ptahrrific: Woman with a notebook (Default)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2008-04-07 12:17 am

Fake News: A Tiny Version Of Himself

Title: A Tiny Version of Himself
Fandom: TDS, TCR
Rating: PG
Words: ~1400
Disclaimer: Two.

For the characters: Stephen's character is his own. Not mine. Sue me not, please.

And for the real people, the poem:
Please, make no mistake:
these people aren't fake,
but what's said here is no more than fiction.
It only was writ
because we like their wit
and wisecracks, and pull-squints, and diction.
We don't mean to quibble,
but this can't be libel;
it's never implied to be true.
No disrespect's meant;
if you disapprove, then,
the back button's right up there. Shoo.

Notes: Normally I write stories in which "Stephen" is pushed to the brink of complete internal disintegration, and someone (mainly Jon) pulls him back. This one takes place a year or two after he's gone over the edge.

The title is from I Am America: "Children are tiny versions of you, minus the crushing failure."

Mirror on the AO3.



A Tiny Version of Himself


On Sunday afternoon, as always, Jon signed himself in at the front desk of the Center. The aides all knew him well; some waved or nodded as he went by, but they trusted him not to need watching.

Stephen jumped into his arms with more enthusiasm than usual. "Hi, Jon! Hi! Come see what I made! Did you bring me anything?"

"Easy there, Stephen! You have to be careful not to knock me over. Remember how we talked about that?"

"Uh-huh," said Stephen nonchalantly, letting go. "Did you bring me anything?"

"Not today."

"Aw." Undeterred, he grabbed Jon's hand. "We played with clay yesterday. I made a pot! Come see!"


* * *


Stephen's breakdown happened on-air.

He had been shouting, skating along a disconnected thread that led from politics to Hollywood to foreigners to religion to any number of his favorite topics; and somewhere along the line it had tipped out of control, his voice choking, glasses slipping, face flushed and streaked with sweat, as he railed against something that no one else could see.

The raving devolved into an unintelligible jumble of syllables, resolving at last into a jackhammer pounding of no, no, no, no, no, and then it was no longer a tirade but a helpless plea, no no no no no no--

--and that disintegrated into a scream before he collapsed, the cameramen running too late to his side, their machines faithfully continuing to broadcast.

Everyone who watched the news for the next few days saw it from the outside. No one had the faintest idea how it had looked from inside his head.



* * *


The next week, Jon brought a bright red balloon. Stephen squealed with delight and immediately deputized Jon into a game of keep-it-up.

The rules were simple: keep the balloon from landing by smacking it into the air, but the same person couldn't touch it twice in a row. If it touched the ground or the bed, the person whose turn it was to hit it lost the round.

Stephen had been known to break glasses in games with this much action, but his new pair was safe. The thick black frames were sturdy enough to get banged around a little, and a simple grey woven cord tied to the earpieces hung around the back of his neck to keep them from falling off.

He was always wearing a T-shirt when Jon saw him and, except in the coldest weather, shorts. Any nice pair of shoes would quickly get scuffed, so he usually walked around in sandals or clogs, though he lost them on a regular basis.

He couldn't put on tennis shoes by himself. He didn't know how to tie the laces.


* * *


Most of his family refused point-blank to talk to the press.

The legal rights to make decisions for him belonged to his wife, and there they stayed. His parents appeared to have washed their hands of the whole situation.

One of his brothers made the mistake of telling a reporter, "If he wants to go crazy, he's famous enough to do it on his own dime." By the time the requests for follow-ups began to descend, he had learned not to answer.



* * *


Stephen had been asking about movies, so Jon brought in one that his kids (now six and four) had declared a pinnacle of the talking-animals, catchy-songs, touching-moral-lesson genre. They sat on the floor across from the television, backs against the bed, Stephen cuddling against Jon's side.

Maybe half an hour into the show, Stephen slung an arm around Jon's neck and planted a sloppy, childish kiss on his cheek.

Jon patted his head affectionately. Like nothing so much as a friendly cat, Stephen nuzzled him, practically purring.

And then he was kissing the corner of Jon's mouth.

Raising a hand, Jon pushed the other man's head gently away. "Stephen, honey, no. Don't do that."

"Aww," pouted Stephen. But that was all the protest he made before tucking his head against Jon's neck and watching the rest of the movie in peace.


* * *


Jon tried to keep a respectful distance, but it wasn't long before he started pressing to be allowed to see Stephen. "Maybe it'll jog his memory," he argued. "Maybe I'll touch some nerve that you don't. You know I'm not doing this for the gossip. I'm his friend. Please." Finally, Stephen's wife agreed to let him visit.

Stephen was still in the hospital back then, and Jon half expected him to be hooked up to some assembly of wires and monitors and tubes; but no, he was sitting in a chair by the window, kicking his heels.

He turned to see Jon, and his face lit up.

Jon broke into a relieved grin. "Hey, Stephen!"

"Hi!" said Stephen brightly. "Who are you?"

The delight faded, but Jon hung on to his optimism as Stephen came over to inspect him more closely. "I'm Jon. Jon Stewart. I'm -- I'm your Jewish friend. We work together. I host a TV show, and you used to be on it, and now you host--"

"Do you like birds?"

"What? Uh, I guess--"

"There are birds outside." Stephen grabbed his hand, dragged him towards the window. "Come see!"



* * *


Usually Stephen had the energy of a little kid on a sugar high, so the nursing staff must have really worn him out on the day he drifted off in the middle of Jon's visit. Jon debated whether to leave early. At first he decided to stick around, in case Stephen woke up and missed him.

Then he decided to leave, because Stephen asleep looked exactly the same as he always had, and watching him made Jon feel sick at heart.

No sooner had he risen to go, though, than Stephen began to mumble.

As he wavered in the doorway, the little bursts of syllables grew more urgent, then more high-pitched. Jon returned to Stephen's side in an instant, stopping only long enough to press the button that summoned an aide; when the woman in sterile white arrived a minute later, Stephen was beginning to scream.

"I don't know what's wrong. He was asleep -- I--"

"Nightmare," said the aide matter-of-factly. "Don't worry. These are routine."

Holding down one of Stephen's arms, she rolled up his sleeve and pressed a needle into the skin. Within thirty seconds his cries began to recede.


* * *


"You're just sticking him in an institution? Listen, I don't want to tell you what to do about your husband, but if there's any chance of getting our Stephen back--"

"Jon, stop it! You think this was an easy choice? Our marriage had its problems, but I didn't want to lose my husband any more than you wanted to lose your friend."

"Then why give up on him like this?"

"He was miserable, Jon! Only happy when he won something, and then it never lasted long. Any kind of loss tore him apart. He was always on edge, only comfortable when he was angry."

"I know, but--"

"And he had a pretty miserable childhood, too. You know that, right?"

"I gathered, yeah."

"But now -- he's like a child again. He's lost all the knowledge that hurt him, all the fear and failure and rejection that broke him the first time around. And with all the work he did, he's earned more than enough money to keep him safe and comfortable like this for as long as he wants. So who's to say this isn't for the best?"



* * *


The sun was warm and the sky clear, so they spent the next visit out in the garden. Presently Jon took a break from blowing bubbles to say, "Stephen?"

"Uh-huh?"

"Do you ever have bad dreams?"

"Nope," said Stephen. "Sometimes I wake up and my face is wet, especially after you visit, but I never remember what I was dreaming about. Blow more bubbles, Jon!"

So Jon dipped the little plastic wand in the bottle of soapy liquid and blew a stream of multicolored bubbles into the air. They flashed in the sunlight as they dipped and swooped along eddies in the atmosphere; and Stephen chased them in circles, laughing, without a care in the world.

[identity profile] jeethree.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 04:36 am (UTC)(link)
I'm sad that Stephen broke, but in some ways I'm glad he's free (consciously) from whatever caused his anger- and of course the fact Jon would never, ever give up on him.

[identity profile] issuchtodiefor.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 04:56 am (UTC)(link)
This is the kind of sweetness that makes my heart hurt. It was lovely and very... very touching.

This hurts.

[identity profile] rehime.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 05:09 am (UTC)(link)
Bad. It's so sad, but so very well written.

[identity profile] xx-azure-sky-xx.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 05:57 am (UTC)(link)
Oh wow, this completely broke my heart.
D: </3

[identity profile] vibishan.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 07:11 am (UTC)(link)
...especially after you visit me....

Is Jon triggering something? Even on a subconscious level?

Really poingant. I love the flailing and moral difficulties with Jon and Evei - very realistic and understated.

Also, strangely enough, the line that really broke *my* heart was when Jon introduced himself as Stephen's Jewish friend. I don't know why. I guess it felt so - so *reconciled* to how much "stephen" dismissed him, and because the usual fandom description of their relationship would be *best* friends, and Jon didn't feel, I don't know, brave or entitled or sure enough to use it.
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[identity profile] sarken.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 09:41 am (UTC)(link)
He turned to see Jon, and his face lit up.

Jon broke into a relieved grin. "Hey, Stephen!"

"Hi!" said Stephen brightly. "Who are you?"


That was like being punched in the gut. Poor Jon, poor Stephen, poor everybody. :( But, oh, thank God Jon hung around when no one else would.


[identity profile] sloppycronkite.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 10:51 am (UTC)(link)
Like nothing so much as a friendly cat, Stephen nuzzled him, practically purring.

And then he was kissing the corner of Jon's mouth.

Raising a hand, Jon pushed the other man's head gently away. "Stephen, honey, no. Don't do that."

Oh, I could just see this so clearly. Broke my heart, it did. Really well done.

[identity profile] indiwise.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 12:26 pm (UTC)(link)
OMG. ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?


YOU DID, YOU KNOW.

Brilliant. *applause*

[identity profile] super-six-one.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 01:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, it hurts, it hurts. But in the this-is-a-brilliant-piece-of-writing kind of way. Thank you for posting this. :]

[identity profile] wishflower4.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 08:34 pm (UTC)(link)
*weeps quietly in the corner* Every word of it hurt, but that last line...that was poetry.

[identity profile] burn-to-emerge.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 08:38 pm (UTC)(link)
That is the most depressing happy ending ever. :(

This is gorgeous- I especially love the imagery of the bubbles. And, just for the record, the line that broke me: "Sometimes I wake up and my face is wet, especially after you visit, but I never remember what I was dreaming about. Blow more bubbles, Jon!"

Oh, Stephen.

(You know, I changed my mind. My favorite part is your characterization of Evie. The wives are hard to write in any fic, IMO, and with a plot like this, plus "Stephen" makes it a fine line indeed.)

[identity profile] unabstruse.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 08:54 pm (UTC)(link)
I was going to quote the lines that make me tear up, or smile, or gasp- but that would be pretty much all of them. I want to cuddle Stephen and keep him safe as much as I want to with Jon.

This was just really..... yeah. Unsettling. And amazing. You make every single word count, which makes for some very intense reading. Thank you for sharing :)

[identity profile] asarelah.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 09:35 pm (UTC)(link)
That was awesome, very much in character...but I'm curious, what exactly is wrong with Stephen in clinical terms?

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[identity profile] asarelah.livejournal.com - 2008-04-08 02:16 (UTC) - Expand

(Anonymous) 2008-04-07 10:04 pm (UTC)(link)
A beautiful, bittersweet fic, it just broke my heart in a million little pieces.
Apparently, that isn't broken enough for me, because I'd really like to ask if maybe you would consider writing these or other events in the same universe from Stephens perspective? I'd love to read that.

Okay, I just broke my rule of not reading real person fanfiction. And you know what, I don't care! Again, this was a beautiful story. I loved it.

Anne

[identity profile] bohemean.livejournal.com 2008-04-07 10:51 pm (UTC)(link)
That was... wow. You amaze me.

[identity profile] canadian-plant.livejournal.com 2008-04-08 12:00 am (UTC)(link)
I once read a comment you made where you described yourself as a comic writer (and you are, often making me laugh when I don't expect it) but never before has a comic writer made me cry so much :-) In a good way, of course.

[identity profile] muffin-love77.livejournal.com 2008-04-08 01:03 am (UTC)(link)
This was beautiful. I was also torn about whether what he became was a positive thing or a negative thing, but this story was amazing. I felt really moved by it and really felt for both Stephen and Jon. This was such an interesting idea and I wonder if you'll expand upon it.

[identity profile] piratepianist.livejournal.com 2008-04-08 01:19 am (UTC)(link)
A great snapshot of beautiful heartache. I love pieces like this and find them so subtly passionate compared to romance or sheer tragedy. Mixing the two has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, and this was superb.

I love that Jon is so devoted to and unconditonally loves Stephen, too. This puts a quivering smile on my face - job well done. :)

[identity profile] gaiafaye.livejournal.com 2008-04-08 02:04 am (UTC)(link)
:( That was all-around depressing.

(no subject)

[identity profile] gaiafaye.livejournal.com - 2008-04-08 04:58 (UTC) - Expand

[identity profile] lrn567.livejournal.com 2008-04-11 02:50 am (UTC)(link)
that was sweet.
and sad.
and good. :]
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[identity profile] stellar-dust.livejournal.com 2008-04-26 11:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, you just broke my heart again! *hugs Stephen*

.. at least, this time, Jon wasn't madly in love with him when it happened. That .. just thinking about it. Ouch!

[identity profile] elincubus.livejournal.com 2009-05-11 03:07 am (UTC)(link)
This was so sad and beautiful--I loved it.
It's obvious that you put a lot of thought in it, just bittersweet and beautiful.

You said this "State of Grace" fic had a similare scenario? I would really like to read it, but when I trie to open it, all I get is an error page.

(no subject)

[identity profile] elincubus.livejournal.com - 2009-05-13 23:39 (UTC) - Expand
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[identity profile] gaudy-night.livejournal.com 2010-06-25 05:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Damn, this one hurt.