allow me to talk about my children's author Connor au for a moment
Hank always reads to Cole, every night before bed. The only problem is, Cole, much like his dad, could get bored with the same stuff day in, day out.
As they finish the last short story in the children's stories anthology, cole is still awake, half heartedly playing with his stuffed giraffe.

Hank sets the book aside, "What's wrong, bud?"

Cole shrugs, "I don't like that book anymore."
Hank nods, "Why not?"

Cole shrugs again, shooting Hank a small pout, "Jus' don't."

Hank sits closer, "Georgie not like it either?" He gives Cole's stuffed giraffe a little pat on the head, and Cole giggles. "I'll try and get a new book when I can, okay?"
Cole nods, and Hank kisses his forehead and tucks him into bed, and he gives a little kiss to Georgie the Giraffe too, for good measure.
Hank drops Cole off at kindergarten, and writes a note on his hand to buy Cole a new book. Unfortunately, with his hectic work schedule he doesn't have time to go out and buy one. The thought accidentally slips his mind the rest of the day.
It's not until he's at a crime scene with his colleagues and he spots a tiny yardsale across the street does he remember.

He wanders over and browses, knowing full well he probably shouldn't whilst on the clock. He was just too nosy for his own good, sometimes.
Then, Hank spots a little bookset on one of the tables, the book spines creating a cute picture of a forest when they all lined up.

It has a big post-it note stuck to the side reading $5, and Hank happily slides that over.
The books are by an author Hank has never heard of, a guy called Connor Stern. Weird name for a children's author.

Hank thumbs through the books as he sits in his car, admiring the beautiful illustrations before seeing the About The Author printed on the back pages
The picture is very sweet, some young looking man with glasses and a cute mess of curls. He's wearing a sweatervest, and Hank doesn't bother to actually read his long paragraphs about his home life.

He slots the book back into the little box and hopes Cole will like them all
Cole comes out of kindergarten with a finger painting of the two of them and sumo, and Hank kneels down on his ol' legs to give him a hug to thank him for the drawing

Cole beams and Hank carries him back to the car.
That evening Cole plays legos on the floor as Hank unwinds in front of the TV.

Hank can't help but to smile as Cole acts out a scene from an old short story they read together, with a fun ending involving magical flying sharks instead
Hank helps him wash up, making sure they brush their teeth together and wash their hands before bed.

Hank dresses him in his favourite dinosaur pyjamas and Cole is immediately in bed with georgie by his side.
"I have a surprise for you, bud," Hank says, setting the bookset down and letting Cole admire the fun designs, "Bought em today, what do you think?"

Cole nods, "So cool!"

Hank feels a swell of pride in his chest as Cole chirps, "Thank you!"
Hank cracks open book one, and Cole is absolutely enraptured. He leans on Hank and rests a tiny hand on Hank's arm, barely moving as Hank reads and points at the illustrations
The books are about a clumsy anthro dog called Stevie who lives near a forest, and each book has a moral that explains an adult situation in a very child friendly way.
The first book is about Stevie the silly puppy accidentally bumping into a dog much bigger than he is, and getting bullied. Stevie explains how to tell a trusted adult about the bully, and Hank feels like he's made a good choice w these books already.
He tucks cole in after, and the next weekend cole asks is he's allowed to get his paint set out.

Hank gets him into his painting apron and sits out in the yard with him as he paints a big picture of Stevie the silly puppy, and Hank pins it on the fridge as soon as it's dry
They reread the first book every day for a week, which is unusual for cole, because he usually gets tired after the first two reads.

Hank also notices Cole trying to read the book by himself, and he feels like a proud mama hen that his boy is reading as well as he is
Cole has a Stevie stuffed animal before they even get onto the second book, and cole makes sure to stress he's not bored of the first one when they finally do read the second one together.
The second book is about a new puppy joining Stevie's class, and she looks different to all the other puppies. The whole book is about accepting people regardless of how they look, and how the best person (or puppy) to be is a friend.

Cole Adores This Book.
Cole grows even more attached to Stevie and his friends, and Hank doesn't want his love for reading to stop so he doesn't question it. Kids just passionately like things, it's what kids do.
The third book is about Stevie getting a pet fish called Evie, and learning to take care of animals.

Hank thinks it's funny how this anthro dog can own another animal as a pet, but cole starts helping Hank care for sumo more so hes not gonna ruin this for him.
Cole dresses as Stevie for Halloween, and Hank stays up each night for a week beforehand sewing custom ears onto a headband and making Stevie's iconic patchwork jacket.

Hank glues a fake goldfish to a spring and sticks it to a headband, and he goes as Evie the fish
To Hank's surprise, the fourth book is about one of Stevie's friends having two moms.

Cole gets excited about this, saying someone in his class also has two moms, and Hank feels good knowing these books are helping Cole understand.
The book explains that boys can love boys and girls can love girls, and cole is in awe

Hank feels a little dumb for not explaining this very simple concept to him before now.
They reread this book for a week too, and Hank's surprised when cole looks sad after their sixth read through.

Hank closes the book and rubs his shoulder, "What's up, buddy?"
Cole shrugs. Hank knows he's thinking about something and pats his back.

After a few minutes, cole looks up at Hank, "all of Stevie's friends have two mommies or daddies, why do I only have one?"

Oh boy.
Hank smiles, wheels turning in his brain as he tries to think of what to say.

It's not like he can tell his five year old he was conceived during a one night stand whilst Hank was off testosterone during a dose mix-up.
"Well, like how some people have two daddies, some people only have one."

Cole nods, but is still frowning, and Hank squeezes his shoulder, "honestly bud, it's okay. I'm happy. Are you happy?"
Cole nods again.

"Okay, did you wanna finish reading?"

Cole looks up, "Dad?"

"Cole." Hank says, softly in reply.

"If you're not happy, can I help make it better?" Cole asks, and Hank feels his heart grow three sizes

"What do you mean?"
"uhm, like.. like how you do for me?" Cole says.

"Sure bud, but you're not allowed to play with the oven or with the bath without me there, okay?"

Cole nods, tiny arms wrapped around one of Hank's own.
Hank sits with him until he falls asleep, and Hank is still reeling over what a kind young man his son is growing in to.

Then, he's hit with a wave of guilt. Was he really such a lonely sad sack that his five year old noticed? That's pathetic.
the next day at school, cole trips over and cuts open his knee. Hank is called immediately and is informed that the bleeding is heavy, and it's going to need stitches.

Fowler understands as Hank explains he needs to leave early for cole
Cole is very distressed when Hank arrives, and Hank gives him a big hug to try and help him calm down.

In his fall, hed also grazed his hands, and big purple bruises were already forming around the little scrapes.
The hospital's play therapist tries her best to distract cole with books and bubbles as he gets his stitches, and Hank lets him squeeze his hand as hard as he wants.

Hank's insurance /should/ cover this. He hopes, anyway.
Cole gets a big sticker after the ordeal, and Hank cheers him up by carrying him out to the car. They get ice-cream on the way home, and cole silently eats his, tears still fresh on his cheeks.
Cole limps into the house and curls up on the sofa. Hank brings him his Stevie teddy, and cole quietly asks if he can tell Hank something.

Hank sits down beside him, trying not to look as worried as he feels.
"i told miss Chloe that I tripped on a rock but... I lied."

Hank smiles, relief washing over him, "oh buddy, that's okay. thank you for telling me."

Cole doesn't look up, "I felt really really dizzy, and I fell."

Hank frowns, "dizzy?"
Cole nods, and Hank sees the fear in his face when he looks up, "really dizzy. and everything went black, too. It was scary."

Hank nods, now super worried that his five year old could so accurately describe fainting. Cole wouldn't lie about this.
Hank tries to stay calm, "That happens sometimes when we haven't eaten or had a drink in a while," he explains.

Cole shakes his head, "I wasn't hungry /or/ thirsty!"

Hank gives him a hug, trying to calm him down, "it's okay kiddo, just tell me if it happens again, okay?"
Hank takes the day off with cole the next day, and they play videogames together. sumo snuggles up to Coles side too.

Hank orders them a pizza to reward cole for being so brave at the hospital and for telling the truth about not feeling well.
To Hank's surprise, cole only has one slice before saying he's full. Hank blames it on the laughing gas stuff they used yesterday and keeps the leftovers in the fridge.
By a magic twist of fate, the next book in the Stevie series is about Stevie breaking his arm.

The book explains all the ways healthcare professionals help boys and girls with their injuries, and cole feels better knowing his hero Stevie has also felt scared whilst at hospital
They read this book until cole gets his stitches out.

Cole goes back to school, proudly showing off his cool stitches scar. His hands are still bruised and he shows those off too.
Cole is very excited to be back at school, because they're going on a field trip to the local zoo!

Hank is a parent chaperone for the day, and Cole is so excited about seeing the giraffes.
During a class picture, Hank notices how much more pale cole is than the other kids and he plans to take him to the park more often so he can get more sun

Cole also can't finish his lunch of Dino nugs from the zoo restaurant, and Hank blames it on his friends sneaking him candy.
After they've finished eating, cole complains that he's tired. Hank has to give him a piggy back ride for the rest of the trip.

Cole perks up for pictures with the giraffes, but Hank knows he's still not feeling 100%.
Cole asks to go straight to bed once they get home, and Hank insists he eat a little something before he does.

Cole struggles to finish his pb&j sandwich, but Hank says he did a great job and that makes him smile.
Hank reads the next book, which is about Stevie's parents going through a divorce.

Cole clearly isn't listening, but Hank reads anyway.

As Hank closes the book, Cole squeezes Hank's arm in a tight hug.
"Cole?" Hank starts, and Cole wordlessly cuddles closer. "Are you still tired or is it something else?"

Cole shrugs.

Hank sets the book to one side, the holo the author's name is written in glinting under the bedside lamp.
"Can you stay in here tonight, please?" Cole asks, voice low.

Hank smiles, "Did you wanna come sleep in my bed? you can bring Stevie and Georgie."

Cole nods, and Hank carries him through to the other room.
Cole seems to sleep peacefully curled up to Hank's side, and Hank takes that as a small comfort.
Cole gets worse over the passing weeks, and his headaches get more frequent.

They get their flu shots together, and cole complains that he aches all over. He gets a small fever, and Hank sits up all night replacing the cold cloth on his head until it disappears.
Cole develops a cough during the cold months of December.

Hank picks him up on the last day of school before winter break, and he looks miserable.

Hank kneels down to give him a hug.
"Everything okay, champ? Are you missing all your friends already?" Hank says, squeezing his shoulders.

Cole sways back and forth and shrugs again. "My knees hurt."

"From where you fell over?" Hank asks, and Cole shakes his head.

"I dunno, they just hurt."
Hank nods, holding his hand as they walk back to the car, "Let's get outta the cold. This weather make my legs hurt sometimes, too."

Cole buries his face in his scarf and holds Hank's hand tight.
Hank runs cole a warm bubble bath as soon as they get home, and he has trouble hiding his shock as he sees Cole's swollen knees.

"Did you fall over again and forget to tell me?" Hank asks, and Cole shakes his head.
Hank also notices his stomach, slightly more distended despite Coles lack of appetite.

He helps Cole into the bath and washes his hair, trying to lift his spirits by playing with his submarine toys and splashing around.
Hank also lets him open a Christmas present early, and it's a new book about Stevie and his friends during the holidays. the book (being limited edition) also came with a Stevie stuffed animal wearing a santa hat.
The book talks about all the different holiday celebrations like Hanukkah and Kwanza, and cole seems to perk back up again as they read more of Stevie's stories.
Cole is happy on Christmas, despite his persistent cough, and he squeals in delight as he opens his gifts. (Hank has saved for months to buy him everything he wanted)
Cole asks to help cook the Christmas meal, and Hank has him peeling carrots with their safety peeler.

They sing Christmas songs at the top of their lungs, and Cole giggles and says he should stop because he started to feel dizzy again.
Once everything is cooked, cole still only eats part of it. Hank had almost gotten used to him not clearing a plate, but it stung just a little bit this time since cole worked so hard to help cook it all.
They read Stevie's holiday stories again that night, and cole can barely keep his eyes open.
On boxing Day, cole passes out in the living room.

Hank immediately jumps off the sofa and rushes to his side, and Hank feels his chest tighten up as cole begins to seize in his arms.
Hank, panic blooming in his chest, knows from his first aid training to move the furniture out of the way, and he quickly gazes at his watch to time the seizure.

He grabs his phone off the coffee table and calls for an ambulance, and sumo howls and cries from the commotion.
Cole is awake again when the ambulance arrives, and Hank holds him gently in his disoriented state.

Hank is the one to carry him out to the ambulance, and he knows his neighbours are watching this unfold from behind their curtains.
The paramedics ask cole easy questions, and cole answers them as best as he can.

Hank keeps stroking his hair to keep him calm.
He gets booked in for a PET/CT scan immediately to try and find the source of his seizure, and Hank gives cole a pep talk in the waiting room about being brave so he stays still.
Cole is clearly petrified, and the technician allows Hank to talk through the intercom to help keep him calm.
After, they get moved into a private room, not wanting to risk cole or any of the other kids getting sick from whatever mystery illness he has.

Hank immediately gets up in bed with him to cuddle him again.
Another nurse comes along and takes samples of his blood, and cole stays silent as the blood is drawn.

Hank tries to keep his spirits up and asks if he thinks this is cool, and Cole shakes his head.
The results for the CT scan come in a few hours later, and Hank's glad his phone was fully charged so cole could entertain himself with it.

The doctor asks to speak to Hank outside, and Hank's chest tightens.
The scan came back with some anomalies they weren't expecting.

Some cells had absorbed large amounts of FDG they'd used for the scan, and that only really happens with cancer cells.

They would know more once the blood test results are back.
Hank clasps a hand over his mouth and cries. He feels like screaming.

The doctor helps him sit down in a chair in the hallway, and a nurse walking past stops to bring him a cup of water.
He tries to calm down, knowing he has to save face for Coles sake, but he can't help it. Why did this have to happen to cole? What did his sweet boy ever do to deserve this?
It takes a good twenty minutes to calm down, and Hank quickly rushes to the canteen to buy some food as a cover for his disappearance.

He brings some candy back for cole, and tries not to seem as upset as he feels.
Hank spends the rest of the night hugging his son, and waiting for his test results.
Very high white blood cell count. Hank feels sick when they get told.

This means they need a bone marrow biopsy.

Hank has to give the nurse credit. She explains the procedure to cole very gently, and answers all of his questions to help ease his nerves.
With cole being so young, they put him under for the procedure, and Hank's heart feels like it's going to explode for the short while that he's gone.

Hank takes the time where Cole is asleep to call Fowler, hoping an early heads up will help him if he needs time off work.
Cole vomits when he finally wakes up, and Hank rubs his back until it's over.

Cole is miserable.
There's little Hank can do to cheer him up, and instead they just sit and talk.

Cole asks what the doctor said, and Hank doesn't know what to say.

Their results come back the next morning.
advanced chronic myeloid leukemia.
It's in its advanced stage. If cole doesn't respond to his treatments, they need to start chemotherapy.

Hank has no idea how to explain this to his little boy.
Coles pediatrician helps him sit cole down and talk him through the treatment process. He answers Coles questions honestly, but still sugar coated, and cole cries as soon as the doctor leaves the room.
Hank doesn't know how to help. He cries too, despite himself, and cole begs to go home.

Hank gets him discharged as soon as possible.
60%. That was a survival rate now hanging over his son's head.

Even with successful treatment, cole would have to take medication for the rest of his life.
Guilt eats at Hank. Why did he not notice the symptoms? How did he not notice his beautiful child slowly dying before his very eyes?

They could have caught this earlier. The should have.
Hank tries to keep things normal for Cole, despite his new daily pills and the horrible statistic that haunts them like a ghost.

Cole is on his new medication for a week before he asks Hank to read the next book in the Stevie series.
This book is about Stevie's beloved goldfish Evie passing away, and Hank feels his throat close up the more they read.

He sees Cole's bottom lip quiver as Stevie talks about feeling sad, and he puts the book down to hug his son.
Cole asks him to keep reading, and he silently cries through the final pages which show Evie in a better place, and Stevie remembering her fondly.

Hank doesn't know what to say when he closes the book.
Hank wipes Coles eyes and squeezes his shoulder, "You okay?"

Cole hugs Hank closer, and Hank passes him his Stevie teddy to help him calm down too.

"We won't read that one again, huh?" Hank says, drawing a hand through his sons hair.

"Dad?"

"Cole."
"Is that heaven thing real? Where Evie went," he asks, tears still rolling down his blotchy cheeks.

"Of course," Hank says.

Cole hugs Hank again, and Hank knows he wants to ask more questions.

"Evie is okay, son," Hank smiles, no idea if it looks genuine, "she's happy."
Cole clumsily wipes his eyes and sniffles, and Hank lets him blow his nose on the edge of his shirt.

Hank knows something is bothering him. "Did you want a happier Stevie story now instead?"

"Dad..."

"Cole?"
Cole grips Hank's shirt, and slowly lets go, "will I go there too?"

Hank's stomach sinks, "where, son?"

"Heaven."
Hank wants to scream. No child should be having to think about these things. Especially not his bubbly, happy little boy.

It isn't fair
"oh, bud," Hank starts, "you won't go there for years and years yet. you've got a long way to go before you do."

Cole gulps. "Won't they let me in if I'm too young?"

Hank internally kicks himself. "That's not what I meant"
They sit in an awkward silence, and cole holds Hank's hand.

"Can we make a pinkie promise?"

"Sure buddy, go ahead."

Cole links their pinkie fingers, "promise you'll be like Stevie was in the book?"
Hank frowns, "what do you mean?"

Cole fidgets with his pyjama shirt, "that you won't be sad forever and ever?"

Hank wants to cry. "I can't promise that, cole."

"Say you promise, just for me?" Cole pleads, and Hank shakes their hands with a small smile.
"come on, buddy, let me read a happier story so you can get some sleep."

Cole holds onto Hank's arm, "let me sleep in your bed again, please?"

Hank can't say no.
Despite changing medication two more times, the pills begin to fail.

Cole isn't allowed to play outside with his friends in case of another seizure, and cole starts bringing his Stevie doll into school for moral support.
During summer break, Hank sets out to show cole all the things he wants to see. They go to the beach, to Disney world, to Canada for a few days.

cole becomes a m.a.w kid and cheeses through all his photos with his superhero favourites in costume.
Hank contacts the author of the Stevie the Silly Puppy series and explains how cole is a huge fan, and even attaches the painting cole did of Stevie and Evie.
He doesn't expect to hear anything back, but very quickly gets an email from the publisher saying Mr Stern would like to send a care package.

Hank keeps it a surprise and has the box delivered to Cole Anderson.
Cole is confused when a big parcel arrives for him, and that quickly changes to joy when he pulls out s Stevie stuffed animal who is nearly the same size as he is.

He also gets all the books currently published, and the author asks for updates on Coles condition too.
Hank sends back a picture of his sweet little boy surrounded by all his goodies, and Mr Stern emails over an illustration of Stevie and Cole highfiving.
Coles chemo begins to wear him down, and cole refuses to let Hank shave his head, no matter now much hair falls out.

He goes back to school after his wonderful summer wearing a small mask, and cole struggles to pay attention in class.
He's back in hospital only a few weeks in, and cole begs Hank to still organise a birthday party for his sixth birthday.

Hank has no idea if he'll be out of hospital by then, but be can't disappoint his son.
He's still in hospital on the 22nd of September, and cole cries all day about wanting to go home for his party.

Hank begs Coles doctors too, and they finally agree to letting him have one day at home.
Cole's party is Stevie the Silly Puppy themed, and cole has so much fun with his friends. He gets to help the party magician with his tricks, and he puts three party hats along sumos back so he looks like a dinosaur.
Theres an unspoken pity amongst the parents in attendance, and Hank tries to ignore it.

He refuses to pre-mourn his son, and instead focuses on making his life as good as it possibly can be.
Hank silently waits for the days where this scare is over, and cole tires of hearing about being a little miracle.
He carries cole around the rest of the party, knowing his weak little body is starting to fail on him. Hank helps him blow out the candles on his birthday cake, and cole eats the tiny slice that Hank cuts out for him.
He's back in hospital the next morning, surrounded by his gifts. he's exhausted.

Cole sits against Hank's side and asks for the book about Evie in heaven again.
On the tenth of October, cole is weak, barely enough energy to lift his head. He asks to go home and see sumo, and Hank knows he wants to say goodbye.
Cole gets discharged again and Hank carries him in. He feels so much tinier in Hank's arms now, but Hank pushes the thought out if his mind as sumo greets them at the door, tail wagging slowly.
Hank lays his son down on the couch, guiding his hand to the top is sumos head. cole smiles.

Hank sits on the floor beside him, not wanting to move in case cole were to pass whilst he was out of the room.
Hank carries cole into his bedroom, passing him his prized giraffe and his Stevie plush.

Hank sits up with him all night reading every single book in the collection.
Cole looks exhausted, and Hank holds him gently as he struggles to get to sleep.

"I'm scared," cole whispers, and Hank kisses his forehead.

"I'm here, it's okay."
"I love you, daddy," cole says, holding onto Hank's shirt with the strongest grip he can muster.

"I love you too, cole," Hank says, hating how final it all sounds right now.

"I'm tired."

"Get some rest," Hank says.
Cole passes away in his sleep, on October 11th, and Hank is holding him when he goes.
The next week is a blur for Hank, setting up a funeral and deciding what to do now his son has passed on.

He gets the casket painted a pale blue colour, and he makes sure Cole is holding Georgie and Stevie too.
He goes for open casket, just so he can see his son one last time.

Hank struggles through his eulogy, and Gavin goddamn Reed is the one to help him back into his seat. he'd be more surprised if he wasn't so emotionally ruined.
Hank stays by his sons side after the funeral, holding his hand and talking to him. He looked so peaceful, the colour put back into his cheeks by the mortician. He no longer looked sick, or in pain, and that's a small comfort for Hank.
Gavin drives him to the wake back at Hank's place, and Hank had already set up a small shrine next to the record player in the living room. The candles are burning softly when Hank arrives, and Tina gives him a hug as soon as he steps out of the car.
Weeks roll by, and Hank can barely leave his house. His neighbours bring him groceries with concerned smiles, and Hank stares into his coffee when he invites them inside to be polite.
He has no idea what to do now. He just sits in Cole's room and begs to wake up from his nightmare. he prays for the first time in his life, asking whoever is up there to protect his sweet, innocent son.
He drinks, and drinks, and it becomes a horrible daily cycle of work, drink, sleep. Fowler tries to offer support but Hank is just...

Numb.
Stevie the Silly Puppy gets a season of a television show, and Hank weeps when promotional material is sent out in an email blast from the publisher.
He scrolls down to unsubscribe to the emails, and frowns at a picture of the authors face, neatly displayed above an announcement for a live book reading in Detroit.

For whatever reason, Hank buys a ticket.
Hank's certain he won't show up for the reading anyway, but his body which has basically been on autopilot since Coles passing takes him there.

He tries not to cry thinking about how cole would react to this new book, and tries to blend in with the other parents in the room.
Connor notices him regardless, thinking his face looked familiar in a weird sort of way. Connor wonders which child is his.
At the end of the reading Connor signs books for the waiting parents, and realises the guy never lined up.

He pushes the thought to the back of his mind.
It's not until he goes out the back to his car at the end of the night, does he spot the large figure walking towards him. Connor straightens up, hand near his pepper spray and calls out to the mysterious man.
Hank stutters, "sorry, I just. God, I'm sorry." He's trying hard not to cry again, but that's nothing new. "I... I don't know if you remember, but... You sent my son gifts a while ago. cole. Cole Anderson."
Connor softens, "oh, cole! You must be his father, Hank, right?"

"Yeah," Hank says, simply.

"How is he?" Connor asks, "how did he like the new book?"

Hank breaks down into tears.
Hank tells Connor everything, and Connor walks him to a nearby coffee shop so they can sit down.

Connor is in shock too, but he keeps himself together for this absolute stranger sobbing on his shoulder.
He buys Hank a coffee and a doughnut, and comfortingly holds his hands over the table as Hank talks about how much cole loves- /loved/- Connor's books, and how he'd even been buried with his Stevie doll.
Hank says how they read every single book the night he passed away, and Hank can't stop himself from crying as he says how much cole would've loved the cartoon and Connor's newest book.
Connor has tears his his eyes as he squeezes Hank's hand, "I'm glad I could bring him that much joy. it means a lot to hear that."

"It was more than just joy," Hank says, voice creaking, "he loved Stevie. He's never loved anything like that."
Hank smiles to himself, "well, maybe me and our dog sumo, but Stevie was easily third. I just... I wanted to thank you."

Connor smiles, "it's okay."

Hank shakes his head, "you comforted my son in his last moments. I can't thank you enough for that. Thank you."
The barista comes to their table and awkwardly explains it's closing time.

Connor asks if Hank can get home okay, and Hank nods and says he can catch the bus.

Connor insists on giving him a ride home.
Sumo greets them at the door, sniffing the new person in confusion before looking behind them both and waiting. Hank knows he's waiting for cole to walk in, and Hank pets his head softly.

Connor gives sumo a soft pat too, and Hank lets him pay his respects at Coles shrine.
Connor hands Hank a small note, and smiles gently.

"My number. Call me if you need someone to talk to. I can't imagine what you're going through, but I just want to help however I can."
Hank pockets the slip of paper and nods curtly, "thank you."

Connor closes the front door behind him with a dull thud, and sumo whines.

Hank opens another bottle of beer to try and forget having a breakdown in front of a famous children's author.
Bereavement is a horrid thing. Hank feels all seven stages of grief a day in a terrifying whirlwind, and the pity radiating from his co-workers makes him want to puke.
One afternoon he storms into the break room and begs Gavin to call him fat and stupid like he used to. he couldn't stand Gavin before but now he's being nice he's just insufferable.
Gavin breaks free of Hank's gasp but still doesn't cuss him out, and Hank hides in the men's bathroom and cries.
Hank gets blackout drunk that night, and wakes up to a loud knocking at his front door. Even sumo is barking, and Hank drags himself out of his shitty bedroom to get the door.

Connor is standing out in the rain, looking like a drowned rat, "oh Hank, thank goodness you're okay."
Hank frowns, a headache pounding behind his eyes, "what are you doing here?"

Connor blinks, confused, and gestures to his phone, "you... You text me?"

"I did?"
Connor nods, "you said you were drunk and I was worried about you. You seemed really upset."

Hank laughs in shock, "my fucking kid is dead, Connor."

Connor flinches.
"...can I come in?" Connor asks, shivering as he stands in the rain.

Hank shrugs and waves him in, and he's suddenly reminded of how disgusting his house is right now. Every counter is overflowing with pizza boxes and beer bottles, and dishes have piled up in the sink.
Without a word, Connor clears the mess from the coffee table and tosses it in the trash. He starts running some hot water in the sink, and Hank grabs his arm, "what the hell are you doing?"

Connor smiles, "helping, just sit down."
"you're not my maid, Connor," Hank says, "I don't even know you."

Connor shrugs, "there's nothing wrong with helping strangers, Hank."

"Don't talk to me like that," Hank says, drunk and angry, "I'm not a kid learning a moral."
"I know you aren't," Connor says, still washing, "just let me help, and then I'll leave you alone."

"I'm not letting you clean my mess," Hank insists.

"Too late," Connor says, "just relax for a while. I think you've earned it, after everything that's happened."
"this is crazy," Hank says.

"It will make you feel a little bit better, trust me," Connor says, "my brother is a psychologist, and I listen to him... Sometimes."

"Sometimes?"

Connor nods, "when he's not being annoying, yes," he laughs gently, "do you have any siblings?"
"a sister, but she lives across the country with my parents so... I never see them, really."

"You can have my brother, on the house," Connor laughs, "he's a little shit, you can keep him."
They talk as Connor helps Hank tidy his house, the process actually helping Hank ease some of his built up tensions.

They sit on the couch after, and Hank looks away, "sorry for drunk dialling you in the middle of the night."
"it's no problem," Connor smiles, "you've been through a lot, I want to help."

Hank blushes slightly.
Connor starts to text Hank daily, and Hank finds it annoying at first.

Then, Hank slowly begins to open up.
He gets drunk one evening and cries to Connor that he hasn't visited his sons grave since the funeral, and now he feels so guilty because Coles final resting place is probably a mess, and his son doesn't deserve that.
Connor offers to take him, and it takes some persuading for Hank to finally agree.
Hank's heart feels like it's going to burst as Connor drives him, and at one point he insists they turn around immediately.

Connor refuses.
Hank had bought a bouquet for his son, and he cradles it close as they walk to Coles plot.
flower tangent again;

White lily: funeral flower, innocence
peace lily: returning to peace
Buttercup: childishness
Dark pink rose: thankfulness to the deceased
Orchid: I will always love you
Hank breaks down as they get to Coles grave. He had shelled out a lot of money for a nice headstone for him, engraved with a poem next to a wonderful picture of him smiling during his last summer.

Hank drops the bouquet and falls to his knees, giving the headstone a hug.
Connor sets about clearing the weeds and melted candles off the marble, not speaking as he arranges Hank's bouquet.

he kneels down beside Hank and rubs his back as he sobs.
Hank pulls back and wipes the layers of grime off the headstone, sniffling as he sits on the grass beside his son. Connor still doesn't speak, and Hank turns to give him a soft hug too, "thank you."
"of course," Connor says, hugging back, "Hank I... I don't know if I'm overstepping here, but I brought the new Stevie book with me, I thought we could read it to him?"
Hank takes the small book and wipes his eyes, "I think cole would like that."

The book is another light-hearted story about growing up, and Connor leans his head on Hank's shoulder as he reads.
After a long day, Connor takes Hank out for something to eat. it's something cheap, but Connor still insists on picking up the bill for the two of them.

Hank laughs, weakly, "thanks, it's kinda depressing that I can't afford this meal right now."

"What do you mean?"
"Coles medical bills and the funeral, yknow, just... I barely have a cent to my name."

Connor frowns, "why didn't you say?"

Hank shakes his head, "it's embarrassing, Connor."

"It's not," Connor says. "Let me help you out."
Hank shakes his head, "you've done enough, Connor, it's okay."

Connor holds Hank's hand across the table and squeezes tight, "Hank, do you know how much I make with toy sale royalties alone? /Please/, I want to help."
Connor starts paying off Hank's debt little by little, knowing Hank would out-right refuse if he did it all at once. Hank's still getting used to considering Connor a friend.
They meet for coffee whenever their hectic schedules align, and Connor always picks up the bill.
Hank gets a tattoo on his wrist, facing towards him, of Evie, with Cole's birthday and date of death written neatly below it.

Connor is the first person to see it.
Then, Connor publishes his newest book in the Stevie series, and it's all about families.

On their next coffee date, Connor slides a copy over, and Hank quirks his brow.

"Open it," Connor says, gently.
And there, on the first page, is a small illustration of Evie with a little halo.

'For Cole.'
Hank cries, and knocks his chair over as he stands up to hug Connor close.

Connor wraps his arms around Hank's neck and keeps rocking their bodies.
They head back to Hank's house after, and Hank sets the new book down on Cole's shrine.

Then, Hank asks if Connor can stay for dinner, and Connor smiles and says that sounds great.
Hank cooks a wonderful meal for the first time since Cole's passing.

Connor notices a framed picture of Cole on the kitchen table, and stands it up so they can all eat together.
For dessert they eat ice-cream straight out of the tub as they watch a movie on the couch, and by the end of the night Hank has an arm wrapped around Connor's shoulders.
Hank squeezes Connor's arm, "thank you."

"Of course," Connor says.

"No, I mean it. I don't think I could've made it this far without you. Thank you."

Connor kisses Hank's cheek, "anything for you."
Hank blushes right up to his ears, and Connor pulls away after his silence, "sorry, I shouldn't have-"

Hank kisses Connor's forehead, "it's okay."
"I still shouldn't have..." Connor says, "you're vulnerable, I shouldn't-"

Hank kisses Connor softly, and Connor relaxes into his touch.
Connor spends the night, and Hank's crushing loneliness is eased, if only temporarily.
Their relationship develops slowly, and clumsily, and Connor cradles Hank as he cries himself to sleep at least twice a week.
They decide to move in together, and they have multiple conversations that end in tears about what to do with Cole's room.

As much as Hank wants to move in with Connor, and give sumo a bigger yard and have his own office, he can't handle packing up his son's room.
Hank's house has too many memories and he struggles with the idea of leaving it behind.

They put a pin in the moving idea for now.
Connor still writes his Stevie series, and with every new book they go to Cole's grave to read it to him.
Four years into their relationship, on what would be Cole's tenth birthday, Connor releases a limited edition holographic version of the original books that come with a plushie and donates all the proceedings to a well known pediatric cancer charity.
Eventually, Hank moves in with Connor, and they set about packing up his home.

Hank asks if he can move a lot of Cole's belongings to a shrine in the new house, because the idea of packing up and putting away everything makes Hank feel sick.
The process takes a long while.

Hank tells a lot of stories about Cole as he packs, setting some items aside ready for Coles shrine.
Then, when pulling the last shirt from Cole's drawer, he spots a small piece of paper, with 'To Dad' scrawled on top in felt tip pen.
Hank sits on Coles bed to read it, and Connor stops dismantling the bookcase to sit beside him.
To Dad.

Please keep our promise. I hate it when you get sad.

You are the best dad in the whole world. Even if you got married and I had two dads you would still be the best one.

I love you.

From Cole.

PS. Can I be best man?

PPS. I wanna wear a bowtie.
Hank cries, and Connor says he'll buy a frame for it.
Hank and Connor have been together for six years when they get married, and Hank holds a framed picture of Cole close to his chest as they say their vows.

He keeps the picture close during their first dance too.
Coles picture also gets a seat at the head table, right beside Hank. His frame has a bowtie wrapped around it that matches Hank's own.
Coles picture is in all of the wedding photos with Hank, and that's just how Hank wanted it to be.
Before they go to their hotel room, they detour to Coles grave to tell him about their day, and Connor sets his white rose boutonnière down on the marble.
Hank thanks Connor for everything, for staying with him through thick and thin, for loving him and his son.

Connor kisses Hank's cheek, "of course," he says.
A few weeks later, Hank places a picture of their wedding on the mantle, right beside a picture of himself and cole on holiday, and he feels happy. He feels safe. He feels loved.
Connor wraps his arms around Hank's waist and stands on tiptoes to peep over his shoulder, and Hank hums happily as Connor kisses his cheek.
Fin 👨‍👨‍👦💖
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