Stephen Colbert was, in short, a bit of a disquieting individual.
And perhaps that’s because the man seemed to live through life primarily unbothered, he often held a lexan bulletproof shield over his facade, didn’t care for the loaded glances aimed and shot towards him whenever he dared to vocalize fragile points. He was steadfast, intent on getting his opinions across even if it earned him a stern talking to, and maybe that’s why Craig had worked so damn hard to keep his airtime to a minimum.
But it couldn’t be helped that Stephen’s entire general disposition (stern, unamused, straight-laced) proved itself to be a useful tool when it came to comedy. The ability to spew bullshit without cracking was always handy when making fun of blowhard politicians, and Stephen Colbert, Jon learned soon enough, had a subversive streak that was greatly abetted by the fact that he looked like a trustworthy middle-American insurance salesman.
Stephen enjoyed being blatantly ignorant in front of the camera (as long as it was filming his good side, which were all his sides, thank God). There was, to no one’s genuine surprise, very little Stephen would not do on camera. He was a self-described improv-connoisseur, quick on his feet and especially heeding. The two qualities proved an effective mix when the slow news days hit and Jon just made him talk to fill up airtime.
The strangest thing about it- about them- was the fact that it all seemed to work. As long as he played the straight man, letting Stephen run circles around him for five minutes gave the people what they wanted. Jon, as experienced as he was and as inexperienced as he felt, had no issues with that.
God, why didn't Jon like him?
It's not like Stephen was asking for love, no, that would be gay, and no Real Colbert had ever been gay. (Especially his Uncle Alex, who spent a lot of time doing manly things with his best friend Nick out in the barren wasteland that was Mississippi where they lived together. They did it to save money on housing, Stephen had been told, and Stephen was humble enough to admire anybody with the sensibility to save a few C-notes by doing so).
So, yes, he was definitely not interested in any gay stuff, and he was pretty sure Jon wasn't either. (Although, if Stephen had asked, would he say no? If Jon did say no, why? Is it because he's fat?)
And it didn’t help that the internet fanboys seemed to be on their case, especially after the Gaydar bit that Stephen had insisted was proper (proper! You hear me!), journalism. After the particular episode had aired, it seemed that the forums had taken a liking to publishing disgusting, disgusting fanfiction. Stephen read every single one of them, just to make sure he hadn’t been exploited in any particular way. (Unfortunately, he had been exploited in so many different positions- office desks- seedy hotel rooms- and he’d read some of those stories up to five times over so he could be sure that he could properly voice his disapproval in the comments).
Jon was a lot nicer than Craig had been, Stephen thought. Jon was always hanging around, even when he didn’t need to, watching quietly. He never raised his voice or insulted the team as a way of whipping their minds to a start the way Craig had.
He was a lot more concise and specific in the way he wanted things to be run, and Stephen certainly had his ideas. He was fifteen minutes into a conversation with Jon in his office when he realized he’d never gotten this far with Craig, who’d always find clever ways to avoid hearing him out.
And apparently this was because Jon believed in things like “creative freedom” and “supporting the show as a group” (there’s no we in group) and “putting Stephen in front of the camera more since people seemed to like him a lot” (he couldn’t disagree with that).
Indecision 2000’s DNC week was a disaster, and nobody in the offices made any effort to hide the fact.
Jon was nearing the end of his rope. He was pacing more, Stephen noticed. Fidgeted. Drank cups and cups of coffee until Stephen considered offering the idea of buying him an enema.
“The thing, take the thing, move it above the thing, the thing, the thing, thing, thing.” He was pointing at the projected script on the wall, but other than that he didn’t bother to clarify.
Liz stared at him, face blank. “I can't do that if I can't understand what you're saying.” There was a slight edge in her voice.
“You don’t need to understand!” Jon burst. “Just do it!”
“Liz,” said Stephen calmly. He’d been sitting in the back quietly for a while now. “I think Jon's saying we should move those two jokes about Limbaugh behind the one about the PGA champions.” He looked at Jon for approval and got a quick nod in reply.
“Thanks Stephen,” Jon sighed. He was still visibly stressed out, albeit less so.
“No problem at all,” Stephen said, then picked up his pen and went back to work.
Jon pulled him aside one day as they were walking out of rewrite. “Do you like it here?”
What was that supposed to mean? “Of course,” Stephen said, then waited to see if that was the right answer to give. “...Why?”
“Someone said- alright, Vance said you were going to leave to work on Strangers. And as your boss I think that’s a terrible idea. We should talk about this. Over dinner.”
The final addition made Stephen’s heart skip a beat. He thought for a moment. “Who's paying?”
Stephen spent the rest of the week moping. Because, yes, he was embarrassed. Maybe he'd gotten a little too touchy after his third bourbon, and maybe daring Jon to slap him across the face wasn't proper first date etiquette, but then again, this is New York...
Jon's phone buzzed at 3 a.m. and he picked up without checking because he’s a fucking idiot.
“Um.” He sat up to rest his spine on the bed frame. “Hello?”
“Jon! Good, you're up.” Stephen seemed to be yelling into the receiver. Didn't he have roommates? Or was he actually getting paid enough to live on his own?
“I am,” Jon grogged.
“You know that meant nothing, right?”
“What meant nothing?”
“The date! I can see right through you, you and your little scheme, to get me to- to- to-”
“Date? That was just a- discussion, Stephen. Like a business meeting. To get you to stay. You're a valuable asset to the show, you understand that.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere Jon! But compliments will. And I've been thinking about it. And I will stay.”
“Don't worry about coming into the office everyday. We can air some of your old field pieces during your absences, and maybe-”
“Don't go easing the tension on me because you think we’re all buddy-buddy now, Stewart!” Stephen cried. “Because we’re not!” he added, and then hung up.
By the time they won their first batch of Emmys, most of Stephen’s unpointed resentment had died down. He'd been staring at Jon from across the room for a while when he approached, golden statue in hand.
He was shifting it around anxiously, and Jon feared he'd drop it. (What if it was the only one they’d ever win? He doubted there was someone he could call to ask for a replacement.)
“Do you remember when I said I thought the show would never amount to anything?”
“I remember hearing a little bit about that,” Jon said, and Stephen cringed a little bit.
“Well, I wanna say… I'm wrong and I'm sorry. There! I said it.” He looked at the floor.
“I, well, you don't have to apologize for anything. I mean, yes, it was a huge blow to my self esteem but other than that… at least we proved you wrong, yeah?”
“But I'm never wrong,” Stephen clarified. “And that's why I'm apologizing! So my record can still be clear.”
Jon grinned. “I'm glad your conscience is at ease.”
“And you know all those things I may or may not have spread around the office about being a pervy sex predator? I didn't mean those either!”
“You know, a creepy old man who sets out to-”
“Never mind!” Jon said. “Say no more. Apology accepted.”
Stephen seemed to be warming up to him. He was a lot like a cat, Jon realized despite the both of them being dog people. He liked to slink around, stared when he thought no one was watching. (There was also that thing he did with his ear at parties, but Jon wasn’t sure if that could be categorized as an attribute related to felines).
Stephen had been rambling.
And maybe Jon was too tired or too fed up or too detached because he decided he’d heard enough.
So he’d kissed Stephen then, to shut him up, to stop that endless stream of babbled, hard-headed nonsense.
Stephen looked at him after they’d pulled apart and tried to regain his train of thought. “I can’t believe you did that.”
Jon looked as if he were just coming aware of what he’d done. “Neither can I.”
“So, uh,” Stephen started. He fought hard to keep those types of thoughts out of his mind. Still, Jon was looking at him a little too fondly, and he found himself filling the silence before he could decide whether he liked it or not. “Midterm elections are fast approaching…”