"Sumo!" he yells, and the rising wind whips his words away.
A second later, he hears a distant bark.
It's rocky, treacherous.
He does /not/ expect to see Sumo standing over the limp body of a young man.
But when Sumo barks again, the boy flinches.
Perfect. Just - fucking perfect.
Sumo just huffs.
The boy looks up, brown eyes wide.
His dark hair is plastered to his face, and now that Hank's paying attention, he's also shivering like a leaf in the breeze. He's thin, and not dressed for the weather. He winces as he tries to sit.
The boy slumps. He clearly wasn't in any shape to get up anyway.
Hank kneels in the mud next to him, gently pushing sumo aside.
Hank reaches to feel it. Finds it tender and swollen, possibly broken, but he supposes it could be worse. He's not bleeding, and his head appears to be in one piece.
He can't, of course.
Doesn't mean he's not pissed when he bends down to gather him up, one arm supporting his back and the other under his knees, tucking him close to his chest.
He's too old for this.
He grumbles the whole way there. Curses when the man in his arms whines weakly in pain.
Hank is panting as he slides them both to the ground as softly as he can. They're half entangled, stuck together with rain.
They're making a sizable puddle on Hank's hardwood floor. They need to move, but Hank is still frozen.
He doesn't want this. Any of it.
The windows rattle, and Sumo whines. He's not usually afraid of thunder, but he's restless.
Can't be that different, he thinks as he kneels again.
"Any other injuries I should know about?" he asks.
Hank grunts, prodding gently at the joint. "I don't think it's broken. We'll wrap this up and elevate it for now." He frowns. "What the hell were you doing on that side of the fields, kid? Didn't see the 'no trespassing' signs?"
He's also still shivering, and his eyes drift shut, as if from exhaustion.
He hands over a towel so his patient can dry his face and his hair.
"Don't mention it, kid," Hank grumbles, making his way across the room to the fireplace. Seems like a good place to start.
"My name. It's Connor."
Hank winces. He was hoping to keep the pleasantries to a minimum.
Connor makes a sound that could almost be a laugh. It devolves into a soft, wet cough that makes Hank freeze.
He lights a match, tosses it in.
He sighs. "I'll getcha' something to wear. Stay put."
"Yeah, well, you'll be a lot less cold when you're not soaking wet," Hank said, shaking his head. "I'll be right back."
"Hank, it's /fine/. I'm fine," Connor says quickly, hunching in on himself.
He exhales sharply, his head pounding. "You're going to catch your death if I leave you like this."
"So. How'd you wanna do this?"
"We need to get you changed and put you near the fire. Which part do you want happening first?"
"The fire," Connor says without a moment's hesitation, so Hank leaves the pile of clothes and approaches him.
"No, I -"
"You need help," Hank explains reasonably. "You can barely lift your head."
"No, look. I'm fine, see?" Connor makes a show of sitting up.
"Change. I'm going to my bedroom to do the same."
It hits Hank that they're going to have to talk about this. Connor can't stay here, but he also sure as hell can't move down the mountain on his own - not even after the storm passes.
He debates pushing the issue if he finds Connor still shivering in his damp clothes later, but figures it's really not his place. He's done all he can without crossing some kind of line. The rest is not his problem.
Hank squashes the feelings of guilt and unease. They have no place in his head right now.
But. Maybe there's still something he can do.
"Uhh- Connor, you decent?"
Hank just sighs and walks to his kitchen, shrugging uncomfortably. "I'm going to make tea. Do you want something hot to drink?" He might as well offer, since he's doing it one way or another.
Hank waves him off, grabbing his kettle and going to fill it up. He doesn't want to hear it. He's doing the bare minimum that human decency requires, it's nothing to sing praises about.
"It's fine. Than--"
"Shout if you need something," Hank snaps, whirling around so fast he almost sloshes scalding tea all over himself. He returns to his bedroom, sets it down.
He sits on the bed, feeling heavy, wondering if he should sleep off the ache in his joints. It's too early for it, but it feels like there's nothing else to do. The books are all in the main room, with Connor.
Hank lies back on top of his sheets, staring at the low ceiling. Closes his eyes, head spinning.
It's a long time before it all seems to stop.
His room is dark, and rain is still pelting the window. He can hear the harshness of his own breathing. The house is silent, and Sumo is snoring at his feet. On the bed, of course. The mutt never did learn to stay off it.
He rubs a hand across his face.
Still. He's awake now, and he probably won't be going back to sleep tonight. Time for an early start?
He's not avoiding his house. He's just... redirecting his energy.
He chops wood; hickory and beech, from the grove. It makes his back ache, but the smell is good, and movement is good. He doesn't have to think.
He groans. An uninvited guest is just what he needs in the middle of it.
His sheep, none the worse for wear, graze peacefully. He walks into the herd, petting a couple of soft heads on his way along. A couple of greedy little mouths nip at his clothes.
Hank's heart jumps to his throat. Just asleep.
Connor just huffs, turning his face into the blanket with a groan. Hank doesn't need to touch his forehead to feel that he needs to be cooled down. He's scalding, his pulse an unsteady, rabbit-fast thing.
Connor's eyes flutter open. He looks at Hank without turning his head, and if possible, his pulse speeds up. Hank drops his wrist quickly, wincing.
Connor makes a noise that Hank hopes is vaguely assenting.
As he carries him to the bedroom, it quickly becomes apparent that Connor is very unwell.
He makes sure to lay Connor on the bed without jostling him too badly, easing him down, and fetches a glass and a pitcher of water.
"I'm getting you out of that sweater first," he mutters, reaching for the hem.
"Listen, I'm leaving the shirt on if you want, alright?" Hank grunts. "But you're going to boil in this thing, it's made of wool. Come on, lift up - there you go. That's good. You'll feel better in a bit."
he clamps down on the thought. Has to take a second to push it away.
Hank takes a second towel and wrings it out.
Connor swallows it obediently, and to his credit, only splutters a little, turning rosy rather than beet red. So, he's made of sterner stuff than he looks.
Connor just snorts softly. His eyes close again, and he relaxes against the pillows.
He'd look - pretty, if he wasn't so obviously uncomfortable. He's got long, sooty lashes, freckles.
He stands up.
He tries not to think about how easy this is.
The sooner Connor gets better, the sooner he can be back out of Hank's life.
Except, even after Hank feeds him soup spoon by spoon, after he changes the towels and re-bandages his ankle and gives him more medicine, Connor seems to take a sharp turn for the worse.
"Yeah, me too, boy," he mutters, scratching behind his ear.
Dragging Connor out of bed is predictably not the difficult part. Getting him out of his clothes -
Connor shivers, turns his warm face into Hank's chest. They're on the floor, half sitting, Hank supporting Connor as much as he can.
Somehow, this seems to actually put Connor at ease.
A bullet between the ribs is no joke.
It also prompts the question of /why/, or rather how Connor had gotten himself shot.
Right. Priorities. Priorities like taking off the rest of his clothes and plonking him down in the tub, with a towel thrown over his hips for modesty.
Connor's lips twitch. He doesn't open his eyes, but manages a mumbled 'no'. Curls up slightly, shifting so his head is once again resting in the crook of Hank's elbow.
Hank wants to shake the feeling off. For Connor's sake.
But his temperature has /stabilized/, and when he looks up at Hank, his eyes are a lot clearer. Hank lets out a steadying breath and wordlessly goes to fetch dry towels.
"Thanks." His voice is low and hoarse, and as Hank looks at him he sees uncertainty in his brown eyes. A furrow between his brows. It occurs to him that he's a perfect stranger to Connor, his intentions unclear.
He sticks a spoonful of tonic into Connor's mouth.
Connor nods, twisting his hands.
Hank should say something, but for the life of him he can't figure out what.
He wonders who Connor is. Wonders whether he's harboring a fugitive in his home. His mind's an uncomfortable tangle again. He's tired.
He checks on his flock. Routine, mostly. They seem to be doing well, for the most part. Then he finds one pregnant ewe lying on her side.
Hank sighs and rolls up his sleeves, kneeling in the damp grass.
Connor is sleeping when he comes in, but he opens his eyes when Hank sits and touches his forehead. He's warm again, but not quite as bad as before.
Hank wonders if it's got anything to do with that bullet.
Connor just shakes his head.
Hank sighs. Connor has a lot of healing to do, and although Hank has sympathy for his lack of an appetite given the shape he's in, he has absolutely zero qualms about sticking a tube down his throat if need be.
"I'm going to make you something, and you're gonna' have to try and eat." When Connor opens his mouth to protest, Hank shoots him a glare.
Connor bites his lip. "You don't have to-"
Hank holds up his hand. "I might as well get you on your feet, yeah? What am I supposed to do, dump you outside and roll you down the mountain away from here?"
One more thing to worry about.
He leaves Sumo with them, to protect the vulnerable new mothers in the dark.
It becomes apparent that he was right to be worried the second he steps foot inside again.
Connor coughs. It's not a full bodied thing, small from the little air he's drawing in.
Hank feels numb when he goes to the kitchen to put the kettle on and light the fire. He has to go to the cellar to find what he's looking for. The whole time he's down there he's sure he's going to come back to silence.
Hank thinks maybe opening the window helped. Maybe it's wishful thinking. the room is cold, but at least the air is fresher, and circulates.
Connor gives him a tight nod. At least he's still conscious.
Hank should've known. He should've known the moment he heard him cough, dammit.
He also doesn't have time to dwell on it. He heads back for the kitchen to get hot water, towels, pine, the contraption from the cellar.
"Well-" Hank says, every bit the dumbass he's been the last few days -"At least your fever's down, right?"
"I'm sorry, Connor. I --" he cuts off, because the list of things he's sorry for could probably fill a book. Connor doesn't want to hear that shit, certainly not now.
Connor nods. Hank sighs. "Good," he says, rubbing between Connor's shoulders. Maybe there's a salve, or some pills he could use.
He's a little shocked when Connor shifts closer, rubs his face against Hank's shoulder. Hank, hesitantly, reaches out to pet his hair.
He's shivering. So is Hank. He's so tired his vision feels fuzzy around the edges, but sleep is the last thing he's allowed, so he distracts himself with counting Connor's freckles.
Hank exhales. Then again when it doesn’t feel like enough.
Hank doesn't answer him, because he's still not sure. It's easier to squeeze Connor's hand, to get up to put on fresh water.
"You've been helping me to the bathroom long enough, don't you think?" he bites out delicately.
Connor grunts. Coughs, which still has a tendency to send a fearful clench through every part of Hank, but when he doesn't keel over and die Hank says, "See? You still need your rest."
Something of his outrage must show on his face, because Connor laughs softly.
But suddenly not as many as he'd like, because he moved the flock specifically for this purpose. Once they're fed, examined, and the shearing and worming is well underway, he abruptly finds himself with the prospect of an extended lunch.
He's about to head for the bedroom, but he finds Connor lying on the sofa.
Connor's eyes snap open, and Hank almost kicks /himself/ because for a second there's panic in his eyes, so apparent that Hank's chest echoes with the too-recent memory of him gasping for his breaths.
Hank walks up to the couch, leans over the back of it to look down at Connor's face, casting a shadow over him.
"I'm starving," he whispers, like he's a little shocked at himself.
"I - Anything you have is fine, Hank." He looks away, manages to sit up without Hank's help, but when he goes to stand, he's not yet strong enough to properly balance on his injured leg.
Connor is somehow prettier up close, where Hank can see every little wrinkle, freckle and pore.
He's also wobbly. The hand he places on Hank's wrist light.
"Right," he says. "Why don't you sit."
Hank sighs. He really, really needs to learn to keep his hands to himself.
He doesn't realize there's something about his expression until Connor sighs, smiling tiredly, and says, "What's on your mind, Hank?"
"Do you feel - safe here? I mean, are you?"
Connor blinks at him, the mug of coffee forgotten halfway to his mouth. He sets it down, shifting uneasily. "How do you mean?"
Connor pales slightly, like the thought hadn't occurred to him. Perhaps it hadn't. He'd been a little preoccupied, before. Now, the question makes him balk.
Unless Connor /is/ a fugitive. Maybe he murdered someone, fled justice.
Hank looks into his warm brown eyes and scoffs. Unlikely.
His mouth quirks sadly. "Not anymore."
Hank thinks maybe it should sound ominous, but the only thing he feels at the moment is relief. He's... very invested in Connor's survival.
And Connor relaxes. Like that's still a comfort, which is about to do a massive number on Hank's head.
Hank does recall with some chagrin that he was - short - with Connor the night that they met. He /also/ recalls asking about injuries though. Connor had told him he was alright.
Hank gapes. "You thought I would - what, leave you outside on my doorstep? For what, for being more hurt than I anticipated?"
Connor's back stiffens, and his fingers curl tighter around Hank's hand.
Hank has no clue where to even begin to unpack that. He's sure he should say something, but Connor huffs softly, evidently done talking. He squeezes Hank's hand, then lets go.
Hank waves him off. "Later. Right now, you still have recovering to do," he says. Privately, he thinks Connor doesn't owe him anything.
Hank looks at him.
Connor sighs and scoots his chair closer. "I'm trying to thank you," he says. "You've done so much for me, and I-"
"It's fine," Hank says quickly. The back of his neck prickles. "It's fine, Connor. Don't thank me. Or - thank me when you're well."
Connor huffs with gentle laughter again.
Hank frowns sternly. Opens his mouth, closes it. "I'm not fussing."
Connor's smile widens. "You're fussing."
"I'm not. Do you need my help getting back to bed?"
Connor's laughter bubbles out of him in what Hank can only describe as a /giggle/.
Connor is stronger, Hank's habit of lying down on top of the sheets next to him no longer strictly necessary. And he doesn't trust himself anymore. When Connor was very sick it was still about keeping him well, but now it's frustrating.
Connor insists on getting around on his own. He's restless, and although he reads in bed a little, before long he's also trying to make himself food and tea. Hank lives in fear of him spilling boiling water all over himself.
Hank walks over to him, his mouth a tight line. He sets the lamb in Connor's lap.
Connor blinks at the tiny, woolen baby like he's never seen a living creature before in his life. Hank is out of patience for the day.
"What do you think?" Hank sighs. "Look, just - do as I say, alright? I won't be long." Hank needs to get formula. And then a wash, because he's covered in sweat, blood, and fluids.
Hank's mouth quirks involuntarily. "You can stop now. It's good to see he's hungry, but let's get him something a little more appropriate to eat. I don't think your hands are gonna' do it for him."
Connor nods. Abruptly, Hank has an idea.
Connor pets the lamb's dense, curly coat as he feeds it, and Hank smiles.
Connor looks over at Hank, frowning. "Are you okay?"
Hank blinks, because he can't remember the last time someone had asked him that.
Hank stares at his bowed head. "It's part of the life out here. Happens." It doesn't really get easier, either, but he doesn't say that. Maybe he should be used to it, but he loves all the animals in his care.
It doesn't do good to dwell on it though. Not with a new bottle baby to feed.
He sighs. "Will you be alright a while?"
"If you need me, I'll just be in the bathroom."
"Okay," Connor says, rubbing the lamb's velvet little nose. It nuzzles his palm, ears twitching.
He's going to miss Connor, when he inevitably leaves.
He'd been content before. Now there's something else. Glimmers of long lost feelings, anything from amusement to joy to dread, but underneath it all, an undefinable ache. It's uncomfortable.
"He's just - very adorable," Connor whispers fiercely, petting the lamb.
Silently, and just as fiercely, Hank agrees.
"Yes," Connor says quickly. "I'll do it, just show me how,"
So Hank does. Over the next few days, he teaches Connor how to properly bottle feed a lamb.
Now that Connor is more independent, stronger, he doesn't need Hank's arm around him as often. He doesn't need to have breakfast made, or for Hank to bathe him or carry him to the bathroom or cover him in cold towels.
Connor seems irritable though. He's polite to Hank, of course, but something changes.
Hank is next to him washing a plate, reaches without thinking.
Connor gives him a tight, unhappy smile. "I'm fine."
"No, but -"
"I'm fine, Hank. Just a little sore."
Hank grunts. "I told you, you're still moving too much."
Connor sighs, opens the coffee tin.
Right. Hank drops his hand, fingers curling at his side.
"I'm not strong enough to travel yet," Connor says finally. "And I don't want to inconvenience you further."
"It's - fine," he says clumsily. "Look, you just need time -"
"How much time, Hank?" Connor turns on him with a strange light in his eyes.
"How much time? And how much am I going to owe you by the time I'm well? My life is already on the list and I don't /have/ anything else."
Hank blinks at him, trying to go down the checklist of things he may have fucked up in his quest to not fuck them up.
"You fed me. You - you gave me clothes, medicine, you stayed up with me at night. Hank, I don't - I /can't/ pay you back. There's no family waiting for me, no assets, no estate. This is the only thing I can do. So I-"
"Connor," Hank says gently.
He wants to kiss him, and he can't, especially not now. He wants Connor to stop, to take a deep breath, to listen to him.
"No." Connor shrugs uneasily. "But you don't want me here, either."
Connor is suddenly very still. And Hank thinks about what he's doing, trapping Connor in his arms and leaning in like this, in a way that could only be interpreted as very threatening or very - intimate, with their faces this close.
He clamps down on it. Because he can't.
And suddenly it's so, so easy.
"You don't owe me," he says quietly, still not letting go.
"No. Stop. Will you just --" Hank sighs, twisting his fingers into Connor's hair and giving it what he hopes is a playful tug. "You don't owe me. Not your labor, not money, not your - anything at all. I don't want it. I don't need it. You're not a /burden/."
He also smells like lilacs, coffee, and sunlight, and when he tips his face up to look at Hank, his skin is pink and his eyes look tired and a little red. Hank brushes a curl away from his forehead.
Connor's expression is somewhere between hopeful and disbelieving. Hank squeezes him. "Promise me."
It's still too quiet, but Hank will take it for now. He smiles, reaching up to cup Connor's cheek, stroking it briefly. "Why don't you rest today? If you're sore."
Hank bites his lip, fighting down a snort. "Is that what you've named him?"
Connor shrugs. "It's Boo for short." Then he cracks a little smile again, light and impish, and Hank can't help but laugh.
Hank wants to say something else, but abruptly forgets what it was. He should step back, but he can't move.
"Little bit." Connor only manages a sleepy mutter. "Why don't you stay here anymore?"
Hank swallows. "I wanted you to be comfortable."
"/You're/ comfortable." Connor yawns, shivering like a hummingbird. "S'okay. Miss it though."
Hank scoots close, steadies him with one hand against his back and rubs a slow circle into it through his shirt. Connor's eyes flutter shut.
"I've still got some of that numbing salve, if you want."
"Of course," he says. "It'll help a lot with the ache. Don't move."
It doesn't take him long to find the jar; it's still in the room, in a dresser. It's half-empty, but fragrant when he uncaps it.
Connor hums sleepily. "Left shoulder and back. And - my thigh. On my good side."
Hank helps him shrug out of the shirt. Puts his dry hand on his spine.
Hank would still like to know.
Connor groans quietly, and Hank helps him to roll over onto his belly. He works the paste gently into his skin.
Connor whines quietly.
Connor draws a shuddering breath, curls a pillow to his chest and sighs into it. "It's fine. Feels - nice."
Hank presses his palm to the small of Connor's back. Connor hums, an unmistakable sound of contentment.
His little gasp makes something hot and liquid unfurl in the pit of Hank's stomach, and so does the way he shifts uneasily, spreading his legs a tiny bit. The towel is still modestly draped over his hips, but -
And when he asks like /that/, Hank can't exactly refuse.
He tightens his grip. "Dunno what you're thanking me for, but you're welcome."
Connor is silent for a good while. Almost long enough for Hank's heart to calm.
Connor curls up on his side with his head pillowed on Hank's upper arm, close but too far. His breathing fans out, unsteady against Hank's cheek.
"I like this," Connor mumbles. "I like it when you touch me."
"No one's ever been this gentle with me before. I didn't know -" he cuts off abruptly, curls closer. "Your hands. They're wonderful."
Hank flushes and rests his fingers on Connor's bare waist. Connor shifts to look at him.
He thinks about how tragic it is that Connor hasn't known gentleness.
He thinks he wants to show him.
He wishes he had more than that to give.
Connor's hand had wandered under Hank's shirt to rest against his belly. It's a welcome contact. He wants to tell Connor as much, but then he hears a quiet snore.
He drifts off to the sound of His breathing, and the early patter of rain against the windows.
His grip tightens. Something is different.
Connor is breathing fast against his neck.
The flash outside illuminates the room, Sumo shifts restlessly next to the bed. Hank untangles himself, even though it physically hurts.
But then, he’d found Connor during a storm, injured wet and on the verge of falling extremely ill. He wraps his arms around him, drawing him into a tight hug, cupping his head. Con latches on to him like a sloth.
“Thought you’d left,” Connor says quietly into Hank’s shoulder. He makes a small sound, too much like a sob.
Hank hushes him, kneads the back of his neck. “Just got up to check on things. Not going anywhere else.”
It cracks again in that moment, bright and loud, and Connor flinches. Hank keeps holding him, then pushes him down to the bed, rubs a circle into his chest.
“I’m going to draw the curtains.”
“I’m fine,” he whispers. “Was just - disoriented when I woke up. Sounded like a gunshot.”
Hank freezes, then reaches to place his hand over Connor’s heart.
“I want to tell you,” he says, but it sounds almost like a question.
Hank shifts so he can tuck Connor into the crook of his neck.
Hank rears back a little to look at Connor’s face.
He kisses his forehead. “Not going anywhere.”
It takes him a long time to relax, even as Hank holds him, touching his ribs gently and stroking his side like he's petting a frightened horse. The storm gets closer. He thinks Connor should sleep.
Hank stills. Squeezes him. His heart is beating so hard he's sure Connor can feel it too.
"I did something bad. I - I know I shouldn't have, but I was - tired, and hungry, and desperate." he swallows. He sounds - ashamed of himself. "There was a camp. I tried to steal some food."
He pauses, like he expects Hank to admonish him.
His hand tightens on Connor's bare waist.
He /had/ been dying. The cold chill Hank feels at the thought sends a shiver through him, a thread of pure fury.
Connor laughs weakly. "I don't know how I survived. I crawled away. Hid in an abandoned shed not far from where I was shot. I thought I wouldn't make it through the night."
"They didn't come looking?"
He's not sure how to explain that none of it matters to him. Not the details. What matters to him is how - how afraid Connor must have been.
He exhales slowly into his hair, kisses Connor's temple. "You were trying to survive. You made a mistake. You've suffered for it, and now - now you're safe."
"Hank," he says, softer than the rain.
It really, really doesn't.
Connor's leg slides against his. It's a small thing, but suddenly Hank is -- too aware of everything. Connor's hand sliding up into his hair, fingers curling behind his ear. The warmth of him, everywhere.
Connor's sigh is a soft, warm thing. He strokes Hank's lower lip with his fingertips, like he's learning the shape of it. It tickles. Hank closes his eyes, breathless.
Hank's not sure who moves first, and not sure it matters. He just knows that suddenly Connor's fingers are gone, and the breath they were sharing turns into a kiss, and that Connor's mouth is absolutely, impossibly perfect.
A breathless laugh, soft and private and honest. Hank kisses him before it ends so he can catch some of that joy for himself, and Connor cups the back of his head, humming, pressing a slender, naked thigh between Hank's legs.
Hank is more than happy to oblige, and after a brief, graceless fumble with his clothes, they're lying naked side by side.
Hank grabs his hand and kisses the pale inside of his wrist. "You're perfect."
Hank grunts. He's starting to sweat a little. "Am I that predictable?"
"You're the least predictable thing that's ever happened to me."
Connor hums thoughtfully. Hank thinks he's about to say something else, but instead, Connor nips him again, small and shockingly sharp about an inch from the place he did it earlier.
Connor curls an arm around his neck to keep him in place, covers his throat in a rain of slow, toothy, open-mouthed kisses that shoot straight down to Hank's cock.
He finds Hank's pulse with his tongue, moans quietly against it.
"C-Connor, wait, honey, I-"
Connor tears himself away, eyes wide. His pupils are blown. "Sorry. I'm sorry - too much?"
"No," Hank wheezes. "But if you keep going, our fun isn't going to last very long."
But when Connor returns the favor by reaching between them -
"I want to do this." Connor presses a wet, sloppy kiss to his clavicle. "But here."
Hank can't fucking breathe, but he manages to say something approximating the word 'yes' or 'please' or 'anything you want, just don't stop' anyway.
He takes his goddamn /time/.
As if Hank wasn't already on the verge of simply dying from sensory overload, Connor sits up, backlit prettily by the light outside, presses Hank into the mattress and - teases him.
And he's - well, he's perfect, but what else is new. Hank wants to reassure him, tell him there's no script, no pressure, but evidently Connor is following his own rules.
He opens his eyes, and Connor is close, hair rumpled, lips slick, soft. He's kissing Hank's shoulder. Gently.
"What do you need, love?"
He grins against Connor's lips, feeling warm, a little smug when Connor shifts in a way that's entirely unsubtle. "Wasn't planning on it."
The very thought of letting go of Connor sounds absurd and borderline upsetting. Hank squeezes him tighter.
It's somehow better than... just about anything else.
If he could get up to clean them properly, he would.
Nothing's ever felt this much like home. Hank's still got his lips pressed to the top of his head as he drifts off. His heartbeat under his hands. It's his favorite sound.
Connor is still asleep next to him, hair ruffled. The sheets had slipped a little, and Hank spends a bit of time just admiring his back. He's like a painting, even in the dim light just beginning to gray out the sky outside.
He kisses his bare shoulder.
He turns, offering a hesitant smile. "Up so early?"
Connor doesn't sit. He walks over to Hank, nudges him shyly with his elbow.
It still tastes of salt. When Hank's tongue flicks out against his skin, Connor makes an odd noise.
Connor blinks owlishly, nostrils flaring. "Yeah, Hank. Of course it is."
Hank shrugs uneasily with one shoulder. "You're. You know. Allowed to change your mind and all. Regret things. I don't mean to assume-"
/A mistake, a joke, a fever dream,/ Hank's mind helpfully supplies.
But Connor just smiles, and it's as beautiful and mysterious as the rest of him. Shakes his head. "I.. I don't have regrets. I was worried you might, but -"
Connor laughs. "Good." He clears his throat, and his eyes glint with something warm and playful. "Good. So -" he coughs, because acrid black smoke rises around them.
It's too late to save the bacon. But Hank's still smiling when they open the windows.
They don't talk after breakfast because there's work to be done, and conversation feels like a thing better left for later.
Hank doesn't mind. He can be patient sometimes. Doesn't mind being patient with Connor, who still seems quiet, thoughtful.
The way Connor says his name has Hank closing his eyes and breathing through his nose. His hand twitches where it rests between them, and Connor catches it before he even things to lift it. He twists his fingers through Hank's, his grip hard.
He can't be sure after all. It still feels a little insane. He knows his own feelings, but can only guess at Connor's.
Connor sighs, wistful and hesitant.
Hank squeezes his hand so hard, he can feel his pulse in his fingertips.
He weighs his words, afraid to read into them. "I could always use a helping hand around here. Ain't getting any younger you know."
"I suppose 'round' could be considered a shape," Hank teases, laughs when Connor swats his arm.
His eyes soften though, and he leans in to kiss Hank's warm cheek. "I love your shape. I love all of you."
Logic informs him he must be delusional.
His heart dares him to look into Connor's eyes and find anything but truth and adoration in them.
They're the warmest, loveliest shade of brown.
Last night had been life affirming. He can't imagine what it would be like here, under the full sun, all of Connor's freckles on display.
But there's ticks in the grass too, and probably other things.
"I want to be your home," he admits with a slight, troubled shrug.
Connor swallows with a click. "Well, then you'd be my first."
"I love you," he whispers into his hair instead of voicing the rather undignified, violent thoughts he's having. "Stay with me."
"That's a first, too, I think," Connor says, even quieter.
"I'm going to murder anyone that's ever made you feel unloved," he says matter-of-factly.
Hank pets his hair and kisses the top of his head, even as the little bubble of a giggle turns into a rougher, raw sound. His eyes burn a little in response.
Connor hiccups out a laugh, and buries his face in the crook of Hank’s neck.
A few nights after that, they lie by the fire together. They’re touching each other, and it’s lazy, maybe on the edge of becoming more than just sensual but not quite there. Hank’s about to fall asleep.
Hank hums sleepily. Draws him into his chest. “S’always on the table.”
“In that case, I - I think I’m just going to stay.”
Hank has to look at him then. “Really?”
“Good.” He kisses Connor’s jaw. Something massive and anxious inside him settles. “Very good.”
Connor sighs against his throat, presses a damp kiss there. “I’ll help around the cottage. Feed, shear. You can teach me -“
Connor looks at him for a long time. His eyes soft, the smile on his face a wistful, light thing. “I just want to help.”
“You have. You - do.”
“You can take as much time as you need figuring it out,” Hank grunts. “It’s not all that complicated.”
“It feels like it is,” Connor admits.
“Nothing in my life ever came without conditions.”
Connor huffs. “No, but I - my family,” he tries to explain. “I - I don’t know where I came from. My earilest memories are of Amanda. She - took me in.” He flushes, chewing his lower lip. “Me and my brothers.”
Hank squeezes his shoulder.
“Safe?” Hank bites out, bitter still from the thought of Connor never knowing a feeling of peace and homecoming before now.
“Maybe,” Connor says quietly, looking away. “Is that what this is?”
He grabs Connor’s wrist and draws him closer.
Connor leans into him. “Me too. I’m just... still sad, and I hate that.” He looks up at Hank, his eyes like shards of a mirror. “She tried to kill me.”
Hank chokes. “What?”
“I disobeyed her. I was tired. I - shouldn’t have, but I -“
“And she tried to hurt you.”
“She did hurt me.” Connor says.
The aching chasm inside Hank’s chest widens. He wants to cocoon Connor - not just the one he knows, but the little, innocent versions of him, when he was just a baby - and tell him he deserved better.
Connor’s expression shifts for a moment briefer than a moth’s wingbeat, into something so pained Hank’s heart keens in sympathetic distress.
“I was the last one left.” He looks away again, but stays close to Hank.
Connor laughs shakily, shivers. “Don’t be sorry. Don’t be. I’m — I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
Hank rubs his back, the kiss lingering. “You’ll always be safe here. Always.”
They fall asleep together. That night, and many, many nights after that. Nights that slowly chip away at the stories between them, not yet shared but still familiar. Hank is happy for every one.
When they make love, sometimes he seems to make it his personal mission to wear Hank out.
And the house begins to feel fuller than ever. Connor stays, like he said he would.
The fields become theirs. Hank takes him out there often, and they do end up in the grass more than once.
The first time he catches a springtime cold, Hank almost has a heart attack. It turns out to be just that though, and then it spreads to Hank.
Sometimes it all feels like a dream. It's a good one though, better than any that Hank's ever had.
It's when he watches Connor shear. His sleeves are rolled up, he's gentle with the sheep he's holding. His hair is in his face. Hank goes to brush it back for him.
He's wearing a shepherd's clothes.
Sumo is by his side, and so is Boo, who still enjoys far too many privileges.
Hank smiles, looking back at the sun as it sets over the roof of their home. The air is warm and full of cicadas, and the sharp snip of shears.
Connor grins, and Hank's heart thuds hard against the inside of his ribcage.