TJ’s been out of Washington most of the fall, since a few weeks after the plane crash that turned everything inside out, pear-shaped, unexpected and unplannable.
Nominally, he's been working on something charitable and organizational in Chicago. Technically, it's controlled rehab. Realistically, it's a change of scene away from DC and all it's memories and machinations. Especially silver-bells-and-suicide Cristmas memories.
Nobody's acting like he's fine but nobody's treating him like he's going to shatter either. It's a relief and a change.
He's not left out of the loops of political scheming this time, and has been in a dozen conversations at the same time, with Mama, with Dad, with Dougie; there's no newspaper or tv reporter, blogger, high profile tweeter or podcaster that doesn't know that she's going to announce that she's primarying Fucking Fred.
There hasn’t been a day that both his parents haven’t been furious with the current president, and Bud’s months-long swirl of righteous rage over Sean has burned almost as hot as his anger over Fred’s attempted coup and subsequent snubs of each and every Hammond, including this week at White House Christmas parties.
All the pieces are in place for Mama's announcement just after the new year, and TJ knows that if he’s ever going to get any personal revenge on Fucking Fred, he’s got to be pure and pristine all the way through election day. Dad and Jubal have at least four Carters on opposition research, moles in the West Wing and a bunch of Garcetti’s people backing Mama up.
They’re ready to throw unrelenting punches, but not this month. Not while things in the rest of the country are starting to get festive and feel almost normal again.
It’s exactly one week til Christmas, and in honor of that date, there’s a Love Actually singalong at the Uptown tomorrow that he’s supposed to be hosting, and the entire family have overruled him - and Grandma - with a mandate to spend the holidays in Washington. The Georgetown house is full, but it’s as close to liquor-free as a place that hosts occasional cabinet members, ambassadors and CEOs can be.
Yes, there’s a liquor cabinet but the hinges are on the inside, and the lock includes a key and a creatively timed punch-code. He‘s already figured out the timing part - count the beats, same as you do when you’re playing piano - but hasn’t been able to catch all the numbers and has no hope of getting his hands on the actual key. It’s guarded by men with guns. Straight men with guns.
Everyone probably thinks that he’s constantly watched by men with guns (straight men with guns, or supposedly straight men...) or that he still has Secret Service protection like they all did for over a month after the President’s plane crashed last summer; it wasn’t an ideal way for Doug and Annie to have a honeymoon, but nothing’s been ideal for so long.
Actually, though, the only people watching him (in person, because the numbers on Twitter or following Tumblr tags don't really count) have been the revolving door of probably-very-well-paid-and-hired-by-his-Mama “sober companions”. It’s for his own good, and at least he’s finally convinced his mother, if not his father, to screen said companions so they share at least a few of his interests and won’t bitch about his smoking (or hook-ups). The second one couldn’t stand to listen to any sort of music at all; she lasted less than three days.
This one, Lauren, admitted on her first day that she was on leave from the FBI. Security and sobriety, the two things he needed to hold on to, to keep the Hammond train on track. This was personal now, for all of them, and while there were still moments when he wanted to duck out of everything in Washington and find a beach to sit on for the next twelve months - thirteen if it meant avoiding a freezing inauguration weekend again - TJ knew he’d be in as bad a headspace as he had been last Christmas if he dropped out of the campaign, and Fucking Fred won a term in his own right.
Last Christmas - the ghost in the machine and the reason Lauren won’t let him out of her sight.
So they’re at Kramerbooks and Afterwords with the coordinator from the Uptown who’s babbling about car services and how long into the film they need to stay (through the first wedding, although TJ doesn’t mind staying until Hugh Grant dances), and they’ve decided that dinner is meant to be a warm apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Not a Brandy Alexander in sight, which is a stark change from every other visit here since he turned seventeen and the Secret Service would turn a blind eye when he and Dougie ordered them, then pretended they were milkshakes if anyone from the Post’s Style section asked.
He’d been there for bad dates, and not-dates, and one really phenomenal half-hour in the store’s stockroom with a cashier the day before TJ headed back to New Hampshire.
By the time they’re done with pie and coffee, Uptown Guy’s heading out and Lauren suggests a walk among the bookshelves to pick up some Christmas gifts, because they’re in no rush. TJ’s instincts are clearly off because it doesn’t feel anything like a setup, but within five minutes, it’s clear it is.
Lauren’s gone off to the cookbook section, and he’s alone. He could do anything, text a dealer, find some college student that smells of pot and act the predator, but as all the options slice through his head, he’s interrupted by a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, TJ. They said you’d be here,” Sean says, and he sounds normal, as if he’s not worried that Fucking Fred may have spies on the ladders shelving biographies in the fiction section. All TJ wants to do is grab the hand that’s burning hot through his jacket and pull him close, drag him into the stockroom or all the way into DuPont Circle. Or home.
But he doesn’t, he can’t even move. Not until Sean speaks again, low and terrifying and seductive even if he isn't trying to be.
“Your dad called me. When an ex-president tells you to join him for lunch, parties don’t matter, and you go. TJ, please, turn around.” TJ still couldn’t move, wasn’t sure he could stand to look at him. He had seen Sean from behind, from the side, from a distance, at all the memorial services they’d both been obligated to attend, and every time, Dougie or Annie had held his arm or put a hand on his knee, holding him back from where he most wanted to be.
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” TJ forces himself to say. But he does, a thousand things to say about dinners they hadn’t shared and movies they hadn’t seen and people they hadn’t snarked about.
“How about...” Sean steps in front of him, hand still on TJ’s shoulder. “How about I make you a promise.”
“Did you walk out on her? Before Christmas?” TJ asks. He pushes through the holiday shoppers, in a beeline for the secret stockroom. He sees Lauren catch his eye, but she doesn't make a move to stop them, so he pushes against the doorknob and it turns, opening the door, the same way it had all those years ago. Sean follows him into the dusty space.
“I.... Not that promise. The kids, and the party needs me where I am now, but...”
“What the fuck do you want to tell me, Sean?” TJ asks harshly, his voice almost a whisper. “Or are you my dad’s message-boy now? Your damned party doesn’t need that!”
“They don’t need Fred in the White House either. At least with your mother....”
“Don’t, Sean. Don’t try and play me, and I’m not going to let my damned father manipulate us to...”
“TJ! TJ - Serena knows. She knows about you.”
TJ blinks. It doesn’t make sense. “But you said, you just fucking said...”
“I’m not leaving her, and we’re not telling the kids right before Christmas. I’m heading home tomorrow, we’re finally in recess, and I need to figure out a lot of shit. The short version is this: having a conversation with your dad about infidelity is the most harrowing thing I’ve even been through. And when you have dinner with Mehlman the same day...”
“You re-think your life? It’s that easy, after the year you put me through?”
“If you can’t forgive me, can you work with me? I want the President out of office as much as anyone in your family, and the president - well, your dad - and I have worked out a roadmap so I can do what it takes to make that happen. Even if...”
“Even if you pull a Crist and get kicked out of your own party?” TJ shivered despite the close heat in the tiny room.
“Even if. Oh, fuck, TJ, can’t you just...”
“Forgive and forget? Probably not. But maybe I'm just stupid enough for you that I'll give you a chance to change my mind.”
A month or a week or a day later, TJ has no memory of how they escape the storage room, snag Lauren's keys or make it into Dougie's guestroom. What he'll remember are Sean's hand holding his in the car - tinted windows, it's safe, nobody can see, they both know that - their skittering run up the stairs and the way all Sean's buttons are undone before they're two steps into the room.
TJ's out of his head, intoxicated by the way Sean's skin smells - same cologne, same shampoo, it's a sensory memory that sends him over a year back in time and he has to catch himself before he falls completely off the cliff. There’s a tiny, tinny noise in his head that says endorphins but he doesn’t care, it’s been so long since he felt this way. Hook-ups are fun, drunk or high or sober, but Sean is comfortable, perfect and safe.
They’re completely focused on each other, mouths against collarbones, shoulders and necks, and then TJ tears the rest of their clothing off while Sean just strokes at his hair, pulling it in tiny tugs as TJ moves his lips and tongue across Sean’s perfect six-pack.
Sean’s on his back on the bed and he’s smiling with his hands on TJ’s ass and legs. A glance at the night-tables shows there’s nothing in sight to make fucking easy, and they’re both so desperate for each other that TJ knows neither of them can last anyway. TJ straddles Sean’s hips and lines their cocks up, wrapping his hand as much as he can around both. Sean moves beneath him, desperate and still smiling, beautiful and thrilled and enthralled and it’s not until they both spill across his stomach that TJ finally feels like he can breathe again.