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brothers and bars

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“So what you're telling me is that you're not going to see mother with me.”

“You know very well what happened the last time I saw her, Niles.”

Niles let out a heavy sigh, running a hand down his face. He and Connor had this conversation a few times a year. Their mother wanted to see them, Niles agreed instantly, Connor didn't want to go, but then he did anyway. A painful, family loop.

“She said she will try, brother.”

“She says that every time.”

“Just like how you say you won't go and then you do anyway. I guess you two do have something in common.”

Lips pressed into a thin line, Connor shook his head and stood up. He wanted a way out from this conversation, badly. He loved his brother, but his dedication to their mother was irritating at best.

Connor paced around, his eyes idly moving over his apartment walls. The place was tiny, but neat. Walls painted a light blue, a few old pictures hanging on one of them. A white coffee table and a dark blue couch in the middle of the room. No sight of dust or dirt anywhere. Cleaning helped Connor calm down. The place, at the moment, was speckless - he had been under a lot of stress recently.

He tugged at the hoodie he was wearing, glanced down at himself. Restless, thrown off balance by his brother's visit. He picked up a coin that laid on the edge of the table. He fidgeted with it, watching as the metal blinked in the artificial lighthing. The coin easily slid across his knuckles.

“It gets worse every time, Niles,” he finally spoke, not looking at his brother. Niles, seated on the couch, leaned forward and tried to catch Connor's gaze.

“What do you mean?”

“I'm still-” Connor helplessly waved a hand all over his body, “-like this and every time she talks to me as if I was her... her /daughter/,” he spat the word out and winced, “It makes it feel so much worse.”

“You haven't gotten used to it yet?”

“It doesn't work that way, Niles,” Connor responded, exasperated, taking a few more steps around, “I can't just /get used to it/.”

Niles let out a breath, his shoulders slumping, “I- I know. I'm sorry. I can't exactly grasp what it's like for you.”

“That's why I'm telling you this.”

Silence, filled only with Connor's footsteps and the soft breathing of both brothers. A car honked in the distance, followed closely by a dog's barking.

“My offer still stands. I can give you some money, for the therapy and hormones and all the procedures-”

“No, Niles.”

Connor stopped in the middle of the room, his expression stern as he stared at his brother. He held the coin tightly in one hand while the other brushed over the edge of his hoodie.

“I told you, I want to do this on my own. I'm not going to take your money.”

“I can't keep watching my brother suffer like this, Connor. You said it yourself, you're getting worse with time, so let me help you.”

Connor opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it. He crossed his arms on top of his chest, shuffled his legs, then let his arms fall back to his sides, scrunching up his nose. He could feel those bumps even under the thick material of the hoodie. This was truly the worst time possible to be reminded of their existence. Niles seemed to pick up on his discomfort, because when he spoke up again, his voice was softer, gentler.

“Is this really about the money or are you afraid to move forward?”

Connor furrowed his brows, but let the question hang in the air without a response. Niles waited, his blue eyes boring holes into Connor, until he realized his brother wasn't going to say anything. Not then, at least. He stood up, slowly, and took a step closer to Connor.

“Give it some thought, alright? And remember that you have people around you that support you, brother. Let them help.”

Connor didn't move an inch, even as Niles silently shuffled his way out of his apartment, without as much as a goodbye. Or maybe he did say something, but Connor wasn't listening anymore, stuck on the question that hovered in the air.

Are you afraid to move forward?

He squeezed his hand tighter, the cold metal digging into his skin, his knuckles white.

He wasn't afraid. He wanted this so badly, how could he be afraid of it?

He was not afraid.

 


 

When Hank walked into Jimmy's that night, he expected the usual. A drink, then one more and another. Alone to wallow in the self loathing, away from his work collegues, from the support group or Connor. Connor, who was on his mind far too often for his own liking. Sliding into the seat, he shoved those thoughts away. He folded them up neatly and put them in a box labelled 'don't open unless sober'. It was safer this way, to focus on the negatives when he was drinking. He deserved it. He deserved those feelings to be exaggerated by the alcohol in his veins. He deserved those feelings to be bigger than himself, to swallow him up and never let him go.

Yes, it was one of those days.

So when he was nursing a drink and he saw someone, someone quite familiar, slid into the stool next to his, he was mad. Mad at himself, mostly. He should've stayed home, it'd have been safer that way.

“What are you doing here?”

Connor didn't look him in the eyes which... wasn't unusual, not really, but there was something more to it. He seemed crestfallen. Not just anxious, but upset. Perhaps he was also having one of those days.

“I called you, but you didn't pick up. I was lucky to find you at the fifth bar.”

Hank snorted, finishing his drink off in one go. He was too sober for this.

“Why would you try so hard to find me?”

“I wanted to see you, is that a bad thing?”

Hank's first instict was to say yes, yes, it is, but his eyes met Connor's and he decided it was better to stay silent. He shook his head, sliding the glass over the counter. Without a word, Jimmy already knew to fill it back up.

“You've never struck me as much of a bar goer,” Hank said, eventually.

“I'm not. Not usually.”

Hank eyed him slowly. Connor wasn't looking at him, once again, so he allowed himself to take another good look at him. Yeah, the kid looked miserable. He kept shifting in his seat, uncomfortable, his brows furrowed and eyes missing their usual shine. Something was wrong. Hank had never seen him like that before.

“Jimmy, get him a drink, too.”

Connor raised an eyebrow, but didn't protest. He only murmured a soft thank you as a glass was slid over to him, the liquid inside the same color as Hank's.

“You look like shit,” Hank said casually. Curiously, he watched as Connor took a sip of the whiskey. He took it down well, not that it was surprising. The guy was thirty, even if he wasn't much for alcohol, he must've drank some before.

“Subtle,” he responded simply.

“I mean it in the most friendly way possible.”

“You're not doing great tonight, either, are you?”

Hank laughed at that, but it was a bitter, miserable sound. Different from what Connor was used to.

“Is it really that easy to tell?”

“You're nicer when you're not drinking,” Connor shrugged. There was no hint of malice in his voice. If anything, he sounded understanding.

Hank didn't need his pity. He took a large gulp and sighed.

“So what's up with you, kid?”

Connor ran his fingers over the rim of the glass. He was taking his time with the drink, Hank noticed, so he wasn't trying to get black out drunk. If anything, he seemed to be drinking to have something to do with himself. Hank was picking up on that more and more often, like it was a habit of Connor's. The kid always needed some distraction, something to do with his hands, something to look at.

“Did you ever hesitate?”

“Hesitate about...”

“Transitioning,” Connor's eyes flicked up to his face, remained on it for a couple of seconds before drifting off in another direction, “Were you afraid of it? Even when you knew you needed it?”

Hank raised his eyebrows, not expecting the conversation to go in that direction. He looked down at his own glass, at his hands. Strong, calloused, masculine.

“This isn't the support group, you know.”

“I'm asking as a friend. Humor me.”

This was a topic that didn't come up often in Hank's life anymore. It was difficult to recall it, his feelings before the first visit, his feelings when he got on T, when he waited for his top surgery date to get closer and closer. It was such a confusing time, connected with plenty of joy, but also pain. So much pain. He preferred not to think about it in too much detail, but of course Connor had to barrel into his life and turn everything upside down.

“Not really,” he said, slowly, “I mean- yeah, it was kinda scary, it's a lot to take in, like.. damn. But I don't think I ever hesitated. I knew I... wouldn't be able to keep on going if I didn't go through with it.”

Connor's expression was blank. Comically blank, even, it was obvious how desperately he was trying to hide any emotion.

“You don't feel the same about it, do you,” he continued, raising an eyebrow at the younger man.

“It's-” Connor trailed off immediately. He raised his gaze and stared at a random spot between two bottles of alcohol standing on a shelf behind the bar. “I know I need it,” he insisted, “But...”

He was silent again, eerily so. Hank observed the side of his face, from the crease between his eyebrows down to his lips, the corners turned down.

“It's terrifying, Hank,” nearly a whisper, something raw, both in his voice and in his eyes. Their eyes met and stayed on each other for what felt like forever. Hank has seen Connor nervous and uncomfortable, but this, this was different. This was pure and all-encompassing and horrifying.

Hank had to tear his eyes off him. He downed yet another glass, slammed it down on the table with more force than necessary. Connor flinched.

“You're young, everything feels bigger than it really is,” Hank muttered, a bitter taste on his tongue.

“That's not what this is, though,” Connor attempted, shaking his head violently.

Hank sighed heavily, running a hand down his face.

“Why did you even bring it up?”

“...my brother visited me today," Connor said, much softer than just moments ago, “He- he keeps offering me money to go through with the transition and I keep saying no. Today, he... asked me if this is really about money or is it because I... don't want to move forward.”

Hank swallowed thickly. He could see where Connor was coming from, he could understand his dilemmas and struggles. But with his shoulders heavy and head hazy, hazy with alcohol and with the dark thoughts, he didn't think he could say anything that'd make it better.

“We shouldn't have this conversation right now,” he decided suddenly.

“Hank-”

“No, I mean it, Connor,” he interrupted him, “This isn't the place nor the time to be talking about this. I'm upset, you're upset, I've been drinking, you've been- pretending to be drinking.”

While talking, Hank began to lift his body from the chair, "One of us, most likely me, is going to say something fucked up and this is gonna end in tears or worse. I'm putting a stop to this before that happens. We can talk about it when, I don't know, we're not being like this.” He waved his arm around and then reached into his pocket. He pulled out a wallet and put a few bills on the counter, “For the both of us,” he said towards Jimmy.

Sitting up straight and tilting his head back to get a better look at Hank, Connor opened his mouth, “Where are you going?”

“To get drunker. I need to think.”

Hank clasped Connor's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze, all while walking past the stool. He stopped, suddenly, hand still hovering over Connor's shoulder.

“If you still need someone to talk to tonight, call North. I think they'll be able to help you better right now,” and that was Hank's goodbye.

He made his way out of the bar without any other word. He didn't bother to look behind and see the hurt look on Connor's face.

He couldn't bear to see it, not that night.

Thud of the door closing and then Connor was alone.