Or: 3 weddings and a funeral. Weird things happen when you’re a celebrity. Mostly at conventions.
The girl was wearing Halley High knee socks and the ubiquitous plaid cheer skirt that Katya hadn’t felt the same about since Matt told her what happened after the cross-dressing photoshoot. The pigtails were a given. The extensions were off the rack, but the eyeliner was applied straighter than Katya could ever manage herself, and she told the girl so, eliciting a flustered giggle and a babble of thanks. Katya was glad she’d held herself back from making a joke about how hard it was for her to do anything straight, since it would have killed her publicist and made the girl turn an even brighter red. Plus, she’d stolen the line from Matt.
The boy was rather less effectively dressed as Wally, complete with cheap red wig, and Katya refused to examine him any further than that after feeling the bulge in his pocket when he hugged her for the photo opp. It wasn’t the first time, but it never got any less gross. At least he hadn’t made any comments about how hot it would be to see her and his girlfriend make out in matching outfits, but-
“Vanessa, there’s something I need to ask you. Um, and hopefully Katya doesn’t mind.”
Katya turned, ready to signal to the assistant standing off to the side of the backdrop, but then she realized the faux Wally was kneeling. The bulge in his pocket was gone, and in his hand was a small black box.
Katya let out an involuntary cackle of laughter, and clapped her hands over her mouth. Almost as mortifying as an erection in JCPenney khakis, but tragically longer lasting.
Next to her, the girl in pigtails burst into tears.
“Will you marry me?”
What followed was the predictable flurry of snotty affirmations, damp selfies, and fans still waiting in line craning their necks to see what the holdup was. Katya made as many exclamations of delight as she felt she could before warranting a SAG award, and then hustled the enfianced couple towards the exit.
“Wink twice if you need a way out,” Katya whispered to the still tremulous girl as she hugged her. “Totally understand if you only said yes because of the circumstances, it was a super weird position for him to put you in. And me. Romantic, of course. Sort of. But I can get you out the back door if you need an escape. No? Sure? Okay. Congratulations.” She released the girl, blew a kiss with a spangle-nailed hand, and turned to greet the next group.
“Oh hey! So great to meet you! You will not believe what happened with the last people who came through…”
Nico was still new enough to it that the meet and greets were both novel and incredibly weird. Matt and Katya didn’t even seem to register them anymore, viewing them with about the same lassitude they viewed comicon panels or table reads, but since Nico found panels and reads pretty fucking exciting, photo opps were still a definite thing. And, like having strangers touch your hair and face every morning to get you camera ready, a definite mixture of cool and intensely bizarre. He wasn’t sure if it was weirder to have people paying actual money to meet him – and hug him, and sometimes burst into tears – or to call him by Jack’s name instead of his own.
“You get paid either way,” Matt said, who’d just been Wally’d no fewer than a dozen times.
“Yeah, but,” said Nico, “they know we’re not them, right?”
Matt gave him a gentle, pitying smile, and then both were dragged off for the next round.
After some time, Nico got into the flow of it. He could almost always find something to compliment fans on – their costumes, or their memory for Halley High lore, on which he could generally go toe-to-toe, or their ability to quote his lines back to him word perfect. Katya and Matt had described all of it as vaguely awkward and mostly boring, but Nico liked it, up until the point something happened that he was pretty sure they’d been lying to him about.
‘At some point,’ Matt had said, ‘They’ll do something weird in front of you.’
‘Yeah,’ said Katya. ‘Like get you to roleplay with them.’
‘Or propose,’ said Matt.
‘Aw, fuck off,’ said Nico, who was used to them messing with him at this point.
“Sasha,” said the girl with purple streaks in her hair. “I’m asking you here, in the sight of the greatest thespian of our generation, to do me the very great honor-”
“Oh!” said Nico, and covered his mouth.
“Oh, Fern!” said Sasha, whose shirt proclaimed her a member of Wallack Nation.
“-of marrying me.”
Nico moved his hands from his mouth to his eyes as Sasha flung herself into Fern’s arms. “Oh wow! Oh my gosh!” He uncovered his eyes, saw tongue, and covered them again.
“Oh my god! Did you know that was gonna happen? Holy sh- Wow! Uh. It feels weird that I’m here. Should I leave? Kelsi, please don’t charge them the $75 for the photo opp, this one’s on me. Seriously, should I leave?”
The rest of them always wrapped up meet and greets before Jordie did. Part of this was because Jordie was bad at ending conversations, and tended to let fans run riot over him, killing the time limit and the event manager’s soul. The rest of it was because Jordie’s line of fans was twice as long as anyone but Matt’s, and Jordie hated turning anyone away.
“Look on my works, ye mighty,” murmured Matt, forty-five minutes after the rest of them had finished and were still waiting for Jordie to re-emerge. He flipped his wrist, looked at his watch, and tilted against the wall. “And despair. I have seen the future, and it is blond, peppy, and nineteen.”
Katya was scrolling the #jordieswiftsdcc tag and perusing selfies from the line. “This person waited two hours to see him and is pretty much creaming herself for the opportunity. This person waited three hours and is getting his signature tattooed on her wrist. And this one looks like he’s had some minor plastic surgery to look more like him.”
“Jesus,” said Nico, horrified. He knew they sometimes forgot that their little cast member, who tended to have half the screentime and a third the lines the rest of them did, was not only a fan favorite but had amassed 5 million subscribers on YouTube for a reason. “Poor Jordie.”
Katya clicked ‘report’ on a Tweet that Nico couldn’t read beyond the handle, which was @jordieswift_tongue_my_taint. She slid her phone into her back pocket and tilted against the wall next to Matt. “Competition, Tiny. Your agency is gonna have a cow if he starts to surpass you.”
Matt curled his lip in what might have been a smirk. “My agency should just sign him and turn me out to stud.”
Katya slid down the wall until she was squatting on her heels, fringe from her boho vest brushing the floor. She dragged her finger through the dust on the ground. “Tiny ginger babies cropping up in pastures everywhere next spring. Seabiscuit, out of Georgina, by Matt.”
Matt prodded her until she tipped off her heels and sprawled on the floor. “I’m happy to sell my semen but if they actually need me to mount anyone-”
“Guys, please,” said Nico. He was getting antsy, ready to go get dinner, and bouncing a little on his toes to keep himself awake. “There are kids around. Maybe less with the semen?”
Matt dodged Katya’s attempt to pull herself up on his ankle. “How about the mounting, is the mounting okay?”
Katya grinned from the floor. “Oh, I’m sure Nico’s okay with you mounting-”
Matt yawned. “Where the hell is Jordie?” he said. “Seriously, they’re shutting down the venue any minute now.”
“Let’s go look,” said Katya, and clambered upright, scooping up her purse in one hand and Nico’s arm in the other.
Jordie was down to the last fan, but it was immediately clear why it was running over time. It wasn’t just a matter of exceeding the allotted five minutes so much as a ‘death do us part’ thing, given the fact the fan was down on one knee and Jordie looked about thirty seconds away from a nervous breakdown.
“Oh dear,” said Matt. “They got him.”
“I’ll call security,” said Katya.
Nico ignored them both and dashed towards the unfolding scene, where Jordie was babbling helplessly.
“Wait, me? You’re asking me? Oh no! I thought this was about – I thought you were going to propose to someone el- Please stop kneeling. I have – Listen, I have a- Okay, my agent didn’t tell me what to do if this happened? I think my contract says no. I’m sorry! Okay, please don’t – um, please don’t – ”
Nico took one look at the ardent worship on the fan’s face and their outstretched hand, one look at the panic in Jordie’s eyes, and leapt into the fray. “Whoa, hey. Yo! I object!”
“Wh?” said Jordie.
“I’m so sorry,” said Nico, grabbing Jordie’s arm and securing him protectively against his side. “I’m so sorry, but he can’t marry you. Bigamy’s illegal, you see, and he’s already engaged.”
“He is?” said the fan blankly. Nico could almost see them scrolling Jordie’s Wikipedia page in their mind, searching for the ‘personal life’ section.
“I am?” said Jordie, looking as terrified as if he’d actually forgotten.
The fan’s mental scroll had clearly come up blank because their eyes narrowed. “To who?”
“Whom,” said Nico, because children of English professors never missed a cue. “Uh.” He hadn’t thought this all the way through, but realized at once he couldn’t go for his first instinct and throw Katya under the bus. For one thing, it would only encourage the #katyathecougar hashtag, and for another, she might hurt him. He’d deserve it, too. “To me, of course.”
“Wh?” said Jordie.
“Come along, dumpling,” said Nico, and swept him away.
Katya and Matt watched as Nico hustled them both through an ‘emergency exit only’ door, Matt with arms folded, Katya with her phone still out and security ringing through on the other end.
“Well,” said Matt. “If Jack/Silas wasn’t a thing before, it sure as hell will be now. Quick, Kat, bookmark the tag on AO3.”
“Be honest, Matty,” said Katya, as con organizers descended on the still-kneeling fan. “You’re a leettle bit jealous that Jordie got the proposal before you did.”
“I’ve been proposed to no less than five times, Kit-Kat.”
“But never,” said Katya, with a sly smirk. “By Nico Martin.”
The woman clutched a silver urn in one hand and Matt’s fingers in the other. It had been at least five minutes and Matt’s smile was at risk of becoming a rictus, so he changed it to a look of quiet sympathy.
“He would have loved to meet you,” said the woman, pressing Matt’s hand even tighter. “Gloucester Lost was his favorite movie. And we had the box set of NICU: NYC. Watched it nightly.”
“I’m so glad he liked it,” said Matt. He eyed the urn, in which resided the last earthly remains of Milton Heslop, apparently Matt’s biggest fan. His agent would not be pleased to know that one of Matt’s most dedicated viewers was dust, but he supposed this was what came of approaching thirty. An aging fanbase was just what a turn on Halley High was supposed to prevent, but he supposed a woman holding her dead husband was better than yet another red wig and loosely glued protuberance. “Would you like a picture?”
“I’ve been going to all his favorite places,” said the woman, still latched to Matt’s hand like she was one of the parasite wasps from episode five and he was – well, himself. “I scattered some of his ashes at Yosemite, and some at Dollywood. He always wanted to see the Space Needle, but they wouldn’t let me through the metal detector. I thought of the beach at Gloucester, of course, where Vincent tried to drown himself, but-”
But that particular beach didn’t exist, since they’d done all their shooting in Rhode Island for tax reasons.
“-but then I thought I could do one better.”
“A photo?” said Matt again, a little desperately. The pill he taken with breakfast – ‘breakfast’ might have been a generous description, but with his morning coffee and kahlua, anyway – was wearing thin, and he would have given a finger for the chance to smoke a cigarette. Going cold turkey this week had been a mistake, no matter how much he liked being able to kiss Nico without brushing his teeth first. “We can take a – There’s a photographer right – ma’am, do you-”
She’d finally let go of his hand and was busily unscrewing the top of the urn.
“Ma’am,” said Matt, but he didn’t leap back in time. Slowed reflexes, another sin imparted by the cold turkey.
“This is for you, Milton,” said the woman sorrowfully, and upended the urn at Matt’s feet.
“Well,” said Matt later, brushing grey dust off his lapels, “I’ve had two proposals and one break-up at fan events, but I can say that was my first consecration of human remains. Slightly less awkward than the proposals, honestly. Kelsi, do you have a wet wipe? Or a vacuum?”
As the event manager hurried over with some hand sanitizer and a damp paper towel, Matt shot a glance at Katya, who was shaking helplessly in the corner with tears streaming down her face. “Kitty, if you don’t get me something to smoke and I mean now, I’m doing to sneeze Milton all over your McQueen.”
“I’ll see what I can rustle up at the crematorium,” said Katya, and dissolved into laughter once again.