ptahrrific: Jon and Stephen, "Believe in the me who believes in you" (fake news)
Erin Ptah ([personal profile] ptahrrific) wrote2012-12-06 09:27 am

Fake News | Jon/wife, Jon/"Stephen", others | PG-13 | All My Roads Lead To You (5)

Title: All My Roads Lead To You (5/5)
Rating: PG-13
Characters/pairings: Jon/Tracey, Jon/"Stephen", (skip) Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg
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 which Jon has to get his act together or else, and this turns out to be a proper crossover rather than a setting AU after all.

Relevant to this fic: a cat cuddling with baby hedgehogs. And as some of you noticed, Stephen's Sentinel/Guide not-romance novels are straight out of early Sentinel fandom (yes, even the "gen" French kissing).

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




After much wavering, a round of Formidable Opponent, and half a dozen Google searches on "how to change your Sentinel" (apparently it was possible, but it required a bunch of scary drugs and you had to have replacements chosen already so you could bond with them right away), Stephen decided to go.

"You see, Jimmy Fallon, I'm being polite," he explained, as he and his seasonal BFF went wine shopping. In an uspcale place, so they were surrounded by dark wood and darker bottles, and not much light. It made him feel like a goth, only richer. "Because I was raised in the South, and we know from hospitality. But I am going to be stoic and unemotional the whole time, and then take off for a long vacation in the Caribbean. Alone."

"Uh-huh," said Jimmy. "Don't you have to be in town next week for the election, Stephen Colbert?"

"What are you, in bed with the fact-checkers now?" complained Stephen. "Facts are for liberals, as the Romney campaign has made very clear. So are emotions. Now you need to help me pick out a bottle, so I don't end up with something bitter and easily smashable."


~*~


"Honey, I swear, I can watch the casserole," said Jon. "Probably safer than having me drive, too."

Ever since the summer their family vehicles, as well as the company car, had been getting all the recommended tune-ups exactly on time. Nobody wanted Jon to zone on the rattle of a loose bolt. And even that was only about making him comfortable as a passenger. Viacom had never liked him driving in the first place, and his wife's suspicion of everything he touched lately certainly extended to steering wheels.

"You're not going far," pointed out Tracey. As Jon was about to express his shock, she went on, "And it still hasn't gotten that cold outside. You could walk."

"I could," admitted Jon. He still had some lingering soreness from the long walk through the city the week before, but he sensed this was not the time to plead sympathy. Besides, the idea of taking an extended schlep with his daughter had its appeal. "But what if I don't get back in time for dinner?"

"Is Stephen usually on time for anything?"

Jon managed an uncomfortable laugh. On the one hand, he didn't want to seem like he was encouraging or engaging in Stephen-bashing; on the other, well, she had a point. "I guess not. But, you know, just in case...."

"Toss me your phone," said Tracey. "I'll text him while you're getting Maggie in her coat."


~*~


Carrying a nicely beribboned bottle of wine, and muttering about stupid last-minute time changes, Stephen strolled up the gravel of Jon's driveway.

Well, one of Jon's driveways. For one of Jon's houses. But this time, it was the place where his family was staying that day. And sure enough it was Jon's wife who opened the door.

"Mrs. Stewart," said Stephen stiffly, trying to shake her hand and give her the bottle all at once. "Pleased to re-meet you."

Lady Stewart opted to forgo the handshake and take the wine. She put it on the nearest flat surface, though, which was the top of a piano. Seemed like a weird place for alcohol. "Come on in."

"Might want to put that somewhere else," said Stephen as he followed her into the living room. If the Stewarts wanted advice, he might as well start giving it right away. "You don't want the kids getting into...where are the kids, anyway?" He swiveled his head; the house seemed awfully quiet. "And where's Jon?"

"Jon's taking Maggie to a sleepover," said Lady Stewart, almost brightly. Stephen wasn't feeling any cheer from her, though. "And Nate happens to be at sleepaway camp this week."

Stephen stopped in his tracks. "I don't understand."

"Look, Stephen, I'll make this simple." She spun on her heel and faced him with folded arms. "I need to know exactly what your intentions are toward my husband. What they have been, and what they're going to be in the future. And...and so help me, if you give me the wrong answer, I don't care how hard it is — I will see to it that he never talks to you again."


~*~


"And you're not serving anything with ham in it, are you? Because this kid, I tell you, we're not pandering to their every food-related whim or everything, but I figure every kid gets to have a thing they find so gross we won't force them to eat it, and for Maggie, it's —"

"Look, buddy," interrupted Clara's dad. "This your first sleepover?"

"Well, no, I mean, I didn't have a ton of friends as a kid, but when I was fifteen...oh, you mean my first time sending Maggie to a sleepover." Jon tugged at his collar. "Uh. Yes. Yes, it is."

"Uh-huh. Well, here's the deal. Your daughter is gonna eat a ton of junk food, stay up way past her bedtime, and spend the next month quoting whatever Disney movies we put on. And it's gonna be okay. Okay?"

"Right," said Jon. "Sorry."

Clara's dad clapped him on the back. "Good man. Go enjoy your night off."

Jon was about to reply when something caught his ear. "You have a radio on?"

"Hm? Sharon's probably got the TV in the kitchen. Likes a distraction when she's baking. You using your Sentinel powers to hear that?"

"They're not really powers," said Jon, shuffling and trying to deflect. It was one thing to answer questions from the correspondents he'd known and worked with for years, another to get curious prodding from a guy he only knew because their kids were both in Mrs. Coulson's class. "And I was probably just at the right angle for the acoustics, or something. You have a good night, now."

Once back on the sidewalk, Jon pulled out his phone and fired up the 4G. His hearing had snapped to attention at the name of the (previously?) missing twelve-year-old, and picked up alongside it phrases like suspect arrested in the kidnapping of and safely returned to her family. If it was true, it would be on the Internet...

...and sure enough, there it was in his Google alerts. Below it was an email from Vinette that had apparently been mass-mailed to her Guide, Jon, Stephen, and another Sentinel-Guide pair who must have worked on the case. Well done, it said, and Join us for dinner to celebrate?

Jon could answer later. He slipped the phone back into his pocket and set off, taking a leisurely pace. With one major weight off his chest and plenty of time to spare until his presence was needed, he might as well take the time to enjoy the scenery.


~*~


A hot, stinging wave of emotion ran through Stephen, fury and shame and fear blending in his veins like the world's most stressful cocktail. His first thought, as ever, was to yell; on second thought, he didn't dare. It was one thing to contemplate un-Guiding himself: they could have gone back to the way they used to be, and he could even still shout at people on Jon's behalf if necessary. But to be cut off, entirely, from his most senior Best Friend Forever?

"Fine!" he said, too loudly. "Let me sit down first, okay? It's stressful work, giving completely innocuous answers."

It was the wrong thing to say. As he sank into the nearest armchair, he already felt like Lady Stewart's suspicion was punching him in the face. And he had just finished steeling himself to have all the walls up, to feel no unnecessary emotions tonight.

But since there was no other way to be sure of the Right Answer, he let himself open.

And ohfuck

—anger hurt suspicion fear mistrust determination Stephen you're the problem you're a threat —

"You're serious," he breathed, clinging to the armrests like he'd just pitched down the first drop of a roller coaster. "Dead serious. You'd do it, you'd use the kids against him, whatever you had to do, but you wouldn't have to, don't you know that? Don't you know anything? He's always chosen you!"

She hadn't known. She was surprised, confused. It blended with the torrent of other emotions she was balancing, all painful, all aimed right at Stephen, oh God he might as well have been a kid again. He couldn't turn it off. He couldn't focus, couldn't reach for Jon, and with no Jon he couldn't turn it off.

"You're scared," he said out loud, as much to filter the torrent for his own sanity as to be heard. "Of what? Scared I'll hurt him. Scared I don't care enough about — no, that's stupid too, I care about him more than — than anyone."

"Stop reading my mind!" ordered Tracey, shaken now.

"I am empathizing, madam!" yelled Stephen. "And no, I do not have base sexual designs on your husband — at least, I didn't — he started it!"

This time it was Tracey who had to sit down. The shock had wiped everything else from her attention. "What are you talking about?"

Stephen folded his arms, hugging himself. "We didn't have sex!" he said quickly, in the faint hope of starting this off on a positive note. "There was one time we met in a Sentinel dream so he could help me dial back on the oversensitivity, which he had to do because it was starting to hurt even being around people, and he swears it was sexual but I maintain that it was just very emotional spirit-cuddling. And then we made out, which I guess I kind of started, but it was his idea — no, don't cry! He made me stop!"

Tracey's eyes kept right on getting swimmier. "Is that supposed to help?"

"He loves you so much." Stephen gulped over the lump in his throat. "I don't...he loves me too, but maybe it isn't the same...maybe he never would have thought sex things about me if everything had been normal with you. The only reason we got as close as we did is because he was hoping it might fix things with you."

Her emotions kept shifting places; it was impossible to keep up. For the moment, anger and despair seemed to be leading the dance. "And you went along with it? Thought you could seize the opportunity, jump him while you had the chance?"

"No!" wailed Stephen. He couldn't even tell if this was working. All he knew was that nothing was under his control and everything hurt. "I went along with it because I love him and I want him to be happy!"

He pulled off his glasses and sobbed manfully into the knitted cuff of his sweater


~*~


Jon wasn't using his Sentinel senses as he toed off his sneakers, so it wasn't until he was halfway down the hall that he realized Tracey was not alone in the house.

He found them in the TV room, which had toys on the floor and a half-finished Lego model on the table and was generally in no fit state to be entertaining guests. Someone, presumably Tracey, had put together a makeshift cheese platter. Stephen was...laughing?...under his breath.

"Am I late?" asked Jon, coming in. "Sorry, hope I didn't keep you...waiting...."

He trailed off as both faced him, taut with shared purpose. Stephen's face was flushed around the eyes and nose, as if he'd been crying. And Tracey...god, she was noticeably bloodshot too.

All the masks, all the cleverness, all the avoidance and double-talk and denial Jon had been planning to use tonight evaporated in that moment. "Okay," he said instead. "How much trouble am I in?"


~*~


Tracey patted Stephen on the hand as she got up. "I didn't entirely mean this before," she said to her husband, "but I do now. I misjudged Stephen. I was too hard on him, and not sympathetic enough to what was really going on."

Jon's complexion had taken on an unhealthy greyish cast. "Oh!" he said. "Oh, that's...that's good. Right?"

Tracey smacked him across the face — hard enough to sting. "I also misjudged you!"

"I'm sorry!" cried Jon immediately. "Sweetheart, I am so, so sorry — I was wrong, it was stupid, I never for a second should have considered —" He broke off with an anguished glance in Stephen's direction.

"All this time, I was worried about him using you," snapped Tracey, while Jon rubbed his smarting cheek. "That man is in love with you, and you've been dragging his heart through the shredder over it! If you've only ever felt for him like a friend, then you can't do this any more. To either of us! Understand?"

"Of course. Of course I do."

"And —" She swallowed. "And if you do feel — more — for him, then...."

Jon's voice dropped, though it wouldn't give him any real privacy against Stephen's empathy. "Trace, I love you."

"I know," hissed Tracey. "Do you love him too?"

She was fairly clear on the rest from Stephen's tearful perspective added to her own. And she didn't think he was lying, either, considering how easy it would have been for him to tell her only things she wanted to hear. So if Stephen's insecurity on this point turned out to be unfounded...if her husband had indeed gone and fallen for his Guide on top of his wife....

It wasn't a place she had ever imagined her life ending up. But then, neither was being married to a Sentinel in the first place.

"If I let myself," said Jon, his voice a raspy whisper. "If I start...I won't be able to stop."

Tracey nodded, and took his arm. "Then come here."


~*~


Stephen sat up straighter as Jon was led over to the coffee table. "Can I hit him too?" he asked, only half kidding.

"No," decided Tracey. "You're bigger than he is. It wouldn't be fair."

"You're ganging up on me," said Jon weakly. The steadiness Stephen had always found so comforting in him was temporarily at sea; he didn't seem to know how to feel yet.

Well, satisfying as it was, maybe it was time for Stephen to give him a few clues. To Guide him, even. Addressing Tracey once more, he said, "Can I kiss him, then?"

The corners of Tracey's mouth twitched upward, and Stephen wished someone had let him know years ago that every once in a while, open and honest conversations led to something other than pain and exploitation. "I think he owes you that."

Stephen squeezed himself over to one side of his armchair so Jon could rest one knee on the cushion and sink down over him. A hand landed on his shoulder, still with a lingering chill from the outdoors that Stephen (whose sweater had come off at some point in the middle of the sobbing) could feel through his navy polo.

Cold or not, when it moved slowly down the slope, it was almost...caress-like.

Jon was tense, lips slightly parted, eyes bright blue. Stephen had to curl one soft hand around the back of his neck and pull him the rest of the way. But once their mouths met, he picked up the idea quickly, pressing Stephen into a deep kiss before dropping softer ones against his eyelids, his temples — Stephen gasped and twisted his fingers in Jon's shirt — the corner of his jaw.

"Is this really okay?" breathed Jon at last, with a dizzying sheen of wonder. He turned back to Tracey, who had both hands pressed over her mouth, but nodded.

Stephen tugged on Jon's sleeve. "She's sort of insecure," he explained once he had Jon's attention. "She's going to need you to cuddle her a lot, when you're not busy cuddling me, that is. And whatever you do, don't remind her how many Emmys you have. That tends to make people feel inadequate."

Jon started laughing, face resting in Stephen's under-coiffed hair. Tracey was snickering too, not unkindly. And under it all — Stephen closed his eyes and let out a long hum of pleasure as it hit him — love, shakier and more fragile than it used to be, but not soured. Not wrong. And the room was full of it, like the fresh smell of air after a thunderstorm.

Tracey took the armchair beside them, chin resting on her hand. Jon braced himself with one arm against the back of Stephen's chair and let the other fall in between them, reaching just far enough that Tracey's fingers could link with his.

"So, uh," said Jon, more settled now. "What exactly are we talking about here? Some kind of time-share agreement, or, you know, threesomes, or...?"

Tracey winced. "Just because I don't see Stephen as a threat to my marriage any more doesn't mean I want to get naked in front of him. No offense."

"None taken. And you could always sit back and watch us," Stephen offered. His arms were looped comfortably around Jon's waist. "That way you could keep all your clothes on. Me too, depending on what we did."

"Let's table that," stammered Tracey. (Although judging by the sudden wave of confused sexual interest Stephen was sensing from her, it wasn't going to be tabled indefinitely.)

"We don't have to decide anything right now," said Jon quickly. "I was just wondering. I mean, if you two had any preferences...I'm entirely at your mercy, here."

Except that he wasn't. There was something he was hoping for, and Stephen wasn't so drunk on affection that he couldn't be annoyed with Jon for not spitting it out. "Say the thing you're thinking about," he demanded, poking Jon in the side.

Jon blushed. "Well," he said, letting go of his wife's hand to tug at his collar. "I was sorta hoping you could guide me through focusing my senses on Tracey without zoning. Nothing sexual yet, just, y'know looking into her eyes and stuff."

He was palpably worried that one or both of them would be affronted by the idea. But Tracey made a happy little gasp, and Stephen, who could have basked in that kind of goodwill for hours, nuzzled Jon's chest. "'Kay."


~*~


The dream-jungle was bright and rustled with wind. Instead of the ruins in the field, Stephen found himself at the edge of a wide brown river. Mangroves on stilted roots gathered at the banks; their leaves spread over the rock-strewn patch of sand where Stephen and his spirit hedgehog were chilling out.

Stephen pushed aside a couple of lumps of stone to make a spot for him to sit while waiting for Jon. He wasn't about to use any of those roots' knotted arches as a chair; he knew the rebuke for Old Man Willow by heart, of course, but he had no idea whether it worked on other species of tree.

This is nice, he said to his hedgehog. Isn't it nice?

The hedgehog made a snuffly little barking noise that Stephen took for agreement.

Of course, anything would have been nice right about now. Stephen could have dreamed he was in the foothills of Mount Doom itself, and he would have been thrilled, knowing that his real body was currently spooning with Jon's. (It turned out all three of them fit in the bed if you cuddled close enough, which both Stephen and Tracey turned out to be comfortable with so long as Jon was safely in between them.)

Stephen kept an eye on the forest, assuming Jon would approach from that direction. Sure enough, it wasn't long before he spotted a flash of grey fur between the trees...

And then the animal silhouette emerged onto the sand, and, whoa, that was not a lynx.

Stephen leaped to his feet while his hedgehog rolled up into a ball of spines. Who are you? What are you doing in my dream? I'm warning you, buddy, if you try anything, my Sentinel will come down on you so hard —

The grey wolf sat back on its haunches and grinned. At least, Stephen hoped that was a grin, and not showing off its teeth. Be cool, man! I'm just here to say hi. Wasn't even sure this was a feasible mode of contact, you being on the other side of the country and all. But it looks like your exceptional receptivity translates to the oneirological as well!

Stephen glared. Stop trying to show off with your fancy word-talk!

Sorry! Habit, said the wolf sheepishly. See, I do Sentinel-Guide studies for a living. Was working on a thesis in the subject before I found out I was a Guide, and I tend to fall into the jargon a lot...just call me out if I do it again, okay?

The openhearted doggy enthusiasm was starting to mollify Stephen in spite of himself. And in spite of the fact that he was suspecting this Guide of being one of those long-haired hippie granola-crunching West-coast professorial types. Why were you trying to get in touch with me in the first place? If you want to get on my show, have your publicist talk to our bookers.

No, no, nothing like that, the wolf assured him. Actually, I was hoping to study you, if you're willing.

Stephen was almost flattered. His hedgehog allowed its eyes to poke out from between the spines. Why? I know I'm fascinating, but why exactly?

The wolf let its tongue loll out in a friendly sort of way. We've never had any accurate method of measuring a Guide's abilities. Sentinel senses, yes, but empathy is a lot less quantitative, and the most we can do is give rough estimates — "not too strong," "pretty average," that sort of thing. But I heard about your amazing range on the news, and then I got through the grapevine that there was a super-receptive Guide hanging around in the New York area, and there's a chance that if we had any charts for this, you would be off them.

Go on, said Stephen, now definitely puffing out his chest a little.

Well, just think about the potential for research! exclaimed the wolf.
If there's anything chemical or hormonal in the body associated with Guide abilities, it would be easiest to identify in you. If it's genetic, your DNA would be a great help in pinpointing the markers. And what if it's learned? We know it's all inborn for Sentinels, but if
we could develop a way for other Guides to copy your techniques, it could be revolutionary! I'm sort of below-average myself, so it would have great personal meaning for me.


Stephen squirmed. I don't need "techniques," sir. All I do is yell at Jon to pay attention, and he does. Have you tried yelling?

No! But this is fascinating stuff, said the wolf in all apparent earnestness. See, this is why we need to meet, so I can do a structured interview and write it all down.

It was tempting. And what about my Sentinel? How would he be involved?

Well, he'd need to be involved, of course, so we can test your abilities with respect to him. But as I understand it, he's pretty average, right? When I want to test a theory on a full Sentinel who's broken a lot of records, Jim's always been very cooperative. It's funny — our studies have found no correlation between the emotional perception of a Guide and the sensory range and abilities of the Sentinel they bond with. You'd think it would be roughly linear, or possibly asymptotic, but —

You're doing the word thing again, huffed Stephen.

Sorry, repeated the wolf. So, what do you say? Would you be willing to negotiate your participation in a case study?

Stephen's hedgehog had come completely unrolled by now. He picked it up, one hand under its stomach so he wouldn't jab himself, and used one finger to rub its head. We'll think about it, he said at last. My Sentinel and I, and also his wife, are going through sort of a big transition right now. But we will definitely consider it. Have your people send my people the paperwork.

No problem, said the wolf. Look out for a packet from Ranier University. And, Mr. Colbert? Congratulations.


~*~


The huge shadow-furred puma lashed its tail. It was bigger than Vinette's jaguar, and with an aura of unfamiliarity that made Jon think it wasn't from the New York area.

Hey, it said in a gruff not-voice. My Guide is real interested in yours, so he figured I should have a chat with you. For symmetry, I guess. Not sure what he wanted me to say. He's the big talker between us.

I can work with that, said Jon-the-lynx reasonably. There's only so much dream-advice a guy can take. You been doing this a while?

Officially, since '96. The black puma started padding along the dream-jungle path; Jon-the-lynx fell in comfortably beside it. Senses first came online during a military emergency, got suppressed for five years after, then came back and stuck around when I met Blair. It's a long story.

Sounds like it, agreed Jon. And, Thank you for your service.

Just doin' my job, said the puma. The light was changing; they were approaching a stretch of field. You want to go for a run or something? It's pretty relaxing when you're noncorporeal.

Granted, as far as Sentinel and relationship issues went, Jon was the most relaxed he'd been in months. And what he had to wake up to in the morning was as heartening as that first morning at Landstuhl had been panic-inducing. But they were only a couple weeks out from the election, the news was starting to talk about an approaching hurricane that would probably need Sentinels all down the coast to help pick through the damage afterward, and who knew what other crises life would choose to throw at him next?

Jon shrugged, inasmuch as lynxes could shrug. Sure.

The two Sentinels stepped out over the last of the roots and fallen leaves, nodded to each other in companionable silence, and took off.
kribban: (Default)

[personal profile] kribban 2012-12-08 12:33 am (UTC)(link)
(apparently it was possible, but it required a bunch of scary drugs and you had to have replacements chosen already so you could bond with them right away)

Oooh, scary. I wonder in what instances it's done - probably if the Sentinel has gone off the deep end which treatens to destroy the Guide as well.

Besides, the idea of taking an extended schlep with his daughter had its appeal.

I though to schlep was to carry?

I love Tracey slapping Jon and calling him out on hurting Stephen!!

It's going to be handy to have Stephen around whenever Jon and Tracey have an argument. He can explain their feelings better than they can to the other person.

It turned out all three of them fit in the bed if you cuddled close enough, which both Stephen and Tracey turned out to be comfortable with so long as Jon was safely in between them.

Awwww. :) I hope Stephen is the biggest spoon.

But I heard about your amazing range on the news, and then I got through the grapevine that there was a super-receptive Guide hanging around in the New York area, and there's a chance that if we had any charts for this, you would be off them.

Right, I keep forgetting their Sentinel/Guide status is official.
I love that Stephen is much more gifted than Jon. He may not have any Emmys, but he's special enough to study.

Cute ending!





politicette: (Default)

[personal profile] politicette 2012-12-08 03:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Ahhh, that first section!

It made him feel like a goth, only richer.

:( Poor Stephen Colbert. He needs some time to brood over his wounds. :(( Which, tbf, I think most people would!

Ahhhhhhhh, Stephen's thinking of Tracey as Lady Stewart is still too cute to be believed. :333

It blended with the torrent of other emotions she was balancing, all painful, all aimed right at Stephen, oh God he might as well have been a kid again.

mebble weeble. STEPHEN. BABY. : ( THAT LINE IS SO FAR FROM OKAY. AGHHHHHHH

I also really love the idea of Tracey and Stephen teaming up on Jon to confront him of his wrongs and I think the world needs more of that dynamic in fic. :3

The ending is actually perfect. After the sturm und drang everyone's been through, it seems only right that it ends with them resting in a big happy cuddle pile, literally asleep. It's pretty choice. ♥