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It had been forty-eight days since Kevin first arrived at the safe house. Forty-nine, if he rounded.

God, is this what it’s come to? Kevin thought, disgusted with himself. Rounding?

It was the little things he missed: working on his book, Cheddar, movies starring actors that were not Nicolas Cage.

He missed his Raymond.

It was silly, of course, to miss what wasn’t missing. Raymond would arrive for a visit that same day, as he always did Tuesdays and Thursdays at precisely 6:21 pm. Kevin realized, with a sinking feeling, that he was rather dreading it.

The Raymond that had been visiting was not the Raymond he had fallen in love with. He was acting as more of a Captain than a husband. Kevin longed to read silently in bed together, not face a lecture on new addendums to safety protocol.

Raymond hadn’t told even one joke since this whole debacle began. Raymond, of all people!

Has Jake been talking this entire time?

Kevin had grown adept at tuning the other man out. It was a skill he took no pride in. He of all people knew how irritating it could be to speak about a subject he was passionate about and have no one listen. He was being rude, so he banished his misery for the moment.

“--Bynes said some really messed up stuff on Twitter. I mean like. We’re talking-- ah, real bad.”

Kevin immediately regretted paying attention to what Jake was saying.

“So then Rihanna clapped back and said--!”

“I’m sorry,” Kevin interrupted, brow furrowing, “Did you say: clapped back?”

Jake’s mouth opened wide in a strange expression. Kevin couldn’t tell if it was glee or shock. “You don’t know what a clapback is?”

“I am not sure I want to.”

“Aw!” Jake shifted on the couch to face him head-on, “Aren’t smart people supposed to wanna learn stuff?”

“I am not interested in the realm of… popular culture.”

He may have caved and watched several terrible action films, but there was a line. Kevin had principles.

Jake would not be deterred. “C’mon! When in Rome...” Inexplicably, he trailed off in the middle of the phrase. Kevin could not abide that.

“Rōmānō vīvitō mōre.” He finished.

Jake’s eyes glazed over. “Uh. What?”

Kevin sighed deeply. It was to be expected, he supposed, that Jake didn’t have even a basic grip on Latin. Undoubtedly a failing of the public school system. “Then live in the Roman fashion.”

“Am I getting this wrong? And don’t get me wrong, that’s totally possible! But I was looking more for like ‘do as the Romans do?’”

“Then either finish the proverb or don’t say it at all!” Kevin snapped.

Ridiculous, really.

Jake bit his lip and nodded slowly. “Okay. Okay, cool. Totes.”

An embarrassed heat rose to Kevin’s face, and the collar of his shirt suddenly felt far too constricting. His behavior of late was becoming downright unseemly.

Jake pressed forward, “Anyway, so a clapback, how do I explain?”

It was useless. Jake was determined, and Kevin was no coward: unwilling to quite literally crawl away on his belly to escape the conversation. He resigned himself to his fate.

“It’s like. A diss, you know?”

Kevin did not know.

“A devastating burn. Drop the mic. They come at you, and then you go back at them, but harder. Like a, finish him type-a-thang!”

Kevin’s eyebrows climbed higher and higher, sitting atop his face in silent judgment as Jake scrambled for words to explain.

“Nope, you’re not getting any of this. That’s on me. I’ve gotta speak your language.”

“I say!” Jake adopted an insultingly snooty tone. “A clapius backicus is akin to a withering rebuttal. Why, yes, professor, that’s right. I do have the… college words and smarticles. Thesis… statement. Jolly good show! And it’s British now.”

He won’t stop talking. Kevin could feel the onset of a headache pounding against the confines of his skull.

“I understand now, Jacob.” He said tersely.

“Yikes. Jacob.” Jake almost seemed to rethink the conversation. Almost being the key word. Instead, he whined like a petulant child, “But I haven’t even explained the most important part!”

“What?” Kevin asked, tone utterly flat.

“This.” Jake clapped. Kevin waited for only a moment: he was rapidly running out of patience.

“What?” He asked again, now thoroughly exasperated.

Jake clapped twice. “Like. This.”

Kevin clapped before he spoke, feeling foolish. “Like this?”

“Oh, you’re trying so hard. And failing so much harder. It’s kinda incredible.” Jake searched through his pockets. “Ugh, but I don’t have a phone, so I can’t show you.”

“Show me videos of people clapping?”

“No, it’s an emoji.” Jake paused a beat. “They’re those little pictures on people’s phones...”

“I know what an emoji is.”

“Ooh, a twenty-first-century man, I see. Fancy! So the little clapping hands emoji, right?”

That wasn’t a question, but Kevin played along.


“People put it In. Be. Tween. The. Words.” Jake clapped along with what he was saying.

Kevin certainly hoped he didn't mean what he had said because as it was Jake was clapping in between syllables, not words.

Jake continued, characteristically oblivious of his error, “‘Course, they don’t usually do it in real-life, but I have to, because, y’know, we’re in real life. No laptops, or phones, or anything...”

Kevin suspected that Jake was in mourning.

Still, I believe I’m beginning to comprehend.

“Why clap at all?”

Jake’s gestures were wild as he blustered, “Well-- because -- that’s what makes it a clapback instead of just a diss. Doi.”

“Thank you for that important distinction,” Kevin said dryly.

There was a flurry of five knocks in quick succession. Raymond.

“Wait. Before I get that,” Jake’s eyes were shining, his grin boyish in nature. “Gimme a clapback.”

“Absolutely not!”

“Please, please, please? I won’t eat any pizza pockets in here for a day.”

“Two days.” Kevin countered.

“Three days!”

Why Jake was increasing the days was a mystery, but even Kevin had limits, had temptations. He was only a man.

“Under no circumstances will you tell Raymond about this.”

“Keeping secrets from the Captain? With his husband?” Jake couldn’t contain his obvious glee. “Yes! A million times yes!”

Kevin briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath in through his nose to work up the nerve. He glanced from side to side furtively, though rather pointlessly. No one would witness this. A tragedy the world would never know. No one had even been in the house except himself, occasionally his husband, and the current source of his misery: Jake.

“This. Is. Ab. Surd.” Kevin groused, clapping to punctuate each syllable.

Jake made a long, drawn-out series of squealing noises before crawling towards the door as fast as he could. “Hellmouth nightmares are worth it!”

Kevin slithered after him.

Let Seamus Murphy have me, he privately despaired. My life is already forfeit.