They met when he was a young man, but not so young she had reason to suspect she was his first. He was assured, steady. Nothing about her seemed to surprise him. Not the way she warmed to his touch, not the way she roared when he set her off. He knew what he was doing, knew how her parts moved together and knew just how to make them work.
She was not his first, but from the way he called her Sweetness she always believed she was the one he loved best.
He was Stephen, and she whispered his name whenever he held her. Whenever he didn't hold her, she screamed it. Snug against his side in a holster under a blazer, tucked into the small of his back under the waistband of leather pants. Alone under the pillow, or buried in the dirty drawer of a cheap motel, just her and the Bible and all the noise that Stephen would make. Always, she called his name. To let him know she was there. That she would protect him. All he had to do was ask. To take her, to demand her service with the gentle pressure of a shaking finger, and she'd be there. And there she was.
Stephen would take Sweetness out to the range a lot. She loved the way they were together, the way they could tear through man-shaped paper targets in a matter of seconds and be ready to go again a moment later. Stephen made her laugh, sometimes, the way he'd practice James Bond poses and quick cowboy draws. He was fun like that. Silly, trying to look all movie star action hero cool with his protective earmuffs and glasses askew. She loved him for it, was more than happy to play along.
But inevitably the range manager would come by their cubicle and lecture Stephen about responsible gun use, threaten to toss them out. Stephen would sheepishly nod his head and set his stance, holding Sweetness back. He made her steady in his hands while she shook with rage.
Don't let him tell you what to do, she'd say.
"Shh, not here," Stephen would hiss back, his teeth grinding until the range manager wandered off again and let them be.
There were other men too. Men who didn't make Stephen quite so angry, but made Sweetness seethe all the same.
Men at the range. Men in the parking lots at gun shows. Men in men's rooms all over the country.
They showed Stephen things. Things to try to charm him away from Sweetness. Nickel plated pistols and long-barrelled Dirty Harry guns. One time, an Uzi.
Sweetness would sit idly by while he inspected these things, rolling her cylinders to herself.
Sometimes the men would lure him away for a while. Most of the time, Stephen would leave her behind. She called his name, pulled back her hammer in frustration when there was no answer. Sometimes it felt like hours would pass as her steel grew cold from the lack of touch, from the lack of fire. From the lack of Stephen.
He would return, eventually, smelling like sweat and the residue of something she knew was more potent than gunpowder.
He would take her again, his hands sticky, clammy, all wrong against her barrel, her butt. Welts on his wrists, the smudge of bruises on his face and neck. He'd tuck her back in her holster, against his chest, silent but for the wild booming of his heart.
A different kind of booming than she usually felt from him when they'd been together.
Don't leave me behind, she demanded.
Stephen's hand shook a little.
Let me kiss you, she said.
Her muzzle against his temple, she licked the sweat from his skin.
Touch yourself, she whispered.
He did, his breathing heavy, the heat of his body warming her.
"I'm not safe without you."
"Everyone is going to hurt me."
Gentle pressure, the pad of his finger on her trigger.
She held back, empty chambers turning hollowly as he moaned.
"I love you," he huffed.
Sometimes Stephen would hold her his mouth while he touched himself, teeth clicking against her, tongue poking the recesses of her tip. And if he ever pretended she was any of those men whose names neither of them knew, that heated flesh nestled against the back of his throat instead of cold steel, she never knew. She didn't care. All that mattered was that she was with him now, and she would keep him safe.
Sweetness wasn't happy when they moved to New York City. With those ridiculous handgun laws, it was like Stephen was trying to keep hiding what they meant to each other. On purpose.
"Shhh," he'd murmur while she screamed in his ear. "I know, I know. Don't worry. I don't need what we have to be legal to know that it's right."
And for a while, Sweetness didn't worry. Every day, pressed against Stephen's side, listening to the hum and screech of the city, the drone of television news, his baritone voice sliding over each night's copy. What was there to worry about?
But then, she started to hear some voices standing out above the others.
One voice, really.
One name that Stephen said a lot. Much more than he ever said hers.
"Wait, you... you carry a gun? Every day? To work?"
That was the first time she actually got him in her sights. When Stephen had told Jon that covering the conventions was really going to interfere with his daily routine. Brush teeth, fix hair, warm up his pull-squint expressions in the mirror for ten minutes, strap on the side arm. Normal, everyday things.
Then Jon had asked him, disbelievingly, ridiculously, if Stephen brought a gun to work, and then Sweetness was staring straight at him.
"She's more than just a gun, Jon," Stephen said.
Jon took a giant step back.
(Giant for him, at least. Sweetness noticed how short he was straight away and fixed her sights on him in smug satisfaction)
"Stephen, what the – stop pointing that thing at me. Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with you?!"
"She's not a 'thing', Jon. Her name is Sweetness."
"Okay, okay, Sweetness, that's great, can you put her the fuck down, please."
Stephen obeyed. Sweetness protested.
"What's that?" he asked her to repeat it against his ear.
You're going to let him talk to me like that?
"Shhh, no, I'll make sure he doesn't say that again. Jon's okay," Stephen purred. "He's wrong about everything, but he's okay."
You can't let him get away with it.
"No, I can let him get away with it. This time."
Sweetness and Stephen fixed the same cold gaze on Jon. He inched backward another step, bumping against his desk.
"Do you have a permit for... her? Because I'm pretty sure that bringing a gun to the office every day isn't exactly..."
"What? Isn't exactly what, Jon? It's not normal? Is that what you're saying? You and all your open minded free love 'let's all blaze up a doob and make silly faces at the president, man', you're judging me about this?"
Stephen's fingers twitched around Sweetness and she nestled happily into his grip.
"I was going to say necessary," Jon said.
"Oh," Stephen said. His hand relaxed and Sweetness felt the absence of touch on her trigger like the ache of a phantom limb. "What is a permit anyway? Just some piece of paper that supposedly validates the right we already have to be together? I don't need that. We don't need that."
"Stephen, it's illegal for you to have a concealed weapon without a permit."
Sweetness could have suggested a crass joke about the concealed weapon in Stephen's pants not needing a permit, but she held back. Jon didn't deserve to hear one of her jokes. He wasn't worth it.
Instead, Stephen scoffed, and cradled her in his hands where she peered at the other man with disdain.
"I'm on television, Jon. Nothing is illegal."
And to that, there was no responding argument.
There was an argument. At some point. There must have been. It's just that Sweetness wasn't allowed to be a part of it. Stephen had left her behind again.
Stephen assured her that Jon was very reasonable, in a wishy-washy kind of way, in asking Stephen not to bring Sweetness with him to work anymore.
Reasonable?! Reasonable my butt. Since when do we have time for reasonable?
"Shh, baby, I know, really, he's not worth listening to. But if we want to be a normal couple, we have to be a normal couple. Normal couples aren't together all the time like that. Normal couples aren't at work together. Sure, you might find a co-worker to be devastatingly attractive and spend all day thinking about what would happen if they dragged you into their dressing room ten minutes before you both have to be on the air, but... that's normal. There's nothing wrong with that. Banging your boss, that's the American dream. But life partners and the workplace, that's not how these things happen normally. And Sweetness, baby, you and me... we're normal. What we have is normal, and we should be doing it normally."
He stroked her barrel and kissed her, lips warm.
It's not normal for me to want to protect you?
"No, baby, that's normal. But I'm safe at work. Everyone there is too stoned to hurt anyone."
She felt the twinge in Stephen's fingers, the quivering of his breath. "Jon wouldn't hurt me."
Sweetness stayed cold and quiet, resistant, unresponsive to Stephen's touch.
He sighed, and set to work trying to coax her back. The kit came out, cleaning solvents and oils, soft cotton slipping neatly into her barrel, through her chambers. She began to warm, to feel new under his attention.
Soon he was setting her off, over and over again, until the walls had been penetrated and plaster rained down from the ceiling.
Alone. All day. Nothing but a hatbox full of cufflinks and the framed portrait of Stephen that he kept on his dresser to keep her company. It went on like that for months.
Sure, he'd be home eventually. Sure, he'd pick her up as soon as he came in, fingertip trailing down her barrel as he told her about his day and she told him all the things she would've done to solve his problems. But it wasn't the same. It went on like that for months.
Then the days alone began to stretch even longer into the night.
Where have you been? she demanded as his tongue warmed her steel.
Where have you been? she shouted this time as he held her against his ear.
"I've been out."
She wrenched her own hammer back and slammed on her trigger. Her empty chambers clicked without release.
Stephen had been keeping her unloaded more and more. He knew she was upset. But still he kept leaving her and coming home in the dead of night.
Sweetness knocked her firing pin over and over again, a futile act until it was like a hollow point bullet of truth had turned up in their game of Russian roulette.
"I was with Jon," Stephen blurted.
She went still, silent.
"Sweetness, baby, I'm sorry."
What does he have on you?
"What do you mean, what does he have on me?"
Why else would you be with him unless he was blackmailing you. Forcing you. Because I'm not there to protect you.
"No, shhh, baby, it's not like that."
What is it like then? Like you're sleeping with him because you love him?
"No!" Stephen yelped. "It's not like that either. I'm not – we're not – you know, it doesn't mean anything, I'm just being nice to him for my career. It's not that he makes me feel safe or anything ridiculous like that. I don't know what you're saying!"
Prove it to me, Sweetness snapped.
"How?" Stephen whispered.
Leave him. Be more important than him. Be your own boss.
"How do I do that?"
Do I have to do it for you? Introduce me to Jon again, I know how to negotiate –
"No! No. I'll do it. I don't need you to... talk to Jon. I can do it for you, baby, I promise."
Sure, Sweetness didn't get a formal executive producer credit on The Colbert Report like Jon did. But Stephen kept her with him all the time again. He started telling his Nation about how poorly Jon had treated him. How Jon had terrorized him. What an awful, terrible, unpatriotic little man Jon was. Stephen would even bring Jon on his show just to demonstrate how Stephen was better, how wrong Jon always was.
Stephen brought Sweetness on the show, too. He told the Nation that they were together. He didn't try to hide that from anyone.
That was enough for Sweetness.
Sure, Sweetness might have gotten upset a few times about the way things were. There might have been an audience member or two who got shot.
But Stephen was a real celebrity now, so it didn't count.
The downside of being back in Stephen's life at work was that she had to listen to Jon again.
Not as much, but for Sweetness, it was still too much.
Most of the time when Jon came to Stephen's office, Stephen would lock Sweetness in the bottom drawer of his desk. Unloaded, her ammunition hidden somewhere else in the office that he wouldn't tell her about.
At least she couldn't hear Jon so well from there. So she didn't have to listen to him as much. She didn't have to see him. That was fine by her.
There was one time, though, that Stephen forgot that Sweetness was sitting on the bookshelf (next to one of his Emmys, right where he'd left her after he'd gotten frustrated with his Lord of the Rings pinball machine and she offered to help him fix it). Stephen forgot that, and Jon dropped by unexpectedly.
Sweetness saw the whole thing.
The way Jon put his arms around Stephen. Just because he had arms. The way he was able to stroke Stephen's back and brush his frustrations away, as though it were nothing more than lint on his jacket (and, yes, that may have been part of Stephen's problems at that particular moment, but Sweetness didn't have arms or hands and the only way she could get lint off Stephen's jacket would end up with him bleeding, but, sure, that was her fault).
Stephen seemed to melt into Jon's arms, into his kiss, satisfied, if only for a brief moment, with the state of the world.
It was the same look he used to have on his face when they'd make a perfect headshot on a man-shaped paper target back in their days at the range. It was the same, but more of it.
When Stephen pulled away, he seemed to rearrange, to reassemble, back into who he was. A powerful man with a national television show who was in a committed relationship with his handgun, and not some sap who turned into a pile of mush at the hands of some Captain Kumbaya jackass that thought Sweetness was an inappropriate influence on Stephen.
Sweetness was empty, and not just because her ammunition was beyond her reach.
She whispered against his deaf ear, quieter than her silencer ever made her.
Is this who you really are? Have you been lying to me all this time?
"What do you mean, baby? I don't lie. I'm incapable of anything but truth. You know me."
You're in love with a liberal, Stephen! He supports background checks and bans on guns in public places! If he had his way, we never could have been together!
"Shh, shh. It's okay that Jon believes all that. I'm going undercover, trying to change his mind. Getting him to think from the gut. It's taking longer than I'd hoped... but... you know what they say. The way to a liberal's gut is through his penis. I'm working that thing relentlessly. It'll be any day now, Sweetness."
She stayed cold against his lips.
"Okay," Stephen said cheerfully. "Now that's settled, how about we – "
Let me help.
Stephen froze. "Uh, what's that?"
Let me help. Let me meet him. Properly this time.
"No, Sweetness, I don't want you to hurt him – "
Not like that. I promise.
"Really?" The excited quiver in his voice made her empty chambers tingle. "You mean that?"
Stephen nuzzled her against his cheek, kissed her all over, took her into his mouth.
She would make everything okay. She always did.
Sweetness saw Jon stiffen, and not in a good way.
It would've been a good way, if she weren't trying so hard for Stephen.
But she was, so it wasn't. Jon's eyes were wide as Stephen pulled Sweetness open for him to see her empty chambers.
"See? She promises to be good. And even if she isn't, I haven't loaded her. She knows you won't hurt me, and now you know she won't hurt you," Stephen explained.
"Would you like to hold her?"
It was a disappointing experience at first, Jon's hands smaller than Stephen's, his touch unsure, as though she was about to go off of her own accord.
And she might have, with that weak hold on her, just to teach him a lesson.
But she kept still, all her moving pieces staying in one place. Stephen's hands covered Jon's and moved him in to place, the way he knew Sweetness liked to be held.
"See?" Stephen murmured, and Sweetness wasn't sure which one of them he was trying to reassure. "That's good, right?"
"Stephen, I'm not really comfortable with this..." Jon started.
"She makes you look good, Jon."
"Just hold her. Get used to how she makes you feel. She can make you feel good, like I can make you feel good."
Sweetness watched as Stephen peeled his clothes off and got on his knees in front of them. Jon's hands tightened around her, she could feel the tension in his fingers, then a gentle thumb stroking her grip like he didn't even know he was doing it.
She watched, held against Jon's bare thigh, as Stephen took Jon in his hands and mouth.
Jon groaned, fingers twitching, grazing her trigger guard.
Let me kiss you, Sweetness murmured.
"Let her kiss me," Stephen said.
Jon was confused until Stephen's hands guided him again until Sweetness had her barrel against his temple.
She licked the sweat from his skin.
"Stephen," Jon gasped. "I'm not sure – "
"I like this," Stephen said simply. "I want you both." His lips sucked at Jon's cock, then Sweetness's barrel. "It's less gay when there's a girl there. Or a gun. Here we've got both."
You've got him there, Sweetness cooed, and Stephen smiled before taking them both in his mouth at once.
Sweetness heard Jon moan, and tasted him on Stephen's tongue.
And now she knew that Jon wouldn't hurt him.
They started to do more things together. Not always, but sometimes. Sweetness would sit in on their lunches in Stephen's office. Jon didn't want her to come if they went out somewhere for dinner, but Stephen assured Sweetness that as soon as something drastic and unexpected happened at a restaurant, like slow service or an overcooked steak, Jon would see why it was necessary to have someone like Sweetness around at all times. She was no longer relegated to a dresser drawer when Jon slept over at Stephen's. She never came over to Jon's, because Jon didn't think it was appropriate for Sweetness to meet Jon's kids. Stephen assured her it was just because they had inherited Jon's tiny hands. Once the kids grew little bigger, Jon would be okay with it, because, after all, you have to start kids on the right path while they're young.
Stephen took them both out to the range. It seemed like a good compromise. Somewhere Stephen and Sweetness could be together freely, where even Jon couldn't come up with a reason why Sweetness shouldn't be there.
The way Jon held her got better with practice. Less like Sweetness was about to jump up and start firing like it was the boardroom on The Apprentice, more like he was learning to work with her. Stephen beamed with pride whenever Jon managed to keep his eyes open and hit the target. Sweetness started feeling satisfied too.
She noticed a man hanging around their cubicle sometimes. He reminded her of all those men with their Dirty Harry pistols from so long ago, the men who would make Stephen leave her behind.
"You're a pretty good shooter," she heard him say to Stephen.
"I've got a great gun," Stephen answered. Sweetness snuggled into his hands. Jon rolled his eyes and smiled down at his shoes, but she ignored that.
"That little thing? I think you could handle something bigger. Something that really takes you for a ride."
"I've tried thousands of guns. She's mine. She's the one for me." Stephen shrugged. "Sorry, pal. If you're trying to sell me something, I'm not buying."
"I'm just saying, it looks like that little thing hardly packs a punch."
Sweetness glowered. She begged Stephen to raise her up, let him see how hard a punch she was packing.
"It looks like," the man said, "that thing is better suited for your boyfriend there. He can hardly handle it. I know you could handle something better."
Sweetness snapped. Stephen's hands tightened on her, feeling the tension in her hammer, the recoil that she could kick back at any second.
Jon stepped in. "Hey, man, look, thanks for the advice, but we're all good here, okay?"
"No, I don't think you are okay, man," he said.
"He's... he's not my boyfriend. We're just pistol partners," Stephen said. "Blam blam buddies." Sweetness jumped in his hand, ready to go whenever he needed it. "We like girls. And guns. And guns who are girls. Total dude stuff."
"Fuck this," Jon said. His hand covered Stephen's (as much as it could), pushing Sweetness down from her ready position. "Yeah, I am his boyfriend. And this is the gun we're using. If you've got a problem with either of those things, then maybe you should look past the second amendment and check out some of the other ones."
"Yeah!" Stephen pushed past Jon and held Sweetness aloft. "Like the first! Right to free speech. Guns are speech! Money is speech! You buy guns with money! And this here," he waved Sweetness around the booth, gesturing to Jon, to himself, to Sweetness, to their place in the world, his circles getting wider as everyone took a step back. "This is my speech. This is what I'm saying. Do I need to say it louder?"
Sweetness trembled. Oh, how she wanted to scream with Stephen. And who even knew that Jon was capable of raising his voice. It was too much.
She didn't get her chance. The other man scanned the three of them up and down and slowly walked away.
Jon let out a breath and rubbed his eyes. "I've been around you for way too long, Stephen, because that almost made sense to me."
Sweetness murmured to Stephen and he held her up to his ear. "What's that?"
He actually did something good for us, she admitted.
Stephen's lips were smiling as he kissed her. "I told you it'd happen."
Things end, eventually.
She was there for him when he needed it most, and then she was gone.
Death had his hands around Stephen's throat, and then it was her and Stephen, together on instinct.
He panicked, that's what she told herself. Killing Grimmy was a big deal. Grimmy was a celebrity too. Not some Joe Schmo that didn't matter.
So Stephen panicked, and he threw her away, his partner in crime now just an accessory to it.
It hurt. She was mad. But, later, when the dust settled, once he realised it meant that Stephen Colbert was immortal and Sweetness had helped get him there, he found her again.
You don't need me anymore, do you?
Stephen shushed her, stroked her, but didn't say anything.
I understand. I did what I was meant to do.
"And I love you for it."
Sweetness lunged at him desperately, tried to kiss him, to crawl inside his mouth, to leave something of herself behind there just to test it, just to see... but it wouldn't work.
He really didn't need her anymore.
But before Sweetness could say anything, Stephen knew what she was thinking.
"I know who does need you," he said.
Sweetness turned in Jon's hands and tried to cling to Stephen's voice.
"I'm immortal, Jon. I don't need her anymore. But you do. You need someone to take care of you."
Jon's hands sunk underneath Sweetness, as though her weight were too much to bear.
"I can take pretty good care of myself, Stephen."
"But you say a lot of ridiculous things, Jon. And there are a lot of people out there with guns who agree with me that you're ridiculous, but aren't quite as reasonable as me in putting up with your ridiculousness. So you need a gun too. And this isn't just any gun." Stephen's hands covered Jon's, covered Sweetness, and she was cradled between them. "This is Sweetness."
"I appreciate the gesture. Really, I do. But... I'm just not really a gun kind of guy. You know that. Even if it is Sweetness."
Stephen sighed. "I thought you were coming around on this. Starting to think like a real American."
He plucked Sweetness from Jon's hands and she started to panic. If Jon didn't want her, then what? She didn't really want to spend the rest of her days unused and unloved at the bottom of Jon's sock drawer (and he probably had hemp woven child-labor-free socks, too, which would make things a thousand times worse), but at least if she was with Jon then there was some chance she'd see Stephen again.
"I'm just not as comfortable with her as you are. I'm not as good with her. But you are. I mean, look what you did! You two killed the goddamn Grim Reaper, Stephen! You two are great together. Being immortal doesn't change that."
"Yeah, I am pretty great," Stephen admitted, the complete lack of modesty in his voice making Sweetness proud.
"How about you and Sweetness stay together? If you really think I need protecting, well, then... I couldn't think of a better team than you two. And, hey, if you're still looking out for me, then, well... you can stick around too."
"We are a good team," Stephen murmured.
Though he was looking down at her, the tip of his finger caressing her trigger, she wasn't sure that he was only talking about her.
By the way Jon gently touched the back of Stephen's hand, she thought maybe Jon wasn't sure either.
But back in her rightful place, snug in her holster against Stephen's side, she didn't mind either way. As they left, together again on the city streets, her shots of joy rang through the night.
Stephen was going to be safe forever, and Sweetness had made sure of it.