Afterglow

By Dabeagle

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I stepped out of my car and stretched, trying to work the kinks out. I ambled up to the entryway and stopped to get my mail on the way to my apartment. Bill. Advertisement. Ad cleverly disguised as something official. Oh, and something actually - nope, another ad. Opening the apartment door my nose immediately registered a wonderful smell that was completely alien in my apartment.

"Is that a pot roast?" I asked, my voice tinged with wonder.

"With potatoes, carrots, celery and onions all marinating together."

I set my bag and mail down and crossed the room to hug Parker. "You're going to make someone a great wife, someday."

"Asshole," he grumped and pushed me back.

I smiled. "It smells fantastic, Parks. You weren't kidding about this cooking thing you're into, huh?"

His chest puffed a little. "I've made some pretty good stuff. I hope to add this to my list tonight." He glanced at the clock. "You have about thirty minutes. Go get cleaned up."

"Cleaned up? What," I asked as I looked down at my clothes and then sniffed my armpits. "Why?"

"Um, you left without showering this morning?"

I frowned and looked away. "Did I?"

"Trust me. Go."

I shrugged and wandered into my room, stripping off clothes and made my way to the shower. My stomach grumbled at the scent of that food. I chuckled as I ran the water, amazed that my Parker had culinary interests beyond eating. I thought of Parker out in the kitchen cooking and a warm, quivering emotion ran through my chest and down my stomach. I wondered how long he was planning to stay. Idly I entertained the thought of Parker and me making a household together. It wasn't the first time I'd had that thought. When you date as many scrubs as I have, you spend a lot of time daydreaming about a better relationship. I finished up and head back to my room for a shirt and underwear - I didn't bother with even sweatpants since Parker was here and the whole 'legs free' thing was in force.

"Hey, how long are you in town for?" I asked as I re-entered the room.

"Well, about that," he said and paused for a moment, looking at me. It was a weird look, but I couldn't tell why.

"What?" I asked and looked down. "Legs free, right?"

He turned and opened the cupboard to take out bowls. "How would you be with me bunking with you for a while?"

"Seriously? I'd love to have you here. How long are we talking?" Ever since Parker graduated from college a few years ago, I'd very rarely seen him. We used to get together when he was in school, even though it was over an hour away; we'd both made the effort. With his job I was lucky if I saw him twice a year.

"Well, there's a job in town. I have an interview next week and it would save me a ton to avoid a hotel-"

"Sweet! Why didn't you say so?" I asked with excitement.

"It's a lot to ask," he said and lifted both his eyebrows. "You've got one room, single guy in the city. I didn't want to presume you'd be cool with that."

I tried to quiet my excitement. "Well, yeah, I guess I see your point. So, I should hang a sock on the doorknob and you'll go get a coffee or something?"

He stared at me and I looked back steadily. He set the bowls down by the stove without breaking eye contact and I reached blindly to get us silverware while maintaining the stare. His eyes darted once to make sure the ladle was going into the pot, after missing twice, and I crowed in victory.

"That doesn't count!" he said immediately and started to laugh as I told him it totally did. We filled bowls - the meat was overcooked and falling apart which, in my opinion, is perfect. We settled on the couch and Parker spoke back up.

"Seriously, I don't want to cramp what you've got going on. Don't feel obligated," he said and I waved him off.

"Shut up. You know I'd love to have you here. Just take the win, will you? Jeez," I said with a snort and flicked the TV on. I spooned some of the food and immediately gave an appreciative groan. "Parks, this tastes just like your mom's recipe! So fucking good!"

He smiled in approval. "It's never quite as good, but I can't complain about it."

"Dude," I said as I glanced at him. "This brings back so many memories. Cold freaking days when we got to your house and your mom would fill us up with these leftovers? That was the best."

He smiled, a sly, secret smile, but instead of saying something off-the-wall he nodded and said, "It was pretty perfect. Good food, good movie, average company...."

"Hey!" I said with a snort, picking up on his dig at me.

He grinned. "Okay, the company was the best, too."

I growled at him and spooned more food. Damn, he'd gotten to be a pretty good cook if he was catching up to his mom.

"Speaking of old memories, I don't think you told me how your mom and old Cliff are doing?"

Swallowing I nodded my head. "Good. I don't know if they'll ever get married, but they are happy. Cliff is talking about retiring and selling his shop."

Parker shook his head. "I really didn't see you moving into his place. I guess he was a decent guy, huh?"

I tilted my head from side to side. "I can't complain. Whatever he had for 'personal protection' was locked away and I never saw a gun or bullet while I was in his house. I'll grant you, I didn't go looking, but it worked out."

"What does he think of what you do for a living?"

"He's actually supportive," I said with a bob of my head. "He says there will be legislation some day, and people who advocate for guns would be better off working with people than against. Like." I waved my spoon. "Not so much people who want to ban guns, but people who want mandatory safety training, licensing and insurance, proper storage to keep things safe from kids. There really is a list of things gun people and non-gun people can agree on, so that's where we are aiming."

"I'm really proud of you, Shane," he said with a little smile. "You could have folded up after all that crap with your father. Look at you now, though."

I nodded slowly. "I've had help." The conversation stalled there, maybe because we both knew what would be said. Parker had been a bridge back to living my life, a reason to be. Travis followed soon after. Then there were the friends we'd made in high school. It all radiated from Parker, though. None of it would have happened without him.

We both had seconds and then just a little more before settling under the blanket and chilling with the TV. We turned in early since we had a long drive the next day. Parker decided to fuck with me, though, and nibbled my ear.

"Dude. It's been a while. Keep that up and you're going to get laid," I said with a chuckle. He rested his forehead on the back of my neck and shook with laughter. "Hey, weren't you seeing anyone?"

He shook his head, rolling across my neck. "I hooked up, some, but it doesn't really work trying to travel and build anything. I mean, look at you and Trav. You guys were solid. If I ever needed a lesson in the importance of being there for a relationship, that was it."

"Yeah. I can't really argue that one. Hey!" I said and turning my head toward him, though I couldn't see him in the dark. "Maybe you'll find someone in town and stay!"

"Maybe," he said non-commitally.

"I'll start thinking about people," I said excitedly.

"Shane! No fixing me up!"

"Why not?" I asked, bubbling with laughter.

"Go to sleep. Punk."

One might be forgiven for thinking if you were used to sleeping alone that it would be hard to adjust to becoming a human body pillow, but I always sleep well with Parker cuddling me. Waking up still sucks, but he makes the night so much better.

"Vickie is close by, but I'm not sure she deserves you," I said speculatively.

"I'm...not sure how to interpret that!" Parker replied, snickering. "Maybe I'll just stay here with you. Not everyone is good cuddle material."

I resettled and felt comforted by Parker's presence behind me, though I have to admit having a beautiful man holding me in bed - especially one with the heart of Parker - meant I wasn't going to fall asleep anytime soon. It had been a while for me, and though Parker and I had only fooled around the one time, it was certainly seared into my memory. My mind wandered back to his last comment and I thought about his body pillow. The last time he'd stayed I'd headed out early to work, but when I'd come home I'd found the pillow in the trash with a tear in the cover. I'd never figured out how that had happened and hadn't asked. Fuck, have Parker cuddle a pillow or me? How stupid had I been? Of course, considering he was off limits, maybe I wasn't so smart after all.

~AG~

We got on the road just before seven. I'd showered while he'd made breakfast and I went around the corner to get us coffee while he got ready. His breakfast was a to-go wrap sort of thing, which was very good, and we were making good time to our hometown when my phone rang.

"Hi, Shane, it's Mike in research," the voice announced. It always sounds kind of funny coming from my car speakers.

"Hey, Mike, what's the good word?" I asked.

"Weird. I'm not sure I'd call it good, exactly."

"Oh? What's up?"

"Kathy said you asked me to dig on Gordon Isaacs and I think I stumbled on something. Uh," he hesitated and then sighed. "It looks like he's being backed by a dark money PAC, but what makes it weird is that...well, Marcia is listed on the paperwork."

I slowed the car and stared at nothing for a moment. "Marcia Harris? Director of our office Marcia?"

"Yeah," he said with resignation. "I don't know if she gave notice or is planning to leave or was going to play both sides until the election, but the secret is out. What do we do?"

That was the question - what do we do? "I'll call you right back, Mike. Have you told anyone else what you found?"

"No, just you. I'm not really comfortable sitting on this, but I don't know what to do about it."

"Give me five minutes, Mike. I'll call back."

I chewed my lip as we continued on our way, wondering what the right path was.

"Your boss is a double-agent?" Parker asked.

I blinked and looked at him, sort of having forgotten he was there. "Uh, yeah. Sounds that way."

"So what will you do?"

I sigh. "I'm thinking of my options. First is to confront her. That puts the power in her hands, though. She can spin things while she does whatever she can in the time she has left. She's smart, so even being caught by surprise can be put to use for her." I hum to myself for a moment in thought. "I can call our board, tell them what's happening. It'll make us look bad, for sure. I don't know how it would affect the office. They might close us, depending on how much damage was done to our credibility."

"Anything else?"

I tilted my head. "Yeah. I could contact the senator's office." I thought for a moment, my ideas solidifying. "Her defection, playing both sides, will probably kill my agency," I said with certainty, feeling despondent. "The scandal would be pretty big and trust in us would take a beating."

"Couldn't you recover from that? I mean, you could lead that place, right?"

"I could," I conceded. "But I'd have to completely rebuild the name. I have no idea what the financial or political fallout would be. But the senator has liked the approach I've pitched several times, and he won't like being forced by this group toward something he doesn't believe in. I'm thinking...I might be able to become part of his staff."

We rode in silence while I turned that over in my head. I was startled when Parker asked, "What about the rest of the office?"

I sighed. "Most are temp staff. Mike is full time along with about four others. I might be able to make a case to take them all with me. Hey, do you mind driving?"

"Pull over. This should be cool, watching you wheel, deal and be all bossy and stuff."

I snorted and pulled the car over so we could swap seats. That done I disconnected the Bluetooth and called Mike back.

"Okay, Mike, this is how I see it. I want to bounce this off you and see what you think." I laid out what I'd said to Parker about the options as I saw them. "The only way this is worse is if Marcia isn't actually involved. How sure are you of the data you have?"

"Funny you ask. I did more digging - it's legit. She's going to implode this whole thing we built, isn't she?"

"Well, she wasn't doing us any favors. Let me talk to the senator's office. After that, we have to figure out how to bring this to the board." I paused and cleared my throat. "Are you good with me offering to bring the full time staff to the senator?"

"Yeah. I need a job and I believe in this. Keep me posted, okay?"

"I'll call back. We should keep this between us, for now. Don't scare anyone until we know more. Agreed?"

"Done."

I hung up and took a deep breath before dialing again. "Nick? It's Shane. Listen, things just got weird." I spent a good twenty minutes on the phone with Nick as we worked to figure out a way to control the damage, and on my end, to save jobs. Marcia playing the senator's office for idiots - not to mention the rest of us - would embarrass the senator and squander our credibility. It was a potential public relations disaster.

"So let me make sure I understand. The Senator creates a new task force under the auspices of his office - you and five other people - who will be his point people on this issue, and the organization will close?"

"Most likely, depending on the board," I agreed. "This enables the senator to keep the people who have been working on this in place and beat Marcia and her PAC to the punch with the press. The only other option if the Senator wants to keep a separate entity is to work something out with the board."

"Okay. Have your guy send me the evidence and I'll get in with the senator shortly."

I called Mike back and gave him the address to send the information. I couldn't believe I was doing this, but Marcia...well, I never would have thought this of her.

"So, what'll happen to the other people?" Parker asked as he drove.

"They are temps, mostly. Essentially, my aim is to secure the full time people and then co-opt the funding we have so that no one loses their job."

"But you'd be the director or something?"

I smile. "I doubt it. There are two others with more experience in the office. I was just the one who had the research guy looking in the right direction at the right time."

"Well, being lucky counts for something," he said with a chuckle.

"Well, it would make life interesting," I agreed. We chatted idly and tried to find something worth listening to on the radio. During a lull I thought back to the day I got a panicked call from Parker, asking me to go to the hospital to check on his parents. It's funny. Even though my own father had committed suicide and tried to make me die with him, I didn't really think much about parents dying. Like, it seems kind of surreal - like seeing a teacher out of school. Just bizarre.

I'd hopped in my car and kept Parker on the line the whole way. His mother had called from the hospital after Steve had attacked them; he'd really done a number on his father's knee. I had arrived and floundered for a moment trying to find the emergency entrance because the hospital had built so many new wings or offices or something that nothing was where I remembered. When I finally did find his parents he begged me to stay and make sure they were okay until he could get there.

His mother was shaking. It's the biggest thing I remember about that day, the tremor that ran through her and never really seemed to stop. She'd hugged me and just held on while they worked to get her husband's knee situated. They ended up operating, but not until the following day. Steve's attack really changed them. Mr. Reid had always been fairly active - he'd been a nurse, after all. The knee didn't rehabilitate well. Parker and I agreed that something essential had been taken from his parents that day. They had less fight in them, less hope.

I checked in on them a few times a week, keeping Parker informed once they'd convinced him to go back to school. It was no hardship - I liked the Reids and Parker was my best friend. The Reids had always welcomed me, and while it sounds cliché to say they treated me like an extra son, it kind of worked that way. Checking on them usually involved staying for dinner, fixing some minor things that Mr. Reid couldn't quite do yet in the bargain. I'd go with Mrs. Reid to get the car looked at, not because of my extensive knowledge about cars, but because she said the mechanic didn't try to pull as much crap when a man was involved. I guess I filled in for Parker while he was getting his education, and I was happy to.

"Place looks like a plant for making toilets or something, doesn't it?" Parker asked as we pulled into the parking lot. The building was squat and vaguely turd-like, with peeling patches where the poured concrete walls showed through like scabs.

"Considering what's inside, more like a shit processing plant," I replied. Parker glanced at me, snorted and then started to snicker.

"Nice, Shane." He looked back at the building with its chain link fence topped with razor wire. I looked at him while his eyes roamed the structure. Quietly he said, "I wonder, sometimes, why I'm not more like Steve."

"I have a theory," I told him seriously.

"Oh, Christ," he said with a smile and a roll of his eyes. "Okay, let me have it."

"Only so much cool goes into each family. You clearly got more than your fair share."

He sat waiting as if there was a punchline and then smiled at me. "Well, thanks, I guess. I thought you were going to bust my nuts."

"Eh. I like to surprise you. So, shall we go try and keep him behind bars?"

We walked up to the entrance and went through the check-in procedure. We were escorted through the building, going through doors that locked behind us before a guard cycled the door ahead of us. It felt foreboding, and I'm not sure how anyone keeps their sanity in a place like that. We were brought to a medium sized room with a long table at one end, behind which sat three people. There were two small desks, two chairs at each and only one person seated. We sat in a group of chairs for what one might call a gallery, I suppose, to wait for Steve's hearing to come up. After perhaps five minutes a door on the far end of the room opened and Steve was led in, shackled at the hands and feet. He shuffled slowly to one of the tables and sat beside the man who, I assume, was his lawyer in this process.

One of the three people behind the long table brought the room to order and we were finally underway with this nasty business. They spoke to Steve, who stood to respond to them.

"Steven Reid, you're here to petition for parole. What evidence would you offer this board that you are rehabilitated and ready to re-enter society?" the man in the center asked.

"Sir, I've spent the last four years working on my education so I can get a job on the outside. Two years ago I converted to Christianity and have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The things I did to get me in here, those are on me and I have learned that, uh, the error of my ways. Armed with my education and my faith, I can be, uh, become a compatible...contributing member of society. Sir."

The three member panel looked down at paperwork before them and the lawyer gestured for Steve to sit. The board member on the right, a woman with a wrinkled face and ill-applied lipstick, held a single sheet of paper in her hand.

"I have here a letter from your parents that has been entered into the record of these proceedings. They detail a brutal attack that you perpetrated upon them. Can you explain your actions?" she asked.

Steve stood again, awkwardly. "Yes, ma'am. I, uh, had been drinkin' and druggin' with some friends and we were going to go down to Vegas. I didn't have no money for gamblin' and for drinkin' when we got down there and I thought it was a good idea to go borrow from my parents."

"Borrow? Mr. Reid, you hospitalized your father, who still hasn't fully recovered the use of his knee, and bruised your mother's arms and chest in your attempt to 'borrow.'"

"Yes, ma'am," he said and nodded his head. "I didn't think they'd be at home." He placed a hand on his chest, which dragged the other one up by dint of how tightly shackled he was. "I admit, things got out of hand."

She pursed her lips at him. The man seated on the left spoke up. "I understand that a family member is here to offer testimony?"

"Yes, sir," Parker said as he gained his feet smoothly.

"Please come forward and state your name for the record."

Parker moved past our chairs and stood beside the second table and its occupant. "My name is Parker Reid, sir."

"Thank you for coming, Mr. Reid. What would you like this board to consider as it deliberates?"

"Sir, my brother has a long history of making poor choices. I used to feel sorry for him. My parents once thought that my grandfather did something to him, but nothing they did was ever able to help Steve. He attacked me in my own high school because he wanted me to deal drugs there."

"Shut up, you snitch," Steve said in a low, menacing tone.

"You will remain silent, Mr. Reid, or you will be removed," the man in the middle said. He held his gaze on Steve for a moment before nodding at Parker to continue.

"Thank you, sir," Parker said. "My brother betrayed my parents. He attacked them and maimed my father for life, forcing him to retire from his nursing career and accept disability. They have since relocated in order to avoid my brother, should he be released. He is a violent man, and no matter what he tells you today, he hasn't changed."

"You spoiled fuck!" Steve screamed as he struggled to his feet. "You got everything! Precious little Parker!"

"Guard, remove the prisoner!" the man in the center thundered. There was quite a commotion as Steve was removed, yelling and threatening the whole way before peace finally returned to the room. The man turned back toward Parker. "Please continue, Mr. Reid."

Parker looked away from the man and said softly, "I don't enjoy speaking against my brother. We were never close. But if it's not my parents, then it will be someone else's parents that he goes after next. I know...you can't keep him forever. But he should serve out his full sentence."

The room was quiet for a moment and then the woman said, "Thank you, Mr. Reid. I appreciate the effort it takes to travel and appear in person."

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