“You think this country is gonna applaud me for breaking my wife’s heart? For lying to everyone?” Sean half-shouted, voice cracking, the volume low enough that the neighbours would never know, the end as invisible as the whole damn affair.
TJ reached out to wrap a hand around his lover’s solid shoulder comfortingly as he stepped close enough for their chests to touch, to rest his head against the rise of muscle over Sean’s heart.
“We can do this together,” he soothed, backing his word with a gentle empathic nudge.
“Don’t touch me!”
TJ staggered back from the pure, manufactured, fury suddenly pouring off his taller, broader lover, even as the other man shoved him, his back hitting the Bechstein with a solid, painful, thump.
“Yeah, we had sex, TJ, big deal.” Sean snarled as TJ hunched back, desperately struggling to block out the emotions of the only lover he had ever let get that close. “I was lonely, and, yeah, it felt good, especially if I kept my eyes closed. But I always left here feeling disgusted with myself.”
TJ stared at Sean, watching the start of a tear build against his lash line, the upset in his eyes seeming to war with the anger TJ had felt. Through the mess of his own emotions he could feel the lie tearing Sean apart as he made out that TJ was nothing.
“You…you don’t mean that.” TJ gasped, trying and failing to fully catch his breath, as he forced his mind to build a shield that should never have had to exist. “I know you don’t mean that. I feel…”
Sean stepped forwards, his arms making a cage against the piano, his breath whispering over TJ’s cheek. “I. Don’t. Care. This isn’t about you, Thomas. I’m not like you. I’ve got a life, a career. This life of yours, or whatever you call it, might be alright for you.” Sean pushed back from the piano roughly, the strings humming a broken chord at the force.
Sean walked across the room gathering his coat, his body language melting back into ‘clean cut Republican’ as TJ let the piano hold him up and tried to ignore the ache of his heart ripping in two.
Grabbing his briefcase Sean opened the door, and without turning dropped his head murmuring. “I want more. I’m not some pathetic American punch line.”
The door slammed behind him and TJ let himself slide to the floor staring blankly staring blankly out at the flecks of white breaking the night sky, as snow was caught in the light flooding from the window.
“But you love me!” TJ whispered, as for the billionth time in his life he cursed the fact he was a Guide.
Sliding one hand under the piano, TJ carefully rolled a vial out and into his palm. He shook it gently and smiled grimly as the powder settled in a drift against one edge. Closing his eyes he muttered, “Six months. Not bad.” Carefully he shook a small heap of the powder at the base of his thumb. Slowly breathing out he lifted his hand to his face and rested a finger against one nostril as he snorted the coke through the other. Eyes still shut he rolled his head back, finally giving in and letting himself cry.
~ Six Months Later~
“TJ! Get up.”
TJ rolled his throbbing head against the underside of the pillow as his grandmother bustled into the room.
“Yes, yes, you hate the idea of Dougie’s stupid party for his ridiculously long engagement to his ridiculously pretty girlfriend, and large groups of people give you a headache.”
TJ felt her coming closer, the familiar warmth of her half drunk state soothing coke fried nerves. Reflexes, trained by years of experience, had him clutching the comforter closer and closing his eyes, even as the ungifted woman lifted the pillow off his face and settled her behind on the bed next to his shoulder.
“Well, add to that headache anyway.”
He flinched as a cold glass pressed against his forehead and let his eyes flicker open. His grandmother smiled at him and as he lifted his hand she placed the glass in it. With a kiss to his slightly chilled brow she raised an eyebrow and left the room with a final reminder.
“Shift your ass, TJ.”
Slowly easing himself into a seated position he carefully noted the aches in his body and flicked through his scattered memories of the evening in the hope that one of them would clear up whether it was just lube making the slick feeling that went with the ache, or if yet another pair of ruined pants and round of tests lay in his future. Still thinking TJ lifted the glass to his lips and raised his eyebrows in shock as the, at least triple strength, gin and tonic filled his mouth. Squinting at the clock he shrugged and tipped the glass back to finish the drink in two gulps, before rolling to his feet and stumbling to the bathroom, peeling boxers off as he went.
– – –
TJ tugged a worn tee-shirt over his head before slipping a pill into his mouth as he clattered down the stairs. TJ bounded into the kitchen and wrapped his grandmother in a tight hug. “Afternoon, Nana. Didn’t wake you up last night did I?”
“Oh, kid, it wasn’t even night by time you rolled in,” she muttered soothing a hand over the back of his neck. He let the Ritalin work it’s magic and mute the other humans around him, the burst of energy almost an extra bonus. As he lifted his head she peered at him carefully, frowning a little.
“I think it is time for a martini.”
TJ grinned and stepped back to walk to the bar in the corner of the kitchen. Pulling bottles and glasses out he watched the chefs preparing for the party,
“Did you give me the last of the gin?” he asked.
His grandmother smiled at him and twisted to watch the pretty male chef work at the stove, before finally shrugging, “Might have been. Use the Jack.”
“You can’t make a martini with Jack Daniels!” TJ shot back even as he twisted the cap off.
“Oh don’t you take that tone with me, kid. I’ve been mixing drinks longer than your mother has been alive. Jack!”
TJ laughed slightly too loudly, making one of the sous chefs jump, as he shook the mixture. “If you’re wrong about this you realise you have to drink them both right?” He tipped the drinks into glasses and carefully carried them across the room, trying to make sure that he didn’t develop a jitter to go with the racing heart. As he reached her and set the glasses down with a slightly unsteady clatter, she pulled her attention from the man at the stove to frown at him.
“Now, honey, do you really see that being a problem?” She lifted the drink and silently toasted him as the front door clunked shut, the familiar sound of a protection detail settling in echoing through the house.
TJ lifted his head at the clunk and flinched as his mother’s mental presence slammed into his mind, cutting through the mist created by the drugs. He grabbed his drink and took a swift gulp before heading down the hallway to cut his mother off and downgrade her bad mood, before she set the rest of the house off and he ended up feeling like the bottom of a gangbang gone wrong.
“Mom, I realised that you were going to end up running late and you deserve to look your best tonight. You spent ages getting this set up…” As he spoke he guided his mother towards the stairs and carefully, gently and with more delicacy than he really ought to be able to bring to bear, started layering good, calm emotions onto her mind.
Twisting to walk backwards up the stairs, TJ let mindless chatter fill the space as he let his mother absorb the soothing that he sent in her direction. Over his mother’s shoulder the Sentinel and Guide pair in her detail were watching him with the indulgent, yet pitying look, reserved for those online but apart from their true match.
TJ chatted and soothed all the way into his mother’s bedroom letting himself fall onto the bed as she gently ran her fingers over the dress he had carefully selected and laid out for her.
“Now before you say a word, you will fit it and it will look as fantastic as it did the last time you wore it.”
She smiled at him and in the careful way she’d been using since he came online, brushed a hand over the cloth of his tee-shirt, careful to not touch skin.
“When did I wear this?”
“State dinner for the Saudi royals. Just after I…” TJ tripped on his words and broke eye contact, “Just after I came out, when Dad’s first affair leaked to the press. You said ‘It’s always important to look your best when you feel your worst’.”
His mother perched next to him and after taking a couple of deep breaths said, “Thomas, there is a journalist coming tonight…”
“Susan Burg, right?” TJ interrupted.
“She’s shadowing me in the lead up to Douglas’ wedding. And I’m letting her because she has the story.”
TJ frowned at her confused.
“She knows what you did last December…not that you moved back in, but what happened. Best to give her a story she wants instead of having her dig around to find out why you did it or to start… speculating,” she said carefully.
“Yeah. Let someone dig and they might find more than you want them to, always best to play the game. Bad enough that I’m the ‘former president’s gay son’ best not to add to it and become ‘the secretary of state’s fucked up son’.” He sniffed, working his jaw to stop it from locking up. “I have to get changed. Wouldn’t want to be an embarrassment to anyone and steal the limelight from Dougie.”
TJ pushed off the bed and rushed from the room, grateful that the protection detail weren’t allowed beyond the first floor. The last thing he needed was some Sentinel huffing over him protectively just because he couldn’t handle a little expectation.
– – –
TJ crept down from the third floor, hoping to make it to the refuge of the kitchen and another three drinks, when his mother lent around her bedroom doorway to gently grab his sleeve. Pulling him closer she pushed the door open and quietly asked, ”Can you help me with my hair sweetie?”
TJ nodded and with a grin he stepped into the room. As his mother sat at the resser, with TJ behind her collecting her hair up with careful hands, she met his eye in the mirror. “So your grandmother said you went out quite late last night. I was worried when I left this morning and you weren’t back.”
“Meeting with the investors, ran late, super productive.” Years of practice had the lie rolling from his tongue easily. ”The plans for the club are going great by the way. Still need to find someone to lend me the money but it is gonna be awesome,” he said quickly, making sure to hold eye contact until his mother broke it by looking down.
“I already told you I’m not giving you one hundred thousand dollars to invest in a nightclub.”
“A restaurant and a nightclub. And I only need fifty… I can get dad to lend me the other fifty.”
TJ watched as she shook her head, disappointment and annoyance tingeing the mood of the room through the buzz of the extra pill he had popped in his room. “Anyway… about the story. Occupational hazard, right? Comes with being a Hammond. They only love us when they aren’t busy hating us. Not like making it public will make it worse right?”
His mother stared at him sadly for a moment before her resolve broke and she said, consideringly, “Listen, about the nightclub. I will give you the money if, and only if your father agrees. Talk to Douglas and pick a good time during the evening to ask him.”
TJ gently brushed her hair out with one hand as the other lifted the weight of it out of the way.
“Seriously?” Burst out of TJ with a rush of excitement and happiness.
As the wave hit her his mother smiled and laughed, “Yes, you’re trying, and that is all I asked.”
TJ gently let go of her hair and straightened the parting before exploding with, “It’s great. You are going to love the business plan! 50 pages, blueprints… Just wait until you see the figures. This is going to be amazing. I have to go find Dougie… And grab the plan.” He raced out of the door stopping and ducking back in to say, “You look gorgeous by the way.”
He raced down the stairs and into the music room, opening the piano stool and tugging the thick file out, before grabbing his phone off the top of the piano as it started to ring.
“Dougie! I was just coming to find you. Are you on the way or should I drive out to meet you?” TJ drew to a halt as his twin adopted his usual tactic of just talking over him in order to deliver the message he originally rang to give.
“Anne and I are just setting off, we will be about twenty minutes. Let mom know that Anne’s parents will be there in an hour and a half and Dad is due to arrive just after. The rest of the guests will arrive at seven, which will give everyone just enough time to want to kill each other. Please try to not get to high before I get there.”
TJ stared at the phone in shock for a while when he realised that Douglas had hung up on him. Pouting, he walked into the kitchen, taking a side trip to the snug at the back of the house on the way. As he walked through the hallway the Guide in his mother’s protection detail purposefully shifted so that his hand brushed across TJ’s bare skin, flooding TJ with calm and quietly pushing his shields up a little more. TJ paused for a moment letting the comfort flush through his body, before jerking himself away and shaking his head at the lack of professionalism.
Walking into the kitchen he snatched his glass out of his grandmother’s hand and took a gulp before handing it back and starting to slam bottles about on the bar as he set about mixing another round of drinks.
“You know being a little shit might be your forte but it doesn’t suit you.”
TJ ignored his grandmother’s snipe as he petulantly threw one of the cocktail shakers across the room towards the sink. He lifted one of the glasses from the bar and, carefully ignoring both the sous chef, who was paying just a little too much attention, and his grandmother, knocked it back in a practiced, smooth motion.
TJ walked across the kitchen, dumped a glass in front of his grandmother and walked away with one of the other glasses. He slumped into one of the easy chairs at the edge of the kitchen, pulled the prescription bottle from his pocket, quickly tipped two tablets out and dumping the diazepam into his mouth swallowed them down with a mouthful of martini. Dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling he closed his eyes and let time slip for a while.
Sensing his mother walking towards the room he dropped the bottle clenched in his hand back into his jacket and swung to his feet. Grabbing her drink off the bar he began talking before she even entered the room.
“Dougie and Anne will be here…” he began only to be cut off as Douglas and Anne followed his mother into the room.
“Already? Jeez, Teej, I gave you one job!” his brother said with a grin, warmth flooding TJ as he was wrapped in a bear hug.
“Already drinking I see.” Dougie directed over TJ’s shoulder at their grandmother.
TJ let the side of his head roll into his brother’s neck, winking at Anne as Dougie questioned his grandmother’s drinking habits.
“TJ’s fault. He said you can’t make martinis with Jack Daniels.”
Anne widened her eyes at TJ in response as she silently projected want at him in the way only an empath could, mild as her talents might be. Grinning at her, TJ untangled himself from his brother and handed his glass over to Anne as he went to mix more drinks, lightly saying,
“Turns out you can. And it’s good!” over his shoulder as Anne hummed in agreement and shoved the glass into Douglas’ hands.
“I though everyone knew whisky martinis are good?”
TJ turned to pull an innocent face at Dougie as the other man continued, “I would have thought you would have known that given how much time you spend in bars.”
Sticking his tongue out TJ refilled the shaker and tuned out the conversation as it turned to politics.
– – –
The dinner was long and mostly boring but after several rounds of diplomatic tales, and painful but at least amusing interruptions by his father’s latest fling, the meal was finally over. TJ’s head pounded with the pressure of pushing off the constant mental noise of the ungifted and the less than subtle prodding of the unbonded Sentinel playing bodyguard to the Japanese ambassador his mother had invited. Given the cautious looks the Sentinel was giving the almost invisible protection detail scattered around the house, TJ figured his secret was safe despite the prodding. Desperately wishing for another hit TJ caught his mother’s eye from the opposite end of the table and twisted to talk to his father.
“I need to talk to you and Mom” he muttered to the man next to him,
“Sure. Sure, TJ,” the former president rumbled in reply, even as he made his apologies and pushed back from the table.
TJ managed to get up before anyone else and led the way to the small snug at the back of the house. Smoothing his hair and quickly straightening his clothes TJ gave his parents a copy of the business plan each. He took a deep breath and sharing a nervous smile with Dougie he started his well-rehearsed spiel.
“We are getting a great deal. With the market collapse and the fall in property prices we are getting the site for nearly half what it is worth. Three floors and a rooftop terrace with a view of the Capitol, that’s why we are calling it ’The Dome”. Dedicated restaurant on the roof with a bar on the ground floor and a nightclub underground. The licence is almost ready to be approved, we just need to pay for the licence and finish the refurb and everything will just…”
TJ stuttered to a halt, words failing him as his father didn’t even let him finish.
“No, wait.” TJ ran a hand over his hair and bit his lip as he rifled though his copy of the file with shaking hands. “Umm, look. Look at these figures. You just… see we had them looked over and they really…”
“I said no, TJ. I’m not doing it and neither is your mother. It doesn’t matter what you say, giving that kind of money to a drug addict? To set up a nightclub? The last thing you need to have is that temptation sitting there all the time. Find something else TJ.”
TJ froze, he couldn’t breathe. His blood felt like ice and the world tilted until his hand slapped into the table next to him. Beside him he felt Dougie flood with shock and he faintly heard his mother protesting Bud’s harsh words.
Eventually he forced himself to respond as his father said, “Why don’t you play the piano anymore. I could talk to some people, get you a…”
“People don’t become concert pianists at 30! You all just want me to have a boring life!” TJ gasped for breath as he felt himself spiral out of control, upset and anger making him shout.
“Maybe boring would do you some good,” his father snarled back. “After that stunt you pulled at Christmas you should be grateful we let you leave the damn house!”
“I’m not a child!” TJ snapped, he felt a tear begin to tumble and quickly dashed it away. “And is that what it was to you? A stunt?” He slammed a hand into the table even as Dougie reached out for him and his mother shook her head. “How am I ever meant to achieve anything if all I’m ever told is hide who you are and no-one ever supports me?”
“Support you? We did nothing but support you when you came out, covered up for you when people nearly found out about … Hid the fact you nearly killed yourself over some ridiculous affair.” Bud used his height and weight advantage to tower over TJ as he shouted.
“That isn’t supporting me! You told the whole fucking world that I was gay to cover up for the fact you couldn’t keep your dick where it was meant to be. And then the one time I needed you to tell me it was OK and you would help me, you all stood by. You let them hang the man I loved out to dry for an inch of leverage in Congress,” TJ snapped anger flooding him as much as upset, his words broken by almost sobbing breaths.
“I never wanted to hide the fact I’m a Guide. I never wanted to leave Sean. I keep giving up bits of myself and none of you ever give up a thing! No one ever helps me!” By time he finished the anger was gone and he stood looking at the floor, face wet and body trembling, the last of his high tumbling away as his self control shattered. As he tried to turn and leave the room Bud reached out and grabbed him, harsh and sharp.
“This isn’t about you, Thomas. We aren’t like you. We have careers and lives. This life of yours, if you can even call it that, isn’t what we want. We need more than that to live for. The truth you want us to ‘help’ you with? It would destroy all of us as much as the drugs, the booze and your precious boys have fucked up every advantage we gave you.
“Your Mom is going to run for President again and the last thing we need is you involved in another god-forsaken scandal. That would end the campaign before it even started” His mother looked at Bud in shock even as TJ pulled his arm out of his father’s grasp. “You’re not getting the money, TJ, and if you had the slightest notion of care for the rest of us you would give up this dream before you do some real damage.”
TJ backed across the room refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. As his back hit the door he twisted the handle and bolted for the stairs before any of the guests could see him.
Slamming into the bathroom on the second floor he pulled a drawer all the way out, letting it clatter to the ground, and groped in the space behind it until a familiar vial was caught between his fingers. Hands shaking he quickly took a hit, then another before letting himself slump onto the counter and rest his burning, ache filled head against the cool marble. The headache receding even as the familiar fog rose.
– – –
TJ let his fingers slide silently over the keys of the piano that he had spent the last few hours playing mindlessly through the rich haze created by the chemicals burning through his body. Behind him he could hear his mother carefully guiding the guests into leaving, false smiles and endless charm ensuring that each one felt they were the most important.
Anne slipped onto the stool beside him as the last guest left. Pressing a kiss to the side of his head she lifted one of his hands from the keys and wrapped her delicate fingers around it, murmuring, “Thank you for playing. It was gorgeous and you made my mother decide I’m marrying the wrong Hammond.”
TJ flattened his spare hand against the keys in a smooth motion so soft that the hammers barely managed to make the strings hum. He took a breath to speak but instead tugged his hand free from Anne’s and pushed to his feet. A soft thump and a sigh followed him as Anne closed the fallboard and let him go. He silently walked through the house, collecting his keys and jacket, past his quietly arguing parents and down to the garage without a word to anyone.
Echoing his movements from six months ago he slid into his car and without opening the garage door started the engine. Closing his eyes he slammed the car door and opened the window, tilting his head back against the headrest. Half a minute, and several shaky breaths later, he decided it wasn’t worth it and it wasn’t like he would be left alone for long enough anyway, Anne’s worry was already seeping through the house, her urge to follow him about to become overwhelming. He pressed the button on his keys and opened his eyes to watch the door pull up in the glow of the headlights. After a moment’s though he grinned, peeled down the driveway and turned towards the nearest club.
– – –
The music was loud enough to be felt through the wall as TJ lent against it in a dimly lit bathroom, knees beginning to ache and the pain throbbing through his jaw warning of bruises starting to form from rough fingers earlier in the evening. TJ curled his hand into the hips in front of him, encouraging the man to thrust harder. Every time the cock hit the back of his throat and began to slide down TJ swallowed, and as it was pulled back he pressed his tongue up, letting it curl and slide against the cock. As the man above him cursed and gasped, hands fisting roughly in TJ’s hair, TJ gorged himself on the passion, affection, anticipation and lust pouring off the three men stood in the room with him. With a rough tug TJ was rocked forward so his nose was pressed against the man’s stomach. Swallowing him to the root, the man grunted and TJ palmed himself firmly through his jeans as the emotions swelled, his other hand soothing over the hip of the man in front of him to let him know he was still okay.
“Fuck! Chris, you were so fucking right.” The man in front of him panted as he pulled out, leaving TJ’s mouth filled with the taste of latex and a faint tingle from the release of pressure. “Hun, that was the best suck I’ve ever had,” he said pulling TJ up and slamming him back into the wall as he kissed him harshly. TJ grinned, laughing around the kiss as the third man tugged TJ’s jeans open and rolled a rubber onto him before greedily swallowing him down. TJ let his eyes slide shut, and let his empathic shields down for once riding on a high not created by drugs.. TJ moaned as the man he was kissing pulled away, his hips twitched as the guy on his knees sucked firmly on the head of his cock. Chris lent forward and whispered into TJ’s ear.
“Such a good slut aren’t you? Sucking us all off in a filthy nightclub. Bet you would beg for more if someone else came in.” He kept TJ from speaking by licking a stripe across his face and claiming his lips, as TJ choked on air a little and rocked into the mouth of the guy blowing him.
All four men jumped at a bang against the door followed by a loud crack as someone broke the lock sending the door slamming open. A large man in a suit burst into the room, and in a practiced series of moves, tugged TJ out of the huddle, yanked his pants up and began to guide him out of the bathroom as TJ protested and turned to say, “Later gentlemen, just misunderstanding, be back in five!”
He tried to clean himself up, as he smacked the man’s hands away sharply. “I can fasten my own fucking pants, thanks, Greg! And what the hell is wrong with ringing me?” he moaned as he was shoved out of the back door of the club into the predawn light.
“There has been an incident. You went off grid without letting anyone know where you were going. Your phone is sat in the kitchen and she wants to see you.”
TJ let himself be bundled into his car even as the keys were tugged from his pocket, and a seat belt was pulled around him. Giving in to the fact that the security guy would do whatever he wanted, TJ tipped his head back and began to carefully pull shields together, before giving up the attempt and rooting through the glove compartment until he found a little bag filled with pills. Ignoring the disapproving frown from the man next to him he quickly swallowed two E’s, wincing when they grated against his raw throat.
– – –
They pulled into the garage just as the sun rose, Greg climbed out of the driver’s seat, unfastening TJ’s seat belt when he did his own. After waiting for a moment he opened TJ’s door, leant in and tugged him from the seat before pushing him up the stairs with a series of prods. TJ slunk through the door from the garage, letting it swing shut in the face of the man following him. He walked towards the kitchen slowly, headed straight to the coffee pot, and poured a cup before turning to acknowledge his mother. Dropping his cup onto the counter he took a seat opposite her as she continued to read the folded newspaper.
After a few moments of them both pretending that this was a normal morning, his mother looked up and dragged her eyes over him, before frowning as she reached out to brush a finger over a painful spot on TJ’s cheek. As she touched, what TJ assumed was a blossoming bruise, he flinched back and she sighed quietly.
“Oh, TJ, why do you let them do this to you?” she asked sadly “I’m sorry I had to send people after you but you really should have let us know where you were going. And you know by now to answer the phone when we ring more than once.” She quietly unfolded the paper revealing it to be the gossip pages, the headline screaming.
‘TJ: Troubled teen to tortured treasure?’
A quick scan of the article let TJ know that someone had leaked hospital records and that his former landlord couldn’t be paid enough to keep him from spilling other people’s secrets. A tawdry tale of high passion and devastating loss leading to a desperate suicide attempt told across a two page spread. The whole story hinged on the death of an actor in a plane crash days before his suicide attempt.
“Could be worse,” TJ said coldly, grabbing his coffee from the counter top. “At least she didn’t guess correctly. She actually managed to make me come off fairly well, no mention of Republicans or drugs. Nothing interesting, and hey, we might even get some sympathy from it. It’ll blow over by the end of the week, don’t get why you were fussing.”
He swung to his feet, turned his back and started to leave the room. Tears stung his eyes and his lips began to tremble. He flexed his hands, to keep them from clenching, before catching the doorframe and twisting to glance over his shoulder at his mother.
“You can send someone to brief me on the tale you want me to spin for the cameras later. I’m going to bed. No need for you to waste your time doing it so feel free to send a minion.”
As he reached the stairs he heard her say, “TJ…” Her heels clattered on the tiles as she followed him. “I just didn’t want you to get caught unexpectedly. You’ve worked so hard to get better… I just didn’t want…”
Her words cut off as he raced to his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. He stopped suddenly the weight of the report finally hitting him. Silently sobbing he dropped back against the solid oak and slid to crouch on the floor. Face scrunched, eyes squeezed shut, his teeth clenched to keep the noise in as tears trickled down his face.
He heard his mother slide down the other side of the door to sit in the hall and felt, for the first time in nearly a decade, her try and project love at him even as she said, “This wasn’t about you being trouble, Thomas, I just didn’t want to see you hurt by him again.”
They sat back to back through the door until TJ fell asleep.
When he woke again the sun was high and his mother long gone. His phone filled with voicemails from Dougie, slowly becoming more desperate as he begged TJ to answer. Sliding his finger over the bruising curling around to under his jaw, TJ pressed up harshly on the deepest bruising letting the sharp pain give a moment’s quiet from his mind.
– – –
“My ‘mental state perpetuates an image that is found to be undesirable’ to the fucking board? What? So it’s fine to have a drug addict representing you as long as they aren’t suicidal?” TJ shouted, throwing the tablet in front of him onto the sofa in annoyance. As he fought the urge to storm out of the room and grab his nearest stash Dougie slid out of his chair and carefully caught TJ in a tight hug.
“We know how this goes, they quietly drop you today and in six months they turn around and tweet about how proud they are of you for fighting through, and that they would love for you to drop into the annual ball. Just give it time.”
TJ carefully nuzzled into his brother’s neck, taking deep breaths and riding on the calm his twin seemed to almost always project.
“It’s been six weeks since they found out, 5 months since I tried… is there some kind of time limit on recovery? ‘Has to have been OK for one or more years to be an inspiration to gay youth!’”
“Teej,” Douglas sighed, “I know that group was important to you. I know they rallied behind you when you came out and it was a big comfort, but maybe you should just accept one of these invitations to talk instead. You know, make a break and move on.” Douglas dragged TJ onto the sofa, pulling him close so they were tight against each other.
“Right, because I’m the perfect person to talk about getting clean or getting over wanting to kill yourself? Sure I’m a great famous face to head something up but…” he broke off running a hand over his face before dropping his head back to stare at the roof. Eventually he rolled his head to look at his brother. “But that’s a little too much hypocrisy. Even for me.”
Douglas squeezed TJ’s shoulder gently before saying, “Just stop taking the drugs and it won’t be lying.”
TJ shook his head and looked back at the roof with a harsh laugh. “Yeah… wouldn’t be a lie.”
The brothers sat in silence until the TV playing in the background moved on to the entertainment news.
Eventually Douglas broke the silence. “Dad thinks you should do something with the press, Mom thinks he’s a moron and Nana suggested a sit down with Susan Burg and some ‘sexy but tasteful’ photos.”
“Dad’s right,” TJ laughed. “Not that I get to say that often but if we don’t manage what the press are saying then it’ll affect the family image. At least Burg is already in the camp, right?”
“Don’t ask me, you’re the publicity guy! But we do have to do something.”
“An interview for the professional, family image, everything is ok, look how stable we all are side of things and a blog post for the personal connection, fanboy, ‘look at little old troubled TJ’ sympathy vote guys.” TJ muttered.
He rested his head against Dougie again as they sat in silence for a while longer. Eventually a soft buzz had both of them scrambling to check their phones and with a triumphant fist pump TJ bounced to his feet and rushed from the room shouting, “I’m going out. I’ll only be an hour or so, Dome stuff!”
– – –
TJ draped himself over the back of the leather sofa so that he could rest his head on the shoulder of one of his friends. Turning his head the guy pressed a kiss to TJ’s forehead before pulling away so he could lean over the table in front of him to start cutting the coke he had poured onto the mirrored surface. Behind them the other investors were running over numbers and celebrating. The major elements of the renovations were done and, with the exception of finishing touches and getting the restaurant running, the club was ready to go.
“It doesn’t make any difference that you couldn’t put any money in, Teej,” the guy crouching over the table said as he motioned for TJ to take a hit.
TJ climbed over the back of the sofa and took the rolled up bill from his friend.
“Yeah? ‘Cos it doesn’t exactly feel like that, Paul,” TJ muttered as he swiped his finger over the table to catch the last few grains.
“Hey, your face and name are gonna do far more to bring people to the club than we could ever manage without you! Totally worth as much as the rest of us invested. Besides you did most of the work getting us the licences and change of use approvals.”
One of the other guys hummed in agreement with Paul before snorting a line and dropping down to sit next to TJ.
“Yup,” The guy said popping the p, “Paperwork god! Seriously I thought we were never going to get approval until you found those loopholes. We totally couldn’t have afforded to hire someone to put in the kind of work you did.” He showed TJ a couple of pills in his palm before dropping them into his mouth and leaning forward to kiss TJ, letting the pills pass back and forth in their mouths. TJ let himself be pressed back into the sofa cushions before reaching down to unfasten his pants and pushing on the other man’s shoulder to prompt the guy to slide down to suck his cock.
TJ grinned as Paul knelt next to the sofa and began to unfasten TJ’s shirt so he could set up a line on his chest. TJ heard one of the other investors mutter something about finding a girl or two before the door opened letting the club noise pour into the room as the world began to blur around him in a haze of drugs and emotions. Trusting the people around him and knowing Paul would keep anything too stupid from happening, TJ let go and drifted.
– – –
The afternoon slipped away in a mist of emotions and drugs, only the odd memory standing out. Laughing as he let one of his friends tip him into the backseat of a car and climb on top of him to make out. Saying yes as someone offered him brightly coloured pills and sex. Letting Paul knock him backwards onto a bed and undress him, closing his eyes and riding the high as he came.
TJ woke up from the haze to find himself lying in bed with Paul riding him, eyes shut and clearly still high. TJ lifted one hand to stroke the other man’s cock vaguely wondering when someone had slipped him a party and play. Propping himself up on his elbows and half ignoring the man grinding in his lap, TJ spotted an open bottle of champagne on the nightstand and took a long drink.
Above him Paul laughed muttering, “Nice of you to join us again. Wanna put some effort in here?”
TJ huffed at the other man’s pout and dumping the now empty bottle onto the floor he wrapped strong arms around Paul and rolled them until he was kneeling over him. Lifting Paul up a little he began to pound into him, years of casual sex with the man letting him slide in at the right angle and with the perfect amount of force without a thought.
From the other side of the room someone clapped and said, “Damn, that never gets old. Wish you would let me take a picture of perfection.”
TJ rolled his eyes, and pausing flicked the guy the finger before continuing to reduce Paul to a gasping mess.
“Well, on that note I’m gonna leave you guys to it. Some of us have to work in the morning.”
TJ frowned at the comment and glanced up at the clock surprised to find it was starting to edge into the early hours.
An hour later Paul was lying next to him pouting as TJ refused to fuck him again and turned down another hit. TJ lent up to watch as Paul snorted a line off his chest following the straw with his tongue to catch it all. As TJ let his head drop back a set of keys clacked against the apartment door as it unlocked. TJ jumped and looked at Paul, frowning.
“Relax, it’s just my boyfriend.” Paul muttered as he shrugged and bent to lick down TJ’s chest again.
Rolling out of the bed TJ dashed across the room to slip the deadbolt across pulling a face at Paul as he did, “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend!” he hissed,
“He’s not gonna be pissed, you’re on my list, Teej. Not that I told him I’d done you before, ‘cos I’m pretty sure that would mean you can’t go on the list…” Paul rambled as TJ started to pull clothes on.
TJ stopped to look at him, “Yeah, well he sounds pissed! What list?”
“Famous guys I can sleep with. I put you at number two,” Paul grinned rolling over on to his stomach to watch the show from a better angle. The boyfriend started to pound on the door and shout.
“Number two?” TJ pouted at him, “Who’s number one?”
“Robert Patterson, but he’s not gay.”
TJ grabbed the rest of his clothes, his phone and a copy of the club’s contract before starting to climb out of the window.
“You’re right, he’s not.”
The boyfriend began to kick the door.
“But he is pissed.” TJ said as he slid out of the window.
Dropping onto the grass TJ walked down the street a little bit pulling on his shirt and wondering what happened to his boots. Spinning around twice he realised that his car was nowhere to been seen and it was starting to rain. Sighing he dropped to sit on the pavement and pulled out his phone.
“Dougie, my wonderful, loving and so caring brother. I might have a tiny problem…” He laughed as his brother cursed at him for a while before demanding to know where he was. Dougie stayed on the phone as he dressed and made TJ promise to not do anything stupid or walk off, before finally hanging up to get in his car.
Tucking the papers into his jacket TJ pulled his feet up so they were under his body and hunched down to wait. In the distance he could hear Paul and his, apparently soon to be ex-boyfriend arguing.
Quarter of an hour later TJ slid into the car and hung his head, the bad mood and disappointment hitting him like a punch to the face.
“Please, don’t start.” TJ said as he glanced over at Dougie who was glaring at the steering wheel. “Thanks for picking me up. I…”
“Mom was worried sick. You said you would be gone an hour! You haven’t left the house in over a week and then you fucking disappear and stop answering the phone. We thought you had…”
TJ watched as his brother bit the sentence off and dropped his head to rest it on the steering wheel.
“You aren’t going to tell her…” TJ waved his hand in the air a little, “…the details of this, right?”
“No. Look I’m sorry you have to deal with that stupid story. I…I tried to get mom to deal with it but…”
TJ forced himself to smile at Dougie as he shook his head, “… but it has to come from me. Can’t hide from it, people were always gonna find out, I should have been more prepared. That’s not why I… I just had to get out of the house and my official contract for publicizing the club came through… Sorry.” He pulled the papers out of his jacket and waved them at his brother.
Dougie smiled at him sadly. “Look this is a really important time. The engagement, starting the campaign for Mom and I… Can you just turn up where you are meant to be and not disappear or pull a stunt like this? Can you just be there for me for once?”
TJ grinned and trying to lighten the mood in the car said, “You know I’ve always got your back, little bro.” Like it always did the quip made his brother smile and mood being to lift.
“You were only born ten minutes before me!” Dougie replied with a grin
“And you will never catch up.”
“Put your seat belt on. Asshole. And don’t worry about mom, something came up earlier she’s still at the White House. I’ll tell her you were with Anne.”
They drove back to the town house in easy silence, the remains of TJ’s high from earlier and the bit of amusement he had managed to get out of Douglas stopping TJ from being overwhelmed by his brother’s disappointment.
As they pulled up Dougie reached out and grabbed his brother’s hand, “TJ, I know it helps with … everything but could you…”
TJ watched as his usually eloquent brother fought to find the right words.
“…Could you be sober for a while? Just until people aren’t look at us as much?”
TJ nodded and slid out of the car. “Sure, I’ll try.”
He waved as Dougie drove away and as he walked to the house muttered, “It’s not like they are ever going to stop looking. You should be glad I’m enough of a fuck up that they don’t usually look any further for a good story.”
– – –
TJ woke up with a jolt as the urge to mother and calm someone washed over him. He found himself on his feet beside the sofa and nose to chin with a suited, faintly growling, Sentinel before he was even truly awake. He began to lean into the woman, arms curling around her waist, nose tucking into the side of her neck, empathically open and projecting calm. His breaths instinctively deepened to soothe the Sentinel into matching his level of settled. TJ felt the woman relax and tuck her chin over the top of his head as she inspected the room. Tiredness and hyperawareness leached from her for a few moments before she remembered herself and pushed him away, physically and mentally.
“Sorry, sir,” she said before reaching up to tap her radio. “All clear, just Eighty-eight creating a blip in my senses. You can let Her in now.”
TJ pouted at the codename as he rooted through his pockets. He pulled out a small vial and in a practiced move popped the cap off. As he went to tip it into his hand he could hear Dougie’s quiet request echo through his head. Looking up at the Sentinel in front of him he pressed the cap back on, reached out and pressed the vial in to her hand with a muttered, “Get rid of that for me?”
He smiled grimly as she responded to being presented with a handful of coke with a sleek, professional nod that screamed secret service, the moment they had shared already gone; the drugs as safe and hidden in her hands as his status had always been.
Pausing to wave at his mother as she came up from the garage, he looked into the garage itself and frowned at his car wondering when he had driven it home. TJ headed up the stairs and tore through the upper floors of the house and all the possessions he had collected since Sean searching for drugs. As he hunted he fondly remembered the six months of Sean gently coaxing him into wanting more from life than looking for the next high. The memory of doing more than simply existing in that time driving him to try again even as he suspected that he would fail without Sean dragging him through the withdrawal and cravings.
He dumped every vial, packet, baggie and prescription bottle he could find in a small box in the middle of the bed promising himself that he would get Dougie to take it way later. As he dropped a blanket over the box to hide it his phone buzzed with a message. Opening it he found a picture of Paul pulling a sad face and the words ‘so it turns out you can’t put fuck buddies on the celebs you can cheat with list.’
TJ laughed and quickly replied back with, ‘:o, who would have guessed? You’re a jerk Paul. Could of at least warned me I was going to have to Casanova it.’
A response came back instantly. ‘But sex…?’
He sighed and tucked his phone into his pocket, ignoring it when it buzzed again. Looking around his room he decided putting stuff away could wait until after breakfast.
– – –
After breakfast became after lunch, and lunch became campaign planning, with light-hearted arguments and a long discussion on what they could adopt as a unique selling point. Every bill with some kind of controversy or major opposition in the House was considered. For the most part TJ sat quietly slumped in his chair, nursing the beer he had been handed and wishing that he didn’t have a headache from sitting between his parents with nothing to cut off the constant empathic noise. As they worked through the bills TJ peeled the label off his bottle until he heard them pass over one bill with no discussion. Reaching out he tugged the papers for the bill off the table and flicked through them. Across from him Dougie was arguing for a welfare bill, TJ frowned and without looking up cut across the blooming argument between his father and brother.
“This is it. Garsetti got in on the back of the right to equal pay bill, why look for something new? Equal rights are the thing of the century, right? I mean this already has a huge campaign and sure it’s controversial but… You aren’t new to politics, people feel safe with trusting you to not be too wild with it. I really think it could work.”
The entire family and his mother’s aide turned to look at him as he spoke, a pen in his hand as he began to circle key points.
“Thomas, that’s…” His mother sighed and glanced at Douglas before eventually saying, “It’s a career killer. Sure if it goes right. If people respond to it well then it would make the campaign but.”
Bud lent across the table to cut in, “But the reality is that the slightest hint of a rumour that a politician is a Sentinel or Guide ends their career. It’s happened before and it will happen again.”
TJ opened his mouth to argue but Douglas leapt in before he could speak, “Well, wait, maybe TJ has a point. The last person chucked out of their party was Senator Galin and that was twenty years ago and he nearly killed the Secretary of Defence in a feral episode, so getting kicked was kinda coming! The last politician to end up in prison for being a Guide was sixty years ago and it’s not actually been illegal for a Gifted to be in politics for a quarter of a century. Besides we cut off the rumours before they start.”
TJ leaned back and watched the argument grow. Wincing he wished he had waited a couple of days to go sober as his head throbbed and nausea began to fill him.
Eventually Bud shouted over everyone else, “There is no way to deflect those rumours and the best you could hope for is that they say it’s me and that is why we got divorced. But that would do nothing but hurt your campaign.”
In the silence that followed Bud’s yelling TJ pushed to his feet and quietly said, “Then out me.”
As every Ungifted in the room turned to look at him in shock, TJ faintly heard someone say, “Mr Hammond?” Then hands grabbed at him, his mouth filled with the taste of iron, the world slowly turned grey and began to shake.
– – –
“If it was any other unbonded Guide I would say that the seizure was caused by empathic overload. The bleeding could be caused by the brain trauma that overload can cause. Guides just aren’t meant to go this long unbonded, but given…”
TJ let his eyes open enough to see the familiar outline of the family doctor gesture at the box that had been on his bed.
“Any two of those drugs combined, or withdrawal from them, could cause it, especially in a Gifted. That quick metabolism of theirs is a pain some times. The cocaine could count for the nosebleed but without a hospital visit I can’t determine between the two.”
TJ swallowed hard and quietly muttered, “Had a few last time. Fits I mean.” He felt a hand tighten over his and let his head fall to look to the other side of the bed as a wave of sadness cut through the anxiety in the room making pain burst in his head. Tiredly he grinned at his brother, “Told you I’d try.”
Dougie looked at him sadly and carefully tipped forward so his head was resting heavily on TJ’s chest, “Idiot.”
TJ blinked at the top of Dougie’s head confused, as his brother insulted him for doing what he was asked. Deciding he was too tired to figure it out, TJ let his eyes slide shut again as his mother started asking the doctor questions.
As he fell asleep he heard the doctor say, “What he needs is calm; somewhere a little isolated. He doesn’t have the ability to protect his mind from family and that and the self-medicating could kill him.”
– – –
TJ woke to find his grandmother sitting at his desk rolling clothes and dropping them into a duffle bag in a move practiced and honed through years of campaigns and living in hotels. She smiled at him and carefully chucked his phone into his lap.
“One of your friends keeps texting and Bud wants to get Jubal Jacobs to run numbers for Elaine’s campaign. Elaine wants Douglas to go with him so they can pretend that it’s just some boy’s weekend and Dougie refuses to go without you. Quite what they think that old scam artist of a pollster can tell them I have no idea. But getting out of the city might do you some good.” She somehow managed to make it seem like an order instead of an option.
TJ looked up at her. He had been flicking through messages from the various investors in the club on the group chat, as they set up dates for the decorators getting out, and finalised the list of people to invite to the opening.
“I can’t go shooting or whatever the fuck they have planned,” he said pushing himself up and wincing as muscles tugged and his head pounded a little. “I have things to do with the club.”
“Fishing, I think. You’ll enjoy it, kid.”
TJ slowly rolled out of bed and rested heavily on the edge as he pulled on clothes. Staggering from the room, as his grandmother muttered about stubborn fools, he slowly made his way downstairs to try and convince everyone else that a trip to the countryside was the last thing he needed.
– – –
TJ stood on a stony riverbank, cigarette firmly clamped between his lips, as he carefully focused on ignoring the mild argument about mobile phones going on behind him. As the argument got louder TJ reached out with his mind and carefully made a fish downstream a little extra hungry, wincing as his head began to pound. He felt a tug on the fishing rod and shouted out. Behind him his father abandoned the argument with Douglas to come and help. TJ grinned as he felt a wave of gratefulness wash over him from his brother, clearly Anne had been teaching him some tricks.
TJ flinched slightly as his father reached around him to help steady the rod and reel in the catch. He carefully let go of the rod and eased his way out of the hug, reaching up to rub at his temple, as Bud began telling some story about a fishing trip when they were 12.
As Dougie managed to start yet another argument, TJ walked to sit on the grass bank, watching the pair squabble as he finished his cigarette. He lent back to look up at the sunny sky as Douglas’ phone tumbled into the river. As the argument exploded he closed his eyes wondering how two people could produce that much hate and anger while on a fishing trip. Slowly the warmth lulled him to sleep. He woke to find his head cradled against Douglas’ chest as he was carefully lifted from the back of the SUV.
“You’ve lost too much weight, Teej.” His brother whispered, “You’re meant to be the big brother.”
“Only by ten minutes.” TJ whispered back.
Douglas dropped him onto one of the benches lining Jubal’s porch. “Stay!” Douglas ordered tugging his phone out of his pocket. He frowned at it before leaning over and stealing TJ’s. “Passcode still 3425? Awesome.” Pointing at TJ sternly he twisted onto his heel already chatting as he slammed through the backdoor into the kitchen. TJ rolled his head back to squint through the window as Douglas banged around in the kitchen before marching back out onto the porch, dropping a bottle of water and the old jacket Nana had packed, into TJ’s lap and slumped into a seat opposite him.
Midway down the garden Bud was leaning close to the pollster deep in discussion over the BBQ as they cooked the fish. Every now and again TJ would catch one of them looking at him and he would grin back only for them to look away quickly, the odd snatches of conversation letting him know that he should be grateful that he wasn’t closer. As the breeze grew colder he shoved his hands into the jacket pockets. He froze as the tips of his fingers butted against smooth glass. Pulling a face that he hoped Dougie would identify as ‘I’m going for a piss’, he stood and walked in to the house.
Bypassing the bathroom he walked out of the side door and crossed the drive to get into the barn. Tipping a small heap of powder onto his hand he took the first hit he’d had in days. Finding an abandoned glass pane leaning against the wall he quickly wiped the dust off it with the edge of his shirt and emptied the remnants of the vial out. He pulled his wallet out and picked a card to start shaping the lines with. Rolling a note into a tight tube he wet his lips in anticipation and lent down. Focus entirely on lining the shaking tip of the note up to the first line, he blocked one nostril and began to sniff. A hand slammed into his shoulder and the glass pane was knocked onto the floor. Reeling back TJ turned, hands coming up into fists even as he realised that the wave of disappointment was pure Dougie.
“You couldn’t even go a week?”
“I… It’s this place and Dad and the scheming. I can’t do it. I can’t take another campaign! I can’t fight it anymore.” TJ crumbled as Douglas wrapped strong arms around him, the edges of the high starting to creep in. “If I’m not using, I can’t pretend I don’t need him. That I’m not hurting my Sentinel by hiding.” He tucked his head tighter into Dougie’s neck as his brother sniffed and rubbed his eyes against TJ’s shirt.
“OK. Then we do this, we push the Gifted Person’s Equal rights bill and we out you. It’s going to be shit for a while but no more hiding.”
TJ pulled back to look at his brother. “I can’t lose… you’re my twin and I don’t know when we stopped being everything to each other.” TJ let Dougie push him back so he was staring into his eyes.
“Fuck the numbers. TJ, this is killing you and I can’t let it.”
TJ stepped forward again crashing into his brother until they stood against the side of the barn, clinging to each other with a quiet desperation that they hadn’t felt since being separated for the first time when TJ was pulled from boarding school.
– – –
Arms still draped over each other the twins walked back around the house, TJ grinning easily from the hit he had managed before Douglas arrived. The barbecue had burned down and covered plates sat on the table with TJ’s abandoned water. While Douglas ate TJ nibbled on the odd forkful of fish before settling in to pushing bits around the plate until his brother was done. TJ looked down when Douglas looked up at him and he heard his brother take a deep breath to say something. Taking another mouthful of fish TJ looked up at Douglas and smiled.
“Come on,” Douglas said nodding at the door into the house. “Let’s see if Mister ‘finger on the pulse of popularity’ has the same opinion we do.”
TJ jumped to his feet hiding his need to hold the edge of the table, as the world swam, by gathering the plates.
Dumping the plates into the sink TJ followed Dougie into the main room. Ignoring their father and his deep conversation with Jubal he dropped onto the sofa, sitting close enough to Dougie that his brother had to drape his arm over the back of TJ’s neck to stop it getting crushed between them. Grabbing the TV remote he hit the power button and leant into his brother while the picture flickered into life on the ancient screen.
The news blared its garish theme tune and the reporter prattled his way through half dozen reports of overseas wars and mindless banalities of recent court cases. TJ curled further into Dougie, his high reaching the perfect balance where it blocked out Jubal and his father, but allowed the close contact he had with his brother to create a soft flow of emotions. Yawning TJ let his eyes slip closed and started to drift off to sleep. He felt Dougie wrap his arm a little tighter and in an almost unconscious way push love and contentment at him in an easy wave. TJ hummed happily before huffing a laugh when Dougie whispered.
“Annie doesn’t let me get away with ignoring that part of her. I never really realised how hard it must have been for you to grow up with us.”
TJ shrugged, relaxing into the light hold that was quickly becoming a full-blown cuddle. Behind them Bud began to argue with Jubal in hushed tones, the odd phrase that rose above a whisper revealing that the argument was an odd mix of Sentinels and their mother’s last run for president.
On the TV the news moved on to the political section of current events, Dougie hit the volume and pulled out his phone, cursing when he remembered it was dead. The young reporter standing outside Congress giggled as he discussed the recent divorce of a young republican, for unknown reasons, commenting on the hotness of the popular politician before moving on to the latest rumours to escape the White House. Dougie leant forward, carefully guiding TJ’s head down into his lap instead of pushing him away. On the TV the journalist took a more serious tone as he said,
“Today a high level source within the Vice President’s office has leaked that a high-level split is to be expected in the run up to the next presidential election. This reporter believes that Secretary of State, Elaine Barrish, intends to run against her party’s incumbent…”
TJ jerked awake and flinched out of the way seconds before Douglas leapt from the sofa with a yell. He turned to shout at his father for dragging him into the wilderness and without giving anyone time to respond he stormed from the house, grabbing keys he went. TJ stared at the remaining occupants of the house quietly as an engine roared to life outside, then rolled off the sofa, raced from the house and dove into the car just before Douglas peeled down the drive.
TJ caught the phone that was flung at him in a practiced motion and, without being asked pulled out his own phone to switch the sim over. The phone flickered to life and a message appeared. ‘I’ve got this, honey’. TJ read it out to his brother, who sighed and quickly dictated a message back, before telling TJ he could put the phone away. TJ gripped the side of his seat tightly as anxiety and stress flooded the car. Dougie slammed his foot against the accelerator as they pulled out of the long driveway and onto the main highway. Resigning himself to nightmares TJ settled into the seat and shut his eyes in the hope of sleep.
His eyes flickered open just as the DC skyline became visible as a backlit glow in the distance. Lifting his hand to his head he gently rubbed his temples to relive the familiar ache of pressure caused by his Sentinel reaching out for him in his sleep. He groped through his pockets for a few seconds until he remembered and tipped his head back to whine at the roof. He felt a hand come to rest on top of his and gently press down constraining the shakes that he hadn’t even noticed.
“You should stay with Anne today, she’s just going to be working from home and I… I looked it up a few months ago, after Sean, and people on the forums say that empaths are a little easier to be around.”
TJ flexed his hand and pushed one finger against the underside of Douglas’ as his brother spoke.
“Need you to get rid of some stuff for me before I go home anyway. Was gonna ask you the other day but… you know,” he muttered without opening his eyes. They drove in silence for a while.
“I have to work on the club. The decorators should be finishing up and the interior decorator is going to be working over there today, debating the last few tweaks to the VIP rooms. If I want input I need to be there,” TJ said as they drew closer to the city. “If you park at work we can make a coffee run, you can get an early start and I can walk to the club.” He felt as much as saw Dougie smile as his brother hummed in agreement. “We think we could be ready within the month. Club opening on the 1st and the restaurant a couple of weeks after that.”
“I’ll put the date in Mom’s diary then.” Dougie said pulling his hand off TJ’s knee to signal. “Are you sure you are going to be okay? I have the rest of the week off and we don’t spend enough time together.”
“I’m fine, Dougie, Mom needs you. Anyway it’s not like I can get in that much trouble in an empty club.”
“Yeah right. You will be totally fine until, what’s his name? Pablo? Decides to stop by and the next thing you know I’m picking you up from some shithole tattooists after you change your mind and don’t want to wait for your friends to finish up.”
“Oh my god, Dougie! Once, I did that once! And it’s Paul by the way.” TJ replied with a faint laugh,
“Fine, Paul will stop by and then you will ring me from New York asking me to get you a ticket home because you lost your wallet.”
TJ started to speak but was cut off as Douglas continued with an amused.
“Or when you are sat outside some apartment after having to climb down the fire escape. Or you burst in to my apartment while Anne and I are in the middle off…”
“I have never burst into your apartment when you were in the middle of having sex,” he paused grinning at Douglas as his brother groaned, “I always sat outside until I could feel that you were both done.”
The brothers burst into hysterical laughter, stress and lack of sleep letting them tip over the edge easily. When they had both calmed down TJ softly said, “I’ll be fine. I’ve done this before and I’ll tell the guys that if they want me to round up people for opening night I need to clean up for a while.”
He shrugged easily, closing his eyes he rested his head back again and determinedly ignored the way his brother kept looking at him worriedly. The low grade ache in his mind began to ease off as the clock ticked over into 6am, and somewhere in the city his Sentinel woke up and started his morning; the ebb and flow of the bond familiar from the odd moments of sobriety in TJ’s adult life.