Title: What Is Okay
Pairing: Anderson Cooper/Keith Olbermann
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 2600
Warnings: Unbetaed, cigarette porn, detailed description of what sounds a lot like clinical depression, including abstract discussion of suicide
Summary: Anderson is okay. He's always okay. He has to be. He's got to go teach the country about the bad things that happen in rural mountain communities. He's fine.
Notes: Theoretically fits in with something larger, but works on it's own. Guest starring environmentalist propaganda. Feel like I should emphasize I know nothing about Anderson Cooper apart from what's known to the public at large and I would be extremely surprised if his reality resembled this.
Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.



Anderson doesn't smoke but if he did, this would be the moment for it. He would go outside and stand in the bone-deep chill of New York at winter's end and chain smoke a whole pack and think about it; think about the smoke; think about the burn; hope for that burnt blood taste that happens when you've gone on with it too long and then keep going when it finally appears. He would watch the tip glow closer to him, try to make out the 'Marlboro' outline when the paper turns to ash up close to the filter, taste the ash, feel the heat, burn his fingers and light them end to end until he's seared closed the hole that's always reopening inside him, until he's no longer so sure he's going to shake himself apart if he keeps breathing one second longer.

“I can feel it sometimes,” he wants to say to Keith. “I know when it's happening.”

And when it's happening, he wants to tell Keith, is now, it's happening now and he can feel it happening, the slipping, the opening, the emptiness and the drain deep down within like it's all a bottomless hourglass and he's running out of sand, running out of time and he doesn't know what will happen when the last of it is gone.

Keith's not there, tonight. They're not together – not always together, not even when Anderson needs him.

Anderson is at home, alone, and Keith is – Keith is somewhere, he doesn't know, he doesn't know where Keith is and that doesn't bother him, not in the general sense, but in practice it makes it difficult to call. He should call, he knows he should call; he's home alone and it's the middle of the night and he doesn't smoke but maybe he should because he's just been pacing for over an hour, now, starting and stopping and staring out windows; saying 'fuck it' and starting to call; stopping again; pacing the floor. It's happening, he can feel it. He should be calling.

But he doesn't know what Keith's doing, tonight, and he doesn't want to intrude. Doesn't want to interrupt, not if it's something important. Doesn't want to interrupt if it's anything at all because he's got nothing to interrupt with. It's nothing, it's just a feeling, it's just a thing and he's going to be okay. He's always okay. He has to be. He's going to be fine.

He wants to sit down, to settle, to decompress but when he stands staring at his couch, comfortable and clean in the center of the living room, he just can't stomach it, can't stand the thought of being still. So he paces some more; becomes aware he's put a hand over his mouth, laid it and held like he's nauseous or shocked or holding in a scream. His fingers are cold and his face is warm and it takes longer than it should for him to register the discontinuity.

He takes the hand away and shoves them both into his pockets.

Breathes deep.

There.

He's okay.

He's going to be fine.

He regulates his breathing, thinks about that. He remembers some statistic that smokers are more likely to kill themselves and wonders about correlation and causality and which way the link goes. Do people who smoke kill themselves? Or do people who kill themselves smoke? Of the smokers he's known, the depressed ones, they were almost uniformly depressed long before they smoked.

He should really be calling Keith now. It's that kind of shit he's supposed to call people about, supposed to not be alone with. He doesn't even have to mention it – usually doesn't. Because it would be like, “Hey, Mom, I was just feeling kind of depressed and thinking about suicide rates in the middle of the night and figured it would be a nice to time to call and chat.” Right. Maybe it works for some people but it's never been him and he's not going to try and start it now.

He doesn't call Keith. He stares out a window and wonders how long it's been dark. It feels like forever but he doesn't check the clock.

The problem with his life is that there's not a lot in it to take his mind off anything. There's work, which amounts to death and death and shit blowing up and the earth split asunder and more death and misery. There's his head which is filled with the same. There's his mom which is alright but it's also his entire family history which at times like this amounts to his father and his brother and that's about it.

And there's Keith.

His fists are clenching in his pockets and he consciously relaxes them. He wishes he drank coffee or tea because he has the idea that going through the motions of making it would be soothing. What are the suicide rates on that?

Dammit.

Maybe he should look it up.

He's not going to look it up.

He finds another window to look out. Works up the nerve to check the clock.

One seventeen. Not as bad as he thought.

He shakes his head. Finally manages to sit down. Breathes deep and drops his head back.

He ought to call Keith. Kind of wants to call Keith. But he has nothing to say and it's past one in the morning. He's not going to call his boyfriend at past one in the morning if he doesn't have anything to say. And anyway, he's okay. He's always okay. He's going to be fine.

He still kind of wishes he smoked.

He kind of wishes he had any of the bad habits people formed to deal with – this shit. Whatever this shit is. He surprises himself laughing.

Bad habits. Try war zones. Maybe he should just hop on a plane every time he feels himself falling. CNN would love that. Keith would love that.

He should call Keith.

Shouldn't he? He's not feeling as tense, now, not wound so tight. He mostly just feels hollow. Like all the sand's gone out but he's still here, empty glass over the void everything else spilled away into. And there are statistics in his head, free floating with war zones, with telephones, with the numbers he should be dialing. Shouldn't he?

Should he call Keith? Something inside him says yes – two somethings. The doctor something that gives him advice he does not follow; and the longing something, the something that wants; that wishes for; that yearns. That will keep on yearning, whatever he does.

He's okay. He'll be okay. He'd like to call Keith. Like to talk to him. Like to see him. Like to have sex with him, do anything with him, so long as it's warm and there's touching and he can wake up next to him in the morning after Keith makes all the whatever-the-hell-it-is run out of him like it almost always does when he gives in and calls on nights like this.

But it'll be okay. He can wait. It's almost two in the morning and he's not calling his boyfriend for a booty call in the middle of the night. They're middle-aged for fuck's sake. It can wait. He can wait. He's fine. He can talk to Keith in the morning. He can call in the morning. He will call in the morning. It'll be okay. He'll be okay. He's always okay. He's fine.



He doesn't call Keith in the morning.

Or, rather, he does but it's to say he'll be in Kentucky for a couple of days. There's been a coal sludge spill. A bad one.

What even is coal sludge?

Good question.

In a few days in Kentucky Anderson learns – and all across the country people learn with him – that coal sludge is what's left when the coal they take from the mountains has been cleaned. It's coal dust and chemicals; arsenic, mercury, and lead heavily represented. Off camera, someone calls it liquid death and it's stored in reservoirs on the tops of mined-out mountains, out of sight, out of mind, until the reservoirs break and pour poison out on the heads of all those living in the hollows below.

(Another thing he learns: 'hollow' the noun, the gravel-dirt-mud roads that follow creek banks and crevices around the mountains' feet, is pronounced like 'holler' the verb, the one meaning 'shout', and not like 'hollow' the adjective you might use to describe a log. That lesson is on tape but they'll never use it seeing as it was part of an invective-filled rant about Northern elitism and carpetbaggers so worried about saving the savages from nonstandard English they can't find the time to give a shit about anything that actually matters. It ends in tears so violent she vomits on Anderson's shoes and he's glad the camera's not on when she finds him again and apologizes because the country doesn't actually need to see him cry.)

He talks to victims and to residents of neighboring hollows and to coal company spokesmen who say things like 'accident' and 'act of God', which is bullshit, but he can't say that so he argues when they say 'flood' and 'natural disaster' because there's nothing natural about any of this and flood waters won't still be inches deep in the soil, waiting to be uncovered, thirty years down the line. He doesn't often get really angry but when they say 'tragedy' something inside him ignites and he wants to tear the word away from them; it's not theirs to use. It's his, maybe, and definitely that of the shattered faces and robotic voices still haunting the ruined hollow but under no circumstances do the companies have any right to it, not when it was their indifference, their willful negligence that made it all happen to begin with.

Sludge doesn't biodegrade; you can't clean it. Anderson stands in the hollow and looks up; he sees blue and green and brown; sky framed in the trees and stone of old, old mountains. The ground is filth-gray and rusted and barefoot children in their fathers' t-shirts nevertheless wander across it, picking their way to each others' damaged homes and trying to keep the stupider dogs from licking up the muck. He's been told of four pets that died in the spill. There are probably more he doesn't know about. There will be more to come. The sludge isn't done yet.

He talks to environmental activists and mining experts; to scientists and ex-miners; he talks to anyone who'll come near him and is frustrated but unsurprised that no current coal employees ever do.

His last interview is with a lawyer – a New York Jew who landed here by accident thirty-odd years ago. Anderson spends most of a day with him, learns he's handled this case before and someone had already called him in to do it again, less than eighteen hours after the spill. Repetition doesn't make it easier. His brown eyes are sad behind his glasses and when he isn't actively discussing something he tends to wander and there's a sort of delay between when people call to him and when he seems to hear.

Before he leaves, Anderson looks around again and sees what he sees – sees what made this guy, this lawyer who's intelligent and talented and passionate and could have found success anywhere, what it was that caught him and kept hold. Made him marry local and stay local, raise three children and give up bagels and synagogue and the Mets at Shea Stadium. He looks around and thinks he maybe understands, because it's right there in front of him: the mountains are beautiful. It's just what's being done to them that's hell.



He calls Keith while he's there, once or twice, but not when he gets home because he doesn't need to. Keith is already there when he gets in, and has been for a while from the look of things. A day, maybe two, he later estimates, from the state of the bathroom, and wonders how he sounded that once or twice he called that coming to stay seemed like the thing to do.

Keith greets him at the door, takes one look at his face, and drags him in close. Anderson drops his bag and goes; he's not sure he knew it could feel quite this good to be hugged. Keith's arms are tight around him, fingertips pressing into his skin, urging confidence, and Anderson buries his face in his shoulder and holds on. He's clutching Keith's shirt and his hands will hurt when he tries to let go but letting go is the distant, distant future; his thought – his only thought right now – is holding on.

“Some of the CEOs built their houses on reclaimed mountains they cut the tops off,” he says. At least, he supposes it's him; there's no one else in the room who knows the minutiae of mountaintop removal. “The ground's not stable.” He breathes deep; smells Keith; holds it and lets it out. “I hope they fall off.”

Keith makes a sound that might be a laugh and a move like he might let go and Anderson tugs on his shirt, stops him, needs to say this without seeing him.

“Missed you. Night before I left. Before I knew I was leaving. Missed you then, too.”

There's a pause as Keith absorbs this, comprehends it. He does that, now. A hand comes to rest on the back of Anderson's neck, at the base of his skull, gentle, unlike Keith except exactly like Keith – at least, exactly like the Keith Anderson tells these things to. The Keith he entrusts them to.

He says, “I'm sorry.” They both do. Anderson smiles into his shoulder.

“Should've called you,” he says.

“Yeah,” Keith agrees, “you should.”

He pulls back enough to kiss him – Keith always feels the need to kiss him when these things come out, probably fuck him, too, but he never says that. Anderson kind of wishes he would. He never feels like he can ask for anything at times like this, maybe because he knows he would get it no matter what. He also wonders, sometimes, if thinking to use sex to satisfy the desire to get as close as possible is the same as desiring sex and there are levels of honesty there that worry him in ways he can't quite verbalize and doesn't bother trying. The kissing is nice, anyway, and it lasts a while.

“You look half dead,” Keith says, when they've let go. “And smell it. Did you bathe at all while you were gone? Or has indoor plumbing not made it to Kentucky?”

“No,” Anderson says. “They just go wallow in the creek when the stench gets too bad. That's why the spill is such a problem. It's no good for getting horse manure off.” That gets a laugh. “Of course there's indoor plumbing,” he says. “It's Appalachia, not the sixteen hundreds.”

“There are those who would argue it's the same thing,” Keith replies. Anderson rolls his eyes.

“Go,” Keith says. “Shower. Now. There'll be food when you get out.”

It occurs to Anderson that, while clinging for a while longer sounds like the better idea, for an option B this isn't bad. He kisses him again before he goes but go he does. He's already feeling a little better. There's still the ache of it – of his own essential sadness, of the horror of the last few days, both wreathed in the suspicion that they will prove as difficult to wash away as the sludge itself. But there's also – there's also Keith. So that's okay. He's okay. He's always okay. He's going to be fine.
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