TJ paced in hallway of the townhouse carefully practicing greetings in an uncharacteristically nervous manner, the month of abstinence leaving him twitchy and anxious. He ran a hand over his forehead and with a groan of annoyance he paced over to the bathroom tugging his tee shirt off as he went. Standing in the bathroom he filled the sink with cold water and quickly wiped the sweat off of himself, gripping the edge of the sink to keep his hands from shaking. Quickly redressing he grabbed his keys and jacket, then checked he had his wallet before striding into the garage. Sitting in his car he tapped on the wheel nervously, muttering to himself again as he did. Pulling the keys out of the ignition he got back out of the car and started to walk back into the house.
“No, no, no. Come on TJ it’s for the club. Get it together,” he said to himself as he got back in the car. He shoved the keys into the ignition and turned them starting the engine. In front of him the garage doors peeled open on their own as the sensor picked up the concentration of exhaust fumes – his mother’s latest ‘safety feature’.
It took TJ four goes of driving around the block to pull into the parking garage and another six goes to get up the stairs and into the hotel foyer. Sitting in one of the chairs opposite the staircase, TJ carefully arranged himself and the papers he had brought with him so that it looked like he was waiting to meet up with a business partner. Dead on the time TJ had predicted, a tall blond half jogged down the stairs and stopped dead when he saw him. TJ carefully ignored the man until he said,
“TJ?” TJ let himself jump slightly before standing to respond.
“Hey! You still living here when you’re in town then? I just popped in to meet up with someone.”
The man looked him up and down carefully. “Pretty much here all the time these days, I should look for an apartment really. How are you?”
‘Doing great, in the middle of a new venture actually…”
The man cut him off by resting a gentle hand on his arm. “Hey, I heard something’s, I was a little concerned.”
TJ grinned at him falsely, “Total rumours. Well, mostly… never been better really.”
They stood looking at each other awkwardly for a few moments until the man said, “TJ… I… I should go, I don’t want to make you late for your meeting and I have to …“
“No problem, I get it. I’m slammed too. I’m opening a nightclub, that’s who I’m… you know, but he’s running late so…” TJ said with an easy smile. Shoving a hand into his pocket as it began to tremor. A pressure headache building. “Hey, you should totally come to the opening. It’s in two weeks, great place called the Dome. Awesome view of the…”
“…Capitol?” the tall man finished with a grin, “Great name, bet you came up with it right? I would love to come, TJ. Things are really busy but I’ll try and make the time. I haven’t changed my number so, umm, just let me know the time and date.”
“One VIP pass for Sean Reeves coming right up.” TJ said with a grin. As the other man started to walk off TJ said, ”Oh, how’s your wife?”
The man flinched slightly, before answering. “I thought you would have heard? She left me. Just after Christmas. The divorce was finalised a couple of weeks ago. Officially she couldn’t take me being away all the time but…” he stepped closer to TJ and spoke quietly, “…I couldn’t take lying to her. It wasn’t fair to anyone involved.” Sean gently squeezed TJ’s arm before quickly turning and walking away.
TJ dropped into the chair again muttering, “God, I’ve missed you, Sean.”
– – –
TJ spent the rest of the day snapping at suppliers and ringing his dealer, every time it hit the third ring he would hang up. Eventually he lost control of his anger and flung his burner phone across the room. He watched, satisfied grin on his face, as it shattered, taking the mirror it had hit with it.
“See! I told you it would never survive the first rough night.” Beside him one of his business partners laughed. “I mean if it can’t take a Hammond in a snit it is never going to survive the first politics fuelled fist fight.”
TJ flung himself into one of the overstuffed Chesterfields that lined the wall opposite the bar and the hated mirror. Dropping his head into his hands he desperately tried to massage the burning pressure headache out of existence,
“Hey, you alright Tommie?” the business partner asked reaching out to tug on his sleeve.
“Yeah, just a migraine starting or something. And don’t call me that,” TJ began to say, lifting his head from his hands and petering out as he noticed the slick coating of blood on his palm. “Fuck.” He desperately tried to wipe his face with his hands but only succeed in spreading the blood further.
After half a minute he was handed a wedge of tissue and guided to his feet as the man worriedly muttered, “Thought you were off that for a while? Mind you if that started happening I’d quit too.”
TJ just nodded and let the man draw his own conclusions as he was pushed into the freshly fitted restroom. He felt a hand grope through his jacket and his phone being pulled out before it was shoved in front of his face.
“I’m ringing your brother, wash your face and try to look like you lost a bar fight.”
TJ tapped in the code and, trying not to move his head too much, began to wash the blood away.
The other man walked away tossing, “The opening is in 5 days. Get it sorted,” over his shoulder. TJ slumped into the sink, whining as the move jolted his head.
TJ heard Douglas arrive minutes before the man crashed into the restroom,
“Jesus, TJ, what the hell happened? Hospital. Hospital, right now!”
TJ caught his brother’s flailing hands, marvelling for a moment at the fact he wasn’t getting any empathic noise from him, until the reality of that caught up with him and he began to panic.
“No hospital, ring the Doc.” Catching sight of his business partner in the doorway he pitched his voice so it would carry out of the door before carrying on with, “Last thing mom needs is some newspaper finding out about the coke.” He watched as Dougie frowned before realisation hit and he started to drag TJ from the club shaking his head.
As Douglas pulled out of the parking space in front of the club TJ whimpered and wrapped a pale, shaking hand around Dougie’s wrist.
“I can’t feel you! I can’t feel anything, it just hurts. It’s just loud.” His brother shushed him, pulling out of the traffic and into the first parking space he saw. TJ felt his seat belt being unfastened before being dragged halfway out of his seat and into his brother lap. He felt Douglas unfasten his jacket and peel off his shirt before doing the same to TJ. As he lay skin to skin TJ began to feel Douglas’ emotions push against him in a combination of contact and projection, overwhelming the shock and pain filling his head.
They sat there for several long moments, just breathing until Douglas whispered, “It’s been a long time since we did this. We all thought you had it under control, but you never did, did you?”
“I did. The drugs helped but I had this, I could do it. Should never have let myself fall in love. Thought I’d be safe with an ungifted but I guess not,” TJ murmured as he nuzzled into his brother, silently grateful for the deep tint on the glasses.
“Oh, TJ, What did you do?”
TJ shook his head and pressed into his brother a little more as the other man stroked a hand over his hair.
“He’s young and attractive and the media love him. Just what the club needs. I let him get too close, I should have known better. Guess it fucked with my shields,” TJ muttered into Douglas’ breastbone
“So you went to see him…” Douglas finished sadly. TJ sighed in relief as he felt the wave of disappointment and worry flow off his brother. The headache began to ease off as the soothing and overwhelming familiarity of his twin’s emotions settled his Gifts. “This is the sixth time I’ve had to peel you out of a room covered in your own blood in the last month! Could we stop doing this, stop pushing yourself like this please?” Douglas begged as he tucked TJ back into his seat and carefully pulled the seatbelt back around him. TJ nodded delicately, curling his hand around his brother’s wrist as the other man carefully pulled back out into the traffic and began to drive towards his apartment.
– – –
TJ fluttered around the kitchen of his mother’s house in a slightly manic fashion as Douglas and Anne sat at the counter watching him with grins on their faces. His grandmother and mother were sat out in the garden enjoying the last of the summer sunshine as they sipped martinis; his father lent moodily against the wall nearest the kitchen door.
“Guys?” TJ said tentatively as he finally came to a twitching halt in the middle of the kitchen. Everyone turned to look at him. “I just want to tell you how much tonight means to me, you all agreeing to come. I know you all had doubts, I know you didn’t really want me to do this but I really feel like this is the beginning of a whole new, good chapter of my life.” He looked around grinning as Douglas gave him a thumbs up and Nana lifted her glass in a toast. He came to a halt in front of his father, face falling as he took note of the older man’s frown,
“About tonight, son, I’m afraid I can’t go.”
TJ was flooded with annoyance from every direction and biting back a little of the venom he snapped, “Your publicist got you crying on Letterman tonight? She claiming that’s what would be best for the campaign that you aren’t even part of?”
“Now you wait right there, this has nothing do with her. I wouldn’t anymore attend this thing than I’d watch someone toss a baby seal into the jaws of an orca,” Bud shouted back as he stepped right into TJ’s face. “Don’t you frown at me and try and twist me around to thinking like you. That’s about as much chance as you have of keeping straight in a nightclub.”
TJ backed away from Bud at the accusation, eyes wide he quietly said, “Tell me, when did you decide to write me off?”
“You have a serious problem, son, and you just keep adding fuel to the fire. You really think you’re going to get clean running ‘round in some club? Glutting yourself on their feelings and getting in their heads when they fuck you!” Bud snarled as he crowded into TJ’s space.
“That’s not what it’s about, I don’t…” TJ stuttered as he backed into the counter behind him.
“I’m not going, TJ, and if any of you could think beyond trying to make TJ feel good you would see that going is a stupid idea.” Bud turned and walked away.
TJ shouted after him. “You have never believed in me! I haven’t used in weeks and every time I used in the last year was because of you. All of you.” TJ snarled the last line with tears in his eyes as he stared at his father’s back. He flinched when Bud span around and marched back to poke TJ in the middle of his chest.
Lowering his voice to a whisper he muttered, “I saw the guest list, son, this is all just a ploy to get to see that little shit again. You take every opportunity given to fuck yourself over and one day that is going to take the rest of us with you.” Bud looked over TJ’s shoulder and TJ followed his gaze only for his eyes to land on his mother, standing right behind him, clearly ready to step between her former husband and her son. “One day that republican shit is going to drive you to that point again and no one is going to be there to find you.”
Out of the corner of his eye TJ saw his father heading towards the door before focusing fully on his mother.
“Sean Reeves. I should have guessed, Thomas.” His mother softly muttered over his shoulder.
“He left her, you said he would never do that. He did.” TJ half sobbed, turning to face her.
“But not for you. He left you when things got tough; he cheated on his wife. He didn’t come back when he knew you needed him. I’m the one who found you barely alive.”
“I hope you don’t expect me to thank you for that.” TJ grabbed his keys from the counter next to him and turned to leave the room, barely noticing that his father had left. “Because I never will.” As he stormed from the room his mother reached out and span him around.
“Every time.” She said, the start of tears shining in her eyes, “Every time, TJ, I have stood by and lifted you up and made excuses for you. It hasn’t worked, not once.” She shook him a little before finally saying, “I am done. I hope tonight is a huge success, but I won’t stand by and watch you throw yourself after him again.”
TJ pulled away, twisting to run for the garage door. As he headed down the corridor he heard her saying, “ No, Anne, he has to burn this out on his own. Let him go.”
He arrived at the nightclub on his own and worked the carpet with a careful distance honed through years of practice. The media drank up every word and smile he gave them until he reached the door and slid past the doorman with a friendly pat to the shoulder.
Paul grinned at him as he slid a finger down the guest book and looked down the hall and into the already packed club, “Full complement, except for a few of your VIP’s. Special guests are all accounted for and the celeb guests are all in. Good job Teej.” Paul smacked his shoulder and walked off as one of the staff shouted him.
TJ walked down to the where the VIP passes were lined up and carefully flicked through those remaining. All of them family, except for Sean. Checking his watch TJ pulled Sean’s to the top of the pile before he took a deep breath and headed into the club to greet the guests who had arrived.
TJ reached the last group of guests with a grin and a free bottle of Champagne, in return one of the actors offered him a pill. As the high hit TJ backed away, leaving the group to their partying. He staggered into one of the empty VIP lounges and dropped onto the sofa, eyeing the hideous mirror on the wall behind the private bar with a groan. Sliding a hand down the back of the cushions TJ caught the small bag hiding there and pulled it out. He dumped the powder inside onto the table and carefully shaped it into eight neat lines. He stood and grabbed a bottle of vodka from the bar.
Dropping in to the sofa he pulled out his phone, opened a new text screen and typed. “I’m sorry, hope this comes out in the wash. TJ xx.”
Setting it up to send in one hour he cracked open the bottle and rolled a note into a tight tube. Tipping his head back, bottle to his lips TJ began to swallow, barely pausing to breathe. When the bottle was half gone he dropped it down to stand next to his leg and methodically began to snort lines. He felt his heart begin to pound so hard it drowned out the music. He let himself slip to crouch on the ground and he lifted the bottle once more. The world seemed to fizz and bubble at the edges of his vision, blurring then becoming super sharp. Something banged close to him and TJ’s head flopped to the side as he twisted to look at the noise.
“TJ! What the hell! How much did you… TJ!”
TJ laughed, stopping suddenly when being lifted forwards to face the person talking to him made him feel sick.
“TJ, did you drink all of this? What did you take?”
TJ lifted a hand to clumsily stroke the face right in front of his. He muttered, words slurring and tumbling over each other in a rush to get out. “Thought you weren’t coming… she said you don’t love me… I’ll just ruin you like I do everything else.”
TJ gagged as every muscle in his body loosened and he slumped forward into the solid wall of Sean.
– – –
A rhythmic beeping filtered through the fog that seemed to fill TJ’s head, the familiar and almost mindless blaring of a political review show undercutting the usual quiet of the hospital.
“…Today announced that he will be breaking from the Republican party due to a personal disagreement with their position on bills due to enter the house regarding the position of Sentinels …” the presenter babbled calmly. A hand soothed over the top of his, warm and soft against the slight chill of the room.
“Mom?” he whispered as his voice cracked, throat sore and bruised. TJ grimaced as he became aware of the fact that he had been intubated.
“Shush, sweetie, its ok. Go back to sleep.”
TJ hummed in tired agreement with her before muttering, “Dad was right. I’m gonna ruin you all.”
A hand swept over his brow gently followed by smooth lips pressing a kiss. “No. No he wasn’t…”
TJ drifted back to sleep as his mother was mid-sentence.
– – –
“…TJ? Hey gorgeous. Everyone else had to go, some big fuss over at the House.”
TJ forced his lips in to a smile and winced as his eyes flickered open. His grandmother grinned down at him from where she stood next to the bed.
“We have to stop meeting like this, kid.”
“Yeah, well, officially you’re in for a bad reaction to some antibiotics and Bud managed to sweet talk them into letting you out as soon as you can stand up and take a piss on your own.” She lent in closer and softly said, “You got damn lucky, kid, if Bud hadn’t decided that his publicist is an idiot and a trip out to the club was exactly what he needed you wouldn’t be here.”
TJ frowned at her, “But, Sean… I…” he stopped confused and frowned at his hand as he plucked at the bed cover.
“Oh, honey, he was on TV earlier may be you got confused.”
TJ nodded carefully, deciding to drop the subject when a nurse bustled in and started chatting at him as she checked his blood pressure, pain levels and asked a thousand questions. Carefully manoeuvring his grandmother out of the way the nurse eased him up to sitting, rearranging the bed carefully before fetching a lunch tray filled with simple foods and leaving him to it. TJ pushed the food around the tray for a while before carefully eating just the right amount to keep them from fussing. before exhaustedly falling back into fitful sleep.
– – –
The news channel was once again cycling through a political review when TJ jolted back into consciousness with a gasp. Fear, worry and frustration that was not his own sent his heart racing and his hands reaching for a Sentinel they couldn’t reach. Eventually he calmed himself enough to realise it was the early hours of the night and his Sentinel was in the middle of a nightmare.
For the first time since the bond had bloomed, and brought him online with his Sentinel, TJ reached out and pulled. At the edge of his vision the Savannah cat he normally ignored slinked out of the corner, normally sleek fur rumpled and bright eyes dulled. They stared at each other for a long moment until TJ broke the look, closing his eyes and swallowing hard.
“Go to him. I guess one of us should.” He projected at the physical manifestation of his soul.
The cat twitched his tail and leapt on to the bed before walking straight to the centre of TJ’s chest and curling up. Slowly he faded into TJ, slipped along the bond and to the Sentinel, leaving TJ gasping and rubbing at the tingling skin on his chest. The pressure in his heart and his mind eased as the Sentinel was calmed by the manifestation of TJ’s unspoken adoration for him. At the sound of his mother’s voice TJ’s attention was drawn to the TV in the corner.
“I will be resigning from the post of Secretary of State at the end of the month.” The press pack around her began to ask questions and shout over each other but she expertly calmed them and continued with her official statement.
“President Garcetti and I have had several long conversations about the future of his presidency and, it has become increasingly clear that we desire to take our party in different directions. Our opposing positions on the Sentinel and Guide equality act has become a line in the sand between us.”
She paused and looked directly into the camera, TJ knew from years of watching her that she would have looked at each camera so that the TV station could edit it to look like they were the favoured group.
“I’m afraid that until I am officially released from my post by the President that is all I can say. Thank you.”
TJ sat, staring blankly at the TV, stunned at the hours old announcement until the woman herself arrived already dressed and ready for the day.
“Mom, why would you… I thought you decided you were going to go with something else?”
“I found myself doubting the choices I made. When I chose to stay in the White House, with Bud after he… I should have left and been there for you but I wasn’t. I chose to run for President and pushed Douglas into being my campaign manager when he wasn’t ready. I chose to join a President who only believes equality belongs to a favoured few, and you aren’t in that group. I have two children, and you are both adults, but I’ve nearly lost you twice in six months. I’ve kept Douglas so busy he can’t even arrange his own wedding. I can’t leave politics, but I can make decisions that ease the pressure. If I leave now we have time to be a family before I have to start campaigning. If I break from Garcetti then I can openly support you and help you look for your Sentinel before… before my choices kill you.”
She dropped into the chair next to him as she spoke, curling her hands around his. “You are both adults but you need me more than ever and I don’t want to make the wrong choice again.”
TJ eased himself upright carefully before sliding to his feet and dropping into his mother’s lap for a hug. “I want to go home,” he whimpered. “I know you were distracting them from me, and I want to go home before they find me. I’m done with being the punchline for the nation’s press.” TJ pressed his head against his mother’s shoulder as tears threatened. “I just want to be left alone.”
“OK, honey, OK.” She eased him up as she stood and tucked his arm over her shoulder to help him to the nurse’s station.
“We would like an AMA, thank you,” she said softly to the nurse on duty. TJ nodded along as the man reached under the counter with a doubtful look at his shaking frame. The form was dropped in front of TJ with a heavy-handed suggestion that if he wanted to remain in an inpatient facility he needed to refuse the AMA.
TJ scrawled a shaky signature over the line and then dropped the whole thing back onto their side of the desk before muttering, “Let’s collect Nana and go.”
When they arrived at the townhouse TJ was gently shaken awake and carefully guided through the house. The Sentinel on duty in his mother’s protection service hauled TJ up the three flights of stairs in a surprisingly gentle manner.
As he lay him on the bed the Sentinel paused and ran a hand down the side of TJ’s face muttering, “You need to stop fighting it, you have been fighting so long that I don’t even think you would realise if your Sentinel was stood right next to you. You have everything locked down so tight I can barely see you.”
The Sentinel left the room as TJ curled up around his pillow and tried to remember what it was like to feel the bond flow freely with every breath.
– – –
Weeks after the incident in the nightclub TJ sat at his piano, carelessly running his fingers up and down the keys to make moody chords. Effortless etudes slipped out from under his hands as he watched the TV and contemplated exactly how long his mother had spent actually trying to get out of politics, before she gave up and just swapped Secretary of State for political campaign.
“… Today spoke for the first time about her campaign for, what some are calling, true equal rights,” the presenter said before cutting to a clip.
“I think that we have to consider how far we have come as a civilisation in the last few hundred years to have only taken baby steps down the path of equal rights. I believe that Elaine Barrish has not simply chosen a hot topic to woo over a section of the public in the run up to the election. I know that Elaine truly believes that there is nothing beyond failing to adhere to the law that should keep someone from being whomever he or she wants to be in society. This is a subject close to the hearts of many and I wholeheartedly back the Barrish campaign to get us talking about the rights of those who keep us safe.”
“Congressman Reeves!” A journalist called out from the pack. “Some are saying that your recent change in party, your divorce and your backing of the former Secretary’s campaign are all tied to the quickly hushed rumours of an affair last Christmas. Is it true that you were having an affair with TJ Hammond?”
TJ’s fingers stumbled to a crashing halt as Sean almost imperceptibly froze on the screen.
“My political stand point has never been tied to my personal life and, as always, I have no comment on the particulars of my divorce.” Sean nodded to the pack politely and quickly walked away to get into the waiting car as they called after him.
Another clip began, this one with the Vice President, stood outside a local cafe with a smarmy grin on his face.
“As always I have to admire Elaine and her ability to chose something that gets right to the heart of the nation. Do I think that she is making the right choice? Of course not, it is a terrible loss to this administration to lose her but Elaine made it clear right at the start that she did not want to be Secretary of State. Perhaps we are all better off with a clean break so the people can make a true choice of whether they want to see Elaine Barrish in the White House or not.”
The Vice president paused and TJ softly muttered, “No, no, no, don’t you dare,” at the TV screen.
“And we have to consider what this choice really means. This is a family known for choosing to back things that hit close to home. Gay rights when their son came out, privacy acts when President Hammond’s affairs were leaked to the press. We should be looking at who they are planning to protect with this latest choice.”
“Asshole.” He groaned before moving to switch the TV off. He followed the buzz of familiar emotions into the kitchen and found his mother and brother pouring over wedding plans, as Anne leant against the counter watching them in amusement.
“I guess you’ve seen the news?” He asked quietly.
His mother looked up and sighed before easing to her feet and pulling TJ into a hug, “We did, it’s not as bad as it looks. No open allegations or ‘leaks’, besides he managed to phrase it all so poorly that he just sounds like a bitter old man grasping at straws and hoping that something pans out as true,” she said as he wrapped his arms around her and lent into the hug. “And Reeve’s is doing a great job pulling attention to the campaign.”
“Sure, and it isn’t hypocritical at all for you to let him back you.” TJ muttered bitterly, wincing as he felt annoyance flair in the air around him. “You refused to support him when I needed you to, but the second it helps you get what you want…”
“Things are different now, TJ,” she said pulling back to look him in the eye. “I didn’t agree with what they were going to do. I’ve seen the damage outing someone can have but I couldn’t support you having an affair with a married man.”
TJ pulled away entirely. “Sure, it has nothing to do with politics. It is all about your superior morals!” he spat. “Tell me, would you have done a single thing different if he had been my Sentinel?”
“He’s a Republican Congressman. I didn’t even have to pause to consider that that was a possibility.” Behind her TJ saw Douglas frown and jerk back in surprise.
“What, Dougie, you work with her every day you can’t actually be surprised at that opinion.”
Douglas frowned and started to shake his head, mouth half open to speak.
“It’s hardly an opinion. No Gifted in their right minds would work for a party that so openly… You know what, TJ, I’m not having this argument with you,” she said, turning on her heel and marching out of the room.
After a long silence Anne eventually asked, “Do you just like having a headache?”
– – –
“Anne, the thing you don’t know yet is that the first party of the campaign is always the most dull. Everyone is still being dreadfully polite to each other and we all still cling to the illusion that I might make it through without getting absolutely wasted and provide the entertainment.” TJ whispered into his future sister-in-law’s ear as she delicately clung to his arm in the crowded garden of the townhouse.
“Okay, TJ, but for tonight I’m afraid that you are stuck staying sober with me. I guess we will have to let the band do the entertaining and then make an early night of it.” She grinned.
TJ huffed in her ear and pouted, letting his head drop against her shoulder for a moment before straightening and guiding her over to one of the dozen or more political high flyers that she hadn’t been introduced to yet. After over an hour of meeting, greeting and making nice the pair snuck back into the house to slump onto the chaise-lounge in TJ’s music room.
“My feet hurt and I hate the way that fake niceness tastes.” Anne pouted.
TJ snorted at her. “Be glad you only have a drop of empathic ability. I feel like someone has taken a power drill to my skull and the next person to shake my hand while pretending to like the person next to him is going to get punched.”
TJ lifted a bottle of water from the floor and pouted at it for a while before taking a long drink.
They both twitched and looked at the door moments before it opened and Douglas walked in, freezing as he entered to say, “That, is never going to stop being creepy. TJ … I swear I didn’t know, Mom must have invited him but there is nothing we can do now without it being weird.”
TJ frowned at Douglas until he eventually stopped babbling and said, “Sean Reeves just arrived. Please don’t do anything stupid.”
Finishing the bottle of water, TJ pulled Anne to her feet as he stood and hugged his brother whispering, “I make no promises…” before leaving the room.
TJ drifted around the garden with a grin and a few minutes of chat with everyone he crossed paths with. He carefully watched where Sean was and took pains to stay as far away as possible, until eventually Sean broke from the group he was with and walked directly up to TJ.
He ducked around the side of the gazebo covering the band as Sean grabbed his elbow and whispered, “TJ, we need to talk. We can’t keep avoiding each other for ever.”
“Why not! Sounds like a great plan to me…” TJ muttered before wrapping a hand into Sean’s jacket and pulling him towards the house.
He hauled Sean into the music room, away from the rest of the party before sinking onto the piano stool and saying, “After everything you said… you broke my heart. I gave you everything I had and you just acted like that had no worth. If after that you think that I am going to be won over by you backing my mom on something you think is important to me, you’re wrong. Switching parties and then acting like you are the good guy? That doesn’t work on me.”
Sean paced away from him, mind calm and shut off as always. For a moment TJ remembered why loving him was so easy. Eventually the other man turned to look at TJ, scrubbing a hand over his forehead, “I can’t apologise TJ, because there is nothing I can say that will make what I did go away. I knew that you were in a rough patch, I would have had to be blind to not see it, but I was cruel even though I knew it would break you. I was desperate and angry and I couldn’t see why you wouldn’t help me. Your mom could have stepped in but you didn’t get her to…”
He held up a hand to keep TJ from speaking. “I know, she told me. You asked and she refused, you begged and she shouted. None of it was fair on you, I shouldn’t have expected you to cover for me when I was the one breaking all the rules. And neither of us should have shoved you in the middle of our political backstabbing.”
“You’re right you can’t apologise. But you could have at least have had the decency to not string me along again.”
Sean frowned at him in confusion.
“The club. You could at least have said you weren’t coming, I was trying to reach out. I thought we could at least be friends. I was going to ask you to help me…”
Sean stepped forward quickly interrupting, “TJ… I came to the club, I was the one who found you. I mean I’m not surprised you don’t remember but someone must have said… I sat with you all night, I wanted to be there when you woke up but… TJ, I left my wife because I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I though you would never want to see me again. You nearly died when I left before… I nearly killed you.”
“No one said… I thought I was imaging things. You were on TV and they said I was confused.” TJ muttered. “You had six months, Sean. You could have come to me.”
Sean came to lean on the piano next to where TJ was slumped on the stool, “You confused the hell out of me, you still do. I had no idea if it was love because it is nothing like when I fell in love before. I thought it would go away if I didn’t see you but it didn’t. It felt like you were part of me; like you were something I had always been looking for, but sometimes it hurt so much to be with you. I knew I couldn’t stay with my party and have you but I didn’t change parties for you.”
TJ leant away from him and glared up into his eyes before spitting, “You going to tell me it isn’t all about me like everyone else who I lo…”
”I wish I’d changed parties when I started fucking you because it would have made it a thousand times easier to admit that I loved you. But I thought I was on the right side. I knew it was going to make things difficult but I thought we would survive it. I wanted to be with you but at the same time it felt so wrong. I was married and I thought I loved my wife. We were talking about kids, about her moving to DC and then suddenly you were my world and I was disgusted with myself. Because I got married at eighteen and thought that was it, I didn’t realise that I could feel as alive as I did with you. I shoved you away and it hurt, every minute, but I thought I could live with that because it would keep me from hurting you again.
“Then suddenly my party was pushing to obliterate rights that affect me, and your mom was fighting to make my life better. Pushing for something I needed and that we would never get through if I didn’t make a change. This wasn’t about you, Thomas. I’m not bold like you. I had a career, a bunch of ideals and norms. This life of yours, it takes guts and sure you have rough patches but you know who you are. Changing parties wasn’t about you… God I wish it was. But I refuse to become some pathetic American punchline, working for a party who just see me as some kind of animal.”
TJ looked at Sean in shock, he staggered to his feet and said, “You’re a Sentinel!” before running from the room as surprise and panic took over his body. Behind him TJ heard the strings of the piano hum as Sean slumped against it heavily.
– – –
TJ careened down the hall and straight into Dougie.
His brother grabbed him by the shoulders and gasped, “Where’s Anne?” before spotting the door to the stairs swinging shut and pushing away from TJ to run down the hall and into the music room. Panic and worry flooded the house from a hundred different directions as something spread through the guests like Chinese whispers, each new whisper in the chain making the fear peak higher.
Security personnel appeared from the various, well designed, hidey-holes that lined the rooms and halls. Twenty or more on edge, well trained and honed Sentinel/Guide pairs began a rehearsed series of checks and sound offs even as TJ swayed on his feet, the taste of iron coating the back of his tongue.
Even as the Sentinel next to him pressed a hand against his shoulder and called off, “Eighty-Eight accounted for,” Sean darted up the hallway and caught TJ as his knees crumpled.
“Hey!” he called out at the Sentinel, “Jesus, just slam him about why don’t you!”
“Nah, he didn’t knock me. Just being clumsy.” TJ muttered in response, waiting for a wave of dizziness to fade.
“How could you miss that, he left you… you’re high, I should have known!” Sean hissed. He paused for a few moments before sighing softly and wrapping an arm around TJ’s shoulders. “Your nose is bleeding. Come on you should sit down.”
TJ let himself drift on the cloud of mute emotions that made up Sean’s empathic tone as he was towed into the lounge and presented with a bundle of tissue. “I’m going to find out what’s got everyone riled up,” Sean said as he pressed TJ into the sofa.
“I’m not…” TJ sighed as the door slammed shut behind Sean. He leant back and pinched his nose in a desperate attempt to stop the steady flow of blood.
One of the Guides slipped into the room and lent in close pressing a hand over TJ’s and whispering, “Breathe, I’m going to do something that will feel terrible for the whole of five seconds and then will be awesome.”
As he spoke, TJ felt a sharp pressure on his mind and then a sharp grinding crushing pain that made him curl in and press his head against the Guide’s shoulder until the pain stopped. As the pressure receded TJ realised the panic and fear was a muted, easily ignored, annoyance on the edge of his mind. Grasping the Guide’s hand he let himself be pulled to his feet as the other man headed back to his duties. Slowly he walked the length of the hall and pushed into the crowded kitchen.
TJ pushed through the mass, revelling in the sensation of being detached from the mess of emotions around him. As he reached his family he realised everyone was stood in eerie silence staring at the TV in the corner. Aerial shots showed a plane slowly sinking nose first into a deep bay, one wing torn almost completely off, the white side scorched black. Boats surrounded it clearly trying to find survivors. As the helicopter circled, the Presidential seal became visible on the tail and with a wave of horror TJ realised that Airforce One was slowly disappearing off the coast of France.
Through the deathly silence the reporter’s voice was crystal clear. “As we can see they are, and have been for some time, searching for survivors but it is quite clear from the reports that the plane is empty. We have been hearing reports that a ship saw a large flash and something falling from the plane shortly before the distress beacon went off. At this point I think we have to fear the worst. Let’s see if Laurianne has any fresh reports from the dock…”
“Mom?” TJ whispered as the people around them began to talk.
“The Secretary of Defence left just before the reports started. He said the Dark Cowl protocols have been put into action,” she whispered back as she pulled him into a hug. TJ’s blood ran cold as he remembered exactly what that meant.
“Garcetti’s …?” His mother quickly hushed him and answered the unspoken question with a simple nod.
“What happens now?” he eventually said, voice low as he pulled out of the hug.
– – –
The hours crept on until the early hours of the morning had come and gone. The weak shield that had been wrapped around TJ was crumbling and his head was beginning to pound once more. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Douglas walk up to Sean and, with a few sharp words, guide him out of the room. TJ turned his back on the half-hearted squabbling of overtired politicians and crept past his mother’s security with a nod to indicate he was heading to bed.
He stayed just out of sight, coming to lean against the wall beside the guest room door.
“I get it. You had a good thing and you fucked it up. Our private lives have to be spotless and you can’t have that with TJ. Our family? We are established enough that an affair, being gay … TJ’s habits aren’t going to destroy our reputation, and half the time the nation finds him charming or charmingly damaged.” Douglas snarled.
TJ rocked on his feet at the wave of possessive protectiveness that washed out of the room. He suddenly became aware that something had changed in his brother, the protectiveness almost too protective, the possessiveness almost over the top.
“I never meant to hurt him.” Sean muttered in that perfect polished way of his.
“Well you did…. You really fucked it up. And I won’t watch you do that to him again.” The response was more of a growl than words and TJ shivered against the wall.
“TJ … he makes everything sharper. It’s like every emotion is a little bit closer to the surface. Like I feel everything a little more.”
“You’re an idiot.” Douglas laughed in a disbelieving tone.
“I know but I’m trying…” Sean was cut of sharply before he could attempt to make an excuse. TJ fought the urge to burst into the room and get between them. In his mind he could see them posturing on opposite sides of the bed.
“You know I never could decide if you were desperately trying to save your career or if you were just particularly stupid.”
“I was leaving Hannah, she had already filed when… I figured my career could survive me coming out. But being outed? The whole world finding out that I was fucking across party lines? That I couldn’t survive and what would that have done to TJ? He was clean and it fucked him up but he isn’t using like he was before me.”
“Stupid. I’m going with you being stupid.” Douglas laughed with a slightly desperate edge. Sean spluttered, hardly able to form a sentence. “How can a Sentinel be so shut off that you didn’t even realise you were fucking a Guide? Did you come online and just refuse to deal with it. To look into what it meant? Everything is SHARP! You felt less in control of your emotions. The sex was better than you could ever imagine? You fell in love with a guy you bumped into, like some stupid fairy tale ‘love at first sight’ shit?” Douglas shouted his voice taking a broken, sad quality.
TJ slid down the wall as Sean’s careful control broke and a wave of shock and horror flooded off him.
“You are wrong…” Sean growled, “You have to be wrong.”
“Fine, believe that. But the truth is that you came online on the 6th of March 2000 at 3am. Just like TJ.”
TJ flinched as pure sadness washed off Sean, a soft thump as he dropped onto the bed.
“Leave TJ alone. Taunting him, his Gifts, with the edges of bond that you’re never let properly form is going to drive him mad. The closer you get the less control he has.” Silence filled the room, uncomfortable even where TJ sat out of sight in the corridor. “You make him vulnerable, you break his shields and leave him bare to the world. And he can’t take that. You literally make his brain bleed.”
Wave after wave of sadness flooded out of the room until eventually Sean sobbed, “I nearly killed my Guide?”
His voice was muted as though he was pressed against Douglas’ shoulder. TJ slowly pushed to his feet and stood with his hand hovering over the door handle, frozen. Slowly he pulled his hand away, forced himself to walk down the corridor. Behind him could feel Sean breaking down against the solid, familiar, presence of Douglas.
– – –
TJ woke with a jump as sunlight suddenly flooded the room and his twin dropped onto the bed, draping himself over TJ like an overgrown house cat.
“You would make a useless spy you know?” Douglas muttered as he twisted and slid under the covers to cuddle up to TJ.
“Hmm… I think you might have been cheating.” TJ muttered.
Douglas drew back a little and shrugged at him before nodding, “Why did you never say anything?” he asked,
“I stopped looking years ago. I shut the bond off, put it away and ignored it.” TJ rolled to look at his brother. “Seriously could you see me as a cop, or one of the boys in black suits? Or in a war zone? I figured he was better off without me. Anyway, finding him would out me and everyone was quite clear that we couldn’t have that.”
“TJ… I wanted you to say something that would let me go back to being pissed at him.” Douglas pouted. They lay there in comfortable silence, the midday sun pouring through the window.
“I love him. But I don’t know if I can forgive him.” TJ muttered as he cuddled in pressing his face into Dougie’s neck.
“The question, really, is can you live without him?”
TJ pulled away and rolled to his feet. After a moment of looking down at Douglas he turned his back on the bed and walked into the bathroom. He stood in the shower, head resting against the wall, until he heard the door open accompanied by a wash of worry.
Douglas reached through the cooling water and turned the shower off. He wrapped TJ in a towel and tugged him close despite it making his tee-shirt wet.
TJ closed his eyes and whispered, “No.”
The last of the autumn sun, shining down onto the garden of the family farm, caught on the simple diamond pendant hanging around Anne’s neck as she smiled at Douglas and carefully repeated after the Minister. The gold bands in the box TJ held, painted reflected golden lines over Douglas and Anne’s hands as they joined. TJ grinned widely as their love for each other washed over him, their Sentinel-Guide bond a solid wall of warmth that had eased into being between one breath and another, so easy the change could almost be missed. TJ could feel Sean’s awe as he opened up the bond so his Sentinel could feel the full effect.
At the edges of his vision TJ could see his Savannah cat chasing the dappled patches of light that fell through the trees and onto the quiet Jaguar sprawled beside Sean. The ease with which their spirit animals played was at odds with the normal nervous tension that filled the healing bond. With every breath Sean tried to show TJ that he would never abandon him again, while TJ fought just as hard to remember how to love without fear.
The simple ceremony ended as the couple slid the rings on at the same time and pressed forward for a kiss. As they drew apart the tiny crowd cheered and led the charge to the house. TJ tucked his hands into his pockets and rocked forward onto the balls of his feet as Anne wrapped her arms around him and muttered, “Thank you for arranging this. I didn’t want to wait for your mom’s say so but…”
“You didn’t want to argue with her either?”
Anne grinned and nodded at TJ’s light-hearted words. “It is perfect.”
“Hey, you always rocked the BoHo small time shtick, why should your wedding be an overblown church wedding?” They laughed and started walking to the house. Douglas joined them, curling his arm around TJ waist pinning him between them.
Just before they reached the house Dougie nudged TJ and quietly muttered, “So it turns out that he isn’t such an asshole when you actually work with him. He’s got a good mind and once you get him rolling, boy can he stick to what he believes in.”
“Kinda why I fell in love with him in the first place. He throws himself into things wholeheartedly.” They paused at the bottom of the stairs to look up at where Sean had caught their mother in deep conversation.
“Really helps that he’s that pretty.” Anne laughed.
TJ dropped his head onto her shoulder laughing as he nodded.
“Well, I guess you better get in there and play whatever you have planned for our first dance!”
TJ played until the sun had set. Fingers dancing over the keys with ease, a bottle of water set in easy reach and a grin on his face. The windows of the room open so the sound could wash out into the warm evening air of the garden where the party was. As the evening rolled into night his mother dropped on to the end of the piano stool.
“You know, I haven’t seen you play sober since you were carefree and young enough to just tell me things,” she muttered.
“That’s because you stopped paying any attention to me outside of parties and big events. Playing puts you at the centre of attention, and I couldn’t take that. Not without help.”
“I always though that we were helping when it was just family. I don’t even know when I stopped being able to see you were hurting,” she said sadly
“This is the first ‘family thing’ I’ve been to in years that hasn’t left me feeling like my head was being torn apart while someone crushed my heart,” he said softly, stopping playing to twist and look at her. “I didn’t chose your life; to be in the limelight all the time. And I didn’t have the strength to withstand it. I guess I had to learn how to lean on others instead of trying to hold my mess apart from you all.” As he turned back to the piano he felt his mother’s grief for the little boy she had lost, fighting with the pride she had for the man he had learned to be.
She pressed a kiss to his head and quietly said. “Happy is a good look on you, TJ.” As she left the room she muttered, so quietly that TJ nearly missed it, “Don’t let me steal that from you again.”
The family drifted off to various hotels and apartments until only TJ, Sean and the newlyweds remained. The farmhouse was big enough that everyone would have their space. As they sat at the kitchen table nursing one last drink, and for TJ his only drink of the evening, TJ made one last offer to leave the couple to it and find a hotel.
“Don’t be ridiculous, TJ, I would just be ringing you at two in the morning to check on you and chat if you weren’t right here for me to spy on,” Douglas laughed.
“And I would be forced to kill him on the honeymoon if he didn’t have you in easy fussing distance. Besides I totally adjusted to the fact that you two practically live in each other’s pockets these days. I swear, poke you and Dougie bleeds.”
The twins laughed and nodded in easy agreement. Anne tugged Douglas out of his chair and pulled him up the stairs, waving over her shoulder. Sean quietly cleaned up the glasses and with a nod to TJ slipped off to his room.
– – –
TJ sat using the bond to spy on Sean drifting to sleep. Eventually he eased to his feet, left his half-filled glass on the table top and headed up the stairs to bed. His feet guided him straight past his bedroom door and down the corridor until he stood in front of Sean’s room. He rested a hand on the wood for a long moment, before letting his fingers slide down the panel and onto the handle. With an easy twist he opened the door and stepped in, shutting the door silently. The Sentinel took a deep breath in his sleep and without waking shifted to make space for his Guide. TJ slipped out of his clothes and after a moment’s hesitation at the edge of the bed, he tugged off his boxers and slid into the warmth of his Sentinel’s embrace. As Sean finally wrapped his arms tight around his Guide their bond bloomed and settled, strong and deep.