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see you on the b side, babe

Chapter Text

It should have worked, it should have worked, it should have worked, it should have- 

 

“Uncle Gob? Uncle Gob, can you hear me?” The young voice still held some crackling undertones, distinctive and known and somebody Gob was probably trying to avoid? Like, by default? It was hard to keep track of who was in and who was out of the family.

 

“-George Michael, I don’t think this is helping, we should try and get-” George Michael! George Michael was always in the family, although usually in the background, usually with Maeby. God, those two were so same. Same age, same family, same... what was it Maeby had started calling it? Goop. Same goop.

 

He and Tony should be same, should be running away right now, finding a motel and dreaming up magic acts.

 

How could he be so stupid! Stupid Gob, stupid Laguna Closet Conversion, stupid missing trapdoor.

 

“Uncle Gob, you need to snap out of it, I’m sorry to do this to you, but-”

 

WAP.

 

Christ, George Michael is really developing a mean hook there, isn’t he? Gob glares at his niece and nephew, looking disgustingly concerned and entirely too tall.

 

Wait. Gob was on the ground, behind the float. Thus the height difference. Huh.

 

“Are you gonna start hyperventilating again?” Gob has always been a little wary of Maeby, to tell the truth. She’s too much like him already, too tough and loud and scared behind her eyes. But now she’s standing in front of him, in an outfit he kind of doesn’t get, looking braver than he ever was at her age, like if he says yes to her question, she’ll help George Michael hit him again and again as much as he needs it.

 

Gob manages to shake his head no, and even though he’s not too sure he means it, it’s enough for them. George Michael sits next to him on his left, and Maeby sits next to him on his right, and George Michael stares nervously straight ahead but doesn’t flinch when Gob maybe slumps down a little and leans on his shoulder.

 

George Michael is the first to speak, but unlike his father, it isn’t a condemnation, just a comment. “We saw your act. It was, uh. Really something.”

 

Maeby shrugs in the corner of his field of vision. “I missed the beginning, I had to take care of something, but once you got to the mic banter, I started paying attention. What was supposed to happen there?”

 

His voice is sore from the crying he knows he probably did somewhere between noticing Tony wasn’t reappearing and George Michael and Maeby finding him, but the answer gets dragged out of him anyways. “We were supposed to be happy.”

 

George Michael lets out a soft “oh”, and Gob isn’t sure what that means, but his nephew doesn’t push him away or anything, so he doesn’t need to fish out the forget me nows or anything yet.

 

Crap. The forget me nows. Gob left them in the beach house medicine cabinet, so sure that today would make a good memory. So sure that by now, he and Tony would be Not In Laguna Beach, Not Here, and Happy that he left the pills and now he’s here, without the chance to wipe the memory away.

 

“Okay, I might have been incognito for too long or something, but I am lost, my dude.” Maeby nudges Gob’s shoulder. It’s a harsher bump than is maybe warranted, but the contact helps, somehow. Gob tries to pull himself together, get his words in order, get the story as straight as it can come out.

 

Oh god, Gob did that, didn’t he? He came out, he came out of the closet, and it doesn’t matter that the crowd didn’t super get it, he knows someone did and so someone knows, someone he doesn’t know, knows about him, and-

 

George Michael’s voice cuts through his roaring, rushing thoughts, still that crackling boy voice but somehow stronger for being soft. “This is about Tony Wonder, isn’t it? Like that night at the club?”

 

It’s phrased like a question, it feels like a question, it sounds like a question, so Gob nods once. Then twice, because that was two questions, technically.

 

“And you - you love him, right?”

 

What the hell, if he can tell strangers, he should be able to tell his family. Even though he’s never really told his family anything before, not square on, without glitter. But there’s still a pocketful of sequins that he had prepared just in case his coat started shedding, so Gob pulls out a pinch and throws it in the air, glistening briefly before turning into trash at their feet.

 

His niece and nephew get it though. They’re smart kids. Maeby whistles, impressed. “Damn. I should have thought of that. Everyone’s going to freak!” She looks contemplative. “And I’d be down for some girl on girl action, now that I think about it.”

 

George Michael coughs, tight and funny. “Maybe, Maeby, we should focus on Uncle Gob for now and revisit that mental picture- that idea, later?”

 

She shrugs. “Alright, fair enough.” Gob can see her pout a little though, and it makes Gob wonder (did somebody say did somebody say please please please) if Lindsay and Tobias ever realized that they’re doing exactly to Maeby what Lucille and George did to Gob. If they ever wondered (please come back please come back please) why Maeby’s stunts keep escalating, why she gets louder and brighter, or if they just see her growing and assume it’s bigger and better.

 

“Was the, uh, cement a part of it?”

 

Maeby gives George Michael a glare now, which is completely deserved, because duh. If the cement had been a part of it, Gob wouldn’t be hiding and puffy faced and alone.

 

“Shit.”

 

Gob manages to swear the kids to secrecy, and the three of them manage to drag him back to the model home. Not the first one, not the one that felt like a home with his siblings under one roof for once, but the model home where everything Tony happened, because Gob is a glutton for punishment and memories now, apparently. Which, same difference.

 

George Michael clears the bedroom and bathroom of pills, quietly, and Maeby slips a bottle of wine into his hand equally discretely when George Michael isn’t looking, and then they’re gone, and Gob is faced with a pounding silence and solitude and a familiar darkness.

 

hello darkness, my old friend

 

Damnit, things were supposed to be different this time! But Gob’s too tired to rage, too sad to be mad. His head is pounding and his stomach is shivering, somehow, his entire body in panic mode because even though Gob’s put himself through some insane physical situations before, nothing ever wounded him this deeply.

 

Something itches at his neck and Gob is almost mad enough at himself to let it stay, as penance or something, but curiosity wins out.

 

It’s a pink envelope with his name on it and a number in the corner, and his heart stops for a full beat. His fingers ply it open before he can process what this might mean, what he’s about to read, what he’s about to do to himself.

 

Gob,

Sally thinks I don’t remember, which means you couldn’t know I remember either. But I do, and I’m so sorry.

Tony

(20)

 

Gob uncorks the bottle with shaking hands, drinks straight from the neck. Because either this is a note from a dead man, or-

 

Or it’s a trick.

 

Gob won’t call it an illusion, because illusions are fun, and this is hell, and if it is a trick, then Tony’s going to have a lot to answer for, like “are you okay” and “why did you do it” and “how did you do it can you show me”.

 

He’s not an idiot, despite what his parents and Michael and the internet sometimes think, so he rereads the note, searching for anything he can use to speed this up. At first he read the twenty in the corner as four twenty, which, hilarious, but after a squinting routine that means he should maybe reconsider the glasses Michael thought he should get fifteen years ago, he determines that it’s a smudge, not a four, which is weird, because there’s nothing funny about the number twenty that he can think of.

 

The Final Countdown plays in his head then, and he suddenly knows that there are only two options.

 

Either A) Tony wrote this note counting down to the trick today when he was unceremoniously squished and crushed and Gob can’t think about that or B) Tony wrote this note counting down to his return.

 

One option means that there’s a finite amount of Tony left in the world. One option means that Tony’s still here, that he’s somewhere, and he just needs to be found.

 

Gob knows that feeling. And he doesn’t know when he started feeling this way, like maybe he could help someone (Tony Tony Tony) be found when he’s barely been able to find himself these past thirty odd years, but it’s an option now in a way that it never was before.

 

By the time Gob’s finished tearing apart the model home, he’s found six more notes.

 

Gob,

One time, when I was ten, I spent all summer sewing my first cape. I wore it to school and the other kids laughed, but you would have thought it was awesome if you’d seen it.

Yours,

Tony

(19)

 

G.O.B,

I actually have no idea how you write your name, isn’t that kind of sad? G.O.B. or GOB or Gob or maybe I’ve been spelling it wrong this whole time too. You’ll have to tell me which way you like it. Wink.

Magically,

Tony

(18)

 

Gob,

So, the deal with Sitwell is that she wants me to think, for some reason, that I killed Lucille Austero on Cinco. I couldn’t tell her that I know I didn’t, because I was with you, and I don’t want you wrapped up in this. So now we’re stuck in this charade, and she keeps asking me if I want to hook up with her, so I’ve been telling her that I have a flesh-eating virus. Which isn’t true, by the way, so if that somehow gets back to you, I’m one hundred percent lying and have actually never been sick in my life.

Be careful.

Tony

(17)

 

Gob,

I’m horny in my heart and my dick.

Tony

(16)

 

Gob,

I miss you. Which is weird, because we’ve only actually hung out a couple of times. But I think about you, all the time, and it’s distracting and if it was anyone else I’d probably hate it.

I don’t though.

Tony

(15)

 

Gob,

I still have the candy bean dish we made.

Tony

(14) 


Gob loses everything. Wallets, keys, birth certificates. He’s not sure he even knows how to keep something safe. He finds an envelope in Michael’s abandoned briefcase, takes out the letter, something about loan forgiveness, and carefully puts each of Tony’s seven notes inside. Then he steals the briefcase, just to make sure they’re extra safe.

 

If he can do this, find the notes and keep them safe, he knows that the magic will work and he’ll find Tony. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to keep him safe too, if he tries his hardest.

 

He has to try.

Chapter Text

Michael’s face is pinched tight, and Gob knows that look is meant for him.

 

“Hey, Gob? May I speak with you for a moment?” Michael’s arms are crossed over a button down shirt about five shades more muted than Gob’s and with at least four more buttons done up, and Gob sometimes wonders (did somebody say please somebody said please come back) how much of his vibrancy Michael chose to smother to survive.

 

He contemplates running. He knows the penthouse better than Michael, spent more teenage nights sneaking in and sneaking out than Michael. But Michael is holding some pink envelopes in his hand, and Gob suddenly knows what this is about.

 

“Sure, whatevs.” Gob is perched on the kitchen table, off the ground and in everybody’s way, everybody’s field of vision, just how he likes it. He thinks he looks more graceful this way, long limbs better on display and appearing far more relaxed than he ever feels in this old apartment.

 

Michael rolls his eyes but comes closer. “Your crap keeps getting mailed to my office. George Michael is getting over a bad breakup, and for that matter, so am I. Tell your lady friend to cut it out, if they’re even from another person. I would typically assume you were writing yourself love letters, for the attention or whatever, but between the envelopes and the glitter, that’s more effort than I personally think you’re capable of putting into a single task.” Michael is looking at Gob expectantly, but all Gob can think about is that those letters have to be from Tony, and he needs them like his mother needs alcohol or Lindsay needs applause.

 

He can’t let Michael know.

 

“So?” Michael’s voice is expectant, needy, assuming like always, like he’s fifteen again and waiting for an explanation as to why Gob can’t drive him to school when the answer is pretty freaking clear with the migraine medication and beer bottles on his nightstand, shades drawn tightly but not tight enough to stop Gob from seeing Michael’s acne-ridden baby face.

 

Gob has to laugh at the image, or else he’ll start hearing acoustic guitar chords. “So, what?” His mother is in the next room, he can hear her pterodactyl laugh, can imagine her perfectly drawn on face frowning at him in disapproval, in disavowal. The apartment smells like Lupe’s lemon pledge and everyone’s cigarette smoke, and Gob suddenly realizes that he can remember moving here when he was eight and it only smelled like crisp, empty space.

 

Ever since he stopped with the forget me nows, afraid of missing a Tony letter or clue, memories have slipped back into his mind with increasing frequency. They aren’t as bad as he thought they’d be.

 

“So, who is she? Or is this some setup, another revenge scheme on Tony Wander or whoever?”

 

He can’t say Wonder, can’t get the word past the rapidly rising lump in his throat.

 

He’s never been able to deny Michael an answer either though, even if that answer has to be a lie, a misdirection. “Jealous, Michael?” He unravels himself and lunges a little less gracefully than he’d like, but soon the letters are in his hand and Michael walks away shaking his head and Gob counts the envelopes one two three four. Four more letters.

 

The corner on one of them has been picked at, and Gob knows Michael thought about opening it, but didn’t, somehow, even though Michael is a notorious mail reader and when (if) Tony comes back, Gob will have to warn him about that.

 

Gob,

I found your brother’s building company, and even though you told me you two don’t always get along, it seemed safer than sending them to the Bluth-Austero company, since I heard you guys are under investigation right now. That sucks, and I’m sorry if it’s because of something I did. Sally is kind of getting to me, I almost believe her now, but writing to you reminds me of that night which reminds me that I do know what I did after, even if it was just to get drunk, but a horny kind of drunk, you know? Not a murder-y kind of drunk. I’m not a murderer.

Tony

(13)

 

Gob,

I don’t know how to do this, the honesty thing or the relationship thing. Maybe you don’t want to do either. I know before Cinco, I didn’t think I would ever be saying this kind of stuff, to anyone, but something about you is different, and it’s a good different.

Tony

(12)

 

Gob,

I think I love you and I don’t know what that means.

Tony

(11)

 

Gob,

You don’t need to love me back. I just wanted you to know.

Tony

(10)

 

Gob leaves the apartment without saying goodbye, or “that’s the last you’ll see of me” because he’s not Michael, he’s Gob the magician, and he can disappear when he needs to. There’s a park two blocks down from Balboa Towers, an oddity in a neighborhood that tends to prefer boutiques to brown and crumbling grass that needs more water than the city has to spare. Gob would usually climb to the top of the slide, maybe even perch on the sunshade to get higher, but there are two kids playing there, so Gob just sits on a bench like the other adults, holding his letters as gently as he can stand it so they don’t get wrinkled.

 

Gob likes kids, misses when Maeby and George Michael were five and six, and for once Gob was allowed to babysit because Tracy was dying and Michael needed a chance to sit with her through the night without their son. Lindsay said she just needed to run to the store, but Gob knows that really, Lindsay’s always been scared of death, scared of decay, even more so than Michael watching it happen in slow motion. So Gob let George Michael and Maeby stay up late, and they squealed and gasped at his magic, and the three of them gorged on popcorn and gummy worms until Maeby fell asleep in Gob’s lap in front of the TV. And with his cousin asleep and enough sugar in his blood to make him bold, George Michael asked Gob, very quietly and seriously, what was going to happen to his mom.

 

And maybe Michael knew, somewhere deep down, that Gob would be the best person for this. And maybe that’s why he left George Michael with him, even though when George Michael was born, Michael told Gob that he would only ever babysit unsupervised over his dead body. Gob guesses that Tracy’s dead body could count as a fulfillment of that, but still. Gob is the one that flushed the fish and buried the hamsters when they were kids.

 

Gob told George Michael, and let the boy cry himself to sleep, and in the morning they were fine, all of them were fine, and George Michael had a bit of a more solid glint in his eye than before. He was able to visit the hospital again, and even though Michael obviously never knew what changed, Gob found a vase of trick flowers shoved unceremoniously into his hand a week later.

 

That’s how the Bluths communicate, he thinks. With gestures and secrets and protection no one ever speaks about.

 

Gob’s fairly certain now that no one but George Michael and Maeby paid any attention to his July 2nd float. And while a few strangers wearing rainbow pins and jackets have high fived him lately, none of the older Bluths seem to have noticed. Which means Gob still has to tell them, and he has to tell them before Tony comes back.

 

There’s a commotion on the playground, and one of the kids is storming off pissed and kicking sand. Gob glances at the bench full of parents, but they’re gossiping and not paying attention, and it kind of makes Gob mad, that it seems so hard for families to see each other, really see each other. The kid keeps glancing back at his parents and is visibly getting madder everytime they don’t turn. Gob coughs, loud and wet and gross and totally fake. The woman in the tennis skirt glares at him, and Gob stands up, starts walking across the park, taking the long route out the back gate. Her gaze follows him, and Gob doesn’t know when it lands on the kid, but soon he can hear a pinched voice calling for a Jeremy, and that’s good enough for him.

 

The beach is only a little further down this road, maybe half a mile, and Gob starts meandering towards the ocean. He misses his old segway, thinks Michael probably sold it, contemplates making Michael buy him a new one. Walking isn’t so bad though, the summer night air is getting cooler but it’s still light out.

 

Gob could come out in another illusion, maybe. He hasn’t spoken to the Laguna Closet Conversion guys since the parade, but they might be up to help him again. Michael confiscated the company checkbook though, so a big illusion is out. A tiny voice in the back of his head comments that he could just tell everyone, using words and no smoke and no screens, but that’s probably the crazy voice that tells him to do stupid things like fall in love and be emotionally vulnerable.

 

Falling in love hasn’t been too bad, actually.

 

Sure, there’s the crushing fear that Tony isn’t safe, and the flickering fear that Tony will never really be able to love Gob once he knows more about him, but Gob’s always been afraid. Afraid of being alone, afraid of the dark, afraid of actually becoming everything his parents always said he was. It feels like for once, he’s afraid of the right things, for the right reasons.

 

And somehow, he’s no longer so afraid of his parents’ disapproval.

 

Tony is the best thing that ever happened to him, and it’s barely even started.

 

So he’ll tell them. Somehow. Somehow and sometime soon. Gob arrives at the ocean and stares at the waves for a while, letting the rise and fall teach him how to breathe again. He gets sand in his shoes and boxers, but it’s worth it to watch the fading colors of the sunset, the reds and purples and orange hues that he always wants to capture in his shows.

 

Gob gets tapped on the shoulder by a delivery lady on his way home, and there are two more letters.

 

Gob,

I really loved your illusion, the July 2nd parade one. It had panache and style, and I wish I’d thought of it first, you big jerk. (You really are massive, and on someone else, it might suck, but I kind of like being smaller than you. Is that weird? I think it’s not weird, it’s probably a thing or whatever. And I’m only like, two inches shorter than you. Max.)

Tony

(9)

 

Gob,

When I was a kid, I used to have imaginary friends. We’d solve puzzles and rescue magicians from princesses and our home base was this tree house my dad built for my brother and me in the backyard. I’ll have to show it to you sometime, it would be nice to have a real friend up there for a change.

Tony

(8)

 

Gob stops by a flower shop on the way home. He buys himself something green, something alive, something real, and tells himself that if he can remember to keep them watered and healthy and alive, everything will work out and Tony will be okay.

 

He has to be.



Chapter Text

It’s family dinner night, again, and Michael has an announcement to make, again. Gob and Maeby have the usually bet going, ten bucks on Michael storming out for Maeby and ten bucks on Michael throwing something for Gob. He hasn’t thrown anything yet, but Gob read the back cover of a book a few years ago that said it’s important to speak the things you want into being.

 

“Alright, alright! I know, you’re probably wondering what I wanted to tell you all. Well-” As Michael goes on some long-winded rant about fate and second chances, Gob congratulates himself on not flinching at “wonder” anymore. He has twelve letters now, and if he’s any good at math, which he really isn’t, he only needs to find eight more before they’re finished.

 

Or, he only gets eight more, and then his world is finished.

 

One or the other. It’s a terrifying narrowing of options, but Gob can’t stop hurtling towards it, towards the end, like he does with everything he loves, from old sci-fi paperbacks to shitty tv docudramas about the founding fathers.

 

“And that’s why I wanted to tell all of you first, that I’ve met someone and, believe it or not, she wants to meet you.” Michael is visibly puffing out his chest, the buttons on his terrible button down reflecting the carefully calculated to make Lucille look the best dining room light.

 

A collective groan, deep and guttural, makes its way around the table.

 

Tobias straightens his glasses. “Michael, far be it for me to put a moist towelette on your flames of passion, but your dating hasn’t exactly been a rousing success in the past, now has it?”

 

“Tobias is right,” Lindsay adds. “You never manage to date anybody remotely fun, much less someone we would like to meet.” Lindsay’s barely looking up, typing some message on a Blackberry Gob wasn’t aware they still made these days.

 

Michael frowns. “Well, Lindsay, if I recall correctly, you were quite the Rita fan for a while there.”

 

“Do you really think that Re-Rita girl is the Best example for your case, Michael?” Lucille manages to make her slow blinks an admonition.

 

Michael’s face is starting to get that steely look that means he’s near his breaking point, but he swallows it down in that way that Gob’s always secretly admired and tried to practice in the bathroom mirror. “Fine. If everyone’s so concerned with my dates, why don’t we put it to a vote?”

 

George Michael unexpectedly speaks up, startling Gob and Maeby out of their running commentary. “Wait, do we really want to establish that kind of a precedent?” He makes eye contact with Gob and Maeby before continuing. “I mean, if we put your dating life to a vote, wouldn’t we all have to also do that? Is that what we really want? Our romantic lives in each other’s hands?”

 

“Well, for Buster, it’s just the one hand, but that’s fair enough, George Michael. We can vote on whether we vote if that’s what you’d prefer.”

 

George Michael’s tone is surprisingly firm. “Thanks, Dad, yeah, it is. All in favor of voting, say Aye.”

 

Lucille calls out an “Aye”, and so does Tobias, but everyone else stays blessedly silent.

 

“All opposed?”

 

The nays are lackluster but the clear winner. Michael blinks at the room, the motion exactly the same as Lucille’s earlier expression, not that Michael would ever believe it. “So, does that mean I can bring Sandy around or not?”

 

“Michael.” Gob stands up out of his chair, as tall and big as he can make himself. “No one cares.”

 

Gob watches his brother consider the announcement. “I’ll take it.”

 

Maeby coughs and nudges Gob. “This is a pretty primo slot of an announcement of your own, if you know what I mean?” Maeby can’t really whisper, but she keeps her voice low enough that only Gob can make out her words under all the cross chatter at the table.

 

Nope. Nope nope nope nope.

 

Gob’s legs betray him and he collapses back into his chair with more noise than he’d like to be making in this moment.

 

“Or, not.” His niece, his least favorite and favorite niece, turns in her chair to face Gob. “Maybe start smaller then?” She squints at his face, his face that is definitely probably getting a sheen of nervous sweat. “Yeah, you’re right, you oughta rip that band-aid off in one go.” She signals to George Michael and starts piling her plate with the burgers the caterers brought in. George Michael looks reluctant but piles his own plate high with the brownies Gob’s mother told Lindsay she wasn’t allowed to have, and the three of them slip out to the balcony, Maeby half dragging, half guiding Gob to the patio furniture.

 

“You know, I thought when we turned twenty, we’d stop having kids meetings out here.” But George Michael doesn’t sound bothered, he just grabs a burger off of Maeby’s plate and replaces it with a brownie with a practiced ease.

 

Maeby shrugs, mouth too full to respond. Gob feels a smile starting to come back to his face, and his pulse slows down now that they’re out of the dining room.

 

George Michael takes a small, measured bite of his burger, always the opposite of Maeby. After a few minutes, he looks at Gob. “So, you need a plan? To tell everyone?”

 

Gob tries to be nonchalant. “Yeah, something like that.” He swaps out the bottom of his burger for another top and tries to ignore the symbolism. “The problem is, our family is freaking nuts.”

 

“And you’re noticing this now, or...?” The other Bluths think his nephew learned sarcasm in college, but Gob has always noticed that slight edge of humor George Michael mastered early on.

 

Gob rolls his eyes. “Obviously they’ve always been nuts, but this past year has been a trainwreck, in case YOU hadn’t noticed. What with the murder charges and all.”

 

George Michael considers it, then nods. “Okay, yeah, but they’ve still been like this forever. They’re mean and spiteful and date your girlfriend behind your back. Twice.”

 

“Sorry about Egg, again. But we are good, right?” Ann was, admittedly, a huge mistake. And terrible in bed. Really, truly awful.

 

“Oh yeah, we’re good.” George Michael doesn’t even say it with the eye twitch he had before.

 

“Good.” Gob considers his niece and nephew, his favorite family members if he’s being honest with himself. “What would you two do, if you had to tell the family something you knew they wouldn’t like?”

 

George Michael blushes and starts stammering, a nervous tic Gob’s scared he picked up from him. Maeby just looks contemplative. “I guess I’d tell them they could either deal with it and accept us, or not, but either way it was going to happen, with their blessing or without.” She laughs once, sharp. “Sorry, did I say us? I meant me, obviously. Don’t know where that came from.”

 

“But don’t you-” George Michael clears his throat, and yep, there’s that same kid from five years ago. “Don’t you worry? Like my dad, I’m all he really has, and I don’t know if I could throw that away.”

 

“It wouldn’t be throwing it away.” Maeby gets calmer as George Michael gets more flustered, a balancing scale. “For something like this, it’s more of a swap, really. One fucked up family from blood for a new, non-blood family with someone you care about. And our family is so dysfunctional as it is, I think that eventually, they’d forgive anything.” She glances at Gob. “Not that, in your case, there even is anything to forgive. Tony-”

 

Gob shakes his head, gesturing back at the family only a few feet away, behind a thin pane of glass and opulent curtains.

 

“Fine, your mystery lover, if that makes you feel better. But he’s fine, is what I mean. He’s a magician, not a cop or FBI agent. If you were dating one of those, then you’d be in trouble. But he’s just another magician, even if he’s a dude. You’ll be fine.” Maeby stuffs another burger in her mouth for emphasis.

 

George Michael puts a hand on Gob’s shoulder. “She’s right, at least he’s not a cop.” The pressure from his slightly too warm palm reminds him of Buster, who he really ought to visit in prison. He never knew what to do with Buster when he was a kid. Buster was so young and fragile and Gob at sixteen was breaking everything he touched. But now they’re older, and Buster’s already been arrested, and admittedly, three decades of Lucille’s brand of parenting probably did enough damage that Gob can’t make it worse.

 

Maeby squeaks, a noise he knows she’ll deny making so hard he doesn’t even bother trying to tease her. “Uncle Gob! I just remembered, someone sent this to my place.”

 

It’s a pink envelope, and Gob grabs it greedily from her. The glitter on the front is rough beneath his fingertips, and it’s real and he knows that inside will be another piece of Tony.

 

“Wow, how many is that now?” George Michael sounds vaguely impressed, which, good, he should be. Tony is fantastic and these letters are all that’s keeping Gob sane right now, with the waiting and not knowing.

 

Gob taps the corner of the envelope, where there’s a carefully drawn seven. “It’s a countdown from twenty. So number thirteen, but seven left, including this one.” He doesn’t open it, he’s suddenly afraid of getting down to one, then none.

 

“What happens when you get to zero?” Of course, it’s Maeby who asks, she’s like him, too settled into being bold and brash to worry about the consequences of asking questions like that.

 

Gob shrugs. “I have no idea.” He laughs a short bark that he cuts off before it can devolve into a panic spiral. “I mean, hopefully, the last one is how to find him, how to - how to help him.”

 

George Michael frowns. “Wait, is Tony in danger? Should we tell someone?”

 

He considers this as a news helicopter roars past overhead, probably in pursuit of some exclusive footage of a car crash or something equally voyeuristic. “No,” Gob says slowly. “I think he’s just hiding for a while until things with Lucille Two calm down.”

 

“That’s good then, you have the time to, you know, adjust.” George Michael offers Gob a brownie, which he obviously accepts. “You should tell the family in advance though. With your luck, the Tony reunion will happen in front of reporters,” George Michael continues.

 

Maeby nods. “Oh yeah, you have the worst luck, man.” She shudders. “You can’t get away with anything, thank god I don’t have that problem.”

 

Secretly, Gob thinks that Maeby might be able to get away with too much. Or would, if she didn’t have George Michael to slow her down, even her out.

 

“What if we made a banner?” George Michael gestures at the ‘Welcome Home From Jail, Buster’ still hanging in the kitchen from when Michael thought he’d made a deal with the DA. “It is a tradition, isn’t it?”

 

“Huh.” Maeby frowns. “What would it even say? Gob Love Tony? Family Love Gay Gob?”

 

George Michael lets out a little huff that is all Michael without the edges. “I mean, we could use proper grammar, we’d just write smaller. No need to get sloppy with the English language.”

 

God, the kid is such a nerd. Gob wonders (did somebody say soon soon soon) if George Michael would have grown up this neurotic in a different family. As a toddler, he seemed pretty laid back, even if he was really into that baby clock thing from George Sr.

 

Before the idea of coming out to his family can truly sink in, Gob is pulling open the envelope, since if anyone can remind him why he’s doing this, it’s Tony, his Tony, Tony Wonder the openly gay magician.

 

Gob,

I came to one of your shows once. Not the Incredible Jesus one, an earlier one, with the Aztec Tomb. You were still doing the small circuit, but you had just started the Magician’s Alliance, and I wanted to see who else respected the craft that much. The show didn’t go perfectly, they usually don’t, but I was still captivated by you. You burn really brightly, you know. So much energy and passion that it was hard to not approach you at the end. But I couldn’t think of anything to say, I didn’t have anything planned, so I left. I’ve been regretting that a lot lately. I wish I’d taken the chance and said something.

Tony

(7)

 

 

Gob takes a deep breath in, holds it somewhere safe and secret. He exhales slowly, like a good hit of pot, but instead of getting high he feels more rooted. “Maeby, grab me a marker, will you? I know what it is that I must do.”

 

“Woah, Uncle Gob, major tone shift.” She grins. “I like it. Be right back!”

 

Gob starts to pull off his jacket, starling George Michael. “Woah, wait, what’s the plan?”

 

“I’m going back to what I know best, young grasshopper.” Gob flashes a grin at his nephew, feeling the performance energy start to mask the nervous, terrified, personal revelations that could shatter his entire family dynamic energy.

 

George Michael groans. “Not the-”

 

“-Hot Cops routine number 6? Hell. Yes. George Michael.” Hot Cops routine number 6 is a Gob Bluth specialty. Sure, Hot Cops invented it, choreographed it, licensed it. But George Oscar Bluth refined it, made it an art.

 

Maeby comes back with the marker and helps him write ‘GOB GAY’ on his chest in big, eight-inch letters. Once the ink dries, he velcroes his shirt back together, and Maeby turns to him, pleading. “Uncle Gob, if you care for me at all, you’ll let me grab my camera before you start.”

 

And, well, the kid did help him. “Sure, but the show goes on in five minutes, so hurry.”

 

Maeby gets her handheld set up in three. George Michael passes him a shot of Lucille’s best vodka, which he downs with ease. They really are the best kids.

 

Gob’s high school boombox is locked and loaded, and all that’s left to do is saunter into the dining room, and take his shirt off. Yep. Easy stuff.

 

“Uh, Uncle Gob, do you need a push?”

 

“Yes I do, Maeby, yes I do.”

 

She and George Michael strong-arm him back into the apartment, and George Michael presses play on the boombox and Maeby pressed play on the camcorder, and the first opening beats are enough to pull Gob back down to earth as Brittney’s Toxic fills the room.

 

Tobias claps excitedly. “Ooooh, Hot Cops Number Six!”

 

Lucille groans in unison with Michael. They’re a perfect mirror of each other, pinched lips and grumpy eyes.

 

Gob doesn’t care, he always liked dancing, and if his family was better at talking, he wouldn’t have to make his major announcements this way. By the second verse, his shirt is halfway undone, and George Sr. is begrudgingly adjusting his glasses. But Gob is spinning maybe a little too fast on purpose, trying to prolong this moment when everyone is looking at him and no one knows yet. Soon though, his shirt is on the floor, and he skips the pants removal part in favor of posing majestically as the last beats of the song fade out.

 

The room is silent. George Michael and Maeby clap, but two people clapping aren’t really enough to fill the silence, even if one of those people is Maeby Fünke Bluth.

 

Of course, Michael is the first one to speak. “Wait, Gob, is this-” he’s slowly rising, confusion wrinkling his brow, and suddenly, Gob can’t take it. He turns to the family, bows deep and dramatically, then turns to George Michael and Maeby, talking over Michael.

 

“Hey, you two can fill them in on the rest, okay? Great, thanks, bye, text me when it’s good to come back!”

 

And Gob is sprinting out of the apartment, Michael’s voice still trying to shake down an explanation that will have to come from the cousins now.

 

The better part of valor, Gob thinks to himself as he sneaks back to his park, he’s always thought of it as his park, even though it’s public property and he’s too big for the swings. The better part of valor is knowing when to run. Because it’s not that he’s afraid of what everyone will say, he just knows that he doesn’t need to be there for this part, the yelling and the dramatics and everyone debating on what to do with him, like he’s an unruly dog no one really wants around when company is over.

 

And oh, right, the company.

 

Michael already reclaimed the checkbook, and they’re probably going to decide what to do about the title now that he’s out of the room. It was nice to be in charge while it lasted, at least.

 

Gob’s not sure how he feels. There’s still adrenaline coursing through his veins, and he has a stitch in his side from running so fast without stretching or really breathing properly. But the playground is dark and empty, so Gob is able to climb up to the highest perch available to a six foot two man.

 

You can’t really see the stars in Laguna Beach, but Gob remembers a seventh-grade field trip to one of those big planetariums, and he just blends that memory with the sky above him tonight. Millions of tiny stars, dots of light, like glitter decorating the curtains of a magic show bigger than he can even imagine.

 

Gob knows that Michael thinks magic is a hobby and Lindsay thinks that magic is something he does out of boredom because those are the reasons they would do magic. But Gob loves magic because it’s a chance to change things, to make life less predictable and less structured and less stiff and more meaning than he’d ever get the chance to have without magic.

 

Because without magic, Gob would be exactly this, exactly who he is but worse and less than. He’d still be technically unemployed, he’d still be the layabout while Michael is the smart and good one and Lindsay is the pretty one. He’d still be sad, but he wouldn’t be making other people happy with his shows and his illusions.

 

He’d still be gay. He just wouldn’t have Tony in his life, and he suddenly feels a rush of affection for what magic has done for him, even if he’s never landed a big career or ever really performed a trick perfectly consistently.

 

In the distance, the sound of a familiar slightly asthmatic wheeze is getting closer. Gob thinks about running again, but Michael sounds really terrible, and he doesn’t want his kid brother to actually die, even if he’s just chasing Gob down to yell at him. Or punch him. There’s still been a lot of that going around.

 

Michael lets out a low groan once he sees that Gob is on top of the playground, but Gob still hears him climb up the slide anyway.

 

“Why’d you-” Michael gasps, and holy shit, that is raspier than usual, and Gob wonders if Michael still carries an inhaler or if he started deciding to be in denial about the asthma when he went into denial about getting older, “-why’d you run?”

 

Gob turns from his back to his stomach so he can properly loom over Michael from the awning. He doesn’t bother responding, he knows what look his face is giving Michael, and he knows it’s a killer, he practiced it in the mirror.

 

Michael shrugs. “Okay, so I know why you ran. And I guess that also answers why you waited until now, huh.” Gob watches his younger brother try to get comfortable on the platform. “I guess what I’m really asking, if I’m being honest, is why you were.”

 

“Why I was what?” Gob’s voice is steadier than he thought it’d be when he imagines this conversation, and he’s only shivering a little. Which doesn’t even count, since it’s probably more the fact that he’s still shirtless and now outside.

 

Michael huffs. “Why you were honest. I mean, you just told everyone - really weirdly, you told everyone really weirdly - but I always thought you were just gonna, I don’t know, keep that part of you buried.”

 

“You knew?” It comes out like a question, but Gob knows that Michael does technically know, but that knowledge is supposed to be walled up behind a forget-me-now.

 

His brother shifts. “I might have seen some... interactions, in high school.”

 

Normally, Gob wouldn’t remember enough about high school to make the connection, but his hiatus from forget-me-nows has really let some of the memories come rushing back. “Oh, Chris from chem?”

 

Michael nods. “Probably.” Gob watches Michael’s chest rise and fall in a more natural looking rhythm for a moment, making sure he’s fine before turning back around so he can see the sky and his fake stars.

 

It’s a few long moments of silence broken only by the park sprinklers. “I met someone, and I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I didn’t want telling everyone to hold me back from making the right moves with this person.” The answer spills out of Gob before he really has time to process what that all means, but Michael says “oh” in the same way that George Michael said “oh” back at the parade, and Gob is struck again by how much all of them are tied together by these quirks of genetics and habit.

 

“So you’re finally in love.” Of course, Michael would phrase it like that, like it’s obvious and easy and not the scariest thing Gob’s ever done.

 

“Yeah. Yeah, I am.”

 

Michael throws something up to Gob’s perch, and it’s cloth and buttons and it takes him an embarrassing extra second to process that it’s his shirt. “Thanks.”

 

He hears Michael start to make his way down the slide. “You’re welcome.” And then Gob is alone again, but slightly warmer, and that makes all the difference.

Chapter Text

Lindsay brings Gob the next letter, along with a pitch to speak at her next political rally that he immediately lights on fire.

 

“I guess we probably should have noticed how dramatic you were before, huh.” Lindsay studies the ashes of her proposal as they land on her way too gaudy looking shoes.

 

Gob grins. “Yep. And by the way, those shoes are hideous.” This is fun, he should have done this earlier. Lindsay looks genuinely put out.

 

“Ugh, fine, whatever.” Lindsay riffles through her purse before pulling out a telltale pink envelope. “And this is yours, apparently.”

 

Gob grabs the letter, double checking the number in the corner. It’s number six. They’ve stopped coming in batches, and he thinks this must mean something, that the countdown is closing in and change is coming.

 

Lindsay lets herself out, but Gob catches the hint of a smile on her face as she leaves, and knows she’s not really mad about the rally. Which is good, because Lindsay can hold grudges like crazy when she wants to.

 

Gob,

So this thing with Sally isn’t working out. I mean, clearly we’re supposed to be on the run or proving our innocence or whatever, but she keeps finding new evidence that means we have to lay low for a while longer, and I’m going stir crazy. You should probably be ready to skip town with me for a while, if you’re still up for that. Pack a bag.

I hope you are. One room, right?

Tony

(6)

 

It takes Gob a minute to parse what’s different about this letter.

 

Tony’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive -

 

And he didn’t tell Gob until now. The relief mixes with a sense of betrayal Gob doesn’t know how to articulate and isn’t sure he wants to.

 

Something shatters in the kitchen, and Gob turns instinctively towards the noise. Tobias emerges, looking sheepish. “Hiya, Gob, I was just - searching, for something. Something real. Not following my ex-wife.”

 

“Is Lindsay your ex-wife now, like, legally? I thought you two were on a trial separation?” Gob doesn’t really care, Lindsay and Tobias are basically always doing the opposite of what their relationship status suggests, but it’s worth keeping up with the legal status when he can. It means he can use the fake Tobias credit card in his wallet more when they’re not together, since Tobias is somehow even worse than Lindsay with balancing a checkbook.

 

Tobias sighs, his whole body deflating. “I’m afraid my darling Lindsay has fired the bullet. I was hoping it was a blank, but, alas.” Tobias looks back at Gob, suddenly brightening. “But hey! I’m not the one who finally came out to the family. Although, admittedly, it was rather obvious after that stunt with that Beard woman. How’s that going for you, champ?”

 

“Well.” Gob has been looking for a chance to monologue, and Tobias is as captive an audience as ever, even if they aren’t related anymore. “I just found out for sure that Tony Wonder is alive, and now I’m trying to decide if I should be happy because the one person I’ve ever loved isn’t encased in cement for real, or if I should vow vengeance because the one person I’ve ever loved let me believe they were encased in cement for real for three weeks.”

 

Gob really wishes Tobias wouldn’t rub his hands together like that. It’s just wrong. “Well, today is your lucky day, my conflicted friend. Come, come, sit on the couch and tell me more about these feelings.”

 

It probably couldn’t make things worse, Gob reasons. And it makes Tobias scream like a little girl when he actually does sit down. People should really let Tobias do his therapist stuff more often, he thinks. Maybe then he’d stop relentlessly pursuing acting.

 

“So. George Oscar Bluth. You’re the cock of the walk, and then you find out you’re more of a, how should I put this - rooster that’s gay.” Tobias makes some half aborted gesture with his hands that Gob takes as a sign to start talking again.

 

But Gob’s feeling pretty good about the gay stuff, honestly. What he doesn’t understand is how Tony could betray him like this, leave him to suffer and panic and worry. When he tells Tobias this, his ex-brother-in-law shakes his head.

 

“Gob, Gob, Gob. What would you have done, if you were Tony, and Tony was you?”

 

Gob thinks back to a night of masks and mixed identities turning into mixed bodies. “I mean, probably have normal sex?”

 

“Really? Well, that’s not quite... really?” Tobias hums. “I might have to circle back to that. But, no, what I meant was, what if you were in danger and Tony wasn’t? Would you tell him everything that was going on?”

 

When Gob was twenty-six, he ran away to Las Vegas, so much hurt and anger and fear needing an outlet or else he was going to explode. He was also running away from a mounting drug bill and some hired guns that did not accept illusions as interest payments. He never told Michael or Lindsay where he went, didn’t leave a number, didn’t even leave a note.

 

He looks at Tobias, who’s studying him more calmly than he’s ever seen the man before. “No, I wouldn’t.”

 

The world shifts for Gob then. Deep in his gut, something settles, and somehow something is settled in his mind too.

 

Up until now, Gob’s life has just happened to him. Magic was the exception, he chose magic, he knows he did, but he’s never done the Michael thing and made a plan, or the Lindsay thing and kept a wishlist for places to go and things to do. Even Buster figured out early on that what he wanted more than anything was to stay baby Buster forever, and he managed to make that happen.

 

But this thing with Tony, this fragile bond of magic and sameness and one night of really incredible Cinco de Cuatro sex, this is something Gob wants to choose. And really, Gob’s been choosing Tony ever since he wandered into a closet store and three moderately cute men told him he deserved to give that relationship another shot.

 

“Tobias, where would you hide, if you had to?”

 

Tobias looks surprised at the question but genuinely considers it. “Well. My parents have a house back in Massachusetts, it’s an old queen of a house, really. If I had to hide, I’d go back there.”

 

Gob jumps up and over the back of the couch, vaulting himself towards the hole in the wall he made to keep Tony’s notes safe. Number 8 is what he wants, what he thinks he might need to piece everything back together.

 

Gob,

When I was a kid, I used to have imaginary friends. We’d solve puzzles and rescue magicians from princesses and our home base was this tree house my dad built for my brother and me in the backyard. I’ll have to show it to you sometime, it would be nice to have a real friend up there for a change.

Tony

(8)

 

He knew it, he knew that the wording meant something, knew that there were clues in the notes. Tony’s the magician, and Sally Sitwell is the princess, and Gob can do the rescuing if only he could find out where Tony’s parents live.

 

Tobias is still calling his name, so Gob shouts out a distracted “thank-you-and-goodbye”, one breathless smushed together sentence because Gob’s mind is racing around a track of Tony Wonder trivia.

 

He knows Tony grew up locally because Tony Wonder’s first magic show was at the public school prom, and he remembers hearing about it from his friends in the magic club. He was so jealous, and so impressed, and now he’s glad that his primal little hindbrain held onto that jealousy for over twenty years because now he knows that Tony’s family must live within three blocks of the public high school, and that’s a small enough area that he can search it himself.

 

Gob forces himself to slow down, to breathe, to plan like Tony would plan.

 

He needs to pack a bag, Tony mentioned that in the last letter, number 6. Clothes, cash, fake credit cards. If he heads back to Balboa Towers, if he braves his mother and his father that still haven’t called, he can grab a few of George Sr.’s fake passports, just in case. He considers adding “steal Michael’s clothing for Tony” on that list, but makes the mistake of imagining the alternative, Tony wearing Gob’s extra clothes, oversized and his, and Gob firmly decides that Michael would hate having his clothes stolen and that’s exactly the reason why and the only reason why he decides not to risk it.

 

It feels strange to be doing this, the planning and list making, but everything in Gob’s life has been strange since Tony burst out of a beanbag chair and into his world. Gob feels like a part of Tony dislodged then, and now Tony is like that one cricket that was kind of a narc in Pinocchio, but not annoying. Tony’s voice is in his head and it feels good, feels same, feels like something he could get used to.  

 

Gob checks the hallway clock and nearly panics before remembering that it’s fake and doesn’t tell real time. But his flip phone says that it’s only five in the afternoon, and that means if he can pack in less than an hour, he can find Tony before nightfall.

Chapter Text

George Oscar Bluth can handle this. He can. He totally can deal, he can look his parents in the eyes and say “so, what’s new in your heterosexual lives? Can I borrow some fake passports for my gay lover, or would you rather I stay out of your hair forever? Stay out of your hair forever? Alright, okay, going to go now and definitely not cry later”.

 

In fact, Gob is so totally comfortable with this situation and his parents that he has nothing to prove, and therefore is totally justified in using Mrs. Whitman’s balcony to get into his parents’ penthouse. She’s a sweet old lady, anyway, and he used to visit her a lot more in high school, so he owes her a visit. Or whatever. It’s totally justified, is his point.

 

It’s only the work of a few minutes to pick the lock on the sliding glass door, and it only takes a few minutes more for Gob to ease his way into the apartment, silent as only a master magician can be.

 

“Is this what we’ve come to, Gob? Sneaking in like a common criminal?” His mother is lounging on the chaise, of course she is, because that’s his life right there in an incredible caricatures snapshot, wine glass and all.

 

He forces a smile but knows it comes out like a grimace. “Mother.” He doesn’t know what to do with his hands, and he’s painfully aware that he’s on a deadline, but he still stands there, frozen, waiting for her to say something mean so they can both get this over with.

 

Lucille frowns. “Well, what are you looking at me for? I’m not the one who barged in here, with some obvious agenda.” She waves her wine glass more haphazardly than usual. “Carry on, wrap it up, then get on with your-” she squints at Gob, considering. “Well. Let’s not call it a fabulous life, your colors are clashing, but you can get back to whomever it is you’re doing.” She inspects him again. “Although, just so you know, you are not allowed under any circumstances to bring your beaus to public functions without 48-hour notice and an advance interview.”

 

It’s not ‘Congratulations’ or god forbid, a hug, but that’s about as accepting as he’s ever heard his mother, and Gob feels a little off balance. “Noted.”

 

He starts to make his way down the hall but pauses in the doorway. “Mom, do you know where Dad keeps the fake passports?”

 

His mother is silent for a beat too long. “Running, Gob?” And maybe Gob is still off balance, but she sounds disappointed in a surprised way, not the usual way. She isn’t making eye contact with him, instead studying the way the light shines through her wine, and Gob remembers being four and thinking that the dark red was the prettiest color in the world, which is why he couldn’t understand why painting with it made his mother so mad.

 

“Not like you’re thinking. Tony and I want to lay low for a while, but... we’re coming back.” He realizes as he says it that he’s not really sure if they will, they haven’t discussed it, but that’s not worth airing out with his mother here and now when they finally have a tentative peace hanging between them.

 

Lucille sniffs and manages to make it sound satisfied. “Good. Bluths don’t run. Check under the bed in the getaway safe. The code is your birthday.”

 

Gob pauses. “What?”

 

“Well, no one would ever guess it.”

 

And there it is, but an admittedly well set up shot at how little the family cares about his existence really isn’t so bad, paired with the slowly sinking in knowledge that his mother is fine with Tony, fine with him.

 

The passports are right where she said they’d be, although Gob has to avert his eyes from a box labeled “fun time toys” and maybe gag a little at the implication. He grabs two that were actually probably meant for him and Michael, and Gob smiles a little at the idea that his parents do care and kept fake passports with roughly their ages lying around, just in case.

Gob maybe also helps himself to some of the petty cash in the old donut bag, but come on. If he’s going to get booted out of the company presidency, he at least needs a little severance package.

 

“Heyyyy, brother.” Buster’s voice really hasn’t gotten less grinding since puberty, Gob muses as he gingerly rubs his head where he banged it on the mahogany bed frame. He wiggles back out from under the bed to catch Buster literally clapping his hands (well, hand and plastic hand) in glee.

 

Gob tries to give him a smile, but that robotic hand really does still creep him out. “Hey, bud. I thought you were in prison again, because of the whole float fiasco?” Because Gob does pay attention, he knows that Buster technically led a prison break and that Barry was bragging about this being a new house for his mistress.

 

Buster shrugs. “Barry got them off on a technicality. Don’t ask me which one, but, hey, who am I to look a gift-lawyer in the mouth! Because that would be gross, Barry’s mouth has a ton of cavities.” Buster leans in conspiratorially. “And some of his teeth are Really Pointy.”

 

“Listen, Buster, I’ve got to head out, I’m meeting someone and-” time is ticking, Gob knows this, knows that everything in his life is building up to something more, and for once, he won’t be late if he can help it.

 

Buster squeals in delight, somehow right into Gob’s ear, despite the careful arm's length of distance Gob deliberately put between them. “Tony Wonder?”

 

Gob blinks. “Actually, yes. How did you know?”

 

“I pay attention, brother. Go, go to him.” Buster grins a little too wide. “Fly to him, brother bird! Fly!”

 

“I mean, I’m just going to walk, but thanks.”

 

Gob gives Buster a pat on the back as he walks away, shoving the passports and cash into his duffle bag that might be too distinctive with his initials embroidered on the side, but he can sort that out later. Right now, his body is humming with the knowledge that Tony is near, he’s going to see Tony soon. He’s actually going to surprise Tony, probably, since there were still letters left but Gob can’t wait. Gob needs to tell Tony to tell him what’s going on, that Gob can handle danger, but Gob can’t handle a life without Tony at his side.

 

It’s only a short taxi ride to Tony’s neighborhood, too short to really get a handle on what he’s feeling, but Gob knows that this isn’t hunger in the sense he’s used to. This is desire, plain and simple, for Tony and Tony’s words out loud, not just on paper. For Tony alive, not in cement, and not with memory loss.

 

Tony’s childhood neighborhood is nice, Gob thinks to himself. There are small yards with dogs, and there are kids everywhere, running and yelling and kicking up the sort of dust and mess that would never be allowed in Balboa Towers. Tall trees cast cool shadows over the sidewalk, and the sunlight filtering through the leaves make Gob feel like everything is going to turn out alright.

 

Maybe it’s magical thinking, but Gob can tell that none of the houses on this street were Tony’s.

 

He thinks about asking one of the kids running around, but there are already two registered sex offenders in the family, and a man with a three-foot long duffle bag probably shouldn’t engage too much with people this small.

 

Gob starts wandering, scanning each house for signs that someone magical lived here once. He can picture the signs, the blobs of paint in the driveway from building stages, the slight grass mounds signaling a rabbit graveyard. Some houses are too impersonal looking for Tony though, too stiff and ordinary.

 

He tries not to wonder (did somebody say did somebody say I’m coming Tony) if someday he and Tony will have a house with a driveway and yard like that because he can’t get ahead of himself, right now he just has to find Tony and help him, somehow.

 

Of course, finding Tony becomes a lot easier once Gob spots the Bluth-Austero stair car in the driveway of a beige ranch style home. Sure, he was one hundred billion percent right about the bunny graveyard and the paint splotches, but the stair car is kind of a dead giveaway.

 

There’s a pink envelope buried in the hydrangeas in the front garden, and Gob’s heart speeds up.

 

In the corner, there’s a small number one, and Gob knows that he’s in the right place.

 

Gob,

Okay, so, Sally doesn’t stay here overnight, she always goes back to her own apartment to keep up appearances or whatever. She just comes over here every day to work on her campaign and the plans she has so we don't wind up arrested. They're pretty impressive, actually. But anyway, come get me, babe.

See you soon,

Tony

(1)

 

There’s a gate in the garden that’s unlocked, so Gob makes his way towards the backyard slowly, trying to avoid falling into the line of sight for the windows of the house. He’s never been in a backyard like this before, which seems odd, since this is the kind of home he saw on TV all the time as a kid. But he was always either inside apartment penthouses or at nursing homes visiting elderly, wealthy relatives with his family, and there were never really any friends inviting him over after school. There are roses by the garden wall, and stepping stones looping back toward the house that Gob is avoiding. A few yards away is a thick tree, with old branches the size of his duffle bag, and Gob knows that this is it, this is the treehouse tree, even before his eyes adjust to the dimming light and he can see darkly stained plywood hidden beneath the leaves.

 

And Gob doesn’t know what to do now.

 

Loving Tony from a distance was one thing, but Gob knows that loving someone in person is completely different and that he sucks at it. Truly, deeply, sucks at it. Words come out jumbled and too harsh, actions meant to be a demonstration of how he’s feeling and what he wants to show the world tend to come crashing down in flames, often literally. Everyone he loves is left thinking he doesn’t have feelings, doesn’t care at all, when the problem has always been that he has too many all the time.

 

In his bag, he has fifteen letters from Tony. Those letters are real. Tony isn’t someone he dreamt up, because his dreams have never been this good. Tony wrote those letters, and Tony’s treehouse is just like he described it, and Gob can imagine a little Tony Wonder perched inside, planning his plot to fame.

 

It still feels like there are two Tonys. There’s the onstage Tony, the flesh and blood Tony, the Tony Wonder that gets in magazines effortlessly and constantly while Gob sometimes struggles to find a venue that hasn’t blacklisted him or his family. And then there’s letter Tony, someone who told Gob exactly what he needed to hear to face his family, make the choice to follow the clues.

 

Once he gets to the treehouse, he’s going to have to combine those two Tonys into one person again, and he’s not sure how that will work. But his legs are long and he’s already at the base of the treehouse, and he’s perfectly aware that Sally Sitwell could still be here, could still be in the house, and he needs to climb the ladder now, so he stashes the duffle bag in the nearby bushes and starts the climb, letting the exertion of pulling himself up a rope ladder that’s swaying like crazy take his breath away, so he can pretend that’s why he feels light headed and not like it’s the fear of this glass thing he’s built with Tony shattering once he touches it.

 

He gets to the top of the ladder, and it isn’t Tony waiting for him.

 

It’s Sally Sitwell, twitching in a way that Gob knows means far too little sleep, and the treehouse, Tony’s treehouse, is covered in scraps of paper connected by a tangled net of red string.

 

Sally smiles at him, prettily as ever. “Gob Bluth! Long time no see!” She gestures to a spot next to her, casually sweeping away a stack of empty pink envelopes.

 

“You suck at handwriting analysis, you know that, right?”

Chapter Text

In a sick way, it’s almost a relief, Gob considers as Sally Sitwell cheerfully ties his arms together with heavy rope that he knows from experience will leave painful scratches. Gob gets this. He understands sabotage, he understands betrayal. Hell, he even understands being tied up with rope better than he understands love, and Gob files that thought away somewhere safe, because Sally seems to not realize that Gob-the-magician actually does know how to get out of this type of set up.

 

Sally, of course, is monologuing.

 

“I don’t think people realize how hard it is, you know, to plan a Congressional campaign. I mean, especially when your candidate disappears only a few months before the election and EVERYBODY thinks you killed her! Just because political power that I wanted was on the line!” She gives Gob’s ropes another hard yank. “And then, your sister. Your fucking sister somehow manages to be my opposition! Again!”

 

Gob shrugs. “In her defense, I don’t think Lindsay planned to run for Congress just to spite you. Or planned to run for Congress at all. The opportunity to spite you might be a bonus-”

 

“-Shut. Up.” Sally growls a little when she’s angry, and Gob flashes back to kindergarten when Little Sally Sitwell was a notorious biter. She’s also holding a knife way too casually for Gob’s taste, tilting it back and forth so that the light flashes back into his eyes.

 

He tries to make a pacifying motion with his hands, but the rope is really snug. “Okay, okay. Shutting up.” The treehouse might currently be occupied by Sally, but Gob can see traces of Tony everywhere. His initials are painstakingly carved into the wall over and over again, handwriting improving until the T and W make an objectively cool symbol. There’s at least a ten-year backlog of old Poof magazines, chronologically ordered except for where Sally has knocked over the piles. So this has to actually be Tony Wonder’s childhood home, and despite feeling very confused at the current situation, Gob still feels a flicker of that old fanboy enthusiasm at the thought.

 

Sally lets out a stream of curses that even Lucille Bluth would be impressed by. Her hair is somehow off center, which only serves to make the entire vibe she’s putting off more terrifying.

 

“So I know I said I would be shutting up,” Gob starts cautiously. “-but I do want to establish, just, one thing. What’s this about?”

 

“The election-” Sally has a maniacal glint in her eyes, and one of her eyelashes has come loose from the exertion of tying Gob up as thoroughly as possible. Only an idiot would keep riling her up.

 

Gob really should work on his impulse control. “-Right, yeah, I get that, the election is stressful and your original candidate is missing and now you get to slash have to fill in last minute, that sucks, I get it. It’s like how being president of the Bluth company is so hard, but, you know, I make it look easy. But if this is about the election, aren’t I the, like, least helpful Bluth to kidnap?”

 

Sally frowns. “I would think you rank above Byron, at least.”

 

“Who’s Byron?” Wait. Right. Buster is a nickname, just like Gob, and really, his parents were terrible at naming children. “Oh, you mean Buster? Well, he slept with Herbert Love’s wife a while ago, so I think that gives him a boost, wouldn’t you?”

 

Buster had told Gob about his tryst with Ophelia Love during the last entirely too long prison skype session they had before Buster got released. There was far too much detail, but Gob was kind of proud of Buster for branching out from his usual type, at least until he learned that Buster considered Ophelia an adoptive mother. Then Gob was just grossed out and pretended that the internet connectivity went down. Typically, the crumbling paper trick wouldn’t work over Skype, but Buster fell for it.

 

Sally looks pleased. “Huh. Wouldn’t have thought he had it in him. But no. No. Gob, I don’t need you for the election. That’s in the bag.” She points back towards the house with fingers much more mangled and much less manicured than usual. “I need you for Tony. He’s driving me crazy.”

 

It took all of the restraint Gob Bluth had ever mastered to not crack a joke about how Tony clearly didn’t have very far to drive.

 

Then, the implication of what Sally had said starts to sink in. “Wait, he’s really here?”

 

Sally nods. “Yep.” She popped the p, looking disgruntled.

 

“If he’s driving you crazier, sorry, driving you crazy, why don’t you just let him go?” Letting Tony go would work best if Gob was able to leave with him, if they could be together, but just getting Tony out of Sally’s clutches was Gob’s main mission, after all.

 

The blonde rolls her eyes. “You really want me to just keep over explaining the shit out of everything, huh.”

 

He shrugs. “You did just kidnap me.” Plus, isn’t that what bad guys loved to do? Explain every detail of their evil plot?

 

“Fine. I need Tony because he owes me, and because he owes me, I owed Lucille Austero, and unless I can prove that neither of us killed her, I need to keep Tony close. Not to be a cliche, but he knows too much.” Sally tilts her head. “Plus, this house makes a great hideout. I mean-” she laughs, “-everyone knows the Sitwell Sanctuary and Sauna. I’d be so easy to find!”

 

Gob thinks about pointing out that he had been able to find them because of the giant stair car in their driveway, but after feuding with a Bluth family chef a few years ago and nearly losing his favorite finger (his left thumb, the perfect finger for magic), Gob has a policy to not argue with people holding knives.

 

A faint, familiar voice reaches Sally and Gob then, making her freeze, her knife suddenly way too close to his throat.

 

“Sally? Are you coming in soon? The pizza guy is almost here.”

 

Tony Wonder is alive, alive, alive, and Gob might have to kill him now because this is a bigger trainwreck than his amazing Jesus stunt.

 

“Coming!” Sally yells back sweetly. To Gob, she hisses, “if you don’t follow my lead, you’re so dead to me, Gob Bluth.”

 

Gob kind of wants to clarify with Sally if that’s a murder threat or a friendship threat, because if it’s a friendship threat he’s willing to chance it, but before he can ask, Sally is pushing him out of the treehouse with her freakishly strong arms and it’s all he can do to try and not fall down the ladder, since his hands are still bound.

 

Somehow, magically, he gets back on solid ground without any major mishaps. Sally Sitwell manages to stick the landing in heels, and Gob remembers that she did competitive gymnastics for years. She won every school talent show from eighth to twelfth grade, and Lindsay threatened to cut up her custom leotard more times than Gob can count.

 

It occurs to Gob that Sally just has a knife, and he has legs nearly the size of her entire bony body, but hearing Tony’s voice isn’t enough. He needs to see him, needs to make sure Tony’s okay.

 

He also wants to ask Tony what the hell is going on, but that’s a secondary concern. Besides, Gob knows how these things can spiral out of control. And in the grand scheme of things, being marginally kidnapped by Sally Sitwell could happen to anyone, really. But the thought of seeing Tony brings all of the fears and too sharp edges of the world come rushing back, and Gob almost wishes he could climb back up into the treehouse with Sally. Crazy, he can deal with, he’s been dealing with crazy his entire life.

 

Tony, sitting on the armchair of a floral sofa, watching some sitcom from the eighties, who hasn’t noticed yet that Sally and Gob have arrived, that’s something new and wonderful (Tony doesn’t need to reappear, he’s here and he’s alive and he’s-) that Gob doesn’t know how to handle. Tony laughs lightly at something stupid on the screen, and his head tilts back, dark hair catching the light, and Gob feels sweaty and wrong and too slow to keep up with all of the signals his body is sending.

 

“Tony?” Sally needs to never use Tony’s name in that tone of voice ever again. It’s sticky sweet, and for the first time, Gob feels like he can glimpse the depths of how truly off the deep end Sally has gone because that is the voice of someone using the last shred of their public relations centered upbringing to mask raw, vicious anger.

 

It looks like Tony can hear it too, because he slowly turns around, body language tense and cautious. And then he sees Gob, and Gob knows the moment it happens, because he feels more naked than ever before in his life, like Tony can see everything that Gob’s felt over the past week in that instant, like Tony knows what Gob’s dreams have been like his whole life, like Tony knows Gob better than Gob knows himself.

 

“Uh, quick clarification. Am I on glue, or is that Gob Bluth?” Tony’s voice is softer than Gob remembered, and it’s incredibly attractive.

 

Sally winks. “You didn’t actually think I was interviewing you for a new love advice column, did you?”

 

Gob is almost too hung up on the word love to notice, but Tony cringes in a way that makes it perfectly clear that Tony definitely thought that.

 

“Anyway, now you two can keep each other occupied or whatever, and I can get back to work, saving your ass, Tony.”

 

Tony’s eyes tear away from Gob for a moment, and land solidly on the knife Sally is holding. “Yep. Sure. Can do.” Sally’s sunny smile starts to drop. “And, thank you, you know, for the ass-saving. Really appreciate it.”

 

There’s a two-toned chime that has to be the pizza Tony mentioned earlier, and as Sally makes her way to the door, adjusting her hair so that it’s no longer off-center, Gob takes the opportunity to sidle closer to Tony.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey.” Tony rubs his eyes, smudging a little eyeliner on his thumb with the motion. “Look, Gob, I ought to-”

 

“-Wait, Tony, I need to...” But Gob doesn’t know what he needs. He’s so bad at this, this part of talking, communicating. He knows that he has questions he wants answered, knows that there are things he should be telling Tony, but his mind is blanker than forget-me-nows ever made him feel.

 

To his credit, Tony lets Gob interrupt, but when it becomes clear that Gob’s run out of words, he presses on. “No, Gob, I am so sorry. I was just saying stuff, you know, I didn’t realize she would actually track you down, drag you into this.”

 

Before Gob can respond, can ask Tony what exactly he told Sally and if he meant it, the ice queen returns, pizza in hand and a napkin that probably has the pizza boy’s number. She drops the boxes on an end table and turns to her captives. “Sorry Gob, you actually got here a teensy bit earlier than expected, so I don’t have the time to give you a grand tour, but dig in! I need to make some phone calls, Tony can show you around! Have fun!”

 

For a moment, Gob thinks that this could be a stellar chance to escape. Then Sally turns to the back door, locks what Gob suddenly realizes is a massive padlock, and then does the same to the front door. She puts the key in her bra, which, gross, and saunters down the hallway until she disappears.

 

“Um, hello? I’m still tied up?” Gob tries to call after her, but Sally doesn’t respond. He turns to Tony, who is methodically picking at a hole in his jeans. “Any chance you have a knife too?”

 

Tony shakes his head, fingers still pulling his pants apart at the knee. “I wish. She’s completely taken over. While I was still stuck in unclaimed luggage, she freaking toddler proofed this joint. All the cups are plastic, there aren’t any knives, and she even threw out my high school lock picking kit. She’s been planning this for a while.”

 

“You had a lockpicking kit in high school? Same!” Gob used his kit mainly to retrieve confiscated animals from his stick-in-the-mud principal, but he quickly realized that skill could be reappropriated for magic.

 

Tony offers a small smile and an even smaller “same”, but his heart clearly isn’t in it. “Gob, this is serious. I don’t think she’s actually dangerous, but we’ve gotta get out of here.”

 

“Yeah, I actually still don’t get what her goal is, here.” Gob starts contorting his back and shoulders to get his bound hands in front of his body because that’s the first step towards reclaiming their functionality, everyone knows that. “I’ll be out of this in a minute, this conversation will be a lot better with pizza, even if there are vegetables.”

 

“I know!” Tony gestures wildly at the pizza. “She’s actually been getting vegetarian just to spite me, and now you, I guess. I told her it was my least favorite, and now that’s all she’ll let us order.”

 

Gob gasps. “That’s so mean.”

 

“I know!” Tony pauses. “Hey, you should tell her you hate pepperoni.”

 

Brilliant. Tony is brilliant and smart, and Gob has to hide his smile behind a rather unnecessary final contortion to free himself from Sally’s ropes. Ouch. He was completely right about the ropes leaving behind scratches, now his forearms are red and raw and sting like he’s been doused in salt water after exfoliating.

 

Well, at least now he can reach the terrible pizza. But when Tony sees him wince, he’s up faster than Gob can blink, pulling a first aid kit down from a nearby bookshelf. “Crap, hey, that looks like it hurts. Here.” Tony pulls out an orange tube and starts spraying it to Gob’s arms with a practiced ease. It’s cold for a minute, but the salt water feeling fades. Before Gob can react, can thank Tony, he’s moving again, towards what must be the kitchen, because he can hear water running. Gob takes the chance to look around Tony’s childhood home.

 

There are photos on the walls, and they aren’t the stiff portraits his parents made the Bluth children take for the sole purpose of their annual company newsletter. There are photos of Tony as a kid, performing magic at the same kitchen table Gob can spy in the other room. In the corner, there’s a photo of Tony in what could only have been the peak of a strong goth phase. On the bookshelves, there are even beat up magic instruction booklets from the sixties, and Gob is so happy to see them, happy to see that Tony grew up somewhere like this, somewhere lived in and supportive and, frankly, magical.

 

At the same time, it makes Gob nervous. He knows he’s got issues, obviously, and even though him and Tony are the same in so many ways, there are some places he doesn’t want Tony to be able to follow him, and this house is like a monument to all the ways they’re different.

 

It also starts to occur to Gob that maybe this house is part of what’s making Sally Sitwell go crazy. Maybe it’s the idea of a life that’s not always smiling for cameras, because even though Stan Sitwell is leagues kinder and saner than the Bluths, Sally still grew up under the same spotlight, the same weight of a last name. She used to try and make her father mad, Gob remembers. A streak of rebelliousness tempered by the need to not go too far, to be liked. This feels like more of the same, in a way, this half-hearted kidnapping for reasons Gob still doesn’t understand.

 

Tony comes back into the living room, shaking his hands dry, and Gob takes the opportunity to get at least one question off his chest. “Do you actually remember Cinco?” Because a note said he did, a phone call said he didn’t, and with Sally Sitwell as an apparent puppet master, Gob would like to at least know where he and Tony stand.

 

“Um.” Tony runs his fingers through his hair, pushing it up even higher, and Gob thinks that maybe this is what Tony looks like when he’s alone, not on stage, and he wants to try and save that image in his brain as long as possible, so he’ll just have to never take a forget-me-now ever again, and he’s cool with that. “That depends. Do you want me to remember?”

 

Gob knows that if he said no, Tony wouldn’t mention Cinco again, it could be the blank spot he tried to make in his mind but couldn’t because the window closed.

 

He tries to keep his voice steady but knows he’s failing. “Of course I want you to remember, Tony, I can’t stop thinking about it.”

 

Tony smiles, and Gob’s heart is about to beat right out of his chest.

 

“Same.”

Chapter Text

“So, to be clear, Sally sent you a bunch of fake letters from me?” Tony sounds incredulous, but honestly, Gob’s not sure how he can be surprised by anything Sally does anymore.

 

Gob nods, mouth full of surprisingly not awful cold vegetable pizza. He remembers to swallow before talking and awards himself a mental point in the ‘keeping it together while with Tony’ tally he’s keeping. “Yeah. Yeah, she did.” It sucks, it seriously sucks that they weren’t real, and some of that sadness leaks into his voice, causing Tony to raise a questioning eyebrow.

 

He tries to explain without diving into too much detail neither of them is ready for yet. “They were nice letters, and they sounded like you.”

 

Tony’s mouth does a funny half smile. “She kept interviewing me and taking notes. She told me it was for legal purposes, but I probably should have suspected something was up when she kept asking me about you.”

 

“What kind of questions were they? The letters were... pretty specific.” Gob knows he’s playing with fire, because what if Sally made up the bits that made Gob’s heart skip several beats. What if Sally twisted everything Tony said, filled Gob up with lies until he came here, too desperate for more to notice the trap.

 

Then again, considering that falling into her trap has meant falling back into Tony Wonder’s presence, where they’re sharing a sofa that’s a little too short for Gob but perfect for Tony, it might be worth it. Tony shifts a little closer to him, and Gob feels a rush of happiness previously only associated with finding an unattended sandwich in the model home.

 

“Let’s see,” Tony considers. “Oh! She asked me about the first time I saw you. It was at one of your shows, back when you were still doing the Aztec Tomb.” He laughs, and Gob can feel the movement through the thin space left between them. “You had just started the Magician’s Alliance, and I wanted to ask you if I could join. I couldn’t find you after the show though.”

 

Gob remembers his Aztec Tomb days, cut short of course by the Milford incident and his expulsion from the Magician’s Alliance. “What else did she ask you?”

 

Tony smiles. “Lots of stuff about growing up. I mean, my childhood wasn’t anything special, but Sally wanted to know all the details.”

 

And Gob kind of wants to know all the details too, wants to know everything about Tony. But Tony hasn’t said anything yet about love, and Gob thinks it’s particularly twisted of Sally to write lying letters about love when it’s screamingly obvious Gob hasn’t had enough of that. Maybe Sally just needed him here for something more than she’s said, and she wanted to make sure he’d come. Gob almost wants to tell Sally she didn’t need to put in that much effort, all she’d have needed to do is send one letter, saying that Tony was here and that Gob should come. He would have come. He would have gone anywhere for Tony, and it sucks that Sally took that and turned it into something for herself.

 

“Other than that, I don’t know, man.” Tony shakes his head. “There hasn’t been much for me to do, so I probably told her a lot more I can’t remember.”

 

“Did you tell her about Cinco?” Gob’s not sure what answer he’s hoping for.

 

Tony doesn’t meet his eyes. “Not directly, but she got most of it out of me.” He pauses. “Also, apparently our mics were on during the July 2nd float.”

 

“Oh, right.”

He leans back against Gob with a yawn, and Gob’s side is on fire where Tony is touching him. “I’ll write you real letters, later, if you want.”

 

“I’d like that.” Gob would like a lot of things.

 

He’d like to get out of this house, despite how much of Tony’s life is on the walls. He’d like to know what they’re supposed to do next, how to escape, yes, but also how to move from both of them being able to remember Cinco to not needing to remember Cinco, to have the kind of life where Tony is there all the time, not just on a bet or dare or revenge mission or kidnapping.

 

The problem is, Gob doesn’t know what that could even look like. There’s never been anyone who could keep up with him before, who also felt the call of the stage and the frustration of a world where thoughts that sound perfectly reasonable in your head get met with blank stares from idiots unable to properly dream. He never had a best friend growing up. Sure, being the class clown helped keep all eyes on him, but that could only ever last as long as he was being entertaining, earning that tenuous affection with blood, sweat, tears, and detention.

 

Tony’s slight lean turns into a heavy slump, and Gob watches as Tony turns his head in closer and starts breathing deeper, until Gob has officially been relegated to pillow status by a sleeping Tony Wonder.

 

Which solves the bed question for one night, at least. Gob’s thankful for his long arms that allow him to grab a rolled up quilt from the wicker basket by the foot of the couch. The quilt can just about cover both of them, as long as Gob keeps his legs tucked in. He carefully adjusts until Tony isn’t cramped or twisted, and makes sure that the blanket won’t slip in the night. By the time everything is settled, Tony is practically on top of Gob, still sleeping soundly. His head is resting right where Gob’s heart is undoubtedly beating out a rhythm riddled with skips and stutters, because Gob feels like a scratched record, unable to get his mind off of how Tony smiles a little in his sleep.

 

He ordinarily would be panicking about now. Gob doesn’t do this, doesn’t fall asleep with people he wants to kiss practically in his lap and literally by his heart. But the weight of Tony sleeping against him is keeping him steady, tied to the earth in a way he hasn’t been for a long while, maybe ever. Normally, Gob would be up and moving at this time of night, insomnia an old enemy he’d given up trying to fight.

 

He sleeps twice as long as he normally would, and when he wakes up, Tony is sitting on the floor by the sofa, scribbling frantically on a notepad with a purple crayon, and the quilt is wrapped tightly around Gob’s legs and torso. There’s a pillow behind his head that wasn’t there when he fell asleep, and as he blearily adjusts to the sunlight streaming in, Tony offers him a mug of coffee without making eye contact.

 

“So, two points. One - I think our best shot at getting out of here is to use our strengths. I know this house like the back of my incredibly cute hand, and there’s no way Sally managed to board up all of the windows. When it was just me, I couldn’t keep her distracted long enough to try, but if we tag team, I bet we can pull it off.” Tony waves the notepad near Gob’s nose, nearly sending the coffee cup flying. “Two - I think we need to get a better grip on what Sally’s doing. I mean, the woman is maniacal. I’ve been a part of her schemes before, and even as an equal partner, it’s hard to follow her motivations.”

 

It’s kind of too early in the morning for Gob to be helpful, so he stalls for time by drinking as much of the coffee as he can handle. He doesn’t actually like coffee, but once he started stealing from Lucille’s wine cabinet, he figured he could handle pretty much any taste as long as it’s chuggable.  And the coffee is a good temperature, not too hot but not nasty, so he can totally pull it off.

 

He finally puts the mug down and nods. Gob realizes he’s still in his clothes from yesterday and remembers the duffle bag full of cash, clothes, and fake IDs. “I have a bag hidden, in the backyard. If we can get to that, it’ll be easier to hide from Sally.”

 

Tony flips to a blank page. “Excellent! Why don’t you make a list here of the supplies outside, and I’ll make a list of the supplies inside.”

 

“There’s a stair car in your driveway, could we use that?” Gob kind of likes stair cars. They’re bigger than every other kind of car, so that means they’re the best.

 

Tony shakes his head. “Sally cut the brake line. In front of me. Using what I think were kitchen scissors? She’s really freakishly strong, she even ripped out the phone cord with her bare hands.” Tony passes Gob his own purple crayon and legal pad, and for a moment, Gob feels like he’s six and sitting in his father’s office. Memories are weird.

 

“That’s probably because of all the gymnastics.” Gob tries to peer over Tony’s shoulder to read what he’s writing so quickly, but the purple crayon isn’t the most legible. “Does that say ‘flash-ride?”

 

“No, see, this is actually a key component of the plan. I figure, if we’re going to be breaking out, we should also break into the room Sally’s been using here.” Tony looks disgruntled. “It actually used to be my room, and I just know she messed up my organizational system. Anyway, I know she keeps her campaign laptop in there. And there’s no way she doesn’t have some skeletons in the laptop closet.”

 

Gob frowns at the phrasing. “Laptop closet?”

 

Tony nods. “Laptop closet. Like, the skeletons in your closet but the closet is a laptop.”

 

“Makes sense, continue.”

 

Tony gives Gob a quick high five. “Planning a breakout is so much easier with two magicians.” He flips back a page in his legal pad. “So the idea is, we download those laptop closet skeletons for protection.”

 

“Blackmail, totally.” Gob knows a lot about blackmail. He knows that his mother is currently blackmailing no less than three senators and two fire chiefs. “This is a good plan, Tony.” Because it is, it’s a better plan than Gob could come up with, because Gob’s plans tend to be more of the bubblegum and paperclips type. “When are you thinking of putting Mission Sally Sucks to the test?”

 

“That depends.” Tony underlines something in his notes. “Once we have the blackmail on a flash drive, we need to get a copy to someone who can be cool, someone we can trust.” Tony looks frustrated. “That’s actually the piece giving me the most trouble right now. Do you have anyone you trust?”

 

Gob’s first instinct is to say ‘you’, but he bites that back. This is nice, planning with Tony, and he doesn’t need to get into all of the feelings junk to appreciate the way Tony sticks his tongue out when he concentrates. He can just love him quietly.

 

Although. Gob does know two people who can be cool, who won’t go to the cops. “What about George Michael and Maeby?”

 

“Maybe what?” Tony asks. “And are you talking about the singer, because I think he’s British, and I hate their stupid monocles.”

 

“Maeby Bluth. Or, Funke or whatever her last name is, my niece; and my nephew, George Michael.” Gob remembers that after the July 2nd meltdown, before they left, Maeby told him about her new hideaway, the senior center. “Maeby’s hiding from the cops too, which is perfect, she has this super sweet set-up and I bet we could crash for a while.”

 

Tony smiles and it’s an instant rush of pride streaming through Gob’s veins, that he can make Tony Wonder smile by saying the right things, saying smart things. “That could work.” Tony’s smile drops a little. “Hey, shit, I just realized I’m being a shitty host. Or, well, a host slash captive who knows this house better than you. There’s a shower down the hall, do you wanna go first?”

 

“Sounds good.” Gob’s walk down the hall is an excellent opportunity to breathe in more of Tony’s childhood. There’s a door on the left that’s painted a deep purple, and between the familiar color choice and the four separate locks, Gob suspects this bedroom used to be Tony’s. There’s a second bedroom with the door painted a sky blue, and then a boring beige looking door that has to belong to Tony’s parents. None of it matches, and Gob thinks that it would be so much better to practice magic in a house like this, with potential in the air and the space to be messy.

 

Eventually, he finds the bathroom, but it isn’t until Gob is halfway through the showering process that he realizes a fundamental flaw with this plan.

 

All of his clothes are in the duffle bag in the backyard.

 

Gob can probably guess where to find clothes. The blue door probably leads to Tony’s brother’s bedroom, the brother he mentioned back when they were drinking a lot of water and not having sex. That’s probably what Gob should do.

 

Probably.

 

Or, he could just head back to the living room, to Tony, in this moderately sized peach towel.

 

“Hey, I wasn’t snooping, I promise, but I found-” Tony’s voice fades off as he finally turns to face Gob, torso twisted back over the sofa and eyes wide.

 

Gob keeps still with a confidence he doesn’t feel. “Yeah, what’d you find?” When Tony still doesn’t reply, he shifts his weight a little, forcing himself to stay calm. “Also, any chance you have some pants I could borrow? My stuff is all rather... outdoorsy, at the moment.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Sure thing.” Tony nods slowly, and Gob can’t really understand what he’s saying under his breath, but it doesn’t sound like anything bad so he tries not to worry. He mostly succeeds.

 

Tony pushes past Gob, not making eye contact for some reason, and returns with shorts that will definitely be a little too small and a t-shirt boasting the name of the local public high school Gob knows Tony attended.

 

“Thanks.” Gob gives Tony his bestest, most winning ‘I am not at all feeling weird being mostly naked in front of you’ smile. He ducks into the kitchen to change, calling out as he goes, “so what is it you were saying earlier? What did you find?”

 

There’s no response from the living room, so Gob pulls on the shirt quickly, sparing only a moment to check the tag in the back for Tony’s name. When he and Michael were little, Lucille made the maids write their names on all their stuff in an attempt to minimize their bickering. Then, of course, George Sr. thought of a way to monetize their rivalry, and the wrong names started going on everyone’s clothes for a while.

 

But there isn’t any name on the tag. Gob comes out to find Tony facedown on the sofa, soft yells muffled by the pillows. “Are you okay?” Gob asks before spotting the pink letters slightly crumpled on the rug.

 

Tony quickly sits up. “Don’t be mad, but I found the fake letters, and I think we have a problem.”

 

There’s ice in Gob’s gut and he can’t breathe, won’t be able to breathe ever again.

 

“These letters are genuine fakes. That bitch read my journal.” Tony waves a sleek leather book in the air, thankfully distracted enough by his anger at Sally that Gob can take a moment to pull himself back together.

 

Gob sits down next to Tony, who flops back into his lap as soon as Gob’s ass is firmly on the cushion. “You have a diary?” Gob lifts Tony’s head up for a moment and slips a much-needed throw pillow as an added layer of protection between them.

 

Tony glares, head in Gob’s lap and entirely too close. “It’s a journal, not a diary.” He sounds grumpy about the distinction, which Gob privately thinks is adorable.

 

“Right, sorry. And Sally read it?” Gob has never wanted to read a book more.

 

One of the letters is by Gob’s foot, and Tony reaches down a hand to bat it away. “Clearly. That must be how she sounded so much like me that she fooled you. She went method on us.”

 

Gob nods at that. “Yeah, my brother in law did method one acting for a while, that junk can mess you up.”

 

“Exactly,” Tony sighs. “It messes you up so much that you go completely nuts and kidnap people.”

 

Lindsay kept a diary for a while in high school. Gob gave up trying to steal it once he realized she would retaliate by destroying his capes.

 

“Should, you know, talk or whatever about which letters came from the journal and which came from Sally trying to trick me?” The words spill out of Gob unintentionally, hanging in the air like a fireball he can’t take back.

 

Tony stiffens in his lap, and for a moment Gob thinks Tony’s going to push him away. On instinct, he starts playing with Tony’s hair, running his fingers through the spikes and brushing against his scalp. Tony’s eyes flutter closed, and Gob can watch him take a deep breath.

 

“What’s there to talk about?” But Tony doesn’t sound defensive, he sounds resigned, and Gob starts to think for the first time that maybe Tony’s afraid of his feelings too. Maybe they’re the same in this way, on top of all the other ways, and maybe for once Gob can do that emotional labor thing Tobias is always ranting about in his books.

 

He’s careful to sound casual, careful not to spook Tony again. “Not like, talk talk. But, you know, I have these... feelings, for you. And some of the letters sounded like you have the same-ish feelings.”

 

Tony’s eyes are shut tight, and Gob tries to remember this, how Tony looks in this moment in Gob’s lap, letting Gob’s fingers mess up his perfectly tousled hair, just in case this is the last moment like this he’ll get.

 

He’s so busy trying to memorize Tony that he nearly misses his whisper soft reply. “This is more than friendship, isn’t it.”

 

“I think so.” Gob keeps petting Tony on the head. “And this isn’t just about sex, probably. Although we should do that again, if you want.”

 

Tony leans deeper against the palm of Gob’s hand, and suddenly the energy in the room has shifted. “I definitely think we should do that again.”

 

“Just that part?” And whatever Tony says next, Gob thinks he could live with that, he could live with more Tony sex, even if that’s all this turns into. But he’s aware that something in his world has changed, and that ‘just sex’ no longer sounds like the best version to hope for.

 

He’s too quiet for too long, and Gob is starting to panic a little, because he really could be fine with keeping this Tony thing purely physical, he’s done it before and he could do it again, just as long as-

 

Tony’s eyes open, and there’s an unexpected heat behind them. Gob is frozen in place, lungs not even opting to bring in air, as Tony carefully rises from where he was sprawled until his blazing eyes are level with Gob’s. His knees are digging into Gob’s thigh a little, but he’s grateful for the slight discomfort that proves this isn’t a daydream, isn’t anything but real.

 

He doesn’t kiss Gob in the way Gob is bracing for. Tony kisses Gob gently, purposelessly, on his forehead first, before moving to his cheek, before finally landing the softest kiss of Gob’s life on his slightly parted lips.

 

Tony studies Gob for a moment, eyes darting and undeniably searching for something in his face. “Maybe more than just sex.” Tony reaches for Gob’s hand, and Gob’s felt magic beneath his fingertips before, but never like this. “You should read the journal, I think. You’re in there a lot.”

 

Gob grins so widely he can tell his cheeks will start to ache soon. “Read it with me?”

 

And Gob knows they still have work to do, to plan their great escape and to get revenge on Sally and maybe track down Lucille Two. But this feels like important work too, in a quieter way, and Gob might not know how to do this relationship thing, but he feels like he knows how to do this with Tony, and that is infinitely more important than anything else right now.

 

Tony’s answering smile means Gob’s instincts are finally working. “Sure.” He settles back down into Gob’s lap. “We can start at the beginning.” Tony flips to a dog-eared page in the middle of the journal and starts to read out loud as Gob resumes his new favorite hobby of Tony petting.

 

05.05.2013

 

That was the best and strangest night of my life, and journal, you’ve known me for a while, so you know this is gonna be good. I might be falling for Gob Bluth, yes, the Christian magician. And I know I said earlier that this would be purely a revenge-based deal, but, well...

Chapter Text

After finally finishing Tony’s journal, a process slowed by occasional impromptu make-out sessions, Gob realizes that he and Tony have spent essentially a full day of captivity reading a handwritten story about them, cuddling, and eating even more cold vegetable pizza.

 

Sally Sitwell really sucks at this whole villainy thing, because Gob thinks this is one of the best days of his life.

 

Around six, the ineffective she-devil herself strolls toward the front door, looking obnoxiously not only congressional but presidential. All the traces of the woman he met in the treehouse are gone, and Gob wonders (hi Tony) how she manages to clean up so... not crazy looking.

 

She blows Gob and Tony a dramatic air kiss with bright red lips, which Gob thinks is a little presumptuous. “I’ll be back later, boys!”

 

Gob also thinks she really should stop calling them boys. They’re the same age and twice her size. Well. Gob is. Sally and Tony are more of an equivalent height. And maybe being taller than Sally makes the whole kidnapping thing a little emasculating, so maybe Gob should keep this thought process to himself.

 

Sally pauses by the hall table, studying her stolen kingdom. “I just love having some life in the house. Makes it all worth it at the end of the day, having someone to come home to.”

 

“GET A DOG!” Tony yells.

 

Gob joins in. “Yeah! Or, like, start with a cat and work your way up, maybe. Just stop kidnapping people!”

 

Sally mimes not being able to hear them, which is such bullshit, Gob knows for a fact that he can yell incredibly loudly and is “better suited for outside settings”. She walks out the front door, and before Gob can think to yell something else like “help!” or “kidnapped men inside!”, he can hear the increasingly familiar noise of the heavy duty deadbolt Sally apparently installed while she was “magician proofing” Tony’s parents home.

 

Speaking of which. “Hey, Tony, when are your parents coming back?” Because Gob threw a party once in the penthouse when Lucille and George Sr. went on vacation, and parents tend to disapprove of unauthorized structural modifications.

 

Tony sighs. “Sally told them she was a realtor. They’re staying with my sister and my sister-in-law in Ohio for the rest of the summer. If she can’t “sell the house” by then, they’re going to move back here, but Sally assured them it’s a seller’s market.”

 

Gob settles back into his chair. “Huh. That sounds like a pretty nifty scam, actually. You could probably start a short-term rental empire like that. How did she fake being a realtor? Like, forgery, or-”

 

“So it turns out, she actually IS a realtor.” Tony shakes his head. “This is why she made a great agent, attention to detail. But yeah, Sally’s ridiculously overqualified for like, life. She has a real estate license, a law degree, an MBA, a commercial trucking license, and I think she also was an archeologist?”

 

“Holy shit, that’s amazing.”

 

Tony nods fiercely. “I know!”

 

Gob really ought to catch up with Sally sometime, after she’s had a nap and some therapy. A long, long, long nap.

 

“Escape waits for no man, right, Tony?” Because Gob hasn’t forgotten what this was about, that currently Tony’s assumed to be dead and that as relaxed a kidnapping as this has been, it’s still kidnapping. And if Tony wants to fake his death for real, that’s fine, but he ought to have the choice. Faking your death can be awesome, Gob did it once in seventh grade.

 

Gob starts to stand, but Tony keeps his hold on his hand. “Wait, what?” Tony looks flustered, and not in the cute way Gob’s been treated to all afternoon. “Gob, we need to work on our plan some more, there are too many variables and-”

 

“-and, Sally’s gone right now.” Gob gives Tony’s hand a squeeze. “And, we’ve planned this like, super well. We have plenty to go off of, now we just need to, you know, go off and do it.”

 

Despite the occasional huge mistake, Gob actually does like this about himself, that he’ll jump first and look second. He’s gotten really good at pulling himself back together from all the rock bottom crashes, and he’s had the chance to experience highs he knows Michael never will. He could stand to be more careful, yeah, but Tony’s smart and careful enough for both of them. Their plan is as close as to complete as it ever will be, and Gob’s ready to do what he came here to do. Save Tony, from a definitely unhinged Sally Sitwell and boredom and shitty pizza.

 

“Okay.” Tony seems to have reached the same conclusion as Gob when he pulls himself up and starts leading Gob to his old bedroom, the one Sally has taken over. Tony stops in front of the door and sighs deeply. There are still an insane amount of locks on the door, and Gob thinks that they’re going to need a different strategy here. Tony comes to the same conclusion, kicking the bottom of the door in frustration. “We still don’t have a lockpick set, maybe we could-.”

 

The door slowly swings inward as Tony and Gob look on in confusion.

 

Gob shrugs. “Well, that was a freebie.”

 

“Who installs this many locks on a door and then DOESN’T LOCK THE DOOR?” Tony’s eye is twitching as Gob just walks through the doorway.

 

Sally Sitwell has definitely made her mark on Tony’s childhood bedroom. There’s more of that red string from the treehouse, connecting printed out emails and newspaper headlines in a pattern that Gob can’t come close to deciphering. Despite the remnants of her crazy, he can still tell that this is Tony’s old bedroom because the bedspread is Dr. Doogie Howser and the ceiling has the telltale scorch marks of practicing smoke and fireball illusions indoors. There’s residual glitter on the floor, and the whole room smells faintly of China Wow! Smoke From Nowhere. Gob collapses onto Tony’s bed, because it’s there and because it was Tony’s once, and that’s enough of a reason for him.

 

Tony finds Sally’s laptop on the vanity next to a collection of dead caterpillars and brings it over to Gob, flopping down by his side, and it’s wonderful. “Awesome. And she already has a flash drive in here!” He turns to Gob expectantly. “So, where would you hide laptop closet skeletons in your file system?”

 

Gob usually keeps his secrets blocked out by forget-me-nows, but he knows how Michael hides blackmail-worthy material. “Try that folder labeled ‘junk’.”

 

After a journey through a truly convoluted hard drive, Gob and Tony finally arrive at a folder labeled ‘campaign dirt’. There are spreadsheets and screenshots and Gob’s fist pump nearly sends the computer crashing to the floor. “Hell yeah! Laptop closet skeletons!”

 

Tony is equally excited. “Perfect! Do you know how to put this on a flash drive?”

 

“I do not.”

 

It turns out that neither Gob nor Tony really knows how to use a computer. Both of them took art as an elective instead of computer science in high school because, duh, they weren’t nerds. But Gob knows someone who does. “Why don’t we just take the whole laptop to my nephew? He’s got this software, Fakeblock or whatever, so he’s like, a computer whiz.”

 

Tony frowns. “Wait, the Fakeblock founder is your nephew?”

 

“Yeah, why?” Gob starts examining the window in the room, trying to gauge whether he’ll need bust the frame or just the glass.

 

“Huh. I must have read that one wrong.” Tony shrugs and moves to help Gob with the window. “Here, try this.” It’s one of Sally’s shoes, and while Gob thinks Lindsay might never talk to him again if she learned he used a Louboutin to smash all the glass out of a window, she really doesn’t need to ever know.

 

Gob pushes out the last shards of glass, turns to ask Tony to grab something to cover the bottom of the frame, but Tony’s already there and already is holding a pink and green monstrosity of a beach towel. “Great minds think alike,” Tony offers. Gob hadn’t realized it would feel like this to have a partner, to have somebody else along for the ride, and it is so much better than being alone it feels like he’s been waiting for this his whole life.

 

“Okay, I can boost you up through the window first, but it looks like there are roses and, as the saying goes, roses have every thorn.”

 

Gob doesn’t want Tony to get hurt, to get scratched, but he also knows there’s no way Tony could pull himself through the window without Gob’s height offering assistance. But he’s not going to say that, the same way he’s not going to say that he also thinks lifting Tony through the window would be a great chance to feel his ass.

 

Tony grins. “You just want to feel my ass, don’t you?”

 

“Obviously.” Gob offers Tony his hands as footholds, and together they manage to deposit Tony and the laptop on the other side of the house. Gob feels a ridiculous rush of pride at seeing Tony on the grass, and not locked up by Sally Sitwell anymore. Plus Tony really does have a great ass.

 

Gob’s climb through the window is less majestic than he’d care to admit, but it does technically work. He only got a few scratches from the rose bush. “Alright, let’s get that duffle bag and get the hell out of dodge.”

 

“Who’s Dodge?” Tony helps Gob up from the ground, and the fresh air feels fantastic.

 

Gob blinks. “Actually, I have no idea, but whoever he is, people definitely don’t like him. Or maybe it’s a country?”

 

They speculate back and forth on their way to Tony’s treehouse. When they get to the base of the rope ladder, Tony’s face drops.

 

“It’s so messed up she took over this space, man.” Tony looks up at the treehouse. “I’ll have to take you up there for real sometime.”

 

The adrenaline helps Gob feel brave enough to grab Tony’s hand. “I’d like that.” With his other hand, he grabs the duffle bag and starts to lead Tony out of the backyard. “Once Sally’s dealt with, I mean. Do you wanna put the laptop in here? It would probably be safer.”

 

Tony nods, breaking apart their hands for a moment with an extra squeeze. “Thanks.” As he maneuvers the computer into the bag, he pauses. “Wait, why is there an H.L. engraved on this thing?”

 

“Maybe it’s off brand?” Gob pauses. “Although for Sally, being off-brand would be off-brand, so I don’t know. We can ask George Michael when we see him.”

 

By the time Gob and Tony reach the sidewalk, Gob is expecting something to go wrong.

 

And of course, something does. Tony looks up at him, smiles, and says Gob’s least favorite series of words in the English language, right behind any ‘magic is dumb’.

 

“Don’t your parents live around here?”

 

Hello darkness...

 

“Could we use their phone?”

 

My old friend...

 

“You know, just so we can contact your Fakeblock nephew or whatever, and make sure this laptop is ready for blackmail?”

 

I’ve come to talk with you again...

 

“Babe?”

 

The term of endearment is enough to make the music go away, but Shit. Tony’s going to meet the Bluths. Gob coughs out a “sure thing” and starts mentally preparing his last will and testament. Except, he doesn’t really ‘own’ anything. And he isn’t quite sure what a testament is.

 

All he knows is that he’s fucked, and not in the way he prefers.

Chapter Text

Gob’s major life goal, besides becoming the best magician in the world, has been to keep his life and social circle as separate from his family as possible.

 

Sure, most of that has been achieved by squatting in family-owned properties, like the yacht and the model home, but only to avoid his family. Up until recently, Gob has been a very successful bachelor slash magician, and like George Michael always says, privacy is important.

 

He stopped bringing school friends home around the same time his mother stopped pretending to care about their names and just started calling everyone John, even the girls. It made second grade rougher than it needed to be, honestly, and Gob got used to telling potential playmates that he lived in an awesome penthouse but wasn’t allowed to have guests over. Around high school, he started bringing home hookups just to keep up with Lindsay, just to make sure that George Sr. would keep giving him surreptitious thumbs up, but Gob never really cared what those women thought of his family.

 

Gob knows he needs to prep Tony somehow, but he doesn’t even know where to begin.

 

“So. Tony.” They’re walking side by side, and it feels kind of funny to be so visible after twenty-four hours of captivity, but the weather is nice outside and Balboa Towers is only another block away. “What do you know about, like, my family?”

 

Tony shrugs. “Not much. Sometimes you guys are in the news, but I’m not really a ‘news’ person. Why?”

 

This is still salvageable. They still have time to run. Gob just has to convince Tony to stay in the lobby or hide behind a tree or meet him at the bar across the street once Gob gets the address.

 

“I’m really excited to meet them.” Tony is smiling like this is going to be a fun experience, and Gob doesn’t know how to tell Tony just how wrong he’s going to be.

 

To be fair, Gob does like his family. His mother is where he got his dramatic streak, and Michael is his little brother that he’s so, so proud of. Lindsay is much more of a trier than he ever could be, and Buster, while freaky with his hook and his codependency with Lucille, is probably the kindest out of all of them, the one most willing to help hold the hat in a magic show.

 

The problem is, Gob’s family doesn’t always like him. And for some reason, Tony does like him, maybe even loves him like that scratched out word in his journal, and what if meeting his family is when Tony finds out about Gob.

 

Warning Tony in advance and begging him not to listen would be the way to go, should make a perfect plan. But Gob can’t bring himself to mention it. If he says it, Tony will know how bad things can be, and what if the reason Tony has stayed so far is because he just hasn’t noticed? Hasn’t noticed that Gob turns red when the world gets too loud or too quiet, hasn’t noticed that Gob needs so much more attention than a normal person.

 

What if warning Tony means losing Tony?

 

Gob can’t risk it, won’t risk it.

 

He’ll just have to hope that his family doesn’t say anything mean or biting. There’s a first time for everything, right?

 

Right?

 

Before Gob can think of a plan, think of a strategy, they’re in the lobby of Balboa Towers and Mark-The-Doorman is nodding at Gob and ushering them into the elevator. Tony starts inspecting the buttons when Gob doesn’t move, as if there will be some clue printed next to the numbers. “What floor do they live on? Gob?”

 

Gob can’t quite bring himself to use his voice, so he just presses number 13 and lets the jolt of the elevator shake him back into being a person again.

 

“So, my family,” Gob begins, and Tony looks so expectant and so excited. “If sharks had hands and a predisposition for alcoholism-”

 

The elevator arrives before Gob can finish his metaphor. The doors swing open and Lindsay is already in the hallway. Her outfit is a mirror of Sally’s earlier this afternoon, and Gob wonders (hi Tony) for a moment if they were at the same promotional event, if this means Sally Sitwell is back at Tony’s parent’s house, if Sally knows now that Gob and Tony escaped.

 

He did leave a note though, he was raised right. Ish. He was raised right-ish.

 

“Gob!” Lindsay hugs him unexpectedly, pulling him to the side and frantically whispering in his ear. “That guy is cute! For me?”

 

“No. Way.” Gob breaks away from Lindsay’s python grip, faking a grin. “Nice to see you, sister. Do you know where your child is?”

 

Lindsay laughs, high and practiced. “I don’t have a daughter.”

 

Tony squints at Lindsay. “Gob said child, actually, not daughter. We’re looking for a Maeby?”

 

“Oh!” Lindsay fans herself, sending an impressively strong wave of perfume smell at Tony, and Gob is so ready for this to be over. “Well, sailor, I’d give you a yes if you wanted.”

 

“Lindsay. Read the room.” Michael, for once, has perfect timing. He’s standing in the doorway of Apartment 1301, eyes darting between Gob and Tony in a way that makes Gob feel exposed and slightly nauseous. “It’s like reading a catalog, only instead of buying things you can’t afford, you learn about other people.”

 

Gob snorts. “It’s not a room, Michael.”

 

“Yeah, it’s actually a hallway.” Tony is so helpful, having Tony here is great, and Gob has to make sure this visit is as short as possible so that their luck holds out.

 

Michael pinches the bridge of his nose. “Perfect. It’s perfect.” He keeps the door open, at least, and waves Gob and Tony through, patting Gob briefly on the shoulder in a rare show of affection.

 

Gob doesn’t know what Tony will think of all this, the myriad of beige against opulence that feels smug for being muted instead of vibrant. Gob knows this apartment always sets him on edge, everything too liable to stain and break. There aren’t any traces of children or grandchildren, the only shred of evidence that people live here is the literal shredded evidence piled high and to the side in boxes labeled ‘confidential post-processing’.

 

Lucille is home, because of course she is, Gob thinks she might be back on house arrest but isn’t sure, lounging on the chaise and pointedly ignoring Tobias. Gob’s brother in law is apparently mimicking George Michael today, who looks incredibly uncomfortable with the situation and mildly offended by Tobias’s wig, which Gob thinks is fair, it’s really an awful wig and only barely looks like George Michael’s hair.

 

His nephew looks happy to see him, or it might just be relief at the opportunity to get away from Tobias. “Uncle Gob! And this must be Tony Wonder, I’m glad that you’re not dead.”

 

Tony gives George Michael a small wave. “Thanks! Me too!” He pauses, and Gob realizes he’s waiting for an introduction.

 

Gob starts pointing, making the movement larger than it needs to be to compensate for how he feels small right now. “That’s George Michael, Lindsay was in the hallway, Michael let us in, Tobias is the one dressed like George Michael-”


Tobias grins. “Gosh golly, who is this To-bi-ass you speak of? I’m the lovable scamp, George Michael!” Tobias has dyed his eyebrows pink now too, for no discernable reason, and it makes his eyes seem sunken in a deeply unsettling way.

 

“His name is Tobias, he’s my sister’s ex-husband. Probably. They’re bad at the legal part of it.” Gob continues with what he’s rapidly realizing are Introductions, because he has to keep going or else he’ll stumble and stutter and panic. “Blonde woman I don’t know sitting next to Tobias, and then my mother, Lucille.”

 

Tony’s smile is ruthlessly charming, and Gob doesn’t know how anyone could resist that face. “Hi, nice to meet you.”

 

Obviously, though, his mother is a universal exemption to all laws of human decency and kindness. She turns her head slowly towards Tony, lips pursed. Her eyes start at his shoes and take forever to drift upwards, until, by the time she’s at his hairstyle, Tony is visibly fidgeting with discomfort.

 

“No board meetings, but public functions are approved, pending outfit approval and no toasts longer than ninety seconds.” Lucille turns back to her scotch, but Gob thinks he can see a small smile attempting to break through the botox.

 

Tony just looks confused, but Michael gives Gob an impressed nod from across the room where he and Lindsay are engaged in a heated whispered argument. Tobias hasn’t been allowed to give any toasts since the Bluth Christmas Party of 2001, and while Tracy was allowed to attend board meetings, she was also under the outfit approval clause.

 

Lucille looks at Tobias over the rim of her glass. “You can go now. At this point, you’re superfluous.”

 

Tobias laughs uncomfortably until the silence presses down too heavily to deny. Head hung, he walks out of the apartment. Lucille deposits her scotch on an end table and claps her hands twice. “New Tobias, come sit next to me and make pithy remarks.”

 

Gob pulls Tony to where Lucille is pointing, whispering that he’ll explain later, and prays that Tony forgets to loop back and ask.

 

Lindsay eventually slinks into the room, slightly chastened by whatever her private conversation with Michael was about. “So, Gob and delicious looking man I will not solicit, did you say you were looking for Maeby?”

 

Gob nods. “We need somewhere to hide from Sally.”

 

Lindsay blinks. “Sally Sitwell?”

 

“Yeah, she kidnapped us. Well, me first, then Gob.” Tony waves away the distinction. “It was a whole thing with some genuine fake letters, we can get into that later.”  Tony looks at Gob. “Did we hit the twenty-four hour mark for mutual kidnapping?”

 

He tries to count hours in his head, but Gob isn’t a math guy. “I think we at least hit that for mutual kidnapping, you had to hit at least a week.”

 

“Woah, wait, hold on there. Gob, are you telling us that Sally Sitwell kidnapped you?” Michael shook his head. “I’m sorry, I refuse to believe that. She’s always been a lovely, kind, beautiful-”

 

The unfamiliar blonde sitting on the couch coughs twice, loudly.

 

“-beautiful on the inside woman who volunteers a lot but isn’t anyone I’ve ever been attracted to, type of woman.” Michael nods. “Yep. Anyone else want to jump in here?”

 

Their mother smirks. “I thought you were doing splendidly, Michael. Continue to alienate the ever-dwindling population of women willing to sleep with you, that’s the golden strategy.” Lucille looks pointedly at Lindsay. “Although I must say, I’m rather impressed with Miss Sitwell’s ambition. Kidnapping is a bit gauche, but it takes guts.”

 

“Quick question, is your mother actually a supervillain?” Tony whispers to Gob.

 

“Yes.” Gob clears his throat and addresses the room. “Actually, we really only stopped by to use your phone, any chance we could get that going, or-”

 

Lucille chuckes. “Oh Gob, did you lose yours again, doing one of your little tricks?” She shakes her head before taking another sip of scotch. “I swear, you’d forget how to breathe if distracted enough.” Gob can feel Tony stiffen a little next to him at the trick/illusion misnomer, but this is still a lot milder than Lucille usually goes for, so he’s happy.

 

“I could drive you, Uncle Gob,” George Michael offers. “I know where Maeby is living and how to get in, there’s kind of a lot of security.” He laughs a little to himself. “Although, hey, two magicians, you could probably just pop up wherever you wanted.”

Michael cringes. “Please don’t. Closed doors only, for all of our sakes.” He goes back to talking to the angry blonde woman, who seems to be threatening to walk out of the apartment. Gob thinks to himself that huh, maybe Michael’s finally found someone like him. But the thought feels mean to think while he’s happy with Tony, so he pushes that aside in favor of scooting closer to Tony.

 

Lindsay brightens. “Security, oh, that’s good!” She simpers slightly at Tony. “One does worry about their children, you know.”

 

“Lindsay, you literally just lied in the hallway about having children.” Gob’s glad he doesn’t have any kids. Except for, you know, what’s his name.

 

George Michael rolls his eyes behind his aunt’s back. “Come on, I do know where she is, and I was actually heading that way now.” But because George Michael is the best of them, and is always trying to give Lindsay and Maeby a fighting chance at a relationship, he pauses, keys in hand. “Aunt Lindsay, there’s room for you too. I bet Maeby would like to see you.”

 

Lindsay looks thoughtful, and for a moment, Gob thinks she might finally take some parental responsibility. “I’d actually like to hear some more about Sally Sitwell.” She sits down primly in the armchair and gestures for Gob and Tony to lean in. “She actually kidnapped you?”

 

And even though spending more time with the Bluths is a disaster waiting to happen, being kidnapped is pretty great story fodder. Tony looks game, like this exchange isn’t bothering him, and it would be nice to get some advice on how to handle Sally Sitwell’s mental breakdown without incriminating Gob or Tony for Lucille Two’s disappearance.

 

Tony wags a finger at Lindsay. “You can’t use this against her in the election. She’s under a lot of stress.”

 

“Yeah, plus I owe her.”

 

Tony turns to Gob, confused. “You owe her? Did you borrow money from her too?”

 

Well. “She might have kidnapped us, but she did bring us together.” Gob knows that Sally really didn’t need him. She could have gotten Tony a video game or something, instead of an elaborate letter-based setup just to get Gob and Tony in the same room. Tony grabs Gob’s hand in response, and the feel of his hand is exactly why he doesn’t want to get Sally in trouble.

 

Lindsay talks over their moment because of course she does. “Fine, whatever. But she’s like a twig, how did two grown men manage to get taken hostage by a woman who can’t reach the top shelf at Barney’s?”

 

“First of all, she’s freakishly strong, so-” “-she did gymnastics and is super flexible-” “-yeah, and she had a knife!”

 

Michael pulls himself away from the pouting blonde woman. “A knife? You got kidnapped by a woman with just a knife?”

 

Gob shakes his head. “Don’t be sexist, Michael.”

 

“Yeah, don’t be sexist, Michael.” Tony turns back to Lindsay. “Also, she prepped like crazy for this. She took over my childhood home and put locks everywhere, we had to wait until she left a little while ago to break a window to get out.”

 

Lindsay shakes her head. “I don’t get it. Why would she do this?”

 

Tony starts trying to explain about the money and the debt to Lucille Two, but Gob remembers Sally’s face when she waved goodbye to them, and Gob remembers how Tony’s entire house was a monument to a different kind of childhood.

 

He doesn’t mean to interrupt Tony, but the words spill out anyway. “I think she wanted someone to pay attention.” Lindsay opens her mouth, and Gob knows that she’s going to make some comment about Sally always having a spotlight, so he presses on. “The right kind of attention.”

 

It makes Lindsay pause at least, her head tilted like she’s making invisible calculations. “Okay,” she says slowly. “Tony, what’s the address?”

 

Gob frowns. “Lindsay, we just said that we don’t want to get her-”

 

“-in trouble, I know, I just want to talk to her.” Lindsay pats down her already impeccable hair. “This election stuff has gotten out of control for both of us. People keep calling me a ghost hater, and she’s right, there are already rumors about her killing Lucille Two.”

 

Tony borrows a felt-tip pen from George Michael and scrawls the address on Lindsay’s outstretched arm. George Michael shakes his head. “Aunt Lindsay, you should really call Maeby.” He turns to Gob. “Are you good to go?”

 

Gob steals a glance at Tony, who doesn’t look distressed but also looks ready to not be sitting next to Lucille anymore. “Yeah, we’re good.”

 

Michael coughs pointedly at Lucille, who reluctantly stands. “Gob, New Tobias-”

 

“-Tony, Mom. His name is Tony,” Michael insists, arms crossed.

 

Lucille rolls her eyes, but accepts the revision. “You’ll be expected at the family dinner on Wednesday. Try not to get arrested beforehand, it does tend to put a damper on things, and this idiot has the common sense of a wild turkey.” Lucille smiles, and although on her face it’s a little unnatural looking, that might just be the facelifts. “This is going to be entertaining.”

 

Tony’s smile is strangely harsh, and for a moment he and Lucille are an even match in a way Gob really doesn’t want to think too much about. “Oh, it will be. I am a magician too, after all.” He grabs Gob’s waist, and Gob tries not to startle at the physical contact. “Not nearly as talented as Gob, but, you know, we can’t all be the founder of the Magician’s Alliance. See you Wednesday! Bye!”

 

And with that, Tony and George Michael pull Gob away, exchanging a look that Gob can’t quite read, but somehow isn’t worried about. It looks kind of like a “we’ll talk later” look, and hey, if his favorite nephew slash only nephew wants to talk more with Tony, that’s fine, and probably has nothing to do with him. Probably.

Chapter Text

It turns out that George Michael has been driving Lucille Two’s car for a few months now, and nobody is quite sure how that happened. It also turns out that Maeby has been living in Lucille Two’s Senior Village Condo for just as long, and Gob thinks that his family might be losing their moral high ground for the whole “Buster was falsely imprisoned for Lucille Two’s death” thing, what with all the profiting from her absence that’s going on.

 

To be fair though, Lucille Two’s condo is fantastic.

 

Maeby signs Gob and Tony in, calling them her wayward sons loudly and enjoying it way too much. The front desk staff member just shakes his head and tells Maeby that visitors really aren’t allowed after ten pm, but for her, he’ll make an exception. Her strange outfits of late make much more sense like this, against the backdrop of dozens of other senior citizens making the same questionable color combinations. They’re calling Maeby ‘Buttons’ for some reason, and George Michael laughs at her a little each time, which is fun to watch.

 

“So, we need a tech guy to help us with some blackmail,” Gob begins. George Michael sputters and chokes on his glass of water, but Gob knows that his nephew just needs some self-confidence in his abilities. After all, he did start Fakeblock.

 

Maeby pats George Michael on the back. “What exactly do you need him to do, Uncle Gob?”

 

Gob shrugs. “Well, we managed to find the documents we need. We just need to get them on a flash drive.”

 

“Are the files encrypted?” George Michael manages to choke out.

 

And Gob doesn’t want to admit that he doesn’t know what that means. “Possibly.”

 

Maeby groans softly. “They’re so old,” she whispers to George Michael, who nods, the traitor. “When did they get so old?” She shakes her head before turning back to Gob and Tony, who are sitting on her lime green couch trying not to be blinded by the glare from the plastic wrap. “So wait, did you guys just steal the whole laptop, just because you can’t use a flash drive?”

 

Tony looks a little sheepish when he pulls out the laptop, but really, it was their best option at the time.

 

“Oh my god, you did.” Maeby laughs at them, but it’s not mean laughter. Maeby just doesn’t curb her reactions, doesn’t dumb herself down or dim herself down unless it’s a part of a larger scheme.

 

George Michael smiles at her like he gets it. “Alright, Maeby, leave them alone.” He turns back to Gob and Tony. “I can take a look at that laptop for you, but I’m not sure how I feel about blackmail yet.”

 

That’s good enough for Gob and Tony because honestly, they aren’t sure either. Sally might have kidnapped them, and Gob thinks he’ll never get over that, he was actually kidnapped at forty-five, but she didn’t hurt them and really doesn’t seem that dangerous. The level of premeditation and effort she put into the kidnapping is scary, but it’s not like he’ll fall for fake Tony letters a second time.

 

Although just to be safe, he should probably stay by Tony’s side. To protect him.

 

Maeby tells Gob and Tony that they can stay in her guest room as long as they need, and so long as Lucille Two doesn’t show up and reclaim her property. She also mentions something about an ex-boyfriend, who George Michael must hate, given his face during that conversation, but Maeby’s fairly confident he’ll stay away.

 

Gob excuses himself to move the duffle bag into the guest room, vaguely nervous that without keeping that bag safe, as a backup, a safety net, this will stop feeling like an adventure and start feeling like they’re tempting fate, hiding in Lucille Two’s condo.

 

The guest room is cozy. Gob always liked how Lucille Two decorated her penthouse, laid out like a mirror to the Bluth penthouse but filled with all the color the Bluths rejected. The room is the same way, with bright woven blankets draped over hard edges and art on the walls that someone alive painted. Lucille Two even keeps the curtains pulled back, filling the room with light and air and space to breathe. And Gob needs that, needs the space to breathe.

 

The “one-bed” situation is glaring.

 

Falling asleep together on the couch was one thing, Tony fell asleep on Gob before they had to have that conversation, but this is a bed, a deliberate, actual bed. They’ll have to climb into it on purpose, and this part was never so hard for Gob before, but with Tony, it’s like a looming riddle he doesn’t know how to answer.

 

Eventually, Gob tears himself away from the bedroom, stops himself from building a backup mattress out of throw pillows, and starts making his way back to the others in the living room.

 

“Are they always like that?” Tony’s voice carries over from the living room, and Gob stops in his tracks without thinking.

 

George Michael’s voice comes through softer, but still audible. “Worse, usually.”

 

Gob thinks he knows which ‘they’ Tony means, and he knows that he’s not supposed to be hearing this.

 

But when has Gob ever done what he’s supposed to do?

 

Maeby chimes in. “George Michael and I have tried to talk to our parents about it, but they were useless.”

 

“I don’t know if I would call them useless.”

 

Maeby scoffs, and Gob can picture the disappointed face she’s making. “Your dad just said ‘Gob needs more structure than the rest of us, bud’ and patted you on the head. My mom said she didn’t know what I was talking about, then changed the subject. Face it, everyone’s been soaking in each other’s bullshit for so long, they’ve forgotten that it stinks.”

 

“You, kid, I like. Your family, not so much.” Tony’s voice is wavering and cracking, and Gob doesn’t know what that means, if it means that he’s disgusted with Gob or laughing at Gob or something else.

 

He can’t handle going into the living room now, can’t let Tony see that he’s melting a little because this is why he never wanted those worlds to meet. Maeby has a back patio, and Gob heads that way instead.

 

The cold air helps, it always does.

 

Gob folds himself into a beach chair and tries to slow his breathing, in and out. There are crickets chirping and sprinklers running, the classic Orange County sounds of the night, and that helps too. Small clusters of stars fight their way through the ever-present blanket of ambient light pollution, and Gob counts them, again and again, getting a different number each time.

 

When most of Gob’s memories were behind the forget-me-now haze, he was stung fresh by every slight and every insult his family threw at him. It made him raw in a way that wasn’t fun but was easily handled. He could take the punches, go to a bar, take a pill, and show up the next day ready for another round.

 

Now, it’s the realization that it’s not just once, not just this time, but every visit, every time. And it’s crushing, it’s smothering, it’s like drowning.

 

Gob doesn’t know if he can drag Tony into the water with him.

 

He doesn’t know how long he sits outside, breathing in the night like it can help cool down his insides, make him calmer, more steady, more worth of Tony and someone his family could love.

 

He does know that eventually, Tony sits down on the edge of his beach chair, barely brushing up against Gob’s shins. They don’t talk, they just breathe together, and it gets easier.

 

When Tony does start talking, his voice is rougher than usual, and Gob hates how the noise immediately goes to his heart, literally stopping his heart from beating for a moment too long, because that’s too much power for one person to wield over him.

 

“Your family doesn’t really know much about you, do they?”

 

Gob can’t help it, the words tumble out too harsh and too defensive. “As if you do?”

 

He almost gasps as the words leave him, but he can’t take them back. They’re too real, too close to what Gob is really worried about, that Tony only likes him because they’re barely more than strangers. That Tony could walk away and not mind, but Gob is already madly in love with Tony and doesn’t know how to stop.

 

Tony flinches and pulls away from Gob. The cold air on his legs is like a condemnation, a confirmation of all his worst thoughts. See, see? You make everyone leave.

 

“That’s not my fault,” Tony snaps. “You got letters, letters I didn’t get to write and wasn’t ready to send. I got a phone call and an invitation to do an illusion with you.” Tony sighs, puts his head in his hands, and Gob thinks that this part was inevitable.

 

Tony’s next words are muffled through his fingers, and Gob can’t hear him, but he can’t bring himself to ask Tony to repeat himself, can’t bring himself to use his voice at all when it’s already done so much harm.

 

Tony lifts his head when Gob stays silent, making eye contact with him for the first time. “So, let’s fix that.”

 

“What?” Gob doesn’t understand, can’t understand what Tony wants from him.

 

Tony gently pushes Gob further up the beach chair. Gob lets himself be manhandled until Tony gets them both on the chair at once, cross-legged and facing each other, knees touching knees. “Tell me about yourself.”


He grabs Gob’s hands, and it’s all Gob can do to keep from crying at the contact. “What if you don’t - what if the guy in the-”

 

“Let’s start smaller. Tell me about Michael.” Tony interrupts Gob in a way that’s kind, not mean.

 

It’s so unexpected, Gob laughs without thinking. “Why Michael?”

 

It makes Tony laugh too, little giggles branching and looping through their interlocked hands. “He seems like a character. And you talk about your brother a lot. I know you have two, but I only met one today.”

 

Michael, a character. Gob’s never thought of him that way, but it makes sense, somehow. Michael, trying so hard to be someone easy, someone understandable and admirable and unobtrusive. “Alright. So, Michael is three years younger than I am. When we were younger-”

 

Gob tells Tony about Boyfights, about Tracy, about high school and Eve and Michael being insufferably smug in front of their parents, but bringing him Advil whenever he was hungover. Once Gob exhausts the Michael topic, Tony asks him about Lindsay. Gob tells Tony about the adoption he used to think he dreamt up, Lindsay always feeling too big for the world and Lucille decidedly not helping, Lindsay moving to Boston and Gob being surprised at how much he missed her. Then Tony asks him about Buster. By the time they hit George Michael and Maeby, the sun is starting to rise, and neither of them can really keep their eyes open any longer.

 

Tony yawns, soft and growing softer with sleepiness that makes Gob’s heart skip another beat. “Come back inside with me?”

 

Gob nods, feeling empty and full and fixed in a way that he doesn’t know how to articulate. They’re climbing into the guest room bed before Gob has a chance to panic, has a chance to offer to sleep somewhere else, anywhere else, in case he’s too clingy or too much. Tony doesn’t seem to mind Gob’s touch though, he even pulls Gob closer, until they’re a tangle of mismatched leg lengths and arms that will definitely fall asleep before the rest of them.

 

“You and I,” Tony starts, clearly half asleep already but trying to get out one last thought. “You and I don’t know what the fuck we’re doing.”

 

Gob agrees with that wholeheartedly and is about to take the opportunity to apologize again, to give Tony an exit line, but Tony presses on. “And that’s why we’re going to do it better than everybody else. Because they’re using the rules we don’t know, and rules suck. We’re making our own rules, and one of them is going to have to be, if you’re sad like that, you can’t be alone. I want to be with you when you feel sad.”

 

It’s more than Gob can handle, but Tony is here, and Tony doesn’t want Gob to hide or leave or go away, get away.

 

Just like before, the words tumble out of his traitorous mouth before he can taste them, weigh them and calculate what it’ll mean to say them out loud.

 

“I love you.”

 

Tony is truly, deeply sleepy now, but still replies with an “I love you too” that sounds like it’s ripped from somewhere raw and honest.

 

If they cling a little tighter to each other just before they fall asleep, well, that’s their prerogative.

Chapter Text

Falling asleep next to Tony is wonderful.

 

Tony shaking Gob awake, swearing frantically, is no less wonderful, just more confusing. But it’s still Tony and he’s still here, he hasn’t left, so Gob pulls himself up and tries to understand what Tony is so worked up about.

 

“Gob, fuck, we need to get out there, your sister is in the living room.” Tony is pulling on Gob’s arm, so Gob lets himself be directed into a standing position. “Lindsay, she’s in the living room, but your niece and nephew are apparently together-together, which is high key something to discuss at a later date, but Gob, they can’t leave the other bedroom because then she’ll know, and they said that if you care for them at all, you’ll distract your sister.”

 

His mind snags at the most relevant part of that, ‘together-together’. Gob blinks at Tony, needing something, a moment to process or a moment to clarify.

 

Tony shrugs. “You did say Lindsay was adopted, so if I’ve got the family tree right, it’s just weird, not genetically problematic.” He shakes his head a little. “Really, really weird.”

 

Gob’s not so sure though. He’s always thought of George Michael and Maeby as a unit, as a team, and in a way, it makes sense.

 

Lindsay wouldn’t see it that way, wouldn’t see it anyway or react at all, and Michael definitely would not approve, would lecture and threaten, so Gob just squeezes Tony’s hand and says, “Let’s distract my sister.”

 

She’s waiting for them in the living room, hands on her hips and scowling fiercely. “Did you two steal Sally Sitwell’s laptop?”

 

“She stole me, an entire person, so yeah, we did.” Tony exchanges a look with Gob that says ‘man, your sister has confused priorities’ and Gob gives Tony a look that says ‘immensely confused priorities’ and if this mental communication thing is why Michael and Tracy spent so much time staring at each other, Gob kind of gets it now.

 

Lindsay waves the comment away, silver bracelets softly clinking. “That was just business. She needs that laptop, you guys, and I’ve decided I’m going to help her get it back.” She smiles like there’s a camera nearby, but of course, they’re alone and not on stage. “I’m going to take the high road.”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Gob sees the main bedroom door creep open one slow inch at a time. He nudges Tony, who pulls Lindsay’s attention to the television with a “hey, is that you, on the news?” and Gob gives Maeby a thumbs up. His niece returns it, then ushers his nephew (man, Gob will have to stop thinking of either Maeby as his niece or George Michael as his nephew if this is going to be a regular occurrence, maybe they could do rock paper scissors or something) out of the bedroom, George Michael wrapped in a sheet instead of real person clothes and blushing crimson.

 

By the time Lindsay has finished convincing Tony that no, the Japanese UN representative is not her, despite their similar taste in eyeshadow, George Michael is safely hiding in the bathroom and Gob feels comfortable getting back to Sally and Lindsay. “So, does this high road stuff preclude any interest in blackmail for political gains?”

 

Lindsay grins. “Oh, that’s the best part. That laptop you stole? It wasn’t hers.”

 

“Oh, come on!” Gob lets out a groan of frustration. “That was our anti-re-kidnapping insurance!”

 

His sister shrugs, unsympathetic. “Sally said you’re blowing the kidnapping thingy way out of proportion.”

 

Tony tilts his head at Lindsay, looking confused. “Wait, so whose laptop was it?”

 

“Herbert Love, apparently. He’s been taking bribes!” Lindsay sounds more indignant than she has the right to be, Gob thinks. He once bribed her in high school to tell everyone in her grade he was shredded. “And also, get this, he was cheating on his wife!”

 

“Wasn’t that with you?” Tony asks. “Like, I’m fairly certain that was you. Sally was going on and on about it.”

 

Lindsay ignores the question. “The point is, Sally was going to leak this to the press and get Herbert Love off the ticket. Now, of course, I’m the candidate, so Sally was understandably the teensiest bit stressed about losing her competitive edge.”

 

“She seemed more than a ‘teensiest bit stressed’ to me.” Tony’s voice is low enough that only Gob can hear, and he squeezes Tony’s hand again in agreement. Gob would call that ‘emotionally unhinged’, not ‘teensiest bit stressed’.

 

His sister keeps barreling through, an iconic Bluthian conversational habit if ever there was one. “The point is, Sally and I worked everything out. I’m going to lose the election, she’s going to win the election, and I’ll be her campaign manager. Once she’s elected, she’ll set me up with some political job, and I can still give speeches and make a difference!”

 

Tony frowns. “I’m like ninety-five percent sure that’s election fraud.”

 

“I don’t think that’s a real crime.” Lindsay checks her Blackberry. “I only have a few minutes until my next campaign event. So it would be just great if we could speed up the whole ‘returning the laptop to me’ part of this endearing conversation. Sally needs to leak Herbert Love’s indiscretions to make sure my campaign tanks. If everyone knows he was crooked, they’ll assume I am too!”

 

Gob can see Tony on the verge of commenting about election fraud again. He nudges Tony with his foot because this might be a convoluted plan of dubious morality, but it means Sally won’t get in trouble and his sister will be happy, which sounds like a win to him.  Tony nudges him back, then sighs. “Lindsay, let me grab that laptop for you. You have a good lawyer, right?”

 

Lindsay nods. “Barry Zuckerkorn has been in the family for years. I think I’ll be fine.”

 

Tony heads back to the bedroom to grab the laptop, leaving Gob and Lindsay in the living room. For a moment, Gob feels like he’s back in the first model home when Michael left for work and he and Lindsay had the place to themselves. Back then, they would wallow in their own inertia. Now, they both have something driving them, and Gob wonders (well, knows, really, he knows it’s Tony) when that happened.

 

“You’re different now.”

 

Gob isn’t sure which one of them said it until he sees Lindsay waiting for a response. “I am, I guess. You are too, you know.”

 

Lindsay looks small. “Is it a good different?” She laughs, but it’s not her proper laugh, it’s her nervous laugh that she always told Gob she hated. “I mean, yours is. You’re a good different. Me, I’m not so sure.”

 

He thinks about it, because he owes Lindsay that much. “You’re more focused now.”

 

And she is. Lindsay isn’t bouncing from cause to cause, and she’s surer of herself than ever before. Gob feels like he can predict her better now, like she’s started solidifying into a real grown up. “How am I different?”

 

“Oh, Gob.” Lindsay smiles. “You’re happy.”

 

Before Gob can react to that, Tony returns, laptop in hand. “Here you go.”

 

Lindsay takes that as her cue to leave, rising with all the poise and dignity trained into her by Lucille Bluth. “Thank you, Tomás.” And apparently, all of the name remembering skills.

 

“Come on, Lindsay, it’s Tony Wonder, the amazing, attractive, talented gay magician.” Gob rolls his eyes. “You can’t seriously not know his name.”

 

She at least has the decency to look embarrassed. “Sorry, Tony.”

 

Gob doesn’t notice the look in Tony’s eyes until Lindsay is out the door. Tony is smiling, and Gob wants to do everything in his power to ensure that Tony always smiles like that. “You think I’m amazing?”

 

“Obviously.”

 

They’re on their way towards actually having sex on Maeby slash Lucille Two’s couch when a throw pillow collides with Tony’s face. Then a pillow hits Gob, then a paperback book hits Tony, and Gob spots Maeby aiming for him with a hardcover, table sized book and decides that kissing Tony can be saved for later.

 

“Fine! Hi, Maeby.” Tony seems to reach the same conclusion as Gob.

 

Maeby grins. “Hi, Tony.” She looks at Gob. “You two worked things out, huh?”

 

They did, didn’t they? They fought and fixed things and now they’re still together, still the same, and Gob feels like they could probably do that, again and again, each time they threaten to break.

 

Wait. Maeby and George Michael.

 

“You and George Michael-” Gob begins.

 

His niece scowls at him, but really, they do need to get some more information. Not too much information, dear god, but a little more to go off of. “My mom’s adopted, we’re not actually cousins because there’s no blood relationship, we missed that developmental period thingy where we would have bonded as cousins because my dad moved to Boston, and I want to.” It’s clear that the last reason is the strongest for her, and Gob kind of can’t argue with that.

 

“Well, one of you is going to need to stop being related to me, so I can stop thinking of you as related to each other, but we can settle that later.” Gob redoes his shirt buttons the right way. “Is George Michael ever going to come out of the bathroom, or is he living there now?”

 

George Michael’s voice carries out from the bathroom. “I live here now!”

 

Gob shrugs. “Cool.”

 

Of course, George Michael eventually comes out of the bathroom. Tony, Maeby, and Gob are watching Father Marsella’s It Would Have Been A Wonderful Life and making fun of Tobias’s acting when George Michael slinks into the room, looking like he’s waiting for someone, anyone, to turn their biting wit towards him. Gob just moves over, makes a space between him and Maeby.

 

George Michael still looks nervous, like he thinks there’s a trap in here somewhere, but he does sit down when Tony tells him to.

 

At the next commercial break, Gob gives George Michael his best serious face, because this is serious business. “George Michael, Maeby.”

 

His nephew avoids his eyes, but his niece looks Gob square on, and Gob wonders how he missed this for so long. “You two need to play rock, paper, scissors against each other now.”

 

George Michael probably loses because he’s as nauseous as he looks, but hey, a loss is a loss. “Congratulations, Maeby, you’re my niece. George Michael, for my mental sanity, you will now be recategorized as my small friend.” Gob shakes his small friend’s hand. “Be nice to my niece, I think she could kick your ass.”

 

Maeby snorts. “Oh, I could definitely kick his ass.”

 

“You know, Maeby technically is the one without any blood relationship?”

 

Gob shakes his head. “George Michael, my small friend, I literally just said to be nice to my niece.”

 

George Michael is still trying to argue that he should be the one to retain relative status when Maeby’s phone rings.

 

“Huh.” Maeby offers the phone to George Michael. “It’s your dad.”

 

“Well, don’t tell him I’m here!” George Michael puts his head in his hands. “He still thinks I’m seeing Rebel Alley.”

 

Tony whistles. “Rebel Alley, daughter of Ron Howard?”

 

“All of you, shut up!” Maeby’s voice turns three years younger and at least fifty percent sweeter. “Uncle Michael! What a surprise. What can I do for ya?”

 

Gob winces. He might have to start calling Michael ‘the father of my small friend’, or at least convince Maeby to start calling him ‘sir’, or ‘dork king’, or something.

 

“Uh huh. Sure, Gob’s here.” Maeby passes her cell phone to Gob, the traitor. Talking on the phone is the worst.

 

Michael’s voice is somehow even more grating through the phone. “Gob? Did you give Lindsay a laptop full of blackmail material about Herbert Love?”

 

“And what of it?”

 

The father of his small friend sighs. “Gob, do you remember when Dad said he wanted you to build a wall, a wall that Herbert Love suddenly supported after Dad gave a ‘campaign contribution’?”

 

Honestly, even with his newly partially restored memories, Gob has a hard time keeping track of George Sr.’s schemes. “Vaguely?”

“This is serious, Gob, if Lindsay and Sally release that information, Dad could get arrested again. For campaign finance fraud, at least, if not for insider trading!”

 

Huh. “Hey, Tony, you’re right, campaign fraud is a thing!” Gob high fives Tony, because you have to give credit where credit is due.

 

“Gob. Do you WANT Dad to go back to prison?”

 

He knows what the answer should be, knows what answer Michael is probably looking for. Honestly though... “Do we need him?”

 

Michael is quiet on the line. “Excuse me?”

 

Gob tries to explain himself. “I mean, between you and Mom, you seem to have this business thing down. He’s been in prison off and on for the last what, five years? Seven years? He’s kind of a crappy father to you and to me, and I doubt my small friend or my niece would call him a stellar grandfather or anything.”

 

“Your small friend?”

 

“Sorry, George Michael.” Gob feels momentum building, like he’s on stage building up to something majestic. “My point though, Michael, is that we could just as easily keep doing what we’re doing without him, and we’d be wasting a lot less energy trying to mitigate the damage he’s doing to the company. Isn’t that what you’ve always said, that if we just focused on building good houses, without the lying and fraud, we’d be better off?”

 

There’s a pause so long Gob starts to think the connection dropped.

 

“You listen to me?”

 

And leave it to Michael to get hung up on the least important part of that whole spiel. “When you’re making sense, yes, I do. Just think on it, Mike.” Before hanging up, even though that’s one of Gob’s great pleasures in life, hanging up on Michael, one more point comes rushing out, and man, he has to get his mouth checked or something.

 

“We don’t have to get permission from him to live our lives, you know? We can just do it.”

Chapter Text

Rome is beautiful.

 

Gob Bluth usually doesn’t think of beauty. He thinks of glamour, of flash and sophistication. After two weeks of Tony dragging him to art museums though, and two weeks of dragging Tony, in turn, to look at crumbling masses of ancient worlds, beauty has become just an ever-present element of their life together.

 

Deciding to take their double magician act on the road meant planning, so much more planning than Gob had ever done before in his life. Tony loves planning though, loves organizing and making lists and backup plans, so Gob learned early on to let Tony go nuts with spreadsheets and checklists. It’s worth it to see Tony smile, worth it to loudly tell the hotel clerks that they want to share a room.

 

Because Tony’s so great at planning, they’re a block away from Rome’s premier gay club, and the owners have booked Gob and Tony’s new Twice As Gay magic act for the next three weekends.

 

Also, turns out Italian pepperoni pizza is like, awesome.  

 

Michael was confused when Gob told him that he and Tony were going to go out of the country for a while. Sally Sitwell won the election, and Lindsay was happy with her fake job. Everything was settled, and the risk of being kidnapped was back to its usual low level of probability.

 

Running away with Tony was never about the running though. It was about Tony, and now Gob is here, with him, enjoying each other, uninterrupted by siblings or kidnappings or forget-me-now based misunderstandings.

 

Tony’s the one that said they should go to Rome, after watching a cheesy movie about coins in the Trevi fountain with a painter he thought was cute. Gob said that his bag was already packed, with fake passports and everything. Tony made him use his real passport, of course, but they still made it happen.

 

There’s a beach here, in Rome, that Gob loves. The cliffs boast buildings older than he can fathom, older than anything his father ever built, and infinitely longer lasting. The ocean waves are tamer than in Newport, and It throws him for a loop every time, to realize that this isn’t the Pacific Ocean anymore. He’s on a different continent, feet in different sand, waist deep in water that flows from a different source.  

 

Tony doesn’t like going into the water, he says that the salt water would be bad for his hair and that his hair is vital to his brand. Tony likes going with Gob to the beach anyway though, so that’s where they end up most mornings.

 

Which makes it easy for Gob to start leaving Tony letters.

 

Tony,

I didn’t think memories could be worth keeping before I met you.

Love,

Gob

(20)

 

Tony laughs the first time he finds a letter in the sand. Well, Tony laughs, then kisses him, then laughs some more. Tony thinks that the numbering system is stupid, and in retrospect, Gob agrees, but it’s what Sally used to trap Gob, so it’s what Gob is going to use for Tony. Not to trap him, because Gob wants Tony to choose this, choose him. But maybe the letters will help with that.

 

Tony,

When I was fifteen, I started performing in the talent show my school put on every year. My mother bribed the sound technician guy to cut my mic, but he tipped me off instead. Everybody clapped, and it’s when I knew I’d love magic forever.

Love,

Gob

(19)

 

Tony,

Someday, you’ll need to tell me what Tony is short for, and what your last name was before it became Wonder. But you can’t tell Michael, I want to lord it over him.

Love,

Gob

(18)



Tony,

I am so glad Sally Sitwell kidnapped us that one time.

Love,

Gob

(17)

 

Tony,

Sharing a room with you is great for my heart, great for my dick, terrible for my back. Totally worth it though.

Love,

Gob

(16)



Tony,

Seeing you every morning is better than all of the applause I’ve ever gotten. Which is a lot, you know. I get a lot of applause. More now, since you make my act better, but you also make me better, offstage. I love knowing more about art and musicals. So, thank you.

Love,

Gob

(15)

 

Tony,

I signed us up for a pottery lesson. Maybe we can make some new candy bean dishes.

Love,

Gob

(14)

 

Michael asks to Skype with them about halfway through what he calls their ‘vacation’ and what Gob and Tony call their ‘Epic Overseas Magic Adventure’. Gob and Tony are basically nocturnal, with the night shows and the late night sex, but they still make Michael call at noon, Rome time. He actually does it, even though in Newport Beach that’s three am.

 

“Hey there, you two.” Michael’s eyes are drooping, but his expression is cheerier than Gob expected. “How’s the trip going?”

 

Tony answers for both of them, beaming. “It’s utterly... magical!” And Gob’s been helping Tony with this part, releasing two captured and only lightly drugged Italian pigeons into the air for emphasis.

 

“I’m glad.” Michael lifts up a pile of papers, and Gob is tempted to use Michael’s terminology because even Michael typically agrees that there should be no paperwork on a vacation. “I have some good news about the company. Mom’s been named chairman of the board, and I’m the president, finally.”

 

Gob’s still waiting to hear the good news because honestly, that’s just the standard amount of role switching and title switching in his family. Michael and Lucille have always been in charge, even if he’s been shoved out front like a decoy duck.

 

Michael keeps smiling, and he does look happier than Gob has seen him in a long time. “Gob, do you remember impulse buying a closet conversion company? They do closet remodeling?”

 

It was less of an impulse buy and more of a panicky, ‘no one can know I’m gay’ buy, but same difference. “Yeah?”

 

“Turns out, they’ve been getting a ton of business since the July 2nd parade. Know anything about that?” Michael laughs. “So much business, in fact, that they’re officially the most profitable branch of the Bluth empire.”

 

Gob feels a rush of pride in his closet guys. “I knew it! They’re great, they really are.”

 

Michael nods. “It gets better. Turns out, your other impulse business decision? The Sudden Valley full of sex offenders?”

 

“It was a perfectly legitimate market-” God, Michael is just never going to let that go.

 

“-No, I get that now. We’re actually one of the few real estate companies that’s still making money after the crash.” Michael takes a breath so deep, Gob can hear it through the video chat. “Which means I ought to apologize.”

 

Gob gets a funny feeling in his chest like he should tell Michael not to bother, but Tony centers himself in the frame and tells Michael, flat-voiced, “yeah, you should.”

 

Michael blinks. “Didn’t I just do that?”

 

Tony shakes his head and looks serious enough that Michael tries again. “I’m sorry, Gob, that was a good idea.”

 

Gob wishes he had that on record, and then he looks at Tony, who has his phone out and the little voice recorder is going.

 

The skype call gets cut short after that, and Tony quickly gets a lesson in how much Gob learned at Hot Cops.

 

Tony,

I love when you stand up to my brother.

Love,

Gob

(13)

 

Tony,

You’ve changed my life in so many ways. I don’t know how to tell you this out loud, or even how to tell you in words on paper, but you have and you should know that. I love doing the relationship thing. And doing you. A lot.

Love,

Gob

(12)

 

Tony,

I love you, and I know exactly what that means.

Love,

Gob

(11)

 

Tony,

You don’t need to love me back, but somehow you do. And you do it so well that I can’t convince myself that you don’t, anymore.

Love,

Gob

(10)

 

At night, Gob and Tony like to take walks around Rome. The air is warmer than in Newport Beach, and they can stay out later without getting the cops called on them for loitering. Some nights, they find a street corner to perform on, thriving off of the energy of the city and the pulse of the people. Other nights, they wind up in a quiet place, like the park a few streets away from their rented room, or on a rooftop left vulnerable by unattended ladders.

 

Tony,

Even though we got kidnapped because of it, I loved our July 2nd illusion too.

Love,

Gob

(9)

 

Tony,

When I was little, I didn’t have anyone to play pretend with. Michael was too serious, and Lindsay was too cool, and Buster was too young. If I played pretend, it would be to have a friend, someone like me. And you’re so much better than I could have dreamed.

Love,

Gob

(8)

 

Tony,

I hear Sally Sitwell is doing well these days! Lindsay says she’s blossomed into her power, whatever that means. They might be banging.

Love,

Gob

(7)

 

The next morning, Gob gets a stack of purple envelopes tucked under the egg carton. Tony doesn’t say anything, but Gob knows Tony’s faces well enough now to know that he’s trying hard not to spoil the surprise. Gob doesn’t need any more of an excuse to tear into the letters.

 

Gob,

I figure that I at least owe you the missing letters. I know I didn’t write the first round, but I kind of did, on accident, so those sentiments stand. But, Gob, if I could have written my own letters, I would have told you that you are my favorite person.

Love,
Tony

(missing letter 6)

 

Gob,

I would also have told you that I want to learn everything about you. Even when we were strangers, you were someone I felt like I knew already. We’re better than the same, we’re a duet, and we’re going to keep being a duet because you can’t separate a song with two, it doesn’t make sense without all the lyrics.

Love,

Tony

(missing letter 5)

 

Gob,

Seeing you every day makes me glad I have eyes.

Love,

Tony

(missing letter 4)

 

Gob,

I’m also glad I have a penis when I’m with you, it’s been helpful.

Love,

Tony

(missing letter 3)

 

Gob,

Being trapped with Sally was scary, weird, and boring. It felt like being ten again, not having any friends who liked magic, sitting alone at lunch and being lonely all the time. I kept imagining what you’d say, what you’d do, and it was like having imaginary friends again. When you showed up, I thought maybe I had imagined you too hard, that I’d gone crazy. But instead, you helped keep me sane.

Love,

Tony

(missing letter 2)

 

Gob,

I was so glad you found me.

Love,

Tony

(missing letter 1)

 

“Hey, so, I stole you something from Maeby’s retirement home.”

 

Tony looks nervous, so Gob lifts himself up off the bed, tries to sit like a person and makes sure he’s facing Tony full on, not hiding away behind a pillow blockade. “Oh yeah?”

 

A package lands in Gob’s lap, something slim and flat and round, covered in the brown parchment paper all the shops seem to be using instead of plastic bags.

 

"What's this?" Gob tilts the package back and forth, trying to read the writing on top. The purple ink is in Tony's handwriting, his real handwriting, not Sally Sitwell's best forgery. 'For Gob, Love Tony' is written there, in Tony’s spiky and cramped script, and Gob feels a rush of happiness. Happiness because Tony loves him, because he knows that Tony’s handwriting is scrunched like that because he holds pens weird, because Tony thought about him long enough to steal from old people. He rips apart the paper, careful to preserve the part where Tony wrote the word ‘love’, because he wants to start saving that type of reminder in a shoebox that used to be for dead doves, and will need to have the ‘dead’ and ‘d’ crossed out and an ‘l’ put in its place.

 

A vinyl record falls out, and it’s ‘The Final Countdown’ original recording.

 

Tony smiles. "Yeah, it's kind of old school, but it's the only type of music they had at Maeby's place. It's pretty dumb, you have to stop halfway through and switch to part b to hear the other song."

 

"That is pretty dumb." Gob kisses Tony. "But thank you. One side at a time might be better, in some ways."

 

"Yeah? Like what?" Tony is in his arms, Tony is safe, Gob is safe, and they are happy.

 

Gob grins. "There's more time to do this, in between. And I like this a lot."