, a private invitation to share in something. He's holding what he thinks are Swedish chocolate potatoes and smiling and really, there's only so much that Stephen can be expected to take.
The next morning he gets a text from Jo, which says, IF YOU DON'T TELL YOUR LITTLE TWINKY HOBBIT TO STOP SENDING PICTURES OF HIS WHALE-SHAPED HICKEY TO EVERYONE IN HIS PHONE BOOK I'M GOING TO RIP OFF HIS COCK AND SHOVE IT UP HIS NOSE.
In other words, they lived happily ever after.