A/N: Heeeeyyyy wow hi it's been a while! This is the first stand-alone oneshot I've written for almost exactly two years, and it's also the first thing I've written, period, since like... last summer? In the end, I came back to my old standby, which is basically "Dramallama Tommy Q has a lot of feelings but can't express them in words because he is filled with doubt and self-loathing." Some angst for this Valentine's week, I guess.
This is set at the end of the third season, between Celebrity Skin and Sympathy for the Devil. So, after the thing with Hunter in the rehearsal space with the knife, but before the whole Portia-cut-the-brakes reveal.
I worried for a while that I may have forgotten how to write, but it feels good to be back, at least for one story :) Enjoy!
G Major is dark and the wide open foyer is surprisingly chilly at night. Tommy buries his hands in the pockets of his old leather jacket as he walks slowly, on autopilot, in the direction of the studios. He's been coming here at night for the past couple of weeks since Jude's birthday, really more to wallow than to work. He could walk these halls with his eyes closed, but lately the long years of memories have been more of a burden than a comfort. He stops for a moment, looking up at the darkened balcony, and thinks of Georgia, mostly to banish the image of Jude with Hunter's knife pressed against her throat.
Tommy watched Georgia build this place, in the days before Darius and his tidal wave of gold leaf and bluster swept through and pulled him back in. He was barely 20 years old and still reeling from a year of loss after loss: Angie, Portia, Frozen, Boyz Attack. Georgia was an old one-night-stand turned friend-with-benefits turned just a friend, and she was one of the only people he trusted in the wake of his rift with Darius. In stark contrast to Darius's iron-fisted rule over his ever-expanding musical empire, Georgia was, at her core, a weak negotiator with no real head for business. Even as he watched her burn through her inheritance, she was still the thing that kept Tommy's head above water through two long years of binge drinking and bad choices and self-hatred. At first she tried to convince him to sing, to let her sign him as a solo artist, but he always refused. He could still hear D's voice in his head too clearly, berating him for Frozen, for wasting his money and for being stupid enough to think he could go solo, for believing that he could be anything without the Boyz. After Georgia caught him at the soundboard messing around with a track, she somehow managed to convince him he could be a producer. It became the creative lifeline that brought him back, pulled him away from the edge of the same dark hole Mrs. M had rescued him from as a desperate, angry teenager.
Tommy thinks of Georgia for the first time in far too long, as he stands in the middle of the record label that bears her initial, the place that's been his home and changed his life and made him think more than once that he might actually escape his past. Two years ago, in the midst of that summer coup, Tommy sided with Darius little by little as it became clear the tide was turning. He only did it to keep his job (the one that, three years before, he'd insisted to Georgia he'd only consider if she promised he'd always be strictly freelance—no fucking contracts, G, no goddamn commitments, no one else is going to fucking own me, I've got to be free to leave any time I want, understood?) and to save Jude's (his girl, away on tour and unable to fight for herself) but deep down he could never deny the reality that, in doing so, he was also choosing Darius over his friend. Georgia told him she understood. She told him she would forgive him for not risking his position to fight for her the way EJ had. He still caught the look of betrayal as he silently watched her sign away the last of her company to a smirking Darius.
Tommy tries not to listen to the voice in his head reminding him that his life has been just a series of betrayed eyes looking back at him. Georgia's hurt face turns to Angie's, turns to Portia, Kwest, Sadie, his mother, Jude…
He sighs and looks down at the floor and starts to walk again, turning the corner towards the studios. The light is on in studio A and Tommy feels a quick shot of fear, tensing for half a second as he thinks of Hunter before his brain catches up and he realizes it can't possibly be him. He feels a completely different kind of jolt when he looks through the window to see Jude sitting in the chair behind the board.
When he opens the door and says her name, Jude jumps at the sound, letting out a yelp and spinning around in the chair to look at him. She's more than just startled, Tommy realizes with a pang. Her knuckles are white on the arms of the chair, and the look on her face in that first half-second is more than surprise, it's genuine fear. He feels sick even as she relaxes when she sees that it's only him.
"Jesus, Quincy," Jude breathes, frowning. "You can't sneak up on me like that." He's about to apologize when she says, "What the hell are you even doing here this late?"
He's hurt by her tone, but tries not to show it. He thinks briefly of a retort, just because you threw a tantrum and fired me doesn't mean I don't still have work to do, but he doesn't say it. He can't muster any real anger at her, only sorrow and guilt. And anyway, he deserves anything she could throw at him and more. He answers her question. "Uh… working on Karma's album. It's almost finished, I just have a few more songs I want to polish. Sorry, I didn't mean to sneak up on you, I just saw the light on and wondered who it was."
"Oh," she says, looking slightly embarrassed. "Right, sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you, I just… I guess I've been a little bit… jumpy, lately. Sorry."
His heart twists again at the catch in her voice and the memory of the look in her eyes as Hunter threatened her. "Are you okay?"
She looks away. "Sure, you just startled me, no big deal."
"I meant–" he starts to say, but she interrupts him.
"I know what you meant," she says quietly, looking back at him. She's always been an open book, and the pain is written all over her face as she says it. She sighs and looks away again. "It's fine," she mumbles, "no one got hurt."
"Jude," he starts in a tight voice, taking a few steps closer to her, but when she looks up at him with her big blue eyes, he chickens out and clears his throat, asking, "What about you? Why are you here so late?"
She shrugs one shoulder. "I don't know. Didn't want to be in my house, didn't want to go to the rehearsal space, so I came here. I… can't sleep." She mumbles the last part.
"Yeah," he says with a heavy sigh. "Me neither." His eyes search her face. She isn't wearing makeup, and she looks exhausted and thin in her too-large grey hoodie, her arms wrapped around herself. There are dark circles under her eyes. He sighs again. "Jude, I'm so sorry."
He sees her tense, ever so slightly. "It's not your fault." It sounds more like an automatic response than a genuine absolution, like she's said it instinctively without thinking, and she's frowning as she says it.
He laughs once, a quick harsh breath. "Yeah it is."
She sighs heavily and leans her head back against the chair, eyes shut, and it takes her a moment to respond. When she does, she looks right at him, into him. "Why didn't you tell me, Tommy? About any of it?" She doesn't look angry so much as hurt, and Tommy can't help but think he'd prefer her anger.
He gives her a pained look. "Jude, it's… You have to believe me, I was trying to protect you, but it was–"
She cuts him off. "Don't you dare say 'it's complicated.'" Her words are harsher than her tone, and it sounds more like a plea than a reprimand.
Tommy flinches at the memory of Hunter shouting the word "complicated" back in his face. He can hear the furious voice say, Hey Jude, ever heard him use that line before? He swallows hard, trying to choke down the lump in his throat, and looks down at the floor when he speaks. "I don't know. I thought that if you knew… I thought that keeping you as far away from it as possible was the best way to keep you safe." That's not quite the truth, and he knows it, but the full truth is so much harder to express, so much harder to even access, buried beneath layers of old destructive habits and self-doubt and pain and fear. He looks back at her. "By the time I realized that was wrong, I thought… I thought he was gone, and I guess I just… thought it was too late to explain, the damage was done."
"But that's…" she seems to search for a word, her hands grasping the air, "that's just not good enough, Tommy."
He takes a deep breath and nods. "I know."
"Tommy," her voice is small, "you told me you wouldn't hurt me anymore."
He looks away again so he doesn't have to face the tears gathering in her eyes as he says, "I know. It's the last thing I wanted to do." His voice comes out choked.
She gives a harsh laugh, the first indication of real anger. "You were my boyfriend for like, two days before you kissed my sister."
He looks up at her, sitting with her arms crossed and frowning at him, and he feels a twinge of annoyance. "Okay, she kissed me, Jude. Let's get that straight, okay? You happened to walk in at the worst possible time, and I'm sorry for that, but I swear to God she just leaned over and–"
"That's not the point!" Jude cries, sounding exasperated. "I know that now, Sadie told me, but that doesn't make it okay! The point is that you didn't even try to explain what happened!"
"Look, I wanted to, but it happened so fast, and I was…" he hesitates, not wanting to admit that he was drunk enough that his memory of the whole thing is more than a little foggy, and that he'd have been in no state to go after her.
"Wasted," she finishes. He just sighs. She groans, standing up from her chair in frustration and walking a few steps away from him, linking her hands behind her head. "Okay, sure, fine, that's… it's whatever. Open bar, rough night, I get it." She turns back to face him and drops her arms to her sides. "But what about the next morning? Not even a text?"
"Jude, it was more–" he cuts himself off before he can say 'complicated' and clenches his jaw in frustration. "I was trying to protect you."
She raises her voice "Protect me by humiliating me at my birthday and then letting me think you were cheating on me with my sister?"
She keeps talking over his attempt at explanation. "Did you know I actually came to apologize to you?"
That catches him off-guard and he frowns. "What?"
"That night. My birthday. When I saw you and Sadie. I came to your hotel room because I wanted to apologize to you." She gives a short, sharp laugh. "You publicly humiliated me, but I thought it was just that you were hurt because I didn't want to tell anyone about us, and I thought that I'd go to your room and I'd apologize and we'd… I thought it was my fault."
He remembers Jude up on that stage, looking so unbelievably gorgeous and singing him the song he wrote for her. At the time, his perception was through a cloud of fear that mounted to panic every second she drew more attention to their relationship. Tommy had only been able to think of how dangerous it was, to try desperately to think of some way to keep Hunter from figuring it out, to convince him not to target Jude, no matter the cost. Now, in retrospect, he sees the earnest gesture through Jude's eyes. He tries not to picture the alternate universe where Hunter stayed gone, where he and Jude flirted at arms length until she surprised him with the song, where he got to kiss her on those bright red lips in the middle of a ballroom full of their friends and coworkers. He remembers feeling giddy with the possibilities as he booked the hotel room, and it all seems like a million years ago in another life.
"Look," he says softly, "Hunter just… he showed up, and he… He told me he was going to destroy everyone I love." His voice breaks as he looks at her, trying to convey all the depth of meaning he can't navigate the words for. She raises her eyebrows slightly, and he watches her breath catch. "He was there, Jude, he was watching. I thought that maybe if he didn't know about us, you would stay safe." He takes a step towards her. "Jude," he says her name again, gently, pleading, "I didn't want to hurt you, but you were singing, and he was watching, and I couldn't… it killed me to say those things, girl, but I did it to keep you safe. You have to believe me."
"I do," Jude says quietly. Her voice sounds choked, and she clears her throat. When she speaks her tone is firmer, colder. "Okay, I get it, that part. But that still doesn't change anything, Tommy."
He feels another flash of irritation, but it's quickly drowned in shame. "I guess you're right." What does it matter that he was trying to keep her safe, if it ended with a knife at her throat anyway? Jude doesn't say anything, just walks to the couch and sits, putting her head in her hands. They're both silent for a long moment, not looking at each other. Eventually, Tommy sighs and says, "You know what? I'll go, I'll leave you alone. I'm sorry."
She looks up at him, but she still doesn't speak, and he can't quite decipher her expression. He gives her a long, sad look, but when he turns back to the door, Jude says, "Wait." He looks back, eyebrows raised, and she sighs. "Don't go. I didn't mean… you don't have to leave."
He turns around fully to look at her. She looks small and sad, and he's overwhelmed for a moment by the urge to sweep her up in his arms and hold her close, to protect her and to never let her go. He shakes the impulse off, but takes a few tentative steps forward. When Jude doesn't object, he goes to the couch and sits next to her, making sure to leave space between them. "I am sorry, you know," he says after a moment. "I made the wrong choice, and I know that. I should've been honest with you from the beginning."
She looks up at him, and he can see in her eyes that she's still thinking that's not enough. "Why didn't you just tell me who Hunter was? That he was threatening me?" she asks, and he looks away, ashamed. "Maybe if I had known, I could've…" she doesn't finish. Then, in a softer voice, she says, "Why didn't you tell me any of it?"
He's silent for a long time. Finally, he takes a deep breath and says, "I guess maybe sometimes you get so used to keeping something locked inside that when the time comes to let it out you just… can't figure out how." He meets her eyes again and thinks I love you, I am in love with you, please don't let this be over. As usual, he doesn't say it.
Jude—his open book, no filter, heart-on-sleeve Jude—shakes her head. She's frowning, and he can tell she hasn't really understood what he was trying to say. "I just… I thought…" she trails off and shakes her head and doesn't finish.
"I'm sorry," Tommy murmurs again, but the words fall desperately short of what he wishes he could convey.
They sit in silence for another long minute before Jude says, "What else were you going to tell me?" He looks up at her, confused, and she clarifies. "After…" she swallows hard and shakes her head slightly, "you said you hadn't told me everything, about Angie. You said, 'I wanted to tell you the truth' and I said 'now you have' and you said 'no I haven't.' What did you mean? What else is there? What is 'the truth'? What haven't you told me about her?"
He's taken aback by the question. He searches her face, trying to figure out her motivation in asking. A jumble of questions run over each other in his head. Is she angry? Still worried about Hunter? Or is she somehow asking as a new girlfriend asking about an ex? Is this somehow a sign that he hasn't ruined everything between them? He only means to gauge what she wants from his answer, but what comes out of his mouth is, "Why do you want to know?" and it comes out sounding accusatory. Anger flashes in her face and he corrects himself quickly, "I didn't mean it like that."
She rolls her eyes and looks away. "Forget it."
"I don't know what you want from me," he protests, trying and failing to keep the frustration out of his voice.
"God, I don't know, a little honesty?" Jude cries, sounding equally frustrated before sighing heavily and saying again, "Forget it. Forget I asked. You don't owe me an explanation."
"It was five years ago, Jude! I told you that she died… I honestly don't know what you want me to say."
She shakes her head and moves to get up off the couch, so he says the only thing he can think of to stop her.
"I was married." It's the only big piece of the puzzle that he's pretty sure Jude doesn't already know, and one of the more significant of his moral failings he's tried to hide from her. She stops and looks at him, a little surprised, but mostly confused. He looks down at the floor and continues with a sigh. His voice comes out sounding flat. "Portia and I were married, when Angie and I met. She was one of the backup dancers on the tour. I cheated on my wife. For months. I had an affair."
Jude gives a soft "oh" from next to him, but otherwise says nothing.
"It was… complicated." He says it quietly, then looks up at Jude. For once, he can't seem to read her expression. "We were… I was 19," he offers the feeble defense, as if age was ever any kind of excuse, as if Jude isn't a year younger and twice as mature. Jude raises an eyebrow slightly, and he knows she's thinking the same thing. He wants to say something else, something that will prove he's a better man than this story makes him sound, something to mean Jude won't think less of him. He comes up short, because of course, Jude should think less of him. Jude should have run from him a long time ago and not looked back. He shakes his head and looks away again. "I told you, Jude. I'm one of the bad guys."
After a moment, Jude says, "Did you stay for Portia, then? Angie wanted you to leave your wife, but you told her you wouldn't do it?"
He winces, considers lying, then shakes his head. "It would've been career suicide," he says softly, "to leave D's sister. Leaving my marriage would've meant leaving Boyz Attack and being blackballed by Darius Mills. I didn't stay for Portia, I stayed for my career. For the money and the fame, and because…" he cuts off, shaking his head again, still looking down at the floor.
He thinks back to Angie standing in front of him with her pleading eyes and her last ultimatum, to the moment that's frozen in his mind as the point he made his choice. He thinks about the potential, the option to leave with her and leave his life behind to drown himself in the love that at the time had been the purest, truest thing in his life. This is the part he always tries not to admit to himself, the part he can't bear to think about: just how fucking badly he wanted all of it, how honestly he loved Angie, how clearly he could picture their lives together even when all the pragmatic reasons were stacked against them. It's easier to turn a cynical eye on the naïveté of youth and say that it would've probably fallen apart anyway, that he was just caught up in the thrill and the passion, that all of it would have quickly faded. But even if that's all true, if he lets himself back into that memory, he still has to face the deeper truth that he wanted to leave with her, that leaving with her would've made him happy, and that the idea of that happiness had scared the absolute shit out of him. Leaving with Angie would've bound him to her, openly made her the most important thing in his life, and that, far more than the idea of abandoning his life of concerts and parties and adoring fans, was the thing he couldn't face. So he told her he didn't love her anymore, had never loved her the way she loved him. He watched her start to cry, and he forced himself to feel nothing, to stay cold and indifferent. He gave a shrug and turned away and didn't stop her when she drove off.
"I was a coward," he says, finally, his voice barely above a whisper. He looks up at Jude again. "And it killed her." And it almost killed you. Jude's eyes are wide and blue and so sad in that moment that he has to look away again. After a long silence he shakes his head and sighs. "It was a long time ago. I didn't think… I thought it was over. I never would've thought any of it would've blown back on you." He meets her eyes again. "I should've been honest with you. I'm sorry that I wasn't a better…" he hesitates around the word boyfriend, which feels simultaneously like it's an overstatement of whatever it is their four-day relationship could accurately be called, and like it could never be enough to capture everything he feels for her. "That I wasn't a better man," he finishes.
Jude stares at him for a long moment, then nods slowly and looks away. Her face is a minefield of emotion he doesn't know how to navigate, and the ache in his chest flares, burning so hard for a second that he wonders if this is what's meant by the term "heartbreak".
The silence stretches between them, tense and painful. As it has been doing for the past few days, Tommy's mind replays the images of Hunter threatening Jude over and over until he can taste that sick fear again. He wants desperately to hold her, needs to feel her warm and solid and safe.
They clung to each other for a moment just after Jude had knocked Hunter down with the microphone, the reassuring tightness of her grip and the familiar smell of her hair the only things that could've possibly made it so he could breathe again, so his heart rate had begun to return to somewhere south of a hard sprint. But after they'd broken apart to call 911, she hadn't reached out for him again, and he hadn't dared to reach for her. As they stood outside and watched Hunter being taken away by police, Tommy stood with his hands in his pockets and tried to figure out some way to salvage things, to express what he felt and needed her to know, but then they had been interrupted by Andrews. He'd had to look away at the sight of how easily the kid folded Jude into his arms, the way she relaxed into him.
"Can I ask you something?" Tommy asks, breaking the silence.
Jude, lost in her own thoughts, looks up in surprise, but she says, "Uh, sure?" and looks at him expectantly
Tommy takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, trying to think how to phrase the question. In the end he just asks, "Andrews?" in a quiet voice.
She looks surprised for a second, then a flicker of some complicated emotion passes across her face before she frowns. "What about him?" Tommy doesn't answer, just tilts his head and raises an eyebrow slightly. Jude bites her lip for a moment, then says, "I don't know. He's… He's Jamie." She looks away and speaks more quietly. "He was there for me."
"And you think I haven't been here?" he says, before he can think it through. He hadn't wanted to draw so explicit a line between himself and Andrews, to openly acknowledge the existence of a rivalry, but now that it's out he can't take it back. Jude turns to look sharply at him and he says, gently, "I didn't know if you wanted to talk about it, if you wanted… or if I would just make it worse, but Jude, I've wanted to be here, I want to… to help, I just–"
She cuts him off with a shake of her head. "That's not what I meant. I didn't mean after the Hunter thing, I actually meant that Jamie was there for me on my birthday."
Tommy feels that comment like a fully-deserved punch to the gut. Somehow it hadn't even occurred to him, to picture what Jude had been doing that night after she left him in the hotel room. He'd somehow just imagined she'd gone back to the party, but he realizes now that was a stupid assumption. "Oh," he says softly. He wonders what that means, that he was there for her. If Jude, thinking she'd caught him cheating on her, had run straight into another guy's arms. If Jamie Andrews had been waiting in the fucking wings to sweep in the second Tommy failed.
She must see it on his face, because she sounds defensive as she says, "He's my friend. My best friend. He's a good person."
"I know," he says softly. He takes a deep breath and asks, "So are you and he…"
"Together?" she finishes, eyebrows raised, and Tommy gives a half shrug. She shakes her head. "No." She hesitates, then says, "We haven't… We haven't talked about it. But nothing like, happened, if that's what you're asking."
He feels awkward and guilty for even having asked the question, but the relief he feels at her answer is immense. He can't think of anything to say in response, though, so he just nods.
"Why do you even care?" Again, her words are harsher than her tone manages to be, a feeble defense that fails to hide the well of emotion in her face.
Tommy almost laughs, because how could he not care? How could she think she doesn't occupy every inch of his thoughts? How can she not see that the idea of losing her—whether to Hunter or to Andrews or to his own stupidity—is absolutely fucking killing him? "Jude." He says her name softly, but the rest of the words evade him again. He leans in and reaches out a hand, brushing her hair gently out of her face and letting his fingers trail down the side of her cheek, her jaw. Her lips part slightly and he realizes he can still probably count the number of times he's ever gotten to kiss her. He wants to reach a day where he can reach out and touch her like it's no big deal, where he can hold her hand in public without thinking about it, where he's lost count by thousands and can't remember a time when he had to fight this war with himself over whether to give in and pull her mouth to his.
Jude is holding very still, barely breathing. Her eyes are locked on his, big and blue and filling with tears. His hand is still resting on her face, and he wants to close the distance between them, but her tears remind him suddenly too much of Angie's, and he's frozen in place by the memory, unable to move the last few inches.
Has anything really changed? he wonders. He gave up a life with Angie for a doomed marriage to a wife he was only using, by that point, to stay in his boss's good graces. And all for a tacky, overplayed band he gave up on less than a year later anyway. Georgia had helped him for no other reason than that she cared and that she believed in his talents as producer, and in return he'd used and then discarded her to keep a job that, more than anything, was a way for him to stay with Jude, his too-young artist, a girl he's only ever managed to cause ever-increasing amounts of pain.
Tommy shuts his eyes with a sigh and pulls away, dropping his hand and looking back down at the floor.
He hears Jude exhale hard, then she says, sarcastically, "Wow, really cleared that up for me there, Quincy, thanks." Her voice wavers slightly as she says it.
Tommy breathes a cross between a sigh and a laugh and reaches up to run his hand through his hair. He doesn't look up, can't face the intensity of her gaze again. He thinks about choosing his career over Angie, about how his carelessness and his stupidity killed her, how he's leaving a string of ruined lives behind him. For a brief moment a couple of weeks ago, he'd somehow started to genuinely believe it would be different with Jude, this time. That somehow in her turning 18, all of the shit that's never worked between them would suddenly disappear. That he'd changed in the past five years, that she'd changed him. And then he brought the wolves to her door, got a knife pressed to her throat, tried to protect her and only managed to break her heart instead. He tried over and over to convince himself, Darius, Kwest, Stuart, that this time would be different, that Jude wasn't Angie, that the past had no hold on them anymore. But he was wrong. How long could they possibly go on before the damage he inflicted on Jude would be as irreparable as the damage he did to Angie? Angie's death was his fault, his and only his, and this will have to be his penance.
"Tommy?" Jude asks quietly.
He looks up at her, and gives her a sad half-smile. "I should go." He sees the look of surprise and hurt and he sees her quickly try to hide it. He sighs and reaches out to her again, putting a gentle hand on her cheek. "If he had…" he trails off as his throat tightens. "I don't know what I'd have done if… I never wanted you to get hurt."
"I know," she says earnestly, and there's no anger in her voice this time. "I'm okay, Tommy, I am."
He drops his hand and tries to smile again. "Good," he says with a nod, and it's so utterly insufficient a substitute for what he wants to tell her. He grabs her hand and gently squeezes it, but he can't resist leaning in one more time. He kisses her softly on the forehead, then moves to touch his forehead to hers. Their noses brush. He thinks I love you, and says, instead, "I'm sorry." He spends another second with his head resting there, trying to memorize the sensation of the closeness of her, then pulls back fully and stands up from the couch. Jude is frowning slightly, but she looks confused, more than anything else. "Goodnight," he says, and wonders if it actually means goodbye. She searches his face for a moment longer, then nods.
Tommy slips his hands into his pockets again as he steps back out into the cool, dark G Major.
So what's the verdict here, eh? Do I still remember how to write these characters? Does anyone still read Instant Star fanfiction, anyway?