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Enigma

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The lights were almost blinding as they shone down upon the two actors. It seemed almost to him like they were in a zoo, the constant eyes and lights turned towards them, though he supposed that was what actors were expected to do; entertain the masses. Mitchell took a deep breath and tried to get into the role of his character, to try and feel the essence of Ryan Shilling.

“You never deserved me,” he spat to his co-star, Teddy, who played his scorned lover, Joey Casey. “What could have I done to make you think that?”

Teddy's eyes were full of rage, and Mitchell was struck by how expressive he was. He knew the man, knew that he would never look at Mitchell with that kind of anger burning in his mind, but for a second Mitchell wanted to hide away from them. He found himself wondering if he should start making apologies for mistakes that didn’t exist, then remembered that Teddy was an actor, and this was make-believe. He always was such an incredible man.

“Then why did you come home with me?” Teddy snarled, his character Joe feeling sorrow down to the hollowness in his bones, “why did you ever say you loved me?”

“Cause maybe I did,” Mitchell yelled back, tears pooling in his eyes. He tried to hold them back for a few more seconds, knowing they would be more effective in the scenes to come. “Maybe I did at one point, but you, you never showed anything in return. How can I love a man who never made me breakfast in bed, who never kissed me out in public, who insisted on hiding this relationship from the world? I don’t want to be someone's dirty little secret anymore, and if that’s how you’re going to treat me, then I can’t be with you anymore.”

“So that’s it?” Teddy said, eyes turning hard. “A few days ago you promised we would spend every second of the rest of our lives together.”

“Oh Joey,” Mitchell sighed, finally allowing his tears to fall. “I lied.”

A beep sounded throughout the room, and everyone erupted into applause. Teddy dropped his angry persona, and smiled at Mitchell, his eyes turning kind. Mitchell would never get over how fast he was able to switch.

“That’s a wrap,” Alicia yelled, standing up from the director’s chair. Her black hair swayed behind her as she moved. “That was beautiful. Mitchell, maybe you could have been just a little more forceful in your delivery, but we can deal with that later. Teddy, a bit more anger, remember, these characters have a very strange relationship and you need to portray that more. But other than that, it was perfect.”

“Thank you,” Mitchell said, wiping the tears away. He turned to Teddy, walking over. “You were incredible.”

“No,” Teddy said, leaning over him so he could whisper in Mitchell’s ear. “You were amazing. You’re the heart and soul of this production, I’m just the side character.”

“Oh stop,” giggled Mitchell, leaning slightly against him. “You’re so much better than I am.”

“Hey-”

“You know it's true!”

The click of a camera shuttered behind them, and both men turned to see a photographer taking picture after picture of them huddled together. They turned to look into each other's eyes, faces full of joy.

“How much do you want to bet that this will be all over the internet tomorrow?” Teddy laughed, whispering in Mitchell’s ear.

“I would bet something, but I know for a fact I would lose,” Mitchell joked, bringing his arms up around Teddy. He was aware of how they looked; people saw them and he knew what they saw. But he and Teddy were just friends, albeit overly physical ones. Mitchell hated contact, but with Teddy, he could almost tolerate it.

Besides, it was almost funny watching the fans freak out when new pictures circulated the internet of them. Sometimes the fanfictions were well written as well.

“Why don’t we give them something to truly freak out about?” Teddy whispered, and Mitchell nodded. Teddy was suddenly kissing him, bringing him down into a low dip, supporting his body. Their kiss was fast and passionate, a stage kiss they had perfected months ago so it looked totally authentic. Mitchell could barely hold it together, almost laughing against Teddy’s lips, but he kept his composure. He could hear the camera shutter going off wildly, and he could wait to see what their fans thought of it tomorrow.

Teddy pulled him back up, then let go, both breathing heavily.

“Are we going to regret that tomorrow?” Teddy asked, his voice breathy. They could hear the stagehands whispering around them, gossip flaring up like fire. Mitchell knew Teddy loved being the center of attention; Mitchell didn’t mind it.

“What’s there to regret?” Mitchell replied. “That was just a friendship kiss between two totally straight people.”

Teddy chuckled, then wrapped his arm around Mitchell’s shoulder, leading him away from the set. “That’s what I mean.”

***

Cam was lowered to the backstage of his sold-out concert. It was at the point in the show where the dancers were highlighted by performing a seven-minute dance break. This gave Cam a little bit of a break from singing his 18 song setlist night after night.

“Cam, the show is lovely! Your voice keeps on getting better,” Pepper ran towards Cam in the backstage. He was also a singer but Cam was the more popular one.

“Pepper! I didn’t know you’re gonna visit! We could’ve posted on Insta to tease the fans.” Cam exclaimed.

“I wanted to surprise you. Let’s do a quick Boomerang before you come back on stage.” They shot a cute Boomerang video before Pepper continued, “Do you want to hang out after the show? Or do you have a meet and greet?”

“Oh no, meet and greets are scheduled before the show. I need that extra boost of love before showtime--”

“You don’t need that. You’re amazing already. So…” Pepper hastily complemented the man who articulated the feelings of a generation, at least according to Cam’s loyal fans.

“Yeah sure, let’s hang out later. I need to go back now. See ya later.” Cam quickly changed his costume before walking to his mark so he could be lifted back on stage.

Cam sang one of his beloved heartbreak songs as Pepper posted the Boomerang video on his socials. After the emotional singing that made Cam almost cry, the fans chanted Pepper’s name to his surprise.

“Okay guys, I love you all so much. But why are you shouting Pepper’s name? Did you see a little something-something online?” Cam spoke to his pop star microphone and the fans went all-out screaming. “Do you want me to bring out someone on stage?” Cam teased. He knew how to manipulate his fans, or appreciate them, depending on which magazine was writing about him. Some magazines loved him and praised him in almost every article. Some criticized him in the guise of think pieces but in actuality, it was bullying a man who did not look like the typical pop star and yet was able to capture the hearts of many through bops and relatable lyrics.

The fans screamed and their voices filled the entire stadium. While they were listening and singing to Cam’s song earlier, some of them were also checking their phones that’s why they noticed the unexpected notification. It was a no-brainer that Pepper recently filmed and posted the Boomerang video from backstage as Cam was wearing the same costume he had two songs ago.

“Just to be clear, because I aim to please.” Cam declared and the fans screamed again before he was able to proceed, “You know, I love you all and I would have never broken those records if it weren’t for you guys, so thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. And it seems you were requesting for someone, am I right? Okay so, let me call out my dear, beloved person, I mean, friend, Pepper!”

The fans, of course, screamed at this moment as Pepper emerged from stage right. Cam welcomed his friend with big smiles. It wasn’t for the camera or for the audience but he was genuinely happy that Pepper was part of his life.

“I’m sorry! They made me do it!” Cam playfully told Pepper as he hugged him tight on stage, to which the fans shrieked again and felt giddy at that particular moment. They surely would endlessly discuss this later on Tumblr. Not to mention stare at the gifs in an unhealthily long time.

“No, it’s fine. I loooove to be here. And thank you to the Cameroons for wanting me to be on stage. I was just passing by, you know.” Pepper also knew how to tease the fans. He then asked the audience, “Do we sing something?” The fans lost their shit. These two had not collaborated on a song yet but the fans were speculating on a possible collab soon but more than this, they were almost sure that a particular song of Cam’s was about Pepper.

“I don’t know, what do you want to sing? I’m thinking now that you ambushed me to do that Boomerang so that you can push yourself in and sing on stage with me… is that right, Pepper?”

“Guilty as charged. I should be arrested and handcuffed.” Pepper responded and the stadium bellowed because of this last sentence. Cam immediately thought how the fanfiction about them would now have a stronger basis, more textual evidence if you may, apparently with handcuffs now. He wasn't exactly reading the fanfiction but he made sure he was aware of what goes on in his fanbase. This was part of being a good businessman. His music and public persona were the products he sells.

“Omygod Pepper! Did you just say that?” Cam acted like he was embarrassed by putting one hand on his face. Pepper smiled with a hint of double entendre. This exchange wasn’t scripted. He didn’t actually expect that the fans would demand Pepper to join him on stage. Who knew posting a Boomerang backstage during the break would trigger all this? But he wasn’t really embarrassed. This kind of banter was normal for them. They had been friends for quite some time now. They both needed to act playfully in public, to flirt with each other to increase speculation which generates publicity which then leads to more streams, more sales that enabled Cam to break all those records for a pop star. This manner of behaving publicly also benefited Pepper for his music even if he had a more Broadway-style of singing that did not appeal to the general public, sadly.

Cam continued, “Let’s just sing before things get out of hand. How about, ‘Lavish’ huh? You guys like that?” The stadium was filled with shrieks and squeals. A few people may have even fainted.

The Cameroons thought that this was The Song. The song about Pepper. It was a simple, playful track about having a crush on someone but the description for the object of affection screamed Pepper. At least for the queer Cameroons. The straight Cameroons were convinced that it was about the actress that was seen with Cam multiple times. The queer Cameroons couldn’t be easily dismissed though because Pepper was gay and out, and Cam on multiple interviews had stated that this man was almost like his best friend. Even though Cam had said that he was straight, that he was only "an advocate of a community I'm not a part of," the fans still believed what they wanted to believe.

Cam and Pepper sang The Song. The fans loved every moment because the two singers made sure they exuded chemistry with the way they looked at each other, the phrasing of some of the lyrics, and even quick hand-holding and putting one’s hand on to the shoulder of the other. How could you not ship them? How could you not? Clearly, there was no choice but to stan.

Pepper hanged out backstage at Cam’s dressing room while waiting for the concert to finish. When it was done, they headed out to the car that would bring them to the restaurant for a late light dinner.

“So Cam, who is that song about? I am curious. I mean, we benefit from the fanfare but it’s nice to be informed.”

“Ah, Pepper, I am beyond thankful that you have been a good friend to me, that you even agreed to this whole shebang. But even to you, I won’t tell who my songs are about. Besides, he doesn’t even notice me.”

“I am getting more intrigued as to who this mystery man is. But okay, I respect your artistry.”

They went to the restaurant and the paparazzi took photos of them. This added to the growing speculation.

***
The next day, the social media, the fan blogging sites, and the gossip sites were filled with uproar. One user tweeted, “The gays are being fed today,” referring to the backstage photo of Mitch and Teddy kissing, plus all the interactions from Cam and Pepper. It was indeed a good day to be gay.

The kissing photo got so many likes and triggered another discussion on Mitch’s sexuality on a fan website.

fuckmemitchell21: Okay THERE IS NO HETEROSEXUAL EXPLANATION FOR THIS. COME ON.

mitchfan73: Guys, you have to be respectful. Stop projecting on Mitchell. He already said he supports a community that he’s not a part of that’s why he accepted the gay role. Manifesting he gets an Oscar for this role!

teddyismyfuckboi: IT’S CLEARLY A BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTO FROM FILMING. THEY ARE NOT GAY. Shipping real people is wrong. Forcing a gender on them is wrong.

mitchismybitch4eva: Stay pressed. But the gays be gaying. This photo is not the first one. Or do you all choose to collectively forget the photo of Mitch kissing the art gallery owner last year? It might be a blurred photo but it was them. It was Mitch! Give it a few years and he will come out. Is it just me, is it just a coincidence that Mitch and Cam’s performative actions happened on the same day? I feel like there’s more to this. Remember the few photos of them at a party?

teddysmiles: This is why I don't like Teddy to accept this gay role because this always happens. It’s obvious that Teddy and Mitch agreed to this gay movie so that they will be nominated for Oscars. There were no indications that they were gay before this. It’s gay for pay and awards. The straight actors get lauded as brave while there are queer actors who are not cast for actual queer roles. This should stop.

mygayteddybear101: @mitchismybitch4eva Are you saying you ship Mitch and Cam?? Cam sings about Pepper. Mitch exudes gay vibes and he and Teddy are cute together. I can’t wait for them to do interviews together. There are quite a few fics for their characters already even if we have only seen a few behind the scenes photos and read the synopsis for the movie. The movie isn’t even finished filming. This fandom will blow up soon enough.

Meanwhile, a similar discussion was heating up for Cam and Pepper’s charades at the concert last night.

whoismycamcam: OMG did you guys see the videos from last night’s show? This confirms Lavish is about Pepper!!! Cam-Cam, come out already. The queers will support you, honey. What more do you need? You’re already rich and popular around the world. Don’t be selfish and be the role model you can be. Don’t you fucking dare @me

cameroon4lyf: Pepper and Cam may have strong chemistry and they use it to their advantage for more sales but I don’t buy this at all. Lavish is about someone else. Don’t get me started on that Jennifer actress. Please, it’s clear she’s queer. They are not dating!!! This song is about another guy Cam likes.

camismydaddy25: I believe Cam is gay but @whoismycamcam if you are a true fan, you won’t force him to come out now or ever. It’s his life. It’s up to him. Just appreciate the great music. I am leaning towards the claim of most queer cameroons that Lavish is about Pepper but I have a confession to make. Please don’t hate me. Be nice. I have a gut feeling that the song is about Mitchell. There were a few photos of them at that Oscar party last year and they seem... friendly enough? Look at the lyrics and take a look at Mitch’s IMDB page. It’s a reach but I think this is the real person Cam is singing about.

pepperdeservesbetter: You can’t force a sexual orientation to someone, celebrity or not. You are causing them harm. Stop projecting. Cam is not gay. His interviews and songs don’t scream gay. Pepper’s music screams gay and I wish more people like his music. He’s the gay icon that we need and not someone who befriends a gay singer just to appear woke. Stream Pepper’s new song #blackboots
P.S. And even if Cam was gay, Pepper is better off with the other guys he’s been linked to.

pepperlovescam13: My ship has officially sailed! When Cam posted that photo of him holding that jacket which I’m 100% sure belongs to Pepper, a new ship was born. The lyrics! It screams Pepper. There were a lot of fics since last month because of that photo but because of the way they talked to each other last night, there will be more fics for these two for sure.

mydaddymitch: @camismydaddy25 oh my fucking god!!! I have met another one! I ship Mitch and Cam too. There's only a few of us. I don't think it's wishful thinking. The lyrics do coincide with Mitch's movie history and who knows what happened at that party, right? A picture can paint a thousand words but we don't know what happens behind closed doors. I'm starting a blog to document all evidence. You can message me if you want to help our ship to really sail. Also, wtf is our usernames uwu

***

Reality coincided mostly with the celebrities' expectations. The photo of Teddy and Mitch was a hit online. The fans made sure the photo, the movie, the names of the actors were trending for 24 hours on Twitter. Teddy and Mitch were happy about the outcome as they thought this would help them in the movie promotions and their careers. The producers of the movie were also delighted as this fan appreciation could certainly help in the box office. The director was also thrilled with the response as it could mean the movie would be welcomed and understood for what it stood for although this response brought some apprehension as well. This enthusiasm and support could also put a shadow on the story which was the real star of the movie. Only time could tell.

Things were looking good for Cam and Pepper’s charade too. Their fans bought it all and Cam x Pepper trended alongside the names of Mitch and Teddy. The flirty videos from the concert were re-posted on various social media platforms and were analyzed like it’s a mystery story. The fan-demanded collab for these two got even more hype for 24 hours and this could only mean the high probability of breaking records when the song drops. It’s all working according to the marketing plan; Cam and Pepper were thrilled too.

As things were unfolding as expected - fans are easy to please sometimes or are they similar to animals which can be tricked casually? - life still had some surprises to offer. Even if Mitch and Cam were spotted only once at an Oscar party and the photos were innocent as a lamb, a small following had developed for this niche pairing, a ship was born. There were a handful of real person fics that appeared on the fanfic websites a few months ago because of the Oscar party photos. It did not make sense though as to why a few new Cam x Mitch fics got published after the recent PR shenanigans that were supposed to hype up Mitch x Teddy, and Cam x Pepper, which were indeed accomplished. Fans will always have a mind of their own and they can’t be tamed.

“Isn’t this weird? How is it that amidst the loud fans of me and Pepper, there are still people who ship me with Mitchell Pritchett? There are new fanfiction stories and discussions online. I mean we are not even close,” Cam asked Forty, his bisexual publicist, to whom he had not confided in his true gay self. Sometimes even within the queer community, it’s still not that easy to be comfortable in talking about things.

“Well, you know how fans are. They do what they want. We just need to stir the majority of them in the right direction, which is to stream your collab with Pepper when the song drops. Don’t worry about this. I know you don’t like the guy so--”

“I never said I don’t like Mitchell, I mean...we talked once and we were in public, once, so it’s a little weird there is a niche market for this.” Cam clarified trying to not sound so obvious about his crush on this A-list actor.

“This is the usual thing that happens. Be thankful it’s with someone who has a clean rep and who looks good. Omygosh! It wouldn’t be hard to market you two. You would look good together. The A-list movie star paired with the world-famous pop star. You would be such a power couple! Just tell me if you wanna switch strategies.” Forty exclaimed, almost wanting to drop the Cam x Pepper campaign.

Pepper was a nice fellow but his fanbase was niche because of his musical theatre style. Cam would have more prestige, not that he needed any more if there would be rumors of him dating an A-list actor. They never need to be actual queers because queerbaiting is more than enough to fuel the fire. This was something that Forty was truly uncomfortable with because as a bisexual man himself, he knew how queerbaiting can be detrimental to the community. Like most people, he needed a job so he had to follow the protocol of the capitalist machine. Forty swore that he would change this someday.

“I’ll stop you right there before you get excited. He’s not even gay... and I’m not too--” Cam replied.

“U-huh. Yeah, okay. No worries, we’re good with all our plans laid out. All you have to do is focus on your music.” Forty assured his client even if he had always felt something’s up with Cam’s sexuality. Of all people, he understood how things take time and people deal with their stuff only when they’re mentally and emotionally ready.

***
“Hey Teddy, so everything looks good, huh? All the PR stuff is in place and it will surely garner us some Oscar noms, here’s to hoping.” Mitch excitedly approached his co-star the day after the PR shenanigans.

“Yeah, that would be nice. I’ve never been nominated. You, of course, are a favorite of the Academy. We should do more of these things, huh.” Teddy replied with so much hope in his voice but still tried to mask it with enthusiasm regarding his career.

“You mean more PDA? More staged kissing? I thought you would be uncomfortable about that.”

“I wouldn’t take on this role if I was not open-minded enough. I don’t mind---”

“Hey, Mitch! Can I talk to you for a minute?” Gail, Mitch’s publicist, called out. Teddy was a little annoyed that he was cut off. He was about to tell his co-star about his PR plans, but it wasn’t just PR for Teddy.

“Gail, what’s up? Your work is cut out for you, huh? Everything’s going well according to plan.” Mitch spoke, with excitement still in his voice about how everything turned out.

“Yeah, everything’s good...” Gail replied without looking up from her phone. Typical of publicists as they need to be informed of everything in real-time, almost.

“Okay, but...” Mitch asked with a hint of worry in his voice.

“There’s this fanfiction about you and...Cam. And some active conversations online from fans who ship you guys.” Gail answered as she looked up to face Mitchell who was surprised as she was.

“Wait... Cam, the singer?” Teddy asked. Mitch looked at him as he had forgotten he was still in the room.

“Yeah, the singer? We met once at a party and we were photographed. But it was quite some time ago. Why would fans suddenly ship us?” Mitch asked as he got nervous this might interfere with the reception of the movie. Mitch x Teddy should be loved by all, at least the queer fanbase.

“Well... you know how fans are. They do what they want. And this isn’t a new thing that happened just today. There were a few fanfic stories months ago after the Oscar party photo. I didn’t tell you because I don’t want you to lose focus on your work. It wasn’t getting traction anyway.” Gail replied, prepared to hear Mitch’s upcoming complaints. He had been her client for 5 years now and she knew Mitch’s attitude well enough.

“What? You didn’t think of telling me?!! I told you I want to be informed about everything. How will this affect the promo for this movie? Everything should be perfect. This can be my way of...” Mitch paused as he remembered Teddy was still in the room with them. He didn’t want to casually come out.

“Relax... this is nothing. It will go away. I mean, we can’t have the stories be taken down. That would be suspicious. Fans will know it came from our team. Fans are smart and ruthless, you know. Just ignore this. I mean you don’t even interact with Cam, online or in real life.“ Gail re-assured her client as she truly believed this unlikely shipping would subside soon.

“Mitch, you don’t have to worry. Just stay away from Cam. It’s probably his team planting these stories. He wants more publicity even if he’s already a world-famous pop star. He already has this PR or possibly a real relationship with Pepper and he still wants more. Talk about being greedy.” Teddy chimed in, trying to hide the jealousy in his voice.

“No, I don’t think Cam is like that. He’s really nice. I enjoyed talking to him at that party. The smiley photos of us were not staged. We were genuinely having a good time. I just want a separation between what is staged and what is real in my life so that I won’t lose my mind, you know. But I guess, apart from the staged and the real, there is another thing when fans meddle and I can’t say anything negative about that. They’ll hate me. I don’t even care who they ship me with, as long as the promotion for this movie is not affected.” Mitch responded with his honest thoughts as Teddy felt that Mitch only cared about the reception of the movie. It’s as if Mitch liked he was being shipped with Cam and meanwhile, all the things they do together were strictly for PR purposes.

“I’m sure the movie’s gonna be fine. I’m gonna prepare in my trailer, ok?” Teddy spoke and then left.

“This is why I didn’t wanna tell you, Mitchell Pritchett. You stress about things easily. Just go and prepare for the shoot. I’ll update you if there’s more, which there won’t be, ok?” Gail spoke as she patted Mitch’s shoulder.