Hank sets the book aside, "What's wrong, bud?"
Cole shrugs, "I don't like that book anymore."
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?"
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.
It has a big post-it note stuck to the side reading $5, and Hank happily slides that over.
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
He slots the book back into the little box and hopes Cole will like them all
Cole beams and Hank carries him back to the car.
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 dresses him in his favourite dinosaur pyjamas and Cole is immediately in bed with georgie by his side.
Cole nods, "So cool!"
Hank feels a swell of pride in his chest as Cole chirps, "Thank you!"
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
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 Adores This Book.
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.
Hank glues a fake goldfish to a spring and sticks it to a headband, and he goes as Evie the fish
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.
Hank feels a little dumb for not explaining this very simple concept to him before now.
Hank closes the book and rubs his shoulder, "What's up, buddy?"
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?"
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.
Cole nods, but is still frowning, and Hank squeezes his shoulder, "honestly bud, it's okay. I'm happy. Are you happy?"
"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?"
"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.
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.
Fowler understands as Hank explains he needs to leave early for cole
In his fall, hed also grazed his hands, and big purple bruises were already forming around the little scrapes.
Hank's insurance /should/ cover this. He hopes, anyway.
Hank sits down beside him, trying not to look as worried as he feels.
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?"
Hank nods, now super worried that his five year old could so accurately describe fainting. Cole wouldn't lie about this.
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 orders them a pizza to reward cole for being so brave at the hospital and for telling the truth about not feeling well.
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
Cole goes back to school, proudly showing off his cool stitches scar. His hands are still bruised and he shows those off too.
Hank is a parent chaperone for the day, and Cole is so excited about seeing the giraffes.
Cole also can't finish his lunch of Dino nugs from the zoo restaurant, and Hank blames it on his friends sneaking him candy.
Cole perks up for pictures with the giraffes, but Hank knows he's still not feeling 100%.
Cole struggles to finish his pb&j sandwich, but Hank says he did a great job and that makes him smile.
Cole clearly isn't listening, but Hank reads anyway.
As Hank closes the book, Cole squeezes Hank's arm in a tight hug.
Hank sets the book to one side, the holo the author's name is written in glinting under the bedside lamp.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Cole buries his face in his scarf and holds Hank's hand tight.
"Did you fall over again and forget to tell me?" Hank asks, and Cole shakes his head.
He helps Cole into the bath and washes his hair, trying to lift his spirits by playing with his submarine toys and splashing around.
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.
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.
He grabs his phone off the coffee table and calls for an ambulance, and sumo howls and cries from the commotion.
Hank is the one to carry him out to the ambulance, and he knows his neighbours are watching this unfold from behind their curtains.
Hank keeps stroking his hair to keep him calm.
Hank immediately gets up in bed with him to cuddle him again.
Hank tries to keep his spirits up and asks if he thinks this is cool, and Cole shakes his head.
The doctor asks to speak to Hank outside, and Hank's chest tightens.
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.
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 brings some candy back for cole, and tries not to seem as upset as he feels.
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.
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 is miserable.
Cole asks what the doctor said, and Hank doesn't know what to say.
Their results come back the next morning.
Hank has no idea how to explain this to his little boy.
Hank gets him discharged as soon as possible.
Even with successful treatment, cole would have to take medication for the rest of his life.
They could have caught this earlier. The should have.
Cole is on his new medication for a week before he asks Hank to read the next book in the Stevie series.
He sees Cole's bottom lip quiver as Stevie talks about feeling sad, and he puts the book down to hug his son.
Hank doesn't know what to say when he closes the book.
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.
"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."
Hank knows something is bothering him. "Did you want a happier Stevie story now instead?"
Hank's stomach sinks, "where, son?"
It isn't fair
Cole gulps. "Won't they let me in if I'm too young?"
Hank internally kicks himself. "That's not what I meant"
"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?"
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.
Cole holds onto Hank's arm, "let me sleep in your bed again, please?"
Hank can't say no.
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.
cole becomes a m.a.w kid and cheeses through all his photos with his superhero favourites in costume.
Hank keeps it a surprise and has the box delivered to Cole Anderson.
He also gets all the books currently published, and the author asks for updates on Coles condition too.
He goes back to school after his wonderful summer wearing a small mask, and cole struggles to pay attention in class.
Hank has no idea if he'll be out of hospital by then, but be can't disappoint his son.
Hank begs Coles doctors too, and they finally agree to letting him have one day at home.
He refuses to pre-mourn his son, and instead focuses on making his life as good as it possibly can be.
Cole sits against Hank's side and asks for the book about Evie in heaven again.
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 sits up with him all night reading every single book in the collection.
"I'm scared," cole whispers, and Hank kisses his forehead.
"I'm here, it's okay."
"I love you too, cole," Hank says, hating how final it all sounds right now.
"Get some rest," Hank says.
He gets the casket painted a pale blue colour, and he makes sure Cole is holding Georgie and Stevie too.
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.
For whatever reason, Hank buys a ticket.
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.
He pushes the thought to the back of his mind.
"Yeah," Hank says, simply.
"How is he?" Connor asks, "how did he like the new book?"
Hank breaks down into tears.
Connor is in shock too, but he keeps himself together for this absolute stranger sobbing on his shoulder.
"It was more than just joy," Hank says, voice creaking, "he loved Stevie. He's never loved anything like that."
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."
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.
Connor gives sumo a soft pat too, and Hank lets him pay his respects at Coles shrine.
"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."
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.
Connor is standing out in the rain, looking like a drowned rat, "oh Hank, thank goodness you're okay."
Connor blinks, confused, and gestures to his phone, "you... You text me?"
Hank laughs in shock, "my fucking kid is dead, Connor."
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.
Connor smiles, "helping, just sit down."
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'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."
"It will make you feel a little bit better, trust me," Connor says, "my brother is a psychologist, and I listen to him... Sometimes."
Connor nods, "when he's not being annoying, yes," he laughs gently, "do you have any siblings?"
"You can have my brother, on the house," Connor laughs, "he's a little shit, you can keep him."
They sit on the couch after, and Hank looks away, "sorry for drunk dialling you in the middle of the night."
Hank blushes slightly.
Then, Hank slowly begins to open up.
White lily: funeral flower, innocence
peace lily: returning to peace
Dark pink rose: thankfulness to the deceased
Orchid: I will always love you
Hank drops the bouquet and falls to his knees, giving the headstone a hug.
he kneels down beside Hank and rubs his back as he sobs.
The book is another light-hearted story about growing up, and Connor leans his head on Hank's shoulder as he reads.
Hank laughs, weakly, "thanks, it's kinda depressing that I can't afford this meal right now."
"What do you mean?"
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."
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 is the first person to see it.
On their next coffee date, Connor slides a copy over, and Hank quirks his brow.
"Open it," Connor says, gently.
Connor wraps his arms around Hank's neck and keeps rocking their bodies.
Then, Hank asks if Connor can stay for dinner, and Connor smiles and says that sounds great.
Connor notices a framed picture of Cole on the kitchen table, and stands it up so they can all eat together.
"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 kisses Connor's forehead, "it's okay."
Hank kisses Connor softly, and Connor relaxes into his touch.
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.
They put a pin in the moving idea for now.
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.
Hank tells a lot of stories about Cole as he packs, setting some items aside ready for Coles shrine.
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.
PS. Can I be best man?
PPS. I wanna wear a bowtie.
He keeps the picture close during their first dance too.
Connor kisses Hank's cheek, "of course," he says.