ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2011-09-12 12:54 am

Fake News: Open Heart

Title: Open Heart
Rating: PG
Pairings/Characters: Jon/"Stephen", Jon/Tracey, Tracey/Charlene, Tad/Bobby, Olivia, families, OCs
Warnings: (skip) heart attack (nobody dies)
Disclaimer: Characters belong to the Report. Names of real people are used in a fictitious context, and all dialogue, actions, and content are products of the author's imagination only.

Part of the Expectingverse, from the spring before The Interview. The Stewart and Colbert families have practically moved in together, but most of the world still doesn't see Jon and Stephen's relationship for what it is. Stephen thought he'd be okay with that. When Jon has to be rushed to the hospital, he thinks again.

For my [community profile] hc_bingo card, prompt "invisibility."





"I don't think your cousin likes me," said Tad glumly when Stephen approached the grill to get a fresh hamburger. "She's been giving me dirty looks all afternoon."

"Don't worry about it," said Stephen. "Charlene's just morally opposed to any food that comes wrapped in plastic."

The double housewarming party was in full swing, with guests strewn across the full shared back yard. Most of the kids, including one of Stephen's nieces, were engaged in a game that loosely resembled baseball, which Jon had somehow been dragged into. Olivia was pushing Angie (or possibly Nikki; Stephen could never tell Tad and Bobby's twins apart) on the tire swing. Charlene, fresh off the plane from a month in Guipúzcoa, ended up conversing in animated Spanish with a womb transplant couple from Venezuela.

And they all knew.

The thought kept hitting Stephen mid-stride. He would be talking with someone or watching the kids or taking a bite out of his burger, and all of a sudden the knowledge would crash down on him that he could walk right up to Jon and kiss him and nobody would bat an eye.

(Well, some of the kids would make faces and complain that kissing was gross, but that didn't count.)

It made him feel positively dizzy, and he hadn't even started drinking yet.


§


Stephen had decided early on that he didn't want to expose his baby boy to too much publicity. Just the photoshoot for People. And one for the Good Housekeeping article. And one for TIME, which was only fair when George ended up on the TIME 100. And....

He did manage to stay away from advertising deals, an effort made easier when Phoebe pointed out that her contract included most of the profits. At least she didn't get a cut of the free samples, which Pampers, Gerber, and Fisher-Price were all too happy to ship to his door until they wised up to the fact that his noncommittal hints would never be anything but.

("You better enjoy this," said Tyrone one afternoon when he was babysitting, spooning mashed sweet potatoes into George's mouth. "Your daddy got it for you by being a total cock-tease. Can you say that word? Cock...tease."

"I'm telling," said Stevie crossly.

"Awm," added George.)

Okay, so it took a year or two for things to settle down. But by the time George was putting together short sentences, Stephen was only showing him off to strangers during the closed meetings Phoebe held with small groups of prospective transplant couples. All of them had private struggles of their own: the men with male partners, the trans women, the otherwise average pairs whose doctor had come to them one day with bad news. All of them knew how to not let it leave the room when the little boy in the video asked for "Other Daddy."


§


It wasn't easy to defy the pleading of a dozen eager children, but after three innings Jon begged a rest and all but staggered over to one of Stephen's wicker lawn chairs to catch his breath.

Should've had them sooner, he admonished himself, only half kidding. Then maybe you wouldn't be too decrepit to keep up with them.

Most of the conversational groups had already solidified, so it was Phoebe who first noticed his isolation and came to see him. "Hey, Jon. Can I get you anything? Water? Lemonade?"

"That's my line," protested Jon. "Who's the host here?"

"Water it is."

While the doctor was gone, Jon tried to mop his sweating brow with some discretion.

"They must have been working you pretty hard," remarked Phoebe, returning with a plastic cup of ice water. "How do you feel?"

"Like a fifty-year-old asthmatic who ate too much coleslaw and then tried to keep up with a pack of elementary schoolers." He took a few sips of the water, more out of gratitude than thirstiness. The idea of downing the whole cup made his stomach lurch. "Listen, I appreciate the worry, but I'll be fine. I promise."

"How's your chest? Any pain? Pressure?"

"I mentioned the asthmatic part, right?" Jon winced under her clinical gaze. He wasn't a specimen on an autopsy table, dammit. "And maybe a bit of indigestion."

Phoebe produced a phone so tiny it might have materialized out of thin air. "And maybe a heart attack. I'm calling the ER."


§


The first sibling Stephen had tried to explain things to was Ed, during a brotherly lunch crammed into the whirl of activity that was Vancouver. It didn't go well. He stumbled; he got parts out of order; the others couldn't resist trying to put him back on track, leading to soft-switching and repetition and confusion all around.

"Stevie, buddy, I love you. You know that," said Ed at last. "Which is why I want you to get help. Real help, not letting these people enable you while your imagination runs wild and you hurt another good woman with these behaviors. And think about your children! Doesn't your little boy have enough to be confused about already?"

It had been a year before he tried again, taking a chance on Elizabeth, who had sent congratulations-on-your-baby and merry-Christmas cards that both Charlene and Tyrone agreed had more meaning than they let on. He kept it minimal this time: Lulu, I'm gay. Charlene knows; she was in on it from the start. Also, I have what my doctor says are symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but it's okay, I'm in treatment. And my partner's supporting me. You probably know who he is; I may have mentioned him once or twice.

Lulu hugged him, and there were tears—mostly Stephen's—and that year the Colbert-Busch household got the extra-large Christmas card, the one that included family photos TMZ would have had an orgasm over. While George was learning not to say "Other Daddy" in public, for this private moment he was sitting straight and tall with a different father's hand on each shoulder.


§


George shrieked with delight as Olivia whirled him around in the tire swing, fast enough to turn him into a blur.

"If you make him throw up, I'm telling Jon to fire you," said Stephen by way of greeting. For the past few years he had mostly resisted the impulse to threaten Jon's new correspondents, an effort for which Jon had to praise him often to make up for the disappointment he felt whenever he entered a room and none of them cringed in respectful terror.

Case in point: Olivia just shrugged and said, "That probably works better on people who don't have, like, three movie deals. You want a turn? Spinning George, I mean. If you want a turn on the swing, that's fine too, but I'm not spinning you."

"No, it's not that. I, um. I was going to ask if you could watch him a little longer."

"That was the plan, yeah. Why? Is something going on?"

Stephen's eyes flicked over to the small but growing gathering of people. "The boss is S-I-C-K, and I don't want him in the W-A-Y, so can you D-I-S-T-R-U-C-T him, P-L-Z?"

"D-I-S-T-R-U-C-T," mumbled George as the tire slowed to a gentle twirl. "Dis-trucked. District! Time to be Better Known." He started humming the Report theme song.

"Um, O-K," said Olivia, sobering. "How B-A-D is it? On a scale of one to 'paging Dr. House'?"

"Eleventeen," said Stephen, and left before she noticed that it wasn't a real number.


§


Stevie, ever the hoarder of knowledge, was the one who had made the spreadsheet. Which people knew about their relationship with Jon. Which knew, in the broadest terms, about their mental health issues. Which knew, specifically, that even on a good day Stephen was more a "we" than an "I".

In the file itself, these categories were labeled with references to Glee characters, a code that Stevie thought was very clever, Tyrone thought was obvious, and Stephen didn't understand.

Their therapist had come down on the "clever" side, though she also started talking about the importance of integration, which made them all bristle until she rephrased it. "I mean that it's important for you to live with integrity."

"Well, what does that mean?" demanded Stephen.

"That's something you have to settle for yourselves."

"She means we need to give up this spreadsheet business and tell everyone everything," said Tyrone flatly. His disdain was a far cry from the time when he couldn't have cared less about privacy, especially knowing that a well-timed disturbing disclosure would hit Jon harder than any personal attack. Stephen had once scoffed at the idea too, back when he refused to admit that parts of his life were less than perfect.

"Not at all. You have a right to a personal life. The trick is to be able to keep things personal without denying their existence. They're parts of who you are, and it's important to be able to embrace them, even around people who can't see them."


§


Jon ended up on the ground for a bit when he was sure he was going to throw up otherwise. The urgency passed, but he was still miserable enough that getting up didn't seem like a priority.

At least Phoebe seemed to be enjoying herself. She was ordering people around like a pro, sending Charlene off for aspirin, Bobby to fetch a pillow, Elizabeth to refill the water. Tracey she left at Jon's side, the better to hold his hand.

The kids flanked their mother, Maggie wide-eyed and silent, Nate still dragging the baseball bat. "In health class they said you're supposed to take aspirin," he said. "Did you have aspirin, Dad?"

Tracey ruffled his hair. "Shh. It's okay, the doctor took care of it."

"But you're a very smart kid to remember that," added Phoebe, "and it'll probably save somebody's life one day. Stephen! What kept you?"

Stephen had showed up not a minute too soon; Jon could hear the sirens in the distance. "Here," he said, thrusting his iPad at Jon. "Hospitals are boring. You're going to need this. It has Scrabble that's been hacked so the computer doesn't know how to spell, and bookmarks to all the most edifying conservative websites, and a whole bunch of movies in which strong women who've been hurt in the past learn to find love again. Since I can't go with you, it's the next best thing."

"Thanks," said Jon faintly.

The ambulance wailed closer.

Maggie tugged on her mother's sleeve. "How come he can't go?"

"Complicated grown-up stuff, sweetheart," said Tracey. "Uncle Stephen's going to stay here with Aunt Charlene and watch you guys, so you be good for them, okay? Stephen, can you stay here while I go get my wallet?"

Balancing the two loves of his life made Jon's world complicated at the best of times, but right now, when he really needed someone's hand in his, every moment of the struggle was worth it.


§


Tracey had stayed in the "keep it secret, keep it safe" camp for a long time. Stephen didn't know when she had switched sides; he only knew that, after Jon and Charlene, he was the last person she discussed it with.

The kids were in bed. Charlene was in Tunisia. Jon had fallen asleep during the movie, his head in Tracey's lap, his feet across Stephen's.

"I don't want to do this halfway," explained Tracey, idly stroking Jon's hair. "I'm not interested in being whispered about by strangers who think my husband's having an affair. But if the rest of you are okay with going all in...I'd like that. Get it out there on our own terms, ahead of the tabloids, and let the world know that we have this thing and it works."

Stephen wasn't okay with it at all, and said so. "And why the sudden change of heart, huh? Secrecy's worked fine so far! The Olivia thing was a fluke—I won't let it happen again, I promise! Do you not trust me any more?"

"Other way around."

"That doesn't even make sense!"

Jon snorted in his sleep, one leg twitching. Stephen checked his volume.

"I used to imagine growing old with this man," said Tracey softly, when she had reassured herself that Jon was still asleep. "He'd be retired except for charity tours, I'd find a nice little animal shelter to volunteer at, we'd have a whole wall of pictures of our successful grown-up kids. When I think about it now, the wall has pictures of George mixed in, and sometimes it's Charlene that I'm tracking the flight times for, and when I bring home a cat with compulsive licking behavior you help me beg Jon to let us keep it."

(Stephen wasn't tearing up. There was something in his eye, that's all.)

"I used to figure this whole thing..." A wave of her hand encompassed their shared couch. "...was bound to implode any day, so it wasn't worth the hassle of sharing around any more than necessary. And now...."


§


By the time the EMTs showed up, Jon was able to sit up while they took readings and asked questions. Family history. How much he exercised. How many years he had smoked.

Stephen stood out of the way, fighting not to cry, grateful for Charlene and Elizabeth on either side of him. It was good that Jon had Tracey. It was good that she was the one everybody was looking to. If something went wrong, if heaven forbid someone needed to make decisions on Jon's behalf, he had a partner who wasn't dancing on the edge of a panic attack.

It was a blessing, really, that he didn't count.

Jon kissed both his kids and looked briefly around for a third. His searching eyes lit on Stephen, who gave a brief shake of the head. If Jon was disappointed, he didn't show it; he just turned back to Nate and Maggie and said something low and calming, before letting Tracey help him onto the gurney and addressing the scattered audience.

"Not the exit I had planned today, but at least it was dramatic," he said, with a sheepish half-bow. "Good to see you all. Please enjoy the rest of the party. And finish off those hot dogs, because it looks like I'm not going to be able to enjoy the leftovers."

Laughter. Nervous, but real. Stephen nearly choked.

"I'll clear everyone out," murmured Charlene, giving his arm a gentle squeeze. He barely felt it. At the moment, most of him didn't seem real. "Lulu, would you mind watching the kids...?"

"Daddy? What's going on?"

Stephen yanked out of Charlene's grip and whipped around. "It's fine, baby boy," he squeaked at George, before hissing to the woman leading him, "I thought I told you to D-I-S—"

"Which is fine if things stay at eleventeen," interrupted Olivia. "But if it gets worse? And you keep him away from it? I swear to you, he is never gonna forgive you."


§


The PTSD (labeled Quinn deserves better parents on Stevie's spreadsheet) had become an open secret around the Report studio, helped along by Tad and Bobby's quiet defenses and solidified that one time during Fleet Week when Stephen bonded with a veteran over flashback-coping techniques during the audience Q&A.

The hosts' relationship (Kurt is adorable and so can you!) was known to trusted friends within both studios, plus Olivia, who had been inducted into the group ahead of schedule when she caught them making out after the Rally. By this point it had to be suspected by everyone else anyway, but for once it was Jon who said they should be more careful.

As Stephen, he was fine with that. As Stevie, he was fine with anything as long as he got his quiet moments with Jon. As Tyrone, he wasn't thrilled, but repurposed his discontent as fetish fuel, purring about being the family's dirty little secret with an aggression that always made Jon kill the mood by trying to reassure him.

Jon backed off, at least from them, when Stephen insisted the double life wasn't really upsetting anyone. But Stephen noticed that he made a point of paying extra attention to George on the days that followed, just in case.


§


Jon was a few feet away from being lifted into the back of the ambulance when Stephen came charging down the front path toward the driveway, George bouncing heavily on his hip.

"Wait!" yelled Stephen. "One minute. Just a minute! Is it okay if we say goodbye? A...a real goodbye?"

Tracey and Jon shared a look, and a nod.

"Are you dying?" said George, breathless, as Stephen deposited him on the side of the gurney.

"No, not dying." Jon squeezed the boy's hands in his own increasingly achy ones. "I'm just going to the hospital. They're going to run some tests and give me some medicine and I'll be back before you know it. In the meantime, you be good, okay? I love you very much."

"I love you too, Other—Uncle—Daddy?" George looked anxiously from Jon to the paramedics to his father.

"It's okay," said Stephen, squeezing his shoulder. "We're having integrity now. We're visible. You can embrace him everywhere."

By the look on his face, that made about as much sense to George as it did to Jon. Stephen helpfully cleared it up by bending over and kissing Jon full on the mouth.

It couldn't last long. He hoisted George out of the way, leveled a pre-emptive glare at the EMTs (none of whom were paying attention to him), and stepped back as Jon was hauled up into the ambulance. Tracey followed without waiting for someone to offer a hand, purse and borrowed iPad safely cradled in her arms. The pressure on Jon's chest had returned with a vengeance, but he scraped together enough strength to wave.

The last thing he saw before the doors closed was George waving back, calling, "Bye, Other Daddy! I'll see you in health!"

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