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A Necessary Condition

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Here's the thing: Tony Wonder didn't take a forget-me-now.

Pretending he did became part of the plan shortly after Gob casually mentioned he intended to take one, because how else are you supposed to respond to something like that? And okay, maybe he was a little pissed--pissed but not hurt because Tony stopped letting people hurt him shortly after he turned seventeen. It's just... He thought they were on the same page. The same page being the cusp of the kind of destined relationship that arises from what can only be described as a transcendent and somewhat magical sexual experience.

And who willingly forgets something like that?

Okay, maybe he was a little hurt.

Just not hurt enough to walk away, Tony swallowing his pride long enough to call Gob up and ask, forget-me-nows in play, if they were still on for their erstwhile but apparently forgotten sex date.

Gob not calling him back was never part of the plan.

It left Tony floundering for the first time in his life, so when Sally Sitwell, whom he genuinely likes but doesn't like, told him to get into a suitcase... Well, it seemed as good an escape plan as any. Besides, it wasn't like he knew the plan would turn into a cross-country flight trip that would see him abandoned in unclaimed baggage, weeks of lingering hurt--yes, hurt--now a festering wound, Gob Bluth a man he really wished he could hate.

Calling Gob wasn't part of the plan either, but there's only so much contorting a man can do before he cuts off oxygen to the brain. That was his excuse, anyway, because he's pretty sure he wouldn't have called had he been thinking clearly.

Just like he's pretty sure he wouldn't have called had he know Gob was going to pretend nothing was wrong. He certainly wouldn't have called had he known he'd hear a woman in the background. And so what if Gob got all coy and flirty the second he realized it was Tony on the phone. Weeks... Weeks of radio silence and Tony was just supposed to... what? Laugh it off? Pretend talking to Gob wasn't tantamount to pouring salt in the wound? Because now Tony was pissed. Pissed and just a lot little hurt. Hurt enough, anyway, to pretend he was calling to break things off.

And that's where it should have ended. That's where Tony should have put the Gob thing aside and moved on with his life. He was still a famous magician. He still had his act and his adoring fans and a kind of mutually beneficial relationship with the woman who'd funded the rebranding of his career. So it was fine. Certainly nothing worth crying over--which he couldn't have done even if he'd wanted because, as it turns out, spending the better part of a month confined to a suitcase isn't exactly conducive to fluid consumption.

So he wasn't going to risk dehydration crying over Gob. He wasn't going to lament the end of what he thought was going to be the best relationship of his life. He certainly wasn't going to mourn a night of frankly amazing sex. And so what if they were the same. So what if he'd spent the better part of his life disconnected from the people around him because no one got him only to have all of that change the second Gob agreed to steal some pies.

Besides, technically he was scamming Gob first, and if it weren't for Gob's freakishly talented tongue he would be the one ignoring Gob's calls while Gob crouched in a suitcase, too parched to cry.

So much for moving on.

This is the part of the story where he'd like to tell you it gets easier. That time heals all wounds or some such nonsense. Instead he spent the next few weeks pining for a man he was pretty sure couldn't care less; a man who'd fucked Tony over--somewhat literally--and then walked away, like the thing Tony thought existed between existed only in Tony's head.

And the thing about hurt is that it tends to fester. It gets twisted and ugly until you find yourself making plans. Carefully crafted plans. The kind of plans that lead to humiliation and defeat. The kind designed to destroy a man's career. The kind that might even land him another feature in Poof--which he maybe sort of needed what with his whole Fakeblock plan having gone awry.

But here's the other thing. Tony's not a good magician because he's mastered sleight of hand--Gob's so much better than him at that. And he's not a good magician because he's got any kind of grace on stage--again, there Gob has him beat. He's a good magician because he can plan. Because once he sets something in motion it very rarely leaves the tracks.

Which is how he finds himself locked inside a closet, waiting on the denouement of Gob's act, which just happens to be the opening of his plan, which, now that he's set it in motion, can't be stopped.

Sort of a shame, then, that he's changed his mind.

In hindsight, it's easy to see how he got it wrong. And sure, there's the possibility Gob's screwing with him again, but right now Gob has nothing to win and everything to lose so Tony's pretty sure that means he can take Gob's words at face value.

Also, he really likes the idea of a double act. That and the hotel room. He definitely likes the hotel room.

Unfortunately, there's a truckload of magic cement on its way down, so Tony says the only thing he can given the circumstances.

There's just one problem with your plan... I don't have a trapped door in here.

~*~

Later, after he's slipped out from under the float and disappeared into the crowd, he turns up at Sally's apartment so that she can chisel the now dry fake-cement-foam from his hair. Getting hit by the stuff wasn't part of the plan, but regret tends to make a person slow and so Tony ended up caked in it.

She hasn't asked him about it. Not yet, anyway. And maybe that's because she's preoccupied with her own stuff--some political cause, he thinks. Mostly, though, she's just really good about giving him the space he needs when he needs it. He'll tell her eventually, though only because they've got this mutual secret sharing agreement that is both surprisingly therapeutic and makes Tony think that, maybe, in another life, one in which his fear of commitment wasn't apparently rooted in repressed homosexuality, they probably would have ended up a genuine couple.

And anyway, he likes Sally. She gets him. Well, except for the magic thing, which she seems to think is an amusing hobby meant to tide Tony over until he gets started on his actual career. Aside from that, though, they really do have a lot in common.

He thinks maybe that might even make them friends, which is probably a good thing given that the recent de-repression of his homosexuality pretty much killed any interest he had in sleeping with her.

"Look, I know we've got this don't ask-don't tell thing going on, which, to be honest, is probably the only reason I tolerate you, but you haven't said anything for like twenty minutes and it's starting to creep me out. Plus, you're weirdly contemplative and, I'm going to be honest with you, Tony, thinking isn't one of your strong suits."

She tugs at a particularly stubborn bit of fake cement as she says it, Tony wincing because it's almost like she doesn't actually know the hair is attached to his scalp. He adds hair care to the ever growing list of things he won't allow Sally to do, right after leg shaving and three items down from making toast.

"Just... What the hell's going on? You've been weirdly distant, which is fine, we both agreed this was professional first and foremost, but you haven't performed in weeks and you wouldn't tell me anything about this latest act and now you come back covered in... What is this stuff, anyway? Styrofoam? Plus, you kind of look like someone just kicked your dog."

"I don't have a dog," Tony says before he gets the metaphor.

"Is this about me leaving you in baggage claim? Because we talked about that. And I apologized. And I left a message for your assistant. Your old assistant. And if you'd told me you'd replaced her, I would have called your new assistant instead, so..."

"No, that's not..."

"Is this about Gob Bluth then?" Sally presses, because she's always been way more perceptive than he gives her credit for.

Tony's inability to answer rather answers the question.

"I don't get your obsession with this guy. He's not even that great of a magician. I mean, if you're going to have a rivalry with anyone..."

Tony doesn't let her finish.

"He is a great magician. He just... gets too excited and misses the details sometimes. And anyway, that's not the point..."

"What is the point, then?" Sally asks, once again tugging painfully at his hair. "Look, I get wanting to destroy the Bluths. They're obnoxious. But why Gob specifically. I mean he's kind of a loser..."

"What the hell man," Tony says before he can stop himself. And then, because he's apparently bent on digging his own grave, adds: "You don't even know him."

How far back does it go, he wonders. He can pinpoint the exact moment he took notice of Gob. The exact moment he started following Gob's career. Was it more than just professional curiosity? Was it more than just friendly rivalry? He attended the man's wedding for fuck's sake. Slept with his would-be wife. How long has this been going on. How long has he been...

Obsessed.

"Look, I just..." Tony tries, but apparently there are limits to their mutual secret-sharing agreement because he can't quite bring himself to put all that he's feeling into words. Fortunately Sally, because she's Sally--and possibly because she doesn't care--doesn't press.

"Whatever it is, just don't draw attention to me. I really don't need people knowing we have a connection right now."

It's the sort of thing that would hurt if there were actual feelings involved. Since there isn't, Tony gives a brief nod, grits his teeth, and lets her finish with his hair.

~*~

The next time he hears from her it's in the form of a text.

What the hell are you playing at?

Tony presumes this means she's heard the news.

Hard not to, he supposes. It's getting plenty of media attention. First was the actual mishap--that's what they're calling it, like Tony's ever had an illusion go wrong. Then it was speculation as to his whereabouts, a thorough inspection of the closet having revealed the cement to be both fake and empty. One of the news clips shows Gob standing to the side, looking thoroughly dejected and more than a little betrayed. It's the first time Tony's actively hated himself for something he wishes he didn't do.

Forty-eight hours later, he still hasn't decided on his next course of action.

What he wants to do is call Gob, explain what happened, beg forgiveness, maybe ask if Gob was serious about that double-act/hotel thing. But his stunt kind of killed that future, what with Gob now out of both his metaphorical and literal closet. He's also pretty sure Gob won't forgive him, mostly because, were the situation reversed, he sure as hell wouldn't forgive Gob. The breaking each other's hearts thing he can handle--it sucks, but it's a forgivable offense--but he willfully destroyed Gob's career and that...

That's the kind of thing that gets a person kicked out of the Alliance.

Which means his grand finale, the one where he turns up alive and well two weeks later, can't happen. It leaves him hiding out in his actual closet, the one he keeps in a storage locked off the West Coast Highway in between shows, still stuck on where to go from here; still wishing he'd thought this through before jumping straight to revenge.

And actually, come to think of it, maybe that's the answer. Maybe he needs to give Gob a chance to settle the score. It would put them on even ground, anyway, two destroyed careers better than one. And okay, sure, it would mean walking away from an act he's put a lot of time and other people's money into, but sometimes you have to destroy something before you can rebuild.

The trick here is going to be convincing Gob he doesn't remember a thing.

As plans go, it's a pretty good one. He's feeling pretty confident about it, anyway, but before he can dial Gob's number--before he can bring a new set of forget-me-nows into play--a sharp clang echoes from outside the storage locker. It's followed by the obnoxious scraping of metal against metal, natural light spilling in from outside. Literally, and maybe metaphorically, trapped inside his own closet, Tony watches through the louvered doors as half a dozen or so heavily armed police officers file into the room.

Unlike the Hot Cops, whom Tony occasionally hires to use in his act, these ones are wearing an appropriate amount of clothes.

It doesn't take them long to find him, and before he's quite figured out what he did wrong--aside from the whole disappearing thing that is--he finds himself being arrested for the murder of a woman whose name only vaguely rings a bell.

Somewhere, in the distance, The Sound of Silence begins to play.

Chapter Text

~*~

There was, of course, a trapped door. Gob learns this shortly after he learns the cement isn't cement, which means the whole thing was a setup, which means Tony lied to him, which means Tony once again sabotaged his act, which means...

Yeah, you can see where he's going with this.

Tony is wrong about one thing, though. They are the same. Right down to the one upmanship and a shared tendency towards revenge. The problem, of course, is that Gob's pretty sure Tony was already one up on him, so technically it should have been his turn, hence the whole make Tony fall in love with him and then break his heart plan that went so thoroughly off the rails. And maybe Tony got wind of that. Maybe Gob hadn't made it clear his feelings had changed.

Maybe he should have started by telling Tony he'd fallen in love.

Then again, it's entirely possible Tony was screwing with him from the get-go, which, now that he thinks about it is probably the more likely option because when was the last time someone genuinely like Gob? His own father thinks he's a geobead. Why should Tony be any different?

That's not even the worst part. The worst part, beyond the public humiliation, the destruction of what was left of his career, and the soon-to-be disownment from his family, is that Gob still genuinely likes Tony. Loves him even. Worse, he's pretty sure he's never going to get over Tony because that's what happens when you do something stupid like open up your heart and let someone in.

God, of all the things that could happen to him. Stupid bird.

And now what? Is he just supposed to lie here? Lost and alone. Sprawled across the model home couch because it's the one place everyone will know to find him but no one will bother to look because there's not a single person in his life who cares? God, no wonder Tony hates him. He'd hate himself, too, were the situation reversed.

"Hello darkness," he tells the ceiling, waiting for the song to begin.

But even Simon and Garfunkel have abandoned him, Gob well and truly alone, just like when he was a kid and his parents decided Michael was the worthier son.

God, Michael. Michael will be the worst, he decides. He'll probably gloat and say he knew it all along--well, again, only this time he'll remember because Gob's all out of forget-me-nows so neither of them get to erase their shame. He might even try to be supportive, all while lording it over: perfect, supportive Michael who's too good to make fun of his now gay brother. Saint Michael, who's...

Walking into the room as he speaks.

"Michael," Gob says, feeling less than enthused.

"Thought I'd find you here," Michael says, sounding as smug as he looks.

"Go ahead," Gob says, resigned to his fate. "Say it." He doesn't bother moving from his spot on the couch.

"Right... Not sure what you're on about, but I have good news."

There's plenty of room on the floor, but Michael doesn't sit. Instead he stands over Gob, his hands thrust into his pockets, his expression expectant like he honestly expects Gob to respond.

"Good for you," Gob tosses out, non committal because he couldn't really care less about Michael's good news.

"Look, if you're here to gloat, don't bother. I get it. You knew all along. So you can save whatever lecture you've come here to give. I don't care anymore."

A year ago he might have said something similar and not meant it. This time around he's surprised to find he does. What does it matter what Michael thinks of him when the one person whose opinion does matter hates him.

"Okay... I still have no idea what you're talking about," Michael answers, sounding genuinely confused. "I'm here because of Buster."

That grabs Gob's attention. Enough for him to sit up, anyway, though he still makes no move to get off the couch.

"Buster?" Gob says, earning one of Michael's are you not even listening to me nods.

"So you're not here about the parade?" Gob asks, just to clarify.

Michael's expression goes from long-suffering to suspicious in the blink of an eye.

"...Did something happen at the parade?" he asks.

"No," comes Gob's immediate reply, though he knows Michael finding out is only a matter of time. By the end of it, there were news helicopters circling like raptors.

Also, it's pretty obvious Michael doesn't believe him.

"So, Buster," Gob tries, aiming for misdirection.

It still takes Michael a minute to get back on track, his brain stuck chasing Gob's lie.

"Um, right, anyway. They're dropping the charges. Buster should be out of jail sometime this afternoon."

Gob's not going to lie--well, about this, anyway. Caught up in his own spectacular failings, he kind of forgot all about Buster. So he guesses this is good news. For Buster, anyway.

"They found her then?" Gob guesses, because if he's being honest Buster's pretty much the only person he can see having killed Lucille 2, so if they're letting him go odds are she's still alive.

Michael's extended pause suggests otherwise.

"Not really. But we have the stair-car. Or, we had the stair-car. They've got a picture of it down in Mexico. Or I guess I gave them a picture of it down in Mexico. I think it's still in Mexico. That's where George Michael said he left it, anyway," Michael says. Gob's having a hard time following.

"So... George Michael killed Lucille 2?" Gob tries. It should probably bother him more than it does. He did date the woman for a brief period of time.

"What? No. I thought it was Lucille 2 and Oscar in the picture, but it turns out it was actually George Michael and Maeby, except they were wearing Ron and Brian wigs."

Michael waves this aside before Gob can ask, like the story is irrelevant, like Gob's just supposed to know who Ron and Brian are and why they'd have a line of wigs.

"Anyway, the DA doesn't know that. I told them it was Lucille 2 in the picture. I mean, before I found out it was George and Maeby. But they ran it through their image enhancing software and falsely identified Maeby, who I thought was Lucille 2, as that Tony guy you hate, so now they've arrested him.

There are several parts of that story Gob doesn't understand. Mostly the part with the wigs. The part he focuses on, which he suspects is the important part, is the part where Tony has apparently been arrested for the murder a woman he couldn't have possibly murdered.

It's enough to get him off the couch, anyway, Gob across the room before Michael's had so much as a chance to blink.

"They've arrested Tony?" Gob repeats. His hands have somehow found their way onto Michael's shirt, Gob clinging somewhat desperately because he's pretty sure the world just fell out from beneath his feet.

"Um.. Yes?" Michael says, clearly confused. He reaches up and slowly unravels Gob's fists. Gob lets his now useless hands fall to his sides. The ground remains stubbornly solid beneath him.

"Look, I don't see what the problem is. I mean, you hate this guy. Just a few months ago you were talking about destroying his life. Plus with him taking the fall for this Buster gets to come home and..."

"Are we sure Buster didn't kill her?" Gob asks, because that still seems like the most likely scenario.

The look Michael shoots him suggests he doesn't agree.

"Look, mom and dad know where she is. They were just willing to let Buster take the fall so that it didn't screw up Lindsay's campaign. I thought you'd be happy about this. I mean, Buster gets to come home and your... rival, or whatever he is, gets dragged through the mud. And it's not like they're going to convict him. They don't even have a body."

Rival, Gob thinks, ignoring pretty much everything else Michael has said. Is that what they were? Is that how people see them? And okay, maybe not now. But maybe that's all they ever really were. And maybe that's why Tony sabotaged their act. Not because he hates Gob but because Gob's his rival and that's what rivals do...

Except he doesn't want to be Tony's rival. Not anymore. And he sure as hell doesn't want Tony to rot in jail over something he didn't do, even if it does mean having his brother take Tony's place.

"Listen," Gob says, this time taking Michael firmly by the shoulders. "You have to help me get Tony out of jail. I..."

And even though Michael's bound to find out anyway, Gob still can't bring himself to say it. It's one thing for Michael to find out on his own. Another for Gob to actually admit to his feelings.

"I want to be the one who ruins Tony's career. Not you," he says instead. It's a poor deflection, but a believable one, though if Michael's expression is any indication, he doesn't exactly find it reasonable.

~*~

Naturally Michael doesn't agree to help. Gob can't honestly say he's surprised. When has Michael ever done anything for this family? Well, except for threatening to leave only to come back time and time again. He's even abandoned the company, leaving Gob to juggle their recent acquisitions, not to mention the move. So of course he'd be no help here.

Truth be told, Gob's not quite sure how much help he's going to be either. Technically, he can provide an alibi, except for the part where Tony doesn't remember their night together and Gob's not quite sure he wants said night on record. But he has no idea if Tony even wants his help, let alone how he'll go about explaining.

So he does the only thing he can think of, which is to call the family attorney, because if anyone knows a thing or two about nights you'd rather stay forgotten, its Barry Zuckerkorn.

"I'm glad you called me. I was kind of hoping your brother's case would make it to trial, maybe even have the trial run long enough to use up my retainer. Obviously that didn't happen, but a Bluth's a Bluth as far as billing's concerned."

Barry lowers his voice for the next part, as though aware there are still employees in the building, even though Gob's threatened to fire them if they come within ten feet of his office.

"So what did you do?"

Gob, who thought he explained all of this over the phone, gives an exasperated sigh. "This isn't about me," he says.

"No, of course not. I'm sure you're perfectly innocent. And that is definitely what I'll be arguing when I represent you in court."

God, his family really does have the worst attorneys.

"I'm not even being tried," Gob tries, though, if anything, Barry just looks more perplexed. Gob gives up.

"This is about..." He lowers his voice. "Tony Wonder."

"Right," Barry says, this time nodding like he's finally caught up with the conversation. "The guy they arrested instead of your brother. I mean, that was luck, wasn't it? I mean, it's great. Really. Saved me a lot of reading..."

"No," Gob interjects. He's starting to think he should have just gone to the DA. "Look, Tony Wonder didn't kill Lucille Austero."

"He didn't?"

Gob isn't used to being the smartest person in the room, so it takes him almost a full minute before he realizes that's going to be the extent of Barry's revelation.

"No, he didn't. Do you know who's representing him? Who I can talk to about..."

Alibi's a big word. Gob can't bring himself to say it.

"...Tony's innocence."

"Hold on," Barry says, finally catching up with the proceedings. "You do realize they'll put Buster back in jail, don't you?"

Gob would be lying if he said he hadn't considered it. Lying if he said Buster was more important to him than Tony. But since neither of those things are things you tell a family attorney, Gob doesn't technically lie. He just keeps his mouth shut and lets the omission do it for him.

"It doesn't matter anyway," Barry continues, apparently taking Gob's silence for confusion. "From what I've heard, they don't even have a body. Plus, I'm pretty sure he's got Wayne Jarvis representing him, so he'll be fine. I say just lay low and let this all play out."

It's certainly tempting. Far more tempting that seeking out Wayne Jarvis--who has plenty of reason to hate his family. It's definitely better than having to explain the whole Cinco business, including the part about Tony not remembering. So maybe Barry's right. Maybe he should just lay low. Tony's probably fine. He's probably hanging out, playing catch with the guys. Just like Gob did during his famous prison-escape. Right before he got shanked by White Power Bill. But no. It's fine. Tony's fine. He's...

~*~

Terrified.

The arrest itself was annoying. The booking degrading. The three rounds of interrogation frustrating. But even through all of that Tony figured someone would eventually realize their mistake. They'd apologize. He'd pretend to be a bigger person than he was, offer up some free tickets to his next show or something. But apparently that's not going to happen. Because apparently when they have photographs of someone they think is you from a night you've been telling people didn't exist, it tends to look bad.

Disappearing from a very public double closet sexuality switch two hander float illusion didn't exactly help the situation.

And now he's got to wait on a bail hearing, because they don't run those over the weekend, which means he gets to spend a second night in a holding cell while he waits on the arbitrary decision of a judge who will either ask him for more money than he actually has or transfer him into the general population, where, as an out, gay magician, he's pretty sure he's screwed.

Maybe they'll let him camp out here. The meeting rooms at the police station are nice, anyway. Homey when they're not being used for interrogation. Maybe he'll even ask his lawyer, the man due in...

"Bad news," Wayne Jarvis says upon entering the room, not a hint of preamble. "They've found a body."

And yeah, that probably warrants the lack of introduction.

"Seriously?" Tony still has to ask. Wayne glances up from his notes long enough to shoot Tony a glare.

"What was the first time I ever said to you?" he asks. Tony considers.

"Something about professionalism? Which I get, man. But they found a body?"

This whole experience is starting to get a little surreal. He knows who Lucille Austero is now, but he's pretty sure he's never met the woman. At least, not in any sort of meaningful way. And sure, Sally works for her, and he thinks she's probably tied up in the company Gob's trying to run, but aside from that...

"Yes. So I really need you to tell me where you were on the fourth, because I'm not going to lie, Tony. It looks bad. Really bad."

"Right, yeah, I know. But I didn't kill her. I barely even know who she is. And I have an alibi, I just..."

"An alibi? That changes everything. Why didn't you say something sooner?"

And that's the question, isn't it? Because having an alibi is great, except for the part where his alibi doesn't know they're an alibi, or even remember the night in question. Sometimes he swears forget-me-nows are as much a curse as they are a blessing. It's something Gob would understand, anyway, though Wayne Jarvis doesn't look quite as open minded.

Still, there's nothing else for it, so Tony does his best to explain the night his would-be alibi chose to forget.

Chapter Text

~*~

Tony turns up to his bail hearing wearing the jumpsuit they gave him shortly after his booking. It's atrocious. He's not going to ask--because doing so would probably scar him for life--but he's pretty sure the thing is at best a 50 thread count. He feels dirty just having it against his skin.

They also don't permit hair care products in here, which means his usually artful spikes are now more of a fuzzy halo. To add insult to injury, his goatee has lost its shape, the dye having faded, its sharp pink now a terrible shade of salmon beige.

It's enough to make him wish he'd paid more attention in Escapology 101--one of the correspondence courses he took back when he was still a little w, before his career really took off--but even back then he preferred appearing to disappearing, Tony opting to practice his contortion techniques instead. And okay, being able to squeeze inside a dumb waiter has been really good for his career, but right now he'd give just about anything to know how to remove the cuffs currently chafing his wrists.

Gob makes the trick look so easy.

The judge hasn't turned up yet, which means he's stuck waiting at the defendant table with his lawyer, who, aside from reminding Tony that he can't predict the outcome of the case and therefore can't offer reassurances, hasn't said a word since his arrival. Something about small talk that Tony vaguely remembers from the contract he signed, though he was far too preoccupied by the Patriot Act clause to give it much thought at the time.

This isn't Tony's first court proceeding--there was that copyright infringement case a few years back--but it is the first time he's stood before a judge requesting bail, so he's a little slow getting to his feet when Judge Reinhold finally makes his appearance. They've gone over how this is going to work, though, so Tony keeps his mouth shut and lets his lawyer do the talking. It leaves him free to drift, mostly because he doesn't particularly need to hear Jarvis' spiel on why he's not, technically, a flight risk, but also because the last time he tried to keep up with Jarvis' legal jargon he fell asleep drooling in his chair.

The whole process takes maybe fifteen minutes. As soon as it's over Jarvis thanks the judge and then, just like that, court is adjourned. Tony's not gonna lie, he missed most of it, but he's pretty sure he's been granted bail. He's also pretty sure the figure is well beyond his reach. Best case scenario--and that involves selling his closet as a sweat lodge on ebay--he's maybe got $50,000 to his name.

"So now what?" Tony asks after the judge has left the room.

"Now," Jarvis says with the patience of a man who's already explained this and doesn't appreciate having to do it a second time, "they're going to transfer you to Orange County Prison until you make bail."

"And if I don't have the funds?" Tony asks.

"Relax, I'll put you in touch with a bondsman. In the meantime, sit tight and try not to get yourself stabbed."

Wayne Jarvis says this like he expects it to happen. Like if it did Tony wouldn't even be the first of his clients. Tony's not exactly reassured.

"What about Gob?" Tony asks, feeling somewhat desperate in the face of his impending transfer. The look Jarvis shoots him suggests he thinks the question unworthy of his time.

"You said if we could convince Gob to testify, there was a chance they'd drop the charges," Tony presses. Jarvis' expression doesn't change.

"I did."

"So how are we going to do that?" Tony asks. Jarvis' last word on the subject was let me handle it, but Tony still doesn't know how Jarvis is going to convince Gob to lie--without technically lying--and say they were together--which they were--when Gob thinks they weren't, especially when doing so will mean admitting to the sex they actually had that Gob chose to forget.

And huh. Apparently Tony's still a little mad.

"What was the one thing I told you when you hired me?" Wayne Jarvis asks.

"That you're a professional," Tony parrots. This isn't their first such exchange.

"Exactly," Jarvis says, like that alone should be all the reassurance Tony needs. He's gone from the room before Tony can ask for clarification, a guard from county lockup coming in to take his place.

~*~

As it turns out, having a group of subordinate, albeit supportive employees is a lot more rewarding than Gob first assumed. Partly because, prior to the closet guys, Gob's only recourse for human interaction was a family that didn't really care about him, but mostly because, as it turns out, people who dedicate their lives to organizing a person's wardrobe excell at empathy in the way Gob's aforementioned family do not.

They're good listeners, anyway, which kind of makes up for the bad investment decision because, as it turns out, people just coming out of a housing market collapse aren't exactly keen on customizing their closets. Go figure.

They're also duly sympathetic and unwavering in their support, which is exactly what Gob needs during this, the worst week of his life.

"My lawyer suggested laying low and waiting this out, but that was before this," Gob explains, gesturing to the front page of the Daily Pilot, the latest local newspaper to print a picture of the recently found banana stand.

They've all seen the live footage, of course, the local news airing it seemingly on loop. In it a police crane can be seen lifting the banana stand out of the bay, water streaming from inside. The stand, of course, isn't the important part. The important part is what they found inside, which is why the clip ends abruptly mere seconds after the stand is returned to its proper place on the ground.

Just like the local news, which tends to throw up a clip of Tony disappearing from the parade, there's a picture of Tony in the paper, too, only this one looks like a mugshot, Gob's stomach sinking at the sight of him without any pink in his beard.

Without really meaning to, he finds himself tracing a finger down the length of Tony's cheek.

"Maybe you should go visit him," one of the closet guys says, clearly sensing Gob's longing.

"Yeah, just like, tell him what happened and see what he says. I mean, even if he doesn't appreciate it..."

"It's still the right thing to do," the third guy finishes. Gob really ought to consider learning their names.

"I mean, he already hates me," Gob says, warming up to the idea.

"Exactly, so it's not like it's going to make things worse," the cute one echoes, the three of them now vibrating with the same energy they brought to the double closet sexuality switch two-hander float illusion.

"There's just one problem," Gob tells them, oddly reluctant to break their mood. "He'd have to agree to see me first."

After everything that happened between them, Gob can't see that happening. No, his only hope is to do this through lawyers, which means calling up Barry and telling him the truth.

"Look, I appreciate the idea, but... Hold on," Gob says, interrupted by the ringing of his phone, Mark Cherry's Getaway filling the room. Gob practically lunges for it.

His heart sinks like it does every time his phone rings and a name that isn't Tony Wonder appears on screen. Not that Gob was expecting Tony--what with him being in jail and all--but the heart wants what the heart wants, however much Gob wished otherwise.

Still, Barry Zuckerkorn is a call he should probably answer. In part because he was just thinking about giving the man a call, but mostly because Barry wouldn't be calling unless there was a break in the case.

"Gob here," Gob says into the receiver. The closet guys are obviously listening in, but unlike Kitty they already know all his secrets so Gob can't say he minds.

"Ah, good, I've been trying to reach you," Barry says, though a quick scroll through Gob's call history doesn't bring up any other calls. "Did you hear they found a body?" Barry continues, like the banana stand retrieval is somehow recent news.

"Yeah," Gob says, half afraid it's the reason for Barry's call.

"Crazy, right? Boy, I did not see that one coming."

The closet guys are watching him openly now, like they think maybe it's Tony on the other side of the line. Gob gives a brief shake of his head, More than one set of shoulders deflate at the news.

"Is there something you needed?" Gob asks when it becomes obvious Barry's forgotten why he called. A terse minute of silence follows. Gob can practically hear Barry thinking.

"Oh, right," Barry eventually says, realization dawning. "That friend of yours... Tony..."

"Tony Wonder?"

"That's the one. His lawyer, Wayne Jarvis, wants to see you. Something about some evidence. Anyway, you'd better get over there as quick as you can."

A thousand scenarios run through Gob's head, though none of them warrant a call from Tony's lawyer; all of them leave him genuinely confused. And yet, this is what he wanted, wasn't it?

"What time?" Gob asks.

"What do you mean what time?" Barry returns. "Are you on your way? You should be on your way. He called me yesterday. It sounded urgent."

"Yesterday?" Gob shouts into the receiver. "Why didn't you call me?"

He's out of his chair in a flash, three sets of eyes watching him leave.

"What do you mean? I'm calling you now. Which I'm going to charge you for, by the way," Barry says. He sounds incredulous, like he can't believe Gob's nerve.

"Look, it doesn't matter. Just call him back and tell him I'm on my way," Gob tells him, having now made it out to his car.

"Fine," Barry answers, "but I'm charging you for that, too. Half an hour a call. And I'm doing you a favour charging you the minimum, and only because the Bluths are my biggest clients."

They're his only clients, Gob would wager, though he doesn't say it. Instead he disconnects the call, not particularly interested in hearing Barry reminisce about the time he got Gob out of juvy. Right now he's got bigger things to worry about. Tony shaped things to worry about. That and he still doesn't know what he's going to say to convince Tony's lawyer that Tony doesn't belong in jail.

~*~

He should have known. The second a Bluth name entered the conversation, he should have known. If Wayne Jarvis had to list his strengths, professionalism would sit at the top of the list. He's now had the displeasure of meeting all the Bluths, and not one of them warrants the distinction, Gob Bluth, perhaps, least among them.

And yet, because he is a professional, Wayne calls the Bluth family lawyer, unsurprised when Barry Zuckerkorn's I'll call you right back turns out to mean almost twenty-four hours later. Still, Gob Bluth is on his way, which isn't exactly what Wayne had in mind but is also something a professional takes in stride.

"Carol," Wayne says to his assistant. "Cancel my 3:30."

Gob bluth arrives at 3:35.

His out of breath and looks on the verge of panic, but Wayne ignores all of that, gesturing Gob into a chair like he's any other client.

"Thank you coming," Wayne says before Gob can get in a word. He sees no reason they can't skip the formalities. "I understand you may have information pertaining to my client's innocence," he continues without preamble.

Gob Bluth makes that face people make when they're confused.

"How... Of course, Barry," Gob eventually says, surprisingly amenable given his client's explanation of the affair.

"Look," Gob continues. "I'll do just about anything for Tony. I..." There's a brief pause that makes Wayne think this is going to need a softer hand. Fortunately Carol is waiting in the next room. She may not share his stout professionalism, but she's very good at handling the more... emotional clients.

But it turns out Carol's involvement isn't necessary, Gob heaving a great sigh before spitting out the rest of his thought.

"I love him," he says.

Wayne grimaces, romantic entanglements the last thing he needs.

"That's great," Wayne tells him, thinking perhaps he can use this to his advantage. "Would you be willing to go before a judge and say Tony was with you on the night of Lucille Austero's disappearance?"

Given what Tony's told him, he's not technically asking a witness to lie.

"How did... Right, Barry," Gob says, sounding decidedly put upon. Wayne would really like to hasten this meeting to an end.

"Look, I'd love to help. To go before a judge and... Tell them I was with Tony. But the thing is, Tony doesn't want my help. He doesn't even..."

Wayne remembers why he stopped dealing with the Bluths.

"I want to start by saying I find all of this relationship drama quite off-putting, and would rather we stick to the facts, but you should know that this meeting was Tony's idea."

That perks Gob up, though Wayne's not quite sure that was his intention. Still, at this point he'll take progress where he can get it.

"In that case, yes," Gob says. "To the whole judge thing. Just..."

Wayne holds up a hand.

"I'll schedule the appointment, but I would appreciate it if you kept anything non-case related to yourself."

Gob nods at that, more professional than Wayne would have thought him capable of being. The sentiment lasts just until Gob opens his mouth, following instructions obviously not one of his skills.

"I just need to know. Does Tony want to see me?"

There's an edge of hope in his tone that Wayne tends to hear in some of his more desperate clients. He tries to curb this wherever possible. Hope is not something you want to bring into a courtroom. It's only slightly less useful inside an oncologists office.

"I can't possibly know that," Wayne still says, Tony's personal feelings on the subject not exactly relevant to the case.

"But if he did, you could arrange it, right? A meeting."

And maybe he's getting soft in his old age. Or maybe his blood sugar is just getting low what with him having cancelled his 3:30 snack break. Whatever it is, Wayne finds himself saying something he never thought he would.

"I can relay the request, but it would probably be faster to just wait until he posts bail."

He regrets it the second it's out, Gob going from vaguely hopeful to manically excited in the blink of an eye. At this rate Wayne's surprised he doesn't have emotional whiplash.

"Tony made bail?" Gob asks, a redundant question but given that Gob is the perhaps the key to his defense, Wayne opts to tread lightly.

"Provided I can find a bondsperson willing to grant him the bond, yes," he explains, though he neglects to mention the part where his client's history of running bad debts is making that difficult.

"How much are we talking?" Gob asks, manic excitement having not waned in the least.

It's sensitive information. Not exactly confidential information--it is a matter of the court record--but Wayne's not entirely sure how his client would feel about him sharing the information. By the same token, Gob really is the best defense they've got, regardless of whether or not the man thinks he's lying. With this in mind, Wayne opts to go out on a limb.

"$100,000."

Gob seems to consider.

"And... what were to happen if I were to pay that?" he eventually asks. Wayne can't say that much surprises him these days, but this... This takes him aback.

"You have $100,000?"

Gob shrugs. "Well, the company does. And I do have this enormous chequebook."

He pulls what looks like a leather bound ledger from inside his suit jacket and sets it on the desk. Inside, are hundreds of cheques, perforated five to a page.

"They let me just write cheques for whatever I want. Because I'm the president," Gob explains. "I bought a trophy store."

"A trophy store?" Wayne doesn't know why he asked.

"I mean, it's not like I gave myself a trophy," Gob answers, though Wayne is reasonably certain that isn't the case. "I just bought it for deforestation, or something like that."

"I think you mean diversification, but regardless. If you'd like to post Tony's bail I'm sure he'd be delighted," Wayne says. Gob smiles brightly at this. "But you'll have to go see the prison clerk. She'll help you get the ball rolling. In the meantime, this meeting is costing my client money, so if you don't mind..."

He gestures to the door, though Gob still makes no move to leave. Now resigned to his fate, Wayne signals for him to say whatever it is that's still on his mind.

"Just... Tell Tony," Gob begins, Wayne interrupting him before the thought can come to fruition.

"I am obliged to tell you that I am under no obligation to relay any message you might have. If you feel the matter is urgent, have your lawyer draft a letter."

And with that Wayne dismisses Gob from the room, Gob taking the hint this time and slinking slowly from the room. Twenty-three minutes, Wayne notes. He jots it down along with a note reminding him to add the minutes to Mr. Wonder's bill.

Chapter Text

~*~

They give him his own cell, not because they recognize him as someone famous, or because he's made a career out of being flamboyantly gay. No, when Tony asks, he's told it's because they've had problems with magicians in the past, so now there's a rule about keeping them away from the general population. Tony has a feeling he knows exactly the magician they mean.

Private cell or no private cell, prison is still an utterly horrifying experience. Sound has a tendency to travel--what with there being bars in place of walls--and since his cell's just down the hall from the common room, Tony can hear exactly what the rest of the population are watching on TV. Normally he wouldn't care--what's a little television between detainees-- but Tony's got a good ear so it's hard to ignore that his fellow prisoners watching that ridiculous David Copperfield special Copperfield put out last year. And okay, maybe Tony's a little competitive--or a lot competitive, whatever--but there's not a magician alive who doesn't recognize Copperfield for the pompous, overrated showboat that he is. Being forced to listen to one of his shows is tantamount to torture as far as Tony's concerned.

And there's no escaping it, three of his walls concrete, the fourth impenetrable steel bars. He doesn't even have a pillow in here, his cell as barren as... well, his career, he suspects, after all of this is over.

Down the hall, the swell of music grows to a dramatic climax. A second later the common room erupts into cheers. Tony would give just about anything for a Tumi right about now. In addition to being surprisingly comfortable, they're also relatively soundproof, enough, anyway, to avoid hearing David Copperfield's applause.

But he doesn't have a Tumi, or any other luggage, really. What he does have is a steel foot locker tucked under his bed. It's not the comfiest thing, but it's definitely soundproof, and, to Tony's surprise, is actually quite roomy inside.

So that's where they find him. After the alarms go off and the prison goes into lockdown, Tony's disappearance apparently going unnoticed until they checked and failed to find him in his cell. He might have spared them a bit of the trouble, but in addition to being soundproof the foot locker turned out to be surprisingly oxygen proof, Tony falling asleep not long after shutting the lid.

"Thought you'd managed to do what that other magician couldn't," the warden says as a pair of guards drag Tony from the warmth of his cocoon.

"Did somebody say Wonder?" Tony asks, not because anyone did, but because emerging from tight spaces tends to trigger the reaction. The warden merely shakes his head.

"Wasn't sure why you bothered, given that you've made bail," he continues.

Tony perks up a bit at that, although that might also be because his lightheadedness is finally beginning to clear. Still, take that, David Copperfield!

"Your lawyer's here to collect you. Mr Sabino," the warden points to the guard flanking his left, "will see to it your personal belongings are returned."

And just like that Tony's ordeal is over, Mr. Sabino escorting Tony from his cell, David Copperfield's special giving way to what Tony thinks might be the opening strains of The Lone Ranger.

~*~

As promised, Wayne Jarvis is waiting for him in Receiving and Discharge. So is another guard, this one holding a bag of Tony's stuff. They've already given him back his suit--and allowed him to change, although at this point the suit is so direly in need of a cleaning he almost preferred the orange jumpsuit.

"Thanks," Tony says as Wayne Jarvis comes forward to claim him. "I owe you one."

Actually, he owes him several, thousands of dollars that is, but given what he's just endured, Tony can't help but feel a little grateful.

"Don't thank me. Had you told me about your credit history I wouldn't have bothered trying to find you a bond agent. Fortunately, your friend stepped forward, otherwise you might have had a long wait."

Jarvis sounds neither impressed nor upset, just annoyed, like there were better things he could be doing with his time. Tony can't help but feel a little sheepish about that, though it's not like it's his fault there are liens out for the various pieces he uses in his act. Actually, scratch that. It's probably his fault. But he didn't intend to skip out on his debts--shit just happens--and besides, it's not like he knew he'd need a bail bond someday.

"Wait," Tony says, only just catching up with the rest of what Javis has said. "Sally bailed me out?"

Because, huh, he did not see that coming. And sure, as he's established, Sally's a friend, he just hadn't realized that friendship was reciprocal. If anything, he'd kind of been labouring under the assumption that Sally didn't really care.

"Not that friend," Jarvis tells him, "your other one."

Tony has to consider that for a moment, because aside from Sally--who he only just realized was possibly a friend--he can't think of a single other person who qualifies.

His confusion must show on his face, because Jarvis shakes his head, muttering something about professionalism before saying, "Gob Bluth," like it's not the revelation it clearly is.

"Gobbie bailed me out?" Tony still asks, because he'd pretty much settled on Gob hating him, but if Gob's bailed him out then there's a chance...

Unless of course this is a part of some new plan. Like maybe Gob's planning on extracting revenge. Getting Tony's hopes up only to turn around and break Tony's heart--because Tony's pretty sure that's exactly what happened before all the cement. Except the other way around. The same. But the other way around. So, not the same. But also, completely and utterly the same.

"What did I tell you about relationship drama?" Jarvis asks. Tony considers.

"Um... I'm not sure you did," he decides.

"Right," Jarvis says after a minute. "That was your friend, but my point still stands. I find it off-putting and won't be a part of it."

Tony wants to ask--wants to know what Gob could possibly have said to warrant such a response--but he's already treading on pretty thin ice and, right now, Jarvis is his only way out of here, or at least, the only person he knows here with a car.

He's tempted, once they get into said car and Jarvis asks him for directions, to have Jarvis drive him over to Gob's place, even knowing it might strand him in the middle of Sudden Valley. Instead, after several long minutes of agonizing indecision that may have caused Jarvis to snap at him and during which Tony absolutely did not cry, Tony tells Jarvis to drop him off at Sally's, because, again, as he's mentioned before, they're now sort of kind of friends.

Sally, naturally, is unimpressed by this decision.

"I thought I told you to lay low. That I couldn't be seen with you right now," she hisses as soon as she realizes it's him outside her door.

"I know, and I won't stay long... Although, I will need a ride... I just... I really need someone to talk to right now," Tony says.

Sally's expression goes from annoyed to alarmed in thirty-seconds flat. She stares at him like a pair of horns just sprouted on top of his head.

"Oh my god, you killed her," she says, and then gives Tony precisely zero seconds to correct her before she's pulling him inside.

"You realize I was kidding when I said it would be good for me if that old bat fell down a flight of stairs and hit her head," Sally continues once the door is firmly shut behind them, like she honestly thinks Tony would kill someone to help out her career.

"I didn't kill Lucille Austero," Tony says. "I didn't kill anyone. And anyway, it doesn't matter, because I have an alibi and they're going to testify on my behalf before this ever gets to trial."

Sally, who's clearly just come from some campaign event--she's wearing one of her better suits--gives him an incredulous look, like Tony's assurances have somehow failed to convince her of his innocence. And maybe Tony was wrong. Maybe they aren't friends.

"Look, here's the thing. I didn't see you all of Cinco. No one saw you all of Cinco. You were being weird and secretive and even after it was pretty obvious you were hiding something, so..."

This isn't a conversation he wants to be having. Certainly not inside the foyer of Sally's apartment--which still stinks of mothballs; that and artificial hair.

"I know, okay," Tony says. He wishes she'd at least invite him into the kitchen or something, but right now she's looking at him like he's Jack the fucking Ripper instead of the guy she's been plotting with for nearly five years.

It hurts almost as much as it did that time Gob stood him up.

"But it's not because I was killing Lucille Austero. I..."

And really, what does he have to lose in telling the truth?

"I was with someone."

"Right. You were with someone. That you couldn't tell me about. That you..."

He catches the second it dawns, Tony wincing in preparation of what's to come.

"Oh, my, god," Sally says. And now she just looks giddy. "You were with Gob Bluth, weren't you?" she still asks.

Tony, who sees no point in denying it--not now, anyway--gives a faint shrug.

"Oh my god," Sally says again. "You fucked Gob Bluth. That's... Wait, why didn't you just tell them that?"

She's relaxed her guard, anyway, which makes Tony feel a little better about the whole Sally thinking him a serial killer thing. Still, having Sally mock him isn't much better, so Tony crosses his arms over his chest and doesn't bother hiding his hurt.

"I couldn't, okay. I mean, for one, I thought this would all blow over, like they'd figure out their mistake and... And for another, Gob doesn't know we... had sex," Tony says, mostly in response to the arching of Sally's oddly crooked eyebrow. "He took a forget-me-now. After."

He thought maybe the day of his arrest was the worst day of his life, but this is shaping up to be just as bad. This morning he woke up in a holding cell and now, almost fourteen hours later, he's standing in Sally's hallway--she still hasn't invited him in--wearing a three-day old suit without a hint of product in his hair, and all she can do is stare at him, like she's maybe decided he's an idiot and can't figure out why she put up with him for as long as she did.

"Wait, let me get this straight," Sally says. "Gob Bluth had sex with you, and then immediately fed himself a roofie so that he could forget having had sex with you. I mean, you're not great in bed, but you're not that bad..."

"Hey, whoa. Do you have to just go for the jugular like that?"

And, honestly, what the hell was he thinking coming here?

"And he didn't take a roofie because the sex was bad. It was amazing. And magical. And... Stop looking at me like that. He took it because he's not gay, and I don't know... He was ashamed or something. But that's not the point."

Actually, Tony's not sure what the point is. Not anymore.

"The point is I've got an alibi. He just... doesn't know that. But he agreed to testify we were together, even if he doesn't remember, and he posted my bail, so..."

Sally, who's still staring at him like she's half expecting him to pull a coin out from behind her ear--god, she hates that--is starting to look like she might be on the verge of an epiphany, like any minute now she's going to put two and two together and...

"Oh my god," she says for what feels like the umpteenth time today. "You didn't come here for help. You came here for relationship advice. Oh my god. Tony. That's..."

Tony's not gonna lie. The laughter hurts. Almost as much as her thinking him capable of murder. So, yeah. He definitely should have gone to see Gob. Which, now that he thinks about it, is exactly where he's going, right after he finds himself a cab.

~*~

It is entirely possible he's made a mistake. How big of a mistake remains to be seen.

Actually, scratch that. He hasn't made one mistake. He's made a series of mistakes that began the moment he thought he could con Tony without getting emotionally involved.

God. Emotionally involved. He's starting to sound like Michael.

Michael, who maybe still doesn't know--although surely someone's mentioned it to him by now. Then again, he's probably too preoccupied by the whole banana stand/body thing to care. Maybe the whole Gob accidentally outing himself in front of the entire city went unnoticed, in which case Gob can just write the whole thing off as a freeby and move on with his life.

Easier said than done, because at the end of the day Tony still hates him. And now Tony knows. At least, Tony's lawyer knows, and since lawyers have a tendency to share things with their clients--attorney-client privilege, Gob thinks it's called--that means Tony knows which means Gob's right back where he started.

Which he's pretty sure is the whole Tony knowing they had sex thing.

Is he mad about that, Gob wonders. Gob did bail him out of jail, but that doesn't really make up for the whole not telling him about all the fantastic sex they had. Then again, why would Tony be mad? It's not like it's Gob's fault he took a forget-me-now. And really, what was Gob supposed to do? Tell Tony something he clearly didn't want to know? That he went out of his way to forget? If Tony's mad, he's got nobody to blame but himself. Gob was just... Respecting Tony's wishes. That's what he was doing. Which sort of makes him the good guy here. Plus, there's also the whole bailing Tony out of jail thing.

And how long does that take, anyway? How long before Gob can safely...

Safely what? Call Tony up? Drop by his apartment? After Tony went to all that trouble to cut Gob out of his life? It's not like Tony owes him anything--well, unless Tony skips out on bail, because then he owes Gob $100,000.

There is a distinct possibility Gob may not have thought this through.

"God," Gob says to the empty living room. "When did my life start to suck?"

As soon as he says it he knows it's not a question he wants answered. Because if he's honest with himself his life has sucked for a while now. Tony was the one bright point, and now that's over, Gob left with nothing but a cheaply constructed model home--that he didn't actually have to pay for and still needs to clear out of anytime a real estate agent wants to show it to some clients--and his bees. Which he doesn't technically have anymore because they all escaped down in Mexico. So scratch bees off that list.

And wow. Without the bees he really doesn't have anything. Even his family doesn't care. Maybe, if he had kids of his own things would be different, but... Oh, who is he kidding. He's not cut out for fatherhood. Just ask that guy who claims to be his kid. Dave, or Steve, or something.

And great. Now someone's knocking at his door. It's probably Dave, looking for a handout. Or maybe Michael, finally come to gloat. It takes Gob a minute--because he's still kind of hoping whoever it is will go away--but he eventually pries himself from the couch and ambles on over, flip-flops scuffing against the floor.

"Whatever you're selling, we're not interested," Gob says as he throws open the door.

And then promptly freezes, because the person standing on the other side isn't selling something. And it's not Steve come looking for a handout. Or Michael come to gloat. The person standing on the other side is Tony fucking Wonder, looking poised and freshly showed, and also the most beautiful thing Gob has ever seen.

For what he suspects is the first time in his life, Gob finds himself completely and utterly lost for words.

Chapter Text

~*~

"You gonna invite me in?" Tony asks after several long minutes of mutual staring. He'd forgotten Gob's intensity, the way it simultaneously makes him want to up his game and bare his soul. He'd missed that on the float, the sensation oddly comparable to being on stage.

Gob doesn't answer, still caught up in staring like he can't quite believe Tony's here. He looks a little like he's seeing a ghost, which, okay, Tony gets, except Gob bailed him out so it's not like he didn't already know Tony was alive.

A second later the penny drops, because, yeah, Tony gets why that might not have been enough.

"I guess I owe you an explanation," he says.

Gob, after another second of awkward silence, blinks. It's the first thing he's done since opening the door. Tony hadn't realized how much he was hoping for something--anything--until the small gesture floods him with relief.

"See, the thing is..."

"It's okay," Gob says unexpectedly. "I get it." He sounds surprisingly calm. Tony watches, somewhat impressed by the quick transition, as Gob's stage persona slips into place, Gob poised in a way Tony can almost guarantee he's not. But Tony gets that too, because, honestly, same.

"Right," Tony still says. "Cause I thought we were still doing that whole..."

"Sabotaging each other's careers," Gob finishes with him. Tony breaks into a grin.

"Same," he says, only this time it's on his own, Gob facade still firmly in place.

"Guess I fucked up," Tony adds, feeling suddenly chagrin.

It has the intended effect, Gob deflating, like Tony admitting his mistake was exactly what Gob needed to hear. He's still a little standoffish, but there's a tentativeness there that wasn't there before, like maybe if Tony presses he might actually get an invite inside.

Getting inside is a con he perfected years ago, only this time it he's not looking to score; this time, when Tony lets his expression grow contrite, he's surprised to find he really means it, Gob someone he actually wants to appease.

Gob, who apparently recognizes Tony's trick for what it is, gives a somewhat dramatic sigh.

"You wanna come in?" he asks, like he was going to either way; like he thinks Tony's ridiculous but appreciates the effort all the same. It's the closest Tony's come to hope in longer than he cares to admit.

Tony's answering nod is perhaps a bit too eager, but Gob doesn't seem to mind. He moves aside, anyway, his free hand--the one not holding open the door--gesturing Tony inside. Tony brushes past him, the contact sparking the same inexplicable pull he remembers from Cinco. It's not desire--well, not just desire--but rather an oddly familiar kind of warmth that Tony's too unfamiliar with to name.

Well, that and Gob smells really, really nice.

"So, um... I'm glad you're not dead," Gob says after he's brought them into the kitchen, universal safe ground.

"Not my finest hour," Tony admits. The corner of Gob's mouth curls into a smile. "It certainly didn't warrant bailing me out, so I guess I owe you for that."

And just like that the progress they've made vanishes, Gob's expression darkening, new walls springing up into place.

"You don't owe me anything," he says, the source of his unhappiness suddenly clear. "So if that's why you're here..."

"That's not," Tony rushes to reassure. "Look, I screwed up. I thought one thing was happening but it turned out something else was happening and if I had to do it all over again I'd do something different because the thing that was actually happening is the thing I would have wanted to happen, I just figured that out too late to change what actually happened."

Somewhere in all of that, he lost Gob, so Tony scrambles to make it clear.

"What I mean is you don't owe me anything. And I'm not here because I owe you anything, even though I do. I'm here because..." I think maybe I'm in love with you Tony doesn't say, opting instead for, "because I fucked up, okay."

It's still the most honest he's ever been, which Gob seems to get because he drops a little of his guard. Enough that Tony can see the first stirrings of hope, anyway. It makes it easy to bring up Cinco, that night still the only thing standing in their way.

"Look, I think you should know..."

"It's okay," Gob interrupts. "I mean, I know you know. And maybe I should have told you, but I kind of figured you knew what you were doing so..."

Now it's Tony who's lost, because for the life of him he can't figure out what Gob means. It doesn't line up with the rest of their conversation, anyway, which is frustrating given how often they end on the same page. Tony's about to ask--to get them back on track, bring up Cinco because he's pretty sure that's where they derailed--when the front door bursts open, whatever clarity Tony was hoping to get lost to the sudden dramatic arrival of a man Tony's pretty sure is Gob's younger brother.

"Oh, come on," Tony says, half under his breath.

Michael--at least Tony thinks that's his name--hasn't made it fully into the kitchen yet, which means he hasn't noticed Tony, which means he's speaking freely, Gob frozen in place.

"You won't believe what happened," he says. "That friend of yours has an alibi. Can you believe..."

He freezes the second he does spot Tony, whatever he was going to say lost to the shocked expression he now wears. Not that it matters. Tony's pretty sure he got the gist. Or at least, enough to know this isn't going to go any better than it did the last time. A glance in Gob's direction shows him on the verge of hyperventilating.

"What the hell is he doing here?" Michael asks, his attention pivoting back to Gob.

"I... Should... I..."

Definitely worse than last time, Tony decides.

"And why does this feel familiar?" Michael continues, his gaze now pivoting between the two of them.

If anything the statement amplifies Gob's panic, though at least now he seems capable of speech.

"What do you remember?" he asks, sounding particularly desperate, like Michael's answer carries the weight of the world. Tony needs a minute to process that.

"Wait, what does he remember? What do you remember?" Tony asks, because if Gob remembers Michael not remembering then he should also remember remembering and...

Somewhere in all of that Tony's heart sinks.

"What do I remember? What do you remember?" Gob asks, this time with accusation in his tone.

And this, Tony thinks, is what they call a collective moment of realization. It's nowhere near as satisfying as he assumed it would be. Instead he's left feeling vaguely hurt; that and confused, because he's no longer quite so sure what he was trying to accomplish, this thing with Gob layers more complicated than he'd first assumed.

"You know what, I should go," Tony says, because Michael's still here and if Tony's sure about anything it's that conversations are best held outside of the audience's hearing.

Under different circumstances, Tony thinks maybe Gob might have objected. There's a slight flare of panic in his eyes, anyway, like he's maybe afraid letting Tony go will mean losing Tony for good. He doesn't say anything, though, instead glancing to his brother, Michael's presence complicating an already complicated matter. Tony takes that as a sign he's made the right decision. It's not until later, after he's through the front door, that it occurs to him he now has to wait upwards of forty minutes for a cab.

~*~

"Well," Gob says, turning his attention back to Michael. They're two for two now, Michael once again ruining his life. "I hope you're happy."

Michael doesn't even have the decency to look admonished.

"You gonna tell me what's going on?" he says. "This isn't the first time I've caught you two together, is it?"

In part because it's true, but mostly because Gob doesn't want to give Michael the satisfaction of answer, Gob opts not to respond.

"Damn it, Gob. What did I tell you about roofying me? You can't just go around..."

It was, Gob supposes, only a matter of time before Michael put the pieces together.

"Wait, are you his alibi? Is that why you were so quick to defend him? Are you and he..."

Hearing the incredulity in Michael's tone is only somewhat reassuring.

"I knew it," he still gloats. "I knew it. I can't believe you... You know they're going to arrest Buster again, don't you?"

It's also marginally reassuring to know Michael cares more about the fate of their little brother than Gob's newly discovered orientation. Buster, at least, is safe ground.

"Are we sure he didn't kill her?" Gob has to ask, because it still seems like the most obvious answer.

The look Michael shoots him suggests he doesn't agree.

"Are you kidding me? You're unbelievable. I can't believe you'd..."

"What? Help keep an innocent man out of prison? Tony didn't kill her, Michael."

He hadn't particularly intended to draw attention back to Tony. He just wanted the conversation to end. And okay, maybe Buster didn't kill Lucille 2, but neither did Tony and Gob's getting a little sick of his family's tendency to throw people under the bus.

"Right, because he was with you," Michael says, latching on to the topic with apparent glee. "How long's that been going on for, by the way? Do Mom and Dad know?"

The thought of his parents finding out reignites the panic he thought he'd successfully stayed. Before he's quite made up his mind to move Gob's rushing forward, intent on pinning Michael by the shoulders and making him promise to keep this conversation to himself. But Michael's seemingly ready for him, Gob not even making contact before Michael has him down and pinned on the ground. He's gone a second later, Gob left more than a little dazed, still not entirely clear on how he ended sprawled across the floor.

"Okay... Where'd you learn to do that?" Gob asks, because he's pretty sure Michael besting him in combat is new.

"Family defense classes," Michael tells him. Oddly, the answer makes a good deal of sense.

"Look, you can't tell them," Gob says, not bothering to remove himself from the floor.

"Don't tell me you actually have feelings for this guy," Michael says, like he's expecting Gob to object. When Gob doesn't, his eyes grow comically wide.

"Look, it doesn't matter. As far as I know he still hates me, so..." Gob makes a vague gesture with his hand. "But he still didn't kill Lucille 2. And besides, didn't you say she was still alive?"

Michael, who's still looking at him like he's seeing something new, shakes his head.

"I thought she was, too. Mom and Dad seemed to know where she was so..."

Gob sits up at that, his earlier embarrassment over Tony forgotten. He still needs this conversation to be over--mostly so that he can call Tony and try to explain--but right now he has to ask:

"Do you think they killed her?"

Michael perks up a little at that, like the thought hadn't occurred to him before now. He's surprisingly upbeat for someone contemplating his parents capacity for murder.

"For Lindsay?" he asks.

"Or because Mom hates her," Gob offers. "Or because Dad was sticking it to her. Or because..."

"Yeah, no I get it," Michael heads him off. "But still, I can't see..."

"You said they were willing to let Buster rot in jail, remember," Gob reminds him, even though he doesn't think he technically has to. That's their parents right there in a nutshell, everyone expendable, including Tony when Michael thought it would simply be easier to let Tony take the fall.

And maybe Michael picks up on that, because he goes strangely quiet, his expression soft in the way it gets whenever he decides it's time to be a good brother. Gob hates that he falls for it, every time, but since it's the closest thing to approval he's likely to get, he keeps his mouth shut and doesn't complain.

"If I'd know you and he..." is as far as Michael gets before Gob stops him. He's nowhere near ready for this, he decides, the guys at the closet store one thing, his brother something else entirely.

"Look, just find out what Mom and Dad know," Gob says, trying to get them back on track, Lucille 2's murder infinitely safer than his relationship with Tony. Besides, if Michael's right and they do know, then both Tony and Buster walk free.

"You know they're not going to tell me," Michael says, like there's even a remote chance they'd consider telling Gob. Gob lets his eyebrows point this out. Michael reluctantly agrees.

"Fine, I'll talk to them," Michael says.

"But you won't tell them," Gob presses, just to be clear.

"I won't tell them," Michael promises. He's gone all soft again, like maybe Gob shouldn't have roofied him back on Cinco; like had Michael found out sooner Gob wouldn't be in the mess he's in today.

Either way Gob doesn't want to hear it--that and he's pretty sure his window for calling Tony is coming to a close--so he scrambles up from the floor and ushers Michael out the door, the latch barely catching behind him before Gob's pulling out his phone, Tony now his most frequented contact; that and the only contact he's not related to by marriage or blood.

~*~

The door to Gob's house opens. Tony has just enough time to duck behind an open house sign before Gob's brother appears on the porch. He spends almost a full minute just standing there, oscillating back and forth like he's considering heading back inside. Knowing Tony's luck, this is when his cab will arrive.

But what does he care if Gob's brother finds out he's still waiting outside? It's not like it's any of his business. Just because Gob can't handle him knowing doesn't mean Tony's got a problem with it. And maybe that's part of why Tony's still a little mad--well, that and apparently Gob was lying about the forget-me-nows, which means he did ditch Tony, which means...

And yeah... It's probably best not to go down that road again.

And honestly, he doesn't want to, because while he should be mad--mad enough even to contemplate a second round of revenge--Tony's not. Mostly he's just kind of defeated. That and confused and he really just wants to call Gob and ask if they can start all over again.

And maybe that's what Gob wants, too, because as soon as Tony thinks it his phone is ringing, Gob's name splashed across the screen. Tony leaps to answer, in part because he's worried the ringing will attract Michael's attention--though the gentle hum of a Google car engine soon alleviates him of the concern--but mostly because he's afraid Gob will change his mind, hang up before Tony even gets around to answering.

"Look," Gob says the second Tony answers, overriding anything Tony might have said. "I know you hate me and it's fine." He doesn't and it's not. "But I'm still going to testify on your behalf because I know you're innocent and... Look, I know it's stupid, but I care about you, and I'm sorry things got fucked up but..."

"Gob," Tony tries.

"And I know you don't want to do the whole relationship thing, because of the whole taint branding thing, but I still like you, so if you change your mind or whatever..."

"Gobie," Tony says.

It's the pet name, Tony suspects, that catches Gob's attention. His rambling stops, anyway, silence filling the line.

"I don't hate you," Tony continues, wanting to make that point very clear.

"You don't?" Gob asks. He sounds genuinely unsure.

"Kind of the opposite, actually," Tony says, going out on a limb.

There's a long minute of extended silence--though Tony's kind of used to it by now--where he thinks maybe Gob's been rendered speechless, leaving Tony scrambling for something to say. Gob beats him to it, though, coy and flirty like that time Tony talked to him while he was inside the LEM.

"I guess you shouldn't have left then," Gob says, the seductive tinder of his voice startling a nervous laugh.

"I didn't," Tony tells him, still laughing, even as he makes his way to the door.

"Wait, you didn't..."

"Just come answer your damned door," Tony tells him, having reached the front porch. Three seconds later the door flies open, Tony oddly reassured by the nervousness he sees reflected in Gob's gaze.

"Hi," Tony says, still speaking into the receiver. Gob's nervousness vanishes in an instant, replaced by a lopsided, impossibly endearing grin. Tony returns it, fairly confident this time he won't have to con his way inside.

Chapter Text

~*~

Here's the thing about magic: it's all an illusion.

Sleight of hand. Wires and contraptions. Misdirection. Everything he does on stage is a lie, meant to confound as much as mystify. It's the greatest profession on earth, though the only people who seem to get that are other magicians.

But here's the thing about magicians: they're masters of deception, and duplicity tends to leave a person low on trust.

So it's hard to believe this is where it ends. That this is where they put aside their scheming and plans; agree to forget all the things they've done to each other in the name of furthering their own careers. But here's the other thing: Tony wants that. He wants double acts and shows on the road. He wants shared hotel rooms and the world implicitly linking their names. And if he's honest with himself, he's wanted all of that since the night with the masks.

He thinks maybe that's where it started for Gob, too, because Gob's looking at him a lot like he did that night, wide-eyed and uncertain, his hand trembling as they pulled aside their disguises. And maybe that's what gives Tony the courage to move forward. Either way, he's glad he does, Gob's expression going all soft around the edges, like he can't believe Tony came back but is really glad Tony's here.

"You gonna invite me in?" Tony asks, aiming for the same coy flirtatiousness Gob used on the phone.

It's the right thing to say, because Gob's smile goes a little goofy, open in a way that still astounds Tony because, for a magician, Gob can be surprisingly transparent. Right now it's pretty obvious what he's thinking, his gaze just a little glassy, his mouth slightly open, the tip of his tongue darting out to wet his lips.

They should probably talk. That was Tony's plan, anyway, when he answered his phone, the device now a heavy weight in his pocket. He read somewhere that the key to a healthy relationship is communication. And since he's pretty sure half his feelings for Gob stem from the ease at which they communicate, Gob the first person Tony's opened up to in decades, it stands to reason they should talk about this.

But even knowing there's a chance not talking about will come back to bite them in the ass, Tony can't bring himself to make the suggestion. It's hard to think, what with Gob looking at him like he did that night, like Tony's a fucking treasure that Gob means to consume. It calls to mind all the things they did to each other, the way it was better than talking; better than any other sex.

So instead of talking Tony lets his smile slide into his most seductive grin, Gob responding with a startled breath of air. He still hasn't moved aside--is still bodily blocking the door--so Tony just kind of crowds against him, intent now because, if he's honestly with himself, he hasn't stopped thinking about the night with the masks since the night with the masks and, honestly, he really, really wants a second round.

Unlike last time, where Tony was nervous and pretty unsure of where to start let alone what to do, this time he's got experience on his side, Tony feeling confident enough to let his intentions show. It startles another sharp inhale, Gob once again licking at his lips. Tony lets himself follow the movement because, yeah, maybe they've lied to each other--repeatedly--and sabotaged each other--repeatedly--and competed with each other--again, repeatedly--but god they were good together, perfectly in sync in a way Tony's never been with anyone else. Not even his brother's widow, and he'd almost maybe had feelings for her.

"I asked if you were going to invite me in," Tony says as soon as he's backed them into the foyer proper, Gob still staring, a little cross-eyed now that Tony's gotten this close. Tony doesn't think Gob will mind, so he reaches back to shut the door.

"We should probably..." Gob starts, pausing halfway to clear his throat. Tony has a vague idea of what he was going to say. Mostly, though, he's distracted by the part where Gob's having a hard time speaking, Tony pretty sure he's the cause.

"Look," Tony says, because he definitely doesn't want to push and even though he's pretty sure Gob's aware of their tension--the same electric pull that sent Tony to his knees that night with the masks--he also still genuinely likes Gob--loves him, maybe--so he doesn't want to screw this up. If Gob needs an out, Tony will give him one.

"If you want to just talk..."

It's as far as he gets before Gob's on him, Tony struck momentarily off guard. It's not that he wasn't expecting it--hell, he's pretty sure he was practically begging for it--more that Gob has this way of occupying every inch of space around him, Tony consumed as easily as air. It leaves him a little weak-kneed--which if anyone ever asks he'll deny to his dying breath. It's just that Gob's intensity carries into everything he does, including this, Tony clinging because it's either that or get swept away.

He still has to tamp down a surge of panic, Gob unmistakably male, Tony still coming to terms with his sudden and decidedly latent homosexuality. In place of soft curves there are hard lines, and Gob's scruff is rough against his cheek. His hands curled possessively around Tony's hips, one of them snaking back, finding its way under Tony's shirt, calloused fingers fanning across his skin.

And this, this right here is what they could have been doing. Months wasted. And while he promised himself he wouldn't be mad, it's hard not to be annoyed by all that wasted time.

But no. Tony's not going down that road again. They've moved past that. Tonight is about second chances. Double acts and shared hotel rooms; a life Tony wants more than he wants nagging regret and lingering hurt. So instead of wallowing, instead of letting himself get caught in remember how they got from there to here, Tony opts to focus on the here and now, a task that becomes increasingly easy as Gob slowly backs them against the door.

It leaves Tony trapped, surrounded by Gob in ways that his body really, really appreciates. It probably shouldn't be as hot as it is--because honestly, when he thought about them doing this, properly, a second time, he always kind of assumed he'd be the one in control--but Gob's still kissing him, intent like he's making a point. Either that or he's trying really, really hard.

It's then that Tony decides he could maybe do this forever. And sure, he's hard enough to cut diamonds, and really, really wants to fuck, but kissing Gob is fucking addictive in a way he really wasn't prepared for. It sucks, then, to have to break apart for air, but even that turns out to be good, because for a long minute they simply pant against each other, foreheads pressed together as they take in huge gulps of air.

"You wanna go upstairs?" Gob asks, voice all gravely like he's spent the night screaming. Tony can't help but take that as a promise of what's to come.

Not trusting his own voice, Tony doesn't bother answering, just nods his head rapid-fire, openly eager in a way that would embarrass him were the person pressed against him anyone but Gob. In response, Gob shoots him another glassy-eyed, dopey grin.

Breaking apart is easier said than done, so they kind of trip their way upstairs still half connected, Gob's hands wandering, Tony's already working on the button's of Gob's shirt. Unlike Cinco, when they'd planned this and were prepared, this time around there's more than clothes in the way. Gob's wearing a series of wires underneath--the wonder of pyrotechnics--and somewhere in all of that a dove gets free, but eventually the make it, back to the room Tony remembers from Cinco, to the double bed that, the last time he saw it, was covered in glitter and wax.

It's here of all places, standing at the foot of the bed, Gob's shirt on the floor, his fuel bladder hanging from his side, that Gob pauses.

"What?" Tony asks, though it's kind of hard to focus, what with Gob's hands still fluttering against his skin.

"It's just..." is as far as Gob gets before Tony clues in to what he's trying to say, because, yeah, they did both kind of ghost on each other, and if Tony's honest he has to admit he's a little worried about it happening again.

"Why don't we make a date," he says, resuming work on Gob's wires. "We do this now and tomorrow we talk. Over breakfast."

He's never stayed for breakfast before. Not for anyone. But he fully intends to stay for Gob, in part because they do need to talk, but mostly because he likes the idea of waking up next to Gob; likes that there's a chance it'll lead to more sex, that and the kind of relationship he's been thinking about ever since Gob showed up outside his apartment, the two of them discovering they were the same.

Gob doesn't say anything, but he does nod, like he wants that too but doesn't trust himself to speak. It makes Tony want to kiss him again, so he casts aside the last of Gob's wires and reaches up to cup Gob's jaw. He's expecting a bit of resistance--for Gob to reassert himself like did downstairs--but instead Gob just kind of melts, like maybe he really likes being manhandled, like maybe the way he shivered that first night together had less to do with the air conditioning and more to do with the feel of Tony tugging at his hair.

It's good enough for Tony, who uses Gob's sudden acquiescence as permission to walk them back towards the bed.

Everything after that is magic. And not the illusion kind. It's the kind that makes him think that maybe there's something more to life than misdirection and the upstaging of careers. That maybe, if they're lucky, there might even be more to life than double acts and the sharing of rooms.

~*~

Tony isn't the first person to share his bed, but he is the first person Gob's wanted to curl up next to, maybe even spend the day with, lingering in bed, bathing in the warmth of sunlight as it flooding the room. The problem, of course, is his bladder, so Gob carefully extracts himself out from under Tony's arm--god, who knew Tony was a spooner? Or that Gob so thoroughly enjoyed being spooned?--sits up and throws his legs over the side of the bed.

He doesn't mean to wake Tony--had planned on climbing right back into bed--but Tony wakes all the same, sitting bolt upright like he's half afraid Gob's trying to slip away. Gob can't quite suppress a grin, Tony with bedhead a sight to behold.

"Relax, I'm all out of forget-me-nows. Gave my last one to Michael that..."

"Night you didn't take one," Tony finishes. Gob doesn't miss the accusation in his tone.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise, but it is, Gob having thought they'd moved past this last night. It felt like they had, anyway, like months of miscommunication ceased to exist, the two of them finally on the same page.

"Hey, you didn't take one either," Gob reminds him. He still has to pee, but this is a conversation they probably should have had last night, preferably before they took off their clothes.

"Yeah, okay, but I only said I'd taken one because I thought you'd taken one," Tony tells him, and, okay, Gob gets that.

"Yeah, well, the only reason I didn't take one was because I gave my last one to Michael," Gob says. He means it as a rebuttal, a point in his favour, though the second it's out he realizes it was a mistake.

"I mean..."

"You were going to take one," Tony whispers, sounding decidedly hurt.

This isn't at all what he meant when he said they should talk about this. Because yeah, he screwed up, but they both did and he was kind of hoping, what with having had each other's cocks in their mouths last night, that maybe they were past all this, the whole roofie-not-roofie thing utterly irrelevant at this point.

"It wasn't personal," Gob tries.

"Right..."

"I'm serious. Look, I'm kind of new to this whole gay thing, in case you haven't noticed. I freaked out."

"That's another thing. You're not gay," Tony tells him. He's sitting up now, his legs drawn defensively into his chest. Gob's had enough relationship fights to know the position isn't good. God, he should have just stayed in bed.

"Neither are you," Gob counters, because, all evidence to the contrary, they are kind of coming at this from the same place.

They've had this conversation, of course. The not-gay, show business conversation where they confessed their mutually exclusive cons and promised to set all of that aside in the name of hitherto unexplored gay sex that they were both, at the time, quite eager to have.

As they went three rounds last night, Gob's pretty sure he's now had enough gay sex to definitely decide he's gay. Or at least, gay for Tony, which given that he kind of wants to settle down with Tony and maybe have them spend the rest of their lives together pretty much makes him exclusively gay. Or something like that.

"Look," Gob tries. "I meant what I said last night. I think this could work, I mean, if you're interested... I know I'm not gay. Or I wasn't gay. Or we weren't gay... But it doesn't matter, cause I'm pretty sure we're gay now so..."

All of that sounded so much better in his head.

"I freaked out, okay. And it took me a while to figure out that I... That we... That..."

"The experience was transcendent and you wanted to do it again?" Tony offers. Gob needs almost a full minute to process that.

It's not that it's not accurate--though it does take him a minute to recall the definition of the word--but hearing Tony say it... He's not an idiot. He figured out years ago what it meant when his heart got hard. He's just never experienced it quite so strongly before. He still has to pee, but even that doesn't matter, Tony staring at him like he's waiting for an answer, still tense, though tentative around the edges, like maybe he's open to reconciliation, Gob's answer make or break. Careful not to upset the delicate balance they've established, Gob slips back into bed.

"You know, if you'd said that in your message, I probably wouldn't have run," Gob says, aiming for seductive. He's not expecting Tony's snorted laughter, but it's better than Tony kicking him out of bed, so Gob takes it as a win.

"You still would have run," Tony tells him, and yeah, that's probably true, and since they're aiming for honesty here...

"I would have ran," Gob admits. Hell, he kinda wants to run now, though that might just be the part where he let Tony stick a finger up his ass.

Still, they're flirting again, which is nice Gob decides, flirting always better than fighting. Plus Tony's relaxed his stance, his body sinking down into the mattress, knees no longer pressed against his chest. After a minute, he curls onto his side so that they're facing each other, heat now spilling between them. It makes Gob want to push his luck, so he reaches out and lets a hand curl around Tony's hip. Tony's smile tells him it was the right choice.

"So now what?" Tony asks, though Gob can tell the thought is idle, the entirety of Tony's attention focused on the hand currently trailing up and down Gob's arm.

It's a good question, but one Gob doesn't get a chance to answer, Tony's phone ringing, Tony giving him an apologetic look before scrambling to retrieve it from his clothes. Together they glance at the screen, Wayne Jarvis likely an important call.

Tony shoots him an apologetic look, the I have to answer this going unspoken. It's probably for the best, getting Tony's murder charges dropped definitely their most pressing issue. Besides, the promise of round four notwithstanding, Gob still needs to pee.

Chapter Text

~*~

He has no idea why he's doing this. Why he keeps doing this. Why everytime he thinks he's free they somehow manage to suck him back in. It's not that he hates his family--though he should. It's just that there's a limit to the number of sacrifices a person can make before they finally concede defeat. Years of bending over backwards for them and what does he have to show for it? A son who hates him. A brother who roofies him to avoid admitting his gay--as if Michael didn't already know, Gob's stint with the Hot Cops a dead giveaway. Then there's his parents, who'd let their own child rot in jail before they owned up to a mistake. God. He was right to leave. In fact, the only mistake he made was coming back.

The thought of leaving, of turning around and this time never coming back, is just as appealing as it was the last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. And who knows, maybe this time it'll stick. Maybe this time he won't come back. That'll show them. Except if he does that there's a good chance Buster's going to land himself back in jail and Michael's too good a brother to let that happen. Again.

So maybe this was inevitable. It feels inevitable, anyway, Michael storming into the beach house--and he's still mad about that--high on self-righteous indignation because this time he has them dead to rights.

"You killed her, didn't you?" he asks the second he's through the door.

As expected, his parents are there, them and some guy Michael doesn't know, three point of a triangle in a sort of weaponless truel--and Michael should know; he ran a truel strategy workshop in his family defense class.

Whatever he interrupted, they're frozen now, the three of them staring at Michael like they're not quite sure who he is--though, for the guy Michael doesn't know, the expression is likely genuine. His mother, naturally, is the first to blink.

"I'm sorry, I have no idea what you're talking about," she says, feigning casualness by taking a sip of her breakfast wine. The man Michael doesn't know takes this as his cue to slip quietly out the back door. Michael doesn't ask.

"Oh, you know what I'm talking about. Lucille 2. You killed her. Didn't you? You killed her and you were just going to sit back and let Buster take the fall."

They ignore him, of course, dismissing Michael like him storming into the vacation home they hid from him is par for the course, like any minute now he's going to come to his senses and leave. Nice try, mother. Nice try.

"Nice try," Michael says. "I already know you did it, so just admit it and we can all go home."

It gets his mother's attention, anyway, though she has the audacity to snort, like it's Michael who's being ridiculous and she's somehow a saint for tolerating his presence. That thing about not hating his family? Scratch that from the record. Because he does. He really, really does.

"Michael," his father sense, perhaps sensing his wife's resolve, "we didn't kill Lucille."

Not one to let her husband get the upper hand, Michael's mother chimes in.

"Your father's right. We didn't kill Lucille. Why would we? She was my oldest, dearest friend. Besides, I heard that awful magician killed her. You know, the one your brother's obsessed with."

There's a good chance, Michael realizes, that both his parents already know. Maybe not that Gob and Tony are... whatever they are. But certainly that Gob is gay. At the very least, they suspect it.

"Yeah, well, I hate to break it to you but that magician has an alibi, which means Buster's once again their main suspect. I can't believe you'd let your own son go to jail for something you did."

"Michael, you've got it all wrong," his father says again. "Your mother and I... We're not perfect. We know we're not. But we had nothing to do with this. You have to believe me."

"Right," Michael says, because when is denial ever a precursor to innocence. "And Buster did?"

His father shrugs.

"Of course he didn't, Michael," his mother says. Her glass is empty now, so she starts into the kitchen to fill it. "We'd assumed, after those photographs surfaced, that she'd run off to Mexico with Oscar. They were together, you know. Fooling around. The absolute nerve of... What he ever saw in her..."

Still stuck on his vertex, Michael's father clears his throat. The look Lucille shoots him is daggers.

"No one cares what you think," she snaps before turning her attention back to Michael. "But if she wasn't with Oscar, then the last person she was seen with was..."

Michael waits. It takes him a minute to realize the expression she's wearing is meant to portray pitying.

"But you're right," she continues without finishing the thought. "We don't want to see our son in jail. Which is why we haven't told anyone we saw the two of you together. You were the last person to see her alive, Michael. Not me. Not your father. Not Buster. So the question is, what did you do with her?"

"Me?" Michael asks, incredulous, because he hasn't seen Lucille 2 since...

And actually, that's kind of hazy. Weirdly hazy because hadn't he intended to see her? Hadn't he wanted a chance to stave off the collection of her loan? Wasn't he...

Damn it. Gob. Of course. In all of the excitement. In all the running around accusing people of murder Michael forgot about the roofies. That still doesn't mean he killed her. Why would he do that? What could he possibly hope to gain from...

Okay, a lot, but that doesn't mean...

"Okay, you know what, you're right, maybe I was the last person to see her alive, but that doesn't mean I killed her. And you know what. The police need to know that. They need all the available information at the fingertips. So if I didn't kill her and you didn't kill her and Buster didn't kill her and Gob's... friend didn't kill her, then they'll just have to find who did."

His mother stares at him over the rim of her newly filled glass. After a minute or so, she shakes her head.

"Have you lost your mind?" she asks. "They'll arrest you."

"Better me than Buster," Michael tells her. He thinks he might even mean it.

"Oh, please. Buster might not deserve prison, but he's certainly not doing anyone any good out here."

It's the sort of thing he expects from his mother, so Michael barely flinches.

"Your mother's right," his father says, though the words are strained, like he had to force them past his tongue. "Buster's expendable. You're not. Let him take the fall. It's not like they're going to convict him. Reasonable doubt, Michael. That's all a jury needs."

"I can't believe you," Michael tells him, and then, because he doesn't want to exclude his mother in this, adds, "either of you."

Because despite what he's told his son, juries convict innocent people all the time. And regardless of Buster's usefulness, he doesn't belong in jail. It leaves Michael with precious little options. If they're right, if he was the last person to see Lucille Austero alive, then going to the police is the right thing to do. At the very least it'll give him a chance to redeem himself; to show his son he's still the man his son thought he was. A good man. A man who does the right thing.

~*~

Most days Carol loves her job. The exceptions being the days when her boss, Wayne Jarvis, ends up on a case he knows he can't win. The Wonder case, she suspects, is becoming such a case.

"Good morning," he greets her with just a hint of professionally suppressed irritation.

"Good morning, Mr. Jarvis," she tells him before rattling off his missed calls and reminding him of his upcoming appointments. Wayne Jarvis, because he's a professional, takes it all in stride.

"We'll need to push back my 9:00," he tells her. "Something urgent came up and I need to call a client."

Carol shoots off a text.

They're in his office now, Wayne seated behind his desk, Carol standing before him, phone in hand, awaiting additional instructions. She has a feeling she knows who the client is, so it isn't a surprise when he has her pull out Tony Wonder's file.

"Would you like me to transcribe?" she asks as he reaches for the phone.

"That would be optimal," Wayne tells her.

Carol, because she too is a professional, wastes no time settling behind her stenograph machine. Wayne, trusting her to do her job, puts the phone on speaker and places the call.

~*~

Client File: Wonder, Tony
Case #: 07734 608
Defense: Jarvis, Wayne, Attorney at Law

Transcription: Client phone conversation, 8:45 am, 10th July, 2015.

Transcript Begins

***

Wonder, T, Defendant: Hey, what's up?

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: We have a small problem.

Wonder, T, Defendant: No, it's good. I talked to Gob (indistinct background noise). He's agreed to testify.

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: No, that's the problem. They've identified him as the driver.

Wonder, T, Defendant: What driver?

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: The driver. In the stair car photograph. They think he was involved. Apparently your... relationship is public knowledge. Something about coming out of a closet at a parade. Please don't explain. Regardless, they've identified him as an accomplice. They're issuing a warrant for his arrest.

Wonder, T, Defendant: What? How is that possible? He's my alibi. (Indistinct background noise). Yeah, hang on. Also, we didn't do anything wrong.

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: The DA says otherwise. Apparently your alibi had a previous relationship with Ms. Austero. It doesn't look good for you.

Wonder, T, Defendant: Sorry, he had a what?

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: I would suggest you ask your alibi. It's motive, Tony. So unless you want to turn informant...

Wonder, T, Defendant: (strangled) What? No. He didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. Look, we were together. We...

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: That's not going to do you much good in court. Right now it's your word against the DA's, so unless you've got proof...

Wonder, T, Defendant: Right. Yeah, well... How long do we have?

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: Paperwork was filed today, so at best I'd say 48 hours. Probably more like 24.

Wonder, T, Defendant: So what do we do?

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: Unfortunately nothing, though I would suggest your friend find himself a good lawyer.

Wonder, T, Defendant: Yeah, okay. Thanks, I guess.

Jarvis, W, Attorney at Law: You don't need to thank me. This is covered under the terms of our agreement.

End of call.

***

Transcript ends.

~*~

Tony's not gonna lie. He saw this ending. Or rather, he envisioned all the ways in which this could possibly go wrong. He didn't mean to. Sometimes you just finds yourself hiding out in a suitcase, bored and oxygen deprived, the spiraling monotony of you thoughts the only thing you've got to occupy your time. So he thought about this ending. Right after he thought about it beginning. And endless cycle of possibilities. Reconcile with Gob. Break up.

It's been a roller coaster of a few weeks.

The thing, though, that he thinks is the point, anyway, is that he got the beginning scenario right. Or at least, right enough that it almost warranted the sixteen straight hours he spent spinning it. He did show up on Gob's doorstep. Gob did let him in. They did, mostly, tear each other's clothes off, and while maybe Tony didn't use his teeth and maybe Gob didn't propose, they still had some pretty amazing sex, and as of twelve minutes ago Tony was pretty sure they were going to have some more.

So it beginning... That's not the problem. The problem is the ending, because out of all the scenarios he spun, not one included them going to prison for something neither of them did.

And okay, maybe, if they're lucky, they'll end up in the same prison, possibly sharing the same cell, but Tony knows the odds are stacked against them so he's not banking on it. More than likely they'll end stuck across the hall, Tony bunking with a gang leader named Bill, Gob stuck with some sex offender named Tobias. And sure, they'll be able to stare at each other through the bars, and maybe, when no one's looking they'll write each other notes on strips of toilet paper that they'll then crumple up and throw to each other, but that's not what he wants, not when they've only just found their way back to each other.

"Okay, I think you need to breath," Gob says from his place beside the bed.

Tony's trying. He really, really is.

It would have been better, he thinks, to discover Gob was conning him, that last night, the things they did to each other, the things they said, were all a ruse, Gob enacting revenge, still mad at Tony for the cement. That at least he could understand. And sure, it would have sucked, and it would have broken his heart, but at least then they'd have a chance. A chance for counter-revenge and rivalry and do-overs that ended in forever-after and sex.

Prison on the other hand...

"That was my lawyer," Tony begins. He doesn't get any further than that, his voice cracking, Tony forced to stop and clear his throat. "They think you were driving the car. You know. The one with the stairs."

Gob, who's always been good at following him, gives a brief nod.

"He said they're issuing a warrant for your arrest."

It's painful, watching Gob's eyes grow wide.

"Unless we can prove we were together, here, they're calling you an accomplice."

This isn't how he wanted to spend this morning. Almost all of his beginning scenarios saw them having breakfast, tossing bits of egg at each other until one of them choked. They'd joke about it later. Call it their thing, the heimlich maneuver permanently romantic.

"But I didn't... We didn't..."

"I know. God, it's almost too bad we didn't ask what's her name to stay."

"Who?

"You know, the girl with the face. You almost married her."

"Right. Her. I can't believe you have a kid with her."

It's a mark of how in sync they are that they both start laughing. It's not funny--okay, it is funny--but they're still facing life in prison, which isn't exactly a laughing matter, so...

"She wouldn't have stayed," Gob says. "Something about having a moral objection to threesomes, whatever that means."

They share another bout of laughter, Tony tempted to ask if she'd moved for Gob like she hadn't for him. The thought lasts just until Tony finds himself picturing it happening, the thought of Gob touching someone else oddly disturbing.

"Yeah," Tony says half-heartedly. "We probably should have just made a sex tape."

He's expecting more laughter, not for Gob to go suddenly silent, like he's only just remembered something; like he's pretty sure, whatever it is, Tony's not gonna like it.

"Gobie?" Tony still asks.

"Actually," Gob begins. "About that..."

Chapter Text

~*~

Lt. Toddler got to where she is today because she learned to trust her instincts. And right now those instincts are telling her they've got the wrong man. Or possibly men, as the case may be, a third warrant apparently in the works.

Exactly how many Bluths do they plan on accusing of this crime?

And okay, there's a connection. And possibly motive. But the facts still don't line up, none of it making a lick of sense.

Try telling that to her superiors.

Because while she's pretty sure the DA office knows the don't have a case--grainy photographs do not a conviction make--the precinct has all but closed the books, Tony Wonder as good as guilty as far as they're concerned, never mind that he has neither motive nor intent.

Apparently all they need is a photograph. And okay, the guys in forensic imaging aren't exactly amateurs, so if they say it's Tony Wonder in the car--if they say it's Gob Bluth behind the wheel--then Toddler can see why the precinct would believe them.

Except, Toddler's seen the photograph--has a copy of it hanging from the bulletin board above her desk--and while she's not an imaging expert, she did spend her pre-law enforcement years pursuing a degree in the performing arts, so she knows a wig when she sees one, and looking at that photograph, Lt. Toddler's pretty sure she sees two.

Which means Lucille Austero's killer is still on the loose. Meanwhile an innocent man is facing life in prison, his possibly not so innocent boyfriend next on the list. If nothing else, it's her duty to set that right.

Which might take a while, she thinks, picking her way through the twelve boxes of evidence currently sprawled on the floor of her office. There's another two in storage, but solutions don't just fall into your lap. Solving a case takes time and dedication, that and plenty of hard work. It's not like someone's just going to wander into her office, offer her a key piece of evidence that'll break the case wide open.

"I think I might have been the last person to see Lucille Austero alive."

And okay, apparently that's exactly what someone's going to do.

"Sorry, you think?" she asks, still processing the appearance of Michael Bluth, him the last Bluth she expected to see. Also, it seems an important point to clarify.

"I don't actually know," Michael says. He's standing just inside the door to her office, exuding a sort of... solecism that makes it look like he's got something to hide. It reminds her faintly of the first time they met.

"You don't know?"

Best, Toddler thinks, to play this dumb.

"Sorry, let me clarify," Michael says. Toddler wishes he would.

"I've been told I was the last person to see her alive, but I don't actually remember seeing her, so..."

That's gonna take some tracing, the statement alone about two hours of legwork.

"You don't remember seeing her?"

Somewhere in all of that, he must have heard an invitation Toddler didn't offer, because he comes fully into the room and casts about for a place to sit. In the end, he opts to perch on the corner of an evidence box. It's either that or sit cross-legged on the floor. Toddler remains standing, the desk between them.

"It's kind of complicated. My brother fed me a forget-me-now."

Her confusion must show, a look that's sometimes helpful in interrogation, a surprisingly large number of people equipped with a strong instinct to explain.

"Sorry, a roofie," Michael says. Toddler's trying not to give the game away, but even she can't control her eyebrows in the face of that news.

"Your brother force-fed you Rohypnol?" she clarifies, fingers now itching for a pen.

"It's not what you think. Obviously, it's what you think, but it's not a criminal thing. More like a magician thing. They all do it. You know, in case they accidentally give away a trick."

That's news to Toddler, who makes a mental note to have a word with the Magician's Alliance here in town.

"So he roofied you because you figured out one of his tricks?"

"What? Oh, no. He roofied me because I walked in on him and Tony Wonder. Possibly having sex. So, actually, I guess I owe him one."

He's waiting for her to laugh. Toddler can tell. She doesn't. She's far too interested in the rest of what he's said, because memory loss aside, Michael's pretty much just confirmed the whereabouts of two key suspects.

"Can I ask you something?" she asks, which, given that it's a question, sort of defeats the point, but people who answer yes to redundant questions tend to be a bit more open to legitimate questions, so...

"Of course."

"Do you think your brother killed Lucille Austero?"

No point beating around the bush. Besides, Toddler's less interested in his answer and more interested in his reaction.

"Who? Buster? No, of course not. Buster wouldn't hurt a fly."

Interesting.

"I meant the other one. Gowb."

"It's Gob," Michael tells her, without answering the question. Again, interesting. "Like Joe, but with a B."

"My apologies," Toddler tells him. "Do you think Gob killed her?"

This whole conversation seems to be going in circles. Michael's still perched on his box, with Toddler still standing behind her desk. The case is strewn around them, the entire Bluth family featured on her board.

"No. Of course not. I mean, unless it was an accident. But no. He wouldn't... Besides, he's gay now. Or I guess maybe he was always gay. I mean, I always thought he was gay but... Right. Not the point," Michael finishes in response to another eyebrow. The Bluth family, Toddler decides, warrants their reputation.

"Did you kill her?" she asks, hoping to catch him off guard. If Michael's expression is anything to go on, she's succeeded.

"No. Obviously not," he tells her.

"But you don't remember what happened."

"But that doesn't mean I killed her. I mean, you don't think I killed her. Do you?"

Toddler considers.

"I'm not sure. Did you have anything to gain by killing her?"

Despite their location, despite the feigned casualness of Michael's pose, this is beginning to feel a little like an interrogation.

"I mean, I guess I owed her some money. But it was a loan, fair and square, and I was going to pay her back. I mean, I was eventually going to pay her back. But she gave me an extension. Or I guess I was going to ask her for an extension. Not that it matters because she... Or I guess my parents forgave the loan."

There's a rabbit hole here, Toddler decides. She's just not sure how far down it goes. And maybe all the Bluths are involved. It wouldn't be the first time. Still, something feels off, her instincts not quite aligning. She's missing something. She's sure of it. The trick to solving this will be to figure out who holds the missing piece.

"I'm going to ask you to file a statement," Lt. Toddler says, because the Bluths seem as good a place as any to start.

To her surprise, Michael agrees.

~*~

"You're mad at me."

Gob says it like he can't understand why. Like he did that night on Tony's doorstep, right before Tony caved and let him in.

"You filmed us having sex without my permission," Tony reminds him. Gob seems to be having a hard time grasping that.

"No. I didn't film us having sex. John Beard filmed us having sex. And technically he didn't get my permission either, so..."

The sincerity with which Gob says this shouldn't be this endearing. Anyone else, Tony would be livid. Anyone else, he would have stormed out the door. That he's still in bed--still naked--says more about his feelings for Gob than Tony necessarily wants to admit.

"But you knew about them," Tony says, because that at least is a valid point.

Gob, who hasn't yet made it back into the bed--and Tony has to remind himself that's a good thing, he is mad after all--kind of flails a little bit, gesturing broadly even as he crosses the room.

"Okay, but in my defense, I'd just found out you were straight and I wanted to get revenge," he says.

"By filming us having gay sex? Or normal sex. Normal, gay sex?"

There's a point in there. Of that Tony's sure. It's just hard to focus on what that point is when you're arguing with a naked man, especially when you yourself are also naked. It's a lot of naked, anyway. A lot of naked and very little sex and Tony's pretty sure there's a rule about that.

"No," Gob says, shaking his head, like Tony's the slow one, Gob frustrated by his inability to keep up. If Tony wasn't already mad, that would do it.

"I told you all this," Gob continues. "You were going to have fake gay sex with... what's her name... but she was going to be wearing the mask. And then in the middle of having fake gay sex, she was going to take off the mask to reveal you'd been having straight sex all along."

Gob says this like it's perfectly reasonable. Like there isn't about twelve things wrong with the statement, including the part where Tony's not an idiot and, probably, would have known.

"So your plan was to out me as straight," Tony still clarifies.

"We've been over this," Gob reminds him. And yeah, they have. "And it's not like you didn't out me as gay during that whole parade-cement stunt, so I'd say that makes us pretty even."

That trips him up for a minute, because, scarily, Gob's logic is pretty sound. Plus, they have been over this. He knew about the whole Bland-mask thing. So he can't really fault Gob for that. The tapes... Actually, he kind of wants to see those. They're probably really, really hot.

"Can we focus on the part where we have a sex tape," Tony says, as much for himself as for Gob.

"Okay, but it's not like everyone doesn't already know we're gay," Gob says, like this too is reasonable, and, yeah, it kind of is. Except...

"Can I see it?" Tony asks, because there's still the part where it's probably really, really hot.

Gob, who's finally made it to the end of the bed, shakes his head. He gives Tony a somewhat pleading look, one that Tony responds to by shifting over. It's not forgiveness, but it's not rejection either, Tony still not sure how he feels about the whole thing.

"I don't have it," Gob tells him, tripping Tony back into mad.

"What do you mean you don't have it?"

Instead of answering, Gob's features go all funny again, like he's both surprised and hurt by Tony's anger. Part of Tony wants to shake him because, honestly, no amount of amazing, sexuality redefining sex should require this level of complication. The rest of him wants to reach out and the smooth the lines furrowing Gob's brow, Tony hating that he's somehow made Gob upset.

God, they're an absolute mess.

"I'm serious, who the fuck has our tape," Tony presses.

"You're mad at me again," Gob says instead of answering, which, yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Except that he's not mad. Not really. Mostly he's just completely out of his depth because not once in all his... not long, but not short either years has he been the mature, responsible one. The notion of it is vaguely terrifying.

"Gob..." Tony warns.

"John Beard has it. The cameras were for his show. You know, that one where they set up bait houses to catch perverts."

"Okay, first off, ew," Tony says, making a face. He likes the idea of John Beard having their sex tape even less than he did them having a sex tape--well, except for the part where he still wants to see it--so it's not exactly welcome news.

Gob waves him off, like none of this should be a particular concern. Tony shoots him a glare.

"It's fine. They took the show off the air. The tapes are probably sitting in storage somewhere."

He decides right then and there that this must be love. Anyone else he would have throttled.

"Still not good, Gob," Tony says.

"No, but it's fine," Gob says, rapid-fire like he's hastening to explain. He takes the opportunity to slip back into bed, invading Tony's space. Tony, god help him, can't bring himself to object.

"Define fine."

"You didn't let me finish. If the tapes are sitting in storage, and we find that storage..."

"We find the tape," Tony finishes. Gob shoots him a grin. Tony almost feels bad about what comes next.

"Small problem. How are we going to get access? I doubt they leave them in the front hall. There's probably security and cameras and..."

"I'll get Beard to grant us access," Gob interrupts, like it's really that simple, like John Beard's just going to hand over the tape.

Tony says as much.

"Not John Beard. Joni Beard. She's his ex-wife. And my ex-beard. But don't worry. We ended it on good terms. Or goodish terms. Okay terms. Nobody got set on fire terms, anyway. But she's an anchor now. She's got access to all the storage rooms. I think."

John Beard having their sex tape is one thing. Hell, Gob knowing they were secretly filming a sex tape is one thing. Asking for help from one of Gob's exes on the other hand...

"How long's it been since the two if you..."

He doesn't want to know. It's driving him crazy that he doesn't.

"Oh... Couple weeks ago, I guess," Gob tells him, like this is somehow perfectly okay. Like Tony's just supposed to accept that two weeks ago Gob was fucking around with some girl while he was trapped in a suitcase, trying not to cry.

"You're mad at me again," Gob says, clearly sensing the change in Tony's mood.

"I'm not mad," Tony says, because he's pretty sure that's not what this is. "It's just... All this time I thought we were... And then it turns out you were..."

"Oh. No," Gob says, sounding oddly relieved. "I wasn't fucking her. I mean, I could have, if I'd wanted to... But I didn't want to. I haven't... you know, with anyone... Not since we..."

"Same," Tony says before Gob can finish, because, yeah, same.

Gob lights up at that, his features going all soft, and then just a little seductive because they are both back in bed, still naked, and there's still that whole naked-sex rule thing.

"No, wait, stop," Tony manages, shaking his head. Gob's heat is confusing the issue. As is Gob's leg, the one that's trying its best to slip beneath his own.

"Hmmm," Gob says, though Tony can tell he's kind of lost the thread of the conversation.

"This is kind of serious, Gobie. We're really just going to walk into a news studio, when you may or may not have a warrant out for your arrest, and then ask your ex... beard?" Gob nods. "To help us find our sex tape?"

"Which we can then use to prove our innocence," Gob says, like this is all very reasonable. His hand has somehow landed on Tony's chest, fingers curling in Tony's chest hair.

"Right," Tony says, smacking his hand away. "On board that plan. Good plan. But how exactly are you going to convince this... beard lady to help us?"

Gob seems to consider that, his expression growing somewhat contemplative. Tony stamps down a near immediate surge of rage.

"You're not sleeping with her," he says, because that part's final.

"Actually, I might have a better idea," Gob says. He then proceeds to tell Tony the plan.

Chapter Text

~*~

"Is the blouse too tight?" Joni asks her assistant. She honestly can't tell. Pre-augmentation, clothes would feel restrictive, but with these new implants everything just feels numb.

"No, you're good," her assistant tells her.

Joni's suspects she's lying, but then again each button that pulls is a two point ratings increase, so maybe she'll just leave the shirt as is. They're on the air in 30 minutes, anyway, and a shirt change requires a touch up in hair and makeup, so it's probably for the best.

Although, on second thought, maybe the top two buttons undone with a big chunky necklace to draw attention up the neck. That would work. Gesturing in the direction of wardrobe, Joni sends her assistant in search of one.

She's not expecting a quick turn around, so when her assistant returns a few seconds later, empty handed, Joni shoots her a look. The girl gives an apologetic smile, like she knows they're pressed for time but has a plausible excuse for not completing her task.

"What is it?" Joni asks.

"Sorry. It's just... there's someone here to see you. They said it was urgent and I..."

"Who is it?" Joni asks, because if it's John come crawling back he can show himself out. She's not falling for that again.

"Um... He said his name is Jobe," the girl says.

Joni rolls her eyes because of course he'd turn up. Someone probably accused him of being gay again and now he's here to paw at her in a vain attempt to reassert his heterosexuality. Joni hates that she's forced to tolerate it--the crying, dear god, the crying is the worst--but personal feelings aside, he's still the best shot she's got at a Bluth family exclusive.

"Where is he?" Joni asks. They have twenty-eight minutes.

"Your office," her assistant tells her. Joni thanks the girl and then sends her on her way. If she's as good as the temp agency promised, Joni will find a necklace waiting for her when she gets back.

She expects to find Gob fluttering about, looking as awkward as he does desperate, the man pathetic in ways that almost garner sympathy. Not enough to set aside her plans, however, the Bluth family the holy mecca of journalism, the person who cracks them almost guaranteed a peabody. John doesn't have a peabody. If Joni accomplishes anything in life, it'll be to receive one before he does.

Gob, however, isn't fluttering. In fact, he isn't even alone, though it takes her a minute to register his companion, Joni caught off guard by what she thinks is Gob's version of a disguise. He's wearing a ridiculous straw hat, anyway, that and an obviously fake false moustache that looks like it might have been harvested from a goat. She's tempted to ask, but she's not sure she really wants to know. Instead she turns her attention to the man standing at his side; the one Gob shifted away from the second Joni entered the room.

Tony Wonder is instantly recognizable. He's exactly as Joni pictured him, anyway. He's one of those people she suspects exudes charm without even trying. Even now, staring at Gob like Gob's just cut out his heart, his hurt openly on display, there's something about him that captures the eye. Joni spends a long minute staring before she lets her gaze slide back to Gob. Gob is staring at Tony, too, expression tentatively apologetic.

It wasn't a surprise at the parade and it's not a surprise now, but there's still something unexpected about the two of them, like they haven't quite figured out how to coordinate but are still desperately trying. It doesn't take a genius to know they're together--or if they're not they want to be--but it also doesn't take a genius to know Gob's nowhere near ready for all that entails. Tony, on the other hand...

So many ways to play this. So many ways to gain the upper hand.

"Hey, sugar," Joni decides. Gob startles at the diminutive. Tony stiffens, looking suddenly on the verge of rage.

He takes a step closer to Gob, anyway, marking his territory, Joni thinks. It's cute and endearing in ways that make her wonder what they'd be like together in front of a camera. Now there's an angle.

"Joni," Gob says, casting a glance in Tony's direction. She's pretty sure he knows Tony's upset, just as she's equally sure he's terrified of doing anything about it. At least, not while she's here.

"Relax, sweetie. I get it. So, this is the guy, huh? Gotta say, I thought he'd be taller."

The dig earns her a scowl, but at least Gob relaxes, like now that he knows she knows he's free to stop pretending. Truth be told, she likes that about him, Gob earnest in the way most people aren't. It's almost always to his detriment, but watching the two of them now, she thinks maybe he might have found someone willing to overlook his shortcomings. Maybe even someone who might appreciate them instead.

"Why don't we cut to the chase," Joni says, when it becomes obvious neither of them have figured out what to say. "You want something. What is it?"

Gob and Tony exchange a look. To Joni's surprise, it's Tony who answers.

"We think the studio is in possession of some tapes that we'd be interested in getting our hands on," he tells her.

Joni can still feel her eyebrows natural inclination to arch--they can't of course, botox better than shellac for freezing things in place.

"What tapes?" she asks, already spinning the possibilities.

Gob and Tony exchange another glance, this one laden with intrigue. It's Gob who answers.

"The ones from your ex-husband's old show. From when they used the model house as a bait house."

He's talking about To Catch a Predator, John's baby. He cried when they took it off the air. Or rather, pouted a lot, botox bad for tear ducts, too. Joni can't say she wasn't pleased.

"How old was she?" Joni asks, directing the question at Gob. Eighteen's usually his limit, though given that the man is both desperate and stupid, it was bound to happen.

"What? No," Gob says. He casts a nervous glance in Tony's direction, but to Joni's surprise he sounds sincere.

"It's us in the tape," Tony interjects. It takes all of three seconds before the comment registers, Joni snorting a laugh because only Gob would accidentally make a gay sex tape.

Unless it's something more insidious... Tony Wonder is the lead suspect in Lucille Austero's murder. Screw the Bluth family. Those tapes might be all she needs. Still, it's probably best to approach this with caution.

Joni glances at her watch. Fourteen minutes.

"I'll make you a deal," she says, needing to hasten this along. "You tell me what's on the tapes, I'll tell you if I know where they are."

Tony, she suspects, knows exactly what she's doing, so Joni focuses her attention on Gob. Given his expression, she half expects him to start stammering.

"I..."

"It's a sex tape," Tony says, like he knows exactly what she was thinking and recognizes sex as the better alternative. "And it proves our innocence."

"Your innocence?" Joni asks, casting a glance between them. Gob gives a faint shrug.

"Apparently there's a warrant impending for my arrest. They think I'm an accomplice."

God. This just gets better and better. At this point it's almost worth delaying the show.

"But," Tony says, "neither of us killed Lucille Austero. The tape is from the night of her murder and we're both in it... doing other things."

Joni can imagine. Actually, scratch that, she can't. In her mind sex with Gob involves a lot of waiting around while Gob stands at the foot of the bed, forlorn, his head bowed, his erection not exactly forthcoming.

"Okay. So let me get this straight. The tape is your alibi."

Tony nods. The tape's value quadruples.

It's not even just the prospect of using the tape as leverage. The tape itself has value. There's ratings in it, anyway. Big ratings. That and a chance to break open a case no one else has thought to explore.

"Your tape's in archive," Joni says. "I can requisition it."

"Great," Gob says, like that's all settled. Tony, however, narrows his gaze.

"What do you want in exchange for it?" he asks, and oh, Joni likes him. It's almost too bad he's gay.

Twelve minutes.

"I want rights to the story," Joni tells him. "I want to interview you, live, on air, before the charges are dropped. I want to air clips from the tape. Discreet ones. And..." Here she shifts her focus to Gob. "I want the inside scoop on the Bluths."

Naturally Gob is immediately on board--Joni's pretty sure he wouldn't know a bad deal if it bit him in the ass--but Tony's a bit more reluctant. He looks like he's on the verge of haggling, so Joni makes a show of glancing at her watch.

"I'm on air in ten, and either way I'm requisitioning the tapes," she tells him, trusting Tony's smart enough to know when he's beat.

"Fine. But we get to see it first," he says. "And you can't show the part with the masks."

She's officially running late now, but Joni can't help but let her gaze shift to Gob, eyes as wide as they'll go given the current limitations of her skin.

"Masks?" she asks. "Seriously? What is it with you and masks?"

She's expecting Gob's embarrassment. What she's not expecting is Tony's sudden anger, the man bristling, his expression incredulous as he spins towards Gob, hurt and outrage openly on display.

"I thought you said you didn't sleep with her?" he says, radiating jealousy in a way that puts Joni on high alert. Gob, on the other hand, seems oddly flattered by the display.

"Oh believe me," Joni says, cutting this off before it gets ugly. "He didn't. Mostly he just stood there crying, and that was with me wearing the Tony mask."

It's somewhat alarming, watching how quickly Tony deflates, the way his features soften like Gob crying at a woman in a mask is somehow the most endearing thing Gob's ever done. Joni decides right then and there they were made for each other.

"Listen, I hate to interrupt this... whatever this is, but I'm due on air. So do we have a deal, or don't we?"

She looks to Tony, because he's clearly calling the shots. He's also smart enough to know when he's out of options, though not, perhaps, smart enough to know he can simply have his lawyer subpoena the tape. Joni's careful not to mention that part, instead watching as Tony opens and closes his mouth twice before finally giving a curt nod.

"Great, I'll be in touch," she tells them. Three minutes. If she walks fast, she might even have time to put on that necklace.

~*~

The fake moustache Gob found in Tobias' acting box itches like crazy. In hindsight, he maybe should have opted for the blue body paint instead. Still, his goal here is to avoid arrest for as long as possible, which means they can't go back to the model house. Come to think of it, he can't go anywhere the cops might look, and that includes Tony's apartment, his parents penthouse, the yacht, and the Bluth company offices.

Not quite sure where else to go, Gob takes Tony to the closet store, because, as Joni told them, they need to lay low until she gets her hands on the tape.

He's still expecting all of this to blow up in his face. Like any minute now Tony's going to yell, got ya and then disappear, Gob left with nothing but a broken heart. They've been down this road before, after all, Gob thinking they were on the same page only for Tony to turn around and enact revenge. His only consolation is the way Tony keeps glancing in his direction, like he's afraid if he takes his eyes off Gob for second Gob might disappear. It makes Gob feel wanted, a foreign but surprisingly nice feeling that he'd really like to continue to feel.

So he's gonna go out on a limb. Assume they want the same things. That Tony's as into him as he's into Tony. That this time, maybe, they might actually work.

You know, after the whole clearing their names so that they don't end up in jail thing.

The closet store may not have been his best business investment, but buying it was easily the best decision Gob's ever made. The guys there are practically family--better than, because he's definitely not excited about introducing Tony to his actual family, never mind that the closet guys will be excited for him, whereas his actual family will laugh at him and call him a fag.

They glance up as he comes into the store, smiles of recognition becoming tentative hopefulness when they see who he's with. Gob gives them a subtle, though pointed nod, the three of them erupting into grins. It's almost, Gob thinks, like having friends.

Well, except for the part where he still doesn't know their names.

"So..." Tony starts. "You own this place."

He acknowledges the guys with a curt nod, though he seems a bit weirded out by their manic smiles. They guys respond with more enthusiastic nods. The cute one waves.

"Yeah, these are the guys who made the float. The dual closets."

Gob's not sure, but he thinks the feeling he's feeling is pride.

"Oh, right. Yeah, no, that was good." Tony glances around the store, as if seeing it for the first time. "Actually, I can see how a place like this would come in handy with set design," he says, the closest anyone's ever come to praising Gob for a decision. That's a good feeling, too. One he would also like to continue feeling.

"Well, you know, if we wanted to do something together, I'm sure the guys could..."

Gob leaves the rest unsaid, open for interpretation. It's the closest he's come to bringing up the whole double-act, going on the road, shared hotel room thing since that day on the float. He's testing the waters, but if Tony's thoughtful nod is any indication then there's a good chance they're reasonably warm.

"So, Mr. Wonder," one of the closet guys says. Gob tends to think of him as the leader, the cute one and the cute one's friend often deferring to his expertise. "It's nice to finally meet you."

He offers both his hand and his name, before proceeding to introduce the other two. Gob makes a mental note to remember their names this time, though by the time they've made the rounds he's already lost track of who is who. Tony knows them, though, so he'll just have to make sure Tony's always around, an easy task given that Gob wants to spend every waking minute at Tony's side.

Now that introductions are out of the way, there's a lot of standing around awkwardly, the closet guys staring at Tony like they're half expecting a magic trick--which, to be fair, is Tony's specialty--Tony staring at the closet guys like he's still not sure who they are and doesn't understand why they haven't stopped smiling. Possibly, an explanation is in order.

"Sorry to crash your work day," Gob says, "but we need a place to lay low for a bit. You mind if we....?"

He gestures to the back room, figuring they can hide out amongst the samples while they wait for Joni's call. The lead-guy--Paul, Gob thinks--gives a sage nod, like he knows all about hiding out in back rooms and utterly supports Gob's decision.

"Of course, Mr. Bluth," he says. "Whatever you and Mr. Wonder need."

It's not until they're halfway out back before Gob realizes Tony's watching him, like the entire exchange with the closet guys has left him curious and there are questions he's dying to ask. Gob leads them into the storage room and shuts the door behind them before he asks.

"Out of curiosity," Tony says, "is there anyone you haven't mentioned me to?"

Contrary to what Gob was expecting, he doesn't sound upset. If anything he sounds pleased, like he likes the idea of Gob talking about him to the people in his life. Still...

"Yeah, well, I was going through a lot, what with the whole gay panic thing," Gob explains, though now he's curious. "Did you..."

"Well," Tony considers. "There was this really nice baggage handler, but I think he was on drugs, so I'm sure he thought he was hallucinating a talking suitcase."

Tony laughs at that, Gob momentarily caught up in simply enjoying Tony's presence. And sure, he's worried about the tapes. And the arrest warrants. And the part where he's probably not going to get to be president anymore after he's in jail and he doesn't know if the closet guys will come visit him after he's no longer their boss. But right now Tony's smiling at him, Gob sliding a little closer because it's been hours now since they last had sex and...

The thought is interrupted by the ringing of his phone. Thinking it's Joni, Gob lunges for it.

The name on the display belongs to his mother.

Chapter Text

~*~

She should have known it would end like this. In spite of all her efforts, all her hard work and dedication, failure was always an option. And given who she hitched her horse to... Well, she's surprised it didn't end sooner. George, as it turned out, was almost as useless as his brother.

And yet, for all of that she'd hoped at least one of her offspring would make her proud. Not Buster, of course. He's almost as useless as his father. Especially now. What with that hand.

And Lindsay... Lucille has no idea where she went wrong there. No, scratch that. She knows exactly where she went wrong. It was the moment she brought the girl into her house; forged documents and all. And now look at her. No direction. No ambition. The family practically handed her the election and where is she? Certainly not here, making her mother proud.

And then there's Gob. The least said about him the better. How she of all people ended up with a magician for a son. It's mortifying. Better, she thinks, if he were merely gay.

Michael, on the other hand. She had such hopes for Michael. It's almost like he went out of his way to prove her wrong. It would be so like him. Of all her children, he is fast becoming her biggest disappointment. And considering who he's related to... Well, it's a somewhat impressive feat.

And where does that leave her? Stuck without a single person on her side, that's where. She certainly can't fix this on her own, and god knows she's tried. There's nothing else for it. Lindsay's incommunicado. Buster's on the lam. Michael's sitting in an interrogation room. George is god only knows where. So who's she left with?

"Ugh, Gob," Lucille mutters to the empty room. Of all her children, he is by far the worst.

And yet she calls him, because desperate times call for last resorts, or however that expression goes.

"Gob," Lucille says when he finally answers. God forbid he pick up his phone in a reasonable amount of time. Honestly. She should have called Lindsay. "I need your help. Your brother's done something idiotic."

There's an odd scuffling in the background that's followed immediately by muffled talking, Gob undoubtedly with one of those horrid women of his. It's vexing, knowing he would prioritize a guest over his own mother, but then, Gob always was ungrateful, the boy utterly worthless as sons go.

"Look, mom, I'm kinda busy right now," Gob eventually says, like anything he does is even remotely important.

"I'm sure you'll forgive me for interrupting your date. Or is she a prostitute? In which case, tip her an extra twenty and I'm sure she won't mind."

There's another pause, longer this time, followed by more of the same muffled talking. She's devoted her whole life to raising her family, doting on her children and this is what she gets for it. Betrayal. Rejection. Names taped to the bottom of her things.

"Oh, it doesn't matter what you're doing. Your brother's in jail," Lucille continues before Gob's had a chance to object. He wouldn't have, but she likes to think at least one of her children will, at some point, grow a backbone. Lindsay, so far, has come the closest. Now there's something to almost make a mother proud.

"Buster's not in jail, mom," Gob says. "They released him a few days ago."

God. Are they really all this stupid? Her fault, she supposes, for trusting in George's DNA.

"Not him. Your other brother. Michael. He turned himself in," Lucille explains. Given the situation, she's impressed by her patience. Someone ought to consider giving her an award.

"Sorry, what?" Gob asks after another extended pause, this time without the muffled talking, though she can tell there's someone in the background.

"Your brother's in jail," Lucille repeats. She hates that she has to, but Gob's never had good processing speed. He had to have all sorts of accommodations in school.

"No, I got that," Gob says without a hint of gratitude. "I meant, why would Michael turn himself in?"

She's still tempted to roll her eyes, though she supposes that, at least, is a valid question. Still...

"We may have given him the impression he killed Lucille 2," Lucille explains.

The pause is longer this time, like maybe Dusty was right; maybe she ought to feel guilty. At the very least, she ought to have foreseen Michael's tendency for self serving sacrifice.

"Why would you do that?" Gob asks, like he honestly expects her to explain.

"Don't be dense, Gob," Lucille says, adopting her most biting tone. "Of course your brother killed Lucille 2. Oh, he claims to not remember, but he was with her that night and he owed her a considerable amount of money... Who else could have done it?"

She's expecting an epiphany, for Gob to get on board because, for as useless as he is, he's not exactly stupid. Instead she gets more silence, Gob's steady breathing the only sound.

"You let them arrest Buster," he says eventually. If she didn't know any better, she'd think he was upset.

"Oh, please. That was your brother's fault, not mine. He's the one who told Buster to go to the police. In hindsight it's easy to see why."

"And you just opted not to do anything about that?" Gob asks. It takes Lucille a moment to process the question. She isn't used to Gob questioning her.

"It seemed a convenient solution. Plus, they hadn't found a body yet, so we just assumed they'd let him go. And anyway, then they arrested that awful magician, you know, the homosexual one with the pointy hair, so the matter seemed closed. Why your brother would go and throw away a perfectly convenient solution..."

"Maybe because Tony didn't kill her," Gob interrupts. He sounds somewhat incredulous. Lucille's not quite sure, but she thinks it might be the first time he's outright contradicted her.

"I fail to see what that has to do with anything," she says.

There's another pause, this one lasting long enough to make her reconsider asking Gob's aid. The man can't even carry on a conversation. What good will he be getting his brother out of jail?

"I was with Tony, mom," Gob eventually says, quiet, like he doesn't know about her laser-focused hearing. "They think I'm an accomplice."

She makes the connection before he's finished speaking, more surprised by her lack of surprise than she is the realization.

"God. I knew it. Of course I knew it. I just didn't want to admit it. My own son. A ho..."

"Can we focus on the part where three of your sons have been are currently being or are about to be arrested for the same crime?" Gob interrupts. She can hear the sharp edge of panic in his tone. It rather cements the solution.

"You should confess," she tells him. Gob needs less than a second.

"Sorry, I should what?"

"Confess," Lucille presses. "Think about it. You're expendable. Just like Buster. But this family needs Michael. The company's in ruins. Our reputations are tarnished. Your sister's going to lose this election and if the wall doesn't bankrupt us the lawsuits from Mexico will. You want to save this family. To do something useful for once. Then turn yourself in."

She expects a token protest. Perhaps reluctant agreement. What she gets instead is more silence, Gob obviously processing the idea. She gives him a minute. Then two. Midway through the third the connection falls apart. The line goes dead. Gob's shallow breathing is replaced by the steady beeping of a dropped call.

"He just hung up on me," she says to the empty room. Just like last time, the annoying bald guy answers, and just like last time, Lucille ignores him. Her own son. First her husband and now her children. One by one they all leave. Is that what all of this was for? All the slaving and the law breaking. All so that they can abandon her? Leave her stuck here in this 2.6 million dollar beach house with only a repressed homosexual for company?

God. Talk about depressing. And here she'd been thinking there might be something to that whole family thing.

"Fine," she eventually tells the room, "see if I care."

Because she doesn't. Not even a little bit. Her husband's god only knows where, while one by one her children continue to abandon her, good riddance. As far as she's concerned she'd done and if they want back in they'll have to come begging on bended knee.

Until that happens, there's always a breakfast martini.

~*~

The tapes are easy to find. Tapes. Plural. Because contrary to Gob and Tony's story, there are several. They provide both angles and access points, which means she got a tape of Tony showing up at the house, the date and timestamp more than enough to clear him of the charges, Joni's story going from good to gold.

She watches the others, because of course she does, including the tape she suspects is the one Gob wants back. She can see why, and it has nothing to do with the gay sex she thinks they're trying to have. Whatever they're doing, there's definitely masks involved--she was kind of hoping they were joking about that--and at one point they sort of stop what they're doing to start pulling things out from behind each other's ears. An explosion of glitter and what she thinks might be wax takes out the camera above the bed and the one above the closet, but the camera in the far right corner survives, so the rest of their... encounter remains on display.

Joni's not gonna lie. She opts out right about the time Gob starts pulling silk scarves out of his ass. Talk about dodging a bullet.

So it's not the cameras in Gob's bedroom that interest her--well, outside of morbid curiosity that is. Instead it's the shots outside the house, because while searching for what she hoped would be a time stamp on Tony's departure, she uncovers what has the potential to become the biggest story of her career.

She doesn't catch it right away. The first recording was made on a bad angle, so there's only a flicker of movement, large enough to draw her gaze--and pique her curiosity--but not enough for anything definitive. It's enough to get her searching though, Joni poring through the tapes until she finds a clear shot, and, sure enough, there's the stair car.

On its own it's the kind of story a lesser reporter might leap on. Not Joni. Joni's more interested in the picture behind the picture, because unless her eyes are deceiving her, the man sitting behind the wheel is none other than Michael Bluth.

Not unusual, perhaps, given the location, but the Cinco timestamp changes everything, Michael Bluth now confirmed to have been in possession of the missing stair car on the night of Lucille Austero's murder.

To make matters more interesting--and possibly more lucrative--he's not alone.

There's someone in the passenger seat, though given the angle Joni can't make out who it is--a shame To Catch a Predator didn't set up cameras on the opposite side of the street. Still, whoever it is, they remain in the car, ten long minutes passing before the passenger side door opens, Michael's companion stepping out into the street.

Michael follows, the pair briefly blocked by the stair car until Michael helpfully walks them out into the open. Joni's jaw damned-near hits the floor.

Because unless she's mistaken--and she very rarely is--the figure currently gesturing angrily in Michael's direction is none other than Lucille Austero.

"Got ya," Joni says. Peabody award, here she comes.

~*~

Tony's seen people fall into a fugue state before. It used to happen to his brother all the time. Then again, his brother spent most of his free time consuming vast sums of psychotropic drugs on a semi-regular basis, so... It's what killed him, actually. The drugs, not the fugue state.

Regardless, the point is he's seen one before and while this doesn't technically classify, it's the closest he's seen in a while.

Because Gob's just kind of standing there, staring down at the phone in his hand like he's not quite sure what it is or where it came from. It died a few minutes ago, which doesn't bode well for the whole Joni calling them thing--though fortunately Tony, at least, remembered to charge his.

And sure, losing a call sucks, but judging from the half Tony heard, he'd wager good money Gob wasn't exactly enjoying his side of the conversation. For one thing he's heard stories about Gob's mom--from Gob himself so he's pretty sure they're accurate--and for another the part he did manage to hear bordered on genuine cruel. Given that Tony's mom kicked him out at seventeen for wanting a multiplying flower bouquet instead of the first stethoscope his father ordered for him from work, it's not like he can't relate.

"Gobie?" he still asks, tentative, because he's seen several sides to Gob, but none that triggered alarm. Tony's just starting to wonder if they should start looking for a hospital that won't look too close at their insurance cards when Gob blinks.

It's kind of like watching a computer reboot. One minute Gob's just... somewhere else... and the next he's blinking, slowly coming back online until the world around him slips quietly back into place.

"Everything okay?" Tony asks.

"I hung up on my mom," Gob tells him, like it's this, above all else, that warrants his concern.

"Your phone ran out of batteries. I'm sure your mom will understand."

If the things he's heard from other people are any indication, she won't, but Gob still nods, like Tony's answer is perfectly reasonable; like Tony's just relieved him of a burden he shouldn't have had.

"So?" Tony asks, because Gob still looks a little shell-shocked, whatever they talked about obviously not good news.

He's not going to ask about the part where Gob mentioned his name; where he sounded oddly defensive and maybe just a little over-protective in ways that Tony definitely liked but doesn't particularly want to examine his reasons for liking.

Mostly, though, Gob still looks kind of hurt, and Tony's never been good with people hurting the people he... fuck it, loves.

"Michael turned himself in," Gob says, quiet, but with a faint lilt, like he's aiming for amused but can't quite muster the energy for it.

"What do you mean, turned himself in?" Tony asks. "For what?"

"According to my mother, he killed Lucille Austero."

That trips Tony up, his world tilting on its axis and then realigning in ways that make absolutely no sense. They just saw Michael. Just spoke to him. And while it's still a conversation Tony would like to forget, at no point did Tony get the impression he was responsible for Lucille Austero's murder.

"Shit," Tony says, their earlier conversation coming back to him, realization dawning. "You fed him a forget-me-now."

"So even if he did he won't remember. There's just one problem," Gob says. "Or I guess, one other problem."

Tony gestures for him to spit it out.

"There's no way Michael did it."

The thing Tony knows about Gob--in part because Gob's told him, but mostly because Tony wouldn't be where he is today if he wasn't good at reading people--is that Gob loves his brother. Sure, he complains about him. And competes with him. And apparently there's an entire line of DVDs where he fights with him, but he loves his brother. Full stop. And while Michael being arrested for Lucille Austero's murder is good for Tony--good for Gob, too--it's not good for Michael. Anything that hurts Michael hurts Gob, so now Tony's stuck proving the innocence of a man whose arrest gets Tony out of jail, scot free.

"I don't know," Gob continues. He sounds utterly defeated. He's also not making eye contact, so Tony's pretty sure whatever he has to say, Tony isn't going to like it.

"What if I turn myself in. Say I did it?" Gob asks. "They'd drop the charges against you and they'd let my brother go and... I mean, you, you've got this amazing career. And Michael, he's the family's rock. But me... I'm expendable."

It takes Tony a fully two minutes to find an answer to that. Not because he agrees, but because he's so blindsided by rage he can't think straight long enough to formulate words.

"...Gob," Tony starts when he's finally able, though he's still not sure he trusts himself to speak. Gob glances over. Tony clears his throat.

"Who told you you were expendable?"

He has a feeling he knows the answer. He has a bigger feeling hearing it won't make this any better.

"Everyone... Though just now my mom. I don't know... maybe she's right... maybe..."

"She's not fucking right," Tony says, no longer able to suppress his rage.

"Look," he explains, "your mom doesn't exactly sound like the nicest person in the world, and while, yeah, I can appreciate that, at the same time she has no right to say that to you. Turn yourself in? So what? You can rot in jail? We're talking life, Gob. For a crime you didn't commit. And for what? To save your brother? The legal system will save your brother, if he's innocent."

He honestly can't believe she'd say something like that. To her own son no less. And now he's angry. Pissed even. Because who the hell says something like that to one of their kids? He can't allow it. He doesn't care who she is. No one's allowed to talk to Tony's... boyfriend... or whatever... like that. No one.

"Where are you going?" Gob asks, Tony only then realizing he was in the middle of storming out of the store. The closet guys, the ones generous enough to give them space, are now openly staring. Tony decides then and there this is something they can't ignore.

"To see your mother," Tony says, because that seems the logical solution. Gob, if the sudden widening of his eyes are any indication, doesn't agree.

"You know, that's not usually a good..."

"I don't care. She knows something about this. And I'm done playing around. Both our necks on our the line, so we're going to figure this out."

He doesn't mention the part where he intends to tell her off for making Gob think he was anything close to expendable, Gob the most essential person Tony's ever known.

"I..." Gob begins, and Tony can tell he means to object. He doesn't give him the chance, instead drawing him by the arm, the two of them leaving the sanctuary of the closet store in favour of finding answers Tony's pretty sure they should have gone looking for long before the situation got so thoroughly out of hand.

Chapter Text

~*~

The rabbit hole, Toddler discovers, is deeper than it first appeared.

Back in her office, her bulletin board has devolved into a complicated network of red string, hundreds of strands linking dozens of clues, all of them connecting back to the Bluths. The problem, of course, is that none of them connect to the same Bluth. Hence the need for legwork.

Last she heard, Michael Bluth was still sitting in an interrogation room, his every answer an admission of guilt. At least, that's what her superiors think. Toddler's not so sure. He doesn't exactly seem like the type to kill someone, though there's definitely something off about him. Off about his brother too, though Toddler's beginning to think that might apply to the entire family.

A family she's increasingly convinced holds the key to unlocking the Austero riddle. It's possible none of them killed her, but at least one of them knows what happened. Of that Toddler's sure.

But unlike her superiors, who are happy to question a Bluth--happy to twist his words into something they can use--Toddler's less interested in crucifying someone from what is arguably the most hated family in town than she is in uncovering the truth.

A truth that leads her back to the beginning, which, as it turns out, is the Bluth family banana stand, or rather, the vacant lot upon which it once sat.

She remembers the stand from her childhood, weekend trips with her grandfather while her parents were at work. Today's booth is sitting in an evidence locker, but she's pretty sure it hasn't changed, the stand still painted that bright banana yellow, its sign still sitting slightly askew.

This late in the day, the pier's practically deserted. It's easy to spot the stand's footprint, a dark square on the boardwalk where the wood hasn't been exposed to direct light. Toddler mimes stepping into the stand, her hand brushing against the counter where they found Lucille Austero's soggy purse; the corner where the found an empty hanger, and beside it, a punch-stained shirt.

The purse suggests she was alive when she reached the stand, because what killer would lug both a body and a purse? The punch-stained shirt suggests she wasn't alone, Lucille found wearing the clothes she'd been seen wearing earlier that night, the shirt clearly belonging to someone else, that particular colour of punch only sold one night a year.

But why kill her? Was it intentional? An accident? And why throw the stand into the harbour? Was someone hoping it would go overlooked? Perhaps sink to the bottom never to be seen again. Surely someone local would know that wasn't the case. Throwing the Bluth family banana stand into the harbour is practically an annual tradition. It always comes back, more or less unscathed.

It's that last bit more than anything that bothers her, because a Bluth would know that, so as far as she's concerned it rather eliminates them as suspects. Unless they were trying to throw the police off their track, but she's met the Bluths. They're not really that smart.

If only there was...

It's then that she notices it, Toddler standing inside the shadow of the former stand, her gaze sweeping for clues when she spots the camera above the arcade across the street. There's nothing obvious about it, so she's not really surprised it was overlooked. It's also clear across the promenade, so there's a good chance it's out of range, and that's provided the footage hasn't been erased. Still, it's better than nothing, so Toddler heads towards it, hoping she won't need a warrant to access its contents.

~*~

Officer Taylor's been on the Force a decade tomorrow. Ten years. Two shy of a dozen. Half a... Well, you get the picture. Point is, it's a long time.

His whole life's the Force. It's here he met his partner, David, the two of them serving together for every single one of those years save the years they separately took paternity leave. That is until yesterday. Yesterday and today, David home sick with their six year old, Taylor saddled with a rookie, all because the Precinct got in a new batch and there was no one else willing to train them.

"I don't get it," Rookie says, like he expects Taylor to participate in the conversation.

"What don't you get?" Taylor obliges.

"Why this guy's here," Rookie explains. He gestures down the hall, to where a handful of detectives are crowded around a one-way mirror, all of them watching Michael Bluth's interrogation like it's the best thing since colour TV. "I mean, I thought they arrested the brother. You know, robot hand guy."

"That was last week," Taylor explains. "They let him go. They're waiting on a warrant for the magician, but apparently the other brother's practically confessed."

"Hand guy?"

"No, the other guy." Taylor patiently explains. Rookie looks confused.

"The gay magician?" Rookie eventually asks. Taylor shakes his head.

"No, that one's not related. Actually, he might be dating the brother. The other brother. The magician one."

Taylor's already decided, one whiff of homophobia and Rookie's getting a new partner.

"There are two magicians?" Rookie says instead of the dozen or so offensive things Taylor was expecting. Most of the guys on the Force are cool with him and David, but rookies... You never know with a rookie.

"Yeah, two magicians," Taylor confirms. Rookie nods.

"So two magicians. A robot hand guy. And another brother?"

He seems to be getting it.

"Yeah. That's who's in there right now. But I don't think he's anything special. Normal, maybe. Like a regular guy."

It's the nicest thing he can think to say about Michael Bluth, who did sort of help him put together his family, so Taylor guesses he maybe owes him one.

"Let me get this straight," Rookie says, like he's still trying to wrap his head around all the brothers. "We arrested the first brother, robot hand, and then let him go, and then we arrested the gay magician, not related, but we were going to arrest the other gay magician, who is related, but then the normal brother showed up and turned himself in?"

Taylor walks himself through it.

"Yeah. That sounds about right," he eventually says.

"Wild," Rookie finally manages, like his police academy courses forgot the chapter on complex family tree arrests. It's a shame if they did, that particular part of the curriculum one of Taylor's favourites. He'd aced his report on the subject.

"Anyway, don't get too excited. I'm sure by this time tomorrow we'll be bringing in the sister," Taylor tells him. Rookie's eyes grow comically wide.

"There's a sister?"

Probably best, Taylor decides, if he doesn't answer.

~*~

"You do realize this is a bad idea," Gob says, though he's been saying it since they left the closet store and Tony remains committed. That and a little pushy, though Gob's not about to complain about that.

"Look, I'm not afraid of your mother," Tony tells him, a sure sign Tony has no idea what he's talking about, because if he did he'd know Lucille Bluth was a woman to be afraid of.

"Yeah, about that..." Gob starts, but it's too late, Tony turning into the lane that leads to the family's beachfront cottage.

It's almost funny, when he thinks about it. Not twenty four hours ago they weren't even on speaking terms and now it feels a little like he's about to introduce his boyfriend to his parents. Well, one of his parents, anyway. The horrible one. The one who's probably going to eat his boyfriend alive.

And okay, maybe it's a bit too early for boyfriend--they haven't even discussed it, though, if Gob's honest, he has to admit the word fits a lot better than anything else he can think of. It's definitely too early to use it around his mom--he can almost hear her mocking him, shortly before she reminds him that she still wants him to turn himself in; confess to a crime he didn't commit.

"Look, if your mom knows something, we need to know it. Preferably before we let your ex... beard air our sex tape on live television. Definitely before the cops show up and place you under arrest," Tony says.

He'd kind of forgotten about that. The whole arrest thing. But then, he has had a busy day. Actually, scratch that. It's been a busy year. Maybe even a busy five years. Like they somehow spanned an entire decade and yet passed inside the blink of an eye. He also has no idea how to explain to Tony that his mom isn't going to share details, so he keeps his mouth shut and waits for Tony to park.

They're not alone. Tobias' ANUSTART license plate, along with the car it's attached to, is sitting in the driveway, looking awkwardly out of place. His presence is probably a good thing, because even though Tony's nowhere near as mad as he was--Gob's mostly talked him down--he's still a little pissed, enough for Gob to be worried. Enough to make him glad for the presence of a witness, even if said witness is his brother-in-law.

He and Tony reach the door in tandem--same--though Gob ends up entering first. He kinda has to elbow Tony aside to do it, but if anyone's going to bear the brunt of his mother's anger, it's going to be him.

(Funny how Tony's the first person he's ever been willing to do that for).

He spots Tobias first, the man sitting on one of the chairs with his legs crossed. Gob's mother is across from him. The two of them are locked in a bizarre staring contest that Gob's convinced would have ended in bloodshed had he and Tony not arrived.

It's Tobias who breaks eye contact first, his features lighting up when he registers who it is.

"Gob," he says, sounding obnoxiously chipper. "I'm so glad you're here. Your mother and I were just..."

It's as far as he gets before Tony enters the room, everyone freezing, including Gob.

"Dear god," his mother says from her place on the couch. "He's brought his homosexual lover."

That earns Tobias' instant attention, and kind of makes Gob want to crawl into a hole. Tony, on the other hand, is having none of it.

"What do you know?" he asks. Demands really. It's authoritative enough Gob's mother takes notice, anyway, her entire posture going rigid, like it does whenever she's forced to deal with someone she considers beneath her.

"I beg your..." is as far as she gets before Tony cuts her off.

"Oh, don't play dumb. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You know exactly who killed Lucille Austero. So who did it? Was it Michael? Because I didn't. And Gob sure as hell didn't. And neither of us are going to turn ourselves in for a crime we didn't commit."

Tobias, who possibly doesn't know the more recent Bluth-family proceedings, stares between them as though he's watching a particularly interesting tennis match.

"So, mom," Gob says, hoping to deflect some of the tension. "You remember Tony?"

He is, in fact, pretty sure they've met, though he doubts either of them will remember. It was at the Save our Bluths party the family threw a while back. Gob waitered. Tony arrived as an invited guest. His beard wasn't yet pink. Funny the things a person remembers.

Judging by the way his mother's staring at him--like he's grown a second head and she wants it gone--it's clear she doesn't remember. That's probably for the best. Gob doesn't remember it being a particularly good party.

"Anyway..." Gob tries, though it's hard to know what to say, what with his mom staring at him and Tony still seething at his elbow. And why's it his job anyway? His mom's the one with the problem. Tony's the one who wanted to come here. Gob just...

The sudden warmth of Tony's presence startles him from the thought, Gob glancing over to find Tony now pressed against his side. His mother snorts an approximation of a laugh. She looks like she's contemplating sending Tobias for a drink.

"Honestly, Gob," she says. "If you were going to go homo, you could have at least picked someone successful."

Most days Gob would have ignored the taunt, knowing full well his mother was looking for a response. The feel of Tony stiffening at his side, however, changes his mind, Gob finding himself suddenly defensive.

"He is successful, mom. Tony's a famous magician."

"Oh, god," his mother retorts. "That makes it worse."

There's no point reminding her that he, too, is a magician, Gob well aware of his mother's thoughts on that. It means, however, that he doesn't have a response, which Tony takes as an invitation to interject.

"Look, as fun as this deflection is, you still haven't answered the question," he tells her. The look Gob's mother shoots him is equal parts scorn and dismissal.

"Oh, am I supposed to do that? Says who? You? How'd you even make bail, anyway? I can't imagine someone would trust you with money. Or did my son pay it? It's exactly the sort of idiotic thing he would do. You do realize he's not going to stick around, don't you? He never does. But then, you're not going to stick around either, are you? Is that a gay thing? Or a magician thing?"

Gob can tell she's upset Tony--well, more than Tony was already upset--Tony's neck turning a deep shade of red. And while he knows Tony can handle his own, it's hard enough listening to his mother's jibes when they're directed at him, let alone the man he loves, so Gob does something he's not sure he's ever done.

He stands up to his mom.

"Just answer the question, mom. Did Michael kill Lucille 2?"

The look she shoots him is pure incredulity, like she can't quite believe he'd question her word. This is usually where Gob would back down, but today he stands his ground, Tony's presence oddly reaffirming.

It takes her a minute to realize he's not going to balk, her features twisting. Gob half expects her to evade. But then her features crumble, her bottom lip quivering in what is arguably the fastest transition from outraged to distraught he's ever seen. The woman deserves an award.

"Oh, Gob, it was terrible. We saw them together. Your father and I. On Cinco de Cuatro. Your brother owed her money. A considerable amount. And she'd called in the loan. And then your brother vanished and Lucille went missing and... What were we supposed to think? They found her body in the banana stand, for god's sake."

It takes Gob a minute to process that. Tony's faster.

"That's your proof?" he says. And yeah, it's not much.

"Well, it's either that or you killed her," Gob's mother says, levelling Tony with a glare. This time it's Gob who interjects.

"Tony didn't kill her, mom. And neither did I. And I don't think Michael did either."

"Well, someone must have," his mother says. "It's not like she accidentally killed herself."

She has him there, but Gob's not really sure that's the point.

"Look," he says, intending to tell her she needs to intervene, to go to the police and tell them what she knows--for Michael's sake if not his own--when he's interrupted by a ringing phone. Gob checks his even knowing its dead, as does his mother and Tobias. It's Tony who pulls his out, looking somewhat triumphant in the process.

His expression falls the second he sees the screen.

"Shit," he says, meeting Gob's eye. "It's Joni."

Well aware they now have an audience, Gob suggests they take it outside.

Chapter Text

~*~

Judge Reinhold stares at the three warrants sitting before him. Two of them are signed. One of the two has been rescinded. The second's out on bail.

"Wonder's your client, right?" he asks Wayne Jarvis. Wayne Jarvis nods.

"Will you be representing the brother?" Reinhold continues. He's having a hard time processing this. Three warrants for the same crime.

"No, but you should probably specify which one," Jarvis says. He's quite serious, and for good reason. Reinhold's dealt with the Bluths before, but never this many. Across the room, the two uniformed officers waiting on the warrant exchange a look.

"The unsigned one," Reinhold says, gesturing to Gob Bluth's would-be warrant. "He's connected to your client, isn't he?"

Again, Jarvis nods.

"Their connection is... romantic. Or so I've been led to believe."

Reinhold nods. He's heard the rumours--was at the parade--but he's still not sure why they want to arrest Gob Bluth.

"Look, I know this isn't professional," Reinhold says. Jarvis levels him with a look, but Reinhold continues, unperturbed. "But if your client's innocent, which remains to be seen but seems likely given the incompetence I've seen so far." Again he gestures to the warrants. "How likely is it Gob Bluth's involved?"

It's not that he doesn't want to sign the warrant--what's another signed piece of paper? It's the case he's dreading, multiple warrants alongside multiple arrests a free pass when it comes to reasonable doubt. And while, yes, he's impartial, and hence isn't supposed to have a stake in win or lose, personally he really likes it when a case moves to sentencing. It's by far the most interesting part.

"Gob Bluth isn't my client, so I'm not bound by client-attorney privilege," Jarvis begins, neatly sidestepping a potential ethical dilemma. "So while he's guilty of a number of things, he's also far too stupid to have done this. Whoever killed Lucille Austero, they didn't leave a trace."

Reinhold's pretty sure the same can be said for all the Bluths, though it's not really his place to say it. Oh, who's he kidding. If anyone will appreciate the insight, it's Wayne Jarvis.

"Seriously," Reinhold says, after they've finished laughing--him more so than Jarvis, though Jarvis' lip did twitch, so for him it counts. "How much work do I create for you if I sign this?"

Jarvis waves him off. "I wouldn't worry about that," he says.

Reinhold shoots him a curious look. Jarvis isn't exactly the type to gossip, but the two of them have a solid, professional relationship--Reinhold would call it friends--so they both know nothing they say here will find its way into court.

"You haven't heard?" Jarvis says. Reinhold shakes his head. "They've got the brother in custody. Full confession."

"Which brother?" Reinhold asks, having already learned his lesson. Jarvis shoots him a satisfied nod.

"The normal-ish one. Michael. By tomorrow the charges against my client should be dropped. That," he gestures to the warrant, "will probably get rescinded."

The news makes Reinhold's decision easy. He's impartial, which means when the police ask for a warrant he signs it, regardless of a person's innocence or guilt. And since they'll either rescind it or fail to execute it, signing it is nothing more than due diligence. Reinhold signs it.

"Does this mean you're free this weekend?" he asks. Jarvis makes a show of checking his watch.

"Should be. Book us a tee-off time. If I can't make it you can bring Loblaw in my place."

Reinhold winces, Loblaw not exactly his idea of a good golf-partner. Still, it beats spending his Saturday at home, so he makes a note of it on his sleeve. The warrant, freshly signed, he hands to the uniforms still waiting at the back of the room.

~*~

Gob only half overhears Tony's conversation. A part of him's still stuck back in the house, his mother throwing disparaging remarks faster than she throws back dry martinis. It's not that anything she said was particularly out of the ordinary. It's just that he can't stop thinking about the thing she told Tony. The part about Gob never sticking around.

Because she's right. He does run. He's run from every good thing he's ever had. And it's not that he's worried about running here--been there, done that--it's that for the first time in his life he doesn't want to run, and he's not sure Tony knows that.

"Okay, Yeah. No. We're on our way," Tony says, his expression pinched as he waits for Joni to respond with whatever she's responding with. Gob shoots him a questioning look. Tony rolls his eyes. After another round of yeahs he hangs up the phone.

"Apparently there's something we need to see," Tony tells him. "She wants us back there a-sap."

It's getting pretty late now, but Gob still nods, this what they were waiting for. Besides, knowing Joni--as well as a man can know his beard, anyway--he knows "asap" literally means break the law if you have to, just get here fast, so they probably should leave, it's just...

"What?" Tony asks, obviously sensing Gob's hesitation.

"Nothing. No not nothing. It's just.. About what my mom said..."

"Wait," Tony interrupts. "Are we listening to her? Because no offense, but..."

"Yeah, no, I know. It's just... She's right. I mean about how I always run. Except I'm not going to do that this time, because..."

"You kind of already did?"

"Well that and I don't want to," Gob clarifies. "I mean not again. Not anymore. I..."

"Same," Tony says, saving Gob from having to explain. Gob finds he wants to anyway.

"It's like... everything before now was just one big mistake," Gob says, voice lilting at the end like he's asking a question. In response, Tony nods, somewhat enthusiastically. "But this isn't. I mean, it doesn't feel like a mistake. It feels..."

It's not exactly a thing he can put into words, which Tony seems to get, because he's still nodding. Also, it's kind of hard to concentrate; to focus on what he thinks might be one of the more important conversations in his life, a distant wailing siphoning his attention.

"You hear that?" he asks, because now that he thinks about it, the wailing kinda sounds like sirens.

"Yeah," Tony said, his expression suddenly alarmed. He glances back to the house, and then over to their car.

"You got neighbours?" he asks.

"Not anymore," Gob tells him. "Mom hated having to share the beach, so she bought-up the properties on either side."

It's the kind of thing they might share a laugh over, except now Tony looks even more worried, though it takes Gob a full minute to process why.

"The fucking warrant," he says the second he does.

Tony nods. And then glances back to the car, like he's thinking about making a break for it. For about half a second Gob's right there with him, but then it hits him, that thing he thought himself incapable of, the thing where he wants to put someone else's needs above his own.

It's a strange sensation, Gob a little taken aback by it. He needs a minute to process it. Meanwhile, the sirens draw ever closer. To make matters worse--or maybe better, it's hard to say, Tony's watching him, like he too is torn between selfishness and the need to protect the person you love.

"Go," Gob tells him, gesturing to the car. Tony's expression grows incredulous.

"Um, yeah, not leaving you," he says. Gob waves him off.

"Hear me out," he says, because for the first time in his life he has a plan he thinks might actually work. "You leave. They'll think I'm with you and pull you over. Let them search the car. They won't find anything, but it'll buy me time."

"For what?" Tony asks, like he hasn't yet seen the genius in Gob's plan.

"My parents have an old rowboat," Gob explains. Tony's confusion doesn't clear. Gob wants to feel annoyed, but confused Tony is kind of a cute Tony so instead he explains:

"I'm gonna take to the sea."

There's a moment where he thinks Tony maybe gets it, but then Tony's confusion returns, amplified this time by renewed panic, the sirens having arrived at the beach house lane. Gob presses.

"You haven't done anything wrong, and you're not violating your bail conditions, or whatever, so they have to let you go. You get the tapes from Joni, take them to the police. By the time they get to figuring out how to process me under maritime law, you'll have proof of our innocence. Win-win. Or, win-lose, maybe. I don't know. Point is, they lose, we win. It's foolproof."

Tony's expression suggests he doesn't agree, but they're fast running out of options, the sirens getting closer, blue and red flickers now visible through the trees.

It means he needs to convince Tony fast, so he does the only thing he can think of doing, which is to grab Tony by the lapels and drag him in for a kiss--which, honestly, he's been wanting to do all day, so... Tony stiffens a bit in surprise, but after a few seconds his sharp exhale turns into a moan, Gob taking the opportunity to wedge his knee between Tony's thighs. The kiss lasts far longer than is safe--what with lights now pulsing around them--but it gets his point across, Tony deflating, any additional protest he might have made vanishing in the face of arousal.

Confident he's made his point, Gob draws back to run his thumb across Tony's bottom lip.

"This is going to work," he says. "Trust me."

And because maybe Tony does--and Gob will never get over that--Tony nods. It's good enough for Gob, who gives Tony a slight shove in the direction of the car before starting for the shore.

"Get the tapes," he calls back over his shoulder, because that part's essential, though he doesn't bother waiting for a reply. He's asked Tony to trust him, but it means he has to trust Tony, too, something Gob's surprised--or maybe unsurprised, it's hard to say these days--to find he does.

~*~

Michael spends a long minute staring at the back of the still closed door. Ten minutes, they told him. It's been thirty-four. Not that he's counting. Except that he is.

He has no idea what's taking so long. He's pretty sure he's been clear. Toddler, at least, understood him. He has no idea why they replaced her with those other two detectives. They're clearly not that bright. In fact, he's pretty sure they're under the mistaken assumption he's a suspect. Either that or they both need serious lessons in interviewing etiquette. At one point, they actually shone a light in his face. He wants to do the right thing, but at this point he's thinking he should probably sue.

God, and now he sounds like his mother.

Except for the part where he's not, because treatment aside, he's still doing the right thing. He was the last person to see Lucille 2 alive, whether he remembers it or not, so it's important that they know that. And if that means sitting in a meeting room--which he's still kind of worried might actually be an interrogation room--then so be it. It's not like he has anything to hide. Well, except for whatever memories he's missing, but it's not like he roofied himself, so...

He's in the middle of convincing himself this will all work out fine when a commotion erupts outside the door. It's loud enough he can hear it, though he can't quite make out what it's about. There's shouting, anyway. That and a lot of loud banging like someone's throwing furniture around. Worried now he's found himself in the middle of a riot, Michael rises from his desk.

He crosses to the door, but as expected it's locked from the outside--definitely an interrogation room, he realizes, which doesn't exactly bode well for the whole everything working out fine thing. Michael tries pounding on it, but given the ruckus outside he's pretty sure no one can hear.

Next he stands before the room's camera--which in hindsight should have maybe given the location away--where he mimes tapping his watch while mouthing hello, like maybe if he appears polite and confused they'll let him go. Nothing happens.

There's a mirror on the far wall he's pretty sure is one of those two-way mirrors. At first he thought it was simply there to amplify the room's small space--amazing what a mirror or two can do to give the illusion of space--but adding it to the locked door to the camera...

Crap. He's a suspect.

And of course he is. Why wouldn't he be. He was the last person to see Lucille 2 alive. He has no memory of what happened that night. He's the perfect scapegoat. God. He's an idiot. Like Gob level of idiot. Why he didn't...

There's another crash, this one closer, the shouting louder now, Michael almost able to make out the words. Something about Maritime Law. Tapes? A second crash, and then a third, this one practically outside the door. Michael moves to the mirror, hoping if he gets close enough he can figure out a way to see outside.

He's got his face pressed against it when someone hits the other side of it, the entire mirror bulging outwards, Michael flying back, half afraid the thing might shatter. It doesn't. Instead the door to the room flies open, Lt. Toddler appearing outside.

"Sorry about all that," she says, coming into the room. She doesn't appear the least fazed by the chaos. Over her shoulder, a couple of uniformed officers are dragging a man down the hall. If Michael didn't know any better, he'd swear it was Gob. Toddler doesn't seem phased by this either. She simply steps into the room, polite smile curling into her cheeks.

Chapter Text

---

Here's the thing: Tony's not used to caring about other people.

It's mildly alarming, the panic he feels, the way his heart won't stop racing; the way his breath seems permanently lodged in his throat. Two months ago he might have convinced himself it was just the twenty minute interrogation he endured while trying to convince the police that a) Gob wasn't with him and b) he didn't know where Gob was. Hell, two months ago he wouldn't have bothered. He would have given Gob up to save his own skin. Funny how that changed.

And okay, if he's honest with himself he thinks maybe he always would have made an exception for Gob. Certainly he's been obsessed with the man long enough. It's only recently, in the light of stolen pies and and a sudden preference for gay sex, that he can finally admit how he feels. Gob's someone he cares about, someone he would do just about anything for, including, apparently, agreeing to what is arguably the most half-baked plan ever conceived.

And maybe it was the adrenalin. The urgency of the situation. The desperate need for a solution to Gob's impending arrest. Whatever it was, it's only now, twenty miles and a rough frisking later, that he can see Gob's plan for what it truly is. Lunacy. Complete and utter lunacy.

Fuck, Tony thinks, even as he contemplates turning around. But it's too late now. Either they have Gob in custody or the Coast Guard's out looking for him, and either way it doesn't exactly leave Tony with a lot of options. Except get the tapes. Because Gob was right about one thing. Their sex tape is still the best way out of this. He just has to convince Gob's ex-beard to turn them over.

According to Siri it's a forty-three minute drive from Gob's parents' beach house to the television studio. Tony manages it in under thirty. It's dark by the time he gets there, but Joni promised she'd wait so he's not surprised to find lights on inside the squat two-story building that houses Newport Beach's news team.

The situation's still urgent, but pulling up alongside the building Tony finds he needs a minute to collect himself before heading inside. A glance at his phone shows no one's called. Not that he was expecting anyone too, what with Gob's phone being dead and all, but he would give just about anything to know if Gob's okay. The not knowing is getting to him, especially now that the adrenalin has worn off. He keeps picturing Gob, alone on the ocean, drifting further and further out to sea.

It's that thought, more than anything, that gets him moving again--because, right, urgency. He can't prevent Gob from being arrested--and hopefully the Coast Guard finds him before he drifts out to sea--but he can secure them an alibi.

He spots Joni from the parking lot, or rather, the dark silhouette of someone waiting for him in the building's lobby. Sure enough it's her, her features lighting up when she spots him through the glass.

He was expecting annoyance, maybe reprimand for being so late. Instead her expression is somewhat manic, like whatever she's found is career making. She lets Tony into the building with an almost shark-like grin.

"No Gob?" she asks when she realizes he's alone. There's something in her tone that makes him think she already knows.

"Not here," Tony still says, Gob's predicament not exactly her business. Besides, he's not here to answer her questions. He's here for the tapes.

Joni, who seems faintly amused by his reply, gives a brief nod and steps aside. Tony brushes past her on his way inside. She locks the door behind them.

It strikes him then that whatever's happening is serious. Well, more serious than getting caught up on the wrong side of the legal system that is. Whatever she's found, Tony's no longer confident he can convince her to hand over the tapes.

"You find the tapes?" he still asks, because whatever she thinks she's found, they had a deal.

"Oh, I found them alright," she tells him. Tony can't help but notice she sounds faintly amused.

"Look, I know we had a deal, but we need to get those tapes to the cops. They're arresting Gob."

So much for Gob's predicament not being her business, but at least it earns him her attention, Joni no longer amused but contemplative, like she's trying to figure out how to use the information to her advantage.

"Arresting?" she asks as thought wanting to clarify the tense.

"Last I heard," Tony explains. Joni's laugh is an ugly snort.

"Let me guess. He took to the sea."

Tony needs a full minute to process how she could possibly know that.

"How...?" he eventually gets around to asking, but Joni's already waving him aside.

"News chopper. Recorded the whole thing. And yeah, he's been arrested. Put up a hell of a fight, too," she explains.

As much as Tony wanted the confirmation--as glad as he is Gob didn't actually end up drifting out to sea--part of him thinks he'd rather not know. There's nothing he can do about it, anyway, and it's not like he didn't know it was coming. Either way he still needs the tapes.

"So you can see why I need those tapes," Tony says, a blatant reminder, because so far they haven't moved past the lobby and he's starting to lose his cool.

"Relax, I made you a copy," Joni tells him. "And I can certify we have the originals. Spending a night in booking isn't going to kill Gob, and proving your innocence isn't exactly going to be a problem."

She gestures for him to follow her, Tony still trying to figure out what she means. She hasn't asked about the interview--a fairly important part of their deal--and it sounds like she's just going to hand the tapes over, so he can't for the life of him figure out why she'd need to make a big production of this, unless..."

"What did you find?" he asks, curious now. Joni shoots him a grin.

She doesn't answer, instead leading him back to her office--strangely quiet now that there aren't dozens of production assistants running around--where he spots a laptop sitting on her desk, his own face frozen on the screen.

He's not gonna lie, it stops him short, because it's one thing to be curious about the tapes, to need them to clear his and Gob's name, but when he pictured watching them it was always with Gob, not Gob's ex-beard, a woman he's pretty sure would screw them both over if it made for good news.

"Do we really need..."

"Relax," Joni says again, brushing him aside. "While... educational, they're not exactly headline news."

She says this like she's secretly judging him. Tony's half tempted to say something, defend his prowess because Gob, at least, didn't seem to have any complaints. But Joni's already moved on, her attention riveted on the screen, where Tony's face has been replaced by a wide shot of the bedroom, glitter and wax exploding across the screen.

She scrolls past that, switching between cameras until Tony finds himself staring at the front porch. It's not a clean angle, but the driveway is visible, Tony's car parked alongside Gob's limousine. There's a partial view of the street, too, enough to catch the arrival of a very familiar set of stairs.

He recognizes the stair car immediately, though only because Sally roped him into helping decorate it back when she was managing Lucille Austero's campaign. It's also the same vehicle Lucille Austero was last seen on. And the vehicle they think he and Gob were driving the night Lucille Austero died. Tony's pretty sure his jaw hits the floor.

"Wait for it," Joni says.

It doesn't take long. The stairs pull to a stop, and after what seems an eternity a lone figure emerges from inside, Gob's brother stepping out into the street. A second later the final piece falls into place, Michael's passenger joining him, Tony recognizing the woman immediately.

"Oh my god," Tony says. "Michael killed her."

It's not the sort of thing one should say to a news reporter, but after his conversation with Gob's mother the realization just sort of slips out. It's great news for him, of course--him and Gob even if Gob won't see it that way--but all he can think about is how devastated Gob's going to be; how much it'll hurt him knowing it was his brother.

"Looks that way, doesn't it?" Joni says. Tony can't help but shake his head.

"Keep watching," she tells him.

Tony does. He watches their argument, obvious even without the audio, notes the large bandage on Lucille Austero's head. He watches Michael plead with her; wonders briefly why Michael's wearing a button down Bluth Banana Stand shirt. Throughout all of this he braces himself for it, figuring Joni wouldn't be showing him this if she didn't have the murder on tape. Except, no one dies. Michael continues to plead. Lucille continues to lecture. At one point she smacks him across the face, and then almost immediately pats him on the shoulder; waving off whatever it is he's trying to say.

And then, unexpectedly, they're no longer alone, a second car pulling up alongside them. That on its own isn't the interesting part. The interesting part is the car itself, because Tony would recognize it anywhere. More importantly, he recognizes its driver, Sally Sitwell sitting behind the wheel.

She doesn't get out, but Lucille Austero, after hugging Michael, does get in, and then, just like that, they're gone, Michael left standing in the middle of the street.

Tony knows the next part, of course. He was there, after all. Fast forward an hour and there'll be footage of him leaving the house. He has no idea if or when Gob left. Michael, if Tony's past experience with forget-me-nows is anything to go on, would have spent the remainder of the night unconscious.

"There is no way Sally..." Tony still says, though he supposes, in hindsight, it makes sense. Still, she would have said something, wouldn't she have? At the very least she wouldn't have accused him of committing the crime.

"You leave an hour later. Gob an hour after that. Michael the next morning. So either your friend Sally's guilty, or we're back to you and Gob. PD's still working on time of death." Joni tells him.

Tony's beginning to see why she's so excited.

"Look," Joni says, clearly sensing Tony's conflict. "We're going to run this, so it's in your best interest to take the tapes to PD. At the very least it proves she wasn't with the stair car. That eliminates the tape of you and Gob..."

"It wasn't us," Tony interrupts.

"Whatever. Reasonable doubt. Plus I'm pretty sure they're going to want to talk to Sally again."

That makes two of them, Tony thinks, though he's still not sure he believes she's responsible. Joni seems convinced, which means that's the angle she's going to run with. Does Sally even know, Tony wonders. He doesn't owe her anything, and yet...

"Thanks," he says, accepting the fob Joni hands him. He wants to go see Sally, ask her what the hell's going on, but right now Gob needs him so Tony tucks the fob into his pocket and sees himself out.

~*~

The station is mired in chaos when she gets back. Four uniforms are dragging an uncooperative prisoner towards the holding cells while the remainder look on, the guy having obviously put up quite a fight. There are toppled tables and chairs everywhere, plus a knocked over the water cooler, the hall outside the washrooms practically flooded.

She means to ask, but the officer monitoring the interrogation room video feeds clearly thought the excitement worth abandoning his post because there's no one monitoring the rooms. Granted, all but one are empty, but it's the one that's not that draws Toddler's gaze.

She left to check out the pier hours ago, so she honestly wasn't expecting to find Michael Bluth right where she left him. She has no idea why he turned himself in--especially now--but clearly her superiors are still grasping at straws, because there he is. And, if the video feed is any indication, he's finally figured out he's a suspect.

"Sorry about all that," Toddler says as she heads into the room. She still needs to show her superiors the recording, but she's also pretty sure they'll forgive her for jumping ahead once they've seen it. Michael, on the other hand, looks like he could use a break.

"What's going on?" Michael asks. He's staring over her shoulder, at the guy they're still trying to drag down the hall. Toddler doesn't know his story, so she smiles instead.

"What's going on is you're free to go," she tells him. The look Michael shoots her is somewhat incredulous.

"See," he eventually says, "I knew I wasn't a suspect."

Toddler bites her tongue to keep from commenting.

"No. We know what happened now," she tells him, the we slightly premature. Still, video evidence is the best kind of evidence, so it's only a matter of time before they can consider this case closed.

It's funny, though, how the universe seems to have other plans. Not that it changes what happens, but the second Toddler throws open the door--the second they step out into the hall--the guy from earlier comes charging towards them, the four officers in hot pursuit--and honestly, why he ever thought he could escape from custody inside a police station... It only takes her a second, but by the time she's placed him Michael's already brushing past her, him and the man she now recognizes as Michael's brother colliding even as the uniformed officers close in for the kill.

"Michael!" Gob Bluth shouts.

"What the hell? Gob?" Michael asks.

A baton makes contact with the back of Gob's knee. Toddler's seen enough police brutality to know how this is going to end. She holds up a hand.

"Stop!" she says, loud enough for her superiors--drawn by the commotion--to hear. "The case is closed. We've got Lucille Austero's... murder on tape. The Bluth's are free to go."

The pronouncement freezes everyone in place, at least a dozen sets of eyes all staring in her direction. It should be a simple matter--she's got the video capture card in her pocket--but it's then the story takes a new twist, the man currently awaiting trial for Lucille Austero's murder showing up at the scene.

He's breathless and looks more than a little frantic. He's also holding a thumbnail drive above his head.

"I've got the sex tape!" he shouts the second he sees Gob, Gob still sprawled across the floor, at least two of the uniforms holding him down.

"Tony," Gob says, sounding just as breathless. A glance in his direction shows him grinning dopily. Apparently the rumours are true.

Wonder's rambling now, going on about someone named Sitwell, speaking so fast Toddler's pretty sure her interrogation training is the only thing allowing her to keep up. Oblivious to the uniformed officers, Wonder sinks to his knees at Gob's side. Unlike Gob he's not smiling. Instead he's glaring at Toddler's colleagues, looking very much like he intends to trade murder for assault charges if it'll mean getting his... boyfriend she guesses... free.

"Wait, what?" Michael says. Toddler's glad she isn't the only one confused.

"I'm going to need everyone to calm down," Toddler interrupts. This is mostly directed at the uniforms, who, after a reluctant nod from the precinct captain, release their prisoner and step aside. Gob flings himself into Wonder's arms. Michael continues to stare, looking confused.

"What's going on, Toddler?" the precinct Captain asks. Toddler fishes the capture card from her pocket.

"We've got Lucille Austero on surveillance video," she says. "And these three boys are innocent."

She's not trying to brag, but she knew there was something off about the case. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Having now seen the surveillance footage, she understands why.

"It was Sally Sitwell, wasn't it?" Tony Wonder says. He's still clinging to Gob.

Lieutenant Toddler shakes her head, but doesn't clarify.

Chapter Text

---

It's funny, how much time and energy she put into this case, only to have it end the way that it did. Toddler would be lying if she said she wasn't disappointed.

Disappointed but glad she was the one who brought the truth to life. And to think. All it took was a single tape. A tape from a camera sitting in plain sight. A camera no one else seemed to notice.

It's a feather in her cap, anyway, the successful close of the case likely to earn her a commodation. Possibly a promotion. Maybe they'll give her a bigger office. Hers is still littered in boxes from the case, her cork board still filled with a sea of Bluths. She pauses in the act of taking Michael's photograph down. There's still something off about him, but he didn't kill Lucille Austero so into an evidence box he goes.

His brother follows, the one with the hand. His son and niece after that. Procedure dictates she shred the photographs, but this isn't the first time a case has involved the Bluths and she has a feeling it won't be the last. Better, she thinks, to keep them on hand. Just in case.

She applies the same rationale to the next photograph, because while Tony Wonder isn't exactly a Bluth, she's seen Joni Beard's expose; knows he's as intertwined as the funny little blue guy she found wearing a pair of denim shorts.

The box, when her cork board is cleared, is practically full, so Toddler seals it with evidence tape and sets it aside. As cases go, it's pretty safe to say, this one's closed.

~*~

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. Really. This is great publicity for me. Plus I could really use the money."

Sally's new, possibly ill-recommended, lawyer says this as he bustles into the room, looking completely out of sorts. It doesn't bode well for her image, the one she's hoping this lawsuit will help get back on track.

"So," Barry Zuckerkorn says, plunking himself down at the table. "What are the charges?"

It takes her a minute. And then another. She's sorely tempted to get up and leave.

"There aren't any," she finally says, not bothering to hide her scorn. "I'm suing Joni Beard."

Barry blinks. He looks no less confused.

"For defamation," Sally reminds him. And then, because he's still not getting it, adds, "she accused me of killing Lucille Austero. On air. I dropped like 4 points in the polls."

And, okay, it was three and half, but still.

"Oh right. Did they ever find her? One of my clients was involved in that. I think. Actually, you know what, I'm not sure. I should maybe get in touch with him. Last I heard there was a bidding war for the full version of his sex tape. Have you seen that? The guys with the masks?"

It's not hard to figure out the client he's talking about--so much for client-attorney confidentiality--Sally having seen the expose. In fact, she'd give just about anything to unsee it, because sleeping with Tony was bad enough; seeing his stupid pelvis dance on her big screen TV something she could have done without.

"Look, either you can help me with my lawsuit, or you're wasting me time. Which is it?" she asks.

"Oh, I can help you alright," Barry sounds, sounding surprisingly confident for a man who thought she'd committed a crime. "I just have one question."

Sally gestures for him to continue.

"Who are we suing again?"

In hindsight, she should have coughed up the money for Wayne Jarvis.

~*~

"So let me get this straight. They've dropped all the charges."

Wayne Jarvis gives a very professional nod. Reinhold considers.

"And this is their new evidence?"

He holds up a thumb drive--not the original, that's sitting in an evidence locker somewhere.

"So I've been told," Wayne tells him.

Reinhold's not going to lie. He's curious. Curious plus it is sort of his job. So while he is a little afraid this will turn out to be another sex tape--he's one of the few who's seen the magician one from start to finish and, not gonna lie, watching it scarred him for life.

"Alright, let's put it in."

The drive includes two files. One labelled 11:03, the other 12:57. Reinhold starts with the 11:03. The footage is surprisingly clear for a surveillance camera. More importantly, it's focused directly on the banana stand, almost like the shop owner knew trouble, if it came, was likely to come from there.

It means they have a clear view of Michael Bluth and Lucille Austero arriving. That piques Reinhold's interest, though the pair look friendly enough. Lucille Austero had a bandage wrapped around her head. Michael Bluth's shirt has a dark stain.

A casual viewer might think the stain blood, but Reinhold knows better. They found a punch-stained shirt inside the banana stand, so he's not surprised when Michael Bluth steps inside to change his shirt. Lucille Austero waits for him, the pair leaving together a few minutes later, though Reinhold--because he's a judge and trained to look for such things--can't help but notice Lucille Austero's forgotten her purse.

It marks the end of the 11:03 file, so Reinhold starts the second, the banana stand once again taking centre stage. Lucille Austero's purse is right where she left it, so he's not surprised to see her return. This time, though, she's alone, Michael Bluth nowhere in sight.

He knows from reading the police file that Sally Sitwell dropped her off at home shortly before 12:30, which means she's come here on her own, though arguably the pier isn't that far of a walk. The boardwalk's deserted, Austero the only person around. She stumbles a bit on her way to the stand, prompting Reinhold to glance curiously in Wayne's direction.

"Vertigo," he explains. "Apparently she suffers from it."

That would explain the bandage. Reinhold had a grandmother with the disorder. She was always falling down.

Austero stumbles two more times before reaching the stand. There she seems elated to have found her purse. But not before another attack sends her spinning. Reinhold watches, horrified, as she tumbles into the stand.

He expects her to reappear--vertigo never kept his grandmother down for long--but it's clear this particular bought is a bit more serious, Austero barely visible as she lies prone inside the Bluth family banana stand.

Even expecting it it's still a surprise. In part because he was rooting for her--even knowing the outcome--but mostly because he'd forgotten about the annual tradition of throwing the Bluth banana stand into the harbour--stupid of him, really, given that, in his youth, he participated in the tradition more than once. Come to think of it, that's how he met Wayne.

"They don't know she's in there, do they?" Reinhold asks, watching a gang of hormonal teenagers swarm the stand. Wayne Jarvis shakes his head.

"I'm guessing that last fall knocked her unconscious. It was just bad timing for it to happen in the banana stand, on Cinco de Cuatro."

"Wrong place, wrong time," Reinhold echos.

It's a terrible way to go, his only hope is that, maybe, maybe that last fall was a heart attack, Lucille Austero dead before she went into the water. Time, he supposes, and the as of yet released autopsy report, will tell.

~*~

"You know, we don't have to do this," Gob says. He looks unaccountably nervous. Far too nervous for a man whose future is now decidedly jail free. Tony scoffs, even as he reaches up to straighten the lines of Gob's shirt.

"I thought we'd established I'm not afraid of your mother," he says.

They're standing in the lane of Gob's family cottage, the property a lot smaller now that he's seeing it during daylight hours. There's a line of cottages on either side, though according to Gob they all belong to his parents, so the whole place feels utterly deserted. Well, aside from the six cars lined neatly in the parking lot. A family meeting, Gob called it, shortly before inviting Tony to come.

"I guess we haven't really talked about this," Tony says, suddenly seeing Gob's nervousness for what it is.

Gob shakes his head.

Because they haven't. Not really. They've talked about the forget-me-nows. And about Cinco de Cuatro. They've talked about the float and the fake cement. They've talked about starting a new act. About hotel rooms and how lucky they are to have the closet guys as friends. But they haven't talked about this. About what they are and how they might introduce one another to their families. To their friends.

And maybe Tony just kind of assumed all of that was taken care of, what with the parade footage; clips from their sex tape having landed on air. Rumour has it there's a bidding war for the rest of it, though Tony's pretty sure that's just Gob spending Tony's returned bail money, Gob not quite understanding the money isn't free.

But he gets that it's different. That having your masked face broadcast to the world is different from bringing your... boyfriend to a family meeting. So he gets that Gob is nervous. Gets that maybe he might want to change his mind.

"We don't have to do this," Tony says, echoing Gob's earlier words.

This time when Gob shakes his head, it's vehement, like Tony's just thrown down a gauntlet, Gob's competitiveness coming immediately into play. Truth is, Tony likes that about him. Like that Gob brings the same energy to their relationship that he does to the stage.

"It'll be fine," Tony tells him, this time letting his hands settle around Gob's waist. He knows it's the right call when Gob arms come up to curl around his neck.

"Yeah," Gob says. "Besides, it's not like they don't know, and if they're jerks about it, we'll just leave."

"Exactly," Tony agrees, because, honestly, same.

They share a grin at that. Three months in--and Tony is absolutely counting from their pie-stealing date--and they're still on the same page.

They head inside together, fingers interlaced. Tony's met Gob's family, in one capacity or another, but seeing them all occupying a room really brings home just how serious this is. He's never done the whole meet-the-family thing before. Not even with Sally, though he's still not sure their association counted as a relationship.

The ten people in the room freeze as they enter. From their expressions, Tony suspects they've interrupted an argument, though given what Gob's told him that might just be the Bluth family's modus operandi. Either way, a full minute of awkwardness ensues. It's Gob who breaks it.

"You've probably been wondering, is he, isn't he," Gob says, smirking as he says it, his own private joke. Tony makes a mental note to ask him about it later.

"Oh, we're not wondering," Gob's mother says.

"Well, as you've probably already seen the tape..." A small hysterical laugh escapes him. "Well, hopefully not the whole tape because I'm pretty sure my bid's going to win out..."

"It's all right, Gob, we already know," a man that might be Gob's father, possibly his uncle--there are two of them--interrupts. But Gob seems determined to press on.

"So, yes, the rumours are true. I'm gay now."

His family, collectively, continues to stare.

"Anyway, this is Tony. Tony, my family. My family, Tony."

It's like watching someone let the air out of a balloon, Gob deflating, looking as relieved as he does proud, Tony momentarily overcome with affection. God he loves this man. Loves him in ways he didn't think it was possible to love another person.

"Wow, that's great, Gob."

Gob's brother is the first to break the silence, Michael stepping forward to clap Gob firmly on the shoulder. To Tony he extends a hand.

"Welcome to the family."

"Um... Thanks," Tony says, not entirely sure he wants the membership. A glance to Gob, who's grinning broadly, suggests it's his regardless.

"Anyway," Michael continues, his attention returning to his family. "While, I'm grateful Gob could use this time to... come to terms with his repressed sexuality, that's not why I called this meeting."

There's a brief moment where Tony assumes Gob's going to say something, object to Michael's phrasing, but a glance in his direction shows him looking as bored and unimpressed as the rest of the family, like maybe this is just Michael, whatever Michael's going to say nothing he hasn't said before.

"I called this meeting because I'm leaving. And this time I'm not coming back."

There's no reaction, Tony glances between the members of Gob's family--his brother; his other brother; his sister; his sister's maybe ex-husband; his sister's maybe ex-husband's maybe boyfriend; his niece; his not boyfriend but nephew who really does own Fakeblock that Tony can't take advantage of because he really does love Gob; his mother; his father and uncle-slash-uncle and father--but not one of them seem even the least bit interested. Even Gob doesn't react, Tony beginning to get this is what he means when he says Michael's dramatic.

It makes him feel a little bit better about the family's lack of reaction to Gob's announcement. Like maybe it's even safe to move in a little closer to Gob; tighten the grip he has on Gob's hand.

Gob squeezes back, the two of them exchanging a glance, lost in their own little world while Michael continues to try to convince the family that, yes, he really does mean it this time and, no, he's really not coming back.

~*~

He's sketching out the designs for a new stage when they find him, Al only slightly embarrassed. The thing is, he's seen Gob and Tony together; knows they're destined for each other. That and greatness, though greatness demands the perfect stage. So instead of hastily stuffing away his designs, the guy Gob Bluth calls the cute one slides the blueprints he was working on over to the one Gob Bluth refers to as his boss.

"Here's what I'm thinking," Al says. "It's a series of interlocking closets. The gay magician's looking for the Christian one, trying to get him to come out."

Jake, who actually is his boss, or possibly was his boss before Gob bought the store, nods.

"That makes sense," he says.

"But see, eventually he gives up, goes into his own closet," Al continues.

"Yeah, yeah," Chuck, who has been Al's best friend since third grade pipes in. "You could have like a series of near misses. Where they keep popping up too late to find each other."

"Right," Jake says. "Like a metaphor. The closets becoming a labyrinth of self doubt and denial."

Al and Chuck both nod, like they were thinking exactly the same thing.

"But of course they find each other. And then I was thinking we could set up a rig of some kind, have it so that the closets disappear into the stage," Al explains.

"Magician love saves the day," Chuck adds.

Al's not gonna lie. It's good. Really good. Now they just have to figure out how they're going to make it work.

~*~

Epilogue

"Tony?" Gob calls.

"Gob?" Tony echoes.

A long moment of silence stretches between them. Through the plywood, Gob's convinced he can hear the audience's baited breath.

"You're lost, aren't you?" Tony eventually asks. Gob heaves a great sigh of relief.

"Yeah," he admits. And who knew this whole interlocking closet thing would be so complicated.

"Yeah, well," Tony says, "me too."

"You too?" Gob queries, his voice, despite knowing the audience can hear, rising above their practiced whisper.

"Yeah," Tony says.

It should upset him. Their first dual act going so thoroughly off the rails. But honestly, what were the odds? That even in this they'd end up same? So instead of cursing the closet guys for having not thought to include a map, Gob smiles, and, leaning against the closet door, whispers:

"Same."

Across the stage, Tony's doing the same, and, in another moment of perfect sameness, their doors simultaneously give way, the two of them falling into the middle of the stage, where they conveniently catch one other, the crowd erupting into cheers. It earns them a standing ovation, but Gob's too busy grinning at Tony to care.

~*~

A wide angle shot of the anchor desk fills the screen, a solitary figure, bathed in shadows, sitting behind it. The camera pans in, light flooding the sound stage. Joni Beard sits behind the desk, her gaze steady, a forced smile tugging at her lips.

"Good evening Newport Beach," she says, looking straight into the camera's eye. "Before we begin, I am required by court order to make the following statement:

"I, Joni Beard, apologize, publicly, for the hurt I have caused Ms. Sally Sitwell, both personally and professionally. I ran a story without first fact-checking it and in doing so caused Ms. Sitwell irreparable harm. Ms. Sitwell is not, in fact, a murderer, and I hereby retract any suggestion to the contrary. In fact, I can now safely vouch for Ms. Sitwell's character and will be endorsing her during the upcoming election. Vote Sitwell. It's what I'm going to do.

"And now, for another story I have not thoroughly fact-checked. Rumour has it the Bluth boys are at it again, with Michael Bluth misappropriating Coast Guard funds. According to Bluth's lawyer the Coast Guard was required to intervene during a scuba-diving trip gone wrong, but given the Bluths' propensity for maritime law, is it not perhaps more likely Michael Bluth was doing something nefarious at sea? More on this potential bit of libel after the break."

---

End.