Disclosure: I do not own the characters of Takers and this story is meant for entertainment purposes only.
No one had heard from AJ in days so Gordon and John decided it would be a good idea to stop by the kid's place and check on him. It wasn't unusual for one of them to drop out of sight for a few days but AJ had always kept Jake in the loop in the past but ever since Jake had proposed to Lilly AJ had been a little scarce. "It's not like Ivy League to take off like this," Gordon said as they pulled up to the brownstone AJ had bought a few months before.
"I know, maybe he's just hold up with a girl bro, he's young, doesn't think sometimes," John said as he walked up to the door and knocked. No one answered but they could see AJ's car parked in his space in the back alley.
Gordon was a little worried about the youngest member of their group, he had noticed the subtle personality change in AJ since Jake's engagement; it was like the kid had lost his best friend. "He's been like this since Jake's proposal," he said before he pulled out his lock picks.
John nodded his head, "I know I've been watching him, kid shy's away when Lilly's around, acts like he's in the way. Jake hasn't noticed it but Jesse mentioned it the other night when AJ left and headed downstairs. Kid got pretty wasted that night Jesse and I had to carry him out."
The leader of the Takers finally got the door open and the two entered quietly expecting the harsh sound of an alarm system, but it never came. Once inside the two men were shocked to see the main floor, everything was black and white; the open space was completely devoid of any color, which was so unlike their friend. "I don't know what worries me more, the fact that the alarm wasn't set or the lack of AJ in this place," Gordon said as John and he both pulled out their weapons.
They slowly made their way through each room until they heard music thumping from one of the back rooms. Inside they could see AJ sitting at a piano with a number of instruments and recording equipment in the room. He had his headphones on as his hands flew over the keys in sync with the rhythm of the song and a half empty bottle of whiskey on top of the piano. John looked at Gordon and they both stood frozen as they listened to the music, it was not something they had ever heard come out of AJ. The sound was more hip hop than jazz and it actually seemed to have lyrics and what was even more surprising was that it sounded like AJ on the track. "I look up to the sky and how the world is mine, I've known it all my life, I made it, I made it. I used to dream about the life I'm living now. I know that there's no doubt I made it…Listen, see I don't live for glamour and I don't care for fame I'm in it for the love of the game…" "I didn't know he was so talented," John said as they saw AJ finish, the youngest still hadn't noticed that they were there as he turned off his equipment and took a long pull from the bottle before he turned to grab some sheet music to his left and noticed G and Rahway.
"Shit," AJ mumbled to himself and stood up to meet them outside the room doing his best not to stumble in his drunken haze. "How'd you get in?" he asked tiredly with only a slight slur once he had joined them.
John looked at his 'little brother' and shook his head, "You been AWOL for the better part of a week bro," he said seriously taking in how haggard AJ looked. Normally the kid was dressed to the nine's, looking much older than his twenty five years but today he looked younger somehow in a pair of warm ups and a wife beater. Gordon and he shared a look when AJ made a face at the fact that he had been out of sight as long as John was saying.
"Got wrapped up," AJ covered pointed back at the studio as he wracked his brain, trying to remember what day it was.
"Sure you did kid, how about you go get cleaned up, we're meeting the boys for lunch in a half hour," Gordon said as he sent a text to Jake and Jesse to meet them at the café down the block from AJ's.
John could tell AJ was in no shape to be going anywhere but he nodded, "Be good for you to get some fresh air baby boy," he said. AJ seemed frustrated at the two men, "Go shower, sober up a little," he said as Gordon stepped away to take a call from Jake. "Its just lunch bro, you got a problem with that?"
"No…Can I just meet you there?" he asked as he ran a hand over his face in attempt to clear his head.
Gordon laughed, "Not a chance Ivy League, go get cleaned up, we'll wait."
AJ frowned but did as he was told and the guys didn't miss how he stomped up the stairs like a teenager who had been grounded. "You know he's hammered right?"
The black man nodded and sighed, "He needs to get some food in his system. I can guarantee he hasn't had anything but liquor by the looks of that kitchen," he said pointing at the pristine kitchen area as they heard the shower turn on upstairs. "We'll deal with the clutter in his head later; right now we just focus on getting him out of isolation." Ten minutes later AJ came downstairs in another pair of warm ups and a long sleeved t-shirt only to be directed back upstairs to change by Gordon. "Go supervise him would you, I have to make a call," the older man shaking his head as they heard a thump upstairs and John started up taking the stairs two at a time in his rush to make sure AJ hadn't hurt himself.
"You okay there kiddo?" John asked as he helped AJ up from where he had tripped over the rug that covered the hardwood floor under his bed. "Just grab a pair of slacks and a button down, you know the dress code at Mario's," he said as he sat down on the immaculately made bed. The overall hyper cleanliness of AJ's home was beginning to reveal that the kid may have some obsessive compulsive issues; either that or he hadn't slept in days either. After a few minutes AJ emerged from his walk-in closet in a pair of black pinstriped pants, his black Converse and a black button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up revealing his tattooed arms and a loosely knotted black tie. "See," John said with a smirk, "That's much better. Bet it feels better too." It concerned him that the younger man was dressed more for a funeral than lunch, but black was a classic choice so he decided to let it go.
"I was comfortable before," AJ growled making John laugh as he gave AJ a shove toward the door.
Gordon was still on the phone as the two came down the stairs and he smirked when John signaled that AJ was still quite irritable. "All right, let's head out, Jesse's already there and Jake's about ten minutes out." John put an arm around AJ and the three headed out, "You should set that alarm AJ, never know who's bound to come through that door," Gordon mentioned before they exited the house. The youngest rolled his eyes but he set the alarm and locked the door. It was a quiet drive in Gordon's Range Rover to Mario's, John was in the passenger seat and continuously sneaking glances back at AJ who was leaning his head against the window in the seat behind Gordon. He hadn't said much, which was uncharacteristic of the youngest member of the team; normally he was running at a mile a minute. "You still with us Ivy League?" Gordon asked as they pulled up to the valet at Mario's.
"Yes," AJ said as he opened his door and followed the two men into the restaurant. Jesse was seated at their usual table and Jake was there as well with Lilly at his side, in AJ's seat. John noticed AJ's posture change even though his facial expression remained blank.
"Dude, you look smashed," Jesse joked as AJ fell into the booth next to him while John and Gordon took their seats on the chairs at the head of the table. The blonde just shrugged and picked up menu, he wasn't hungry but he knew he needed to get something or else Gordon and John were going to be on his ass. "You been drinking AJ?" Jesses asked as he took a closer look at his friend which drew not only Jake's attention but Lilly's too.
"You all right brother?" Jake asked his best friend.
AJ continued to focus on his menu, "Had a couple while I was working on some things, I'm fine," he said tersely. Jesse made a face at his friends tone and shrugged. Gordon looked at Jake and shook his head signally the two brothers to drop it. The older of the Attica brothers was still looking at his friend with concern written all over his face but the moment his fiancé took his hand his eyes went from his best friend to her and he smiled and nodded his head.
A few short minutes later the waiter came up to take their orders, "So what's everyone going to have?" Reggie their regular server asked with a smile. Lilly ordered a salad as did Jake and Gordon while Jesse and John both ordered a sandwich leaving only AJ left to order but the young man seemed lost in his menu. "AJ? Have you made a decision or should I just bring your usual?" Reggie asked the youngest but the blonde didn't respond.
John and Gordon exchanged looks and John reached over and put a hand on AJ's shoulder making the kid jump in his seat and almost knocked over his water, luckily Jesse had grabbed it the second he saw AJ startle. "You daydreaming on us again kiddo?" John teased as he patted AJ on the shoulder.
"Little bit sorry, um I'll just have some soup," AJ said looking up at Reggie and handing him his menu.
"Would you like a half sandwich with that?" Reggie asked. AJ shook his head and sunk a little lower in his seat staring at the table cloth. The young waiter wrote down the order but glanced over at Gordon who just nodded his head informing him to include the sandwich. "I'll have those out in about ten minutes, anything else while I'm here?"
"Double whiskey on the rocks," AJ said still looking at the table top. Again Reggie looked to Gordon who shook his head no and John choked on his water.
"I think you've had enough for now Ivy League, he'll have another glass of water Reg, thanks," Gordon said dismissing the waiter.
AJ scowled at Gordon but didn't argue, "So what have you been working on?" Jesse asked his friend in attempt to change the tattooed young man's mood as Jake watched his friend closely.
"Nothing important," AJ said shortly.
"I called you yesterday, you didn't answer," Jake said seriously.
His best friend flinched at his words, "Lost my phone," he said without any emotion. Jake was surprised but AJ's coldness, but he knew better than anyone that AJ wasn't himself when he was hammered.
"We'll get you a new one after lunch," Gordon said seriously. AJ lifted his head and nodded but he didn't comment.
The rest of lunch was quiet as the group discussed the wedding plans, well everyone but AJ, he sat quietly picking at his food. He really wasn't paying an attention to the conversation until Lilly called his name, "AJ," she said firmly getting his attention.
"Hm?" he said looking up from his untouched sandwich.
"I asked if you would play our song at the reception," she said repeating the questions she had just asked him a moment before while he had been pushing the noodles in his soup around.
"I don't think I will even be there," he said frigidly as his eyes returned to his soup.
That comment shocked everyone at the table, "What are you talking about man? You're gonna stand up with the rest of the guys," Jake said in confusion.
"Got another commitment," AJ said with a shrug.
"Something more important than your best friend's wedding?" Jesse asked him in shock.
AJ rolled his eyes, "Look, I got something to do all right, drop it," he said abrasively.
"No," Jake said angrily, "You're dropping on us that you're not coming to my wedding, what the hell else could you possibly have to do that is more important than stand up for me?" he asked furiously. AJ just shrugged his shoulders and made a move to stand up from the table but John blocked his path drawing the attention of a few other tables.
The shorter man glared at his mentor until Gordon cleared his throat, "Where you headed Ivy League?" he asked trying to get the two men to understand they were causing a scene. AJ pulled out his pack of cigarettes and waved them at their leader. John rolled his eyes and pushed AJ back down into the booth, "Eat your lunch, soak up some of that liquor in your belly then you may have your smoke break," Gordon said in an attempt to reason with AJ and calm the anger that Jake had brewing by reminding him that AJ had been drinking, without drawing any more attention to the group.
AJ sighed but picked up his spoon and took a few bites of soup; he hated being treated like a child when he was sober which made him hate it even more when there was alcohol in his system. By the time they had all finished AJ had consume about half of his meal and had refused to look at anyone while he ate. Jake was still pissed as hell at his friend and had been silently cursing the younger man since his announcement. Lilly wasn't quite sure what was going on between the men in her life but she knew better than to interfere, so instead she put a hand on Jake's thigh in an attempt to calm him but he was so angry it really didn't help. AJ was his best friend and it wasn't like they hadn't had a fight before but this time Jake had no idea what they were fighting about which frustrated him even more. "Can I get you anything else?" Reggie asked as he brought the check over. John handed him his credit card and shook his head, "I will be right back with this."
"Thanks Reg," John said as he took another glance at AJ, the young man seemed to be concentrating on his breathing and was obviously trying to keep what little he had eaten in his system. "AJ and I are going to step outside, get my card will you," he informed Gordon. The older man nodded his head in agreement as John tugged AJ to his feet and directed him toward the door. "Slow breaths Rockstar," he said quietly once they got outside.
AJ let out a deep breath once his stomach settled, "Sorry," he said quietly as John sat him down on a bench.
"You really pissed off Jake brother, why wouldn't you go to the wedding?" he asked the young man as he threw his arm around his shoulders.
AJ shrugged, "Its not like they want me there anyway."
Rahway looked at him like he'd lost his mind, "Are you crazy? You're his best friend."
"He's got Jesse up as his best man, you and Gordon as groomsmen, he doesn't need me there messing something up," he said quietly.
"What is going on in that head of yours? You're not gonna mess anything up," he said seriously, "What would make you think that? Do you honestly think Jake's getting married without you there? "
AJ just shrugged, "Doesn't matter, I'm not going. It's a family thing and I don't fit in, they only asked me cuz I was there when they asked you guys," AJ mumbled. John didn't understand but he didn't get a chance to ask anything else because everyone else exited the restaurant.
"Ready to go get that phone?" Jesse asked AJ with a smile. The younger man shrugged and pulled out a cigarette and his lighter. "We gotta get you the iPhone," Jesse said as he started to rattle off how sweet his was but AJ wasn't really listening as the two lead the group down the block to the closest wireless store. "Dude are you even listening?" Jesse asked as he looked over at AJ who was so focused on the burning cigarette between his fingers it was making his buddy nervous. He hadn't taken a drag in almost two blocks, just kept watching it burn closer to his fingers, the lit end was about to burn him when Jesse smacked it out of his hand. "Jesus bro, what is going on with you? That shit ain't funny," he said as he stopped the group on the street.
"What happened?" Jake asked as he jogged up to the boys as Jesse stomped on AJ's still smoldering cigarette and gave his friend a shove toward the brick wall beside them.
"Freak was just letting his cigarette burn down to his fingers," Jesse said as AJ ran his hands over his face and let out a deep breath, his thoughts were swirling so quickly that it was making him dizzy.
"Did it burn you?" Lilly asked her fiancés friend. AJ just stared at her but it was like he really hadn't heard her.
Jake stepped into his friends line of vision and AJ jumped when he noticed the black man in his personal space, "Talk to me bro, you okay?"
"Sure, just lost in thought, sorry," he said pushing himself off the wall and continued to walk another few stores down to the cellular store.
John and Gordon hung back when Jake stopped them, "Something's not right with him."
"We've noticed," Gordon said as he motioned for Jesse to stick close to the other Taker. The younger man took off in a jog to catch up with AJ, "His place was ridiculously spotless when we got there this morning. Kid hadn't even set his security alarm but he did lock the door," G informed them. Jake wasn't surprised though, AJ had always been freakishly neat.
Inside the phone store Jesse was flirting with the sales girl who was retrieving the new iPhone and programming it for AJ who looked less than thrilled to be there. "Bro you're gonna love this thing, even Jake likes the one Lilly and I picked out for him," Jesse said as they paid for the item and he got the girls number.
"Can I go home now?" AJ asked bluntly once they rejoined the group. John made a face and Gordon rolled his eyes at the youngest.
"Nice manners baby boy," John teased.
"I ate my lunch, I got the stupid phone," he said tiredly, "Now I want to go home…I'm tired," he whined.
Gordon could see that AJ was exhausted and decided it would be best to let the kid go back to his place where he could get some rest. "Sure, let's get you home, you obviously need a nap," he said as he turned the group back toward the valet at Mario's.
AJ was irritated with the guys but he allowed them to drive him back to his brownstone, "You know I could have just taken a cab," he grumbled in the back seat of Jake's Mercedes.
The older man rolled his eyes, "We're heading that way anyway, relax brother. G was right you do need a nap, you're cranky today," he joked making Lilly laugh and AJ scowl. When they reached AJ's new place Jake made a move to get out of the car but AJ shook his head.
"I don't need a babysitter, I'm going to bed."
"Just hadn't seen the new place yet," Jake said as he stood outside the car. "I'll swing by in the morning, we'll go for a run," he told his friend, not really leaving room for AJ to turn him down.
"Fine," the blonde said irritably before he headed up the stairs to his brownstone. Once he was inside he slammed the door shut and locked it before he leaned against it and slide down to the hardwood floor with his head in his hands. He hated fighting with Jake but Lilly was taking away his best friend, everything they did now either included her or was scheduled around her and it bothered him. Gone were the random trips to Vegas or the late night jam sessions in the studio and their marathon training runs, instead Jake had to take Lilly with them, be home with her or some other Lilly related thing and AJ was jealous of the time she was getting with his 'brother.' The blonde had no idea how long he had been sitting there thinking about his friend when the obnoxious ringtone Jesse had programmed on his phone alerted him that it was ringing. "What!" he practically yelled at the phone as he tried to answer it.
He could hear a laugh on the other side of the door, "Open the door Rockstar," John said as he hung up his phone. He hadn't expected AJ to still be awake much less that close to the door since it had been almost six hours since Jake had dropped him off. John was worried about the youngest member of their team so he had decided to take a drive over and check on him when he found out from Jake that AJ wouldn't even let him in the house when he dropped him off. AJ reached up and unlocked the door before sliding to his left out of the way. John opened the door and was a little surprised to see his friend sitting with his knees pulled up next to the front door. Closing the door behind him John knelt down next to AJ, "Too tired to head upstairs?" he asked with concern. AJ didn't answer him he just let his head thump back against the wall behind him, "Come on, you need some sleep," John said as he wrapped an around AJ's shoulders and pulled him to his feet. The younger blonde just did as he was told and let John lead him up to his bed when he instructed him to change into this pajama's and get into bed. The moment that his head hit the pillow he was out cold and there was no waking him John found, even for food.
It was almost ten when AJ woke to the screeching sound of his alarm, "Ow," he groaned as he pulled his pillow over his head. He had hoped that he would sleep through the wicked hangover he knew was coming after his activities the day before but unfortunately that was not the case.
His head felt like it was going to split in half as he heard Jake come up the stairs calling his name, "AJ! Come on dude, we have to meet the guys at one so we got to get a move on brother!" he yelled as he opened the door to the dark room. Jake smirked when he heard the groan come from his friends bed, "Up and at 'em AJ, we got business to take care of today," he teased as he pulled open the thick curtains letting in the bright light of the morning sun.
"Go away," AJ moaned as he tried to bury his head even further in the pillows but Jake wasn't having it this morning, he took both his blankets and his pillows and threw them on the floor. "You're a real prick," AJ growled as he lay on his back with one arm over his eyes and the other on his sour stomach.
Jake laughed, "Only because you're hung-over, now get your drunk ass outta that bed and dressed, we got ten miles that need to be done by noon," Jake said as he started to head out of the room, still laughing as AJ jumped off the bed and sprinted to the bathroom to pay homage to the porcelain god for his sins. Almost twenty minutes later AJ joined Jake downstairs in his warm up pants, a long sleeved t-shirt thrown over his shoulder and his sunglasses on. "We'll aren't you all sunshine and rainbows this morning," Jake joked as AJ pulled his shirt over his head and then leaned down to tie his shoes with a moan.
"Fuck you," the younger man moaned as he stood back up slowly rubbing his still sour stomach.
"Come on, you'll feel better once we get going," he said as he tossed AJ a bottle of water and headed for the door. They made good time despite the fact that AJ had forced them to stop twice so he could be sick in the bushes along their route. They had just finished their run and were just about back at AJ's when Lilly pulled up alongside of them, "Hi baby," Jake said leaning into the car to kiss her making AJ's queasy stomach begin to churn again. "What are you doing over here?"
Lilly smiled, "You forgot your bag, Jesse said you guys had a meeting so I figured you would need it," she said pointing at the suit and gym bag in the back seat.
"You're a life saver baby, I was thinking I was going to be late cuz I would have to drive all the way home to change," he said before he kissed her again. "She's great isn't she bro," Jake said looking back at AJ. The black man did not get the answer he wanted because instead of words coming out of his mouth AJ turned his back on the happy couple and threw up the water he had just drank. "AJ! Bro, really? Man this is why you're not supposed to drink anything but soda, your system can't handle it," Jake scolded as AJ tried to regain control of his stomach.
Lilly made a face of disgust and rolled her eyes when AJ turned back around, she had never really liked him but she knew that he was Jake's best friend so she would have to tolerate him. "I have to go meet the wedding planner honey, I'll see you tonight for dinner," she said before she kissed him again and politely waved at AJ as she pulled away.
"You couldn't hold that in?" Jake asked his friend as AJ let his legs collapse under him on the ground just to the right of the mess he had made. The younger man just ignored his friend and let his body calm down, "Come on, let's get you home and cleaned up. Gordon will have our asses if we're late for this meeting," he said putting a hand out to help AJ up off the grass. The remainder of the day AJ was quiet, he listened at the meeting but he kept spacing out as Gordon and the other guys joked around. By the time he got home all he wanted was a hot bath and his bed, food had no appeal to him but the half empty bottle of Irish Whiskey on his piano did, unfortunately Jake had decided to make another unwanted appearance at his place just as he was about to take a sip from the bottle, "Didn't we talk about that earlier?" he asked reaching for the bottle in his friends hand.
AJ rolled his eyes, "No you were lecturing, I was too busy puking to really comment," the pianist growled as he headed out of the studio. "What are you doing here any ways aren't you supposed to be at dinner with Lilly?" AJ said with distain.
Jake was beginning to catch on, AJ was acting like a spoiled brat who wasn't getting his way and it was all beginning to make sense, he was jealous of Lilly. "I asked for a rain check, thought you and I could use a boys night. Maybe hit the club, get some dinner, catch up."
AJ made a face, "I have plans."
Jake scoffed at him, "Sure you do, getting wasted alone while you tinker at the piano is not plans bro." The younger man sighed, "Come on I'll even make dinner, we don't have to go out, but we do need to catch up. Obviously something is bugging you about the wedding and I want to know what it is. You're not the type of guy to just bail on your best friend," Jake said as he took a seat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen.
"People change," AJ said almost inaudibly.
"Not you bro, you're not like other people."
AJ snorted and bit his bottom lip, "You don't really know me," he mumbled before he walked out of the room and up the stairs leaving his friend in shock. Jake didn't know how to respond to that, though his friends' words were true, none of them really knew AJ; even in college the blonde was a mystery to him.
Upstairs AJ was lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling fan, he knew that he should talk to Jake, tell him what his issues with Lilly were but he just couldn't bring himself to be that honest with him because that would mean he would have to be honest with himself and that was something that AJ avoided at all costs.