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by beetle
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Gay/Lesbian · #1989736
Written for the prompt(s): A play is going on involving your character.
Winter’s End: A Story About a Play (in Five Acts)
Written for the May 1st-May 15th prompt(s): A play is going on involving your character.
Word count: 3,000


Exposition


Branko Gavrilovic was, to put it mildly, fucking pissed.

“I’m fucking pissed,” he whispered to John, who was diligently reading his copy of the script—Winter’s End—A Five-Act Play by Branimir M. Gavrilovic—his lips moving as he murmured lines to himself. “This—hack arbitrarily cut out whole chunks of my play! Tell me that wouldn’t piss you off if it was your precious darling they were mutilating?”

John’s lips—always so kissable, but never quite so much as when they were curved up in a smile—twitched and he stopped reading to look up at Branko, his pale grey eyes warming.

“Baby, she didn’t cut those lines arbitrarily. She had to edit the play down for time and a little bit for clarity,” John added, looking back at the script and making a note near the bottom of page three. Branko, meanwhile, was gobsmacked.

“Are you saying the changes are an improvement?” he demanded in horror, and John snorted, looking up again, his winter-pond eyes quite amused.

“I’m saying that it’s an improvement in that the play now fits in the time allotted and yet hasn’t lost any of the wit and humor and heart that make it a Branimir Gavrilovic-original. And I, for one, am thrilled to be playing the lead in your first major production,” he said quietly, leaning close to peck Branko’s lips briefly. “Thrilled and honored.”

“Hmph.” Branko slipped an arm around John’s shoulders, fighting a pleased smile and losing. “You only got the lead because you’re sleeping with the playwright.”

“Meh, the director is the one with all the power and pull. I should’ve been sleeping with her instead of you.” John grinned and leaned in for another kiss, this one considerably longer than the last. “The play’ll be fine, you know. The changes haven’t harmed it and have even helped a little. You just need to have a little faith—don’t you grumble at me, Branimir Milos Gavrilovic, or you’ll be sleeping on the beanbag couch for the next week!”

Kak dobljeno, tak zgubljeno,” Branko muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes. Then he snorted, pulling John as close as he could in the narrow theater seats to kiss his temple. “Might not be so bad if you were sleeping there with me.”

“I think that would defeat the purpose of making you sleep there in the first place,” John drawled, but didn’t object when Branko began kissing his way south, to the enticing stretch of real estate between ear and collarbone. “Mm . . . you’re changing the subject.”

“Me? Would I do that?”

“Can. Would. Are.” John laughed as Branko worried what would no doubt be a livid hickey into the skin just below his ear. “Quit marking territory that’s already yours.”

“What—you want I should mark someone else’s territory?”

“I would so hate to have to cut your dick off. . . .”

“Yikes! That escalated quickly, Lorena!” Branko sat back, laughing himself, and took John’s hand, pulling it up to his lips for a series of feather-light kisses across the knuckles. “But seriously . . . the changes . . . they don’t hurt the play?”

“Not even a little,” John swore patiently, and for at least the thousandth time that morning. He cupped Branko’s face in his hands and kissed the tip of his nose, smiling fondly when Branko wrinkled it and made a face. “I promise: the heart, soul, and sensibility of Winter’s End are still very much intact.”

Sighing, Branko finally nodded and pursed his lips. “She’d just better not cut any more out, or I walk.”

“You won’t walk.”

“I will. And I’m taking the play and you with me.”

“Taking all your toys and going home because you can’t have everything your way is juvenile. Not to mention a waste of a good opportunity, Mr. Gavilovic. I know you’re smarter than that, if not more mature.” John’s eyebrows quirked up in question and Branko leaned back in his chair, brooding in the direction of the stage.

“Then you know better than I do, Mr. Demski. If I think she’s compromised my play even a little, for real, I don’t think I can go through with this production.”

“That’s why you’re here, hon.” John took Branko’s hand and squeezed it companionably before standing up and stretching. His spine made little pops and cracks. “To make sure that your play is still your play by the time opening night arrives. That being said,” he went on sternly, “when Margo gets here, don’t tell her how to do her job. She’s been directing plays since you were in middle school. She knows what she’s doing.”

“She’d better.” Branko glared as he noticed the director in question enter, stage left, one hand up to shade her eyes from the lights as she searched the rows of seats. When she spotted them she waved at Branko, who sullenly waved back, squawking when John kicked him in the shin rather sharply.

“Don’t be a prick,” John murmured through a bright smile for Margo. Then with another stern look for Branko, he was making his way out into the aisle and toward the stage, where Margo Nutley waited to further butcher Winter’s End.

Branko slouched in his seat and pulled his Mets cap down low so neither director nor lover would see him glaring, should they happen to glance his way.

Rising Action


“Uh, a word, Margo?”

Branko had been hovering—and knew he was hovering—at Margo’s right shoulder for the past two weeks of rehearsals. And he’d be blind to miss the way the director’s coat-hanger thin and ruler-straight shoulders tensed every time she heard his voice.

They did so now, in fact, as she finished up giving some minor direction to Bev Adlon, the female lead (one thing Branko could say for the play so far was that the casting was perfect. Bev Adlon was Winter Berg to the life and John, as Winter’s heroin-addicted youngest son, Adam, gave Branko chills) and turned to Branko with a professional smile pasted on her long, ascetic’s face.

“What’s up, Branko?”

Pasting on a professional smile of his own, Branko laid his cards on the table. “I don’t think the cuts you made on page seventeen were necessary for time constraints. We’re actually coming in slightly under time, as far as I know, even with that particular Winter/Adam-passage. So why take it out?”

Margo sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose and rendering her askew bifocals even more so. Bev Adlon shot Branko a smile that said good luck! over Margo’s shoulder and turned to exit stage left.

“I took it out because it wasn’t adding anything important to the play, and it was a little overly-wordy, as well,” Margo said plainly. She’d given up being diplomatic with Branko ten days ago. “The former closeness between Winter and Adam comes across really well in other parts of the play without this additional passage that waxes poetical about a family trip to Coney Island way back when.”

“Yes,” Branko said, accepting the somewhat left-handed compliment with grace and patience, two things he was not generally known for. “But that passage is important for establishing certain facts about the family. It’s about more than just sensing the former closeness between Winter and Adam, but about hearing proof of it.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, Branko, I do. But you need to understand where I’m coming from when I say: I’ve been doing this for twenty-two years, and I’ve seen few leads work as well together as Bev and John do. They convey more in these rehearsals with the restraint and deftness of their delivery and body language than other actors convey in their entire careers. They show the remains of that former closeness. So I thought that instead of having them tell what they’ve already shown, I’d save the play five extra minutes and ix-nay the Oney-Island-Cay. Apische-cay?”

“No. No apische-cay. Listen, there’s an old Croat saying: “Tko si ne da dokazati, ne moze mu se pomoci. It means: He who can’t be advised can also not be helped. I think this saying may be especially apt for this situa—fuck!” Branko yelped when his arm was pinched savagely then taken, and he was hauled—still protesting—across the stage by none other than his leading man . . . exit, stage right.

Branko still protested verbally, but let his physically smaller boyfriend drag him along until they reached the leads’ dressing room, where John shut the door and shoved Branko against it, kissing him hard.

“What’s all this about?” Branko panted when John let him up for air some time later. He pulled John against him, moaning when the other man began to grind against him. “Not that I’m complaining.”

This,” John said with a shimmy and a shake that made Branko’s eyes roll back as he swore. “Is about me finding some way—any way to distract you for long enough for Margo to cool down before she leapt on you and throttled you.”

“But—” Branko only let himself be kissed senseless for a few seconds, this time. But his hands did find their happy way to John’s ass, where they squeezed and kneaded. “But I wasn’t being that horrible . . . was I?”

John’s left eyebrow shot up and he snorted. “Honey, I was about to throttle you, and I love you more than life itself. So, yeah, you were being obnoxious.”

“Oh.” Branko leaned his head back against the door with a solid thunk. “But at least I wasn’t being pretentious, right?”

“Pretentious, too.”

Fuck.”

“Yeah. It was . . . pretty bad. You were starting to lecture her with Croatian proverbs.”

Wincing, Branko sighed again and closed his eyes as John pressed against him and began nibbling the sweet-spot just between Branko’s right ear and jaw.

“I don’t mean to be a dick, but . . . I worked so hard on Winter’s End—you know how hard I worked.”

“I know, baby, I know.”

“And it fucking hurts when someone—even Margo Nutley—starts cutting off bits of my baby . . . do you get that?”

John looked up into Branko’s eyes and nodded. “I do. And more importantly, so does Margo. She’s not cutting pieces out willy-nilly.”

“I don’t know that I believe that,” Branko said quietly, feeling briefly lost: as if he’d just seen his only child get onto the schoolbus for the first time. With a driver who may or may not be sober.

“Well, you’re gonna have to try. To come to terms with the fact that this is what happens when a play is produced. Pieces get cut for time, for clarity, for budgeting constraints—for all sorts of reasons,” John whispered, standing on tiptoe to plant a tender kiss on Branko’s lips. “Now, what say you let me change the subject to something more . . . fun?”

“Such as?” But Branko already had an idea what the new subject under discussion would be from the way John was working a hand in between their bodies to unbuckle Branko’s belt and unzip both their jeans.

“Such as the importance of good relations between the playwright and his leading man. . . .” Grey eyes flashed up at Branko as John slithered down his body, till he was kneeling and smirking.

“That is an important dynamic,” Branko breathed as his jeans became a denim puddle around his feet with a merry jingle. He ran his hand through John’s ash-blond curls and gripped. “Some might say it’s the most important.”

Mmhmm. . . .”

Climax!


“. . . can’t you see that, Ma? I’m not the same! I’m not that little boy who couldn’t wait for you and Pop to take him to Coney Island. . . !”

John paused in his delivery, hanging his head just a little and putting a slight, but noticeable distance between himself and Bev Adlon. “That boy’s dead, Ma. I killed him the first time I shot up.”

And that quaver in John’s voice did Branko in, as it did every time they reached this point in the play—never mind all the exhaustive details about Coney Island memories Margo had (rightly) cut.

A quick glance around the theater showed an audience that was riveted not to Branko’s words or even Margo’s direction, but to Bev and John—to Winter and Adam.

Branko couldn’t help himself, and dabbed his eyes with his pocket square. This was his dream come so beautifully true. Nothing else mattered—not the critics who were no doubt in the audience, nor the audience itself, nor the specter of the reviews in Sunday’s papers. Nothing mattered but this flawless vision of his work, which had, thus far, gone off without a hitch—something that was practically unheard of on opening night. . . .

Next to him, staring raptly at the performance, was Margo Nutley—dressed in a long black sheath of a dress with matching black pearls—and Branko nudged her. When she glanced at him, frowning, to see him grinning, she, too, cracked a small smile.

“You do good work,” he mouthed, feeling unutterably grateful to her for more than he’d ever be able to say. He could only wonder how she’d put up with him for the past six weeks. “Great work.”

“So do you,” she mouthed back, her smile turning into a grin that matched Branko’s. Then they were both turning back to the stage and the drama being enacted thereon.

Falling Action


The cast after-party was raucous and full of laughter, and it ran until early Sunday morning.

But eventually, even bars must shut down for the night, so the members of cast and crew, as well as the director and playwright, said their good-byes fondly, knowing they’d be seeing each other again in less than twelve hours for the two Sunday performances.

Branko and John, more than a little tipsy and holding hands as they walked to the subway station, went along in silence. Branko’s heart and mind were too full to be adequately expressed. Even to someone he loved as much as he loved John. But he meant to try.

As they passed storefronts, Branko found himself caught by their reflections in each window they passed: John’s shorter, pale, stocky one, his round, angelic face topped by messy, touchable blond curls. And Branko’s own reflection, almost diametrically opposite to John’s: tall, dark, lean, with his angular, sharp-planed face topped by shoulder-length dark hair that was for once free of a baseball cap.

Branko made a face at his reflection and it made one back, looking utterly ridiculous in its thousand-dollar suit. Walking slightly ahead of it, tugging Branko’s reflection along, John’s reflection, in distressed jeans, a nice button-down silk shirt, and a battered leather jacket looked, as always, like sex on legs, and Branko’s plans to fall into a coma as soon as they got home were railroaded.

“Whoa!” John exclaimed when Branko pulled him close and kissed him. Then kissed him some more. “Wow! What’s this about? Not that I’m complaining.”

“I just . . . love you,” Branko breathed on John’s lips, nipping them gently with playful bites. “I love everything about you, not the least of which is the wonderful way you brought my play to life.” Branko searched John’s happy, tired eyes and felt himself sigh contentedly. “You have this way of . . . making all my dreams come true, John Demski. There isn’t enough I love you and thank you in all the world to describe how much I love and thank you. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try my damnedest to express it. I love you. And thank you.”

“Oh, Branko.” John was blinking rapidly, his eyes having acquired an extra sparkle. “Branko, I love you, too. More than you’ll ever know. And it’s me who should be thanking you for having faith in me. For trusting that I’d get it right.”

“I always have faith in you. It was never you that I didn’t have faith in, it was myself. And, to a lesser extent, Margo,” Branco admitted with a brief laugh, and John kissed him sweetly.

“But you’ve learned a valuable lesson, haven’t you? Have faith in yourself and in others whose passion matches yours, right?”

“Eh. That works.” Branko shrugged and laughed again when John whapped his arm.

A few more kisses and one just-this-side-of-decency clinch and they continued on their way toward the subway. And toward home.

Resolution


Later that Sunday morning found Branko and John—after a few hours of no sleep, but rather intense sex—waiting for sunrise in their kitchen. Branko was mainlining black coffee and eating handfuls of Lucky Charms straight from the box, and John was picking desultorily at his bowl of Muesli.

At precisely 6:47 there was a thump on their front door.

Their eyes met.

“That’ll be Peter with the paper,” John said, smiling nervously. Branko grunted.

In silent agreement, they finished their Muesli and coffee, respectively, before getting up and walking, hand in hand, down the hallway to their front door.

Dawn was well under way, and birds were singing. The Sunday Daily News lay half on the top step and wobbling, about to fall onto the second step. Branko and John shared another glance before Branko bent to retrieve it, for once not minding about the schmutz that wound up all over his hand.

Once back in the kitchen, Branko sat at the table and John, clearly too nervous to sit, paced around the kitchen like a caged animal.

A minute later, strewn across the table, the newspaper had been pawed through and disassembled till the Entertainment section had been found and extracted.

“So?” John demanded finally, when Branko had slowly paged through the section till he found what he was looking for—what they were both waiting for. “What does it say?”

Brow furrowed, Branko scanned the article quickly before looking up at John and taking a deep breath. John, meanwhile had stopped pacing and dropped quickly into his customary chair, eyes wide and breath held.

“Well,” Branko began evenly and, exhaling, began to read the article aloud.

END
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