Doug reads a lot of papers.
It's part of his job, he argues with anyone who asks him why he would do that.
That's true, of course. But as always, the truth is a little hazy in his family.
It is his job to read the papers. He can even truthfully claim that it's his job to read the Republican trash that passes for "news."
(His mother claims it's her job to know what the enemy thinks, and everyone who knows Doug Hammond knows that he can't argue with his mother.)
But in the small, tucked away honesty that every Hammond and Barrish excels at, Doug knows that he reads the papers for his daily reminder that nobody knows the most shameful of all of Doug Hammond's secrets.
If they did, the paper's daily right-wing pondering about what their parents had done "wrong" to "make" TJ gay, an addict, a gay addict, or whatever else they are pulling out of his file, would be nothing compared to headlines that Doug would inspire.
Even for Republicans, "Hammond Twin in Love With His Brother!" has to be a more shameful headline than anything they can dig up about TJ.
It hasn't always been this bad, Doug tries to rationalize. Once, he'd been the kind of good brother that everyone thinks he is.
He remembers childhood summers at the farm. He'd still been normal then, Doug tells himself.
"So you finally got your first kiss?" TJ teases him. TJ is up on the hayloft, legs swinging dangerously off the side.
They aren't supposed to be up in the loft, Grandpa Hammond has told them that, multiple times.
Doug glares up at his brother and leans against the horse's stall. "Stephie Kane," he says, his voice full of the kind of pride that he figures he's earned, because Stephie is perfect and he's obviously pretty great herself if she's decided to kiss him.
"Stephie's great," TJ says. "And a great kisser."
In lieu of anything coherent to say, Doug just keeps glaring.
"Don't be like that, Dougie. Of course she kissed the older brother first."
"Whatever. She wasn't even that good of a kisser."
"Oh, she definitely was," TJ argues. He makes his way down from the hayloft, and comes over to punch Doug lightly in the shoulder. "Maybe you just need practice, baby brother."
"I'm not your baby brother," Doug argues. "I'm the mature one!"
But a truly mature brother would turn away TJ's offer of practice.
Scratch that, he's never been normal.
And he's definitely never been the "good" brother.
"It's not even a real drug."
That line alone, from TJ, should be enough to make Doug pause. It should be enough to make him reconsider the bad decision that he's leaning towards.
"You say that about every drug, TJ."
"Yeah, but it's true this time." TJ's smile is inviting, but it's always inviting. It's healthy, though. Much healthier than it's been in a long time.
Maybe that's why Doug believes him. Maybe that's why it's so easy to accept the pill and swallow it down.
Maybe that's why it's so easy to crush his lips against TJ's once the trip kicks in.
It's still early, he thinks. Far too early for his mom to be up. He tries not to pay attention to the bedroom she's emerging from, because if he does, he'll be forced to pay equal attention to whatever bedroom his dad comes out of.
"Good morning," she says, only after her favorite mug has been retrieved and filled with coffee. "I wasn't expecting you to be up this early."
She doesn't say "because you should still be in bed with the woman you married yesterday," but he hears it regardless.
"Annie wanted to sleep in," he says.
"Weddings can be stressful," his mother acknowledges, coming over to sit next to him at the table. "Especially when they've been crashed. I can understand wanting to catch a little extra sleep the morning after the big day."
The papers are folded neatly into a pile and placed next to her.
Her smile is bright and full of the kind of approval he'd thought he'd lost.
But gained back through the wedding, apparently.
"Thank you, Douglas."
"You gonna tell me this isn't a real drug this time, too?"
Doug doesn't mean to sound so vicious when he says it. He doesn't mean to sound so hurt when he says it.
He doesn't mean to make it sound like it's TJ's fault.
But with TJ, it's easy to do a lot of things that he doesn't mean to do.
"C'mon, Dougie. You only turn 21 once, and mom and dad are off being the leaders they were meant to be," TJ tells him, ignoring the judgment Doug is throwing his direction.
TJ does that, though. Always ignores other people's flaws. It's going to get him in trouble some day.
"The last time we did this - "
"The last time we did this, Dougie, we had a lot of fun." TJ just looks at him, no shame at all on his face about that.
"We shouldn't ... do that again, TJ."
"Why not?" TJ shrugs and pops his own pill. "We're all we've got, Dougie."
He's supposed to be able to on better terms with his dad since the Great Hug, Fishing, and Bonding Trip, and Doug likes to think that's true.
But the terms aren't good enough that he feels like sticking around when his father comes out to join them for breakfast.
He gives his mother a quick kiss on the cheek and goes out to the barn.
"I asked Annie to marry me."
He hasn't told anyone else, yet. But he's telling TJ.
He tells himself that it's because they're brothers, and what else do you do, but tell your twin brother everything?
He's better at telling himself lies than TJ is.
"I don't see any tears, so she must have said yes."
He's smiling when he says it. He's smiling so hard that his face fucking hurts, and if he focuses on that, maybe it will be easier to overlook the sheer terror that grips him when he answers. "Yeah, she did."
"Does she know?"
TJ doesn't specify, but then, he doesn't really have to.
"How am I supposed to tell her that?"
He's actually surprised to see TJ up so early. Maybe sobriety is doing good things for him.
Maybe the bed in the old room that they used to share in Grandpa Hammond's farm is too small for him these days.
Maybe he's just in withdrawal.
"Hey, remember when you and Grandpa Hammond used to yell at me for getting up in the loft?" TJ asks. He leans against stalls that have been empty for longer than they've been coming here and smirks up at Doug.
"Your bad influence rubbed off on me," Doug says, and he winces when he hears the words aloud. "I didn't mean - "
"You did, but it's okay. Kind of deserved that."
"Not really." Not at all. "I heard that you chose to stay home. Instead of going to meet your dealer. I'm proud of you."
TJ shrugs it off. "You'll be prouder if I'm still doing it in six months, right?"
"Yes," Doug admits, and wonders if that makes him a bad brother.
"We're both a mess," TJ announces. "Your lovely wife is taking a shower."
TJ's making his way up to the loft now, and Doug is glad that Grandpa Hammond reinforced these lofts two summers ago. The old, rickety ones never would have held their weight.
"She likes her morning showers," Doug answers.
"Mm. Must. Certainly takes her time in there. Shall we wait for her to join us?"
"You know she won't." Because Annie, gorgeous, perfect, wonderful Annie, would never be as fucked up as they are. She'd never want to share what they do.
That she even tries to understand is more than he deserves, honestly.
"Too bad," TJ says before reaching for Doug's belt.
There's a lot to love about Annie, and a lot to love about having sex with her. But it's that moment after she comes completely undone that he loves most, when she collapses beside him and hooks her arm around his. He loves to just watch the happiness on her face, knowing that it's entirely due to him.
"That was amazing," he tells her.
"Mmhm," she agrees.
They lie there for a moment, and he's thinking of leaning over to kiss her when she says, "I guess I should be glad it's your brother's name and not your mother's that you call out. If I was a betting woman, I might have chose the latter."
He's too horrified to even begin to know what to say to that. But his tongue tries to stumble over the words anyway. "Annie - "
"Shh," she says. "I don't want to hear it. I don't want to know. More than I do."
He swallows, several times, until he realizes that no amount of swallowing will make his throat stop being dry. "But I owe you. An explanation."
Something. He owes her something, because that's what you do about the fact that you've just called out your brother's name in the middle of fucking your fiancé.
"I told you, it wasn't as bad as what I expected." She presses a finger to his lips. "Besides, we're both entitled to our own secrets."
TJ's lips are still wet with Doug's come when he sits up on his elbow. "So there's good news on the mom front."
"Could you actually wait until I've fully caught my breath from your amazing blow job before you mention our mother?"
"Sorry, but no. Besides, you'll love this." TJ's smile is unrepentant, and god help him, that's how Doug loves it most. "I was eavesdropping on the conversation she was having with that reporter. Susan Berg?"
"Yeah?" Doug closes his eyes at the mention of Susan. What a glorious time to bring up even more of his bad choices.
"I think they are fucking. Or possibly getting ready to fuck. Whatever, it's not platonic is what I'm saying."
The laughter is slow to start, bubbling up from the same pit in his stomach where his conscience often goes to curl up and hide when he's fucking his brother.
He doesn't open his eyes until the laughter's subsided.
"Want to share with the class?" TJ asks, and he only sounds mildly irritated at not being in on the joke.
But Doug knows better.
"I slept with her," Doug explains.
"Oh." TJ thinks about that for a moment, then shrugs. "It's still better than going back to Dad."
"It really is." Doug rubs his eyes. "God, our family is fucked up, TJ."
"I know, Dougie. But you wouldn't exchange it for any other family in the world." TJ leans back and snuggles up against Doug's side, a lazy hand falling over Doug's waist.
"Nah." Doug runs his fingers through TJ's hair. "I really, really wouldn't."