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The Valley Of The Shadow Of Zen

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When Jon was a teenager and peaking, he was a living nightmare. Control freak with a temper. Never met a problem that couldn't be fixed if it would just shut up and listen to him. And if it didn't want to, well, that was just asking for a fight.

He got polite and apologetic once he got into the downswing, and since his downswings were long and slow, it gave people plenty of time to forgive and forget. But by sophomore year he got into the habit of skipping class for the worst few days of it, trying to burn off the energy at local bars (he was old enough to date, if not to go into the back rooms where all the equipment was) or with a handful of casual partners. It wasn't great for his grades, but hey, neither was ending up in a fistfight with a teacher who also happened to be peaking. Or tearing into one who was valleying until they cried.

Jon's valleys were also unusually long, but a lot more relaxing. He was lucky enough not to get the kind of strong valleys that turned you into a cringing heap of indecision. No, what he got was preternaturally mellow. Not to mention attentive. That was probably how he managed to graduate at all, with days when the only thing he wanted to do was sit quietly in front of an expert or three and soak up information like an awkward blue-eyed sponge.

At some point in his twenties, he made a conscious decision to work on the peaks thing. Partly because the service industry is scheduled on the idea that its workers might need a single day off per cycle, but not three in a row.

He read a few self-help books. Listened to some motivational tapes on how to make your peaks work with you, not against you. Went on this mindfulness retreat thing for a few weeks. Granted, the program was designed on the assumption that you'd go through at least two peaks over that time, but the instructors managed to adapt enough that he got something out of it anyway.

(Also, he smoked a lot of weed. Don't tell his mom about that one.)

Jon was never going to be, like, one of those Tibetan monks who could always meditate their way into the exact midpoint of their cycles, and had the MRI scans to prove it. But he did zen out enough to be a good boss.

 

***

 

Stephen spent three years trying different medications for bipolar disorder before a doctor finally realized that was just how his cycles worked.

 

***

 

In Jon's fourth month trying to run the Daily Show, a pale, trembling Stephen came into his office. "Jon...? I'm so so sorry if this is a personal question...you're valleying in like three days, right?"

"That's right." At this point in his downswing Jon was totally not bothered by personal questions. And Stephen was technically correct, even if it was more like Jon would be valleying over the next three days. "Sit down. What's up?"

Instead of taking one of the chairs across from Jon's desk, Stephen sank to his knees beside it. "Well, I...I'm going to be peaking then, and it's the first time we're going to line up like that, and I'm probably going to say some terrible, disrespectful things to you. And I just want you to know that I don't mean any of them! You're the boss and you're in charge and I accept that, I swear I do. No matter how much more naturally authoritative I look in a suit!"

"Hey, c'mon, it's okay." Jon scooted his chair over enough to ruffle Stephen's hair. A gesture like that would be totally inappropriate if he was anywhere near a peak, but right now it felt like friendly and supportive, which Stephen seemed to need. "You want the day off? Would that help?"

Stephen swallowed. "Already took all my cycle days this month."

"Special dispensation? It's not like we're gonna sync up this way that often."

(Possibly Jon was being too generous. He'd learned not to make any big decisions in this state; he was way too likely to shrug and let himself be railroaded into things. But Stephen wasn't in much condition to railroad anyone right now.)

"You're being very kind," said Stephen, hands folded demurely in front of him, "but we probably will. And if I take all those days off, I'm not going to be able to make rent."

"Yeah, all right. Come in like usual, and don't worry. If you do get inappropriately bossy or controlling or whatever, I'll deal with it."

"Are you sure?" asked Stephen, big golden-brown eyes wide.

Jon resisted the urge to pull Stephen's head against his leg. That would definitely come off wrong, downswing or no downswing. "I got this. Trust me."

It wasn't an order, but he was the dictionary definition of mellow, which seemed to reassure Stephen in its own way. "O-okay."

 

***

 

For the next two days Jon turned his full information-absorbing Zen on Stephen.

He processed the first half of Stephen's upswing: a day's worth of deference and approval-seeking, touched with impatience whenever he felt people weren't appreciating his cooperation enough. And the second half: a day of confidence, of ideas and plans and demands, of snapping at people for not cooperating with him enough.

The guy who wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde must have known someone with cycles like this.

It wasn't exactly easy to work with Stephen, but now that Jon thought about it, it couldn't be easy to be Stephen, either. Not a lot of jobs were designed to accommodate someone who would bounce through eight extremes in four weeks. Having a regular partner might help take the edge off, but who could keep up with him? Nobody Jon knew, that was for sure.

He thought back over the months they'd worked together, and made a mental collection of all the traits that held true no matter what Stephen's hormones were doing. His craving for positive attention never faltered, even if it changed form throughout the week. He always liked Doritos, and was consistently suspicious about baby carrots. He was vain; he was patriotic; he had a subconscious oral fixation and a weakness for the office dogs.

There was no time of the week when he had any interest in hearing facts or new information that challenged his existing opinions. Which was too bad, really. Jon could've offered him some helpful tapes.

 

***

 

On the day Stephen peaked, he strode into Jon's office and tried to order Jon to rearrange his schedule. Jon took in every word with detached, professional interest.

Eventually, fed up with the lack of reaction, Stephen pinned Jon's wrists to the desktop, leaning forward and holding them down with all his weight. "Why aren't you listening to me?" he demanded. "I am naturally authoritative! You are naturally submissive! You should be begging to do what I want you to! Because of — I don't know, something science-y! Hormones or whatever!"

"It is fascinating that you think that's how it works," said Jon. "Are you holding me down like this because you think it's the natural way of things too, or do you have a personal predilection for wrist restraint?"

Stephen flushed and stuttered. "That is not a professional question!"

Jon shrugged. "You don't have to answer. I'll draw my own conclusions."

"If you use one more long elitist word, Stewart, I am turning around and walking right out of here. Good luck putting together a worthwhile script without any guidance."

Jon considered all the good and worthy scripts the show had produced in the past few months. He smiled serenely. "Corroborating evidence."

Stephen stormed out in a huff to play with the dogs.

That was Friday. By Monday Jon was safely into an upswing and Stephen was valleying again, fawning and eager to please. Jon said a few encouraging things, no more than any good manager would do to reassure his staff, then took pains to keep them at a professional distance.

 

***

 

Savvy politicians didn't schedule anything tricky on their extreme days. The best politicians were usually people who had naturally mild cycles anyway, or who had conditioned themselves closer to the middle.

Pundits were different. Extremes made for good ratings. And people whose cycles were lopsided, with longer and stronger peaks, made the best ratings of all.

After a couple of scheduling close-calls, Jon put out a standing order that Bill O'Reilly was not allowed to be booked as a guest while Jon was peaking. And no matter how calm and agreeable he was feeling on any other day, nobody else was allowed to let him be talked into it.

 

***

 

Toward the end of Jon's first year, Stephen was valleying right on the night when nobody was being elected and there might be no one in charge and America might fall apart forever.

Jon was peaking. Around two AM he dragged Stephen back to his office by the hair.

Stephen moaned in relief as Jon tied him to a chair, with swift, firm knots. The only ropes around were props from sketches, which meant they came in some ridiculous colors and sometimes had incongruous things tied to the ends, but they were strong and Jon's technique was superb. Loose enough to protect his circulation, tight enough to hold him steady.

Once all Stephen's limbs were neatly bound, Jon sank into a crouch in front of him. "Stephen. Look at me."

"Yes, sir."

"I've got you. Everything's under control. Are you feeling more grounded now?"

"Yessir." It would be okay after all. Jon would know what to do. There was at least one person in this crazy ol' world who had a plan.

"Can you move at all? Struggle for me."

Stephen wriggled against the ropes. A thrilled shiver ran through him as he confirmed that he had no chance of getting out. "No, sir."

"And do you want more?"

"...what?"

This was supposed to be Jon's plan. Why should Stephen's opinions be part of it?

"Stephen. You're a good boy. I need you to talk to me." Jon was hoarse from the late night and the marathon news cycle, but his voice was still confident. Steadying. "Do you want me to back off and leave you like this for a while — I wouldn't leave the room, just keep my distance until you feel calm enough to be untied — or do you want me to do...y'know...a little something more, to calm you down?"

Stephen gulped, uncertain. He wanted to do what Jon wanted. But what Jon wanted was...his input. Jon had framed that as being good. "More. Please, more. My safeword is 'pumpkin patch'."

Jon smiled. Confident. In control. "All right."

He undid the lowest few buttons of Stephen's shirt, untucked the shirttails so they hung loose and open, and kissed Stephen's stomach. Stephen's pants were tented by the time Jon got around to unzipping them, his breath hitching and uneven.

"Don't come until I say you're allowed," said Jon, and gave his balls a rough squeeze.

Stephen's head fell back with a gasp. And then Jon's mouth was on his cock, all lips and tongue and no small amount of teeth, and he was shivering against the ropes, surrendering to the sensation.

The heat built, radiating through his body; his hips jerked uncontrollably against the ropes holding his thighs down. It was hot, it was good, it was torture — if Jon's tongue and fingers stayed this relentless, he was going to come — but he couldn't, he didn't have permission — but he was at Jon's mercy, and if Jon hummed like that one more time —

Jon's cheeks hollowed around him, and with a squeak Stephen came apart, all control lost, pulsing into Jon's mouth.

As the rush ebbed away, he felt the first stirrings of fear. Before he could pull any words together, Jon stood and ran a thumb over his bottom lip, wordlessly coaxing his mouth open.

Stephen's lips parted, looking up at Jon with wide eyes. Jon sealed his mouth over Stephen's, and, oh, he hadn't swallowed.

It felt right. It felt like what Stephen deserved. He obediently gulped down his own release, not even trying to pull away from Jon's grip on his head, only gasping for breath when Jon deigned to let him go.

"You got it all?" asked Jon. "Don't miss any."

Stephen strained to reach him again, to lap at the corners of Jon's mouth and catch a stray drip running down Jon's chin. Following orders. Cleaning up his mess.

"You like that, huh." Jon was petting his hair now. It had gone un-gelled and fluffy, Stephen could feel, but that didn't matter, because of the petting. "Good boy. I told you I've got you."

"Yes, sir," breathed Stephen. His whole body felt...released. Relaxed. Taken care of.

Jon nodded to his office couch, which was only slightly heaped with notebooks and post-its. "Think you can get some sleep now?"

Stephen squirmed. "Maybe. Will you leave me tied up?"

"You know that's not safe. But I'll get you a blanket. And take off your pants. You sleep like that — like I might want to come back and tap that ass any minute, and you'd be ready to submit to it right away. You know why?"

"Because...you've got me under control."

"Exactly."

"Are you gonna?" added Stephen, as Jon started undoing the knots around his ankles. "Come back and tap that, I mean?"

"Depends on how you're feeling in a few hours," said Jon. "And whether anybody's finally called Florida by then."

 

***

 

It was a few dreamless hours later when Jon returned. The race still wasn't settled, but he needed some rest himself, so he was assigning his good and beautiful Stephen to put on a suit (with pants!) and be ready to go on-air if the results came in while Jon was down.

That sense of approval and direction carried Stephen happily through the next thirty-six hours, by which point he was far enough into his upswing to think that, hey, the free world might be okay without a President-elect. As long as it had the sense to listen to him.

Which left only one loose end to wrap up. Stephen strode into Jon's office at the end of the week, slammed his hand down on a pile of important-looking papers, and declared, "Of course you know that meant nothing."

"Of course."

"Helping a friend through a rough time. Very decent of you! But it's over now."

"Never would've claimed otherwise." Jon was still near the top of the glacial side down from his own peak, sleek and decisive and not giving an inch. He tapped his pen against the desktop. "Don't you have work to do?"

 

***

 

For years they were friends — the kind of friends who hooked up one time, and were determined not to be too awkward about it.

News stories came and went. Politicians rose and fell. An attack hit New York. Two wars began. Apple put the letter "i" in front of more words.

Another election season rolled up on them, and the show went on the road for the summer, doing a week at each national party convention. For the DNC they got the whole crew put up in, of all things, a set of college dorms. (They were on basic cable and it was cheap. What are you gonna do.)

And as they crowded into an empty lounge for a high-pressure last-minute editorial meeting...Jon spent half an hour nodding and agreeing with everything anybody said.

One of the writers finally asked how hard he was valleying. Jon shrugged. "Low enough that we would've tried to schedule a dark week right now, if it wasn't for the convention. Why?"

His writers and producers traded various looks of nervousness, exasperation, and concern. Stephen — the only correspondent who wasn't in the field at the moment — took action. "Jon, I'm borrowing you for a minute or twenty," he announced, standing up. "Everyone else, stay here and...I don't know, make some cat macros. That's what the youth are into these days, right? Get on that."

He tried to drag Jon out of the room by a fistful of grey T-shirt. It didn't really work because Jon was happy to keep up with him unaided, but he gave it a good shot.

This time of year, it wasn't hard to find an abandoned classroom. Stephen shut the door behind them...and delivered a sharp smack to the seat of Jon's khakis.

Jon gasped, more out of surprise than offense. "Did you just...spank me?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Stephen, balling his hands into fists. "Because you need to get your ass in gear and make some decisions out there!"

Jon grimaced. "I know. It's just...." He shrugged. "It all seems fine. Y'know?"

"Well, do that thing you do! You know, where you're peaking and you make it work to your advantage, but in reverse!"

For the first time, it occurred to Jon that Stephen at peak was kind of hot when he was giving orders. Normally he shrugged off everything Stephen said when their cycles matched up in this direction...but this time, he knew, Stephen was right. He had to work through this. "Stephen...."

"What?"

"If I make decisions and you don't like them...what are you going to do about it?"

"Loudly complain about your incompetence to anyone who will listen, and send the network another petition to give me my own show, where I can spread Truth and Patriotism instead of your annoying facts and reality. Why?"

Jon ran his tongue over his lips. "Well, you could always just threaten to spank me again."

 

***

 

It had been a long time since Jon had been flat on his back on a college bunk with a handsome man grinding against him. He wasn't complaining.

"...and the ten seconds you cut from Sam's field piece were the wrong ten seconds! Don't you understand, Jon, the youth of America rely on you as their main source of liberal media bias, and you are letting them down!" Stephen had one hand covering Jon's mouth, the other tugging his T-shirt out of his waistband. "By the way, what's your safeword?"

"Mmphrmhrm," said Jon.

"What was that? Speak up."

Jon pried Stephen's palm away from his face. "You can't gag me and expect me to answer questions at the same time, you know."

"I don't see why not! It's a free country."

"And I don't need a safeword. We're not roleplaying. You, uh...you do get that, right?" Jon could manage Stephen having occasional trouble with logic or object permanence, even in bed, but this — this gave him pause. "If I say 'okay, seriously, stop that,' I mean it."

"Yes, Jon, I understand the meaning of words," said Stephen crankily. "But you're valleying, ergo you need a safeword. It's a safety regulation. You're a liberal, you should be all over that."

Jon giggled, hiding it behind his own hand. "All right, sir. If you insist. My safeword will be safeword."

Stephen stopped in the middle of hiking Jon's shirt up his torso. "Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"That's like making your password password."

"With the important difference that, if at any point you don't know my safeword, I want it to be really easy to guess."

Stephen's whole forehead scrunched up as he considered this, eyebrows arching. At last he rocked his hips even more aggressively against Jon's. "Stop being so thoughtful! It's un-American."

He yanked the shirt the rest of the way off and threw it across the room. Hair mussed and chest bared, Jon flashed an impish grin. "What, are you gonna try to punish me for thinking now? We'll be here all night."

"Well, that's not going to be a problem for me," scoffed Stephen. He rearranged their legs so he could shuck off Jon's khakis — he himself was still wearing a full suit he'd apparently pilfered from the wardrobe department, from a white starched collar to thick black socks — and ran his fingers through Jon's chest fur. "But if I wear you out in the process of trying to nail some respect into you, I might decide to go easy and let you pass out in peace."

Jon's already-hard cock twitched in anticipation. "Mmm. When did this switch from spanking to nailing?"

"When because I said so." Stephen twisted one hand in the air, and, like magic, a condom and a palm-sized bottle of lube appeared between his fingers. "That gonna be a problem?"

"No. Oh, god, no, no problem," purred Jon. "Bring it on."

 

***

 

So they upgraded, without much fanfare, to "friends with benefits."

The president was re-elected: more smoothly, this time. The wars went on. The Daily Show's correspondent roster changed and grew.

And a new drug hit the market that was designed to moderate extreme cycles, which did a lot of good for a lot of people.

For the first time, Stephen found himself able to come up with coherent, long-term plans that didn't get upended at one end of the week or the other. He wasn't sure how much of it was the meds, and how much was because this thing with Jon was helping to balance him out

Either way, when Comedy Central finally offered him a show of his own, one of the first things he did was invite Prescott Pharmaceuticals to be a major sponsor.

 

***

 

The first year the Report was up for an Emmy, once they were in LA, Stephen let himself into Jon's hotel room. "Jon...?"

The network had gotten Jon a room with a balcony, which he was on. (Stephen didn't get a room with a balcony.) He looked up with interest as Stephen leaned on the railing beside him, gazing out over the boulevards and palm trees of Hollywood. "Stephen? You look nice."

Stephen was already in a tuxedo, just in case he stumbled over any surprise red carpets in the lobby. He looked skeptically at Jon's ensemble: a weatherbeaten old T-shirt and one of his pairs of identical khakis. "And you look like you only own three shirts, and the good two are in the wash."

"That is not true," said Jon dryly. "You know perfectly well I own five shirts."

He was almost perfectly in the midpoint of his cycle. Stephen happened to know he was on the downswing, but a stranger wouldn't have been able to guess whether he was going to spend the next week slowly picking up more brattiness or more gravitas.

"What brings you here, babe?"

Stephen blushed. "I'm not here to beg. Let's be clear about that. I have my pride."

"Mmhmm?"

"But please help me."

He knew he'd be valleying tomorrow, was the thing. During the ceremony, no less. And if it turned out the audience didn't love him, it would crush his poor fragile submissive soul like a bug.

Couldn't Jon do something to ground him? Even while running in neutral, he was still physically capable of giving Stephen something to wear. Maybe a bruise, or a collar, or....

"...Stephen! I am not having you wear a vibrating sex toy in the audience at the Emmys."

He wasn't high enough to put any dominance behind it, and Stephen wasn't quite low enough to submit to just any reprimand. "I don't see you offering any better ideas."

"Let me think about it," sighed Jon. "C'mere."

He led Stephen inside, drew the curtains behind them, and pulled off Stephen's glasses for some casual making out. It wasn't terrible. Sure, Stephen was really craving something more firm-handed and authoritative...but it wasn't like Jon's tongue in his mouth was bad.

Between kisses, Jon played with Stephen's satiny lapels. "Is this the only tux you brought, or do you have a spare?"

"Jon," said Stephen, with deepest solemnity, "I brought more tuxedos than you own shirts."

"Oh, good," said Jon. "All right, hm, on your knees by the bed?"

If anyone else had said that when they so obviously weren't peaking, Stephen would have rolled his eyes. Maybe yelled at them for overstepping their natural authority.

Because it was Jon, he knelt on the carpet, and looked only mildly skeptical when Jon sat on the edge of the mattress with his thighs open. "Is a blowjob really going to do anything for you right now?"

Jon cupped his face and squished his cheeks. "You do realize that people don't, like, turn asexual when they've got a long stretch between a peak and a valley, right? I mean, some people are asexual no matter what, but the rest of us...it's basically the same. We just aren't getting off on the power exchange in the same way."

"I don't know, Jon. Sex involving people who aren't peaking or valleying doesn't come up much in the Bible. Or in porn. How many sources of sexual information does that leave?"

"How about my gut? Because it tells me that there's no point of my cycle when I wouldn't appreciate a blowjob."

Stephen pursed his lips. "Trusting your gut is important."

"Also...and perhaps even more importantly..." Jon pulled Stephen's face forward, so he was nuzzling the half-hard erection under the khaki. "...my dick tells me that I would appreciate a blowjob."

"Ohhh."

This could be nice, Stephen thought, mouthing hotly at Jon's fly while Jon's hands worked through his hair and massaged his scalp. He could get into this. Jon probably hadn't noticed, because Stephen was subtle about it, but he really, really liked having things in his mouth.

"And here's the thing," added Jon, voice low. "I'm gonna come on the tux."

Stephen's head whipped up to stare at him, breath catching. "Jon! Thats — that's —!"

"A bad idea?"

"A horrible, disgusting, morally bankrupt, oh, god, Jon," moaned Stephen, arching his spine as his own cock started to throb under its silk boxers. "This is what you come up with while you're not getting off on having me helpless and in your control? Jon."

"Well, I thought it might help you remember." Jon undid the zipper (had he been waiting for Stephen to do that?) and tugged his erection out of his boxers. It bobbed against Stephen's face until Stephen twisted enough to get his lips around the tip. "It's, y'know. Symbolic."

Stephen moaned in appreciation, eyes fluttering closed as he swallowed Jon down as far as he could. The delicious mental images, the idea that he had put on this sharp authoritative outfit just to get on his knees and let Jon defile it, made up for the lack of orders or bondage or Jon yanking on his hair.

He laved and sucked and surreptitiously palmed himself through his pants, while Jon murmured sweet words of appreciation until they disintegrated into grunts and gasps. An orgasm snuck up on Stephen and blew past, almost unnoticed, while he focused on Jon's length filling his mouth and hitting the back of his throat.

At last Jon shoved Stephen backward and pumped himself with one hand, to come in opalescent ribbons all over Stephen's chest and shoulders.

The contrast against the black fabric was a thing of beauty. Once Stephen got the nerve to disturb it, he dragged his fingers through one of the spatters, smearing it in streaks down his chest. Even though he would be wearing a different, cleaner tuxedo tomorrow, he would know. He would feel down to his bones that Jon could have claimed that one too, if he'd wanted.

Remembering what Jon liked when he was peaking, Stephen dipped back down and, with a few final swipes, licked him clean.

"Oh sweet Jesus." Jon took deep, shuddering breaths. "Hey, uh, I should've asked. Can you get that out? Dry-cleaning or something?"

"Probably can't." Stephen licked his chops like a satisfied cat, and snuggled against Jon's leg. "Probably sullied forever. You have ruined it for all other men."

"Ah." It sounded like Jon wasn't sure how proud to feel about that. "At least you've still got the pants."

"Nope." Stephen could be proud enough for both of them. "You ruined those too."

"Huh. Well." Jon tugged on his arm. "Get up here and ruin the sheets, then."

He pulled Stephen up onto the bed, where they could both get equally rumpled. There was a general shedding of clothes and falling back onto pillows, where Stephen slung an arm around Jon's waist. "Thank you, sir."

Jon's hand rested on his elbow and traced slow fingertip-circles on his skin through the white dress shirt. "'S nothin'."

Whatever happened tomorrow, Stephen was going to be okay. Jon had things under control. He was Jon's good boy. He was....

"I love you, you know."

Stephen caught his breath. One minute you're engaged in reassuring post-coital cuddling with someone you've known and mutually supported for the better part of a decade, and the next, something like this gets thrown at you out of nowhere! What was the world coming to?

"You don't have to say anything. Probably better if you don't. I'm uncomfortable with sincerity," added Jon. "Just thought maybe I'd throw that out there."

 

***

 

In between red-carpet interviews about how proud he was for the Daily Show's latest Emmy wins, Jon found himself being dragged into a corner of one of the hotel parties, concealed by a decorative pillar and a potted plant.

"I hate you," growled Stephen.

Jon had sort of expected that.

"But also, I love you."

That? Not so much.

"But mostly I hate you," finished Stephen, stamping his foot before fleeing into the sheltering crowd of waiters with cheese trays and attendants with sponsored Vogue sample bags.

 

***

 

They had a penthouse apartment within the year. Also, a couple of dogs.

Stephen put his old Daily Show Emmys on the mantel in the living room, and helpfully arranged Jon's in neat rows in a nice quiet closet.

 

***

 

Jon had never been a fan of peak-on-peak sex. One of you would always slip into dirty talk that would turn out to be boner-killing, or you'd argue over who got to do what, and most of the time he spent the whole thing fantasizing about how much nicer it would be if the other person was handcuffed. It was so much more fulfilling to just sleep with someone who was valleying.

Except with Stephen, apparently. With Stephen, they took their usual fun and amiable banter, and upped the ante by adding orgasms.

They terrified the dogs, knocked over a lamp, and were covered in bite marks by the time they collapsed onto the tangled sheets. But in a good way. "I think we can all agree that I won that round," panted Stephen.

Jon snorted. "Keep telling yourself that, babe."

"I did! Did you somehow manage to miss the fact that I topped?"

"Hey, once I had you screaming my name, does it really matter what position I did it from?"

"Just you wait, old man," said Stephen, snuggling up to Jon and tracing one of the circles of tooth-shaped bruises on his near shoulder. "Next time you can top, and it'll go the exact same way."

"Sure will," said Jon warmly. "Except that I'll take you apart even faster. Because you love my cock."

"Mmhmm. Almost as much as it loves me."

 

***

 

Of course, all Jon had to do was wait a few days. He was still peaking, but now Stephen wanted nothing more than for Jon to blindfold him, gag him, lash his wrists together, and treat him like a particularly warm and pliable sex toy.

He was gorgeous facedown in the pillows, one tie around his eyes and another stuffed in his mouth, moaning around the fabric with every rhythmic shove as Jon thrust into him. When Jon knew he was getting close, he landed a smack on Stephen's ass, then bent forward, pulled the gag out, and tossed the wet fabric aside. "Hey. Hey, babe. Who's my good boy?"

Under the blindfold, Stephen's face lit up. "Is it — is it me?"

"That's right!" Jon spanked Stephen again in reward. "Who loves my cock?"

"I do!"

"So, if I tell you I win something...?"

Stephen squirmed eagerly on his cock. "You win! You get it. It's all yours. I'm all yours! I'm your good boy."

"You sure are." Jon picked up the pace of his hips, throwing in another ringing slap for good measure. "And for my prize, I'm gonna come inside you. Scream my name when I do, okay?"

Stephen's back arched in anticipation. With exquisite sensitivity, he caught the exact tremor of Jon's body that meant the wave was about to break — "Jon, Jon, Jon!"

When Jon finished, he fingered the gag back into Stephen's mouth, shoved something that vibrated (and, unrelatedly, glittered) in the other end, and left Stephen tied up for a solid half hour. His wrists and ankles still had visible marks the morning after, when he was still in enough of a valley to keep touching them and looking at Jon with starry-eyed devotion.

 

***

 

The year the Report finally won Best Comedy Or Variety Series, Stephen was valleying at the ceremony while Jon was low in the upswing. After the parties, the red carpets, the photo ops, and the press questions about how Jon felt that his protégée and husband had finally beat him out for the honor, they went back to their shared hotel room and had the quietest, gentlest, most low-key sex of their entire romance.

They were back in New York by the time Stephen peaked. First chance he got, he stripped Jon down, got out the rope, and prepared to ride him like an Emmy-losing pony.

"You should be honored," he said, tying Jon's wrists to the headboard one at a time. "Getting to service someone as important and prestigious as I now am."

"Very honored, sir."

Stephen gave him the pointy eyebrow. "Was that sass? Don't think I won't spank you for sass."

"I will submit to whatever punishment you see fit."

"Will you, Jon? Will you?" Stephen straddled his chest and glared down into his eyes. "Because you don't sound very submissive right now. I bet you're just faking it. I bet you're in neutral."

Jon's mouth quirked in a suppressed smile. "Maybe a little."

"Well, that's just great. How are you supposed to validate my total dominance of this award season if you're too far out to appreciate it?"

"Stephen...babe...I am appreciating the hell out of your swagger and your confidence right now. I adore you, from head to toe. And I want you to spend this whole night getting more things that make you happy and feeling showered with adoration. None of that stops being true just because I'm not personally getting off on the ropes."

After a moment's consideration, Stephen bent forward and started fighting with the knots.

Jon blinked, fingers curling. "I'm not high enough to mind the ropes...."

"But you're not low enough to get into being a brat for me, either," said Stephen, and knew he was right when Jon didn't protest. "So instead of just lying there, how about if you get up off your ass and take an active role in my well-deserved adoration." He pressed a thumb to Jon's plush bottom lip. "You can start by kissing me. All over."

He got the left hand free, and Jon immediately rested it on his thigh, caressing it in a way that made Stephen's flagging erection perk right back up. "All over, meaning...?"

"From head to toe," said Stephen with a triumphant smirk. He yanked the second knot loose, threw the rope in the very-approximate direction of the closet, and roughed up Jon's curls a bit, just because he could. "Actually, scratch that. Start at the feet. Then you can work your way up."