amfiguree: (writing is painful)
[personal profile] amfiguree
[Popslash] [WIP]

This is what happens when you decide to do your own obvious santa fic exchange with [ profile] bubbleforest but end up not finishing in time. I LOVE YOU METTEKINS~

Matchmaking is Srs Bzns

Author's Note: I honestly don't know why I decided I needed to frame this in a political-ish setting when I know NOTHING ABOUT THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM (except for how horrifyingly it has turned out this year), so please ignore all factual inaccuracies (of which there will be many) and try to still enjoy it if you can?

Howie doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, he honestly doesn’t, but discretion and a penchant for curiosity are the keystones to every successful politician, and Howie’d been dreaming about changing the world for eighteen years before becoming mayor.

Also, they’re in his kitchen. Noise tends to travel in his kitchen.

“Are you sure you don't think it's too out there?” Brian’s asking, as Howie stops just shy of the doorway. “There’s going to be an audience. It feels like it might be a little too out there.”

“It’s not too out there,” Justin says, patiently enough that it must be the third or fourth time he’s repeated himself. “You’re singing your vows to him, on the guitar, in the middle of his favorite venue in the country. It’s perfect. He's going to love it.”

“He’d better,” Brian says. Howie huffs out a laugh.

“He will,” Justin promises, sounding as serious as ever, and then there’s the rustling of dress pants and the sound of furniture shifting over linoleum. “If you don’t have any other questions, I think we’re all set here. I just have a couple of calls to make to the caterer and the band before--”

“I know, you’re busy,” Brian says. It’s so unlike him to interrupt that Howie frowns. “The wedding plans are going ridiculously smoothly, but I barely see you around. I never even got to thank you in person for agreeing to be our wedding planner. Howie and I really appreciate it.”

“Of course,” Justin says, over the click of his briefcase and the shuffle of papers. “You really don’t have to thank me, I’m happy to do it. I’m glad it’s all been smooth-sailing. If it’s okay with you, I’m going to get going--”

“Before you do, can we talk about why you don’t like me?”

Howie freezes. He’s talked to Brian about Justin extensively, and this has never come up before. Justin must be just as surprised, because it takes a beat for him to reply. “What makes you say that?”

It sounds like Brian’s smiling when he says, “We all have blindspots, Justin. You’re his, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice.”

Another beat. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Justin, I really think if you just talked to him--”

“Your wedding is in three weeks,” Justin interrupts, a fraction too loudly. “I should get back to the office to make those calls.” There's a thread of tension in his voice now that wasn’t there before, and Howie can picture it coiled in his body the same way. There’s no reason it should be there, but Howie’s only heard Justin use it in situations that tend to devolve into physical altercations, and he steps forward to round the corner before--

Before nothing, apparently. Brian’s on one of the kitchen bar stools, propping his chin up on one hand on the countertop. Justin’s standing across from him, lounging by the kitchen cabinets, hands open and loose by his sides. Howie wills his heart to slow. “Well, I feel like I’ve walked into a scene from Desperate Housewives.”

Brian laughs, and Justin cracks a very carefully relaxed smile. Howie feels weirdly adrift, standing in his own kitchen with no context for the crackling tension in the air, or the stranger wearing Justin’s face. He crosses the room to lean into Brian’s side. “Everything good, J?”

“Peachy,” Justin says, with another one of those smiles. He tucks his bag under an arm and backs towards the door. “Thanks for breakfast, Brian. I’ll have those catering menu options emailed to you by tonight. Howie, I’ll see you in the office.”

Howie wants to push, to ask more, but Brian leans into him as he says, “Bye, Justin. Thank you again.” Justin disappears from the room before Howie can stop him.

Brian waits till they hear the front door swing shut before he says, “You could’ve walked in any time you wanted to, you know.”

“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” Howie says immediately. Brian just looks at him, and he sighs and says, “Sorry. Occupational hazard.”

“The lying or the eavesdropping?” Brian asks, but it’s only mock-stern. He nips at Howie’s lower lip a little when they lean in for a kiss, and Howie sinks into it. He presses into Brian’s hands, warm and sure on his hips, and for a moment forgets to breathe.

When Howie pulls back, he hears himself say, “So that was weird, right?”

Brian just looks at him, and Howie is quick to add, “Not this. Not the – I mean before.” He pauses for a second to think about how strange this us going to be, him thinking about Justin’s behavior as he makes out with his fiancé in their shared kitchen space. “With Justin,” he says anyway, “The whole – he was being weird, right?”

“Only if you know him,” Brian says.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Brian sighs, cupping Howie’s face in his hands and resting their foreheads together. “I was hoping you’d figure this out on your own eventually, but this is getting ridiculous.”


“He’s in love with you, Howard.”

“No he’s not,” Howie says unthinkingly, because it’s not lying or eavesdropping that’s the occupational hazard; it’s the instinctual need to defend himself against every accusation thrown at him. “Brian, what--”

“Just think about it for a second,” Brian says, quiet and calm, as he runs a hand through Howie’s hair. “It’ll come.”

Howie may be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. It comes.

He drops into a chair when Brian lets him go, winded and dizzy and utterly confused. “But you're my soulmate,” Howie says weakly. “I’m in love with you.”

“I love you too, doofus,” Brian laughs, nudging the side of Howie’s hand with his own. “We’re getting married.”

Howie stares at the tiny endless space between their fingers. “But -- how did you – how long have you known?”

“Oh my god,” Brian says. “Probably since the day he hired me to be your boyfriend.”

“But--” Howie isn’t sure how to process any of what he’s hearing. “But he never said anything. You never said anything! Why didn’t you say anything?”

Brian gives him a look that’s both fond and exasperated. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Mr. Mayor, but you don't take very kindly to advice about your love life, even from your fiancé.”

“But it's been years,” Howie hears himself say, like the words are coming from someone else.

“Almost a decade, from what I understand,” Brian agrees, kissing the side of Howie’s neck when Howie blinks and lets out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Like I said: ridiculous.”

Suddenly, a lot of things are starting to make sense.

“Oh my god,” Howie says, with sudden, sinking clarity. “I asked him to plan our wedding.”

Brian curves a palm around Howie’s neck when Howie presses his face into Brian’s shirt. “For what it’s worth, I did tell you it was a bad idea.”

In Howie’s defense (though he doesn’t have many), he hadn’t meant to ask Justin to plan the wedding. It starts on a random Tuesday in December, two months ago, when Howie shows up at his office and walks straight into total pandemonium.

“No,” Nick is saying, with too wide eyes.

Justin doesn’t look up from his clipboard. “Yes.”




Justin’s scowling hard as he glances up, and Howie bites down on the urge to grin. “Nick, for fuck’s sake, yes, now would you fucking get over it?”

Nick huffs. “You don’t have a romantic bone in your body, Timberlake. He’s getting married!”

Howie immediately regrets coming in to work early.

Which is when AJ blows through the doors with a full tray of coffees, Kevin on his heels. “Who's getting married?” Of course, that’s when they spot Howie trying to melt into the wall, and AJ’s face lights up. “No.”

Howie regrets coming in to work at all. “Good morning,” he ventures, already thinking of the way Brian had leaned into him that morning, pressing soft, open-mouthed kisses down the side of Howie’s neck.

“Stay,” Brian had murmured. “The world isn’t going to end today, I promise.”

Howie should have listened.

“Shut up,” AJ says, beaming at him like an idiot. “Mr. I’m-too-busy-running-the-city-to-eat-or-breathe-or-sleep, you’re making time to get married? Somebody pinch me, I must be dreaming.”

Before Howie can reply, Justin slams a stack of documents on his table. “You’re wide awake! For the last fucking time, Howie’s getting married, it’s happening, can we please move on.”

Howie blinks. There’s silence for half a second before Kevin raises an eyebrow. Justin ducks his head, shuffling through loose sheets of paper. AJ frowns but starts handing out the coffees. “What crawled up your ass and died this morning?”

Justin looks like he’s trying not to glare, but he accepts his coffee with a nod of thanks. “Nothing, I’m fine. But we’re supposed to be working. And this? Is not working.”

Nick throws a wadded up ball of paper at Justin’s forehead. “How can you think about working when your best friend is getting married?”

Howie’s mouth quirks, just a little, and he takes a long sip of his coffee. He can feel Justin’s eyes on him, but he doesn’t look up, just sips and sips and sips till he feels his expression even out.

Justin lets out a long exhale, eyeroll clear even in his breath, and Howie has to take another swallow of coffee. “Fine, fucking fine, god, who cares about the stupid fundraiser anyway? It's not like this entire campaign depends on it or anything.”

“That’s the spirit,” AJ says, thumping Justin on the back.

Nick lets out an excited whoop and grabs Howie in a hug. “Congratulations, man!”

“Thanks, Nick,” Howie murmurs, smiling into the curve of Nick’s shoulder until he pulls back.

AJ waggles his eyebrows. “So who proposed? Was it romantic? When is this happening? And who's planning this shindig anyway? I have the city's best event planners on speed dial.”

Justin’s snort is a quiet huff of breath, but he’s studiously leafing through his notes when Howie glances over.

AJ’s eyes narrow. “You know, why don’t we let the boy wonder do it?”

That gets Justin’s attention. “What?”

AJ’s smirk grows. “His glowing credentials--”

“I’m already working on the fundraise --”

“His proven event planning track record--”

“And coordinating the entire campaign, asshole--”

“The wedding themed scrapbook he's been working on the past five years--”

Nick laughs, and Justin flushes. “Fuck you both, I do not have a--”

“There's no better man for the job,” AJ finishes.

“Seriously,” Justin says, “fuck you, McLean. There aren't enough hours in the day. Come on Kevin, help me out here. There were barely enough hours when you were doing this job.”

Kevin smiles, serene. “This isn't my mess anymore. Get it together, Timberlake.”

“Excuse you,” Justin says, scowling at him, attention already diverted. “You left me a sinking ship and I basically plugged all its holes single-handedly.”

AJ grins. “That's what he said.”

Howie takes another long gulp of coffee as Justin groans.

“That went south fast,” Kevin remarks.

“That's what she said,” Nick puts in, holding a fist out to AJ, who’s laughing too hard to return the gesture.

“Your mess,” Kevin says smugly, and Justin scowls so hard that Howie has to hide his face in his coffee cup again. Days like these he misses having Kevin on the job, managing his schedule and his office. His life.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“Apparently I’m finding out about your wedding.”

It’s been five minutes and Howie’s already almost drained his coffee. He’s pretty sure his neck is still flushed when he lowers his cup regardless.

Kevin doesn’t bat an eyelid. “And I’m taking you out for more coffee.” To Justin, he adds, “If you can spare him.”

Justin flaps a hand at them. “Go, go, I’ll hold down the fort.” He shoots Howie a look. “Be back in thirty, though, okay? Because we really do need to get started.” He has Howie’s schedule in his hand, packed back to back with call-making and meeting-taking and plan-approving that Justin can’t get clearance for on his own. Days like these Howie’s reminded why Kevin insisted Justin was the only one qualified to be his replacement.

“Thirty minutes,” Howie promises, and Justin waves him out the door.

“You seem happy,” Kevin says, as they slip into a quiet corner of their (once) usual café, steaming mugs of coffee in hand.

It’s an underhanded, calculated move. Howie hasn’t been back here since before he was elected mayor, and he’s missed it. Nostalgia tends to bring down his walls. “I am,” he allows.

“A wedding,” Kevin continues without inflection. “It's only been a year.”

“Twenty-one months,” Howie says and bites down hard on his grin.

(They'd had the same conversation with Justin - because Justin was the first person they’d told, naturally.

His face had done something complicated after the news, and then he’d managed a smile that put Howie on edge. “Already? You've only been together, what, a year?”

“Twenty-one months,” Brian said, with a sideways grin at Howie.

Howie’s heart did something wild in his chest, even as he fought to keep his expression neutral. But Justin saw through it anyway, because he didn’t smile again, but something shifted in his posture, a sloped set to his shoulders Howie had never seen before. “Twenty-one months,” he said. “Okay. Can you wait till twenty-four?”

In hindsight, there are a lot of things Howie wishes he’d done differently.)

“Twenty-one months,” Kevin echoes. “When are you planning to do it?”

“Our second anniversary,” Howie says.

He doesn’t expect Kevin to say, “Justin’s doing a good job.”

“Excuse me?”

Kevin gives him a look that used to make him feel three feet tall. “If it were up to Brian, I’m sure you’d be going on a very romantic, very private getaway this weekend.”

“He was talking about Tahiti,” Howie agrees. He must be doing a terrible job at keeping his face in check, because Kevin’s look is almost fond.

“Of course he was.”

“Justin talked him out of it.”

Kevin’s nod is approving. “Of course he did.” There’s a pause that Howie can’t interpret, and then Kevin adds, “What else did Justin have to say about the ceremony?”

“Not a lot beyond the date and logistics,” Howie admits.

Kevin makes a sound that’s simultaneously concerned and unsurprised.


“That just doesn’t sound like him,” Kevin says. His words are carefully chosen, but Howie can’t think of any reason why they should be. Before he can figure it out, Kevin goes on. “So your anniversary. That’s the start of campaign season.”

Kevin’s testing the waters. This is familiar ground. “It is.”

Kevin stirs his coffee. “If you’re still looking to push reducing the cost of soulmate registration, this could score you the media vote.”

Howie shrugs. “I guess it could.”

“And that could do some serious damage,” Kevin says, before pausing to take a drink, “if you’re looking to move into congress.”

Howie smiles and aims for a tactical break. “It almost sounds like you’ve been following my career.”

“I have.”

Howie hums. Casual and noncommittal, the way he’s been rehearsing for weeks.

Kevin scrutinizes him over the rim of his cup for a minute, then nods. “I stand corrected; Justin’s doing a great job.”

“I could’ve told you that,” Howie says, feeling an irrational surge of pride on Justin’s behalf. He’s seen how hard Kevin used to push him, how that only made Justin work even harder. He knows what it’s like to want Kevin’s stamp of approval, and how it feels to finally get it, hard-won but deserved. They’ve been in this together from day one, when soulmate registration was something Howie only dreamed about, and Justin was the fresh-faced intern taking lunch orders. Howie takes a breath, and looks right at Kevin. “I don’t think I could be doing this with anyone else.”

Kevin breaks into a half smile that’s all the way genuine. “Then my job is done.”

“You quit,” Howie reminds him, but he’s smiling too. Kevin had been an amazing campaign manager, but Howie can’t think of a better place for him than the DA’s office. “As great as your replacement is, I thought we were here to talk about my husband-to-be.”

“What else is there to say?” Kevin asks. “Brian is fucking amazing.”

“Thank you,” Howie says, without skipping a beat. “I try.”

Kevin stares at him. “I leave you unsupervised for five minutes--”

“Four years,” Howie corrects.

“It’s like I’m looking at a stranger.”

“I haven’t seen you in so long it’s almost true,” Howie concedes. “How’s the soulmate?”

“She’s fucking amazing,” Kevin says, with a smirk of his own, and Howie laughs and spends the final seven of his thirty minutes listening to Kevin’s stories about spending the holidays in Fiji and watching Maxwell learn to spell his full name.

It’s a long day at the office, after, and not all of it is productive. He spends hours having doors slammed in his face, and even longer trying to talk them back open. After what feels like their eightieth phone call, Howie slams the receiver back into its cradle. Then he does it three more times.

Justin reaches across the table and presses two pills into his palm, and Howie feels the migraine he didn’t realize was building flare into life behind his temples. “This is going to keep happening,” Justin says, after Howie’s chased the pills back with some water. He looks even more tired than Howie feels. “Your bill is going to affect a lot of revenue streams. People aren’t going to be happy about it.”

They’ve been over this a million times, but it helps Howie to hear it anyway. It reminds him that the last eighteen months of putting this bill together is going to actually affect some change. “Our bill,” he says, and Justin smiles, wan but pleased. Howie doesn’t even try to keep himself from smiling back.

“Well, we’re not getting anything else done today,” Justin says, sweeping his fingers briefly over Howie’s temple. “Go home. I’ll email tomorrow’s schedule to you in an hour.”

Brian’s brushing his teeth when Howie finally gets home, and he leans over to give Howie a frothy kiss on the cheek.

“Ugh,” Howie says, but he’s grinning as he kisses the underside of Brian’s jaw and slides past him to get to the laundry basket.

“Hi to you too,” Brian says, spitting into the sink as Howie sheds his socks and shirt. “Kevin called.”

Howie winces. “Honey, the office found out today...?”

Brian pulls a face, but it dissolves into a grin when he blows a raspberry against Howie’s shoulder. “Next time, we’re definitely doing Tahiti.”

That should be the end of it, but AJ saunters into the office a couple of days later with a cat-ate-the-canary grin. “How goes the ceremony planning, Timberlake?”

Justin only stops typing on his phone long enough to flip AJ off. “You tell me, McLean. I left a stack of CVs on your desk yesterday but none of them have been screened.”

“They don’t need to be screened if you’re doing the planning,” AJ points out.

Howie watches the corners of Justin’s mouth pull low. “Oh my god, AJ, we’ve been over this. I don’t have the time to be working on anything else right now.”

“I thought I made a pretty compelling argument,” AJ says blithely. “I think Howie agrees.”

“I think Howie knows there are better ways for me to be utilizing my time,” Justin says.

There’s a clear warning in his voice that AJ bulldozes right over when he shrugs. “What say you, Mayor Dorough?”

Howie shrugs back, hiding his smile behind his laptop screen. “You’re not wrong.”

“What?” There’s no missing the betrayal in Justin’s voice.

AJ cackles.

Howie only debates it for half a second before he pushes away from his screen to turn to Justin. “You can’t be surprised,” he says. “There isn’t anyone who could do a better job planning the ceremony. You’ve been with us every step of the way, and it would mean the world if you were with us at the finish line. This is only happening because you found him, Justin. I wouldn’t have met him without you, never mind be planning a wedding.”

Everyone's looking at Justin now, a terse anticipation in the air that Howie only remembers from the days leading up to the election back when he’d first run for mayor. AJ isn't even laughing anymore.

"Well, point to me," Justin says finally, with a crooked smile that Howie can’t parse. "How do you say no to that?"

“I’ll help,” AJ volunteers, too quickly, and Nick jumps in with, “Aww, Howie, you’re such a softie on the inside. C’mere.”

“I’m gonna check on the interns while you fuckers slack off,” Justin says, pushing his chair back and rolling to his feet. “At least try to stick to my schedule?”

“Justin,” Howie says, but it’s muffled by Nick’s chest when Nick scoops him up into a hug, and the fact that they’re basically one big open office space means he can’t go after him without creating an unnecessary scene.

(Howie puts his head in his hands and lets Brian pull him into his side. “Is there anyone in the office who doesn’t know?”

“I don’t think you want me to answer that,” Brian tells him.)

Howie may be the mayor, but it’s a small town and they’re still a small outfit. Inevitably, him and Justin are the last ones left in the office later that night, strategizing over cartons of chow mein and egg rolls. Howie waits for the lull in the conversation that means Justin’s thinking about stealing the last potsticker before bringing it up again.

“I meant what I said this afternoon, you know.”

“Which time?” Justin asks distractedly, still eyeing the almost empty carton.

“The bit about you planning the ceremony,” Howie says, and watches Justin snap to attention. “I meant it.”

“Howie,” Justin says. It’s almost pleading. “You know how crazy things are right now--”

“It won’t feel right if it isn’t you,” Howie says. “I just – you know how I feel about my privacy. I get that this is the best way for things to happen, but big and flashy isn’t my style, and I don’t trust anyone else to be doing this for the right reasons.”

Justin ducks his head, but it doesn’t hide the flush creeping up the back of his neck.

Howie’s not above pressing his advantage, just a little. “I don’t want to do this with anyone else, J.”

There’s a long beat of silence, but finally: “Yeah,” Justin says, voice quiet in the stillness. “Of course. Okay.”

When he looks up at Howie, he’s steady again, the one constant Howie’s never had to worry about falling back on.

They start the planning process the next day, in between strategy meetings and phone calls and weekly visits to soulmate support groups and shelters. Justin throws himself into it head-on, the way Howie knew he would, taking it on like he isn’t already pulling eighty hour work weeks, like sleep is a pleasant but nonessential option.

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