"The judges must have been bribed," declared Stephen. "It's the only explanation."
Jon picked at a loose thread on the arm of his chair. "You know, Stephen, it might have something to do with the fact that it was a dog show."
"Doesn't mean they have to give first prize to a dog every time! That would be speciesist! No, the panel is clearly in the pocket of Big Canine."
"I don't think there's any such thing...."
"I mean, I have floppy ears!" continued Stephen, steamrolling right over Jon's attempt at logic. "And just look at these firm haunches!"
Before Jon quite knew what was happening, Stephen was standing in front of him, one hip thrust into his face.
"Um," he stammered. "They're very firm, yes."
"Exactly! And I would run circles around the other contestants in the obedience section, too. You watch."
He stood defiantly for a minute, until Jon ventured, "What exactly am I supposed to be looking for?"
"Well, you have to give me an order first, Jon!" snapped Stephen, planting his hands on his hips as though to indicate that he had just about had it with Jon's lack of telling him what to do, mister.
Okay, clearly he was in one of those moods where the only way out was to play along. Jon took a deep, slow breath to steady himself, then said, "Uh, sit."
Stephen dropped promptly to the ground and gave him an annoyed look, as if to say, That all you got?
Now Stephen was splayed on his side, body arched, jacket and tie flopping aside to show off the tummy of his white shirt front.
The pose was giving Jon ideas he probably shouldn't be thinking about. "Roll over," he said quickly; but the way Stephen writhed during this move just made it worse. Time to switch tactics.
On top of one of the piles on his overloaded desk was a novelty frisbee, maybe four inches across, with a sponsor's logo emblazoned on the top. Stretching out his arm as far as it would go, Jon hooked his fingertips under the rim and snapped it up.
"See this?" he asked, and was answered by the way Stephen's eyes tracked the thing as he waved it back and forth. "Fetch."
Stephen was in the air almost before the frisbee. For a split second Jon thought he might actually catch it in his mouth, and was all set to be very impressed. Then it soared over his head, bounced lightly off the brick, and landed upside-down next to the corner of his desk.
The small office, Jon reflected, as Stephen nearly collided with a chair in his efforts to get to his target, might not be the best place for this.
But then Stephen was on all fours in front of him, proudly displaying his prize in his mouth, and Jon found himself reaching out with every intention of throwing it again.
Stephen wouldn't let go.
Jon tugged again, just in case he hadn't been pulling hard enough. But no, the other man's teeth were very deliberately clamped shut.
Without stopping to think about it, Jon cupped Stephen's jaw with a firm grip and massaged. A second later the toy popped forward into his waiting hand.
At the expression on Stephen's face when he realized what had happened, Jon actually raised an eyebrow and held up the frisbee in triumph. Triumph! Like he'd just scored a major blow in a fast-paced battle of wits, instead of outsmarting a man who was routinely run circles around by his own visual aids.
He resolved, not for the first time, to stop getting so swept up in Stephen's emotional tides.
Then the other man broke into a look of forlorn confusion that would have given a genuine puppy a run for its money, and it would have taken a heart of stone to resist skritching his head a little. Just above that floppy ear.
Smiling hopefully, Stephen nudged his head against Jon's palm, so that Jon found himself putting the frisbee aside in order to have both hands free for extra-good rubbing.
He could be doing any number of productive things right now. But there was so much...peace, in this moment. Such a feeling of contentment. Two or three perfectly good minutes sacrificed themselves in order to keep it going.
The effect was so absorbing that Jon didn't think anything of it when Stephen's front paws (hands. Hands!) were planted on his knees. When Stephen rose up in front of him and leaned in, hands scrabbling for support on his thighs, it seemed only natural. When a warm tongue licked a stripe up the side of his cheek, well, okay, that was a little weird, but it was also probably the most affectionate thing Stephen had ever done to him, so he wasn't about to complain.
Then all of a sudden one of Stephen's hands was pawing almost right between his legs, breath hot on his neck.
Jon choked back a gasp. It had to be part of the game — Stephen would never make an advance that blatant — which meant he didn't dare treat it like a come-on. Though it sure wasn't easy at this range to pretend it wasn't affecting him like one.
When Stephen pulled away anyhow, Jon was afraid he had somehow gone too far.
Then he realized that the other man didn't look indignant so much as afraid. Scared that the game had gone too far, or that his advance had been turned down?
Reaching forward, Jon cupped Stephen's face in his hands. He could stop to work out the specifics later. Right now he needed to be reassuring.
"You're a good boy, Stephen," he said, no longer sure himself how much of it was play.
Stephen whined a little and began to inch forward.
Lifting Stephen's hands in his own, Jon moved them back to his knees. Even assuming he wasn't completely jumping the gun here, he wasn't sure he wanted their first time to happen while Stephen was...well, barking.
"Good boy," he repeated, pressing a kiss to the bridge of Stephen's nose. "Down."
Stephen settled to the ground at his feet.
For a moment they sat in uncertain silence. Jon wavered over whether to rest a hand on Stephen's head again. Just as he was about to move, the other man spoke.
"You see?" he demanded, snapping his fingers. "I would have the obedience category locked up like that."
A tension he hadn't realized was there drained from Jon, as though he'd been holding his breath this whole time and only just allowed himself to let it out. "You would," he agreed. "You certainly would."