ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2012-11-30 09:23 pm

Fake News | Jon/wife, Jon/"Stephen", others | PG-13 | All My Roads Lead To You (4)

Title: All My Roads Lead To You (4/5)
Rating: R
Characters/pairings: Jon/Tracey, Jon/"Stephen", correspondents
Disclaimer: #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement. 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.

In the midst of more dreams and a new case, the tension between Jon and Stephen crosses a line.

AO3 mirror | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5




In the wake of the closing of the Creepy McStalkerface case (Jon had spotted him on four more tapes, two of them so clear the most obtuse jury would have to acknowledge it), Jon was back on top of his senses, and a fresh test ranked his Sentinel hearing in the twenty-ninth percentile for the tri-state area.

He didn't brag about it or anything, but in morning meeting the day afterward somebody asked, and it quickly became obvious that no work was going to get done until he fessed up.

"Anything over thirty-third percentile puts you on first responder duty, right?" said Wyatt, who had evidently been studying this stuff.

First responder duty was the one where you picked a handful of days to be on call, and at any minute they might send a car for you, to do something like stand outside a collapsing building and aim the firefighters inside toward trapped people with heartbeats. It was a daunting prospect, though at least you got to shadow another Sentinel-Guide pair the first time learning anything new, and could get a permanent exemption if it turned out you or your Guide couldn't hack it.

Jon shrugged. "It's based on absolute skill level, not relative...but yeah, I qualify."

"Is there really that much of a difference across regions?" asked John. "Unless you're in an area with a low population that has quite a few low-sensitivity individuals who throw off the entire ranking. Such as Congress."

"Hey, I don't study this stuff," protested Jon. "I just take the tests and go where they tell me."

"So, twenty-ninth percentile," said Sam, tossing back her hair. "How good is that in, like, practical terms? I mean, how far can you hear in, say, in a typical office building? Just as an example."

"I can't separate out voices from the background noise," said Jon quickly. "Not unless you're right outside my door or something. I can't focus on things at that level without Stephen right there and actively talking me through it, all right? And I can't just take in everything, it devolves into this horrible cacophony and gives me a hell of a headache...." He paused, tilting his chin up and furrowing his brow as he felt the atmosphere in the room shift. "Okay, how long have you all been worrying about this?"

"You only told us about the upgrade five minutes ago," Wyatt reminded him.

"I was retroactively worrying for the last week," volunteered John.

Sam frowned. "But you can accidentally fixate on sounds at that distance, right?"

Great. Now they were worried again. His people were thinking of their Sentinel as a...wait, no, he was doing that weird instinctive thing that nobody except his Guide and sometimes other Sentinels would respond to. His employees were thinking of their boss as a potential threat. "I can...but listen, it's never voices, okay?" (Unless it was Stephen's voice, but since none of them were Stephen, they didn't need to know that.) "It's, uh. Remember when I made the building manager call in a plumber last week?"

There were nods from most of his writers. Anyone who had been in the field at the time (Wyatt, Sam, a couple of the field producers) took cues from them.

"I heard the drip. That's what my senses always zoom in on. Mechanical things, structural things, when they break."

"That is the most depressing story ever," said Wyatt solemnly. "You should put it on the Internet some time. It would turn into a meme so fast."


~*~


When Stephen locked his door and drew the blinds the moment his lunch break began, he wasn't even thinking about Jon.

He was mostly thinking about his guest, truth be told. One of those older male political figures, with a square jaw, piercing blue eyes, and thick hair just starting to go grey at the temples. Sort of like Eliot Spitzer, with more hair and less ridiculous ears. And everyone knew where Spitzer had gone right after sharing a desk with Stephen.

If he didn't do something about it now, Stephen was going to spend more of the interview blushing than nailing.

He fell back across his couch, the one that had been new when the studio was first bequeathed to him, and rubbed lotion into his hands. The fantasy was easy to conjure up after reporting on its real-life equivalent across a dozen different political careers. A handsome and powerful man, accustomed via charm or money (but mostly money) to getting whatever he wanted. And right now he wanted Stephen.

There would be a token protest, because that was the done thing, but in the end Stephen would have to give in....

His hips had settled into a deliciously steady rhythm when Stephen felt a by-now familiar flush of recognition.

"Oh, for god's sake, Jon, don't spy on me," he moaned, though it made his breath pick up to imagine what Jon's face must look like right now. Shocked and appalled, mostly. But...was that...a spark of interest?

Jon's attention drew away before Stephen could tease out the subtleties. He didn't go chasing after it; that would have sent entirely the wrong message. Besides, follow-ups were for journalists, not from-the-gut pundits like himself.

And if his fantasy partner that afternoon was a little shorter than usual, with thinner and greyer hair than he tended to prefer, so what? It just meant he'd been reminded of the sexy potential in those particular traits, that was all.


~*~


Jon wasn't even getting cuddles at home any more. He could see Tracey tensing whenever he so much as hugged one of the kids, and it stung.

In a dream he was the lynx, nonverbal this time, wandering the jungle alone. He was looking for something — not the hedgehog, though it seemed to be at the end of every path he tried — with no success. The trails were old and faded; the sky through the breaks in the canopy was dark.

"I found some books," Tracey said one morning over the crossword. "Nothing helpful. There's a support group upstate, but it's Sentinel-Guide, not Sentinel-partner."

"Maybe we could go with Stephen," offered Jon. "Or he and I could try to work something out."

As expected, Tracey grimaced. "Honey, I know you both mean well, and that he's been very helpful to you in some areas...but when it comes to people I'd rather not have knowing the details of my sex life, it's him and any Republican senator at the top of the list."

"Uh," said Jon, twirling his pen. "About that."

The look on her face....

"I didn't tell him, babe. I swear I didn't. His emotional sensitivity was up really high, and he picked up on the right combination of feelings...listen, it's not like he knows details, okay? Nothing about what we do, what you like...all he knows is how, um, how overwhelming it is for me."

"He has no right," said Tracey bitterly.

"It was an accident!" cried Jon, thinking of the intimate moment of Stephen's he himself had overheard earlier that week. "He's got the empathy stuff under control now. He won't do it again."

"If he did, would you know?"

That brought Jon up short. Thing was, he would know, or at least would be able to find out. He could ask Stephen outright and listen for the same increase in heartbeat that a lie detector measured, or he could corner Stephen in the dream-jungle and force the truth out of him, on a level where lies would be impossible to slip past. And he couldn't imagine explaining either method to Tracey without upsetting her more.

While he was caught in the grip of hesitation, Tracey took his silence as a no. "That's what I was afraid of."


~*~


Jon left for work in a stormy mood that showed no sign of lifting. He couldn't feel enthusiastic about any of the segments pitched in morning meeting; he slashed a pen right through an early manuscript he was supposed to be proofing, leaving the blue pages bleeding ink. He was gearing up for an actual fight with one of the animators over the size of an explosion graphic in progress for the DNC when someone called his name. "What?" he snapped over his shoulder.

"Uh, Jon? There's nobody there."

In spite of himself, Jon deflated a bit. "My bad," he said to the unnerved graphics guy. "Could've sworn I heard —"

"Jon! Listen up!"

"Oh," said Jon, recognizing the voice now. "Sorry, I have to take this."

"Good, you noticed me," said Stephen, so close and clear that Jon had to fight the reflex to answer back as if they were connected by satellite instead of just his hypersensitive ears. "Look, I don't know what's going on, but you are seriously grouchy and it's disturbing everybody's work environment. Not just for your people, but for mine, since I pick up on it and then get stuck with a short temper and very little tolerance for mistakes."

And that was different from any other day at the Report how...?

"Don't laugh at me!" complained Stephen. "Just fix it! Or, if it's one of those problems that can be solved with excess shouting, as I believe most problems are: call me over so I can fix it for you. Or come over here, if it'll keep you from hassling your poor under-appreciated drones. I don't care what you do, but do something. Colbert out."


~*~


Five minutes later, someone buzzed Stephen that Jon was on his way up.

Stephen had no idea what he was going to do. All he knew was that his gut wanted his Sentinel beside him, and his gut had yet to steer him wrong.

Jon had dark circles under his eyes when he arrived, and wouldn't stop fidgeting, even after allowing Stephen to shepherd him into an armchair. "I can't stay long, okay? Just a few minutes. If that isn't enough to cheer me up, so be it."

"There's no reason you should be acting so maladjusted," Stephen informed him. "Your senses are totally under control, unless you do something stupid like try to extend them without help. And you have a wonderful Guide who, according to a very reliable diagnosis made after five minutes of conversation with somebody who's never seen me in person, might be some kind of prodigy."

Jon's eyes fluttered closed. "I'm lucky to have you," he said softly.

Praise was almost never fulfilling for Stephen. He could feel when it was shallow or gratuitous; he knew when it was insincere, or when he was being humored. He craved it anyway, of course, but compliments like that were about as helpful as scraps tossed to a starving man.

The feelings he was getting from Jon right now, on the other hand...they were complex and layered, more so than he had the sensitivity to decipher, but they were real. Solid. The emotional equivalent of a hearty beef-and-potato stew.

Letting himself settle on the arm of the chair, Stephen leaned on Jon's shoulders to knead the muscles around his neck. "I'm not going to keep harping on this point, so listen carefully," he said. "You did a...a very adequate job on your first case. And I am accordingly not-horrified to associate with you."

A sudden rush of emotion from Jon left him breathless. Gratitude. Appreciation. Tender warmth. "Geez, Stephen, from you that was practically fawning adoration."

"See, this is why I like to keep expectations low," said Stephen, though it was hard to sound as authoritative when his voice was still shaking. "If I complimented you all the time, you wouldn't have gotten nearly as happy just now."

"If you complimented people all the time," countered Jon, "you wouldn't have to deal with people feeling angry and resentful around you."

"Would so. What if they came to expect it, and then one day I forgot? Then they would be angry and sad. Easier to avoid getting people's hopes up."

"Easier," agreed Jon. He was drifting in thought now, not focusing on Stephen. "But worth it? If you don't risk having some bad times, you'll never get any of the really good times...." His attention pulled back to Stephen, mostly. "I just...I wish more people could see you the way I see you."

Oh, those feelings. Jon loved Stephen. Loved him! Didn't think he was perfect — thank goodness, that would have been way too much pressure — but loved him in spite of his prickliness and inflexibility and anger and all the other traits Jon inexplicably thought of as character flaws. Saw him as charming and cute and basically good. Trusted him. Loved him....

Jon stood up, yanking out of his grip so abruptly that Stephen nearly fell into the chair. "I shouldn't have come."

"Don't know what you're talking about," panted Stephen. He was breathing heavily — when had that started?

"Of course you do!" cried Jon, rocking back on his heels. "You're not dense! You can talk about pure virtuous Sentinel-Guide bonding all you want, but that right there? That was going in the least virtuous direction possible and you know it."

"Jon, you're getting hysterical. I have it on very good authority —"

"Your trashy Sentinel romance novels, you mean."

"The disclaimers in the front say they're based on extensive research! And they're not trashy, there's not even any sex in them —"

"Only in the sense that they never mention anybody's penis! God, Stephen, in every story I've ever heard you describe — the tender caresses, the snuggling, hair-stroking, waxing poetic about each other's sculpted chests, sleeping in the same bed, taking baths together, the one with the magical healing French kissing — it's all about sex. They're romances for people who don't want to admit they're reading romances. Gay romances, in the case of all the ones you read, which explains the not wanting to admit it."

Stephen's gut was a whirl of confusion; his mouth fell open, but he couldn't muster up an answer. Jon was angry at him, and frustrated by him, and still loved him, all at once. His first instinct was to get shouty and defensive, but this was like nothing else he'd ever gotten shouty and defensive over.

Not only that, Jon was entirely convinced he was right — and what if he was? What if the stoic and platonic, but frequently physical, adoration and intimacy in Stephen's books was supposed to be part and parcel with having the hots for someone? What did that mean about Stephen's feelings when he read (and reread, and re-reread) those scenes? What did it mean about Stephen's feelings for Jon, or the way he was tearing up now, head swimming with phrases like Sentinel-Guide romance and never admit it?

And what did it mean about the yearning Jon was feeling for him even now?

"I," said Jon, drained from the outburst. "I'll go. I'm sorry. I'll just go...."

Stephen leaped to his feet, pushed Jon against the nearest bit of blank wall, and kissed him.

Jon met the kiss immediately, clawing at Stephen's back to hold him in place, hips rocking up to meet Stephen's. The brick gave him leverage to push, and then it was Stephen flipped against the wall, undulating against the mortar while Jon pinned him in place with both whole forearms on his chest, from elbow to splayed palms. "Stephen. We can't," he said, making it sound less like an order than a plea.

"Bet we could," panted Stephen, nudging his thigh between Jon's legs. If only he could turn Jon on enough to wipe all those oily guilty feelings from his consciousness....

Jon's head dipped in despair, hairline bumping against Stephen's collarbones. "Dammit, Stephen, don't do this to me."

And either Stephen was imagining things, or the love flowing from Jon had started turning sour....

"What if it's the right thing to do?" demanded Stephen. Anything to push Jon back to that brief shining place of happiness again.

All he got was bitter skepticism. "What are you talking about?"

"You're still having trouble with your marriage, right? Your deep, spiritual marriage," Stephen added hastily. "Once because you tried to go into Sentinel focus without me, but mostly because you're going into sensory overload at the sexy touching — the deep and spiritual sexy touching! — of your lady wife." God, the mental images of Jon and sexy touching...Shake it off, Col-bert! "And unlike zoning, you can avoid overload without me there. As long as I've shown you how."

"You want to Guide me back to having proper sex with my wife," groaned Jon. "She wouldn't buy it for a second. She doesn't even like me talking to you about this."

"She doesn't have to know!" Stephen's heart was hammering against Jon's wrist. "Think of it like a surprise present you're getting her. Would it be good etiquette to tell her how much it cost? No. No it would not. Miss Manners would not approve. Miss Manners would also probably not approve of giving someone your working dick as a present, but in this case I think it's appropriate."

"Fuck," muttered Jon. He wanted to make himself believe it. If only he would use his brain a little less, he could have settled fully into the truthiness already.

It was a wasted effort since Jon wasn't looking him in the eye, but Stephen arched his eyebrows anyway. "That's the idea."


~*~


The nerves under Jon's skin were electric, the pit of his stomach liquid-hot. Part of him wanted to cover Stephen's body with his own and catalog every noise Stephen made approaching orgasm, and part of him just wanted to lick and grope and thrust along with any reasonably attractive adult whose touch didn't destroy his stamina. It scared him that he couldn't tell which desire was stronger.

He was giggling, vaguely aware how high-pitched and desperate it sounded. "You really want to try this? Turn me off. Right now."

No point in going for it if Stephen couldn't un-stimulate him in the first place. He wouldn't be left with even the flimsiest excuse....

"Tell me what you hear," said Stephen.

"You," said Jon instantly. Stephen's thudding heart, the expansion of his lungs with every breath, even the wetness when he gulped and the churning of his stomach....

"Other than me!" moaned Stephen.

Jon opened his eyes, and Stephen instantly dominated that sense too. Specifically, the exact pattern of folds and creases and stretching that made up the tent in Stephen's pants. Right. This wasn't fair to Stephen either. "Cars," panted Jon. "Water in the pipes. Keyboards...somebody laughing...a stapler...birds...."

"Focus on the keyboards," said Stephen. Though still husky, his voice was taking on that calming quality that Guides were supposed to display all the time. "Focus on how hard people are typing, how fast, how close or far each one is. You should be able to count how many are in use. Do that."

Jon tried.

It was a good distraction. When Stephen led him away from the wall, he stumbled along obediently, barely aware which way they were going. His awareness and all his other senses were muffled by the concentration.

No new stimulus was able to snap him out of it until a spray of cold water hit him full in the face.

"You can be a real dick sometimes, you know that?" muttered Jon, toweling himself off while Stephen dunked his own head under the chilly office shower.

"Did it work or not?" snapped Stephen from under the spray.

"It worked."

"Good. Then unless you want to have the sex now, you should probably leave before I try to jump you again."


~*~


When Jon came home that night, he smelled like Stephen's cologne.

Tracey didn't comment. Suspicious though she was of Stephen's intentions, she couldn't blame Jon for accepting hugs when Stephen was the only one giving them out.

But she was tense and worrying long after Jon had fallen asleep.


~*~


When the car with Jon in it arrived at the meeting point, he was zoned. Stephen broke away from the other Sentinel-Guide pair, not even taking the time to say excuse me a minute, and ran to greet him.

"There's some kind of rattling under your hood," Jon informed the driver as Stephen helped him out. "Should probably get that checked out."

They were gathered along with a handful of cops in the shadow of tall and battered apartment buildings, nursing cups of coffee against the grey autumn chill. Cigarette butts littered the sidewalk; waves of identical brightly-colored concert posters were papered on the walls at eye level. Jon shook hands with the other Sentinel and Guide — Vinette and Alicia, the former a young woman with a cloud of dark curls and sculpted arm muscles, the latter in a conservative suit and with enough lines on her face to pass for her Sentinel's mother — then did a double-take at Vinette. "You're the black jaguar!"

Stephen coughed. "Wow, Jon. Racist much?" (He didn't see race, but if you'd told him Vinette was black he would have believed you, because come on, her name was Vinette.)

"It's her spirit animal," stammered Jon. "You know, a panther. Except that panthers aren't one species, just any mid-size cat with solid black fur, and...you were a jaguar, right?"

"Oh! You're the lynx!" said Vinette. "Should've known from the hair. Come on, let's get you debriefed."

As the mission was explained to Jon, Stephen had to keep a tight rein on his empathy to avoid being overwhelmed. A twelve-year-old girl had gone missing. Someone had seen her get into a van, and someone else had seen a van with similar markings in this neighborhood, and that was about all the police knew. Her mother had provided photos for ID, plus an unwashed T-shirt (Alicia had Sentinel scent as well as hearing) and a cell phone video from the past school year: the kid giving a presentation on how magnets worked.

"We cover the same area. From different directions, that's all," Alicia explained to Stephen. "If the girl is in the half where you start and your Sentinel does not hear her voice, we will come through after. She will be found."


~*~


Each group covered the territory on foot. Two plainclothes cops leading the way, one Sentinel and one Guide following behind.

Four hours and some uncounted number of blocks later, Jon was short of breath. His calf muscles were locking up from the long walk. Stephen hadn't tried to put a comforting hand on him today, which saved him some guilt, but meant he kept getting distracted by touch stimuli: the seams in his clothing, little bumps in the ground. His lefty soul was increasingly scandalized at the violation of privacy, though he was taking care never to stay more than a second or two on each voice, and most of what he heard was pitch and cadence rather than identifiable words.

And for all the voices he'd sifted through, none of them were the missing child's.

"What if she's unconscious?" he murmured, for Stephen's ears only. "Drugged, asleep...or what if she's too scared to talk? Or she's fine, but doesn't have anyone to talk to?"

"Then she is being very inconsiderate," huffed Stephen, "and maybe not being rescued will teach her a lesson."

Jon didn't try to talk to him again after that.

He was standing on a street corner, looking back and trying to re-listen to everything (there was a pipe about to break in 404; somebody ought to take a look at that), when someone took his arm. Jon flinched — but it wasn't Stephen, it was Vinette. "We're done," she said. "Remember what we said before about talking if you needed it?"

Jon ran a chilly hand through his hair. He noticed Alicia talking to Stephen, presumably feeling him out on the same issue, and hoped she could the difference between I'm instinctively lashing out at anything connected with my Sentinel's distress and I genuinely do not care about the fate of this kidnapped twelve-year-old. "Yeah. I think I'm okay."

"You sure? No offense, but you smell pretty stressed."

"I want to keep going, obviously," said Jon with a forced shrug. "But that would be bad. Right? Waste of, uh," he waved vaguely at himself, "police resources. They've got their own investigation going on, and probably know what they're doing...at least I hope they do, because that's what my tax dollars pay them for, right? Wouldn't want to get in the way. I'm not a vigilante detective, here."

"Not a vigilante detective," agreed the other Sentinel. "That's a good one. Yeah, that doesn't work out so well in real life as it does on TV."

It was basically a paraphrase of what the officer in charge had told them earlier, but somehow it wasn't until now that Jon felt it really sink in. For a moment he wondered how much his famous distrust of politicians and pundits was deserved, and how much was this deep-seated instinct that if someone wasn't a Sentinel, they probably didn't know what they were doing.


~*~


It was Jon who pulled Stephen out of a car this time, and Stephen instinctively followed before he remembered that the driver was supposed to be dropping them off separately. "Wait, what are we doing? Where are we?"

"My building," said Jon, leading Stephen briskly up the front steps. He nodded to the doorman and made a beeline for the elevators.

"Hang on!" said Stephen in a hushed voice, skidding to a halt and hanging back as Jon hit the button. He had put up his spines that afternoon, and wasn't sure it was safe to unroll yet...but the blankness he was getting from Jon was unnerving, and even anger or disgust would have given him some clue what he was supposed to do here. "I was not prepared for this! What am I supposed to say to your family?"

Jon gave him a level look. "My family's at the house tonight."

"Oh," said Stephen.

This was it, then. The big invitation. Stephen had pictured something a lot more emotional, with a few of those tender caresses and Jon's shy, crooked smile; this setup would have fit better in a tawdry fantasy than a soaring crescendo of intimate affection. But maybe that was coming later. Jon's love for him was still around, tangled up in other feelings though it was. Besides, it was Jon's job to protect him. Stephen had to keep trusting in that.

The elevator doors grumbled open, and Stephen followed Jon in.


~*~


"Hey, babe. Finished the job. They dropped me at the apartment, so I'm going to shower and have a snack, and catch a cab home this evening, okay?"

"Jon! I was expecting you half an hour ago. What happened?"

"Oh, uh, you know, one thing and another...."

Tracey decided to cut to the chase. "Did Stephen keep you?"

"What?" stammered Jon, in the most unconvincing tone possible.

"Honey, it's okay," said Tracey, before her husband could tie himself in knots trying to cover for his friend. "In fact, I was just thinking maybe I've been too hard on him lately."

Jon's reply was a long time coming. "Really?"

The shakiness in his voice was what convinced Tracey she was on to something. She papered over any hints of suspicion with her best "talking to rich Manhattan moms about their spoiled kids" voice. "Really. He gets touchy when he's nervous, right? That, and the way he's been all over you...it's just his way of expressing that he's worried about you."

"That's it," said Jon, letting out a breath. "That's exactly it. Thank you, Trace."

"Hang on, I'm not finished. I was going to say: I think we should take another shot at inviting him over for dinner. Maybe, if things go well, consider talking to him about...things. You know."

"I know," said Jon. He sounded wiped out. "Sorry, this was really kind of a soul-killing day...can we talk about it when I get in?"

"Sure thing. See you soon."


~*~


Stephen sidled out of the guest bathroom shirtless, barefoot, and rubbing lotion into his hands. Jon, sitting on the mattress with his clothes unchanged, barely glanced up from his phone (though he didn't get the luxury of failing to notice that Stephen was beautiful, graceful and tousle-haired, solid and vulnerable all at once).

"We can't do this," he said, hoarse.

Stephen stopped in his tracks, one foot pointed and tucked behind the other. "What?"

"Tracey's changed her mind. Wants you to try talking this out with us."

"And what if that doesn't work?" demanded Stephen.

"Then...I don't know. Then I guess we're back where we started. But even if it doesn't...I can't do this and then go sit at a table with both of you there and look her in the eye. I'm sorry."

Stephen's face had gone stony. "Sorry," he echoed. "I have pure and manly adoring feelings for you and you're sorry."

"Stephen, be reasonable. This was always a last resort. You knew it wasn't —"

"Just — just stop talking, Jon!" yelled Stephen. "Isn't it bad enough I have to feel you feeling it?"

There was nothing Jon could say to make it better, so he didn't try. "There's food in the fridge. Help yourself if you're hungry," he said, ghosting past Stephen. "I need to get a shower."

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