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The Show Must Go Wrong -- Secret Santa for PuddinPop -- (M, cold) -- Part 5/6


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AN: @PuddinPop, my darling, I am ecstatic beyond belief that I get to be your Secret Santa QwQ. You mean so much to me, and this season more than any other makes me think about all the wonderful blessings I have been fortunate enough to receive: you are one of them. I’m so glad we started to talk and agreed to start writing together. Meeting you, getting to know you, creating with you, crying with you, laughing with you – it’s been a blast. I look back fondly on our old memories and look forward with so much excitement to all the new memories we have yet to make together~

.. I am so sappy LOL.

This year, of course I wrote you a present starring our boys. I didn’t want to write your sons too much so I did my best to shoe-horn as much fluff as possible without totally overtaking your characters. When I did need to write as them, I tried to keep them as accurate and to your style as possible ^_^

For those who haven’t met them, the characters in this story are PuddinPop and I’s created and adapted OCs! Rocco, Ren, and Stella belong to Puddin. The rest of these monstrosities belong to me or were adapted from existing characters into new ones LOL. Most of our characters are dudes and most of them are in love with one another. If that’s not something you’d be interested in reading about, best turn back now.

I’m sorry it’s late and forgive me if it’s shitty. I tried my best. I hope you enjoy it <3

Also, I wanted to include an AUDIO OPTION! Whenever you see an embedded link in the story, that’s a song I thought would support the mood of the scene. If you enjoy Christmas songs and can comfortably read with music, you can just click the link as soon as you see and it and absorb the tunes. I know Christmas has passed, but please just pretend it’s still the season LOL.

WARNINGS: lots of Christmas-specific traditions/commercialism, plenty of M/M, some discreet mentions of mess, and Sterling’s filthy mouth.

I love you, Puds. Merry late Christmas~ <3

The Show Must Go Wrong


Sterling jerked awake. The stale, hot air of the subway car was around him. The clack-clack of wheels on tracks was shaking beneath him. The weight of his backpack was still wrapped in his arms. And his phone was buzzing angrily against his hip. He reached for it, resting his head back against the seat and turning toward the dark window. Underground. Unusual for him to get service.

“.. ‘llo?” he grunted, still wearing his morning voice. He coughed afterward to try and clear it.

‘Did you just wake up?’ It was Zydan on the other end of the line, and Sterling knew it would be. He always called to check in before they both made it to work. It was a big brother thing.

“Kinda.” Sterling stretched as much as he was able. Being over six feet and cursed with long legs meant it was pretty much impossible to get comfortable anywhere. The world was just built too small. “I’m still on the metro.”

As he spoke, the window shuttered from black to the bleak, dim lights of the underground. He looked into the gloom, and wondered if there really were people living down here. It was a depressing thought to have this close to Christmas. Poor homeless bastards.

‘That’s strange,’ Zydan said. Sterling had to strain to hear him through static and occasional blips in the frequency. Swallowing, he cleared his throat to itch at a dry spot near the back. Heated air always did it to him. ‘You’re usually in the studio by now.’


Zydan was the most punctual guy Sterling knew, and Sterling himself wasn’t far behind. He pulled his phone back from his ear and waited for his screen to brighten. When it did, he caught sight of the time and nearly shit himself. 

“Oh, fuck!”

‘Sterling, language!’

Even from the distance he was holding his phone away he still heard Zydan’s reprimand. He was 27 years old, with Zydan in his thirties, and still he lectured Sterling more strictly than Ma did. Bringing the phone back up to his ear, Sterling stood halfway out of his seat to try and catch sight of the map, or the current stop on the scrolling-board. 

‘What’s wrong?’ Zydan was asking. Then, less impressed: ‘You fell asleep on the metro, didn’t you?’

“Shut up,” Sterling said, clearing his throat when the warm air tickled. He didn’t want to talk to any of the random, half-asleep strangers in the car so he cut his losses, slung on his backpack, and waded his way into the aisle. He had his sea-legs for this sort of thing. “I was up late last night with script notes and just closed my eyes for a second...”

Falling asleep and missing a stop was a rookie mistake. Usually he could wake up whenever the train slowed down, but this time, he’d slept right on through. He kept the phone anchored between his ear and the crook of his neck as he weaved through a tide of passengers, listening to Zydan chatter all the while.

‘…shouldn’t push yourself so much. That industry is too demanding, I have been saying this since you first took that radio station job straight out of college, you could have done so much with that engineering degree..’

It was nothing he hadn’t heard a million times before, and instead of indulge him, Sterling just let him talk. Blah blah, you had a golden and gleaming future ahead of you. Blah blah, that studio job runs you ragged. Blah blah, you must be lonely without someone special in your life, you’re so busy all the time. Blah blah, I’m Zydan and I’m a banker and Ma would rather you be a civil servant than risk yourself in the entertainment business. 

If he’d listened to that years ago, he wouldn’t be where he was now. And for all the unforgiving hours, chaotic schedules, and high-pressure work, Sterling didn’t want to be anywhere else.

He caught sight of the map at last, and with a groan realized he’d slept through two stops. Lucky for him, they were all close together. It would be faster to run the blocks than wait for another train heading east on the yellow line. Rather than sit back down, Sterling wedged his way in toward the door and grabbed one of the bars above. He could see over the heads of everybody else in the car.

“I said I was gonna come visit you and Ma for Christmas,” Sterling said, finally swallowing enough to flush out the scratch in his voice. “Show’ll be over after Christmas Eve. I’ll drive over to yours just as soon as I can, yeah? I’ll beat the sunrise. Just stop bitchin’ at me.”

Zydan did that scoffing, snorty noise that meant it wasn’t good enough. ‘You should be here already.’ Though after a sigh, his voice warmed. ‘We’re going to tape the show. It’s kid-friendly, yes?’

“Yeah, Dia will love it,” Sterling said, sniffing. His throat had finally lubricated, but now his nose was getting testy with the warm, dry air. Each inhale kindled the embers of something faint. “Ain’t got no language or nothin’. Just all the boring Christmas classics and some dumb skits.”

‘My, you really do take pride in your work.’

“I been in the business for a while,” Sterling said, his faint smile snagging when he began to rapidly blink, feeling the swell of it come over him even as he fought to finish his thought. “I’m entitled to.. t.. hh’DSsh’oo!..”

With both hands full and nowhere to turn, he had ducked his head down toward his chest and did his best to contain it. Thankfully, even though he was a big guy his sneezes weren’t too monstrous. Usually. Depended on the stimulus and situation. This one was manageable, even if he did shake in place and garner a couple glares from people standing nearby. He glared right back. Wasn’t like it was a crime to sneeze in public.

‘Bless,’ was Zydan’s plain, typical reply.

With a brief sniff to clear his nose, Sterling gave him his thanks. But that’s all he had time for, because the subway train began to slow, breaks squealing, as the platform came into view. A wash of featureless faces blurred by the window – hoards of people on their way to work, leaving work, shopping, heading to school. Cells in the lifeblood of the city.

“I gotta go,” Sterling said. “I’m about to be late during tech week.”

‘Not the best time to be late, I suppose.’

“The worst time,” he replied. “Like the absolute worst time. Except for show day, I guess.”

‘Alright, I’ll let you go,’ Zydan said. The subway doors squeegeed open and Sterling stepped out onto the platform, immediately peeling off from the tightly packed crowd to sift through gaps, his long strides carrying him further and further, toward the turnstiles. ‘Stay bundled up today, it might snow. Also, text me your shirt size again. Mom’s been asking but keeps forgetting to call you about it – ’

“Yeah, I got it.”

‘Oh, and tell us again what time the show will be on. I think I know which channel, but – ’

“Got it, Zy, I’m hangin’ up now.”

‘Fine, fine, goodbye.’

Sterling tapped the end call button just as his eyes welled closed a second time, lips gently parting, the sensation of anticipation expanding and popping like a balloon.

“.. hh’ihDSH’oo!”

That one got at it just a little better, but that faint tickle didn’t really budge. Damn this weather. He didn’t mind the cold, but he hated how the air went from heavy and wet to hot and arid in less than the blink of an eye when walking in and out of places this time of year. Really could fuck with your sinuses.

When he could see again, sniffling and wrinkling his nose, he was dismayed but not surprised to see he had several missed calls from Julian, texts from just about every member he personally knew on the crew, and was probably facing a lecture from somebody once he got into the studio. Dammit, whenever he got there early and set up, nobody ever seemed to care or notice. But the moment he was even a little bit late, the whole fuckin’ crew falls apart. 

The curse of being the Sound Guy.

Huffing through his nose, Sterling reached up to pinch his nostrils and draw his fingers down, repeating the action a few times for good measure to get at that itch. Then he stepped onto the escalator, eyes on the white block of light at the top, felt the fresh, brittle breath of winter flood down the shaft, and reached into his pockets to unearth his gloves and slouch-hat, both made of knitted wool. Thanks, Ma.

Suited up, arms at his sides, feet apart, body tense, Sterling took the last couple steps up himself without waiting and broke into a run. 

- - - - - - -

By the time he made it to the studio, Sterling had knocked over at least two people on the sidewalk, cut through a half-dozen shady alleys, jay-walked every cross-walk, and almost ate pavement when a homeless guy grabbed his ankle as he dashed past. All in all, one of his less eventful and perilous journeys through the city. His worst news to report was that his nose was running like a faucet, his lungs were burning, and of course the 1st AD stomped right over to him literally as soon as he walked through the door. Sterling didn’t even have time to take his coat off.

“You’re lucky we’re running behind schedule,” Julian said, flipping through the papers pinned to his clipboard before pushing his big, round glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I don’t have time to rake you over the coals for this right now.”

Julian had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a loud mouth. Also, he was eye-level with Sterling’s ribcage. Still, that never stopped him from hissing and spitting and bristling up at Sterling whenever he got the chance. Or anybody, really. He wasn’t partial. He was fearless, this guy. Sterling, who liked confrontation about as much as he liked wet socks (read: negative amounts of like), respected him for it. He even liked to watch Julian verbal body-slam people on the daily. But it was the pits when Sterling was the one on the receiving end.

“Sorry, I j – ”

“Uninterested,” Julian said, finally looking up at him. Sterling tried not to scowl. “I don’t need excuses. I just need you to get your gear, put mics on the talent, and then stand over there until we finally get off this first shot.”

He lurked an icy gaze across the studio toward who Sterling identified as the director and lead camera guy. They’d worked together for years and were buddies, but they were famous for lengthy, shouted discussions about shots. Well, the director – who Sterling thought was a pompous but talented asshole, like most directors tended to be – did most of the shouting. The lead camera guy, who wasn’t deaf but still preferred to use ASL for reasons Sterling didn’t know, would just sign back at him. Emphatically. It looked like shouting, even if he wasn’t saying a word.

When he turned back to Julian, the little dude was already gone. Sterling briefly eyed the crafty table, thinking of breakfast, when Julian appeared again at his elbow silently enough to make Sterling’s feet leave the floor when he spoke up.

“No snacks yet! You missed breakfast by over fifteen minutes. GO GEAR UP.”

“Jeez, I’m goin’!” Sterling said with his hands up in surrender, scooting off toward the studio cage where they kept all the equipment. It wouldn’t take him that long, and it looked like Production Design was still setting up. Julian was easy on that department because his wife, Layla, was the friggin’ head of it. Granted, she was usually on top of things, but still. Unfair.

Sniffling deeply, Sterling knuckled under his nostrils as he walked. It felt like his nose was running even though his sinuses felt clear, which was awful. He was perpetually self-conscious now. Every sniff inflated that ever-present tickly feeling lodged somewhere in the bridge of his nose. As he got to the door to the cage, Sterling checked to be sure none of the grips or assistants or anybody was nearby. Then he shouldered the wall, closed his eyes, and breathed. Breathed Breeeeeathed deeply.

His eyebrows trenched a little, lips gradually parting, nostrils pulsing outside of his awareness or control as he coaxed a budding sneeze through aching inhales and shaky exhales. It was so close he could feel it tingling his palate when the sensation finally became too much.

“ – h’DSHH’hoo!”

That was an especially good one. Groaning through a sigh, Sterling scrubbed a wrist under his nose to chase back any lingering tickles when yet another person sneaked up on him.

“Goodness, bless you~..”

Sterling scrambled to stand up straight, startled, and gave the perpetrator one of his best glares. Morty wasn’t deterred, and just offered a sunny smile in return. Mortimer Matsuba was one-man Wardrobe & Make-up department. He dressed everybody up and made them look flawless. They’d been trying to offer him an assistant for years, but he tended to scare people away. Morty was really nice but also really strange. Sometimes it was like he just knew too much – knew things about you that you wouldn’t tell anyone, that kind of thing. 

While Sterling didn’t mind him all that much, he still didn’t like to be around him for extended periods of time. Then again, Sterling didn’t really like to be around anyone for extended periods of time.

“How long you been there?” Sterling asked. He was sliding against the wall, trying to make it into the cage to escape, but Morty was unabashedly following him.

“For some time,” he said in that dreamy, sleepy voice of his. “That sneeze took some effort, didn’t it? I thought it would never come.”

Sterling went flush from his cheeks to his chest. “D-Don’t just-!.. Don’t stare at people when they’re in the middle of somethin’ like that, fuck’s sake..”

Morty laughed, latching onto one of Sterling’s arms like they were a pair of courting youths strolling down the street, and Sterling wondered what the hell he’d ever done to endear himself to this guy. He sniffed as discreetly as he could, wrinkling his nose up and stretching his lips down after to itch without touching it.

“Ah, bless you again~”

“Wha-hhh?” Sterling’s breath snagged suddenly, the need surging quick enough that it really did feel like a reflex, and he twisted away from Morty quickly enough to vent a titantic sneeze to the side. “..DZSSh’oo!!”

That one took a couple blinks of recovery, and by that time, Morty had left him with a clean, indigo, cotton handkerchief and gone sweeping off mysteriously toward the Green Room where all the actors were usually kept until rehearsal. Sterling blinked down at the hanky, checking to be sure it really was fresh, before nuzzling sheepishly into its folds. Annoying as Morty was, he was a good guy. 

After a quick, relatively dry blow and a couple sniffs to right himself, Sterling got to work.

The studio was kind of like a giant warehouse with multiple rooms full of all kinds of storage. A production company owned it, and Sterling worked specifically for that company – along with all the other people on set here with him, save for some of the grips or assistants, who were freelancers or interns. They did a lot of live shows here, mostly TV specials, but sometimes other people would rent out of the space (and the people who worked in it) to help with scenes from major movies or scripted television series. Currently, they were working on a holiday special.

It was a kid-friendly comedy sketch show, with parodies of classic Christmas favorites, musical numbers, and some new material to suit some of the high-profile celebrities flying in. Only 3 days until Christmas Eve, when the special would air live to tape on a couple big networks. It was one night only, which was nice. While Sterling had to devote all his time to these rehearsals, at least he could get home and have a couple weeks completely off starting Christmas Day.

Sterling’s job was generally called Sound Guy. Most people called him that, even though his real title was Sound Mixer. The studio had boom mics built in, with a couple Boom Operators to handle them. Other very small mics, called lavaliers, would go directly on the actors. Sterling’s job was back in the booth, where he managed all the levels to ensure the whole thing sounded good. He was also in charge of cueing in funny sound effects or music or whatever. 

But first things first.. His Boom Ops were already at their stations, checking over the equipment, having gotten there on time. He checked in with them after getting the sound board switched on and setting the mixer. After that, he gathered up his lavs and headed for the Green Room.

Morty was already in there, finishing up some last minute curls on Stella, the blonde, bubbly actress Sterling couldn’t stand. She was playing most of the female leads in their skits and had come all the way from California for the roles. She wasn’t someone who worked with them typically, and because she felt like an outsider, that’s why she was acting so stuck-up and demanding. At least, that’s what Sterling thought. She’d been rude to him the last few times he got her mic on.

Rocco was in there too, fiddling with his tie for his suit. He was kind of like an actor, but more like just the leader of the band that played live on most of their specials. Once he got his wardrobe situation worked out, he’d head out to his instruments with the rest of his guys and Sterling could talk to him about what sort of mics they’d need. This would be the first nice they’d work with the live music in rehearsal.

There were a dozen other actors in here who would need lavs, but there was one that stood out above everyone else: Ren Caville.

Green-eyes, crooked-smile, baby-face Caville. Voice of an angel. Skin sunkissed fresh even in the winter. Silky, chocolate-brown hair, gleaming teeth, an endearing clumsiness when he walked but absolute grace when his fingers glided on his piano. He’d joined the studio a couple years ago as the stunning musical prodigy and there wasn’t a single show this company had put on that Ren hadn’t been singing in since.

Sterling was in love with him. Painfully. And very, very secretly. He’d had a lot of practice being around Ren and keeping his cool. Conceal, don’t feel, he counseled himself as he stepped toward the first actor he could access. Just like Elsa.

He moved through the motions:

Hey, yeah, I need to mic you. 

Is it okay if I lift your shirt here?

I’m going to thread the mic up now, is that okay?

Just going to tape it now. Can you lift your arms for me?

Okay, let me adjust it again.

It was all standard stuff, and Sterling was getting himself into the routine. Every time he got close to finishing one person, his eyes would stray toward Ren to check on him. Technically Ren had been ready and waiting for a mic as soon as Sterling walked in, but Sterling tried not to put himself in situations where he might be expected to speak directly to Ren in case he said something monumentally stupid, so he just had to wait until – 

There. Ren was answering his phone. Ren was talking on the phone.


Sterling quickly finished up his current lav-job and tugged down the actor’s shirt before thanking him and moving decidedly toward Ren. He sniffled deeply, as silently as he could, before he approached. Ren was on the phone, and Sterling didn’t want to interrupt or distract him. As he came up, Ren’s brilliant eyes turned toward him and he started to move the phone down, but Sterling waved him off. 

He held up his bag of mic crap and pointed. He raised his eyebrows. Lav?

Ren put his phone back to his ear, gave Sterling one of those dazzling, one-sided smiles, and nodded. Sure.

This would not be the first time Sterling had touched Ren’s body to put on a lav mic. But boy howdy, every time he did, he felt like he got first-nerve jitters. He always tried to time it like this. Usually Ren was talking to the director when Sterling came over to mic him, or he was still getting his hair done with Morty, or he was talking to another actor about something. Sometimes Sterling told one of his assistants to do it for ‘practice’ if he couldn’t catch Ren at a bad time.

There had been times when Sterling had spoken to Ren, of course. They’d worked together for like three years or something. But it was usually with other people around, usually in the context of work, or usually at an after party when everyone was drunk. Sterling was a very silent, sleepy drunk and Ren was a drunk that spoke to everybody at once and forgot all his conversations. It always worked out perfectly.

Sterling tugged at the back of Ren’s suit jacket, meeting his eyes with only a little difficulty, insinuating that he would need to lift it. Ren gave him a thumbs up. Sterling eased it up and threaded the mic. He tried not to let his hands skim Ren’s torso too much, but he had big hands, and Ren was a smaller guy. He was lean. Sterling couldn’t quite manage to keep his hands off Ren entirely, even if he tried. 

He knew his face was ruddy by now, but he was always kind of blushing around Ren. He was sure the guy thought that was just what Sterling’s face looked like by now. He was standing behind Ren, one hand holding the mic to the inside edge of Ren’s collar – close enough for Sterling to stare at the soft nape of Ren’s neck – while his other hand busied with his gaff tape. It was at this moment that the worst thing happened.

Sterling felt a sneeze.

It was one of those very quick, rude ones too. It came over him so quickly that he inhaled audibly, sucking in a short breath as his nostrils flared wide open, eyes crunching closed. Only sheer determination and social anxiety saved him: Sterling clamped his lips together, steeled himself, and stifled hands-free.


He had to breathe in straight after, the sensation of it disorienting. He rarely did that when he could help it, but at this time, it couldn’t be helped. Not daring to sniffle, knowing it would be loud and right by Ren’s ear, Sterling slapped some tape on the mic, straightened Ren’s collar and stood back to check it just as Ren hung up his phone.

“Bless you,” he said, in that incredible voice. Sterling almost wanted to tell Ren not to waste his voice on him. He was going to be singing his heart out; he had to save it for his fans. Ren turned to face him, though his smile wavered. Then dropped completely. 

Sterling blinked at him, wondering what part of his hideous visage Ren was taking issue with. It turned out to be the worst possible thing.

“Uh-.. you have something-..” 

To Sterling’s growing horror, Ren swatched a finger beneath his upper lip, and Sterling reached up to touch his own. It was wet. From snot. His nose was running. In front of Ren. Ice flooded through him, followed by an intense wave of heat. He felt suddenly faint, swayed just a little on his feet, and Ren must have noticed because he reached out like he expected Sterling to crash like a redwood tree.

“Whoa, there – ”

“Excuse me,” Sterling squeaked, and fled the room. 

Just as he was escaping, he realized he’d left behind his bag of gear, but he didn’t care. Nothing could make him go back in there. 


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*fans self* Oh my goodness, Scatter! This is AWESOME! You guys have such vivid and interesting characters and this scenario is just GOLD :wub: I can only imagine that Puds will be OVER THE MOON when she reads this! I can't wait to see where it goes. I'm totally invested already. 

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*kicks down door* 



Moving on. 

Scatter, my love, what can I even say about this. I mean, I flailed to you A LOT about this on other mediums, but hoooooo boy, let me leave a comment that isn't going to be worthy of such a wonderful fic, but I will try. 

I want to start by saying thank you QwQ Especially because I already sent you someone else's form, and then had to yank it back off you and give you me instead xDD But I am so happy that I did. I cannot imagine a better gift than our boys, and ALL OF OUR BOYS (and Stella, the bitch :disgust: ) together in one place. It's like a dream come true QwQ

You always write such wonderful imagery in your writing, and this is absolutely no exception. I can see everything so clearly in my mind's eye. All the little attention to detail you make always pays off so perfectly, and makes for such pleasurable reading. I know we write together pretty much every day, but every time I get to read something you write, it feels like an absolute treat~

This scenario is also absoutely PRECIOUS. All of our boys, all together, all with jobs QwQ seeing all the different dynamics between them is such a treat to see. I feel especially privileged because I feel like I know them all personally xD so to see Julian as the boss is as hilarious as it is wonderful, having Ren as an actor, Sterling as a sound guy, Morty as a make up artist/wardrobe guy - IT SUITS THEM ALL SO WELL (even though Sterling is sure to goof up somehow, the adorable idiot LOL). But I really cannot express how wonderful it is to see everyone brought to life in such a way x3 I feel so lucky QwQ



18 hours ago, BlackScatter said:

'You should be here already.’ Though after a sigh, his voice warmed. ‘We’re going to tape the show. It’s kid-friendly, yes?’

“Yeah, Dia will love it,” Sterling said, sniffing. His throat had finally lubricated, but now his nose was getting testy with the warm, dry air. Each inhale kindled the embers of something faint. “Ain’t got no language or nothin’. Just all the boring Christmas classics and some dumb skits.”

‘My, you really do take pride in your work.’

“I been in the business for a while,”

THIS IS JUST WONDERFUL. I love how everyone else meeting Sterling for the first time will have no idea about all of this, but seeing Sterling with a family who love him and care about him and WHO ARE SNARKY LITTLE SHITS JUST THE SAME AS HIM gives me so much joy and feels and love that I can barely contain it >w<


18 hours ago, BlackScatter said:

Sterling tapped the end call button just as his eyes welled closed a second time, lips gently parting, the sensation of anticipation expanding and popping like a balloon.

“.. hh’ihDSH’oo!”

That one got at it just a little better, but that faint tickle didn’t really budge.

Eheheheheh. You know how much I love the slow-build >w> and seeing this gradually progress is as exciting as it is delicious~


18 hours ago, BlackScatter said:

“Sorry, I j – ”

“Uninterested,” Julian said, finally looking up at him.

I love this xD Julian's 'short man syndrome' has always been a favourite of mine, and this is just incredible xDD


18 hours ago, BlackScatter said:

"For some time,” he said in that dreamy, sleepy voice of his. “That sneeze took some effort, didn’t it? I thought it would never come.”

Sterling went flush from his cheeks to his chest. “D-Don’t just-!.. Don’t stare at people when they’re in the middle of somethin’ like that, fuck’s sake..”

The entire interaction between Sterling and Morty just got me x'D I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I also adore when other people talk so casually about sneezing for some reason, so this really fucked me up :rofl:


18 hours ago, BlackScatter said:

He sniffed as discreetly as he could, wrinkling his nose up and stretching his lips down after to itch without touching it.

“Ah, bless you again~”


>w> I see what you're doing here <w< 



I know I said it to you before, but you have written Ren so delightfully >w< You have such a knack at writing people, and I am so touched and honoured that you're writing my characters QwQ. 

Also, the entire business with the snez - the awkwardness, the attempted stifle, the sheer embarrassment after - I am eating it all up. So much. SO MUCH. 

In case you couldn't tell, I loved this and cannot wait to read more x3 Thank you so much again for writing this absolute BEAUTY of a fic for me. I feel beyond blessed that I got to read such an incredible piece of writing~ 

I feel like this comment hasn't done justice to just HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS but oh man, do I love this. And you. I love you too. 

*slinks off to hide in the bushes, eagerly awaiting an update* 

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  • 3 weeks later...


@Dusty15: AHH THANK YOU! I'm really glad you enjoyed this, and are looking forward to more, haha! That makes me so happy >w<

@PuddinPop: MY LOOOOOOOOVE~ Oh my gosh I'm just drowning in my own ego over here. This fic is absolutely for you, and it seriously makes my heart glow to know you like it QwQ! Without you, these guys all wouldn't exist as they are and I'm so glad I get to celebrate them with you and that you are liking the story x333. I wanted this to be a good enough present for you and I'm really happy I'm succeeding so far >w<. ANNND I HAVE ANOTHER PART FOR YOUUU~

(Also for the record, Sterling is very sure to goof up and I can't wait to get to that part LOL)

The Show Must Go Wrong, pt 2


That was yesterday, and unfortunately, Sterling had been forced to go back in there.

He’d been pried out of the bathroom by Julian, who’d found him close to half an hour after his ‘incident’ with Ren. While Julian hammered on the stall door, Sterling contemplated false-confessing to explosive diarrhea and just calling it a day, but that would be even more embarrassing. In the end, he sulked out of the stall and back into the studio, bitched at all the while by Julian, who was miffed beyond belief he still hadn’t finished his set-up.

The rehearsal that day was a disaster, and Sterling spent the entire time huddled in his booth, listening to Ren sing into his ear through the mic feed during his solos and experiencing hopeless longing and crippling humiliation on every note. Sterling was a regular train wreck, but yesterday was especially bad. 

Turned out today was destined to be worse. 

Sterling woke up that morning on time, but the pipes in his apartment complex had froze up in the night and his shower spray was like stepping under a melting glacier. It woke him up some, but he still felt pretty sluggish as he got himself dressed and slogged down the stairs into the mushy, grey snow. They’d gotten some fresh snowfall last week that was real pretty, but it had been all stepped in, drove in, kicked around, muddied up, rained on, and iced over by now. It wasn’t a white, twinkling Christmas anymore. It was a gross, soggy, miserable Christmas and Sterling couldn’t wait to drive up to the country and cozy up next to Zydan’s fireplace with some spiced egg nog or something. Euclase, the best sister-in-law (and only sister-in-law) Sterling had, would cook up a feast fit for ten men that Sterling would eat all in one sitting. All he had was ramen noodles in the cabinet and Sunny D in the fridge. He felt like he was gonna stuff himself stupid and go into hibernation as soon as he got up to his brother’s.

Strange how he kept thinking so much about it. He just felt cold and tired today, he guessed. He missed that warm, cuddly little house with his family in it.

Didn’t help that his throat was worse, itching enough to start him coughing once he was on the metro. That kept him up at least. He couldn’t doze off between stops because every breath of that hot, recycled air set him off in a little spell. People gave him a wide berth, which was nice, but they needn’t have bothered: Sterling didn’t get sick. Ain’t been sick since he was a boy, and no slushy weather and post-nasal drip would break his record. He’d never missed a day of work.

But maybe he should’ve missed today because it was a madhouse

Turns out the director and lead camera guy had words with a couple of the producers last night – scary, fancy people Sterling had never seen and had no intention of meeting – and they’d redone half the shot-list. That meant everybody’s notes from the last… well, weeks and weeks were kind of useless and most of the blocking and rehearsing they’d done was in the can.

So they were starting over with two days left before the show. 

Everybody wanted to murder each other and Sterling, despite the fact he was a huge, hulking bear of a man with a mean scowl on his face half the time, was scared-stiff of getting yelled at by more than one person at a time so he just made himself scarce. Well, as scarce as he could manage. He wasn’t exactly subtle-looking, and it wasn’t helping that his sinuses were absolutely shivering with the need to sneeze. Constantly. That sucked. 

“.. ht-.. hT’ISH’oo!”

He just couldn’t get ahead of it. One sneeze would finish and another one would already be queuing up for an encore. He’d straighten up, blink a couple times, knuckle at one of his eyes, and then freeze as he felt another one swelling up, tickling something terrible, all along the bridge of his nose, deep up inside. His eyes would gradually shut even as he fought it. His jaw would drop open. His nostrils would pulse as his head jogged back with one, two breaths – 

“.. hht..’DZSH’hoo!”

Sterling had trouble sneezing more than once at a time, so whenever his nose tickled like this, it took forever to work it out. He was trying to think of what he could have gotten up there – some kinda sawdust or bathroom spray or.. 

“.. ‘DZSS’hoo! .. uhhhnn..”

He groaned, hands on his knees as he pushed himself up to stand straight again, rubbing at both his eyes with his palms. They didn’t itch or anything, but they were watering pretty bad because of how much he was sneezing. It was getting him dizzy too. Friggin’ nuisance. He sniffled thickly, trying to be delicate about it because while he still felt the hazy urge to sneeze again, it had stopped for a second.

He picked his head up and looked around for another napkin. He was lingering by the crafty table, away from the commotion as the director, lead camera, production designer, AD, and whoever else important enough for that meeting working out the shot schedule. Not only was this area out of the way, but there was a huge supply of free, make-shift tissues here. The napkins weren’t soft on his nose, though they helped get at the itch a little as he rubbed. Heaving in a massive breath, Sterling vented a blow into a wad of them and was dismayed by how little actually moved. Felt like there should be more than that moving around, with all this sneezing..

Sterling turned the other way to toss them in the bin, but paused when he caught sight of Rocco – the band leader guy – standing nearby with a plate of grapes, cheese, and a granola bar. They stared at one another for a second, Sterling feeling very uncomfortable that Rocco might have seen him blow his nose, but his eyes darted behind Rocco a moment later. Because there came Ren Caville, all smiles, Rocco’s right-hand-man, and Sterling found himself bolting off so quickly he couldn’t be certain where he was even headed.

Of course, it was the wrong direction.

“Sound Guy!”

That was the director. Sterling stopped so quick he swore his shoes skidded and left track marks. He sniffled, coughed a handful of times into the back of his wrist, swallowed against that terrible sandpaper feeling that just wouldn’t go away, and reported for duty.

“Yeah, sir?”

“I need you to rearrange the skit-cues,” the director said. “We’re changing the order.”

Julian, lingering by the DP’s elbow, was about to blow a gasket. Or else he was constipated. He was giving Sterling one of those glares that meant SAY YES TO THE DIRECTOR so Sterling didn’t even think about it. 

“Uh, yeah, sir,” he coughed, raising a fist toward his mouth as his voice got a bit scratchy. “Will do.”

“How long do you need?” Julian asked. His tone was neutral but the little guy looked like he was wilting. 1st AD was the most stressful and thankless job of the bunch, so Sterling didn’t envy him a minute. 

Though when he thought about what they were asking for, he realized that he’d need a hell of a lot longer than two days. All the cues were on a specially-organized set of tracks he’d made weeks ago and fine-tuned as they moved through the show. He’d have to reorganize everything or he’d have to pair the cues to a sound board and run the show manually. He hadn’t planned on the second one-.. but at this juncture, he’d probably fucking have to. Those tracks would take way too long to dress-up again.

He was deliberating too long, he realized, and knew what this meant. To get this done, he’d have to stay late. But whatever, the show must go wrong, so here he was, working with it. That was the production business.

“How long, Sterling?” Julian asked again, voice sharp. The director had his arms crossed, one foot tapping.

“Just today,” Sterling said, and blinked when he felt the prick of that eternal sneeze flower through his nose again. “I can have ‘em up one at a time and finish th-.. fin.. ugh, sorry- DZSH’oo!!..” 

He wasn’t done. He’d just sneezed in front of the director and he wasn’t done. This one was cruel, and kept him hanging in sneezy limbo for a few seconds – a stupid, nostrils-flared, eyes sleepily shut, mouth agape look on his face all that time – before it brought the thunder.

“.. iH’TZZSCH’OO!..”

It was loud enough that Sterling heard Morty faintly bless him from behind a couple clothing racks, and his neck burned hot, sending warmth all the way up his face. Icing on the shitty cake was that the sneeze wasn’t tidy either, and he had to keep his head turned away as he sniffled and wiped furiously with one hand, still trying to finish the conversation so he could go hide.

“I can finish ‘em as needed,” he said tightly. “I’ll have it done by tomorrow.”

“Great,” said the director. Sterling didn’t see his expression, but he didn’t sound all that thankful. Whatever, he didn’t care. All he cared about was hand sanitizer and tissues right now. 

Julian mercifully dismissed him with a surprisingly polite thanks – he probably realized Sterling was going to be here all night over this – and Sterling sprung for the door to the hall. Another sneeze was vaguely tickling him, unsure if it wanted to commit, and it kept his expression foggy. His nose was still wet, as were his hands, which he kept loosely cupped around his face. He was getting flashbacks to yesterday.

Lady Luck smiled on him this time, and Sterling managed to slip into the bathroom to get himself cleaned up without incident. Thankfully, the place was a barren wasteland so he took his time. Namely, he did his best to vent out any shy sneezes that he didn’t want to deal with later. His nose was in a real fit over something, that was for sure. It tickled harshly in a place he just couldn’t reach.

After washing up, scrubbing his hands with soap under hot water and rinsing his face, Sterling braced himself against the counter and stared into the mirror. He’d never thought he was all that good-looking. He had strong, angry-looking features, courtesy of his dead-beat dad who ran out on Ma shortly after Sterling was born. Sometimes Ma looked at him in a way that made him feel guilty – like she could see the vestiges of the man who wronged her, shadowed in Sterling’s skin. 

He had really dark hair, but it was greying already. Seemed to be a hereditary thing, since Zydan had it too. His eyes were narrow, a honeyed brown color he’d been told was ‘very warm, up close.’ Reaching up, he tugged down at the waterline of his eye, examining the bags and the bloodshot veins. His color was kind of off. His nose was ruddy-red from all the napkins he’d been using, his nostrils flaring unconsciously when he sniffled heavily. 

Something shifted far up inside his nose. Air broke through to a place it hadn’t been before, and the sensation of it weighed his eyelids heavy. He watched in the mirror as his lips gently parted, his expression swimming between dull and desirous. He twitched his nose, encouraging, breathing in another slow, focused breath. It prickled, and he huffed through a couple coughs, ducking his head toward his chest. When he looked up at the mirror again, his eyes were glassed with moisture.

It tickled in earnest now, and given he was alone, Sterling let it come with full-abandon. The feeling swarmed over him, though he fought out of curiosity to watch the grimacing contortion of his expression up to the very last second.

“.. hh.. hH-.. TZZ’SCHOO!” 

Helplessly exclamatory, but it felt really good. Cool, tingling relief swept through his sinuses before warming again into another cinder-smoking tickle. It plumed through him like smoke, overtaking him. He threw his head down toward the sink a second time.

“.. eH’DZS’shoo!”

And a third.

“.. eH’DZS’hoo!”

And then a fourth.

“.. eH’DZSSHOO!”

That one brought him to his elbows on the counter, resting his weight there as he knuckled at his nose, groaning. The sneezing at last abated, but he felt kind of winded. Definitely a little light-headed. He wasn’t used to that kind of intensity. It was really rare he got stuck in a clockwork fit. That was more of Ren’s thing. He only knew that because he’d seen the guy go through one of his allergy attacks during rehearsal and it was legitimately impressive. And kind of cute.

Hell, Ren Caville could rock a burlap sack after a week on the road with no shower. He’d still look gorgeous. Was just the way of the world. The sun rose in the east, the tides were swept by the moon, and Ren Caville made Sterling the definition of wonderstruck.

Knowing he had a shit-load of work to do, Sterling wrapped up his bathroom antics with another swish of his hands beneath the faucet and got back to work. Because the whole show was SNAFU, he wouldn’t be expected to get his cues up for a run. They’d probably be adjusted the blocking and camera position at least until lunch.

So he dug in and plowed through.

For hours, Sterling sat, stood, and walked around his booth. To avoid the nightmare of trying to set another full-track to an ever-changing show, Sterling did the next best (and worst) thing: matched each individual cue to a slider or a button on his sound board. There was enough of them to accommodate, but that meant he would need to memorize over 100-odd sounds or songs to a 100-odd sliders or buttons to make sure he selected the right one at the right time.

There was a lot of room for human error. Sterling hated human error. Easily his least favorite kind of error. But it was the only way to go on at this point. The show must go on, and all that jazz.

As Sterling began to strip and pair cues to the board, taking meticulous notes to be memorized later, the runny nose and the coughing didn’t abate. He was alternatively sniffling and clearing his throat, getting up so many times to grab napkins that he just stole a huge hunk of them and left them at his booth. They were no longer helping to itch at his nose, but rather harming it. The skin was getting dried and chapped from the cold air and constant friction. It was starting to sting. What a fucking pain. Usually the temperature fluctuations didn’t screw with him this badly. He was in the middle of something here. He didn’t have time to be wiping his stupid nose.

They broke for lunch, and as Sterling suspected, camera had only just gotten another tentative set-up and skit order for the shot-list. Even through the meal, the big-wigs sat at a private table and talked. Because Sterling was technically the supervisor of his department (he was the mixer by trade, but kind of the boss of the rest of his team too..), he got wrangled into the whole thing. It was the pits.

The director was just as bitchy as he was that morning, and the lead camera guy – his name was Red, Sterling remembered – excused himself five minutes in to get some reprieve from him. Julian was scarfing through a sandwich while notating his clip-board. Sterling didn’t feel that hungry, and picked at his food, speaking only when spoken to. He’d rather be sitting with his team. They were the only ones he felt very comfortable with. 

Glancing over his shoulder, Sterling caught wind of the boisterous actor’s table. Ren was there, laughing heartily, beautifully, at something somebody had said. Rocco had a smirk that spoke to his part in the joke, and Stella reached out to rub a hand down Ren’s arm, clearly fawning. Something dark and possessive coiled in Sterling’s gut, and he gritted his teeth. 

It was good they were all getting along.. It was good for the show. His thoughts were fuzzy, a ticker tape running on a loop, zoned on the light, testing contact of Stella’s fingers on Ren’s arm. She moved her hand up to ‘casually’ sweep some hair away from his face. Pick a piece of lint off him, something like that. But he leaned away with a jerky chuckle, catching her hand and giving it a friendly squeeze. What did that mean? Did he like it? Hate it? Want more of it later when nobody was around?

Ren must have felt Sterling’s eyes on him because he dropped Stella’s hand and soon caught Sterling’s gaze instead. It was only a split-second, but Sterling flinched back to his plate, eyes down, hackles up like a spooked cat.

He hadn’t started long enough to see the look on Ren’s face. He didn’t want to know what it was.

Lunch finished with Sterling’s meal half-eaten, and he plowed back into the work in his booth. While it behaved for lunch, his nose sent him through another on-and-off bout of sneezing until his throat pinched on his swallows. Hours blended. His awareness zeroed in on his work. The faint fatigue he’d been fighting most of the day melted into his bones and out of his head. It became only one task after another. 

One hand pinning a napkin to his nose, the other keying a command into his cue library, Sterling didn’t notice Minnie until she spoke up.

“.. Sterling?”

He glanced up. Minnie was on his boom op team. She was tiny, but she had impressive upper body strength and fast reflexes. While she couldn’t do much with a pole, if they stuck her up on a JL Fisher, she could track with the best of them. She was quiet and sensitive as an orchid. One harsh word to her could crumble her, so Sterling usually did his best to talk nice and keep the heat off her. 

Tossing his napkin and yanking his headphones down to his neck, he flashed her a smile. The expression didn’t come natural to him, but for her, he made an effort. She smiled back, though the cast of it was uncertain.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Uh, er..” Minnie stuttered for an answer, and then held out a steaming cup in place of one. Sterling slowly reached out to take it, peering into its contents afterward. It was kind of green and very warm in his cold hands.

“Think your water’s gone bad,” he said.

“It’s tea,” Minnie said, and she brightened at Sterling’s wider smile.

“I know, I was only kiddin’.” Sterling took a swig of it, humming urgently when it was a little too hot to be swallowed. The flavor didn’t really come through as anything other than ‘burning.’ He scalded his tongue only a little bit, and gave her a lip-smacking appraisal. “Mm, fresh. Thanks.”

“It’s got some, like, honey in it,” Minnie continued, fiddling with her fingers. “You’ve been sorta, like.. coughing all day.”

“Ah, yeah, sorry,” Sterling said, holding one of the headphone pads to his ear as he tested another effect. Even as he said it, he turned his head away to stifle a couple chesty coughs. “Dunno what’s up with me. Did I catch ya in the comm mic too much?”

He’d been trying to avoid coughing into his comm, which he used to communicate with the rest of his team and the other department heads, but he hadn’t managed to hold back every time. At least he hadn’t sneezed in anybody’s ear. Minnie wildly shook her head, waving a hand, backtracking like he’d be offended.

“No, no way, I didn’t mean it like that! I just mean.. well, like, I hope you’re doing okay?”

 “ ‘Bout as good as I can be with the show in flames.”

They fell into an almost comfortable silence, with Sterling too caught up in organizing the library to really feel the weighted expectation emanating from Minnie like a force-field. He took another sip of his tea, blowing on it to cool it. She was right about the honey. It was faintly lemon-y too. Went down smooth on his sore throat. 

… sore throat..

“Um, Sterling?”

He looked up from his sound board again, thoughts scattering. “Uh-huh?” 

“Are-.. you.. um.. it’s-.. we wrapped for the day, so we’re all going home.”

“Oh! Shit, hah, time got away from me,” he said, and Minnie perked up. Then deflated a little when she saw he wasn’t bustling for his backpack and shutting down his systems, like he always did at quitting time. Sterling wasn’t sure what to make of it. “You can go on,” he prompted. “I’m workin’ some sweet OT.”

“Overtime?” she asked, aghast. Sterling gave her a thumbs up and one of his special smirks, saved for moments when he used a coupon combo at the grocery store, or found a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk.

“You betcha,” he said. “Got it in my contract. They ain’t squeezin’ a lousy day-rate outta THIS guy – ”

He’d been wanting to gloat a little more (as he was proud of his overtime clause) but the urge to cough came too strong. And stayed a little long. Longer than all the other times he’d been coughing today. It just kept going, deeper than his throat, now down in his chest, where he could feel it, tight and uncomfortable. During a break in the onslaught, Sterling grabbed up his tea and coasted down sips. That took care of it, but the whole thing had Minnie anxious.

“You don’t, like, sound so good,” she said. Quite bravely too. Sterling didn’t think she’d ever tried to assert on him like this, even though she knew he’d never bare his teeth at her. She was too sweet.

“S’just the hot air in here,” he said with a generic wave toward the ceiling. “Givin’ me the sneezes too.”

“..Maybe it’s a cold?”

“Bahh.” Sterling slipped his headphones back on. “I ain’t been sick in years.”

“.. Maybe you’re like, overdue?”

He took a short breath through his nose, his patience wavering, but it turned out that moving any air through his nostrils was a bad call. The sniffle was wet, productive, and it twinged that ever-present tickle sowed into the tissues of his sinuses. He scrambled for another napkin, tenting it over his nose as his expression bunched up.

“.. hhh-!.. TZSCH’hoo!”

“Oh, bless you!” Minnie startled.

Sterling blew his nose to head off another, having felt it like a fog over him. The embarrassment of the act was outweighed by his fraying self-restraint. He just couldn’t help but sneeze, and he didn’t want to do it again. He wanted to get whatever was bothering him out of his nose, if he could. He finished up and folded the napkin, tossing it away just in time for the cautious, raw throbbing inside his nose to flare up again. His expression collapsed as he swiveled from his board, thankful the cord on his headphones was long enough to accommodate.

“.. hT’DJZSH’oo!”

“Bless you,” came Minnie again. In slightly whining tone, she went on to ask, “Are you sure you should, like, no offense but like, working overtime like this?”

By this time, Sterling was wising up. His throat was burning again, getting raked by every sneeze, and these napkins were honestly chafing his nose. While not particularly sharp, Sterling knew his body, and things just weren’t feeling right. Deep down, he knew this wasn’t just hot air. 

But like hell he was going to admit it to anybody.

“Idt’s fine,” he huffed, tissue still cradling his nose. His eyes were unable to focus, drawn again and again into a thousand-yard stare as he contended with the tide of a stubborn tickle. His voice was breathy. “I got to, or else the show’ll.. the sh.. hhT’DIZSS’HOO!!”

“Bless you,” Minnie groaned, like each sneeze was just another nail in his coffin. 


Sterling tried not to take a tone, muffed behind the napkins as he blew hard enough to pop his ear, just to try and vent out that horrible tickling sensation. It didn’t work, but at least he got a bit of a handle on it. Minnie was only doing what Minnie did best: worry and wring her hands over stuff that didn’t really concern her. And Sterling was just sorta bashful about the whole business, so there was no need for him to get bristly with her.

Once he finished, he tossed out the napkins and went back to his sound board. He diplomatically chose to ignore Minnie until she awkwardly left. He only felt a little bit bad about it because she knew he was busy. He’d make it up to her tomorrow. 

His eyes slid to the cup of tea, still warm, and he downed the rest of it in a couple gulps before crumpling it up and binning it. Sterling shifted his headphones and ran both hands through his hair, lacing fingers at the back of his head with a sigh that made him cough a few times. 

He’d put in the hours tonight, get as much sleep as he could, and tomorrow, things would be better.


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This is fantastic! I'm totally getting into all these characters. You just bring them to life!

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*takes deep breath..*

AAAHHHHHH~ ANOTHER PART. JUST FOR ME. I FEEL SO LUCKY. And also pretty guilty because your SS from me only has 2 parts, and I can tell there are going to be plenty more, which I cANNOT WAIT FOR BUT THIS PART. THIS PART

Okay I am going to try to remain calm and collected here. 

Firstly, I adore all of your characters, and you know I do, because I fangirl over them literally every day. You have such a wonderful way of bringing life into your characters, like.. they're so real. It feels like they're real people. It helps that I know them all super well, but even if I didn't and I was reading them all for the first time through this, I would feel just as connected and personal with them as I do now. You project such life into all of your writing, which is a rare talent indeed. Reading every single word of this was a treat from start to finish. 

And then Sterling QwQ oh my gosh, the poor stubborn babe. He's getting so ill, yet is still so determined to keep working. *clutches chest* IT'S SO WONDERFUL AND HEARTBREAKING AT THE SAME TIME TO SEE HIM REFUSING CARE AND ASJFHFJSJ. MY HEART. 

Okay. Calm and collected. 

AND THEN MINNIE COMES ALONG~ I LOVE HER. ABSOLUTELY LOVE HER. SHE'S MY FAVOURITE DITZ. And she's so sweet and caring and looking out for Sterling. I love it when he gets the care he deserves (lord knows it's overdue xD) and so the little part with her made me so happy >w<

AAAAND THEN THE SNEZ. HOO BOY. Where to start. We all know (well, no, I know) Sterling as a singles-occasionally-doubles kinda guy, and lemme tell ya.. that little fit. *fans self* That is some diamond-quality fetish writing right there. Your details and descriptions are such an incredible combination of fascinating and hot as hell. Desriptive writing is definitely one of your strong points, and you did it absolute wondrous justice here. I feel so spoiled. 

I am honestly so privileged that I get to collab and write with you every day, but to get you writing an actual fic for me feels like all my birthdays came at once. I will honestly never tire of reading anything you write. Ever. This part, and the first part, and I know all the following parts, are going to be an absolute treat to read and I am so lucky and honoured to have you as my SS, my one-and-only writing partner, and my best friend. I love you and I love our boys (and girls xD) and I love this fic. I love everything. SO MUCH LOVE. 

I was going to quote the parts that I love, but I would literally just be quoting the entire fic, so rest assured I love every line as much as the last >w< Thank you again for writing this for me <3 You're the absolute best QwQ and I will eagerly wait in anticipation for more >w> 

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  • 3 months later...

... well here I am, like four months later :lol: Better late than never though, right?? Life just caught up to me, but it's @PuddinPop's BIRTHDAY WEEKEND and I wanted to try and get another part done for her to give as a little lame gift :heart: I'm going to try and do more, but I can at least guarantee this much tumblr_m9gcm8DTas1qzckow.gif Puds, thank you SO MUCH for your sweet comments about the previous part, and I hope you enjoy this one too! QwQ YOUR LOVE FUELS ME. I always feel so inspired when we create together. Also I am so sorry for making Stella kind of a bitch LOL. I KNOW SHE IS NORMALLY MUCH NICER. And I hope I wrote sweet Sunshine Man okay. I always get so scared to write with him xD. I just want to do him justice 

@AngelEyes Thank you so much!! It makes me feel so warm and proud to know you think the characters are lively and real! I feel like that's one of the best compliments ever to get as someone who writes. That really means a lot QwQ

@starpollen As someone who has been reading your fics for years, I'm honestly honored to hear you say that! Thank you!! 

WARNING: Lots of swearing, slight mentions of mess (not very descriptive)

The Show Must Go Wrong, pt 3


It was tomorrow. Things were not better. They were worse, which seemed to be the trend with this production and Sterling’s life at the moment.

He finished organizing the sound board. It took him all night. Not because he sucks at his job, but because he had to keep taking breaks for more tea, unplanned power naps in his chair, and during his darkest hour, some idiot turned off all the power thinking he was the last one in the building before Sterling could save his progress to the board’s hard-drive. He’d nearly cried, and he’d ripped into the security guard who did it so viciously that his voice cracked.

Sterling got it all done by three in the fucking morning, at which point he realized by the time he managed to get home, he’d just have to come back here. Might as well save himself the trouble and the cab fare. The subway ran like a snail this late at night too. Besides, he had some spare clothes stashed in the cage just for this purpose. This wasn’t the first time he’d spent the night at the studio, and he doubted it would be the last. Zydan would say this was unethical, but whatever, the show must go on. 

He curled up on the breakroom couch under his jacket, feeling vaguely pathetic. His nose had transitioned from runny to stuffy, borderline congested, so he had to breathe through his mouth. Every time he inhaled, he felt the dry air grate against his throat and tickle, but even swallowing was painful at this point. When he coughed, his chest and head faintly ached, not to mention it felt like his throat was being singed. He was trapped in a circle of Hell. It had been a long time since he felt this shitty.

But not so long since he’d felt this alone. 

It always got this way when he didn’t feel good. His emotions peaked and he started feeling sorry for himself. Missing his family. All that stupid, childish stuff.

The breakroom was quiet, and the couch was lumpy. Sterling was grateful he couldn’t smell the fabric, or see the stains in the darkness. It was so quiet, save for the occasional traffic or siren outside, and the patter of icy snow against the windows, he could almost pretend this was his apartment. How depressing. Sterling closed his eyes on a stuffy sigh, burrowing against the cushions, ignoring the uncomfortable twinge in his legs from having to fold himself up to fit. At least the studio was pretty warm. They kept the heat on because of the equipment, so even without a blanket, Sterling felt pretty comfortable considering everything. 

He didn’t know when he fell asleep. All Sterling knew was that he couldn’t have slept for more than a few minutes before someone was gently shaking him awake. He groaned, hoping whoever it was would just leave him the hell alone. He was exhausted. It couldn’t be morning already, it couldn’t, he’d just laid down, he’d just..

“Sterling,” the voice said. It was familiar, commanding, impatient. But there was a touch of softness there that Sterling didn’t recognize. “You’re not supposed to be sleeping here. Get up.”

He squinted his eyes open, greeted by the gradually materializing visage of Julian Rose. Sterling couldn’t currently think of a worse way to wake up. The light was on in the room, stabbing into his eyes, provoking that dimming headache to start revving back to life again. He turned his face into the cushions, though despite his muffled and croaky voice, his words were clear.

“Fuck off.”

“Excuse me?” Julian squawked. 

“You heard me.”

“I ought to have you reported for work-code violations!” He could picture Julian crossing his arms and tapping his foot without seeing him. “You can’t sleep in the studio!”

“…contract,” Sterling mumbled.

“It may state in your contract that you can work extended hours,” Julian retorted, “but no one gave you any permission to stay here, you idiot.” 

Sterling forced himself up, knowing the nagging wouldn’t stop until he did, and he closed his eyes tight against a strange vertigo. It felt like his head was trailing a couple feet behind the rest of him, having to catch up. When he opened his eyes, Julian was making a face at him.

“You look awful.”

“Ya sure know how to make me blush.”

“No, really, Sterling.” Julian held his hands up as Sterling began to stand, hovering around him, and then ducking under his elbow when Sterling swayed a bit on his feet. Unfortunately, the size disparity did Julian no favors and he strained through the effort. “Sit back down!”

“Can’t,” he barked, and then lifted an elbow to cough into it. They were heavier now, deeper in his lungs. They scraped his throat like spines. “Call time..”

“Now you care about the call time?! When you’re standing on death’s door?”

Julian needled him all the way to the cage, steadying Sterling periodically until the pressure in his head finally neutralized and he got his feet under him properly. He was rifling through his locker for spare clothes, two minutes deep into a Julian Rant, when he lost his patience.

“Will you knock it off?” he rasped, his growling baritone made all the more intimidating by his sore throat. He shot Julian a withering glare, but the little guy didn’t buckle. “This ain’t nothin’, and I can take care of myself, dammit!”

“Yes, because you’re doing such a good job of it.”

“You - !”

Raising his voice had been a mistake, and he leaned forward into the crook of his arm, suffering through another coughing fit. They ached in his chest, which he knew wasn’t a great sign, but this how had him cornered. What was he supposed to do? There were no days off in this business, not when there was a live-to-broadcast network Christmas Special on the verge of complete breakdown. Julian knew that just as well as he did.

Catching his breath, he choked through the clencher. “The board’s set for manual. One cue for every switch.” Julian’s eyebrows rose at the news. Sterling went on, snatching a clean shirt and jeans from his locker before slamming it shut. “Ain’t nobody gonna learn the routine before the show. ‘Cept me.”

That wasn’t a bluff. Sterling had his faults, but script-cue memory wasn’t one of them. Most mixers preferred to run a timed track and operate maybe a dozen cues on the fly. But Sterling could do it by hand, independently. Every sound effect, every song, every transition chord, all the mics.. He could do them all, and he rarely needed more than one run to get it right. It’s why they hired him and kept hiring him. He was good at what he did. For a show this big, complicated and rushed, they wouldn’t hire anybody else for the job.

Julian said nothing for a moment, reaching up to take off his glasses and cleaning them with the edge of his shirt. “I don’t like it, but I suppose there’s no alternative.”

Sterling shrugged with a grunt, his tone the equivalent of no shit, Sherlock. But before he could skulk off to the executive bathrooms to have a boiling-hot shower, hopefully to steam off some of the gunk in his sinuses and throat, there’s a pair of $20 bills fluttering in his face. Julian’s arm is extended all the way up in the air, and he’s even on his tip-toes to get them up to Sterling’s eye-line. Sterling doesn’t take them, and instead slants Julian a dubious glance.

“… this supposed to be a tip?”

“Call it whatever you want,” Julian said, waving the bills annoyingly in Sterling’s face until he finally reached up and took them. “Just use it at the nearest pharmacy. I don’t care if you miss call-time this morning. You won’t survive rehearsal without medication.”

Sometimes, Julian reminded Sterling of a tiny, blonde, significantly more annoying version of Zydan. He could imagine his big brother saying and doing the same exact thing. Well, maybe not exactly. Instead of handing Sterling the money and expecting him back late, he’d haul Sterling over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and toss him in bed, then chain him to the mattress before smothering him mercilessly, nagging him all the while. If he was being honest, that all sounded pretty good right now. He could never actually relax unless he had responsibility forcibly taken from him and shelved out of his reach; Zydan always executed that feat flawlessly.

Pocketing the cash, Sterling said, “Thanks,” and he meant it. 

- -

Boy, did he mean it. Forty-five minutes later, he was at the nearest CVS, arms cradling a haul of items that ranged from cough drops to NyQuil (that vile but necessary poison), blinking slowly at the bobbing tresses of the woman in front of him in line. She was on the phone, her words indistinguishable from the tinny speaker music drifting through the pharmacy

Outside, it was snowing.

Would’ve been pretty, almost, if Sterling hadn’t wanted to collapse on the sidewalk and just let himself get buried in it. Of course the spare clothes he’d kept in his locker had been put there in early autumn, so he wasn’t really dressed for the weather. A gust of wind blew the flakes wild, a man having to hold down his hat as he walked by the window, and Sterling let his eyes sink closed.

Could the day get any worse?

Of course it could. He was Sterling Marxas – naturally his day could always get worse.

His nose twitched outside of his control, pricked by something ticklish inside. He felt himself make a sour face, flinching, before he took a halting breath. If one piece of him was the angriest about this cold, it had to be his nose. It had started running unstoppably on the way here, sending him staggering down the sidewalk with over a dozen sneezes brought on by inflammation, sensitivity, and cold air. But at least then he’d had his hands free.

Now he had nothing but an armful of useless symptom relievers. He squinted down at them, betrayed. Here he was holding the keys to his salvation, and yet they couldn’t do a damn thing to stop this catastrophe.

Well, maybe he could -.. “hhH-!” .. no-

“ – ht’dJISH’oo!”

He’d tried to minimize the worst of it, but with no free hands and people in front, behind, and to one side of him, he didn’t have much option in the way of cover. Which meant he ended up sneezing all over his purchases. Ugh, whatever, he was buying them anyway..


Oh, but he just couldn’t stop. They hurt his throat a little, and his nose was getting chapped something awful from all the rubbing, but the tickle was so deep, so stubbornly clinging to him, he just couldn’t part with it. It had hung around him like a haze the last few days, and now it had finally crystalized into a solid presence that wouldn’t let go. Reminded him of hair caught in a hairbrush. Gravel stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

“ – hd’DJZSH’OO!”

The relief from that one stuck around longer than the others, though if he breathed too deeply, Sterling knew he’d be able to fish up another. But now his nose was running... It was a catch-22 at this point; both decisions were bad ones. He stood in a hazed limbo for a few seconds before committing: he sniffled, liquidly, stuffily, deeply. And -

“ – hih-!.. d’JDZSH’OO!”

That shook him to his core, and various bottles toppled out of his arms. Pure disaster. Muttering hoarse apologies, sniffling more softly this time, Sterling stooped down to start gathering his crap off the floor. His face was burning so hot from the humiliation he could feel himself starting to sweat in his coat. Trying to keep everything in his arms while also reaching down for the rest was challenging for him, since he was clumsy with fatigue. 

His hand bumped someone else’s when reaching for the aspirin, and he jerked back. Sterling snapped his head up and was suddenly looking into the warm, kindling brown eyes of a lovely woman. It was the lady who had been in front of him in line.

“Couldn’t help but overhear..”

She was smiling at him, but none of this helped with the embarrassment. Sterling couldn’t muster smiles on a good day, let alone a bad one, but he made a concerted effort to appear less constipated. This woman had smooth, plush skin, thick dark hair, and a way about her that made Sterling think she might be in healthcare. That, and the scrubs under her coat gave her away. She had a name-tag pinned to her shirt: Veronica Hagin.

“That’s quite the cold you have,” she said, and Sterling bristled a little. He cleared his throat with a shrug, and her smile got softer. “Bless you, by the way.”

They got his stuff together, Sterling snuffling and thanking her for both the assistance and the blessing as they moved forward in line together. While he was firmly in Camp Ren Caville when it came to any romantic interest, he could still get a little flustered when pretty women were nice to him. It didn’t exactly happen every day.

“Tissues, steam, fluids, and rest,” she was saying as the cashier rung her up. She was buying what looked to be some snacks, instant coffee, and.. condoms. Sterling hurriedly darted his gaze to her when she looked back at him. “Rest, especially. And you’ll be good as new.”

It was a chance encounter, and her kind, confident demeanor buoyed up Sterling’s mood a little. Turns out she wasn’t the only one who wanted to spin him tales of home remedies either..

- -

He rolled back into the studio about an hour or so after he left. He’d tossed back a swig of DayQuil -- which made him gag in an alley for a few perilous moments -- and then chased that with an entire bottle of orange juice. Then he threw back some Mucinex for good measure, and by the time we walked through the doors in the rear soundstage, he was sucking on two cough drops. He could barely taste any of it (except for that damn DayQuil, which was 10x more palatable than the NyQuil he might end up taking tonight..), though the menthol was making his throat cold and itchy. Such a fucking annoying feeling.

Soon as he was in the joint, he was getting stares. First he thought there was something weird on his face, or maybe people were curious about why he was late. Seemed like even if he was an hour behind the actual prep-time, nobody was ready yet. Julian had probably told his team to set up without him, and that he’d be on the way-..

Oh. Fucking Julian. That loudmouth. He’d probably told everybody and the neighbor’s monkey just where Sterling had been this morning. His suspicions were confirmed not five minutes later when Layla -- the Production Designer and Julian’s wife -- cornered him in the hallway between the soundstages.

“Mr. Marxas,” she greeted, adjusting her glasses. She was taller than Julian (not a difficult thing to do), with a perpetually emotionless expression and a permanent lab coat. Why she always wore a lab coat, Sterling had no clue. He’d never asked, and had no plan to do so.

“Uh, hey,” he barked, sniffling thickly to try and clear his voice. “This about the boo’bs? Are they messi’g up the set?”

“... Boobs?” she asked, her tone as flat as her face. “Pardon?”

“Fuck’s sake,” Sterling huffed, sniffling even more powerfully. It didn’t help. Nothing was moving. That Mucinex he took had to be a dud. “Boo’bms. Boo’b mics. Long pole? Fischer?”

Here, he pantomimed completely unnecessarily and regretted it when a couple grips walked by, giving him a wonky look as he waved his arms around in the air.

“Oh, ah,” Layla said, uncrossing her arms to adjust her glasses again. “No, not about that. I was just curious.”

Sterling gave her a wonky look of his own, waiting for context. When she didn’t give any, he drawled, “.. okaaay?”

“Julian mentioned you have a cold.” She gestured to his general person, speculative. “It would appear so. You look very bedraggled today. More so than you usually are.”

That statement hung over him like a dark cloud, his shoulders bunching up. She had just as much tact as that little blonde gremlin did. “Has adybody told you that you guys are perfect for each other?”

“All the time, yes. That’s kind of you. Thank you.”

“Yeah.” Sterling began to edge around her, intent on getting back to his team to check on progress. “Well, if ya don’ deed be, I’b godda gehh..”

It punched him square in the face, the urge strong and heavy. He hovered an arm near his face as his eyelids weighted, his jaw dropped.. and then he stood there for a long moment stuck like that before anything actually happened. When it did come, it was laborious.

“.. hh’JZSHH’oo!”

Just the one, but he felt tired after. Even kinda of disoriented. Cupping a hand over his forehead to get his bearings, he jumped with a muttered curse when Layla suddenly materialized in front of him.

“Gesundheit,” she said, and then, “I wanted to offer you my great-grandmother’s home remedy.”

Sterling gave her a studying look, trying to sort out what she was referring to. She wasn’t holding anything. Maybe it was in her pocket. “.. You just carry it around with you?”

“Yes, at all times,” Layla said very seriously. 

The home remedy wasn’t in her pocket either. It was down her shirt. Sterling looked awkwardly away as she fished around in her blouse, wondering what the hell he was even still doing here. Why didn’t he run when he had the chance, dammit?!

“Here.” Something was pressed against his chest, and Sterling fumbled to catch it. In his hand now was a little plastic bag with very suspicious herbs in it. When he looked up at her, Layla gave him a nod. “Boil that and drink it.”

“What is this?”

“Lachnanthes Caroliniana.”

“.. Is this even legal?”

“It’s Redroot. It’s a perfectly legal plant to grow and has many medicinal uses.”

“Well, it looks like somethin’ else.”

“I don’t see how you can make such an assumption. It’s obviously Redroot.”

“You pulled it outta your bra!” Sterling insisted, his voice cracking. “That’s shady! What was I supposed to think?!”

He broke off coughing after that, his voice too battered to take speech at such a volume. Layla left him be, but pressed him with a meaningful look as he struggled to stop choking and catch his breath. Clearly the Redroot was supposed to help with this sort of thing, but there was no way Sterling wasn’t sure he trusted this stuff over the FDA approved medication he bought today.

It didn’t stop there either. Morty pounced him between takes and offered a Tupperware of mashed turnips. He wouldn’t leave until Sterling tried some either, so he was forced to hork down a few bites. It actually wasn’t so bad and it oiled his throat a bit, but he felt like a dingus sitting there spooning out of a Tupperware while he was on the job.

Minnie forced honey-lemon tea on him all day, and Harlow (the other boom operator), tried to strangle him with a dirty sock. Harlow claimed it was some kind of old folk remedy, but he was grinning so much about it that Sterling was absolutely sure the kid was blowing smoke up his ass.

The Mucinex kicked in about an hour into rehearsal and that made for complications during takes. Sterling had to do all the cues by hand, and most of the time he needed one hand on the cues and another on the levels. Which meant no hands for his nose, which had put him on full blast and was doing a Niagara falls impression. Eventually he had to just shove two tissues up his nose and sit in the booth wanting to disintegrate, but at least he could get his work done.

It was lunchtime before he realized he hadn’t showered in over 24 hours.

He managed to take care of that during the lunch hour, which made him feel both better and worse. The congestion and sinus pressure eased up, as did the shit in his lungs. But he felt shivery and exhausted afterward. He almost fell asleep twice standing up in there, under the scalding spray, and the damp state of his hair now wasn’t helping him warm up.

Afternoon blended to evening. Evening blended to night. He stopped drinking tea because it made him have to pee too much in the middle of the rehearsal runs. He kept a steady stream of medication flowing through his body, which dampened most of the symptoms. But then he also plied one of the PAs for a Five-Hour Energy once it hit the afternoon-nap hour since he was falling asleep at the wheel. 

It was their sixth full run and Sterling still hadn’t managed to land all of his cues correctly. He could hear the director complaining about it to Julian through his comm. It just made him want to try harder. He smashed two cups of coffee, which made him so jittery his hands shook, but he managed to stay completely alert and hit everything right the seventh time. He was constantly shrugging his jacket off and then back on, too distracted to really think about it when he started to shiver or sweat. He’d entered a state of pure drive; he couldn’t feel anything but the switches under his fingertips. He couldn’t hear anything but the voices in his ears.

They did an eighth run, the best yet, and after that, Julian said the magic words: “Crew, that’s a wrap. Get everything set to one for tomorrow. Sound, stay online. Director wants to run through the musical numbers one more time.”

That was fine. Sterling didn’t have to do a damn thing but sit here for that. He’d have to adjust the levels now and again, but he could do that in his sleep. Harlow and Minnie were already folding up their booms, everyone beyond the booth bustling around, moving like a well-oiled machine to tidy up for show day. Sterling watched them through the booth window, but he couldn’t hear them. All he could hear was Ren Caville.

He was talking to the director about the performance. He was the host of the show, which was perfect for him. Charming. Jovial. He put everybody at ease. Sterling closed his eyes as he listened to Ren’s smooth voice, still sounding flawless and silky even after how many times he’d sang and spoke tonight. Ren laughed, and it sent a warm comet streaking through Sterling’s stomach. He sighed the feeling away, laying his head down on his sound board, closing his eyes as he toyed with the levels.

Ren started to sing so beautifully, and after that, Sterling felt someone touching his shoulder. There was muffled noise too, faint and too garbled for him to make out. It was dark, and when Sterling blinked open his eyes, it was way too bright. Fuck that. He closed them again. Someone tugged at him, and Sterling felt the sensation of his headphones being removed.

Fallen asleep at his soundboard again, with his headphones still on. Typical. It was probably Minnie, since the hands were so gentle as they eased the headphones off his head and set them carefully aside. One of them rubbed up and down his back, and the comfort was nice. Minnie wasn’t normally so forward. He must really look a mess if she had gotten up the courage to do that much.

“Hey,” came the soft voice. And that wasn’t Minnie at all. It was a man. Sterling’s eyes fluttered open, and right in front of his face was Ren Caville’s face. His hand was on Sterling’s back. He was smiling. “Welcome back.”

For one wonderful second, Sterling thought he was dreaming. And then he realized this was actually happening. He sat up so quickly that he caught a cord, sent his headphones flying, and then toppled out of his chair. Ren grimaced through a laugh and stooped next to him, hands hovering. He was still in his wardrobe -- that incredibly sexy three-piece suit with the red accents -- his dress shoes gleaming and his hair just starting to fall out of its styled hold. His tie was loose and his top two buttons were undone. His jacket was off, leaving him in just the waistcoat and dress shirt, with his slacks.

It had a paralyzing effect on Sterling, who just sat there on his ass and stared, incapable of any other thoughts besides: ABORT and I want to touch his hair.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” Ren said, still all smiles. He was so chipper and even though Sterling could see the faint touches of fatigue on his face, they’d just done a 16-hour day and the guy was spry as he was that morning. “Are you hurt?”

Are you real??, Sterling’s brain screeched. How can this be happening, fuck me with a pogo-stick I gotta get outta here.

He could only imagined how he looked. Sterling hadn’t seen a mirror in hours, but last he’d seen, he’d been just on the shy side of ‘probably not dead.’ After chugging coffee and blowing his nose and coughing his lungs out and sleeping at a weird angle, he had to look just about as bad a guy could look. Meanwhile, Ren could walk onto a photo shoot for VOGUE right now and get slapped on next issue’s cover.

.. Aaaand they were still just sitting here, Ren’s smile gradually beginning to fade as they simply stared at one another. It was getting awkward fast, with both of them on the ground with a question hanging in the air. Sterling couldn’t even remember what Ren had asked.

TALK, screamed Sterling’s brain. RUN. So his mouth said: “You have a great voice.”

Neither of them expected him to say that, and Sterling snapped his mouth shut while Ren’s eyes went a little wide. He huffed a breath of laughter, reaching up to rub the back of his neck, where his hairline was.

“It’s not that great,” he insisted, which was Ren all over. Extremely talented, but too humble and bashful to believe it himself. “Glad you like it though..”

“It’d suck if I didn’t. I gotta listen to it all night.”

Sterling bit his tongue after that one, feeling himself burn under his collar. He didn’t seem to have a lot of control over himself right now. It might’ve had something to do with how foggy-headed he was feeling. But Ren laughed, one of those deep, strong, real laughs that Sterling didn’t hear too often, and he was smiling warmly again afterward. It’s like his eyes were sparkling. Sterling couldn’t stop staring into them.

“Guess so,” Ren was saying, but then Sterling felt the touch of something sinister start up in his sinuses. Between one breath and the next, a dangling thread of irritation wove itself deep in his nose, quivering when he breathed. He swallowed.

“You did really great too,” Ren continued. “Somebody said you were doing all the cues by hand?”

Sterling began to stand, Ren following his lead shortly after. Though Sterling had to anchor a hand against his chair and move slow, his head feeling unnaturally detached from him. His balance was terrible. Probably from sitting down for so long. He tried not to make it too obvious, and Ren didn’t seem to notice, still looking at him expectantly for an answer. 

“Uh, yeah,” Sterling shrugged, blinking a few times in quicker succession when he felt the tickle lurch. He could feel himself listing into a pre-sneeze haze. His eyes were fighting to narrow, his lips unconsciously parting as he ran his tongue over the bottom one. “Thanks.”

He started for the door, caught in a miasma of exhaustion and confusion. How long had he been asleep? Was everybody gone? .. Was this moment with Ren even real life? He could see out the booth window that people were still packing up, sound moving with them now. So he’d been asleep for maybe fifteen minutes or something. Sterling lingered in the doorway, trying to concoct a handy excuse to exit this conversation before he fucked it up, but he couldn’t think of anything.

Ren paused beside him, then cocked his head, reaching to tousle his hair so his bangs fell more naturally against the left side of his face. “You’re looking kind of spacey. You feeling okay?”

“Yhh..Yeah, ‘m fine.”

It was embarrassing enough that Ren knew he wasn’t feeling well, but even worse that he couldn’t get a handle on his sneeze. His eyes were glassy, his entire expression wreathed in irritation. He was unconscious of it, but his nostrils were impatiently flaring occasionally. This did nothing for his cover. Neither did the raw state of his voice. They didn’t talk much, but even Ren could probably recognize that his throat was sore. And they were back to the staring thing again, Ren watching with that lopsided smile, almost sympathetic.

“.. you sure?”

Sterling nodded his head, but his eyes were already closing, jaw dropping, nostrils pulsing wide and holding, every inch of him tensed and ready for something he just couldn’t fight. It was overwhelming him. He almost forgot to turn away or cover his mouth, but he remembered just in time to swivel and tuck his face into his elbow.

“.. hd’FFFSSSHH!!”

It was the most unfortunate sneeze he’d ever experienced. All signs had pointed to a clean break, but from out of left field came.. well, what felt like half his brain matter. Ren made a noise that sounded like, “ooh..” which could have been anything between disgust or awe. Sterling hoped it was neither. The worst news of all was that the tickle wasn’t gone, and he felt it spear him a second time. He took in a big breath -

“.. hHH-?..iH’DZSSH’OO!”

Slightly less messy, but only slightly. That at least cleared him up for the moment, though he was winded. Even more exhausted then before. And he wanted to melt into the floor and slither into the sewers. Closing his eyes tight, Sterling tried to get his head to stop lightly spinning. Fuck.. 

“Ren! There you are.”

Surprised and still disoriented, Sterling did the dumbest thing of the night; he picked his head up from his arm. And what do you know, there was the star Californian actress Stella, click-clacking on heels toward them, her pine-green velvet dress swooping at her legs. She visibly recoiled when she saw Sterling, though her expression remained polite. Quick as a flash, Sterling slapped a hand over his nose and mouth, burning with shame.

“They want you out of wardrobe,” she said demurely, offering a hand to take. Her eyes flicked to Sterling, who was doing his best to melt into the wall. Ren was looking between them both. “The assistants are busy, so I thought I would come track you down myself~..”

“I’ll be there in a second,” Ren assured, hands in his pockets. Though one flashed out to flatten against Sterling’s back when the larger man swayed a little. His eyebrows creased, and he leaned closer to Sterling. Despite the fact Sterling was stained with snot and hiding a fucking mess behind his hand. “Hey, maybe - ”

“Ren,” Stella said again. This time her expression was gentle, almost apologetic. “I’m sorry, but they need you now. We still have those alterations to the second act costumes they need to test too..”

With a soft sigh, Ren acquiesced. His hand slipped away from Sterling’s back -- and all the touching going on was sending alarm bells off in Sterling’s head, alerting him to figure out what the hell those backrubs were for -- and he headed toward Stella. Sterling was almost grateful to her for saving him, until he heard her mutter, “Seriously, Ren? That guy’s sick as a dog. You can’t afford to catch anything right now.” And then more quietly, “What were you doing with one of the crew anyway?”

Sterling didn’t know what Ren said in return because he speed-walked back into his booth, shut the door, and proceeded to try and forget any of that even happened. He cleaned himself up, packed his things, reset the board to the start of the show, and sat down for a minute to catch his breath. He forced the feeling of Ren’s warm hand against his back out of his mind. He wiped Stella’s words out of his head.

Sterling was one of the last to leave the building, through the back door, and he told himself, None of it meant anything.


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Awwwwwww soooooo cuuuuute :wub: I hope Ren is as caring as I think he will be.  Poor sick Sterling... you cutie... 

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Awwww! Poor sweet dear!

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I love Sterling I think he's a really funny realistic character!!! I can't wait to see your next update. :)

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*swoops in days late* 


I already flailed to you on other mediums about this, but I will never ever get tired of praising your work, so I have to do it all over again here. 

This is just the most wonderful thing. Ever. EVER EVER EVER. You know, I did start quoting all my favourite parts, but there are SO MANY. I just can't do it xD we'll be here all night, for real. Just know that I love every single word you wrote from the bottom of my heart. 

Sterling is, and has always been, my precious little babe. I love him so, so much, and have done since I was first introduced to him 18 months ago. And my love for him has never faded. In fact, it just gets stronger the more I read of him >w<

You already know that nothing makes me happier than Sterling getting all the love and care that he deserves, so I am SO EXCITED to see what happens, omgh. Ren had better start taking damn good care of him soon, otherwise we shall need to have words :lol:

I can never emphasise enough how much I love your writing. Your world-building skills are just out of this world. I always become so immersed whenever I read your writing, and this is no exception. I absolutely love this arc you've created; it feels like a whole new look at all of our characters in lights I've never seen them in before, and it's si exciting to see them all this way x33 

AND YOU WRITE ALL OF MY CHARACTERS SO WELL xD. The Ren you're portraying here is just perfect, Stella is an absolute cow (I mean.. she sort of is anyway so it's great xDD), I know we haven't seen much of Rocco yet but his character fits so well for the plot you've developed for him, AND YOU EVEN INCLUDED RONNIE QWQ I loved the little Ronnie and Sterling moment in the pharmacy <3 (and the inside joke with the subtle hint of Jed in there >w>). UGH, you write my characters just as well - if not better xD - than I do! And I love it each time you write more of them QwQ. 

Seriously, I loved this update. The plot, the development (the snez >w>!!!!) It's all just wonderful. I really hope Sterling gets all the love because my heart cannot take much more of this. The poor bean just needs a hug. 

Thank you so, so much for writing this for me :heart: It really shows just how much effort you put into it, and I am so lucky to have you as a friend and a writing buddy. I honestly cannot thank you enough. I love you~!! 


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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...
  • 4 weeks later...

. . . . . . . . . .  erm -


Image result for it's been 84 years gif

PUUUUUUDSSSSSS. Oh wow, this is a slow burn sort of fic, huh? I'm sorry it's taking me so long to finish it :lol: But we write together daily, so usually I don't have a lot of time to devote to this story in particular >w>.. But I'm determined to finish it! It's not done yet, but we're close. I wrote a bit more of your sons than I have before, and please do slap me upside the head if I got them wrong LOL. I get so nervous writing your precious characters because you've crafted them so carefully -- I never want to ruin them. But you always write Sterling with so much accuracy and affection when you feature him in your stories, so I only wish I can do the same with your boys :heart:.. Thank you so much for your praise on past installments QwQ.. I'm honestly just so pleased you are enjoying this!! You deserve the very best, so it makes me really happy you like it >w<!! As always, I love you lots @PuddinPop and am so glad to have you in my life~ You're my best friend and I enjoy every moment we spend together~ I hope you enjoy this next installment!

@starpollen - Thank you! I'm so so SO glad you're enjoying it >w<! And yes, don't worry, Ren is an absolute doll so Sterling will be in good hands once he like, stops his nonsense LOL

@AngelEyes - Hahaha! Sterling thanks you for your sympathy :laugh:

@Bisexualien1996 - I'm so glad you like him!! Thank you for reading and following the story!

@caramelfuzz - Ahahaha! Thank you so much :heart:! I'm seriously so happy you like my dorky, ridiculous son x'D

@aaylasecura - AHHH thank you!! QwQ~!

@Alex Hemmings - There is no higher compliment, THANK YOU SO MUCH ALEX!!! :hug:

@Feo - Thank you for your sweet comments, Feo!! >w<

WARNINGS: Swearing, general angst/pity-parties, some mess (not descriptive), mentions of nausea/vomiting (but not described in detail, mentioned in passing).

The Show Must Go Wrong, pt 4


Today was the day – Show Day – and Sterling felt like death warmed over.

He looked it too. He’d spent all last night tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable. His bed was too soft, then too hard. The sheets were too constricting, then letting in too much chill. His head throbbed with hot magma while his feet felt like they’d been coated with ice. He whittled the hours away watching the clock, calculating how much time he had before he needed to get up, how many hours he’d get if he fell asleep right now, and how the hell he was going to keep himself functioning tomorrow if he didn’t.

Between those moments of hopelessness, he thought of Ren. How warm his hands had been. The gentle sensation of his smile piercing straight through Sterling every damn time he did it.

Around two in the morning he got desperate and dragged himself out of bed for the NyQuil: Green Death flavor. He despised it. His stomach did too because he kept it down just long enough to shuffle back under the sheets before he’d flung them off and bolted for the bathroom instead. He lost the NyQuil, along with the microwaved soup he’d had for dinner. Then he collapsed into bed feeling even worse than he had felt before the endeavor. He’d caught sight of himself in the mirror on the way out of the bathroom and swore he’d never looked so colorless and exhausted.

He was still half-awake when his alarm went off and really, he didn’t fucking remember how he got from his apartment to the studio. He was sure there had been a subway ride, maybe an Uber, who knew. Whatever the method, he made it. He was here. Barely.

Singlehandedly, Sterling had polarized the entire crew. As soon as he stumbled in this morning right at call-time, during the height of whirling activity, he’d set a schism in motion. Within the first hour of his arrival, the studio split into two camps.

One side, the more sensible side, were the people who avoided him like he had the plague. Wouldn’t surprise him if he did have it. He couldn’t remember feeling this sick in his life. As he staggered around the studio, sneezing and coughing and groaning, he sent at least a dozen people scattering every time. There were smaller factions of this group – those who sent him looks of sympathy as they retreated, and those who dared him with disapproving sneers to explain why he’d come here to infect the rest of them just before Christmas. Sterling didn’t notice who was who and couldn’t bring himself to care.

The other side was a much smaller group, and it consisted of a handful of people who were fussing over him. Needlessly. He felt horrible, but he wasn’t dying or anything. Of course, that didn’t stop them.

“Oh, Sterling, you’re burning.

Morty’s hands were blissfully cool against Sterling’s cheeks, jaw, and neck. He used both his palms, then the even colder backs of his fingers against Sterling’s flushed skin, his perfect eyebrows drawn down in concern. Gone was his aloof, teasing banter, replaced instead by very real worry. It embarrassed Sterling to have him fretting, but it embarrassed him more that Morty had somehow become the leader of a whole squad of fretting people.

“..aid’t thad bad,” he mumbled, his voice a ragged, chewed-up impression of what it used to be.

He was sitting back in the sound booth, huddled up in sweatpants, sneakers, and a worn-in REO Speedwagon hoodie – the sleeves of which were already a little stained from nose-wiping. He had his hands curled into the cuffs, tucked beneath his arms, tight to his body as he shuddered. Somebody else had put a blanket over his shoulders, though he had no idea where they’d found it. Hell, maybe it was a prop from Prod. Design.

Around him was his tiny crowd of gawkers, Morty sitting in another chair across from him, staring at him with those bright eyes, looking very serious. It cowed Sterling a little and he lowered his gaze, sniffling thickly against that persistent tickling in his nose. His sinuses burned with it, ached with it, seeming just as tired as Sterling was of this whole ordeal. His body wanted these germs out of him; so did he.

“It is that bad,” Morty said gently, and while his hands didn’t move from where they now rested on his lap, Sterling felt the cold touch of someone else. He turned toward it, his eyes aching as he flicked them up and to the side. Minnie shyly drew her hand away, but her gaze was steady on him.

“You’re.. like really, really warm, Sterling,” she said, corroborating. He must have given her an annoyed look because she suddenly puffed up, more determined than he’d ever seen her. “I told you that you were getting sick! I told you! And now it’s, like, it’s way worse!”

“We said to take it easy,” Harlow said from his place beside Minnie, arms crossed in solidarity. Sterling gave him an even darker glare, but he just didn’t have the energy to argue. Yeah, he’d been foolhardy and pushed himself too much. He was dealing with the consequences.

“I don’d see what this has to do with adybody,” Sterling croaked, reaching up to gingerly snub his nose with his sleeve. The skin there was so sore, he had to be careful when rubbing. “I’b dot gudda fuck up the show - ”

“Screw the show,” Harlow sighed, a hand pressing to his forehead in exasperation. “We’re worried about you.”

Yeah, Sterling figured that much. But having it said aloud was more than he could stomach. Just so awkward. Luckily, his cold took pity on him and he had to lean forward, both sleeve-cuffs to his mouth, to cough. It was deep and barky, and only a handful of them pricked tears in his eyes. Fuck, this was miserable. He’d really gone and caught something this time. Like all those years of an impenetrable immune system had been leading up to this one moment so his antibodies could go on extended vacation. Or retire. Who the hell knew at this point; he felt like ass and had no hope for a better future.

Heaving a long, slow sigh through his nose, Morty passed along another handkerchief, still on the spectrum of purple hues, for Sterling to use. It would save his sleeves some grief. He took it with a croaky squeak of thanks, finishing up his hacking and coughing into the fabric and wiping his mouth afterward. He was beyond the point of caring how disgusting he was. Everything hurt, he was exhausted, and the only reason he was out of bed right now was to get this damn show done.

The show must go on. And all that jazz.

People were depending on him. Everyone here in this room. Sterling’s tired, blurry gaze drifted to the window out to the set, where big handfuls of people were bustling about. Julian had his comm on, barking orders into his mic, waving people here and there. The director and lead camera op were standing by the camera line, going over the blocking and list of switches one more time. The switcher herself was testing the board with the recording manager and the line producer in the booth across the way.

Lighting technicians rode the scissor lift up and down, stringing last minute diffusion on the spotlights. Grips lassoed cables like they were doing a rodeo show, and PAs juggled trays of coffee. Squinting, Sterling could make out the gleaming, glittering vest adorning Ren’s chest. They’d made a last minute change to his wardrobe, and decked him out in a scarlet-red suit that caught the light like diamonds. Rocco, dressed in green, was straightening his bowtie as they both talked together.

The air was electric. If Sterling did this for anybody, it would be for them. There was only one person in the world who could run the cues tonight. If he didn’t do it, who would? With the flats of his sneakers, Sterling jerked himself forward and rolled on his chair straight up to his sound board. He flicked the switch, and it lit up like a Christmas tree. The familiar feeling of levelers beneath his fingers steadied him. The thrum of the machine as it warmed to his touch, coming alive beneath his hands, sunk in past the ache in his head, the sting in his throat, the itch in his sinuses.

He was the Sound Guy. He was Sterling fucking Marxas.

Shaking out his wrists, he queued up one special level in particular. It was linked to what he liked to call a ‘Hype Track’ that he’d made weeks before the show. Every time before a show, he’d throw on some classic songs to get everyone excited for the live show. He lived for their smiles, for the energy that exuded from everybody in the room.

He cranked the dial. The speakers exploded with sound.

Outside on the floor, people perked up, grinning up at the ceiling from which the music flooded. As Sterling watched from the window of his booth, Rocco threw an arm around Ren’s shoulders and they started to sing about as goofily as they could manage. Soon Rocco was strumming air guitar, Ren singing into mic stand without a mic attached, both of them bandstanding, laughing all the while. Several others had stopped to clap along. People danced. Somebody broke out surprise Santa hats and reindeer antlers for the floor crew to wear. Despite all the misery he was in, Sterling quirked a soft smile to himself.

Harlow, Minnie, and Morty were still watching him, but they straightened when he spoke up. He toyed with his levelers to avoid looking at them, as if he still had a few more adjustments to make.

“Mbiddie,” he said, voice still hopelessly heavy with congestion. “Grab mbe some’b tea a’d tissues.”

He didn’t need to say more. Minnie flew out of the room like she had hell on her heels. Harlow’s arms dropped from his chest as Sterling told him to get his ass on the floor and lav up the actors so he could start finalizing levels. Morty lingered just behind him, and Sterling shivered when he felt the man’s hand slide and slot at the fiery skin at the back of his neck. His head felt like molten lava and the rest of him like freezing slush.

“Are you sure about this?”

“It’s a cold,” Sterling scoffed, and then ducked his head to cough a couple times toward his chest. “It’s one show. I’ll live.”

Whether or not Morty was convinced, Sterling didn’t give two shits. He wasn’t quite convinced himself. But he’d finish this show or die trying. Snorting through his congestion, that ever-present tickle in his nose lazily built toward detonation. They’d gotten more laborious as the days went on and his cold settled in. They took more effort to get out, and Sterling grew more and more helpless to their whims. Blinking blearily, he huffed through a notably audible build-up.

“..huh...” He shook his sleeve over his hand and hovered the fabric just over his nose and mouth. “..uh...DZZSCH’oo!”

“Bless you,” Morty said, rubbing the back of his neck. It felt good, so Sterling let him. If he kept his eyes closed, he could almost imagine it was Ren doing it.

Turns out he couldn’t open his eyes even if he’d wanted to. That tickle hadn’t gone yet. The relief from the first turned sour in his sinuses, and Sterling felt the prickle of another on its heels. His lips stayed parted to breathe, and he dropped his hand to his lap, tipping his head back as his nostrils fitfully flared and relaxed. If Morty wanted to stand here and watch, he could. Sterling really just didn’t care. He was sick, he had to sneeze, and if he was going to get through the day then he couldn’t spare the energy to worry about his appearance anymore.

It took so long. Sterling’s breath kept jumping with the anticipation of the sneeze coming, but it just wouldn’t. He’d get right to the brink, and then it would dip away from him, crest again, he’d gasp, and then it would dip again. Like some kind of sneeze rollercoaster. When it finally did come, he practically shouted it.

“..HIH-!.. HA’JZZZCHHOO!!..uuughhnnnnn..”

The moan was dredged up from the pit of his stomach, born of utter misery. He cupped Morty’s handkerchief over his nose, blowing liberally, as loud as he wanted. Sometime during the sneeze-limbo, Morty had left the room and Minnie had apparently left him his tea and tissues. They were sitting off the side, steam still wafting from the cup. Lurking a look around the booth and determining he really was alone, Sterling stuffily sniffled his way through a few sips of the tea before sinking into his chair. He slipped on his headphones, flipped to the appropriate comm channel, cleared his throat.

“Sound booth o’d standby.”

“Blow your nose,” came Julian’s tinny, radioed reply.

Sterling did, and just because he was really cranky, he did it loudly with the comm still online. Smug satisfaction outweighed embarrassment when a number of complaints rose over the channel, a few of the camera guys yelling that he was disgusting, some mixed laughter from boom crew and the band, Julian insisting that he mute himself next time and he better not dare try that during the show. Somebody remarked that he better not infect the rest of the crew with that plague today, and Sterling snorted.

“Yeah, you’ll be lucky if I stand up once all show,” he rasped, closing his eyes and flipping his comm to mute as he felt another cough bubble up in his chest.

Yanking another tissue from the box, he kept it to his mouth as he managed to bring something up. So fucking gross.. Tossing it, he keep the volume up on the channel so he can keep track of all Julian’s orders, but he’s got no plans to go out on the floor. Miserable as he is, with a fever like this, being up on his feet just makes him woozy. Not to mention he really doesn’t want to infect anybody else.

Besides the tea and tissues Minnie brought him, Sterling still has his arsenal from yesterday. Blearily, like he didn’t have the strength for it, he turned his head to stare at his knapsack. They were all in there, waiting for him: pain relief, cough medicine, decongestant -- all non-drowsy. Too bad he wasn’t going to take any.

This was because of Sterling’s secret weapon: the Ultimate Brew. It was what he called his own personal coffee mix, which he only ingested on special occasions. He knew for sure that ingesting a bunch of caffeine while also chugging cold medicine was a bad plan. You weren’t supposed to do it. And while Sterling was an idiot, he wasn’t an idiot. He needed caffeine more than he needed over-the-counter symptom relief. Yesterday had proved he couldn’t make it through the show without it.

He dug his heated thermos out of his bag, exerting willpower to ignore the boxes of medication as he located the warm metal. He’d muddled his way through preparing it this morning, resisting the urge to drink some then and there. He only had one thermos worth. He had to make it count, and use it only when necessary. Because the crash was absolute hell, even when he was healthy. He’d have to time it right so that when he came off this shit, he was already in bed.

Bottoms up, he thought grimly, and gulped down a scorching liter’s worth.

For those in the know, Sterling’s Ultimate Brew was black as tar, tasted like burnt rubber, could melt through paper plates, and contained within it the energy to power a nuclear reactor for approximately twenty minutes (in Sterling’s estimation).

Half an hour after ingesting half his thermos, Sterling had entered a new plane of existence.

He could hear everything, see everything, he was three steps ahead of everybody else and could flip his switches without even thinking about it. He ran through the whole show just for practice, zipping through the levels, flipping switches, whirling dials, all 131 sound effects, 12 lavs, 6 original songs, 3 boom mics, all balanced perfectly under his fingers. At top speed, he hit them all flawlessly in four minutes and seventeen seconds. He’d shrugged off his blanket, off his hoodie, now sweating feverishly through his shirt, now standing on his feet, hunched over his board. His hands were shaking terribly, which wasn’t usual for him. He drank enough caffeine that this usually didn’t happen, but today he was prepared. He had a pair of weighted, tight, fingerless gloves that extended up past his wrists to help keep down the shakes. This wasn’t his first show with the Ultimate Brew in his system. He’d learned back in ’14 that he couldn’t drink that stuff without some kind of strategy to steady his fingers.

Besides the shakes, the only other problem was his nose. The pain was mostly dulled if he didn’t think about it, but his senses were all on high alert. The urge to sneeze was omnipresent, and damn, they felt amazing when he let them go. It tickled so much every time, and when a sneeze finally rushed through him, Sterling shook from the effort. His throat burned, his head throbbed, but shit, it felt great. Another was creeping over him now, so potent his nose was twitching, hands braced on his sound board, head hanging between his shoulders as he stood perfectly still and let it inch closer and closer to the brink.

His nostrils pulsed in warning, rubbed red and wise to the tickle torturing the sensitive nerves inside, deep where Sterling couldn’t reach. He caught a shrill breath, and then groaned on the exhale, totally absorbed.

This was how Rocco found him when he peeked into the sound booth. Sterling’s jaw worked soundlessly, his lungs fit to bursting with breath, until it finally, finally came-..


They were getting bigger. Sterling threw his head down, sneezing liberally with no care for what he was catching in the crossfire. This was his booth. He’d be as gross as he wanted. Shuddering in the pleasant aftermath, Sterling snorted back the excess. His nose was so sore from all the rubbing the last three days, he couldn’t bear to touch it if he could avoid it. Instead, he just lightly dabbed with a tissue, clearing his throat, coughing a bit, before Rocco finally knocked belatedly at the door.

Sterling’s gaze snapped to him, and he couldn’t summon anything but an expectant, hyper energy at the sight of him. His anxiety had evaporated, probably sweated out of his pores at some point this morning. It did help that his thoughts felt like clouds far, far above the realm of his actual head. He wasn’t dizzy, but there was a distinct disconnect between him and his brain.

“Yeah, what’s up?” he barked, his voice like the scrape of a net dredging the bottom of the sea.

To his surprise, Ren popped out from behind Rocco. Somewhere, buried under all the pain and exhaustion and caffeine, Sterling’s guts exploded into butterflies. But they all quickly burned up in the acid of the Ultimate Brew. It was a strange sensation. Boy, he was glad he was the only one privy to his own thoughts. They were weird at the best of times, and damn near incomprehensible when he was in this state.

“Bless you!” chirped Ren, dazzling in his suit. His hair was slicked back, tousled into classy but playful look. Rocco looked quite dapper himself, though he’d always been more low-key and quiet compared to his best friend. Sterling had seen the guy smoking cigarettes out behind the stage sometimes, distant and contemplative.

“Yeah,” he half-laughed, half-coughed into his shoulder. He looked into Ren’s sparkling eyes. “Bless m’be.”

“Our mics were acting up,” Rocco said suddenly into the silence, and reluctantly, Sterling tore his gaze from Ren to look at him instead. “We just wanted to get the pro to check them.”

Strange. Sterling hadn’t lavved them up himself so he hadn’t seen the handiwork. Minnie and Harlow were usually pretty good; he’d taught them himself. But if there was an issue, there was an issue, and Sterling would see to it. Every motion felt like another step through a dream at hyperspeed, and he blinked hard to steady his vision when it swum. Sometimes that sort of thing happened when he drank the Ultimate Brew. It annoyed him more than concerned him.

“Well, that’s no good,” he said, stripping off his gloves. He reached over to the pump of hand sanitizer Julian had strategically placed in here yesterday and applied it liberally to his hands. Then motioned the boys over with a wave. “Lemme take a look.”

He did Rocco first because he was within reach. Usually he was very cautious about touching people, being sure to communicate everything he was doing in a quiet voice, handling his subject as little as possible, taking great care to keep his fingers away from their body as much as he could manage. But he was tired and clumsy today, currently sweating through a fever, not quite himself, and took no such qualm with handling Rocco however he liked.

Taking him by the shoulders, Sterling spun Rocco around and immediately leaned in to follow the line of the mic to the receiver. Looked like Minnie or Harlow had strung it from the side of Rocco’s collar, down under his jacket, and out the back to where the receiver was clipped to his pants. Standard stuff. He eased open Rocco’s collar to squint at the mic itself.

“Whad kinda problems is it - whoa, hey, hands off, cowboy.”

He didn’t even think about it, angling a foot behind him to nudge Ren in the ass, away from his sound booth. Ren leaped like a startled cat, squeaking as one hand flew to his butt, eyes wide and cheeks faintly pink beneath the foundation Morty had caked him with. Sterling slanted him a sly smile.

“I’ve bee’d sdeezi’g all over it,” he said by way of explanation. “Trust m’be, you don’d want this.”

“Sooo, if you weren’t sick,” Ren wheedled, still keeping his butt angled away from Sterling as he chanced a slight grin in return. “.. then I could touch it?”

“With supervision.”

“I’m not going to break it.”

“I ain’d so sure,” Sterling said, spinning Rocco to the side and smoothing his hand up the back of his jacket to find the wire, “Apparently you guys broke your mics just d’ow.”

Ren pursed his lips at that, shooting a glance to Rocco who just shrugged, giving him a helpless, what do you want from me?? look in return. Sterling considered that a concession of victory. It occurred to him that this was more than he and Ren usually spoke to one another, and definitely not the usual vibe of Sterling stammering and running away afterward. They were actually holding a conversation. The thought sat comfortably in his head for a few moments before it was swept away by another wave of fever-heat and caffeine induced restless. He swayed just slightly, blinking away another blur in his eyes.

“You look.. pretty sick,” Rocco offered, tentative as Sterling fiddled with his mic. “Are you feverish?”

“Could be,” Sterling dodged. Even without touching him, he was sure Rocco and Ren could tell. He was actively sweating, not to mention his body was throwing heat like a furnace. His nose swelled with something feathery, and Sterling clenched a hand on Rocco’s shoulder as he swiveled, muffling it into the crook of his arm. “.. hh’DJJSZZ’hoo!”

He’d sort of been holding it back, reluctant to let it go full blast with actors here. There was another in there itching to get out, but Sterling swallowed and kept it back. Reaching for a tissue, he pinned it to his nose and blew one handed, letting Rocco go and giving him a gentle nudge out of his space. He hadn’t found any hardware issues with the lav, but he’d check Ren’s too, then test them on the board. He wrinkled his stinging nose, the pain warding away some of the worst of the sneeze at bay. Shit, he needed some lotion or something.

Chucking the tissue and applying another pump of hand sanitizer, he turned just in time to find Ren reaching to push up a carefully placed slider on the sound board. He held him back with the span of one big, warm hand on Ren’s chest.

“Oy, what’d I say?” he grunted, not even mad.

Usually he was pretty territorial about his board -- especially when it had all the fucking cues loaded by hand -- but Ren was... Ren, and Sterling would let him do just about anything without consequence. Ren could set his sound board on fire and Sterling would probably sob in a puddle of despair for a while, but he’d forgive the guy in a heartbeat, no questions asked. Still, Ren gave him a little naughty-puppy-been-caught expression and Sterling hooked another roguish smile.

Rather than open his mouth and spew more nonsense (as some faint part of him was still aware of what he was doing), Sterling got on with the inspection. Much like he had Rocco, he hauled Ren over without any preamble and got up in his space. Their bodies were brushing against one another as Sterling followed the trail of the mic. Ren’s was more complicated, as he had wardrobe changes. Unlike Rocco’s, Ren’s was under his deepest layers of clothes, taped to his skin.

On a normal day, Sterling wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole. Today was not a normal day.

Sterling unhitched a few of Ren’s buttons and parted his vest, then paused. He met Ren’s eyes, lifting a single brow, then nodded toward the open collar of Ren’s shirt. When Ren gave him a slight smile and a careless one-shoulder shrug, Sterling went for it. He fished his hand down the front of Ren’s shirt. As his fingers brushed warm skin, Ren’s breath caught.

Sterling knew Morty, and even though he was sick as a dog, Morty would still give him an earful if he yanked Ren’s shirt out of his pants and fished up the back. All actors had their wardrobe in perfect, purposeful place. He couldn’t disrupt that. Rocco was standing off to the side, watching with an expression Sterling couldn’t parse. If he had to pick a word for it, he’d say Rocco looked amused.

“Yeah, sorry,” Sterling grumbled, sliding his hand over Ren’s waist, arm deep in his shirt now. “It’s easier than dressin’ ya down at this point. Lemme know if you’re uncomfortable.”

“No, no,” Ren said, a bit breathy and staring straight at Sterling’s chest. “D-Don’t mind at all..”

They were very close now. You’re touching Ren’s waist! the sliver of his lucidity screeched. Your skin is on his skin! He’s so soft!

Who cares, replied the much larger percentage of Sterling’s feverish caffeine haze. My head hurts. I wish the show would start. What time is it? I wonder how long it’ll take me to drive to Zydan’s tonight. Shit, I need to pack.

“Your heart’s beating really fast,” said Ren, quietly and very, very close by. Sterling looked down, realizing he’d gotten his arm all the way around Ren’s back, unconsciously checking the connection of the wire to the receiver. They were basically hugging.

Because Sterling was out of his mind, he said, “It’s cause I drank a metric ton of caffeine, don’t flatter yourself,” and immediately regretted it. That was a rude thing to say to his crush, wasn’t it? Shit.

Ren sputtered, at a complete loss for words, before spitting out, “I-I wasn’t! I just wanted to make sure you’re okay, jeez!”

“I was jokin’,” Sterling rushed to correct. “Not about the caffeine, but about the thing with my heart. It does beat fast when you’re around. Like, normally.”

.... That was EVEN WORSE. Sterling rolled his eyes skyward, and then wished he hadn’t because they ached as much as his head did. Ren was still staring at him, he could feel it, but he refused to look down. They were still chest to chest as he finished up with the mic, and Rocco made a snorting noise that could have meant anything. Before things could get worse, Sterling sniffled deeply to keep his nose from running, yanked his arm back out of Ren’s shirt, and then gave him a hearty pat on the shoulder.

“Both mics are in order, I’ll test out the levels when ya leave, okay, off ya go, bye.”

“Waaaait a minute,” Ren was saying, fumbling with his buttons, looking between them and Sterling. “Let’s go back to that thing - ”

“Oh, phone’s ringin’, I gotta take this,” Sterling said suddenly, picking up his cell phone. Or at least he thought he did. It turned out he’d picked up an AC battery pack for one of his mics, but he lifted it to his head anyway because he literally didn’t know what else to do. “Hello?”

“That’s not a phone,” Ren pointed out. “Are you, like, okay right now?”

“No,” Sterling replied, still holding the battery pack like a phone. “Just go.”

“This is painful to watch,” Rocco said to no one in particular.

“What are you two doing?!” Julian snapped from the doorway. Sterling sunk into his chair, never so happy to see the little blonde menace in his life. Ren and Rocco jumped and turned guiltily toward him. “Get to the Green room! You’re holding up the schedule!”

“Our mics were broken,” Rocco defended, hands up as he was shooed out by Julian. Ren followed suit, kept casting glances back to Sterling. But Sterling had put his headphones back on and was looking busy at the sound board, even if he couldn’t hope to concentrate on any of it.

Well, at least this settled one thing: Sterling would have to quit his job and move to another country when this was over, because he could never look Ren in the eye again.

- -

Sterling couldn’t tell you how the actual show went. He honestly fucking couldn’t. The Ultimate Brew had kicked into overdrive about fifteen minutes after that mortifying encounter with Ren, and Sterling ascended to another state of reality. His fingers flew across the board, always resting on the next cue up, never late, never early. Nothing made any sense. Voices chattered in his ear, music thrummed, beautifully costumed actors whirled around the stage, wheeled cameras glided across the floor.

He had flashing moments of lucidity where everything stopped and he remembered he was sitting at a sound board in a booth during the recording of a live-to-tape broadcast on Christmas Eve.

Then he would plunge back into an ocean of sound and color, utterly confused and uncomfortable. Around the time somebody was doing a skit about Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, and Santa Claus debating on who was the most wintery, Sterling was shivering in the booth thinking winter is in here, with me, I am winter, I am the cold that seeps through the floorboards. He flipped eight cues on the board, each one perfectly synced, before remembering there wasn’t a thermostat in the booth and he had no hope of cranking the heat up. Stupidly, the thought almost made him cry.

I’m losing it, he mourned to himself, shuddering as he leveled another slider. Ren spoke into his ear, hamming it up for the camera, addressing the audience on the other side of the screen. Sterling’s nose itched, and he hovered his hand over the board as it started to come. His breath hitched helplessly; he did nothing to stop himself. But after the seconds mounted, the sensation of it weighing heavy in his head like a physical thing, he realized his stuffy nose was about to get evacuated. This one wasn’t messing around.

He jerked toward the tissue box – nearly depleted at this point – but didn’t make it in time.


Sterling froze, eyes wide and nose wet. Why did that particular sneeze have reverb?

There was a terrible silence in his headphones, and in his daze, Sterling’s eyes wandered the booth only to land on the one unusual detail: the booth mic light was glowing red. Ice flooded him.

“Hah! Wow, bless you!” said Ren’s voice. Sterling snapped his gaze to the booth window, shoulders hunched, and he became paralyzed by the amount of eyes from the crew trained on him. Some were reproachful, most were shocked to silence as he was. As Sterling watched, across the soundstage Julian slapped a hand over his forehead. But Ren was smiling, sparkling under the lights in his suit.

“Pardon our sound mixer, folks!” Ren was saying, and Sterling had to fight the reflex to stand up, calmly remove his equipment, and run out of the building. “He’s got a bad cold. And speaking of cold, how about this next musical number…”

Sterling didn’t hear the rest. He scrambled to switch off the booth mic – he must have bumped it when he sneezed – and cued up the next sound effect as Rocco and the band got ready. Ren handled the faux pas masterfully, with the appropriate amount of cheesiness for a host; it wasn’t every day your sound mixer switches on the sound feed and blasts a sneeze over the studio loudspeakers. But the mistake did nothing for Sterling’s frayed nerves.

He shook for the rest of the show, not entirely down to the chills. It took him ten minutes to remember he still needed to wipe his nose. He felt nauseous and on edge. The Ultimate Brew didn’t help. Whether out of luck or his anxiety, the need to sneeze didn’t rise for the rest of the show. Sterling had a sinking suspicion his nose was saving a bunch for later, but he’d take blessings where he could get them.

It really was official now: he’d hit rock bottom. Nothing could get any worse.



.. Little does Sterling know, things can and will get worse. (And don't worry, caretaking is coming soon after!!)


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Awwwww poor guy!  I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the next part!... :wubsmiley:

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I don't even know where to start with this xDD 

I feel so honoured to have you writing a whole fic for me, and each installment is like Christmas all over again >w< 

You know I adore every single thing that you write, and this is absolutely no exception. 

I feel bad, because I want to quote things, but it would literally be the entire fic that I quoted if I was to quote all my favourite bits xDDD

But Morty being so caring has my heart squeezing with affection. And Minmie and EVEN HARLOW. I'VE MISSED HIM SO MUCH. 

The progression of Sterling's illness is just so masterful. No one else who is reading this knows Sterling the way I do, so to see him rendered so sick and so helpless is both amazing and also heartbreaking QwQ

But you know I am a fan of the slow-build, and even though he is sick as a dog now, the prospect of him becoming delightfully worse is indeed an endearing one >w> 

And your spellings for Sterling get me every damn time. I can hear them so vividly and so distinctly in my head. All of your descriptions are absolutely delightful, but I particularly adore the spellings~

AND CAN I JUST LAUGH AT THE AWKWARD STEREN MOMENTS xDD AND ROCCO SHIPS IT x'DDDD That part had me rolling around with such wonderful feels, omgh. That whole moment with the sound board was just pure gold xD

Poor Sterling getting all embarrassed and flustered by that one sneeze too QwQ seriously, only Sterling could manage to turn on the mic when he had to sneeze :rofl:

You also do not need to worry about your writing either. You write my boys so wonderfully, I am completely and utterly in love with how you portray them, and I am honoured that you have chosen to write them in this fic >w< 

Thank you so much for writing this part for me :heart: I know how tough it is to write an actual fic especially when so much time is dedicated to RP but this is absolutely amazing, I love every word, and I love you for writing it for me. You are just the best person in the world :hug:

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This is amazing. So much misery. And the encounter with Ren is freaking adorable! Can't wait to see how that turns out!!!

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