"There's no good reason for uncollared subs to be at colleges in the first place. If they want to meet eligible young doms, there are easier ways to do it! And even if they want to study too, what if it turns out their major doesn't fit in with their eventual collaring dominant's life plans? Complete waste of time, that's what I say."
Everyone at the lunch table was staring at Stephen by this point. Jon decided to bring up the obvious. "Stephen. You're an uncollared sub."
"Exactly! So I know what I'm talking about!"
"But...you want to go to college," protested Jon. "Last week I was helping you finish your application for Dartmouth!"
Stephen gazed at him with a perfectly straight face. "I don't remember that."
Jon made a couple of incoherent twitchy noises, then buried his head in his hands.
"Maybe you should be eating better," added Stephen, helpfully liberating Jon's Doritos from his tray and replacing them with a handful of carrot sticks. "I hear poor diets can cause memory problems."
Stephen was fine, in great shape, never better. And if he just happened to be going home as soon as the bell rang, skipping out on the debate team meeting, so what? Not always going to clubs was his right as an American. It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that he would have seen Jon there.
Which was good, because Jon cornered him at his locker anyway.
"Come on, Stephen, just talk to me," pleaded Jon, following him down the hall. "Just a quick chat. A minute. Two, tops. Then I'll disappear and you can get on with doing whatever you want."
"There's nothing to chat about!" said Stephen, tugging the straps of his backpack tighter over his shoulders. It really should have protected him better, with the Captain America patch on the back and all. "I'm only letting you follow me because I'm humoring you."
"Good enough for me," said Jon. "Humor me on this, then. You know it's illegal now for colleges to be dom- or dom-and-switch-only, right? And that they're not allowed to discriminate based on whether you're collar-bound, right?"
"Don't patronize me, sir," snapped Stephen as they emerged into the chill, bright afternoon. "Everybody knows that."
"And you know you've got a good shot at this?" Jon had no problem keeping pace with Stephen as he wove through the maze of other students waiting in twos and threes for their buses. "I mean, sure, your grades aren't always all that, and neither is your spelling, and starting off your application essay with Why I Am The Greatest American Who Ever Lived might have been a little over-the-top — this isn't helping, is it?"
Jon winced. "Sorry. But my point is, even with all that, you've got a lot going for you, okay? And a bunch of these schools are going to see that."
"Which would be very useful if I were going to any of them," agreed Stephen, kicking a couple of small rocks out of his way as he stalked down the sidewalk. Stupid rocks. This whole stupid state was full of them, every lawn carpeted with decorative rocks because there wasn't enough good honest dirt on the Jersey shore to grow actual grass, or at least not the kind of grass you would want in a lawn. "But I'm not, so who cares?"
"As of last week, you!"
"Whoa there, easy on the history lesson, Professor!" said Stephen, then had to catch himself and take a couple of breaths, because strong history departments were one of the things he had been looking for while applying, and.... "Let's grow up here and take a realistic look at this. Going somewhere away from my parents, without a dominant, who's supposed to look out for me? All I'm going to do is get myself in trouble. Why should they start shelling out thousands of dollars for that when I can stay here and meet nice doms at home practically for free?"
Somehow, Jon was unswayed by this flawless logic. "Stephen, I...I've been looking up scholarships anyway," he began. "If you want to come over and go through them...I mean, you're not gonna get anything from the Norman Schulevitz Foundation, but there are a ton of others, and lots of them have rolling deadlines, so...."
"We have the money, Jon."
"Oh," said Jon. "Sorry, I thought...when you said...." He trailed off. "Hang on. Are your parents refusing to pay for college because you're not collared?"
"Jon, have you been listening to anything I've been saying?"
"But that's insane," said Jon weakly. "Who the hell gets collared at seventeen — sorry, seventeen and a half — these days? What do they expect you to do, work retail until you meet a cute dom in the checkout line?"
"Of course not, Jon."
"Thanks to the Obama recession, retail jobs now require a bachelor's degree."
Jon groaned. "That just makes it worse! Is there seriously no other reason? I mean, good god, I'd collar you for the next couple years if that was all it took."
The words sent an unpleasant jolt through Stephen's chest. "You can't collar me. You're a sub."
"Okay, A, that's legal in Jersey now, and B, I'm a switch, thank you very much."
"So you've got a W on your driver's license," said Stephen with a dismissive flick of the hand. "Big deal. You're still the worst brat on the debate team."
The tension seemed to have broken; Jon smirked, not unpleasantly. "I think you will find that the worst brat on the debate team is you, my friend."
"No, no, it only looks that way because I don't respect any of you as much as I would my own dominant," Stephen assured him. "When I get collared — really collared — I'll be the sweetest, most loving, most obedient submissive some lucky dom has ever known."
A few days later, Jon was dragged out of sleep at half past one by his ring tone.
He answered without looking, and only really tried to shake himself awake when he heard sniffling on the other end. "J-Jon?"
"Stephen?" mumbled Jon, fighting back a yawn. "Wha's goi'n on?"
"Jon," said Stephen wetly, "did you mean it?"
The rest of the year was a whirlwind of exams and acceptance letters and preparations for the ceremony.
Jon got hastily transferred into the dom-only sex-ed class — there still wasn't an option tailored for switches, you had to guess at the end of junior year which one would be more relevant to the rest of your life, so he'd gone with the subs — and had to scramble to catch up on half a year's worth of material. Stephen did most of the coordination for the wedding, on the pretext that he was getting it all approved with his collaring dominant-to-be; in fact, Jon only got to veto a handful of things, and mostly the ones Stephen hadn't been too invested in anyway.
With one exception. In spite of all Stephen's hinting, wheedling, and eyelash-batting, Jon had no intention of buying a three-hundred-dollar sterling silver collar with Swarovski crystals even for someone he was genuinely collaring, much less a friend he was doing a favor.
Money was the only factor that really kept Stephen in check. His parents were grudgingly on board with the idea of paying for Stephen's education at this point, but not about to bankroll any kind of extravagant ceremony for him to get collared by a switch, much less some dodgy kid from a no-name family who wasn't even Catholic. Jon's mother made a brief offer to take out a loan for the sake of "his special day"; fortunately, he managed to convince her that they really loved the idea of a simple ceremony before the suggestion got back to Stephen.
The week after graduation, they put on a couple of rented suits and signed papers at the courthouse, then went down to the beach where the chairs and flowers had been laid out. Stephen got on his knees and offered Jon the traditional key (all symbolic, these days; his collar's clasp was magnetic) on a simple leather pendant, which Jon accepted before fastening the collar, white leather with stylish knotwork and silvery metal accents, around his neck.
They kissed for the benefit of attendees not in the know, retired to the hotel they'd gotten for the night, and settled in to eat chips and watch Batdom movies until they fell asleep.