"Hey, babe," said Jon, trotting down the cabin stairs. The sound of Stephen (his Stephen) at the door was intimately familiar these days — he could even tell without looking whether his boyfriend had the sword-and-shield combo in tow.
When Stephen (his platonic-friend Stephen, the still-on-TV Stephen) had shown up at their little rustic getaway and ushered his shoutier counterpart back to New York, Jon had done a lot of fretting. Was it safe to put the man on TV again? He'd been happy and well-adjusted when he left, but what if this was like handing a beer to a long-sober alcoholic?
Turned out Jon was worrying for nothing. After soaking up the attention with obvious delight, Stephen hadn't shot off the rails or crashed into withdrawal. He'd gotten a healthy shot of energy, headed home exactly on schedule, and gushed about the whole thing to Jon over the phone before the flight attendant took it away.
"How was the — oh! Uh." Now that Stephen was here in person, Jon stopped on the landing, suddenly conscious of his bathrobe. "You brought company."
Stephen was grinning like a sun lamp, eyes big and hopeful. "He followed me home! Can I keep him?"
At his side stood...another Stephen. Or at least, another of Stephen's weird doppelgängers — and between the zebra-patterned suit, giant neck bow, and bouffant pile of blue hair towering six inches over his forehead, this one was weirder than most. He aimed a strained, square grin at one wall, then another: "Ahh! Haha! Where's my camera?"
"I told you, Caesar, we don't have any here. Jon doesn't believe in them." Stephen ushered the man over the star-spangled welcome mat. "Caesar, this is Jon. Jon, these are Caesar and Caligula!"
Jon held his mug of organic quinoa tea a little closer. Protecting it or himself, he wasn't sure which. "I take it Caligula is the mongoose."
"They're the hottest trend in the Capitol right now," intoned Caesar, holding the creature up and wiggling his fingertips over its head. It still had an RNC badge hanging around its little neck. "Tribute Trump, of course, brought them into fashion by carrying one wherever he goes."
Jon's brow furrowed...then, "Right, I get it, a hairpiece joke."
"Caligula was devastated when they got kicked out of the convention," put in Stephen, while Caesar and his blue stripey coiffure walked an unnervingly intent circle around Jon. "Taking in poor lost hurt animals is your job now, right? You have to take him!"
"Stephen, that animal is stuffed," said Jon helplessly.
"Oh yes, the catering at the Games is second to none." Caesar had completed his circuit, which was good, because Jon was getting dizzy trying to follow him. "The rugged mountain-man look, eh? Daring! I like it. But I'm afraid that strategy hasn't won the Hungry For Power Games since the long-lost days of Tribute Lincoln. Who's your stylist?"
"I, uh...don't have one."
The weird square pseudo-grin reappeared on Caesar's face. "Come again?"
"I don't have a stylist," repeated Jon. "That was one of the perks of getting out of showbiz."
It was kind of impressive how Caesar's expression didn't even twitch. "Out...? There is no 'out' of the biz. Out of the Arena just means moving to the Victors' Circle. Haha! Sponsorship! Come now, come now, you were kidding about the cameras, right? There must be something around here."
He fluffed his hair in the direction of an eagle-shaped wall fixture.
And in spite of everything, Jon felt his heartstrings getting tugged. The creepy grin wasn't one of Stephen's expressions, for all that it was essentially happening on Stephen's face...but Jon knew exactly what was going on underneath it. Damn him and his weakness for showboating, blustery men whose stage presences covered terrible insecurities about their worth and their place in the world after the lights went down.
He caught Stephen's eye over Caesar's shoulder. Stephen grimaced and made a gesture of seeeee, what did I tell you?
"Okay, fine," said Jon. "Caesar, you can crash here for a while."
"Caligula too!" said Stephen quickly.
Well, an imaginary friend in the form of a taxidermied mongoose was pretty benign. Not something that would have to, say, get stashed in the gun safe. Which was good, because Jon was pretty sure Sweetness would complain about having her space invaded. "Caligula too. We'll make up the spare bed."
"Oh, is it that kind of show?" Caesar snapped back into beaming-host mode, giving Jon a saucy wink. "Say no more, say no more! Of course you don't want to give away your whole strategy. Let's just say, when the necklines go down, the ratings go up, eh?"
His eye wandered down through Jon's chest hair until Jon grabbed the lapels of his bathrobe and held them shut, blushing furiously.
"Why don't I take you two upstairs and show you where your prep room is," said Stephen. He put an arm around Caesar's padded shoulders and escorted man and mongoose up to the bathroom.
Jon took the opportunity to scare up some clean clothes. By the time Stephen reappeared, the two of them were approaching a happy medium, dress-wise: Stephen had shed the suit jacket and tie, while Jon was not only wearing a T-shirt, but had found a pair of real pants.
"Just tell me one thing, babe," he said. "Are you planning for either of us to actually have sex with him?"
Stephen made a face. "Good lord, Jon, of course not! Weren't you paying attention? The man has four eyebrows! He is clearly not well."
To his surprise, Stephen crossed the artistically-weathered floorboards and pulled Jon into a hug. "I missed you, you know. Covering the news again was great, but I missed your fluffy hair and your easy way with rescue goats and your stupid vegan recipes and your general beaconhood of sanity."
Now Jon felt bad for having briefly contemplated taking a Sharpie to Stephen's forehead after he fell asleep. "Missed you too, babe. You want some nosh? Any requests? Or, wait, is there anything Caesar can't eat...?"
"He doesn't know what to do with food if it's not display-ready," admitted Stephen, nuzzling Jon's neck. "But it's not like it's a requirement that we dust it with gold leaf shavings. Let's start off his transition into normality by making him something with kale."