Word Count: 2373
Pairing: Taylor Hanson/Jeremy Wright
Notes: For tumbling_down, because I loff her.
He realized it at dinner one night, when he was finishing off a plate of pasta Natalie had made for him - the first time in weeks he'd been home in time for supper - and he nearly choked on his last bite.
There had never been a time where he didn't know the capacity was there, but he'd never once acted on it, never once thought that he could feel anything more than a little tug of attraction. It was odd to know, without a single bit of uncertainty, that he had fallen in love with someone who was decidedly not his wife. That it wasn't a woman. That he could hardly be counted as a man.
That he was dating Taylor's little sister.
He dealt with it the only way he knew how - avoidance. When Zac called him one Sunday morning, inviting him out after church to go grab a pizza with Jess and Avery and Joe and Jeremy, he said no, lying through his teeth about having to help Natalie with the kids because River had a fever and Penelope wasn't feeling well, either. They were outside playing, so Zac would never know the difference. They couldn't ruin his lie by screaming into the phone.
He hated using his kids as shields, but he couldn't go and face that.
The next time, he'd conveniently made a hair appointment. He got it cut three inches shorter than he'd have liked just so he didn't have to go deal with it. The time after that, it was a nice brunch with Natalie. After that, Zac stopped calling and Taylor never asked.
He thought that maybe if he didn't see him, didn't think about him, his feelings would fade and he'd be able to go back to life like it had always been.
The problem was, his life wasn't what he'd wanted it to be. Sure, he had the job he'd always dreamed of. He'd wanted kids. But there was something missing. He was okay with things. He had a good life and he couldn't complain, but he wanted something more. He didn't want to come home and be complacent. Was it so wrong to want to come home and be excited? Instead of spending the day dreading the five hours he'd be conscious on the couch, listening to Natalie prattle on about her day and how he was never home enough, he wanted to be greeted with a kiss, with arms around his neck - some passion. That's what he wanted.
It had never been like that with Natalie. Even before he'd found out she was pregnant and rushed through with a wedding neither of them were really, honestly happy about, there hadn't been that spark of passion.
That was all he saw in his dreams, now. Running off the stage at the end of the night and Jeremy being there with a crooked smile and a kiss and, God, it made him feel like a pedophile and a creep. Sometimes he woke up in tears because of his dreams, crying into his pillow like a five year old. It wasn't right for him to be dreaming the things he dreamed, not about a teenager. Not about someone he'd babysat more than once.
So he dealt with it, and time went by. Slowly, unbearably slowly, until the day everything changed. Sure, it was the same thing everyone said - there's a point where you just can't turn back, a second in time when you realize that everything is about to completely change, and that was at six thirty on a Friday night. It was the first time in over a week that Taylor had made it home in time for dinner, and when he got there, he was greeted with an empty house, a note folded carefully on the table, and Natalie's wedding ring sitting on top of it.
The weeks after that rushed by, filled with phone calls and lawyers and too much talking for Taylor's taste. His nights were filled with whiskey and pepperoni pizza. He didn't sleep in their bed - he wanted to get rid of it, burn it, anything to just not think about how he'd failed completely at the one thing he'd wanted most out of life. More than music. More than anything, he'd just wanted to love and be loved completely and it wasn't fair that he'd lost the one chance he had.
Instead he slept on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket his Gramma Hanson had made him years and years ago, and dreamed of Jeremy more vividly than he ever had with Natalie there. He woke up most mornings with the taste of bile in his throat and he hated himself for feeling that way.
He filled the empty spaces between his sheets with whoever he could find - men, always, and nearly always the same type. When he laid them back against his sheets, he would close his eyes and picture Jeremy beneath him, eyes half lidded and lips moist and swollen and half the time Taylor didn't need anything else, barely a touch from a hand that wasn't his own. It was embarrassing, totally mortifying, and he'd make his partners leave not long after that.
Taylor had dragged his keyboard up from the basement. There was no reason to have to hide it where the kids couldn't hurt it and he spent the hours of the day with a bottle of Jack Daniels and music, because that was all he had left. He would move from the couch to the chair to the kitchen table with his notebook and his tape recorder and he wrote things he knew he would never play for anyone else.
He never left the house, not even when the last of his whiskey was gone and the food that Natalie had stocked in the fridge only days before she left was gone, too. He ordered delivery and once he even went outside to check the mail, but he didn't get passed the end of the driveway.
There was no reason to leave. His wife had left him - had told him the magic was gone, and if that's what she'd been living for, she'd been living a lie because Taylor was willing to swear that the magic was never there in the first place. His children were gone. Sure, he was fighting to get them back, at least some of the time, but for now it was just him and his fucked-up fantasies locked up in his house.
Three weeks into his self-imprisonment, the front door opened. Taylor looked up from the couch, bleary from finishing off the last bottle of wine he'd been able to scrounge up, hoping in his drunken state that it was either Natalie, there to take him back and give him something to hold on to, or - in the back of his head, in the part that didn't deal well with reality - that it was Jeremy.
It was Zac.
"How long are you going to do this to yourself?" he asked. He had bags in his hands, four of them, filled to the top with food.
"You shouldn't be here," Taylor mumbled. "You've got enough on your plate with the baby."
Zac set the bags down on the floor and walked across the hardwoods, stopping right in front of Taylor and then dropping down to his knees next to the couch. "You're imploding," Zac whispered, pushing the hair out of Taylor's eyes. "I'm terrified I'm going to get a call that you're dead, so Kate's mom came in to help with the baby and I'm going to stay here for a few days."
"You don't. I don't need a babysitter." Taylor curled up tighter around himself and tried to ignore how the room was spinning around him. "I don't."
"Apparently you do," Zac said, hauling himself to his feet and collecting his bags. "Maybe you should go upstairs and shower and get some real sleep, Tay. You look like you're going to pass out."
Zac gave him a Look as he passed into the kitchen. "I noticed."
Having Zac around helped. It gave him something to focus on in the same way Natalie and the kids had given him something but he didn't feel so obligated to devote his attention to Zac in the way he had to his children. It was nice to be able to ignore him, and it was equally nice to have him around to talk to.
They spent the days working on songs, because Zac had always figured music was the best therapy and Taylor was glad that Isaac hadn't been his babysitter because he was sure Ike would have wanted to talk about it. He'd have wanted to let Taylor cry on his shoulder about his lost wife, but Taylor didn't care about that.
It wasn't so much the person as it was the idea. Love was something that had always been precious to him, a drug better than any other he'd ever tried - and he'd tried most of them over the years. He didn't miss Natalie. He missed what she gave him: the kisses before she fell asleep, the shoulder rubs and the trust. He missed having someone that knew all his fears and his dreams and loved him without limits.
Things didn't change much. At night, they drank whiskey from the bottle on Taylor's back porch. Zac talked about the baby, how much he'd grown in only three months and all the things he wanted to do with his little family. At first he hadn't talked about those things, but Taylor asked, pressed him because he wanted to hear about someone living the life he wanted so badly.
He cried, only once, and Zac didn't talk about Kate or Shepherd again for days. It wasn't until Taylor asked, caught Zac in mid sip and asked how the baby was, that Zac started talking again.
Taylor didn't want Zac to be there, watching him, when his son was growing up a few miles away. He asked him to go home, but Zac would just offer Taylor a little smile, shake his head, and focus back on whatever they were doing.
Taylor healed a little. His dreams didn't go away or lessen and his feelings didn't disappear, but he was coping. He was dealing with the fact that he was alone and the one person he had any sort of feelings for was seventeen and taken and, not to his knowledge, at all interested in men eight years his senior.
It was terrible at the same time it was nice. Zac cooked for him, took him outside and forced him back into the light, but at night, after Zac went to sleep, Taylor would stand in front of the mirror, shirtless - always shirtless - and pick apart the things that were wrong with him.
"I look old," he told Zac one day, in the early hours of the morning before they settled down to sleep in late. Taylor knew he was drunk, knew he shouldn't be speaking at all, but the words sort of tumbled from his lips like a waterfall and he couldn't stop them. "How am I supposed to find someone when. God, look at me."
Zac looked up from his beer. His eyes weren't focused by Taylor knew, without a doubt, that Zac was staring him in the face. "You're not old, Tay."
"I just look it," he murmured back. The label on his beer was already picked half off by his nervous fingers and he kept at it, peeling piece after piece off, watching 'la cerveza' slowly disappear under his nails. "I look like I'm ten times older than I am and, God, when did I get so hideous?"
Zac shook his head, watching Taylor's eyes still. "I think you're crazy. Half the world thinks you're gorgeous and you can't see it at all."
"Half the world still thinks I'm a girl, or some coked-out ex-rockstar with too much money and never enough blow."
Zac looked away. "Wouldn't be wrong about the hookers, though, huh?"
Taylor's face paled at that. Zac wasn't supposed to know. No one was supposed to know. The men he brought over were supposed to be - they'd promised - to have discretion. "I..." He fumbled through his brain for words but none came. "Zac, I..."
"Why didn't you just tell us?" There was nothing accusing about his voice, nothing hateful or angry, just concerned. "Why didn't you just tell us that. I mean. None of us would have hated you for it, Taylor."
His lips were dry, cracked down the middle and licking them stung but Taylor had no other choice. "I... how am I supposed to even say something like that?" Taylor shook his head. "That I'm. That my taste runs young. What does. How does that even come up?"
Zac sighed. "It doesn't." He clapped Taylor on the shoulder as he stood up. "I just always thought I was there for you. To help you get your secrets off your chest."
Taylor was silent while Zac walked toward the back door. He didn't turn, didn't move, really. "I'm in love," he admitted, and he heard Zac's even footsteps on the wood stop.
Taylor nodded sharply once. "Yeah. It hurts a lot."
"You miss her?"
"No," Taylor sighed and rested his head against the plastic deck table. Penelope's doll was underneath it, he noticed, and he wanted to cry a little. "No, I don't miss her. I can never have him, though. And I think it's killing me."
Zac's hands both dropped to his shoulders - when he'd turned back around, Taylor would never know. "Who is it?"
He wondered if Zac thought it was him, if he looked desperate enough and he'd heard it from the fans enough, that he'd believe it himself and run far away. That would almost be easier, in its own way.
"Jeremy," he admitted softly, barely a whisper against the early-morning breeze.