Connor flashed him a smile before he headed to the back of the salon, leaving Hank to wonder how he kept tripping and falling into this guy’s good graces. People fell asleep or cried at his work, too, but he’d never asked any of /them/ out.
Connor returned with one arm in his coat and the other one getting there, a package clutched in his hand. A little white paper sack, top folded down in a neat, even line. “Here, I threw these together for you, too.”
“Samples,” Connor tilted his head and smiled, radiating warmth, “to tide you over until you come back.”
Until he came back. The words were a balm spread over the tension in his chest, he was as deft with his tongue as he was with his fingers.
He hadn’t meant it like that, but now he was thinking it.
“Oh, for a minute there I thought you’d packed me a lunch.” He took the bag and gestured something of a salute with it before stuffing it into the pocket of his jacket. “Thanks. You ready to get outta here?”
“Please, I’m starving.”
Connor’s dinner choice was the first place they found that was still open this late on a Tuesday, a diner with retro chrome plating and chipped laminate tables. They got a booth by the window, far from the door. Simple. Quiet.
“Uh,” Hank looked down at his palms in complete bewilderment, wondering what hidden value they had, “does it matter which one?”
“Your dominant hand, please.”
“Nope.” Connor glanced up at him with the softest, sugar-sweet smile, then down again. His thumbs pressed, working over his palm in slow, firm circles.
Those thumbs chased away the ache in his joints, over his wrist, to the heel of his palm, then down the length of each finger, one by one. He turned his hand over and massaged along the ridge of each bone and tendon, over his knuckles. He was putty.
“No, it...” he hesitated, muttering behind the rim of his glass, “I guess I’m not sure what I did to deserve this.”
“Is it really that weird that I’d ask you to dinner? I mean, do you think I have some kind of ulterior motive?”
Connor laughed, genuine and full-bodied, it was the first time Hank had ever heard it. It was the kind of laugh that made you want to laugh, too, mostly because it was so goddamn dorky.
“Is it your job that gives you that sense of humor?” Connor was still chuckling a little, trying to reign himself back in, “Okay. Would it make you feel better if I told you why I asked you to dinner?”
“Yeah, please, the suspense is killing me.”
His thumbs stopped their slow circles and they just sat there together for a minute, his hand in Connor’s.
He tried to pull away, but Connor’s grip kept his hand firm. He was laughing again. “Hank, I’m kidding!”
He rolled his eyes and leaned his elbows back down on the table, settling back in. “You think you’re pretty hilarious, huh?”
“Even when you aren’t talking, actually,” Hank mimicked Connor’s little head tilt, dishing it back out with a smirk, “it’s really distracting.”
“That was underhanded!”
“I don’t. I don’t!”
“—I mean, you just gave me a ‘handjob’ in public.”
Connor laughed so hard he snorted, and then he was twice as red—he tried to pull his hands back to cover his face, but Hank wasn’t having it. Oh, hell no.
“Yeah, I think the staff are about to kick us out after that one anyway.”
A little needle of nervousness pricked him. “About what?”
The stylist looked at him, patient, gauging his expression carefully, “About what happened in my shop tonight.”
He didn’t know how to talk about what he felt when he left work today, how getting out of bed every morning—or afternoon—was like Sisyphus shoving that rock uphill.
“It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be right now, or ever, if you don’t want. But I’m here if you do.”
Connor flashed him a grin. “Depends—how’s your coverage?”
“Honestly? Not great.”
“I guess I’m just really familiar with the rhetoric.”
“You weren’t the doctor, you were the patient.”
“I know what it’s like, to just...” he sounded so helpless, “...want to feel ‘okay’.”
But he didn’t move. His mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“It’s fine.” Connor reached out and rubbed his hand over Hank’s arm, back and forth, reassuring. How was he the one getting comforted now? “I’m fine, I’m... better. When you’re ready to share, I’ll share too. Okay?”
He reached out to gently cup the back of Connor’s neck, giving him a little squeeze. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
“That feels fantastic.”
“Yeah, I learned from the best.”
He was beautiful.
That bottom lip went between his teeth again.
Well, at least it made Connor laugh. The stylist looked up at him, doe eyes warm and patient, and reached up to fluff Hank’s new curls with his hands. His thumb stroked along the scruff of his beard. “Yup.”
Was he holding his breath, or had he just forgotten how to breathe? Connor’s hand slipped down to rest against his chest, waiting.
The smile that got him was the brightest one yet.
Connor leaned in close and pressed his lips to Hank’s, gentle and chaste. Once. Twice. So careful and delicate, he almost couldn’t be sure it had really happened at all.
“I smell like you.”
“Yeah,” Connor grinned up at him, that playful light glittering in his eyes, “you’re welcome.”
“So glad I didn’t shave the beard.”
That was all it took.
God, he could make him shout his name just like that, a dozen times.
When he caught sight of himself, that cocksure Casanova he thought he was came crashing to the ground.
And he was fucking old. Connor was easily two decades his junior.
“Hank?” The guy leaned up, nipping at his neck, his jaw. His hands pressed against Hank’s thick thighs and followed them up to his groin. He let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.
“Hey.” Connor sat up, alarmed, “Hey. Hank, talk to me.”
He didn’t miss the sting of rejection that flashed across Connor’s face before he tamped it back down, Therapist Mode on.
His touch was so tender, thumbs stroking over his cheeks, knuckles brushing over his beard.
He gasped down air, his lungs expanded. The pressure of Connor’s palms on him, the slight resistance versus the rise and fall, grounded him. He focused on that. Not what his mind was thinking, but what his body felt.
Connor leaned closer and pressed his forehead to Hank’s, gaze heavy with ache and understanding. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The floodgates opened.
He tore away from Connor in that moment, stumbled down from the mattress and right out of the room. Functioning on autopilot. Fueled by the distinctive kind of shame that only keeps you acting shamefully.
“Wait!” One word, so much distress.
Hank slammed the door behind him. The hallway was a blur through his salt lake eyes. Claustrophobic and closing in fast.
It hurt. God, it hurt, somebody was spinning the lever of the vise grip on his heart.
He didn’t want to go inside. He didn’t want to see the big empty, a bunker of takeout boxes and empty beer cans, a stench of sour milk.
He didn’t know how long he stood outside his front door, head pressed to the painted wood, listening to Sumo chuffing and his collar jingling just beyond the threshold. That stabilized him, enough to keep shouldering the burden of being. Sumo gotta eat.
“Hey, Sumo,” he gave him a halfhearted rub, “hey, buddy.”
He slumped against the counter.
There was a crunch of paper in his left pocket.
He didn’t know what compelled him to open it, why he didn’t just chuck it in the trash can, but he did.
“you’re worth it :)”
(I know what it’s like to just, want to feel okay.)
Oh. Oh, that was why. Oh, it shot into his heart with all the abrupt force of a nail gun, pinning the guilt into him. He hadn’t been listening, he should’ve been honest, he should’ve told him.
Connor hadn’t left. Hank had left.
(I’m a person, Hank.)
—he was human. What, like Hank trusted some other fucking guy to take him out instead?
The image of him sitting in his apartment, alone, backhanded Hank.
“Okay,” he shoved the whiskey bottle into the sink and let it glug out into the drain. “All right.”
“You’re gonna fix this, Hank. You’ve gotta fuckin’ fix this.”
The whole drive back downtown, he couldn’t stop thinking about what Connor must be feeling, all the things he’d carried with him the last few years suddenly on those narrow shoulders. He’d do better this time. He’d give back the support he’d been given.
“Aw, shit, c’mon!” He kicked it with the toe of his boot and instantly regretted it, hopping on one foot like the world’s goofiest goddamn flamingo, “Fuck!!”
There he was. Connor.
Had he... come after him?
Connor had come after him.
Raw emotion slammed into Hank like a freight train and splattered what was left of his resolve across the tracks. Relief flooded him. He was moving towards him instantly, irresistibly, irrevocably.
And Connor reached up and held him back, clung in for dear life. He was shaking like a leaf.
“Hey,” he whispered against the other man’s hair, voice quavering but determined, “I wanna start over.”