(1) Last-minute plans.
It was half past four in the morning when Stephen shook Jon awake. "Jon. Jon!"
"Whazzat?" mumbled Jon. "If 'sanother craving, go back t'bed. Make you a mustard an' jellybean sandwich in the mornin'."
"Stop mocking my instinctive attunement to the nutrients that will make sure your baby is born with all the organs on the inside," said Stephen testily. "This isn't even about that. This is an emergency!"
That woke Jon up in a hurry. Stephen wasn't old, exactly, but he would be turning forty-five before the baby was born, and that was still too close to the high-risk age for Jon's comfort level. "What's wrong?" he asked, starting to sit up. "Are you in pain? Do you need to call the doctor?"
Stephen propped a bridal magazine across his stomach, open to a spread of floral arrangements. "Not unless she's also an expert on whether bluebells are a good fragrance accompaniment to lilies."
They were having the wedding in a chapel near Stephen's New Jersey residence, a compromise between Jon's distaste for flying to South Carolina on short notice and Stephen's horror at the idea of just running down to the courthouse one afternoon. ("Even if we have a big church reception after?" Jon had asked, trying to be conciliatory. Stephen had not been amused: "Not unless you get Jesus to return on a cloud of glory in time to personally attend!")
"It has to be timed for after I start to show," Stephen had explained when they sat down with their managers to wrestle out the schedule. "But I don't want it so late that people think I look fat."
Which meant any planning that didn't get done in the next five weeks would have to be done without.
Stephen had taken charge of the planning. Jon only stepped in occasionally to provide a reality check on the logistics, and to rein in Stephen's gaudier aesthetic tastes. ("We are not painting the entire sanctuary gold! No, not even if we promise to pay for the restoration afterward.") It should have been a nice diversion, especially since the WGA strike had yanked most of their major duties out of their hands. It turned into a terrible headache.
After a long call with the tailor the week before which nearly reduced Stephen to tears, Jon gathered him into a light embrace on the sofa and said, "It isn't too late to push this back, sweetheart."
"I am not having our first child born out of wedlock!" cried Stephen.
"Of course not. Of course not," soothed Jon (ignoring the voice in the back of his head that echoed, First?) "And I...listen, I really want to be married to you, okay? But we can do the legal stuff any time, and put off the big fancy ceremony. Do it in eight months, or a year. We can get a frilly little dress for the baby, and you won't have to worry about repeat fittings or any of that."
"That isn't the tradition, Jon!" Stephen guided Jon's hand to his stomach and held it there. "If — if we don't do this right, my dads will —"
Jon kissed his hairline. "Forget about your dads. This has to be about you and me, not about what they think of you."
"It's about what they think of you," protested Stephen.
"...You lost me."
Stephen bumped his knee against Jon's. "My family is...skeptical about me marrying a beta. They need to see that you're competent. That we can do things exactly the way we would if you were the alpha who took me in my first heat. Besides, we can't haul an infant everywhere during the ceremony, so it needs to be now, so they can spend the whole day being very very clear on how fertile you are."
(2) Decisions, decisions.
"Jon. I cannot sleep with that light on. Put it out."
"I know, I know, just gimme a minute...I found another safety rating site, and I'm almost done checking on the paint shades we talked about."
The little wheel in the corner of his browser spun as it calculated whether Dusky Rose had ever been involved in any lawsuits, health scares, or consumer complaints. Under the blanket at his side, Stephen glared at him. "What, you think they're going to turn out to have trace amounts of lead the other four sites didn't catch? Besides, my favorite toy when I was a kid was a block of lead, and my brain turned out fine."
Jon diplomatically declined to respond to that.
"Anyway," added Stephen, through a heavy yawn, "I'm probably going to throw out all those paint swatches in six months and start over, so you're wasting your time."
Jon sighed. "Could have mentioned that sooner," he grumbled, clicking the laptop shut and putting it aside.
"Absolutely not. Hard veto. Not a chance."
"But it's so pretty!"
"Stephen, I am not having a baby named Reagan."
Stephen sulked. He thought it was a beautiful name. Not for an omega, obviously, but if they were having a baby alpha or beta? Perfect. "l bet you want to name it Kennedy or something."
Jon, who was lying across Stephen's lap while he still had one, shrugged. "I was leaning toward Ben."
"Benjamin?" echoed Stephen. "Like Franklin?" That was a name he could get behind. Good pro-America politics, plus the ability to charm his way through swaths of nubile French omegas, in spite of being a beta. Relevance!
"Like Stein," corrected Jon. "My grandfather. My only grandfather, since he married a beta woman, and I've got alpha/omega grandmothers on the other side."
"Oh," said Stephen. "It's still a nice name."
Jon snorted. "Kind of you to say so."
The commercial break ended and the game came back on, dragging his attention away from Stephen. Annoying, but Stephen could deal. Maybe even catch forty winks before getting back on the phone with the caterer....
An inning and a half later, he jerked awake with a start. "But Jon!" he exclaimed, grabbing Jon's shoulder. "What if it's an alpha? We can't name an alpha Benjamin."
"I have no idea," said Jon. "Got any favorites?"
"Reagan," said Stephen promptly.
(3) Meeting the in-laws.
Stephen sent matching invitations to his entire brood of siblings. Jon tried not to let on how relieved he was when it turned out half of them couldn't make it on such short notice. In their place they sent cards with handwritten notes of advice, and baby books with flowers pressed between the pages, and, for Jon, a couple of pleasant and beautifully worded threats.
As an apology, Stephen allowed him to invite a handful of friends in addition to his brother and beta mom, on the condition that one of those friends be Steve Carell. Jon figured it was only fair. Steve had been the one to push them together, after all.
They went out to dinner with his mom the night before Stephen's parents flew in from South Carolina. She fussed over both men equally, calling Stephen a nice young man and asking about their plans for the baby. When he was off in the bathroom fixing his hair, though, she leaned over the table and said to Jon, "Sweetie, I know you want to do right by that little one, but are you sure this kind of marriage is the way to do it? Better in the long run to be friendly co-parents than to have it all fall apart when he...you know."
"He's not going to break my heart, Mama," said Jon, sounding more sure than he'd realized he felt. "I know this is sudden, and not exactly the way we planned it, but I wouldn't be going through with it if I didn't trust him."
It took a while for him to fall asleep that night (even with Stephen's hypnotizingly soft breath now a constant beside him). Not because of what Mama had said, he told himself. The fact that the Col-berts descended tomorrow was more than enough to give a guy an attack of nerves.
At least Jon's mother had the grace to save her doubts for when Stephen was out of earshot.
Stephen traded cheek-kisses with both his parents, after which Jon, well-coached, accepted a handshake from each and offered to carry in their things. He ended up lugging both suitcases up the steps, one after the other, while Daddy tsked over how staircases were awfully hard on his knees these days and Papa kept Stephen from helping by insisting on feeling Stephen's stomach right then.
They went to the parlor for tea, Papa's hand firmly on Stephen's hip while Stephen escorted them in. He broke away mostly out of determination to keep Jon from messing up the tea service, especially since Stephen had ordered it a couple of weeks ago just for the occasion.
"Oh, I'm sure he does his best," Daddy remarked over biscuits. "But darling, even if it feels satisfying now — are you sure that's not just because you haven't been with an alpha in so long?"
Jon choked on an inelegant snort.
Stephen's eyebrows were brandished at him in an instant. "Something wrong, honey?"
"No! Uh, no. Nothing at all." Jon tugged at his collar. "Something in my throat."
"Let's go get you a glass of water!" chirped Stephen, extricating himself from his omega father's grip. "Excuse us a moment, Papa, Daddy."
Jon looked far too calm as Stephen dragged him into the kitchen. As if he had no idea the gravity of the situation, just because Stephen had never bothered to explain it to him.
Safely in the kitchen, Stephen turned a burning glare on him. "As far as Daddy knows, his baby boy has spent the past twenty years being virtuously celibate," he hissed. "And that is how things are going to stay. Are we clear?"
"As far as he—?" echoed Jon, trying to be hushed and incredulous at the same time. "Stephen, how long are you planning to keep this under wraps? Your sex life is not exactly a secret! One of these days he's going to pick up a gossip magazine, or look at your Wikipedia page, or watch Fox News while someone's being bitchy about you...."
"Daddy knows better than to believe such scurrilous rumors," said Stephen, trying to sound prim and proper while gripping Jon's wrist so hard his tendons ached. "And if any of them happen to come up, you will nod and sigh and say what a shame it is, the things they get away with saying in the mainstream media."
"Are you asleep yet?"
"No. You either, huh?"
"Great! You can rub my feet."
Jon switched the bedside lamp to its lowest level and nudged Stephen to swing his legs around, so he could get at them without either man having to let cold air under the comforter. Stephen's calves fit snugly across his lap. "Hey," he said, hands setting to work, "can I ask you something weird?"
"Yes, that's Papa's real hair. He just doesn't know how to comb it so it doesn't look fake. And Daddy doesn't like eating in public because he thinks it'll make him look indelicate, but it's okay, he probably snuck some food here in his suitcase."
Stephen shifted to get a better look at him. The dim light and the padded blanket fell over his body in unfamiliar ways. "Was that not the question?"
"It's probably no big deal," said Jon with a shrug. "Just one of those Southern things I'm never gonna get. But, uh, earlier, your alpha dad...he was more affectionate than I would have expected from a buttoned-up old-fashioned alpha like that. You know, with the hands."
"Old-fashioned alphas aren't affectionate with other alphas, Jon," Stephen corrected him. "Because that would be gay. And with betas it would be weird, and even with alphas and betas they're related to, it would still set a bad example for the children. With omegas they're not related to, obviously, it would be cheating. That leaves their partners, and their omega children."
"I guess it doesn't set a bad example for the omega kids."
Stephen ignored or missed the sour edge to his voice. "Why would it? It raises us to be properly submissive and obedient to alphas, as we will be eventually with the alphas we marry."
"So it's normal," said Jon, forcing himself to drop the sarcasm, even if he was frankly a little creeped out. "It's, whaddayacallit, the socially acceptable thing to do where you grew up."
"Jon, are you trying to make me feel like a freak?"
"Because there are plenty of alphas who would have me in a heartbeat if I wanted! It's not like I'm settling for you! Just because you can't — can't knot me, or keep up when I'm in heat, and you don't know what to do to make Papa back off, it doesn't mean —"
He choked, rubbing the back of his hand across his mouth. Jon leaned over to caress his face, his hair. "I wasn't imagining things. You don't like it. But I have to be involved somehow? You can't just tell him off?"
"That is not," said Stephen, primly and in between sniffles, "how I was raised."
Jon kissed his forehead. "Tell me what you need me to do."
The night before the wedding, Stephen threw up twice.
It wasn't nerves, he swore to the bleary-eyed Jon rubbing his back; it was that his body had abruptly decided that flavored lube posed a danger to his developing fetus. Jon grunted in understanding and carried all four bottles to the garbage can outside. The scent still clung to the sheets, though, and after Stephen went stumbling to the bathroom for the second time, he begged Jon to help him strip the bed.
Grumbling something unintelligible, Jon dragged him out of the room.
"You're really smart," whispered Stephen as Jon tucked the quilt of one of the unoccupied guest bedrooms around his shoulders. "I love that you're smart."
"Hrngh," agreed Jon, and buried his face in the pillow.
It was surprisingly comfortable to spend every possible moment with his arm at Stephen's waist. Jon wouldn't have wanted to do it for the rest of his life, but for a couple of days? He could be into this.
The only major break was when Mr. A. Colbert walked Stephen down the aisle. Jon gave the alpha a gracious smile, wrapped his hands around Stephen's wrists, and dragged him sharply forward. The priest and the altar were a couple of steps higher than the gathered audience, so there was a long moment when Stephen was gazing up into Jon's eyes, glowing with adoration.
It was hard to wait for the vows to be over before Jon could kiss him.
Stephen wore a snow-white tuxedo with a cream-colored waistcoat and bowtie, real pearl buttons and cufflinks, the traditional lace trim at the cuffs and collar. It had, after all the fuss, fit perfectly over his stomach. Jon's tux was black with satin lapels and trim that made his legs look surprisingly long (as Stephen had taken pains to point out). The cream-colored rose at his chest had been a last-minute coup.
There was no shortage of sobbing at the reception. Some of it from Jon. The poor rose got crushed during a supportive hug from Brian Williams; Jon assured him it was worth the loss.
And just like that, he was married.
Jon was in the middle of a thick book extolling the benefits of breast milk over formula when Stephen leaned over the couch behind him, chin pressing into Jon's scalp. "Jonnnn. I'm hungry."
"So make something," said Jon. He had kept his housekeeper on for the duration of the strike, and hadn't regretted it for a second, but she deserved to have this week off — surely two grown adults could feed themselves for the duration.
"Don't wanna make something," protested Stephen. "I'm having a definite craving for food made by somebody else."
Jon sighed and grabbed a post-it to serve as a bookmark. "All right, all right. What do you need me to make?"
"Pork fried rice and egg rolls?" said Stephen hopefully.
"Stephen, I have no idea how to...oh. Oh," said Jon, breaking into a grin. "Yeah, sure. We can order in. I've got some menus in the kitchen, I'll show you where. C'mon."
Stephen trotted after him, frowning. "What is it? Why are you so happy?"
"Nothin'." Jon ducked under one of the sprigs of mistletoe Stephen had hung in every door, still smiling. "Just glad the fetus already knows it's Jewish."
(5) Producing shows without the writers.
For Jon, trying to do all of his job except the writing part was like quitting smoking all over again. He itched for something to fiddle with, to twirl around in his fingers, but if he held a pen he might succumb to the craving and jot something down.
They started to have two-, three-, four-minute tosses, which helped. They argued over whatever they'd seen in the news, making the whole scene like a highly compressed bit with a correspondent, only effortless to improvise. And with more talk about babies.
"Eleanor!" burst out Stephen one evening as soon as the satellite feed connected. "If it's an alpha, we have to name it Eleanor!"
"That's a good name," said Jon, almost suspicious. It couldn't be that easy. "That's a really good name. Uh, is this after Eleanor Roosevelt, or...?"
"No, Jon! Elanor Gamgee! I was rereading the end of The Return of the King last night — spoiler alert, by the way," he added to the audience — "and sobbing. It'll be the perfect way to honor the epic struggle of the Fellowship, especially Frodo and Sam!"
"I did not realize that was on our criteria checklist for baby names," said Jon, sending a ripple of laughter around his studio. "But listen, it's beautiful. Let's go for it."
Now if only Stephen didn't realize before June that it might sound like he was also honoring one of his most arch of archnemeses, Eleanor Holmes Norton, they would be set.
"Now, we at the Report are committed to bringing you an eyewitness account. Sadly, since I am up to my neck in baby preparations, I wasn't able to get out there myself. So instead, let's check in with our correspondent: Stephen Colbert from the Future! Stephen?"
On the other side of the split screen, a second version of Stephen appeared. His face was more lined, and there was a splash of grey at his temples, but either he wasn't from too far in the future or he was very well-preserved. Even if he did look a bit haggard. And his tie was not properly tied. "Wha?"
From his desk in the present, Stephen pressed forward anyway. "Stephen! Good to see you. Nice HD feed, by the way. It's a shame we don't have the technology to show our current viewers how good you-me looks."
"...Right." The future Stephen took off his glasses to massage his temples. "What did you want, exactly?"
"I wanted you to talk about the latest election developments. Maybe give us some historical perspective? I figured you-me would have had time to catch up on it, now that you're all adjusted to the marriage and the baby and...."
Future-Stephen let out a bark of laughter. "Ha! I wish I had as much free time as I did when I was you. Start preparing now, Mr. Ω. Stewart, because if you don't —" He broke off, head jerking to one side; a faint wail had started up in the background. "Gotta go. Benjy's crying again. Just — talk to your doctor about chelation, okay? It's very important! Bye now!"
He sprinted off-frame, and the feed cut out.
"Well, that was...informative?" said Stephen. He looked helplessly out at the audience. "Who wants me to come dance in the seats again?"
A cheer went up, drawing Stephen obligingly out of his seat. His back hurt and his feet were starting to get sore, but was a professional, dammit, and he was going to fill this whole twenty-two minutes with quality entertainment if it killed him.