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players only. takes place after Stephen's talk with Logan.

Antony and Stephen are just coming back from their morning walk, hand in hand, when Marcus steps off the deck to meet them. "I've got Frank on the phone. He wants to talk to you," he tells Antony, knowing he doesn't have to elaborate on which Frank it is. "He says he has concerns."

Fuck. Antony really doesn't want to deal with Frank right now. Not after such a lovely walk and time spent with his husband. But he has to. "This is one of the guys I'm turning some of the business over to," he explains to Stephen. "You want to sit in on this? At least hear what's being said?"

It takes a moment for Stephen to process what was just said. He turns to Antony. "Um... so, he's taking on some of the illegal stuff?" He appreciates the offer, the transparency, but he'd like a little more clarification before walking into this situation.

Antony nods. "We're dividing everything up into six areas. It seemed like the easiest way to do it. He'll be Western Europe."

"If you're sure?" Stephen looks between his husband and Marcus. Whilst he appreciates Antony has a need to be open with him given recent weeks, he trusts Marcus to be blunt if it's a bad idea.

Marcus nods. Whatever it takes to get things settled with Frank. "If you have questions though, quietly ask me."

"Yes, of course," Stephen nods, before glancing at Antony. "Thank you for asking."

"We can take it in the dining room and I'll put him on speakerphone," Marcus tells Antony, leading them back into the house. He picks up his phone and slots it into the small mobile conferencing centre they brought with them. "Hi, Frank. I've got Antony and Stephen here. You're on speakerphone."

"Stephen?" They can hear Frank's frown from here.

"Yeah. My husband," Antony says. The whole world's going to know soon enough anyway. "Stephen. The one Janko kidnapped."

"Ah. I didn't know you two were married," Frank says, wondering just how many people do know. "It's good to meet you, Stephen. I'm sorry for what you went through."

"Hey Frank, thank you," Stephen leans back in his seat, his gaze moving between Antony and Marcus. He's apprehensive about what he might hear, but he has to start trusting Antony again, and at least here he has Marcus to watch his back too.

"You can rest assured whatever Stephen hears won't be repeated," Antony says, hoping they can resolve this quickly. "He's the big reason I'm getting out and that this whole deal is even possible."

Frank shakes his head on the other end of the line. "See? That's part of what's bothering me. What if you two split up? I forget what the fucking divorce rate is these days but I doubt it's any better for gays, is it?"

Stephen's mouth actually falls open at the incredible bluntness of the other man, it's actually rather amusing in its unexpectedness. He turns to look at Antony, wondering how his husband is going to answer that question.

"If we were to split up," Antony says, focusing in on Frank's real fear, "I would not be picking up where I left off. This is me out. Done for good. I'm going to keep my legit stuff going, some government and private contracts that are already in motion, and otherwise I'm dividing everything else up into six sections. Marcus'll have one - North America - and you'll have Western Europe and four others will have Central & South America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand."

Frank snorts. "Won't Marcus having North America mean you're keeping your toes in?"

"No, it won't." Antony's adamant, his tone firm. "Tommy Flanagan will be helping him with some of the client relations and Marcus will be responsible for manpower and follow-through. I can't remember if you've met Dhimiter but he'll be working with Marcus as well and when Marcus is helping me with AJS, Dhimiter will handle things for him. There will be very, very clear boundaries."

As Antony talks, Stephen finds himself glad he sat in on this. Antony has clearly put a great deal of thought into what he's proposing, and Stephen's glad Marcus is still going to be at Antony's side, albeit in a new role.

"Frank," Stephen leans in. "If I might interrupt. Given what I've just been through, this was one of my requests of Antony, that he steps away from this side of the business. I can assure you, he will not be 'keeping his toes in'. He is done. We have plans of our own going forward that will keep him too busy for anything else. You have my word." Stephen has no idea if his words will make an impact, or if he's being presumptuous, but he does want it known that he's not passive in all of this.

"No disrespect intended," Frank says, reminding himself that this is Antony's fucking husband. "But I don't know you from Adam."

"Maybe not," Antony says, gazing steadily at Marcus. "But he speaks for me."

"And for me," Marcus adds, with a nod.

Grateful for the support but making a mental note to shut the fuck up in future, Stephen sits back in his seat, his fingers rubbing over his mouth. These are not his people, these are not people he wants to know, it's best if he leaves it in Antony and Marcus's capable hands.

"Fair enough." Obviously this Stephen does have some power, at least with Antony and Marcus, and that's all that counts. "So, my real question is how you'll make sure everything's divvied up according to those areas you mentioned and how you'll make sure no one's poaching on anybody else's territory?"

"Once we've got everybody in place - and in this case we're only waiting on you - we'll all meet up in Los Angeles. We'll divide things up on the map with very clear boundaries. You'll each choose somebody to represent you and those six will form a committee that oversees everything. They'll hire one person to coordinate and report to them and every single job will go through that person first before being passed on. That person will also give your reps a monthly report on every single job so there'll be real accountability. How you want to run that group, if you want to keep that arrangement, that'll be up to the six of you and your reps. Once I've set it up, I'm out."

Stephen listens with interest, what Antony is proposing sounds fair, which is entirely not what he expected. He wonders how this will play out once Antony steps away if these people will adhere to such an... honourable system.

"What if some areas are making way more than others?" Frank asks, making notes on the desk pad in front of him.

"That's up to the six. You can put a percentage into a common pot with every job and at the end of each year top up anyone who didn't achieve the median income - through lack of jobs or inequality, not laziness - or you can accept that some years will be better than others. That's up to you six. I can help mediate at that first meeting, but again, after that I'm out. Everything has to be settled with me present then or settled by the group after. And everyone has to pay for their share before they step into that meeting. Once you're in, you're in. At least for a year and then you can renegotiate after that if you want. Between yourselves."

"And what if one area doesn't want to stay with the group?"

"Then they're going to have five others to deal with," Antony says bluntly.

Everyone has to pay for... Stephen's brows go up at that and he looks at Marcus in question, he mouths 'is he selling jobs off?'.

"A hundred million for each area," Marcus says very, very quietly. "They will make it back in no time and it'll guarantee everyone gets along -- for the first year at least."

And for the second time in less than five minutes, Stephen's jaw drops open. He can't even contemplate that kind of money, even trying to think about it makes his stomach roll. He recalls when he found out about how much Antony was really worth on the morning of their wedding, but this... this is fuck...

"He has to do this. They need to have a stake in things," Marcus points out, unsure of Stephen's reaction. "Or it won't work."

Pushing up out of his seat, Stephen squeezes Antony's shoulder and points at the door to the kitchen, indicating he's stepping out. Which he does, pulling Marcus with him. "A hundred million? Are you fucking serious?" he hisses, aware they haven't moved that far away that Antony can't hear them if they speak normally.

Marcus nods. "A really good, lucrative job should bring them forty to fifty million, smaller jobs, maybe ten or twenty," he says. "They'll make it back in no time and it guarantees their commitment. Without this, if we just let Antony's usual jobs go, it will be complete chaos as these same men and everyone else who wants in the business fight to see who comes out on top. This way, with them all working together, the smaller crews will stay sub-contractors and they won't even dare to challenge the group."

"Meanwhile, Antony walks away with how much?" Stephen rubs the palms of his hands down his shorts, finding them cold and sweaty. He can't even begin to understand what Marcus is trying to explain to him, though he's sure it will make perfect sense later when he's processed what he's heard.

Marcus takes Stephen's arm, one of the only times he's dared to touch the other man, moving him even further away from the other room. "All of it. Six hundred million."

It takes a moment, and when the information lands it's like a blow, leaving Stephen reeling, he sways a little as he finds his heart rate kicking up to an uncomfortable and unpleasant pace. "I... fuck... I um... I need to sit down... like... now..." he stutters.

Marcus nods. "Let's go outside," he says, keeping a hold of Stephen's arm and helping him out onto the patio and into a chair. He pulls up a second chair and takes a seat, watching the other man.

Stephen drops his head forward and takes a few deep slow breaths, his hands clenching and unclenching as he calms himself down. He's very aware of Marcus's silent scrutiny. "You must think I've turned into some overly emotional wreck," he offers with a huffed out noise that has just a hint of humour.

"No." Marcus shakes his head. "I sometimes forget most people aren't used to talking about the kind of money or the other things we're used to talking about. All of this has been a very quick introduction to our world for you. It must be hard."

"It's a head fuck," Stephen points out. "I mean... that kind of money? ...Fuck." He glances back at the villa. "This is all so fucking surreal."

Marcus nods. "Buying my share took every bit of my savings."

"What?" Stephen looks up at that. "You paid for your share? But it was as much yours as his..."

"Not really," Marcus says, although he's not about to argue the point. "And it has to be this way. This is again how we get him out and out completely. By me paying for my share of this part of the business." He pauses for a second. "Can you imagine if any of them thought I hadn't paid my fair share? If it came to light that Antony gave me a break or a discount?" He shakes his head. "They're already going to doubt I'm acting on my own. Especially if I'm staying on as his right hand at AJS."

"Will this put you in extra danger? This arrangement?" Stephen's thoughts are jumping from one subject to another. "Antony keeping you at AJS?"

"It shouldn't. They'll realize quickly that we're keeping our word and having Tommy step in to help me - and Dhimiter as well - they trust Tommy and they know me." Marcus shrugs. "Either way, I don't care what they think. They only need to keep their ends of the deal."

"Please, don't put yourself in any more danger than you need to, not for our sake," Stephen reaches out to put his hand on Marcus's arm. "You do what you need to for you, we'll manage without you if we have to."

As always, the touch takes Marcus by surprise. "Thank you, but my first allegiance is to Antony. It always has been and it always will be. And to you by extension. I want this because I don't know how I fit into AJS but maybe," he manages a small smile, "in time, I'll sell my share if I don't find myself too bored with the legit side of things."

Satisfied with Marcus's answer Stephen nods and withdraws his hand. "Okay, good." It's a small comfort that Marcus is even keeping that idea as an option, he can't imagine how Antony would cope if they lost Marcus, he's convinced Antony doesn't entirely appreciate how Marcus helps balance their relationship, giving Antony a safety valve that Stephen can never provide.

Marcus's smile deepens. He starts to say something but just then Antony joins them on the patio, closing the door behind him.

"Frank's in. He's wiring his share, and we're all meeting two weeks from now, the Friday," Antony says, handing Marcus's phone over. "Which means we'll be expected to entertain them. Probably for the whole weekend." He smiles at Stephen. "Everything okay?"

Stephen gives a non-committal head wobble. "Sort of. I wish you'd warned me about the money though, freaked me the fuck out." He remains seated, still not quite trusting his legs.

"The money?" It takes Antony a second. "You mean how much?"

"Uh, yeah!" Stephen almost rolls his eyes at his husband.

Antony pulls up another chair and takes a seat beside Stephen. "I know it seems like a crazy amount of money and it is, but we need these guys to commit to this working and a hundred million buy-in pretty much guarantees that."

"So you both say. And if they've all already signed up then whoever these people are they clearly think it's an acceptable deal. But fuck, six hundred million Antony?" Stephen shakes his head. "It's like our wedding morning all over again, and then some."

"I'm sorry," Antony says, reaching for Stephen's hand. "I should have warned you." And obviously just telling his husband people were buying in was not enough. Stephen needs numbers and details.

"Yeah, you should. I don't do well with shocks like that right now." He lets Antony take his hand. "And... this is all cash? How... it's not legit money though right? So how..."

"It's being wired into offshore accounts and then it'll be spent elsewhere, wired to other accounts or brought into the States in amounts that won't cause any scrutiny," Antony says, then leans in, "and if you want, a good part of it can go to charity."

Stephen waves a hand at that. "Let it sink in first before you start asking me to decide what to do with it." He slides down in the seat a little, tipping back to look up at the beautiful blue sky. "I can't believe you've made Marcus pay for his share though." He smiles at that, turning his head to wink at Antony.

"I had to," Antony protests before catching a look from Marcus. "He already explained, did he?"

"Yeah, yeah he did." Lifting his head he looks at Marcus. "Would you mind making some drinks? I'd like to talk to Antony alone."

Marcus nods, rising to his feet and disappearing back into the house.

"So," Stephen gives Antony's fingers a squeeze. "Are you officially a billionaire yet?" It's a tease, because like on the morning of their wedding, humour is the only way Stephen can navigate his way through this.

"If I keep all of this, I will be," Antony admits, squeezing back.

"If?" Stephen sighs and slides from his seat, curling up at Antony's feet, his head set on his husband's lap. It's done without thought, naturally, and not for a moment does Stephen think about how it might be read. He's simply seeking comfort, grounding.

"I could give it away," Antony says, stroking his fingers through Stephen's hair, his chest tightening. "Dole it out to various charities. It's not about the money. It's about making these guys all work together. Which is safer for everyone."

"Huh, and there was me thinking you were saving up for that super yacht I don't want," Stephen closes his eyes at the caress. "You do know neither of us ever have to work again? We travel the world, have adventures together, and when we've had enough of that we could settle down for a while until we get the bug again."

"Yeah, we could do that," Antony says with a smile. "It's definitely crossed my mind," he confesses.

Opening his eyes, Stephen turns to look up at Antony. "So why don't we do that?" he asks softly.

"Because we just bought a house," Antony teases then exhales softly, "and because I worry about us making more life-altering decisions while we're still out here, in this bubble."

Stephen thinks on that for a moment. "I do wonder if I'm trying to find ways of not going back to our life, and trying to deal with what's left of our 'normal'." He turns to press his cheek to Antony's knee again. "I'm not looking forward to going back."

"I know. Me either," Antony says, continuing to caress the nape of Stephen's neck. "But I think we owe it to ourselves to go back for a year. We settle into our new house, you do another season of Arrow, I do a year of completely legit work and then we reassess. If you still want to quit and travel the world then, we'll do it."

"Why are you not looking forward to going back?" Stephen can't be bothered to open his eyes as he questions his husband, the familiar caress relaxing him more than he thought.

"Because I like our bubble," Antony admits quietly. "I like the progress we're making here and I don't know what things will look like back home."

"Do you think I'll change my mind when we get home?" Stephen asks softly. "Decide I can't do this and leave?"

Fuck. "There's a part of me, a very small part, that worries about that," Antony says, blowing out a breath, his fingers moving over Stephen's skin. "It was really big when we first got here and it's gotten smaller and smaller, but yeah, it's still there."

"All I can tell you is this, leaving is no longer something I'm thinking of as an option. I fully intend to return home with you and keep on rebuilding our relationship. I love you, Tony, I'm not going to throw that away." Stephen does look up now, meeting his husband's icy blue eyes.

It's the first time since the kidnapping that Stephen's actually used those three little words. Antony can feel the tears threatening, his chest tightening even further, and he takes a moment to respond, not trusting himself to speak. "I love you too," he says finally. "More than anything or anyone in this world."

Twisting and pushing up to his knees between Antony's legs Stephen cups his husband's face, brushing his thumbs along Antony's cheekbones. "I know you do. You've shown me that every day since you got me back."

"And I'll keep showing you, for the rest of our lives," Antony says, pushing forward to kiss Stephen.

Eyes closed, Stephen lets Antony take the lead for a change, opening his mouth he invites Antony in, to dominate the kiss.

Antony licks into Stephen's mouth, a soft groan spilling between them.

Stephen's body responds with a speed he's not experienced since he was taken. His fingers press into Antony's face, and he makes his own sounds of pleasure to mirror Antony's.

Antony touches Stephen's shoulders. Slides his hands down his husband's back, pulling him in closer, still deeper into the kiss.

One hand makes a slow journey down Antony's throat, over his chest and down into his lap, where Stephen curls his fingers around the fabric covering Antony's erection.

"Oh, fuck," Antony breathes, the words smeared against Stephen's lips. "I want you so badly."

"Yeah?" Stephen's question is almost lost as he kisses Antony again, before pulling back just enough to add. "How badly?"

"You really have to ask?" Antony rocks his hips forward, pressing his erection into Stephen's hand. "I've never wanted anyone the way I want you."

"Tell me more," Stephen demands, his fingers moving, teasing, tormenting.

Antony groans. "I want to be inside you," he murmurs, biting at Stephen's lips. "I want to slide in deep, wrap your body around mine..."

"Then take me to bed, and love me, use your body and show me how much you love me," Stephen urges, as he feels the fabric beneath his touch dampen.

Antony rises to his feet, taking Stephen's hand and drawing his husband with him to their bedroom. The back of his knees against the edge of the bed, he reels Stephen in, kissing him again and again, only breaking for breath and to shed both their clothes.

Skin to skin, Stephen's body is in sync with Antony's for once, their cocks bumping against each other as they move. His hands stroke over Antony's back, cupping his ass, nails scoring skin.

Antony grabs the lube from the bedside table but shoves it under the pillow, stroking over Stephen's body as they lie down, his mouth returning to Stephen's skin, tasting as much of him as he can reach. "You feel so good," he murmurs, grinding gently but eagerly against his husband.

"So do you," Stephen returns, pulling Antony up to kiss him some more. He lets his body relax, giving up a small amount of control, seeing where his husband will take this.

"I want to kiss you all over," Antony murmurs, biting at Stephen's mouth. "Get my mouth on every inch of you. Yeah?"

"Uh huh," Stephen manages a quick nod as he bites back, his head lifting off the bed. "Just don't take too long yeah? You promised you'd be inside me."

Antony nods, grinning, and drops down to take a nipple in his mouth, licking and sucking and biting, first one and then the other.

Closing his eyes Stephen tips his head back, letting his breath out slowly. It feels good to let Antony love him like this, and he trusts Antony to not push but to take what he's offering.

Moving down Stephen's torso, Antony trails a path of kisses to his husband's cock then along it, tongue flicking out over the head and around it. He reaches for the lube, tugging it towards him, his fingers slicked as he takes the crown into his mouth, sucking lightly.

Stephen lets out a long, low sound of pleasure at the play of Antony's mouth on his dick, moments later Antony slides a finger inside him, there's just a moment of tension before he relaxes again.

Antony's cock hangs heavy between his thighs, hard and aching, but he takes his time in opening Stephen up, in letting the pads of his fingers search out that bundle of nerves as he takes more and more of Stephen's cock into his mouth, into his throat, swallowing him down.

After just a few moments of this exquisite torture, Stephen reaches down to pet over Antony's head. "Enough! Enough... I don't want to..."

Antony pulls off and eases his fingers free, moving back up the bed. He kisses Stephen, settling between his thighs, cock lined up and slowly pressed inside.

It's all so easy, so familiar, Stephen's body opens up and takes Antony in, his hands move over his lover's back, urging him on, urging him deeper. "Love me, love me," he whispers into Antony's mouth, "make me yours again..."

The words, the feel... fuck. Both make Antony groan, his cock throbbing roughly inside Stephen. He sinks all the way in, as deep as he can go, before drawing back to the tip and thrusting in again.

"Oh fuck yes..." Stephen sighs out the words as Antony fills him, stretching, taking up space inside his body. They've still only made love a handful of times since the abduction, and each time Stephen is sure he can actually feel their connection deepening. That each touch, each kiss weaves a new layer around them as a couple, binding them together once more. "Tell me you love me," he demands once more, his voice cracking with want and need.

"I do," Antony breathes. "I love you, more than anything, more than anyone," he gets out, arousal thrumming through his body, every nerve on fire as he moves into Stephen again and again. "You're my world. You're my everything." My life.

Lifting his head Stephen presses his mouth to Antony's, the kiss is passionate, messy, demanding. His hands pull his lover closer, his fingers pressing deep as he arches up.

Antony's thrusts pick up pace, his balls tightening, the intensity building, dropping down for kiss after kiss, their tongues tangling, lips bruised with the lust and love and passion behind it all. "Oh, fuck, I'm close," he mumbles, the words smeared against Stephen's mouth, the only warning he can manage before he comes, so fucking hard he goes blind with it.

Stephen is very aware that Antony's orgasm is incredibly intense, and with that knowledge is the unexpected feeling of satisfaction that he has pleasured his husband so well. An emotion that he had always assumed was intrinsically linked to his submission. His hands tighten and he murmurs soothing noises as Antony starts to relax, the tension in his body easing as the shudders grow weaker.

Still panting, Antony murmurs back, "What about you? Do you want my mouth, my hand?"

He's still not used to this, to not having to beg for permission, or to wait for that growled and demanding 'now', and it's evident to Stephen that his body had become trained for those cues. "Your hand, when you're ready," he whispers, cupping Antony's cheek and pressing a kiss to his mouth.

Antony nods, shifting to one side, his cock still throbbing inside Stephen as he slips a hand between them. "You're my everything," he murmurs, stroking Stephen's cock, his fingers slicked with pre-come. "My world. I love you so much."

Holding Antony's gaze, Stephen captures his lower lip between his teeth as he lets sensation override thought, a warning shot of precum adds to the slide of skin against skin, his husband's grip firm and sure. A soft keening announces Stephen's orgasm moments later.

Fuck yes. Antony's hand goes wet with Stephen's pleasure and another groan spills from his lips. "You're amazing," he whispers, kissing Stephen.

The kiss is lazier than those that came before, the frenzied energy gone replaced instead with a languid afterglow, it's the most intimate they've been in a very long time. "I do love you Tony," Stephen murmurs. "I always did, I just... I was so hurt and angry."

Christ. It feels so good to hear those words, to know they're truly on the road to healing. "I know," Antony says, easing out and shifting to the side, Stephen moving with him, into his arms. "What happened..." he shakes his head. "It never should have happened, and I'm sorry it took such a thing for me to carry through on my promising I'd retire from that life."

Rubbing his fingers through the hair that covers Antony's chest Stephen thinks on that for a moment. "But it's done now. We've a fresh start, a reset. Now we can move forward, take each day at a time and see where it takes us, right?"

"Yeah." Antony nods and kisses the top of Stephen's head. "Does that mean you want to go home?"

"Yes and no," Stephen tips his head to look at Antony. "Yeah, I'm nearly ready to go back and deal with the real-life stuff we've ignored, especially my work shit, and I'm more than ready to come out. But, here is so peaceful, we've had all the time we've wanted with each other. And I feel safe for the most part. Going back... I'm not so sure I will."

"We can start your training," Antony points out, although he's really in no rush to go back, "and I can take some more time from work. Stay with you til you're comfortable."

Stephen nods at that. "Let's stay another week, then go home. It gives me some time to get used to the idea, make some plans with Christos and Logan."

"Sounds good to me," Antony murmurs, tightening his hold on Stephen for a moment. "Love you."

[feedback welcome. comments screened.]