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Cries of a Shadow

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CoaS 01

Housed at the eponymous address 21 Jump Street, the city of Los Angeles’ undercover unit was a nondescript, brown-brick building, set within Central L.A.’s urban decay. The deconsecrated chapel exhibited none of its former glory, making it the perfect headquarters for a group of twenty-something officers, whose youthful looks allowed them to infiltrate the local high schools in search of any illicit activity. The initiative was the brainchild of the mayor, a man hell-bent on cleaning up the streets and reinventing the municipality as a family-friendly city. It was a far cry from Internal Affairs’ modern architecture, but for Officer Dennis Booker, the nondescript structure held a certain aura of mystique. He was looking forward to the change, and he hoped the undercover officers employed within the program were more interesting than the drab, humorless cops he had worked with since leaving the academy.

Navigating his black Cadillac into the adjacent parking lot, the dark-haired officer switched off the ignition and stared up at the dilapidated building through the rain-mottled windshield. Sunlight illuminated the shabbiness of the facade, the water-stained bricks crying tears of neglect. A rusty metal staircase snaked up the brick exterior, each narrow step ascending toward a sturdy, uninviting door. Although not a superstitious man, an invisible weight pressed against the officer’s chest, his baseless apprehension squeezing the air from his lungs. Whether it was the coldness of the characterless building projecting outward or his overactive imagination, he couldn’t be sure. But something had spooked him, and he wondered what secrets lay buried within the chapel’s walls.

With a shudder, he opened the car door and stepped out into the L.A. sunshine. Closing his eyes, he took a moment to soak up the warmth, the therapeutic rays thawing the unexplained chill in his bones. A minute passed before he felt ready to proceed, and slamming the Caddy’s door closed, he trudged up the worn metal staircase, each step taking him closer toward a new life.

**

The chapel’s main hub was quiet for a Friday morning, with most officers still out on assignment. Compared to the structured environment of Internal Affairs, the room was a mishmash of desks and workout equipment. Stained glass windows adorned the walls, the intricate panels illuminated by the sunlight streaming in from outside, the flash of color adding another dimension to the eclectic furnishings. It was a bizarre combination, the casualness of the habitat coupled with the ethereal ambiance leaving Booker in awe, so much so, he didn’t notice the three officers approach until one of them spoke.

“Pretty impressive, huh?”

Turning around, Booker struck a casual pose. “I s’pose, but I’m not what you’d call a religious kinda guy.”

The larger of the two males clapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, man, you don’t have to be devout to appreciate fine art.”

A little shocked by the comment, Booker started to respond when the second male officer stepped forward. “Don’t be an ass, Penhall. You wouldn’t know a Picasso from a Monet.”

Doug Penhall grinned. “Yeah, but he doesn’t know that,” he joked before jabbing his hand in Booker’s direction. “Doug Penhall, and I’m guessing you’re the transfer from I.A.D.”

Booker shook the officer’s hand. “Yeah, but don’t hold it against me. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place, it’s full of narks.”

With the ice broken, Harry Ioki and Judy Hoffs stepped forward and introduced themselves. After Booker had answered all the important questions; favorite sport, favorite band, and whether he thought the Dodgers would win the pennant, the conversation soon turned to more mundane topics. Bored, Booker glanced around him, soaking up the atmosphere, when out of the corner of his eye, he spied an officer sitting at a desk at the back of the room. With head bowed and shoulders hunched, the young man cut a lonely figure, and with his curiosity piqued, he cast a nod in the officer’s direction. “Who’s that?”

Ioki rolled his eyes. “That’s Hanson. Good luck getting to know him, he’s kinda...” He paused, unsure whether to reveal his thoughts to a complete stranger.

As it turned out, Penhall had no such qualms, and without hesitation, the robust officer offered up an adjective. “Weird?”

A smile curled Ioki’s lips. “Now that would be an understatement.”

Shocked by her colleagues’ rudeness, Judy lashed out at both officers, hitting them in the chest with her clenched fists. “Don’t be mean. Tom’s okay, he’s just—”

“Weird!” Penhall and Ioki chimed together, their faces splitting into huge grins as they slapped their palms together in a congratulatory high-five.

Unimpressed by the childish display, Judy turned her back on her friends and addressed Booker. “Don’t pay any attention to them. Tom’s real sweet once you get to know him. He’s just a little reserved is all. Why don’t you go introduce yourself? I’m sure he’d like to meet his new partner.”

The last thing Booker felt like doing was making small talk with some oddball, and so he remained where he was, his gaze focused on the shock of brown hair obscuring Hanson’s features. Seemingly aware he was under scrutiny, Tom suddenly looked up, and Booker found himself confronted by two dark, expressive eyes set in a face of exquisite beauty. Shocked by the unexpected delicacy of the young officer’s features, he drew in his breath, his heart falling out of rhythm, the erratic thump fluttering in his chest. Never before had someone had such a profound impact on him, and he remained immobile, his mouth open, his eyes fixed on the artistry that was Tom Hanson. “Damn,” he thought to himself. “He’s fucking gorgeous.”

Oblivious to Booker’s reaction, Judy gently pushed him in the back. “Go on, he’s seen you now. You’ve got to meet him sometime.”

“Dennis Booker?”

At the sound of his name, Booker spun around, his expression a mask of confusion. “Huh? What? I mean, yes.”

Adam Fuller cast a cursory eye over his latest charge. Dressed in a black leather jacket, white T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and scuffed motorcycle boots, there was no doubt in the captain’s mind his new officer fancied himself as a bit of a rebel. As an experienced leader, he’d seen the cocky swagger coupled with the devil-may-care attitude before, and he suppressed a sigh. Booker might think he was one of a kind, but in reality, he was a clone of hundreds of rookie cops all looking to make their mark. However, what the young men fresh out of the academy didn’t seem to understand was it was their abilities that set them apart, not the way they dressed. But that type of wisdom came with age, and Fuller hoped Booker would prove to be as outstanding in the field as his annual review indicated, despite the minor disciplinary infractions marring his otherwise perfect record. If not, he would have to spend another month searching for a fresh-faced, adaptable cop who could walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk as convincingly as any American teenager, and from his experience, the pickings were slim. Booker was the pick of the bunch, and if that meant occasionally turning a blind eye to the cocky officer’s unconventional methods, then Fuller was more than prepared to feign ignorance. He didn’t need the mayor riding him any harder than he already was, and as far as he was concerned, it was a no harm, no foul situation. However, that leniency did not apply with regards to respecting his captaincy, and he quickly pulled his officer into line. “That would be a yes, Captain,” he admonished sternly, his steely gaze narrow and unblinking.

Hunching his shoulders, Booker shoved his hands deep into his jeans’ pockets, while rocking uncomfortably on his heels. “Sorry, Cap’n. You caught me by surprise.”

“Then my covert operations training paid off,” Fuller replied with a wry smile. “Now, if you’re not too busy, perhaps you can find time to report to my office...like you were supposed to do ten minutes ago.”

Penhall nudged Ioki in the ribs, a smirk curling one corner of his mouth. Catching the look out of the corner of his eye, Fuller turned and addressed the impertinent officer. “Blowfish is knee-deep in shit fixing a blocked toilet. If you fellas have nothing better to do, maybe you’d like to give him a hand.”

A look of horror animated both men’s faces, and not about to wait around for a direct order, they quietly sidled away. Before taking her leave, Judy laid a hand on Booker’s arm. “Welcome to Jump Street, Dennis.”

“Thanks, Judy,” Booker replied with a grin, and before his captain could tear him a new one, he threw her a flirtatious wink and followed Fuller into his office.

**

Thirty minutes later, Booker walked back into the chapel’s main hub, a manila folder in his hand. With Penhall, Ioki, and Hoffs nowhere in sight, it seemed a fortuitous time to introduce himself to the man Fuller had assigned him with for the next few weeks. He and Tom had their first case together, and although not the cop Booker would have chosen to work with on his first assignment at Jump Street, he could feel the first tingles of excitement invigorating his mind, body, and spirit. It was the adrenaline rush he lived for, and he looked forward to the challenge of masquerading as a high school student, even if it meant doing homework for the first time in years.

Striding across the room, he stopped in front of Tom’s cluttered desk and addressed the young officer’s bowed head. “Hey, I’m your new partner, Dennis Booker.”

Tom’s head jerked up, a flash of fear briefly accentuating the soulful depths of his brown eyes before his expression settled back into one of mild agitation. He stared at Booker’s proffered hand, his brows drawn together, his teeth anxiously worrying his lower lip. Strangers made him nervous, but he couldn't ignore his new partner forever, and hurriedly wiping his palm on the leg of his jeans, he actioning a limp shake. “Hanson, um, I mean Tom...Tom Hanson.”

Booker offered up his charming smile. “How you doin’, Tom? So, it looks like we're working the Westview High case together. Are you any good at algebra? ‘Cause if we get homework, I’m gonna need some help.”

The lame joke fell flat, and Tom continued to stare at Booker, his face expressionless. Unsettled by the prickly reception, Booker found himself floundering. “Um, so...I’m kinda new to this part of town. Know anywhere good where I can get a feed?”

Tom’s fingers rubbed furiously over his upper lip, his restless gaze flitting from side to side. “I dunno...Nino’s maybe? It’s couple of blocks from here, on Broad Street.”

Puzzled by the lack of eye contact, Booker pulled up a chair and straddling it backward, he rested his arms on the wooden back. He was determined to connect with his new partner, even if it meant making boring small talk, and pursing his lips, he studied Hanson’s anxious face. “Ever eaten there?” he quizzed.

A shy smile briefly animated Tom’s face before vanishing into the ether. “Once. I don’t eat out much.”

“Yeah? Why’s that?”

The question hung in the air, innocent yet loaded. Booker knew his gentle needling was unwarranted, but he couldn’t help himself. A part of him wanted to see Tom squirm, and although not proud of his behavior, the impulse was too strong to ignore.

Tom’s relentless finger rubbing intensified, but before he could formulate an answer, Booker threw another question at him. “Don’t you date?”

Embarrassment reddened Tom’s face, the pinkish hue highlighting the attractive contours of his chiseled cheekbones. His hand dropped to his lap, both fists balling into the defensive, anxious fists of a small distressed child. “Wh-what?” he stammered, the pitch of his voice rising ever so slightly. “Wh-why would you ask me that?”

Booker’s shoulders rose in a shrug. “I dunno, I guess I was trying to figure who or what you’re into.”

“Into?” Tom squeaked, his laconic response a telltale sign he was starting to panic. He needed space, a safe haven away from his tormentor. The questions were too intimate, too intrusive, and he could feel his anxiety levels rising. Fear projected from his dark eyes, and feeling trapped, he jumped to his feet. His chair toppled over, the loud crash reverberating around the chapel. Several heads turned, their curiosity piqued, but when they saw it was Hanson, they looked away, their interest fading. They’d seen it all before, and Tom’s odd behavior rarely held any entertainment value anymore. He was who he was, and as long as he did his job, nobody cared how he chose to conduct himself.

However, there was one person in the room who did react. Troubled by the level of Tom’s distress, Booker stood up, his palms turned outward, the gesture non-threatening. “Hey, man, I didn't mean—”

“I’ve gotta go,” Tom blurted out in a rush of words and stumbling over his upturned chair, he hurried toward the exit and disappeared from sight.

“Jesus,” Booker muttered under his breath.

“What did I tell you?”

Upon hearing Penhall’s voice, Booker turned and addressed the officer. “I know, but...geez, is he even fit for duty? He seems kinda jumpy.”

Penhall gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I dunno. Hanson’s a nutball, but he’s a really good cop. He’s like a Jekyll and Hyde. In the field, he’s confident, makes snap decisions, and he can goof off like any teenager. But it’s a charade, a character he plays to nail the bad guys. The real Hanson is the one who just scurried outa here with his tail between his legs. I’m tellin’ you, man, he’s fuckin’ crazy. Consider yourself warned.”

Booker nodded, a faraway look in his eyes. Although he’d only met Tom Hanson for a few minutes, the young officer intrigued him and he wanted to know more about his life. But he didn’t want to come off too impertinent, so rather than ask about Tom, he turned the conversation to their captain. “So, does Fuller think he’s odd?”

Penhall chuckled. “Are you kiddin’? Of course he does. But so long as he’s bringing in the pushers and thieves, no one gives a rat’s ass. Personality doesn’t rate high on the mayor’s agenda, all he cares about is cleaning up the streets. But do you wanna know what's really bizarre? Hanson's got an older brother, but you’d never guess they were related. Tom’s all moody and withdrawn, and Will Hanson’s the life of the party.”

Surprise raised Booker’s brows. “Tom’s got a brother? He seems more like an only child type, you know, all tortured with hang-ups about not meeting mommy’s expectations.”

Amusement shone from Penhall’s eyes. “Yeah? Well, not Hanson. His brother Will’s a cop too, stationed at Hollenbeck. Will’s a great guy to have a beer with, but he doesn’t have Tom’s intuition for the job. I guess that’s why he’s still a beat cop. Their parents died when they were still in their teens I think. Thomas Hanson was a decorated officer who was shot on the job, and if you believe the rumors, Margaret Hanson drank herself to death. From what I’ve heard, Will stepped in and took care of Tom. They’re pretty tight, they even share an apartment together. You’ll meet him tomorrow night at the mayor’s party. I think you’re gonna like him.”

Booker smiled inwardly. Without realizing it, Penhall had given him all the background information he needed to relate to his new partner. All he had to do was figure out how to use it.

Chapter Text

CoaS 02

Straight-backed uniformed wait staff crisscrossed the floor of City Hall’s ballroom. With silver trays held aloft, they glided effortlessly through the crowd, their blank expressions cleverly masking the tedium of serving champagne and hors d'oeuvres to equally bored guests. Dozens of white-clothed tables adorned with elaborate arrangements of hydrangeas and magnolias gave refuge to the honored attendees who were either too tired or too disinterested to mingle with the men and women gathered in cliques throughout the room. From their position on a small raised platform, a string quartet provided a pleasant auditory backdrop to the chatter of voices, the dulcet tones swelling and falling like a warm summer breeze. It was the party event of the year, and for the mayor’s wife, the soirée was an opportunity to gain the enviable reputation of perfect hostess; for her guests, it was a grandiose display of autocratic superiority. But needs must when the devil drives, and none of the invitees would ever consider not attending. It was a chance to socialize with the powers that be, and, through clever manipulation, curry favor with those who had the ability to advance careers. Consequently, the mayor’s annual police gala became a masquerade ball of fake smiles and carefully nuanced conversations. In summary, it was an unspoken but silently acknowledged farce, which everyone—except the chief executive officer and his wife—grudgingly accepted as a part of life as a city employee.

Partly hidden from view by a tall fern decoratively ensconced in an ornate jardinière, Booker tugged at his collar, the unfamiliar dress shirt and tie annoyingly distracting. Keen to make contact with the strange officer who was now his partner, he scanned the crowded room. His dark eyes flitted from one black tuxedo to another, eager for a glimpse of the beautiful face that had captured his imagination and stolen his heart. It was an obsession, and his mind became so fixated on the sea of expressionless features, he didn’t notice Penhall until the larger than life officer clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, pal, how’s it hangin’?”

Booker jumped at the unexpected contact, the involuntary movement sending Dom Pérignon spilling from the crystal champagne saucer held in his hand. Setting his glass down on a conveniently located table, he used the corner of the white linen tablecloth to wipe the pale gold liquid from his fingers. “Geez, Penhall,” he grinned. “Never sneak up on a guy wearing a rented tux.”

Penhall returned a smile and grabbing a salmon puff from a passing waiter, he stuffed it into his mouth. “Rented, huh?” he inquired through a mouthful of food. “You might wanna think about buying one. Jump Street’s the mayor’s baby, which means we get invited to a lot of these events. We’re his pride and joy, and he loves to brag how great we are at cleaning up the streets of L.A.”

Unimpressed, Booker fiddled with the knot of his tie. The last thing he wanted was to become a performing puppet on the mayor’s political stage. “I didn’t sign up to be one of Mayor Wilkins’ political pawns,” he muttered. “And anyway, isn’t this s’posed to be a secret assignment? What’s the point of going undercover if everyone knows what we’re doing?”

Hulking his shoulders into a shrug, Penhall wiped the crumbs from the front of his shirt. “Beats me. It’s all about statistics. But so long as crime rates keep declining, the program stays open, and that, my friend, means I get to keep doin’ a job I love.”

“I guess,” Booker murmured, his tone distracted. From across the room, he’d spied a familiar face, a face that had the power to send his heart into an arrhythmic flutter, a face so beautiful, he wondered if anyone else would ever compare.

“Are you okay?” Penhall asked, his brows knitting in concern. “You look kinda flushed.”

Booker remained silent, his eyes fixed on the vision walking toward him. Confused by the dark-haired officer’s odd behavior, Penhall followed his gaze. It didn’t take long for him to spy Tom, and his eyebrows raised in surprise before his face split into a teasing grin. “Hey, man, do you have a thing for Hanson?”

Shocked back to reality by the question, Booker’s mouth twisted into an angry scowl. “What the fuck are you talking about? Of course I don’t! It’s this suit. How am I s’posed to breathe with this damn tie choking me to death?”

A humorous twinkle shone in Penhall’s eyes, but rather than provoke his new friend, he graciously let the matter go. “Sorry, my mistake,” he apologized before raising a hand and beckoning to Tom. “Hey, Hanson, over here.”

As the young officer approached, Booker struggled to maintain his composure. Dressed in a black tuxedo, white wing collar shirt, bow tie, and shiny leather Oxfords, Tom was a vision of stylish sophistication. Although his unruly brown hair was swept back in a casual ponytail, it did not distract from the overall effect, and Booker found himself suitably impressed. The contrast between the scruffy, nervous officer he’d met a mere eighteen hours before, and the composed young man walking toward him was mind-blowing, and it was then he remembered Penhall’s warning: “He’s like a Jekyll and Hyde. In the field, he’s confident, makes snap decisions, and he can goof off like any teenager. But it’s a charade, a character he plays to nail the bad guys. The real Hanson is the one who just scurried outa here with his tail between his legs. I’m tellin’ you, man, he’s fuckin’ crazy. Consider yourself warned.”

The memory was stronger than the spoken words, and a tingle of uncertainty raised the fine hairs on the back of Booker’s neck. What he’d dismissed as workplace gossip had suddenly manifested into a cautionary tale of a man unhinged. But was it as bad as Penhall portrayed? Having spoken to Tom for only a few minutes, Booker couldn’t say for certain. However, he wasn’t one to take another’s word as gospel, and so he decided to keep an open mind and let their relationship play out. He told himself it had nothing to do with the young officer’s sexual appeal—he’d already determined Tom was probably straight—but he knew he was fooling himself. It was the law of nature; beautiful people garnered more attention, and people often did judge a book by its cover. Hanson might be crazy, but he sure as hell looked good doing it.

The last thought brought a smile to Booker’s lips, and chuckling softly, he didn’t notice Tom standing next to him until the young officer spoke. “Something funny?”

Caught off guard, Booker’s eyes refocused. “What? No...I mean, hey.”

One corner of Tom’s mouth tilted into a slow smile. “Hey, yourself,” he greeted, and turning to Penhall, he gave a stiff nod. “Doug.”

“Hanson,” Penhall reciprocated before deciding to have some fun. “You know, you might find this interesting. I was just asking Dennis if he had a cr—”

“CRAVING FOR A BEER,” Booker shouted over the top of Penhall, his voice easily drowning out the word crush.

Several heads turned and stared at the three officers. Confused by the bizarre exchange, Tom’s eyes flitted from Booker to Penhall and back again. He was used to being the butt of everyone’s jokes and he wondered if the two officers were plotting something designed to embarrass him. “Um, I dunno,” he replied warily. “Maybe. Why?”

“No reason,” Booker reassured while glaring at Doug, his raised eyebrows signaling the officer to shut the fuck up and follow his lead. “We were just talking.”

Satisfied he wasn’t under attack, Tom gave a half smile, his interest waning. He turned away and stared at the musicians, a faraway look in his eyes. Classical music wasn’t really his taste, but he could appreciate the skill it took for the quartet to create such an emotive melody of sound. He likened it to a stimulating conversation between four intelligent people, an expression of one’s innermost thoughts, and he wished he knew the name of the piece they were playing. For the briefest of moments, he considered asking someone, but he knew he would only end up looking foolish. While his fancy attire helped reinvent his persona from shy, awkward Tom to calm, graceful Tom, thereby affording him some level of confidence, initiating conversation was still out of the question. However, if he could have come as his Jump Street alter-ego, he was certain he could walk up to any stranger and quiz them about the enchanting piece of music that somehow managed to complement the heady aroma wafting from the table bouquets. Tom McQuaid didn’t take shit from anyone, he was outgoing, opinionated, and funny without compromising his gentler side. He was, in Tom’s opinion, the perfect guy, and he wished he had the ability to invoke his spirit at will. But he didn’t. In his case, the clothes definitely made the man, and without his ripped jeans, scuffed boots, and trusty bandanna, he was plain old Tom Hanson, the fall guy for everyone's jokes.

With his partner momentarily distracted, Booker took the opportunity to cast an appreciative eye over his slight frame. From behind, the young officer cut a dashing figure. Although not broad, his straight shoulders gave him an air of authority, his slender hips a more boyish appearance, the contrast leaving the observer guessing. He could be in his twenties or mid-teens, at first glance, it was almost impossible to tell. However, upon closer observation, there were subtle signs that gave his age away. Faint black smudges beneath his eyes indicated the weariness of late hours in a stressful job, his brow no longer as smooth as it had been in high school. But Booker knew he was nitpicking. Tom had a youthful vibrancy that was unlikely to fade with the passing of time. He was, in a word, perfection.

“See anything you like?”

A deep blush stained Booker’s cheeks. He’d been blissfully unaware his surreptitious ogling had caught Penhall’s attention, and he tried to hide his embarrassment by giving a nonchalant shrug. “There’s some talent here. The woman in the strapless red dress is pretty hot.”

“Really?” Penhall teased, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Are you sure it’s her you’re interested in?”

Before Booker could answer, Tom turned around. Immediately, the dark-haired officer noticed a marked change in his demeanor. Gone was the gentle smile, his expression now punctuated with glimmers of stress. Curious, the dark-haired officer scanned the crowd, searching for the cause of the young officer’s distress. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a tall, heavyset man in his mid-to-late-twenties approach their small group. Dressed in a plain black suit, there was a vague familiarity around the man’s eyes, and it was then Booker realized why. Will Hanson was about to join the conversation.

Turning his attention back to Tom, he laid a comforting hand on his arm. “Hey, man, are you okay?”

Tom yanked his arm away, his eyes panicked. “Don’t,” he hissed in a low, conspiratorial voice. “He won’t like it.”

The odd comment brought a frown to Booker’s brow. From what Penhall had told him, Tom and Will were thick as thieves, and therefore, it made no sense for Will to have a problem with Tom socializing with his coworkers. Unless, of course, the brothers were hiding something, the stress of which would account for Tom’s nervous disposition. It was an interesting theory, and although Booker knew it was none of his business, he could not quell his curiosity. Something was off, and he wanted to know what.

Wearing a wide grin, Will walked up behind Tom and clapped a large hand on the back of his slim neck. “So, are you going to introduce me to your new friend, Tom-Tom?” he asked, his dark eyes staring directly at Booker.

To the casual observer, it was a friendly display of brotherly affection, but to Booker, it was a brutal exhibition of power and dominance. There was a noticeable look of pain on Tom’s face, but the young officer remained silent, his eyes fixed on the floor; unseeing, strangely accepting of the discomfort his brother was inflicting upon him. Then there was the odd choice of nickname. For Booker, it was a disturbing insight into the brothers’ relationship, and he shifted uncomfortably, unsure whether to speak out or stay silent.

“Cat gotcha tongue, Tom-Tom?” Will joked, his smile broadening. But his eyes remained cold, devoid of any emotion, his detached expression sending a chill down Booker’s spine.

Blushing a deep shade of red, Tom struggled to find his voice. “Um, n-no,” he stammered, his lips twitching into a weak smile. “Th-this is Booker—I mean D-Dennis Booker. He’s n-new to Jump Street.”

A flicker of annoyance flashed in Will’s eyes, but after giving Booker the once over, the older officer released Tom’s neck and stuck out his hand. “That’s great!” he beamed, his left hand slapping down on Tom’s shoulder. “Maybe you can coax Tom-Tom out of his shell. He’s worked at Jump Street for nearly two years, and he still hasn’t made any friends.”

Unimpressed by the disparaging remark, Booker stared at the proffered hand before giving it a reluctant shake. He was one hundred percent certain the last thing Will wanted was for him to befriend Tom, which made him all the more determined to do so. Obnoxious bullies like Will Hanson were especially irritating, but the mayor’s cocktail party was neither the time nor the place to give the bastard a piece of his mind. Instead, he flashed him an engaging smile. “Yeah? Well, I’ve got a feeling that’s about to change. I think we’re gonna get along just great.”

Surprise widened Tom’s eyes, but he quickly ducked his head, a shy smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Although Booker had teased him during their first meeting, he was the first officer to vocalize an interest in forming any type of friendship with him. Most of his coworkers ignored him outside of work, his timid personality making it difficult for him to fit in. Therefore, it was pleasantly reassuring to know someone found him interesting, and he wondered what it would be like to have a partner he could confide in. Not that he’d actually reveal anything too intimate about his life, but just knowing someone considered him worthy of their friendship would be a refreshing change. His last friend had been in middle school, a boy by the name of Robbie Robinson. But after his mother’s death, they had drifted apart, with Robbie unwilling to deal with his mood swings. But it appeared all that was about to change. If Booker was true to his word, he might finally have someone to hang out with after spending eleven and a half years on his own with only his brother for company. Maybe his life was finally about to change for the better.

When Penhall and Will went in search of the drink's waiter, Booker took the opportunity to speak to Tom alone. “So, I was thinking we could grab a bite tomorrow and go over our assignment? How ‘bout twelve o’clock at Nino’s?”

Although thrilled with the invitation, Tom found it difficult to push aside his apprehension. Life had taught him to expect disappointment, and he wasn’t sure if Booker was setting him up as a joke or if he really wanted to meet him for a chat. Indecision creased his brow, and his gaze strayed nervously around the room. More than anything he wanted to accept, but the words stuck in his throat. “I...um...I—”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Booker grinned, his gaze firmly fixed on Tom’s face.

“Um, okay,” Tom replied, a shy smile gracing his lips. But his nerves soon got the better of him and placing his glass of champagne on the table, he shuffled awkwardly. “I...er, I’m gonna get a beer,” and without waiting for Booker to reply, he turned and walked away.

“So, whaddya think of Will? Pretty cool, huh?”

Somewhat surprised Penhall had returned without him noticing, Booker turned his head and shot him a brief glance before his gaze once again focused on Tom’s retreating back. “Yeah,” he replied. “Maybe a little too cool.”

The clever use of a homonym was lost on Penhall. If he’d seen the disapproving glint in Will Hanson’s eyes, he did not allude to it. Instead, he gave Booker’s shoulder a friendly squeeze. “Time to mingle. Will’s talking to the mayor, want me to introduce you?”

The last thing Booker wanted to do was meet the mayor or spend any more time in Will Hanson’s company. What he wanted was to find Ton, and so he decided to employ a stalling tactic. “In a minute,” he replied. “I need to use the restroom.”

The muscles in Penhall’s face twisted into a grimace. “That’s a little too much information, but go ahead, I’ll see you later.”

Distracted, Booker lost sight of Tom in the crowd of black-suited men, and his brow wrinkled in annoyance. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll find you,” he muttered with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Rather than take offense, Penhall smiled inwardly. Despite Booker’s protestations to the contrary, it was obvious he was more interested in talking to Tom than him. “Sure you will,” he murmured, and draining the last of his champagne, he went in search of the mayor.

**

After unlocking the door of apartment 222, Tom walked toward his bedroom, a dreamy smile curling his lips. “That was some party. I think the mayor’s wife outdid herself this—”

Pain exploded in the back of his head, and crying out, he fell to his knees. With his mind in a daze, he struggled to comprehend what was happening, but he was incapable of rational thought. Moments later, the physical effects of his injury took hold, and his stomach lurched, sending the room into a spin. Instinctively, he attempted to rise, one hand held out in front of him, seeking help from an invisible entity. But his injury was too severe, and with a groan, his limbs gave way, and he collapsed to the floor. “Will,” he mumbled before everything turned black and he slipped into a state of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

CoaS 03

Three minutes later

The trickle of water winding a slow trail down his face was the sensory trigger Tom needed to fight the fog and claw his way back to reality. For the briefest of moments, he wondered if he’d fallen asleep in the shower, but as his eyes fluttered open, he realized he was lying on the floor of his living room, his upper body supported by an unknown object. Flashes of chrome distorted his vision, the tiny flickers falling into rhythm with the pounding in his head. Bewildered, he shifted his gaze, but he was immediately confronted by a visual halo dancing around the overhead light, the multicolored glow compounding his confusion. He had no idea what had happened, and squinting against the disorientating luminance, he sank back against the comforting warmth behind him, a low moan escaping from between his lips.

From above, an ethereal voice spoke from the heavens as a gentle hand continued to wipe the blood from the back of his head. “I’m sorry, Tom-Tom, but you know how I feel about strangers. I saw the way he looked at you, and I can’t lose you...not now, not ever.”

The words made no sense to Tom’s addled mind, but rather than fight to understand them, he closed his eyes and took comfort from his brother’s tender touch.

**

The following afternoon

Perched on a stool at the counter of Nino’s Pizzeria, Booker swallowed a mouthful of beer, his gaze focused on the novelty pizza clock reflected in the tiled mirror splashback behind the bar. Tom was thirty-five minutes late, and he was beginning to think the young officer had stood him up. Not that he was surprised, he’d pretty much railroaded his new partner into agreeing to meet him for lunch, which wasn’t his normal style. His usual ethos was far more casual when getting to know his colleagues, but Hanson was unlike anyone he had worked with, and desperate times called for desperate measures. Tom was an introvert who appeared to lack the social skills needed to form any type of friendship. Therefore, Booker reasoned it was up to him to pave the stepping stones necessary for them to create a mutually beneficial working relationship. Otherwise, life at Jump Street could prove more challenging than he had first envisioned.

“Sorry I’m late.”

At the sound of Tom’s voice, Booker turned in his seat, a ready smile forming on his lips. But his friendly expression quickly transformed into one of concern when he noticed the pallor of the young officer’s skin. “Geez, Hanson, are you okay? You look kinda pale.”

A telltale tic twitched at the corner of Tom’s right eye. “I’m fine,” he lied. “I’m just a little hungover.”

“Uh-huh,” Booker replied, his non-committal response masking his skepticism. Unless Tom had tied one on after leaving the mayor’s party, he couldn’t see how the young officer could possibly be feeling the aftereffects of too much alcohol. During the time they’d chatted, Tom had barely touched his champagne, and according to Penhall, he and Will had left not long after, which explained why Booker couldn’t find him after using the restroom. Once again, the dark-haired officer's spider-sense was tingling, and he wondered what secret his partner was hiding. But rather than blurt out the question in his usual, boorish manner, he decided to play detective—which was his forte after all—and wheedle the information out of him through clever manipulation.

With his plan in place, Booker offered Tom a genuine smile. “So, do you want to sit inside or out?”

“In,” Tom replied, even though the fresh air would help ease his headache. He was jittery enough without running the risk of Will driving past and catching him having lunch with his new partner. He’d already chanced his luck by walking to the café rather than driving. Not that he thought he was doing anything wrong, it was only a work meeting, but his brother’s protective nature made it necessary for him to sneak out under false pretenses. The previous night had taught him a valuable lesson, and he knew he needed to watch his step, or risk provoking another attack.

After ordering a jug of beer and a large pizza, the two officers sat at a table toward the back of the restaurant. Tom sipped at his drink, his anxious gaze sweeping around the café. He was wary of drinking too much after suffering a head injury. Alcohol and a concussion were a dangerous combination, but he wanted to fit in, to be ‘one of the boys’ for the first time in his life. However, he found it difficult to ignore the dull pain throbbing behind his left eye—the beginnings of a migraine—but he did his best to ignore it, to focus on Booker’s moving mouth, even though he was having trouble making sense of the words. Then, to his dismay, an unpleasant warmth gushed from his nose.

“Shit!” he exclaimed, his hand swiping at his nostrils. His fingers came away bloody, and he stared in horror as the sanguine fluid splattered an abstract pattern over the front of his T-shirt.

Booker immediately stood up, and grabbing a napkin from the table, he rushed to the young officer’s aide. “Here,” he instructed, gently pressing the cloth against Tom’s face. “Lean forward and pinch your nostrils together.”

Curious onlookers watched on, adding to Tom’s embarrassment, and he screwed his eyes closed, trapping his tears behind the lids. But just when he wished the floor would swallow him whole, a gentle hand caressed his hair, the unexpected touch sending a delightful shiver down the length of his spine. He couldn’t remember the last time someone other than his brother had shown him affection, and he basked in the contact. It was the comfort he’d craved since losing his parents, the longing of an innocent child. But when Booker’s fingers grazed over the tender lump on the back of his head, he winced, the contentment of the long-forgotten memory shattering into shards of reality. Panicked, he recoiled. He’d let Booker get too close, endangering both his and Will’s existence, and he knew he’d have to think on his feet or risk detection.

The hand on his head paused mid-stroke before moving away altogether. Beside him, the scrape of a chair echoed in his ear, setting his teeth on edge, and he kept his eyes closed, praying for a miracle. But God wasn’t listening. Moments later he sensed Booker’s body leaning in close, and holding his breath, he waited, his muscles tense, his mind a whirlpool of agitation.

Making sure he was out of earshot of the other diners, Booker spoke in a low, conspiratorial voice. “Did someone hurt you, Tommy?”

The assumption immediately put Tom on the defensive, and he jerked away, the bloody napkin falling to the floor. “Who the hell do you think you are?” he snapped, his stained fingers wiping the blood from beneath his nose. “You don’t know me, so don’t pretend you know anything about my life.”

Booker initially faltered under the malevolent glare blazing from Tom’s dark eyes before sitting back and calmly studying his partner’s furious face. It was obvious he’d struck a nerve, and Tom’s angry rebuttal pretty much confirmed his fears because he was certain the young officer would have laughed off his concerns if he’d misread the signals. But what surprised him the most was the ferocity of the young officer’s response, and he marveled at the complexity of his character. It appeared there was more to Tom Hanson than met the eye, which only added to his intrigue. However, while he admired Tom’s moxie, he wondered who he was protecting. Despite bearing witness to Will Hanson belittling his brother, Booker doubted he would actually cause him any physical harm. That left a mysterious third person as the culprit, the concept of which captivated the dark-haired officer’s imagination. But before he could solve the mystery, he needed to go into damage control. His bold question had upset his new partner, and it was up to him to make amends. But he was not used to admitting he was wrong, so he took a moment to gather his thoughts before laying a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Sorry.”

It was a simple apology because while Booker regretted asking the question, he did not regret wanting to know the answer. Having endured endless teasing throughout high school because of his bisexuality, he was a defender of the disenfranchised, the first to speak out against any form of bullying. And while he realized he’d overstepped the boundaries of his and Tom’s fledgling relationship, that did not mean he would let the matter drop. There was definitely something odd about Tom, and it was his hope the officer would one day trust him enough to confide the truth.

Torn between telling Booker to go fuck himself and not upsetting a potential friend, Tom weighed up the pros and cons on both sides of the argument. Gradually, the rage burning in his eyes dimmed to a flicker of annoyance, and with a stiff nod of his head, he accepted the dark-haired officer’s apology. “Okay.”

Pleased the fight was over before it had a chance to escalate, Booker reached down and picked up the bloody napkin. “Here,” he offered quietly.

The corner of Tom’s mouth twitched. “Thanks.”

“Do you want to leave?”

Although a tempting proposition, Tom shook his head as he dabbed at his bloody nose. “No, but...um...I should probably get cleaned up.”

In the hope of lightening the mood, Booker returned a cheeky grin. “Good idea, you look like an extra in a horror movie.”

Unaccustomed to the playful ribbing that was an integral part of mateship, Tom ducked his head, the alluring curve of his lips pleasantly inviting. In need of some alone time, he pushed back his chair and stood up. “I...um...I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I’ll be here.”

The soft resonance of Booker’s voice sent a flutter through Tom’s chest. He could feel his face burning under the intensity of his partner’s gaze, and averting his eyes, he hurried toward the restroom.

**

Rolling up his shirtsleeves, Tom washed the blood from his fingers. Once clean, he leaned over the sink, and cupping his hands under the running faucet, he splashed cool water over his burning face. He took a moment to scrub at the flesh around his nose and mouth, being sure to remove all traces of blood from his skin. After several minutes, he turned off the faucet and lifting his head, he gazed at his reflection in the mirror. Beads of water clung to his hair and skin, the paleness of his cheeks highlighting the dark smudges beneath his eyes. He looked like shit, he felt like shit...in fact, he was nothing more than a piece of shit smeared on the bottom of an unsuspecting jogger’s shoe. But his low self-esteem was only a part of his self-loathing, and he wondered why Booker bothered to take an interest in him. Not that the dark-haired officer would ever really know him, his life was shrouded in secrets and what little he did reveal about himself was a lie. But what Booker didn’t know couldn’t hurt him, and he would keep up the charade to the best of his ability. For the first time in years, he actually had someone other than his brother to talk to, and even though their conversations would never be intimate, it made a pleasant change from the norm. After the death of his parents, he’d never craved attention, if anything, he shied away from it. But there was something about Booker that had him dropping his guard, a cheeky, yet caring magnetism drawing him in, which was both exhilarating and dangerous in its complexity. Booker was unlike anyone he’d ever met, and although intriguing, he was unsure if the dark-haired officer’s presence in his life was a good or bad thing. Only time would tell, but whatever the outcome, Tom knew he needed to proceed with caution. His life was problematic enough without bringing an unknown third party into the mix.

Grabbing several pieces of paper towel from the dispenser, he dried his hands and face. When he tossed the discarded wipes in the bin, he caught sight of his bruised wrists, and he stared at the fading contusions for a moment before rolling down his sleeves and buttoning the cuffs, effectively hiding his shame. He covered his bloodstained T-shirt behind his buttoned shirt, and feeling slightly less disheveled, he once again stared at himself in the mirror. His ghostly image gazed back, empty, devoid, the haunting apparition a mocking caricature of what a twenty-three-year-old man should look like. But it was not a shock, it was the visage he’d lived with for twelve years, and it was as familiar to him as his own voice. He was what he was, and he accepted it without complaint.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and slowly counted to ten. When he finally had his anxiety back under control, he threw one last glance at the mirror and walked back into the restaurant.

Chapter Text

CoaS 04

By the time Tom returned, the pizza had arrived, and taking a seat, he avoided Booker’s scrutinizing gaze by staring down at the checkered tablecloth. He was unsure how to initiate a conversation with the man sitting opposite him; the man whose dark, insightful eyes followed his every move. Once again, he could feel his anxiety taking hold, and his hands twisted anxiously in his lap. His mind was a jumble of competing thoughts, and he longed for Booker to take charge and end the awkward silence unfolding between them. The seconds ticked by, slow, daunting, and his heart rate increased, the faltering rhythm whooshing in his ears like the ocean’s waves on a bright summer’s day. He took comfort from the sound, the auditory illusion taking him back to his childhood and closing his eyes, his mind began to wander. He was six-years-old, and he and Will were building sandcastles on Venice Beach. It was one of a handful of memories he treasured, and his mind often reminisced about that time in his life when he was loved and cared for by those he adored.

“Hungry?”

Tom’s eyes flew open, the sound of Booker’s voice forcing him back to the present with a mind-jolting bang. His head shot up, and he stared at his colleague, his dark, troubled eyes conveying his confusion. “Huh?”

“I asked if you were hungry,” Booker grinned.

An embarrassed smile tilted Tom’s lips. “Sorry, I...um...sometimes I get lost in my own thoughts.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Booker laughed, and grabbing a piece of pizza, he proceeded to eat. “So, tell me about yourself, Tom. Any family apart from Will?"

Although not hungry, Tom followed Booker’s lead and taking a slice of pizza, he put it on his plate. “You first,” he deflected. “Do you have any siblings?”

“A sister, Kathy,” Booker replied through a mouthful of pizza. “We get along okay. I’m pretty close to my mom, and my dad...well, let’s just say, he's no longer in the picture.”

Tom nodded, unwilling to pry further. But Booker was not so judicious and taking a second slice of pizza, he began his interrogation. “What about you?”

An uncomfortable silence followed before Tom finally answered the question, his tone sullen. “What’s to tell? I’m sure the Jump Street grapevine has already told you my father died on the job and my mom drank herself to death.”

Not about to lie, Booker gave a slight nod of his head. “Yeah, okay, someone did tell me that, but I’d kinda like to hear it from you.”

Sweat prickled the back of Tom’s neck, and he twisted his replacement napkin in his lap. “Why? It doesn’t change the facts. What they told you is true, end of story.”

“Ooo-kay,” Booker replied slowly, rethinking his tactic. He’d obviously touched a nerve, and he recognized the need to tread warily or risk alienating Tom further. But he also believed in speaking the truth and putting down his pizza, he stared the young officer in the eye. “Friends don’t rely on gossip, Tom, they prefer to hear information straight from the source. I’m not asking 'cause I want to make you uncomfortable, I’m asking ‘cause I want to get to know you better.”

Tom’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Friends? Is that what we are?”

A slow endearing smile spread over Booker’s face. “Sure, why not? Unless you don’t want to be.”

For the first time in a long time, a genuine grin curled the corners of Tom’s lips. “I dunno,” he teased, a cheeky glint shining from his eyes. “I haven’t decided yet. You’re kinda weird.”

It was a small step, but a step nonetheless, and Booker reveled in his victory. He had finally managed to break through Tom’s defensive shield, revealing a glimpse of the man within, and his smile widened. “Yeah? Well, you’re kinda weird too, so I guess we’ll get along great.”

With the tension between them now broken, Tom visibly relaxed, and picking up his pizza, he took a bite. But his relief was short-lived.

“So, you and Will are pretty tight, huh? Must be nice having a brother to pal around with.”

It was the question Tom had been dreading most, and putting down his pizza, he wiped his hands on his napkin. “I guess,” he replied cautiously. “I mean, we don't always agree, but we’re brothers, we love each other.”

To Booker, it seemed an odd comment to make, but he hid his surprise behind a smile. “Yeah, that sounds like Kathy and me.”

Relieved he was managing to keep the discussion going without revealing too much about his life, Tom continued to pick at his pizza. Although not completely comfortable in Booker’s presence, he was relaxed enough to start taking in his surroundings. Many of the patrons were couples or families, and he marveled at the ease with which their dialogue flowed. To his left, a man and woman in their early thirties chatted enthusiastically, the woman’s eyes never leaving the man’s face as he laughed and gesticulated wildly with his hands. Her expression could only be described as rapturous, and Tom found himself mesmerized by the love shining from her emerald green eyes. He’d seen that countenance before, in his mother’s eyes, and a lump rose in his throat. He missed those looks, and he wondered if he would ever know such unconditional love again.

“Are you seeing anyone?”

The question took Tom by surprise, and drawing in a breath, he inhaled the piece of pizza he’d just started chewing. Panicked, he began to cough, his eyes streaming as he struggled to dislodge the morsel of food from his windpipe. For a second time, Booker jumped to his feet, alarm registering on his face. But just as he was considering giving Tom the Heimlich Maneuver, the young officer spat the offending piece of pepperoni onto his plate, clearing his airway.

The chitter-chatter of voices lulled to a hushed murmur, the curious diners once again focusing their attention on Tom. The young officer cringed under their scrutiny, and bowing his head low, his shoulders hunched forward, shielding his face from view. No matter how hard he tried, he always ended up making a fool of himself in front of his peers, and each embarrassing episode only served to chip away another piece of his dwindling confidence. When he looked back over the past twenty-three years, he could barely remember a time when he hadn’t felt socially awkward. It appeared to be his lot in life, but the knowledge did not make the ridicule any easier to swallow. He was tired of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, and he wondered what it would feel like to go through life with the aplomb of someone like Booker. The dark-haired officer appeared to have it all, good looks, a pleasant, easy-going personality, and a belief in himself that made others step back and take notice. He had an edge many envied, even his cocky attitude was somewhat endearing, if also a little annoying. However, in stark contrast, Tom viewed himself as ineffectual, and if it wasn’t for his constant social blunders, he was certain most people wouldn’t even notice him. Of course, the latter would have suited him perfectly. Invisible Tom was far more preferable than conspicuous Tom, especially in a room full of people.

“J-Jesus, Hanson,” Booker stammered, his hand rubbing his new friend’s back. “Are you okay?

Unable to speak, the young officer could only nod his head. The trail of tears leaking from his eyes were no longer a side effect of his choking fit, they were tears of torment and humiliation, and he wondered why God hated him so much. He could feel the walls closing in on him, the low hum of muted voices mocking him with their whispered judgments. Panic squeezed the air from his lungs, the heavy thump, thump, thumpity, thump of his heart blending with the soft laughter echoing throughout the room, the acoustic vibration disorienting him to the point of confusion. But as much as he wanted to run, he remained motionless, his limbs paralyzed, his mind trapped within the horror of his predicament. He was a helpless victim of his own stupidity, and he only had himself to blame. He’d allowed his anxiety to control his reflexes, leaving him spluttering like a fool, and he knew he would never set foot in the restaurant again. Not that he thought Booker would ever invite him out for lunch again after his embarrassing performance. He’d blown his one chance to make a friend, and he’d managed to do it in the most spectacular and memorable fashion imaginable.

It didn't take long for the curious onlookers to lose interest and idle chatter once again filled the room. Feeling guilty for the role he’d played in embarrassing Tom, Booker lightly squeezed his shoulder. “Shit, man, I’m really sorry,” he apologized, his dark eyes shining with concern. “I didn't mean for you to choke. I was just making conversation.”

Unable to cope with the public humiliation any longer, Tom’s limbs finally cooperated and shoving back his chair, he stood up. “I-I should go,” he stammered, his voice thick with emotion. “This was a mistake.”

Not wanting their lunch to end before it had even begun, Booker made the decision to change tack. “No, it wasn’t. C’mon, sit down, let’s talk about our case. We need to get our background stories straight before we turn up at school tomorrow.”

“I can’t stay in here,” Tom hissed, his dark, frantic eyes skimming over the restaurant patrons’ faces before settling on a point just below Booker’s left shoulder. “Not after that.”

“No problem, we’ll sit outside.”

The obvious solution to his dilemma was not what Tom wanted to hear, and he rubbed his hand over his mouth, his expression uncertain. Eating alfresco style offered little protection from prying eyes, and with his apartment a mere two blocks away, there was a good chance someone would recognize him. But he didn’t want to let his new friend down, and so, although reluctant to prolong the agony of his humiliation, he gave his assent with a small nod. “Okay.”

Hiding a smile, Booker picked up their pizza and headed toward the door. Tom briefly considered bolting for the restroom and making his escape via the window, but he realized the ridiculousness of the idea before it had even finished forming in his mind. Whether he liked it or not, he had agreed to meet the dark-haired officer for lunch, and despite his misgivings, he was prepared to honor that commitment. He owed Booker that much.

After inhaling several deep, calming breaths, he picked up the pitcher of beer in one hand, the two glasses in the other, and followed his friend outside.

**

From his vantage point on the cracked sidewalk, Tom watched as a group of school children crossed the street, their bags bulging with books, and half-eaten lunches. Their good-natured pushing and shoving brought a smile to his lips, and he basked in the affection of their camaraderie. He could still remember the fun times he’d spent with Robbie, riding their bikes down to the local park, where they’d shoot hoops until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and it was time to go home. Although both small in stature for their ages, each boy had dreamed of making it to the ABL, a schoolboy fantasy that for Tom, disappeared the moment his father died. Once Thomas Hanson was buried in the ground, it hadn’t taken long for Tom’s sheltered life to become nothing more than a distant memory, the fragmented images of sepia-toned reflections reminding him of what he’d lost. The reality of a drunken mother and a brother trying his hardest to hold the family together became his world, and unable to cope with the mounting pressure of his home life, he withdrew into himself, preferring the quietude of his own company to that of a group. But as the years slipped away and the nightmare of his past became less painful, he realized he missed the companionship of others. The problem was, by the time he was ready to fraternize, his social awkwardness was too ingrained, too debilitating, leaving him no option but to quietly slip back into the background. It was a lonely existence, but one he was comfortable with. A life of solitude had become the norm, and anything else seemed alien and a little frightening.

On the other side of the small wrought-iron table, Booker watched the wave of differing emotions play over Tom’s face. From his slow, wistful smile, to the sad, acquiescent flutter of his eyes, each sentiment added another dimension to the exquisite beauty of his features, the open display captivating Booker with its honesty. There was a childlike innocence behind the young officer’s coy countenance that couldn’t be faked, his unassuming allure touching Booker in places he'd never been touched before. Tom was an enigma, guarded one minute, an open book the next, and the dark-haired officer longed for the day when he could put all the pieces of the puzzle together and see the real Tom Hanson in all his glory.

When Tom realized he was being watched, a light blush reddened his cheeks, and glancing at his watch, he pushed back his chair and stood up. “I should get going. It’s getting late.”

Disappointment flashed in Booker’s eyes, but he didn’t protest. The last few hours had proved pleasantly tranquil, with their conversation flowing comfortably from work, to world events, to music, and sport. He had purposely avoided any personal topics, preferring to let Tom relax and enjoy his meal. But once relocated outside, the attractive officer had made no effort to touch his pizza, and the froth of his beer lay flat inside his glass, the bubbles having dissipated hours before. His new friend’s lack of appetite puzzled Booker, and he hoped it had nothing to do with the head injury he’d suffered. However, although concerned, he did not pry. They were finally getting along, and one wrong move could bring down the walls of silence he’d fought so hard to break through, leaving him back at square one.

With an exaggerated sigh of food-induced contentment, the dark-haired officer stood up and pulling out a crumpled pack of Marlboros, he liberated a cigarette with his teeth. “Need a ride?” he mumbled around the butt hanging from between his lips.

Tom hesitated, unsure whether to accept. But his indecision was interrupted by the audible click of a lighter, closely followed by the acrid smell of cigarette smoke, and once again, his mind spiraled back to the past. His mother had started smoking the same brand of cigarettes after his father died, her incessant chain-smoking filling their small house with the smell of stale tobacco, the odor intermingling with the stench of her despair. It was an unpleasant reminder of the worst year of his life, and he suppressed a shudder, the unwanted imagery destroying what was left of his momentary calm. His body tensed, and stepping back, he sought the welcoming fragrance of the warm spring breeze, while banishing the memory to a dark corner of his mind. He didn’t want to spoil what had turned into an enjoyable afternoon, and after taking a moment to compose himself, he gave his answer. “Sure, that’d be great. Thanks, Dennis.”

The sound of Tom’s voice softly speaking his name sent Booker’s stomach rolling into somersaults. His flesh tingled with carnal desire, the tightening of his jeans a sign of his growing arousal. But while he understood his sexual attraction toward the young officer, the emotional attraction was a mystery. Shy, nervy, and lacking in confidence, Tom was the exact opposite of all his other lovers. However, there was no mistaking his feelings, he wanted Hanson more than he’d wanted any other man, and while the depth of his infatuation confused him, his desire to protect was genuine. There was a vulnerability about Tom, a naiveté that tugged at his heart and brought out his nurturing side. But despite his internal longing, he was intuitive enough to know they’d only ever be friends. Anything more would only be a fevered product of his overactive imagination, and the sooner he came to terms with that fact, the easier life would be.

With his semi-hard erection now becoming an issue, he motioned with his eyes toward his Cadillac. “Get in.”

Nervous excitement fluttered in Tom’s chest, the irregular beat of his heart sending tremors through his fingers. Hitching a ride with a friend was a new experience, and he was embarrassed to admit the effect the everyday activity had upon him. For the first time in his adult life, he felt socially accepted, the headiness of his elation acting like a drug, his emotional high curling his lips into a goofy grin. But he quickly hid his euphoric expression behind his hand. The last thing he wanted was for Booker to think he was some kind of crazy person. Especially after what had transpired in the restaurant.

Climbing into the passenger seat, the young officer took in his surroundings. The footwell was littered with empty cola bottles and crumpled food wrappers; the staple diet of most cops. A little disgusted, he pushed the litter to one side with his foot. Cleanliness was something he prided himself on, it gave him the control he lacked in other areas of his life. But after settling into Booker’s trash-filled vehicle, he suddenly felt liberated, and he wondered what it would feel like to live each day without giving a damn what anyone thought.

“So, where to?”

Tom hesitated for a moment, his uncertainty returning like a familiar friend. If Will saw him getting out of a strange vehicle, he was in for a whole load of trouble. But it was too late to change his mind, and swallowing down his apprehension, he forced himself to smile. “Turn left on Fourth, it’s the second street on the right,” he directed, his trembling fingers making it difficult for him to fasten his seat belt.

“Here, let me,” Booker offered, his fingers brushing over the back of Tom’s hand as he took hold of the buckle and clicked it into place. He was surprised to hear a sharp intake of breath, but he didn’t comment. Instead, he turned the key in the ignition, put the shifter into gear, and flicking the indicator, he pulled away from the curb.

The drive took less than two minutes, and as he approached the turning to Tom’s street, Booker’s curiosity stirred. He assumed he would get to see where Tom lived, but he was soon left disappointed. As he pulled into the street, the young officer quickly unbuckled his seat belt. “Drop me off here.”

Booker pulled up to the curb. “Are you sure?” he asked, his eyes scanning the street for an apartment building. “I don’t mind—”

“Thanks for the lift,” Tom replied hurriedly. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

“Wait,” Booker instructed, his hand grabbing at Tom’s upper arm before he could get out of the car.

Startled by the contact, Tom physically recoiled, the emotional reflex rippling through his body in anxious waves. Embarrassed by his reaction, he turned and faced Booker, his lips twitching into a weak smile. “Sorry. Um, what?”

Even though he found it odd, Booker decided not to question Tom’s reaction. Instead, he ignored the apology and leaning across his friend, he opened the glove compartment. After several seconds of searching, he pulled out a fuel receipt and a pen and turning over the narrow strip of paper, he hurriedly wrote down his address and phone number. “Here,” he offered Tom with a smile. “Just in case you need to get in touch with me outside of working hours.”

Tom stared at the piece of paper before taking it and shoving it in his pocket. “Thanks,” he replied with a half smile, and exiting the vehicle, he slammed the door closed and disappeared between two buildings.

**

Will stared out of the window, his face twisted into a tight, angry mask. The tumbler of whiskey in his hand shook violently, the clinking of ice shattering the silence in the room. In his other hand, a forgotten cigarette dangled between his fingers, its noxious fumes rising from the burning tip. But with his gaze fixed on the black Cadillac parked down the street, he barely registered the irritating haze wafting in front of his eyes. He immediately recognized the man climbing out of the vehicle as Tom, and bringing his glass to his lips, he swallowed a large mouthful of cheap bourbon. His frown deepened as he watched his brother raise a hand to the driver before scurrying toward the back entrance of their building. Once out of sight, Will returned his attention to the Caddy, and narrowing his eyes, he attempted to identify the driver. But the vehicle was too far away and shifting his gaze, his eyes focused on the lit cigarette in his hand. Without thought, he curled his fingers into a fist and crushed it against his flesh. The tip singed his skin, the flaring pain giving him a strange sense of relief, and closing his eyes, he waited for the burning sensation to settle to a dull throb. Moments later, a visible calm relaxed his features, and opening his eyes, he tossed the extinguished butt on the floor and walked into the kitchen.

Chapter Text

CoaS 05

Booker stood in front of Westview High’s unremarkable brown-brick building, a weird tingle of déjà vu raising the fine hairs on the back of his neck. He felt conspicuous and out of place, a pariah among the sea of youthful faces wandering the campus. On average, he was at least six years older than the pupils milling around him, and after spending several years working in a high-pressure profession, he began to wonder if he could successfully revert to a teenage mentality. But it was his job to fit in, to convince those he was investigating that he was just another bitter, angry, anti-establishment type with a chip on his shoulder, and all so he could infiltrate the group of drug dealers and make an arrest. It wouldn’t be easy, but he prided himself on his adaptability and with that in mind, he put on his best scowl and sauntered into the building in search of Tom.

Once inside, the first thing Booker noticed was the noise. Hundreds of voices echoed throughout the bustling hallways, the excited chatter, shouts, and raucous laughter bouncing off the walls, the cacophony of garbled sound jarring his nerves. But he managed to keep up his snarky expression as he pushed through the students crowding the corridor, eventually arriving at the administration office puffed, but otherwise unscathed.

Fully expecting to find Tom waiting for him at their agreed meeting place, he was surprised to find the waiting area occupied by a lone pupil. The teenager sat on the single bench outside the principal’s office, his body hunched sideways as he studiously carved something into the varnished wood with a pocket knife. Dressed in ripped jeans, brown hoodie, sleeveless denim jacket, and black boots, the student's mismatched ensemble was topped off with a white patterned bandanna wrapped firmly around his head. It was the look of a teen struggling to find his identity in a world of hard knocks, and Booker wondered if he were one of the drug dealers he would end up befriending.

Suddenly aware he was under scrutiny, the teen looked up, his sensual mouth unsmiling, his dark eyes cold with contempt. “Whatcha lookin’ at, asshole?”

Taken aback, Booker stared at Tom with wide, disbelieving eyes. The last person he expected to be looking at was his undercover partner, and he continued to gawk at his friend, his brain desperately trying to compute what it was he was seeing. The change was extraordinary, and it was then he realized what an outstanding cop Tom really was. It wasn’t just the rancor behind the comment that had thrown him, it was the unsettling shift in Tom’s demeanor that had knocked him for six. Gone was the nervous, twenty-three-year-old Hanson, a man so timid, he could barely look him in the eye, and in his place sat a surly, cocksure teenager whose unfamiliar sneer had him shifting uncomfortably. It was an Oscar winning performance, and one Booker hoped he could replicate because if he failed, he might just find himself out of a job.

Rattled by the unexpected confrontation, it took the dark-haired officer several moments to gain his composure, but once he did, he immediately fell into character and reciprocated with a barbed comment of his own. “What’s it to you, jerkoff?”

Tom’s lips curled into a taunting smile. “Wow. Another tough guy, wannabe biker. How original.”

Suppressing a grin, Booker gave Tom the once over, his expression mocking. “Nice bandanna. Did your momma buy it for you?”

A flicker of pain flashed in Tom’s eyes, and Booker mentally kicked himself for being so insensitive. But Tom was a professional, and without breaking character, he sneered at the undercover officer. “Your mother loves it when I wear it, especially when she’s on all fours and I’m fu—”

“Thomas McQuaid?”

“Yo!” Tom shouted, and jumping to his feet, he stood to attention, his mocking stance doing little to impress the school’s principal.

“That’s enough, Mister McQuaid,” Principal Johnson warned. “Get in my office, now.”

Pocketing the knife, Tom threw Booker a cheeky wink. “See ya round, dickwad.”

Booker grinned. "Not if I see you first, asswipe."

Impressed, Tom grinned back, and with a covert nod of his head, he followed Principal Johnson into his office.

**

When the lunch bell sounded, Booker made his way to the school’s parking lot. He’d arranged to meet Tom outside the school’s perimeter, far away from prying eyes and curious ears. The disused warehouse they’d chosen gave them the privacy they needed while leaving them enough time to get back to Westview before lessons recommenced. Not that they cared if they were on time, they were acting the role of disruptive hooligans who didn’t give a damn about society or its rules, and playing hooky was par for the course. But the more time they spent with their pseudo-peers, the better chance they had of gleaning vital information about which students were trafficking drugs. It was one of the catch-22 situations the Jump Street team often faced, and Booker was more than happy to take his cue from Tom. Although experienced in undercover ops through his work at I.A.D., Hanson’s knowledge in the schoolyard far exceeded his own. Therefore, he was quite content to allow his partner to take charge and call the shots, at least at the beginning.

The short drive to the warehouse helped clear Booker’s head, and by the time he arrived, the chaos of the past few hours was nothing more than a distant memory. Being in close contact with a gaggle of hormonal teenagers had been particularly wearing, and although he enjoyed mouthing off to the teachers, the constant inane chatter had grated heavily on his nerves. He longed for some adult conversation, but more than anything, he longed to spend some time with Tom. They’d only had one class together, but they’d played it cool, treating each other as strangers. It was crucial no one suspected they knew each other, and although particularly challenging for Booker, he had managed to ignore Tom for most of the lesson. But now they were free to talk, and he looked forward to hearing his partner’s thoughts on the case. So far, he hadn’t managed to obtain any information about suspected drug deals, but he was sure Tom was one step ahead of him. Penhall had been right, there was no doubt Hanson had the duality of human nature depicted in Robert Louis Stevenson's ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, and from what Booker had seen, it appeared Hyde was on top of his game.

After discreetly parking his Cadillac behind a large metal dumpster, Booker approached the warehouse from the side entrance. He pushed open the rusty metal door, the groaning creak signaling his arrival. The raspy cry sent a flock of roosting starlings into rapid flight, their warning cries shattering the stillness of the warm spring air. Once inside, it took a moment for his eyes to focus, but eventually, they adjusted to the gloom, and he was able to discern a still, dark shape standing silently next to a stack of wooden crates. For no reason, his stomach flipped, the somersault sending a thrill of excitement racing down his spine. Even Tom’s silhouette had an unsettling effect on him, and he could feel his body responding. His heart began to race, its steady beat falling out of rhythm with each dip of his stomach, and his hands trembled as his legs turned to jelly. The phenomenon was strangely disconcerting, and not one he had experienced before. It was then he wondered if what he was feeling was real love, and perhaps all his past relationships were nothing more than just infatuation. Or was it the other way around? He had no idea, but he knew he risked making a complete ass of himself if he didn’t take control of his emotions pronto.

Inhaling a deep breath, he quickly pulled himself together and swaggered over to his partner. “Hey, Hanson.”

Tom’s lips curled at the edges, the slow, enticing smile doing little to settle Booker’s lurching stomach. “Hey, yourself. But you should call me McQuaid, so you don’t slip up at school.”

Booker’s cheeks reddened. He couldn’t believe he’d made such a rookie mistake, and he cringed with embarrassment.

Not about to make a big deal out of an innocent slip up, Tom changed the subject. “How’s your first day back at school?”

Grateful for the turn of conversation, Booker smiled. “I don’t remember it being that noisy or that crowded,” he chuckled. “I hate to admit it, but it was kinda overwhelming.”

“You’ll get used to it,” Tom reassured. “Take your time, settle in, then we can start our investigation.”

“So, you don’t have any leads?”

Amused by his partner’s enthusiasm, Tom’s eye’s sparkled. “Geez, Dennis, give me a break, I’ve only been there three hours. It takes at least a couple of days before the new guy gets accepted into a group. Just relax, and don’t force it or you’ll make them suspicious, and then we’ve got nothing.”

Feeling even more like a rookie, Booker struggled to maintain his confident persona, and he quickly lowered his gaze. It was apparent in the six years since he’d left, he had forgotten the subtle intricacies of high school life. If he wanted to fit in as a teenager, he needed to think like a teenager, and that meant digging up memories he’d buried a long time ago. High school had been a nightmare, a seven hour a day, five days a week tortuous ordeal of verbal and physical assaults. The constant bullying had changed him, and he’d slowly transformed from a happy, outgoing boy, to a sullen combative teenager. Being openly bisexual hadn’t won him any friends among those desperate to fit in, and he knew what it was like to be on the outer. If the commissioner’s intel was correct, those dealing drugs at Westview were not the popular kids looking for a thrill, they were the disenfranchised, those from broken or abusive homes who were searching for a way to make their mark in the world. Having been one of those outcasts, it was an experience Booker could draw on, and he hoped by arresting the youths before they became adults, he could break the cycle and steer them toward a brighter future.

When a gentle hand rested on his arm, the dark-haired officer gave an involuntary jump. Lifting his head, his gaze met Tom’s dark, soulful eyes, and his stomach started another round of flip-flops worthy of an Olympic medal.

Worried he’d offended his new partner, Tom attempted to alleviate the strange tension he could sense building in the air. “Hey, I didn’t mean to sound like a know-it-all,” he apologized in a quiet voice. “It’s just...sometimes, these jobs take time. First, we need to integrate ourselves, which isn’t easy. Teenagers aren’t always welcoming, but I’ve found the casual approach usually works best. Make them want to include you in their group, not the other way around. Then, when they do accept you, don’t dig too hard the first couple of days. These kids have a knack for spotting a nark from twenty paces.”

If anyone else had told him how to do his job, Booker would have taken umbrage and made his thoughts known with a few choice words. But coming from Tom, it didn’t sound like a criticism. Hanson had a knack of translating the gentleness of his nature into his words, leaving the listener comforted rather than offended. Booker guessed it was part of what made him such an outstanding cop in the eyes of his peers. Despite the day-to-day grind of witnessing unlawful behavior perpetrated by minors, he hadn’t lost his empathy. Actuated almost exclusively by altruism, he was not only an exceptional police officer, but he was also an incredibly compassionate soul, and it was that characteristic that intrigued Booker the most. From what he had witnessed, Tom suffered bullying from both his peers and his brother. He was the target, the easy mark, and yet through it all, he maintained a sense of benevolence, and it was this trait that made him a unique human being. Life hadn’t knocked him down—at least not yet—and Booker hoped in time, the young officer would find his wings and soar to the dizzying heights of success because he was certain once that happened, there would be no stopping him.

Comforted by Tom’s lack of judgment, Booker’s face relaxed into a smile. “Another rookie mistake, huh? People always tell me I’m too impulsive. I guess I’ve got a lot to learn about these kids. But I’ve gotta say, you seem to have no trouble fitting in. What’s your secret?”

Tom gifted Booker with a rare grin. “It’s all about the clothes,” he replied with a chuckle. “But don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. I’ve got a feeling you’re gonna be just fine.”

The welcoming praise raised the color in Booker’s cheeks, and desperate to turn the conversation around before he made a complete fool of himself, he posed what he hoped was a reasonable question. “So, once school’s over, do we meet up to discuss the day or continue with our role as wayward teens?”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Tom headed toward the door. “Depends. If you’re accepted into a group, hang with them after school. If not, lay low, so they don’t see you doing anything that doesn’t fit with their teenage way of life. If you want, we can meet at the chapel later, say nine o’clock?”

As far as Booker was concerned, whether he wanted to wasn’t really a question open for debate. He was so infatuated by Tom, he’d cancel plans just so he could spend time with the young officer. But he needed to play it cool, and hiding his smile, he gave a nod of his head. “Nine o’clock it is,” he affirmed, and ignoring the flip of his stomach, he followed Tom out of the warehouse.

Chapter Text

CoaS 06

Pulling up next to Tom’s Mustang, Booker switched off the Caddy’s engine. Immediately, he found his gaze drawn to the deconsecrated chapel, and he stared up at the building, much like he had the first time he’d seen it. Illuminated by the waxing gibbous moon—whose misshapen halo shone from behind a mist of light cloud—Jump Street’s headquarters looked even more desolate than it did during daylight hours, and the dark-haired officer suppressed a shiver. The unwelcoming atmosphere did little to quell his rising nerves, and he silently berated himself for acting like a love-struck schoolboy. Amused by the aptness of the comparison, a smile tilted his lips. Perhaps he was behaving more like a teenager than he realized, and his fears about not fitting in at Westview were unwarranted. The thought brought another smile to his lips and climbing out into the still night air, he slammed the Cadillac's door closed. As he trudged toward the metal stairs, he noticed two other vehicles parked nearby, and he wondered who else was working late. Not that the chapel ever stopped being a hive of activity, after all, crime never slept. But unless there was a lull in cases, most of the undercover officers only frequented the office first thing in the morning, and while Booker had no idea who the vehicles belonged to, he hoped it wasn’t Penhall, Ioki or Hoffs. He wanted to spend time alone with Tom, but if his other new friends were there, he knew he would have to interact with them too or appear rude.

As he entered the central hub, the first thing Booker noticed was the silence. Surprised, he glanced around the room, but when he realized no one was there, he walked over to the coffee maker and poured himself a mug of day-old brew. Deciding Tom must be in the restroom, he wandered over to his desk. But before he could sit down, he heard a frightened shout, followed by laughter. Curious, he set down his coffee mug, but before he could investigate the source of the sounds, a second cry ripped through the silence. This time, there was an inflection of real terror in the high-pitched scream, and realizing something was wrong, Booker ran in the direction of the man’s voice. Although it seemed unlikely—given his location—someone was in trouble, and he was the only person there to help.

Running into the locker room, the dark-haired officer skidded to a halt, disbelief widening his eyes. Tom lay on the floor, naked except for his boxers. An undercover officer by the name of Parry—who Booker had met briefly at the mayor’s ball—held Tom’s arms above his head while another man attempted to remove his shorts. Tom’s body writhed, his legs kicking violently as he struggled to maintain the last of his dignity. But he was fighting a losing battle, and with a triumphant yell, the officer whipped off his underwear and waved them in front of his face like a trophy.

Furious, Booker sprinted across the room and grabbing the man by the shoulders, he forcefully shoved him to the tiled floor. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Get off him!”

Parry released Tom’s arms, his thin-lipped mouth twisting into a sneer as he slowly rose to his feet. “Hey, man, what’s your problem? We’re just havin’ some fun.”

“Fun?” Booker spat, his dark eyes flashing with anger. “It's called assault, asshole.”

A look of uncertainty flashed in the officer’s eyes before his bravado returned. “We were just letting off steam. He’s okay, aren’t you, Hanson?”

Tom sat up, his frightened eyes flitting anxiously around the room before resting on Parry’s face. “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied quietly, his expression defeated.

Angry and frustrated in equal measures, Booker addressed the two officers. “If you ever hurt Tom again, I swear I’ll beat you to a bloody pulp. Got it? Now, get the fuck out of here before I change my mind and kick both your asses right now.”

The two officers eyed Booker up and down before deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle to get into an all-out brawl. Parry’s partner tossed Tom his underwear, a cruel smile stretching his lips. “See you around, Hanson,” he taunted, and motioning to his friend with his eyes, the two men exited the locker room.

Embarrassed, Tom struggled into his boxers. But he remained on the floor, too shaken to risk standing. It was then Booker noticed the bruises adorning the young officer's body, and squatting down, he laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Jesus, Tom,” he whispered, his eyes roving over a large purple contusion running the width of the young officer’s torso. “What did they do to you?”

“N-Nothing,” Tom stammered, his eyelids blinking rapidly. “It wasn’t—”

“Bullshit!” Booker exclaimed, his voice rising in irritation. “What's wrong with you, Tom? Why won't you stand up to these bullies? Make a complaint to Fuller, I’m sure he'll—”

“N-No! I j-just wanna go HOME!”

Disgusted by the squeakiness of his voice, the childish whine of his demand, Tom lowered his head, his arms wrapping protectively around his bent knees. “I just want to go home,” he repeated softly, his body rocking rhythmically back and forth, the calming motion soothing his panicked mind.

Exasperated by Tom’s lack of backbone, Booker exhaled a heavy breath. “Where are your clothes?”

Tom’s head nodded toward an open stall. “They put them in the toilet.”

Getting to his feet, Booker walked over to the cubicle and looked inside. The two officers had shoved all of Tom’s clothes into the toilet bowl, and after assessing the situation, he quickly realized there was no chance of salvaging the contaminated clothing. While it was a cruel joke to play on a colleague, the dark-haired officer found his emotions somewhat conflicted. He couldn’t understand why Tom continued to play the victim by not standing up to his attackers. But he figured it wasn’t the right time to give him a lecture, and walking back over to his friend, he crouched down so he could speak to him face to face. “Your clothes are soaked through, but they’ll be okay after a wash. I’ve got sweats in my car. Are you alright staying here alone?”

Ashamed of his cowardly behavior, Tom put on a brave face, his lips curling at the corners without forming a smile. “I’m fine,” he muttered, his eyes refusing to meet Booker’s intense gaze. “And forget the clothes. I don’t want them anymore.”

Booker stood up, and walking over to the row of sinks, he retrieved Tom’s boots from one of the basins. “Here,” he offered. “They’re a little wet, but they’ll dry.”

Tom reached out and took the boots from Booker’s hand. “Thanks.”

Wearied by the night’s events, Booker heaved a burdensome sigh. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

There was no mistaking the disillusionment in the dark-haired officer’s voice, and lowering his head, Tom struggled to fight back the tears that threatened to betray his weakness. “Sure thing,” he muttered, the sound of his partner’s fading footsteps adding weight to his sense of isolation.

The ensuing silence closed in on the young officer, pulsating like a living entity, mocking him with its power to destroy his sanity. Gradually, his despair forced its way to the surface, shuddering through his body before spilling from his eyes in a gush of emotion. Just when he thought he’d made a real friend, fate had intervened in the cruelest of ways, leaving him, once again, bereft, humiliated, and alone.

**

Exhausted, Tom pushed open the door, the welcoming familiarity of his apartment instantly easing his troubled mind. He was finally safe, secure within the sanctuary of his home, where he could relax and put the distressing memory of his assault behind him.

“You’re late.”

At the sound of his brother’s voice, Tom’s muscles tensed. But he quickly pulled it together, and placing his wet boots on the floor, he closed the door. “I had a meeting. It kinda went longer than I expected. Sorry I didn’t call.”

Will’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinized Tom’s casual attire. “Whose clothes are you wearing?”

There was a dangerous edge to Will’s voice, which was a warning sign for Tom to choose his words carefully or risk bearing the brunt of his brother’s temper. While he hated lying, sometimes it was the only way to keep the peace, and taking a deep breath, he proceeded to concoct a believable tale. “I...um...I had an accident with a milkshake and...um, D-Dennis lent me his workout gear. That’s all.”

Rising to his feet, Will began to pace the floor. “Dammit!” he growled, his hands raking through his hair in mounting agitation. “I told you to stay away from that Booker. Didn’t you learn anything yesterday? Now you’ve gone and broken the rules again, and you know what that means, don't you? I’m gonna have to punish you for the second night in a row! Why can't you obey the rules, Tom-Tom? Why do you continue to disobey me? You can work with Booker, but that's it, you hear me? There’s to be no fraternizing. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

Fear clouded Tom’s eyes. “I-I’m sorry!” he stammered, his dark eyes desperately trying to convey his innocence. “I d-didn’t mean to break the rules, Will. My clothes got ruined, D-Dennis had some sweats in his car, and he let me b-borrow them. W-We weren't hanging out or anything. Honest! It was a w-work meeting. P-Please, can we forget about it just this once? I promise, I w-won’t do it again, okay? I promise!”

The panicked pitch of his brother’s voice did not sway Will’s decision. His expression remained impassive, his jaw clenched with disapproval as his head shook slowly from side to side. “I’m sorry, Tom-Tom, I’ve got no choice. You broke the rules, and I have to punish you. Now, go fill the tub.”

Like a condemned man taking his final steps toward the hangman's noose, Tom shuffled into the bathroom, his shoulders slightly bowed, his whole posture that of a man resigned to the fate about to befall him. Even after so many years of enduring the punishment, the panic stayed with him. In his mind lurked a real fear that one day, Will would take it too far and dim the light until he slipped into the impending darkness, never to return. It was a nightmare that had anchored itself in the recesses of his mind, the sensory reflection biting into the flesh of his conscious thought, unwilling to let go, taunting him with its powerful imagery. Sleep was often elusive, his fear robbing him of the peace so many others took for granted. But he’d learned to live with the horror that tormented his mind because to give into his depression would ultimately mean, giving up his life, and despite his emotional upheaval, he wasn’t ready to let go.

However, the familiarity of the position he found himself in did little to ease his nerves, and the coolness of the bathroom tiles against the soles of his feet triggered a moment of panic in his mind. Perspiration slicked his palms, and his stomach lurched, forcing hot bile into his throat. Dropping to his knees next to the tub, he closed his eyes and attempted to clear his mind. As his heart sped up, he inhaled through his nose for three seconds before exhaling through his mouth, the slow expulsion of air making an audible hfff as it passed over his lips. It was a technique he’d perfected over the years, a way to control the blinding panic so he could keep a level head. It was important he remained calm; otherwise, he might just lose the fight.

“I DON’T HEAR THE WATER RUNNING!”

Frightened into action, Tom’s eyes flew open, and reaching across the tub, he turned on the cold water faucet. As the water started to flow, he placed the plug in the drain, his gaze fixed on the hypnotic stream gushing from the spout. Time stood still, the mesmerizing flow paralyzing his will to run or even shut his eyes. He was conditioned, the water was his master, and he was its slave, his psyche forever damaged by the horror of its potential lethality. While his phobia was justified, it didn’t make it any easier for him to rationalize within his own mind. His overwhelming fear added weight to his feelings of inadequacy, reinforcing his shame and knocking another huge chunk out of his already fragile self-esteem. Not even the satisfaction of his job could lessen the disgust he felt for himself. He was a loser, a coward, and with each passing day, he hated himself just a little bit more.

The jet of water slowed to a trickle, instantly releasing Tom’s mind from its mesmeric hold. Blinking rapidly, the officer inhaled several deep breaths, his body tense, his mind on high alert. He could hear Will behind him, and moments later, he felt the hardness of his body pressing against him, crushing him against the cool porcelain with his weight. He gripped the side of the tub, bracing himself for the inevitable, and when a large hand grasped a handful of his hair, he inhaled a deep breath through his mouth and closed his eyes.

When the cold water hit Tom’s face, his eyes instinctively flew open. Immediately, his survival instinct kicked in, and he fought to control his panic, his eyes blurring as reality slipped away. Trapped beneath the water, time became an illusion, confusing his senses. Ten seconds felt like a minute, and he started to count...one...two...three...the slow computation helping him keep track of time. From above, the muffled sound of his brother’s voice floated through the air, and while he couldn’t make out the words, he knew in his heart Will was taunting him, berating him for being such a bad, inconsiderate brother. It was a tirade he’d heard a thousand times before throughout his life, and surprisingly, the words still stung, even when he only heard them in his mind.

After thirty seconds, Tom’s lungs started to burn, and he slowly exhaled his breath through his nose, the slow expulsion of carbon dioxide creating various sized bubbles. He watched the surreal display through bulging eyes, his mind slipping toward panic as the spherical bodies of gas floated upward before finally exploding in random patterns on the water’s surface. The rim of the tub pressed against his ribs, aggravating the damaged tissue of the large bruise running the width of his torso, reminding him of his previous punishment. He’d thought he would die that night, but he hadn’t, and he was not about to give in this time either. Despite the horrors he endured, he wanted to live because he would be damned if he would die before he knew true love.

As his need for oxygen intensified, his pulse quickened. The gray edges of his vision darkened, closing in until the murky depths of the tub became nothing more than a distant memory. A combination of pain and terror forced him to fight back, and he started to wrestle against the hand holding him down. His arms flailed, his mouth opening in a silent scream as he struggled to break free. Water splashed over the rim of the tub, soaking his borrowed clothes, but he barely noticed. The need to breathe was all his mind could focus on, everything else faded into the background. But just when he thought he’d lost the battle, a rough hand pulled him from the water, and he fell, choking, to the floor.

Seconds ticked into minutes, the only sound echoing through the bathroom Tom’s sputtering gasps as he pulled some much-needed oxygen into his lungs. He could barely move, his mind and body too exhausted from the torturous ordeal. But when a soft towel lovingly rubbed at his dripping hair, his body relaxed, and curling into the fetal position, he took comfort from the soothing contact.

“You don't need friends, Tom-Tom,” Will crooned, the softness of his voice barely audible above Tom’s ragged breathing. “You’ve got me, and that’s all you’ll ever need.”

The finality of the statement sent a shiver down the length of Tom’s body, but he remained silent, strangely content in the familiarity of his dysfunctional family.

Chapter Text

CoaS 07

Dawn’s early morning light crept over the city, the varying shades of amber emanating from the horizon bringing life to the city’s shapeless skyline. Outside Booker’s apartment, the resident sparrows began their morning song of joy, their cheerful chirrup filtering through the dark-haired officer’s dream, pulling him toward consciousness. Moments later, his alarm sounded, the annoying bee-dee-dee-deep, bee-dee-dee-deep shattering what remained of his slumber. With a sigh, he rolled over and hit the off button, returning peace to the cramped room, and stifling a yawn, he speculated about the upcoming day. He’d arranged to meet Tom at the abandoned warehouse before school so they could discuss strategies. But after the previous night’s events, he wasn’t sure where their friendship stood. Tom had exposed his weakness, leaving Booker wondering if he could be bothered getting to know someone who wasn’t prepared to stand up and fight. While there was no denying he was physically attracted to the pretty officer, his lack of fortitude bothered him. He’d never come across anyone like Hanson before, and while the young officer’s uniqueness fascinated him, he was still unsure whether his eccentricities were a good thing or a bad thing. But after much thought, he figured only time would tell, and it was still too early to form an unbiased opinion.

With visions of Tom’s gentle smile now planted firmly inside his mind, the dark-haired officer found it increasingly difficult to ignore his growing arousal. His early morning erection tented his boxers, each thought of Tom thickening his already impressive cock. Although he felt guilty about masturbating to the images floating unrestrained inside his head, he was unwilling to give up the chance of a good wank, and rolling onto his back, he pushed down his boxers. As he ran the tip of his index finger up the length of his shaft, a throaty moan escaped his lips, the titillating sensation sending a delightful shiver down his spine. Closing his eyes, he formed a fist and pumped his hand up and down his shaft. There was no finesse in the desperate action, just an eagerness to get off, an unrestrained need to trigger the euphoric explosion his mind and body craved. He wasn’t usually so crass when it came to sex; he was an artist, a connoisseur who savored the performance as much as the climax. But on this morning, time was of the essence, and if he wanted to speak to Fuller before he met Tom, he needed to make do with a quickie.

Tremors of arousal ran down the length of his body as his fist pumped over his erection, the ragged hitch of his breath intermingling with the pleasant tweeting of the sparrows outside his window. Now fully erect, he could feel his orgasm rising, and a moment of guilt thumped in his heart. He briefly wondered what Tom would think if he knew he was jerking off while imagining it was his hand wrapped around his cock. But it was too late for regrets, and with a muffled cry, his body stiffened and thrusting his hips upward, he ejaculated over his stomach.

A post-climactic tranquility flowed through his body, the delightful tingle relaxing his muscles. But while he would have liked to lie back and enjoy the blissful calm, he didn’t want to keep Tom waiting any longer than he had to and rising out of his rumpled bed, he headed toward the bathroom.

**

In stark comparison to the previous night, Booker found the chapel’s central hub abuzz with chatter, the excited hum of voices breathing new life into the brown-brick building. It took longer than usual to cross the floor to Fuller’s office, the crowd of officers, criminals, and the occasional lawyer making it difficult for him to navigate the room. However, after much pushing and shoving, he eventually reached his destination, and lifting his hand, he rapped his knuckles on the closed door.

Silence met his request, and he knocked again, this time louder. He waited, the cacophony of noise behind him shattering what was left of his post-sexual gratification. But just when he thought he would have to barge into the office unannounced, a loud voice sounded from within. “ENTER!”

After taking a moment to compose himself, Booker turned the doorknob and walked in. “Hey, Cap’n, can I talk to you?”

Fuller gesticulated with a flap of his hand. “Close the door. I can’t hear myself think with all that noise.”

Booker did what he was asked before taking a seat. Fuller gave him the once over, his practiced eye picking up on the dark-haired officer’s unsettled demeanor, and surprise wrinkled his brow. Out of all his officers, he had never expected Booker to show any signs of uncertainty, yet there he was, his left leg jiggling nervously as his eyes roamed absently around the room. Something was up, but just what it was, he had no idea. However, he was a man of action, and without delay, he got straight to the point. “What can I do for you, Booker?”

Uncertainty clouded the dark-haired officer's eyes, and he swallowed several times in quick succession, the action working some much-needed saliva into his mouth. He was new to the team, and as an ex I.A.D. officer, he was sensitive about anyone labeling him a nark. But if he were going to have a successful working relationship with Tom, he needed some answers, and pushing down his misgivings, he spoke his mind. “Um...I was just wondering what you could tell me about Hanson. I mean, he seems like a great cop, but I don’t understand why he doesn’t stand up for himself. Has he always been this reserved or did something happen on the job?”

Fuller’s brow puckered into a deep frown. “Did you witness something, Booker? Because if one of my officers is being bullied, I want to know about it.”

Not wanting to report the previous night’s incident without Tom’s permission, Booker shook his head. “No, Coach,” he lied. “I was just curious, that’s all.”

Unconvinced, Fuller’s eyes narrowed as he studied Dennis’ face. But after a moment of careful scrutiny, he decided not to pursue the matter further. Hanson was an oddball, and most officers found him exasperating to work with. But Tom’s abilities far outweighed his idiosyncrasies, and over time, most came to accept his quirky behavior, even if they didn’t understand it. It wasn’t always easy, but he hoped Booker had enough insight to give his partner the benefit of the doubt before casting any aspersions.

Leaning forward, Adam Fuller looked his young charge straight in the eye. “I need a team who can work together. If you have a problem with one of my best officers, I suggest you work it out or think about transferring back to Internal Affairs. Understood?”

The comment took Booker by surprise. He hadn’t expected an ultimatum, and it was then he realized that despite Tom’s timid nature, he was an integral part of the undercover team. It was a valuable lesson, and he immediately regretted his decision to seek out his captain for answers. Tom was who he was, and although bewildered by the previous night’s events, the dark-haired officer knew he needed to ignore the gossip and take the time to get to know his partner better.

Rising to his feet, Booker offered Fuller a half smile. “There’s no problem, Coach. Sorry to have troubled you.”

Exhaling a weary sigh, Fuller’s shoulders slumped, briefly revealing a glimpse of the man whose job weighed heavily on his mind. “No, I’m sorry, Booker. Are you sure everything’s okay with you and Hanson because if not, I want—”

“Everything’s fine,” Booker interrupted, the burden of his regret squeezing his heart. Involving his captain had been a mistake, and he longed to put it behind him and make his escape. “Tom’s great. We work really well together.”

Relief twinkled in Fuller’s dark eyes. “Glad to hear it. I know Hanson’s a little...different, but he’s one of the best undercover officers I know. You’ll learn a lot from him.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I will,” Booker murmured. “Thanks, Cap’n.”

Fuller gave a slight nod of his head before returning to his paperwork. With nothing left to say, the dark-haired officer turned and exited the room.

**

Booker pulled up at the abandoned warehouse ten minutes later than arranged, and jumping from his car, he hurried toward the metal door. Once again, the frantic flapping and screeching cries of the resident starlings greeted him from above, their constant chatter destroying any chance of a stealthy approach. Flustered, he shoved open the heavy door, inwardly cringing as its rusty hinges groaned in protest. Despite his training, he had never felt so conspicuous, and he wondered if Tom had managed to gain access to the building without announcing his arrival. For some unknown reason, he felt like a rookie, which was strange, given his usual cocksure attitude. But he put it down to nervous excitement, and pulling himself up to his full height, he sauntered into the warehouse.

Sunlight filtered through a newly broken window, the luminous rays casting a natural spotlight on the lone figure sitting on a crate, head bowed, eyes staring at the floor. Even from a distance, there was an ethereal allure emanating from Tom, a quiet vulnerability that sent Booker’s nether regions aquiver. Heat flared in his cheeks as he fought to control his growing arousal. There was something about the young officer that revved his engine, and it wasn’t just his slender frame, his finely chiseled cheekbones or his perfectly bow-shaped lips that begged to be kissed. It was so much more than a physical attraction, it was the complexity of Tom’s emotional and spiritual allure that left him wanting. It was a magnetism unlike any he had ever felt before, and he wondered how he was supposed to work with someone he had such a boyish crush on.

Sensing Booker’s presence, Tom lifted his head. There was no smile this time, just a brief nod of acknowledgment. As Booker approached, he noticed how tired Tom looked, the dark smudges beneath his eyes accentuated against the paleness of his skin. Concerned, he hurried forward and laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Hey, Hanson, are you okay? You look kinda beat.”

Wariness flickered in Tom’s eyes before his facial muscles formed a tight smile. “I’m fine.”

Although not wholly convinced, Booker let the matter drop. “So, what’s our plan of attack?”

Thankful his friend hadn’t pried any further, Tom attempted to exude a more affable countenance. “Well, I’ve been thinking. I’m pretty sure Tyrell Carson is the one recruiting dealers. He’s obviously working for a bigger fish, and probably gets a cut of the profits.”

Booker’s brow pulled into a thoughtful frown. “Go on.”

Encouraged, Tom continued, his features becoming more animated as he revealed his plan. “So, I did some digging, and I don’t know if you noticed, but all of Tyrell’s hangers-on are from the poor side of town. He’s picking the ones who need money to do his dirty work. He’s not the one peddling drugs, they are. He’s just the middle man, and he probably pays them with drugs, money or protection.”

A slow smile curled Booker’s lips. “You know, I think you might be right. But how do we infiltrate the gang?”

“Easy,” Tom grinned. “All we have to do is act like we need money. If we start palling around together at school, we can work the angle we’re bullying kids into giving us their cash. Tyrell will soon hear about it, and hopefully, he’ll try and offer us a deal we can’t refuse.”

“Is that legal?”

It was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, but Tom had enough experience to know the answer. “Sure. I mean, as long as we just scare them and don’t rough them up too much, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Somewhat embarrassed he hadn’t thought of the plan himself, Booker’s eyes shone with admiration. “You know, Fuller was right, you really are a great cop. Brilliant idea.”

At the mention of his captain’s name, Tom’s expression soured. “You spoke to Fuller about me?”

The clipped tone of Tom’s voice warned Booker to tread carefully. While he didn’t want to lie, he also didn’t want to hurt his partner’s feelings. It was a slippery slope, but despite his reservations, he decided honesty was the best policy.

“I did,” he confessed quietly. “But only because of what happened last night.”

Indignation tightened Tom’s jaw, and his eyes flashed with a growing fury. “You had no right talking about me behind my back. This isn’t Jerry Fuckin’ Springer, you nark, this is my life! No one asked you to interfere, I can take care of myself!”

“Can you?”

The softly spoken question had Tom faltering, and his anger stalled, leaving him speechless. He stared at Booker, his head tipped slightly to the side, his beautiful, soulful eyes conveying a range of emotions in only a matter of seconds. It was a human slideshow of sentiment; pain, panic, shame, disbelief, the multicolored lights of emotional despair flickered, faded, then returned once more in a seemingly never-ending cycle. It was difficult to watch, and Booker became increasingly concerned by the reaction he’d provoked. Each emotive flash in Tom’s eyes caused a physical pang in his heart, and he instantly regretted his hastily spoken words. Once again, his impetuous nature had gotten him into trouble, but this time, he’d hurt someone he was really starting to care about, sickening him to his stomach. It was becoming an unwelcome habit, and he wondered why he always seemed to cause his new friend unnecessary pain when all he really wanted to do was help.

Not wanting to crowd Tom, the dark-haired officer remained where he stood, his eyes brimming with contrition. “Shit, Tommy,” he muttered, his hand rubbing awkwardly at the back of his neck. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. My big mouth is always getting me into trouble. Sorry.”

It was an uncomfortable moment. Both men stood silently, muscles tensed, their eyes carefully avoiding contact. But eventually, it was Tom who spoke. “They were just foolin’ around,” he mumbled in defense of his attackers. “It was no big deal.”

Booker bit back the response he wanted to say, and instead, he went with one less likely to aggravate the situation further. “Okay. I guess you’d know.”

When Tom didn’t reply, he attempted to alleviate some of the tension in the room. “So, are you ready for school, cool?” he asked, a cheeky grin tilting his lips.

Without lifting his gaze, Tom headed toward the door. “Let’s do it.”

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Booker muttered, and suppressing a sigh, he followed his partner out of the warehouse.

Chapter Text

CoaS 08

By the time Tom arrived at Westview High, his bad mood had mellowed to mild annoyance. The last thing he wanted was to argue with his new friend, but he still had his pride, and he had felt it was necessary to make his point. While he readily admitted to himself that shame had caused him to overreact, he didn’t regret his outburst. Even though he understood Booker’s concern, the dark-haired officer had overstepped the boundaries of their friendship by talking to their captain behind his back. Although it wasn’t the first time it had happened, and in all likelihood, it wouldn’t be the last, the betrayal still hurt, especially when the traitor was someone he cautiously considered a friend. But he was big enough and desperate enough to let the matter drop. Not just because he wanted Booker as a friend, but because he wanted to forget all about the previous night’s assault. The shame was almost too much to bear, and the sooner he buried it in the locked vault in his mind, the sooner he would heal.

Climbing onto the hood of his Mustang, he sat cross-legged and waited for his friend’s Cadillac to pull into the parking lot. Having coordinated their arrival times, he had to wait several minutes, but eventually, he spied the now familiar vehicle and jumping down, he approached, his demeanor cool, calm, and collected. “Hey, Brady!”

Once out of his vehicle, Booker immediately slipped into character. “What do you want, McQuaid?” he asked, slamming the Caddy’s door closed with a bang.

A sly grin curled one corner of Tom’s mouth. “Wanna make some coin?”

The urban vernacular sounded strange coming from a man as educated as Tom, and once again, Booker found himself suitably impressed. Hanson’s portrayal of a young, streetwise smartass would fool anyone, including a seasoned professional, and the dark-haired officer knew he needed to step it up a notch or risk being the one to give the game away.

Making sure to time his reply so it was within earshot of a group of passing seniors, Booker raised a nonchalant eyebrow. “Let’s say I do. Whaddya have in mind?”

Tom’s face broke into a mischievous grin. “I’ll explain on the way to class.”

The two officers fell into step, their shoulders almost touching, their conversation uttered in low, conspiratorial whispers. Several students watched on, their expressions wary. Brady and McQuaid had only been at Westview High one day, but they already had a reputation for being insolent, disruptive tough guys, and it was no surprise they had sought each other out. But for those who were constantly victimized by Tyrell Carson’s resident gang of thugs, it was another reason to watch their backs and another reason why high school, definitely wasn’t the best years of their lives.

**

Steve Corbin stood in front of his locker, innocently minding his own business when a hand grabbed him from behind and slammed him against the metal door. “Hey, Stevo. Did your momma give you lunch money today?”

Twisting his head to the left, the terrified student stared up at Booker, his frightened blue eyes magnified through the lenses of his thick black-framed glasses. “Y-Yes.”

A cruel smile twisted Booker’s lips and spinning Steve around, he clapped a hand on the student's bony shoulder and squeezed, the force of his grip bringing tears to the teenager’s eyes. “Great! So, how ‘bout showing some pep squad spirit and donating it to a worthy cause.”

“Cause? W-What cause?”

Booker’s grin widened. “The Brady-McQuaid lunch fund. You see, we’ve got nothin’ to eat, and you don’t want to see us hungry, Stevo, because...well, then we get kinda antisocial, if you know what I mean.”

Flustered, Steve’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in rhythm to his rapidly nodding head. “S-Sure, Brady. Y-You can have wh-whatever you want. The m-money’s in my p-pocket.”

To Booker's right, Tom shuffled uncomfortably, his unease followed by a faint flicker in his eyes, the meaning of which the dark-haired officer couldn't quite discern. Was it pain? Regret? Understanding? Was there an unspoken connection between Tom and poor defenseless Steve because they had suffered the same fate at the hands of bullies? It suddenly dawned on Booker that Tom had suggested he be the one to rough up their intended prey, and the more he thought about it, the more sense it made. Hanson might be an outstanding officer, but even he had his limitations, and bullying, even though it was fake, obviously made him uncomfortable.

Of course, poor Steve didn't know it was all a ruse, the panic in his eyes was genuine, the tremble in his voice projecting real fear, and guilt pricked at Booker’s conscience. Steve Corbin was half his size, a gentle, sweet-natured student who studied hard and kept to himself. He was an easy mark for bullies, and the dark-haired officer suddenly wished he hadn’t picked someone so defenseless, so pathetic. But it was too late to walk away, the game was in play, and he needed to finish what he’d started or risk failing in his duty.

Without breaking eye contact, he reached into Steve’s pocket and pulled out a wad of notes. After shoving them into his own pocket, he slapped a hand against the terrified senior’s cheek. “Thanks for your contribution, Stevo. You’ve shown real school spirit.”

“Let’s go,” Tom muttered, the burden of remorse weighing heavily on his chest. Even though he’d come up with the plan, it didn’t sit comfortably with his principles, and he hoped they wouldn’t have to intimidate too many students before Tyrell approached them with an offer.

Satisfied with his performance, Booker gave Steve a cheeky wink, and with a nod at Tom, the two officers sauntered toward their classroom.

From his vantage point across the hall, Tyrell Carson watched on with interest. Brady and McQuaid were making a name for themselves for all the wrong reasons, and they were just the type of misfits he could use to his advantage. Fear was a great motivator, and if he recruited the two students to bully people into buying drugs, he would double his takings in no time, making his father very happy. Henry Carson was a two-bit dealer, an addict with a gambling problem. But his boss was one of the most prolific traffickers on the east side of L.A., earning him the moniker Mister Big. His enterprise was a multimillion-dollar affair, and while the high school trade was purely a nickel and dime operation, it did help expand his empire. He valued his teenage pushers as much as he did the senior members of his cartel, for they were his future, and without them, there were no new buyers, leaving him without a thriving business.

Tyrell nudged his friend. “Did you see that?”

Seth Madison was not the brightest of students, but he was loyal to a fault. He had no idea why two guys bullying a nerd was important, but by the excited gleam in Tyrell’s eye, he knew he was about to find out. “Yeah. What was that all about?”

“That,” Tyrell replied with a smile. “Is the answer to all our problems.”

**

Back at the warehouse later that afternoon, Booker pulled out the bundle of notes he’d stolen from Steve and held them out to Tom. “What are we going to do with this?”

As he stared at the money, the muscles in Tom’s jaw flexed. “Leave it with Fuller,” he instructed while making no effort to take the ill-gotten gains from his friend. “We’ll give it back to Steve when the case is over.”

With a shrug, Booker pocketed the notes. Tom’s reluctance to touch the tainted money sent a clear message about his thoughts on bullying, and as his curiosity gained momentum, he decided to try and find out more. But little did he know it would be him sharing his feelings, not Tom.

Sitting down on a crate, he rubbed his hands on the legs of his jeans. “Poor Steve, I feel bad. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

“And yet you did it so well.”

The softly spoken statement knocked the breath out of Booker as effectively as a punch to the gut. His skin bristled, and standing up, he confronted Tom face-to-face, his tone furious. “Yeah? Is that what you think? Well, maybe that’s ‘cause I’ve had plenty of practice being on the receiving end, you asshole. Do you think this was easy for me? One of us had to do it, and I didn’t hear you volunteering.”

Uncertainty flashed in Tom’s eyes. “You were bullied? When?”

“What difference does it make?” Booker snapped, and picking up his backpack, he headed toward the door. The whole Steve incident had left him feeling dirty, and he couldn’t wait to get home so he could take a long hot shower.

“Dennis, wait.”

Booker stopped midstep, but he didn’t turn around. The force of his inner rage worked its way down his arms, where it culminated in his hands, balling them into tight fists. The day’s events had brought back bitter memories, and he was in no mood to talk about his own experience with bullies. He was mentally drained, but most of all, he was fed up with Tom’s changing personality. One minute the young cop was confident to the point of being cocky, the next, he was a shrinking violet, backing away from any type of confrontation. It was exhausting keeping up with him, and through sheer willpower alone, he had refrained from telling his new friend to take his judgmental opinion and shove it where the sun don’t shine. But to do so would only cause more problems, so instead, he gritted his teeth and gave a one-word reply. “What?”

The dark-haired officer’s rancorous tone had Tom rethinking the logic in pursuing the matter further. But despite his misgivings, he felt he owed his partner an apology, and shoving his hands in his pockets, he lowered his gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest you were a bully. It’s just...you’re always so in control, it never occurred to me you might have been through something like this too.”

An uncomfortable silence hung in the air, thick with animosity and regret until finally, Booker turned around and addressed his friend. “You’re not the only one who’s had it tough,” he muttered. “Maybe if you weren’t so wrapped up in your own world, you’d understand what I was talking about.”

Tom lifted his head, a kaleidoscope of confusion channeling out through his dark eyes. “What do you mean? I’m not wrapped up in my own world. I care about people, it’s just I don’t always—”

“Jesus Christ, Hanson, pull your head out of your ass for once in your life!” Booker exclaimed, frustration raising his voice to a yell. “You know nothing about human interaction, so don’t you dare tell me you care about other people’s feelings. You hide behind your shy smile, never willingly making contact except when you’re on the job. Who the fuck behaves that way except some kind of crazy person? What the fuck is wrong with you? Tell me, Tom! What...the fuck...is wrong...with YOU?”

Tom sucked in a sharp breath, the barbed edge of Booker’s words ripping through him, the cruelty of the unprovoked onslaught causing a physical ache in his heart. His brow furrowed, the pain in his eyes unmistakable. But even though a thousand thoughts whirled through his mind, words failed him. He stood, arms by his sides, shoulders stooped, his head bowed low in disgrace, unable or unwilling to explain his actions. Another weighty silence sucked the air from the vast warehouse, the only sound, the rasp of heavy breathing. With his flaws laid bare, the cold hand of betrayal chilled the young officer’s bones, sending a shiver down his spine. In contrast, the fiery flames of embarrassment heated his flesh, the lump forming in his throat suffocating him to the point of panic. As the walls closed in on him, his vision blurred, and without uttering a word, he ran from the warehouse.

When the sound of tires spinning on gravel reached Booker’s ears, the officer exhaled a weighty sigh. He’d let his temper get the better of him, and in doing so, he’d once again hurt his new friend.

Deciding he needed a beer more than a shower, he turned to leave, and it was then he noticed Tom’s discarded backpack. For a fraction of a moment, he considered chasing down his partner, but he quickly concluded it was a bad idea. If previous experience had taught him anything, it was when Tom felt the need to bail, it was best to leave him alone.

With another heavy sigh, Booker picked up Tom’s backpack, and throwing it over his shoulder, he headed toward his car.

**

Later that night

The annoying laugh-track of ‘Who’s the Boss?’ blared from the small television, but Will Hanson showed little interest in the sitcom’s latest episode. His focus remained fixed on his brother, and he wondered what had happened to make him so depressed. Curled up on the couch with his hands tucked under his cheek, Tom stared despondently at the screen, his expression miserable. Although rarely chatty, the intensity of his wretched countenance was unusual, and his moody temperament didn’t sit well with Will. Something was up, and he had no doubt Booker was involved, which meant Tom was developing some sort of connection with the dark-haired officer. The idea it could be something completely innocent never entered Will’s mind. Where Tom was concerned, his suspicions continually percolated inside his mind, brewing to the point of full-blown paranoia. Something was going on between the two officers, and he wouldn’t rest until he had some answers.

“I’m going to bed,” Tom muttered, and rising from the couch, he disappeared into the bedroom and closed the door.

Will Hanson's eyes remained fixed on the empty couch, his fingers gripping the arms of the easy chair. He was going to have to keep a closer eye on his brother or risk losing the only family he had.

Chapter Text

CoaS 09

When Booker arrived at the warehouse the following morning, he found the parking lot empty. Pushing open the rusty door, he stared at the derelict space, a deep frown wrinkling his brow. At just past quarter to eight, Tom was late, and the dark-haired officer couldn’t help but wonder if he would show up at all. His harsh words the previous night had obviously impacted negatively on his friend, and he still wasn’t sure what he could say to take the hurt away. He wasn’t proud of his actions, and he deeply regretted his disparaging remarks, especially because his target was a man whose self-effacement rivaled that of anyone he knew. It had been a low blow, and when he’d arrived home, he’d sought solace in a bottle of whiskey. But his guilt had only escalated as he struggled to make sense of his feelings. After several stiff belts, he had started to doubt his character, and it was then he began to wonder if he really was a bully who got off on other people’s pain. But after spending the better part of the night drinking and exploring the concept in his mind, he’d come to the conclusion he wasn’t. While there was no doubt his partner frustrated the hell out of him, he felt no malice toward the young officer, in fact, his feelings were the exact opposite. Despite his disappointment in Tom’s lack of backbone, he felt an overwhelming desire to protect his new friend, leaving him strangely conflicted. But after almost driving himself crazy trying to make sense of it all, he had finally opted for the obvious explanation. Theirs was a fledgling relationship, and therefore, there were bound to be a few shaky steps along the rocky road toward trust and friendship. While a part of him recognized his eventual acceptance for what it was—a cop out—his tired mind had needed resolution. However, that didn’t mean he would fall into the same selfish trap again. He genuinely liked Tom, and therefore, he would watch his mouth and try his hardest not to hurt him again.

However, although he had reconciled the reason for the fight in his mind, he still had no idea how to apologize to the man he’d wronged. Tom wasn’t always accessible, and after their argument, Booker knew the young officer’s defensive shield would be at an all-time impenetrable high. It was a frustrating side effect of his friend’s personality, but the dark-haired officer was not discouraged. Despite the metaphorical obstacles blocking his way, he would try his hardest to convey his remorse in the least belittling way possible. His troubled conscience sought repose from his guilt, but more importantly, he hoped an apology would lessen the pain infecting Tom’s heart.

The screech of the warehouse’s metal door alerted Booker to his partner’s presence and turning around, he greeted his friend with a broad smile. “Hey!”

But if he thought his cheerful countenance would help break the ice, he was sorely mistaken. Tom’s expression remained impassive and ignoring the greeting, the young officer spoke in a voice that barely rose above a whisper. “Ready to go?”

Unable to mask his disappointment, Booker’s smile faded from his lips. He had hoped Tom would have found it in his heart to forgive him, but it appeared the young officer was more stubborn than he’d previously thought. Not that he could blame him. No one liked their flaws pointed out, and his unchecked words had managed to generate a particularly caustic ring when spoken out loud. But as with all verbalizations, once released into the universe, there was no way to take them back. Words had the ability to take on a power of their own, especially when spoken in anger. Although not always intentional, it was very easy for the original meaning to warp and change until it slowly manifested into a living, breathing entity, dynamic enough to bring even the strongest man to his knees. An unknown author once wrote, ‘Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out’ and yet many chose to ignore the simple advice, leaving the recipient hurting. Booker recognized his thoughtless tirade as one such case, but an inner determination had him scrambling to rectify his mistake, even if he had to get on bended knee to do it. The only problem was, for once, words failed him, and by the time he found his voice, Tom had already gone.

Having missed his window of opportunity, the dark-haired officer exhaled a weighty sigh and picking up Tom’s backpack, he headed toward the door.

**

The shrill scream of the morning bell greeted Booker as he pulled into Westview High’s parking lot, the deafening command setting his teeth on edge. As he climbed out of his vehicle, he spied Tom’s Mustang parked between two battered Fords. Immediately, a pang of guilt settled in the center of his chest before working its way down into his stomach where it heaved and churned, the unpleasantness of the sensation making him want to vomit. Slamming the Caddy’s door closed, it took him a moment to regain his composure. Hard-bitten Dennis Brady was not the type to feel compassion for those he had wronged, and he knew he needed to push his remorse to one side and channel his alter ego. It wasn’t easy, but he recognized the importance of keeping his private life separate from the job or risk blowing his cover.

After inhaling several deep breaths, he sauntered toward the bland brown-brick building, his coveted devil-may-care swagger catching the eye of several teenage girls. Embarrassed by their high-pitched giggling, he quickened his step, but just as he approached the school’s broad steps, he caught sight of Tom disappearing behind the gymnasium. Intrigued, he abandoned his plan to actually turn up to class on time and instead, he hurried across the quadrangle in search of his friend. As providence would have it, he rounded the corner just in time to witness Tom shove a small teenage boy to the ground, and he stopped abruptly, a look of shock registering on his face. The act was so egregious, it took him a moment to respond, but just as he was about to yell for Tom to stop, he caught a glimpse of Tyrell Carson loitering nearby, and he swallowed the diatribe forming on his lips. While he didn’t agree with his partner’s methods, he understood the opportunity, and shrugging off his remaining reservations, he stepped forward. “Have you got his money?”

At the sound of Booker’s voice, Tom turned, a flicker of surprise crossing his face, followed by a flash of uncertainty. He faltered for a moment before reaching down and pulling several dollar bills out of the student’s pocket. “I do now,” he replied, his voice lacking emotion.

Panic shone in the young student’s eyes, and terrified he was about to get the shit beaten out of him, he scrambled to his feet and ran, the heavy sound of his footfalls echoing across the now empty schoolyard. Wary of Tyrell’s looming presence, Booker approached his friend. When he was a few feet away, he released his anger by throwing Tom’s backpack forcefully at him. “I thought you said we shouldn’t rough ‘em up!” he hissed, his dark eyes blazing with anger.

The bag slammed into Tom’s chest, the weight causing him to stagger backward. But despite the dark-haired officer’s obvious annoyance, his expression remained impassive. He felt numb, devoid of any emotion, and letting the pack fall to the ground, he stared at the crumpled notes in his hand. But rather than try to justify his heinous behavior, he revealed something even more disturbing. “I just want this case over.”

Exasperated, Booker immediately challenged his friend. “Why? Because you hate the bullying or because you hate working with me?”

“Both.”

The softly delivered answer was not what Booker expected, and he blinked several times as he struggled to digest the startling revelation. While it didn’t take a genius to figure out Tom was hurting, he hadn’t thought their argument was bad enough to warrant him pulling the pin on their working relationship. However, by the look on his partner’s face, it obviously was, and he knew he needed to act quickly or lose Tom forever. But before he could utter a sound, a voice called out from behind him.

“Hey, McQuaid, Brady, over here.”

Annoyed at the interruption, Booker acted on impulse, and spinning around, he glared at the unwanted intruder. “Fuck off, Carson, this is a private conversation.”

Furious, Tom threw his friend a shut the fuck up look before addressing the teenager in a bored voice. “Whaddaya want, Tyrell?”

A broad grin stretched across Tyrell Carson’s face. While most students at Westview High feared him, Tom and Dennis appeared unperturbed by his presence. But rather than take offense, he found their arrogance amusing. It had been a long time since a student had challenged his authority, and he found it curiously refreshing. If the two delinquents were as brazen as they appeared, they might be more useful than he had previously hoped.

But first, he needed to test the waters, and stepping forward, he motioned toward the money in Tom’s hand. “I’m guessing poor Jimmy is pissing his pants right about now. Nice tactics, by the way, but are the few dollars you stole really worth all that effort?”

It was the moment Tom had eagerly awaited, and tucking the notes into his pocket, he gave a nonchalant shrug. “We do alright. But if you’ve got a better idea, I’m listening.”

A sinister glint flashed in Tyrell’s ice-blue eyes. “Actually, I do. If you’re interested, meet me at the community pool at seven tonight.”

Tom’s brow creased into a frown. “Isn’t it closed?”

“Not to me,” Tyrell laughed, and without further explanation, he turned and walked away.

The ensuing silence had Booker wondering how to proceed. He had hoped their small victory would have softened Tom’s attitude toward him, but the young officer’s aloof and detached posture had him questioning whether an apology really could fix their broken friendship. However, he felt he had to try. Even if Tom rebuffed his heartfelt words, he needed to verbalize his feelings, if only for his own peace of mind. Otherwise, he would likely live with the regret forever.

“We should get to class,” Tom muttered, his reticent gaze firmly fixed on the cracked asphalt.

Not about to give up on his objective, Booker grabbed his friend by the upper arm. “Wait. We’ve got what we came for, let’s ditch school and go somewhere and talk.”

“About?”

Sensing an opportunity, Booker’s lips twitched into a half smile. “About what an asshole I am and how I don’t deserve you as a friend. How’s that for starters?”

While not a full-blown apology, Tom’s frosty demeanor thawed ever so slightly. Lifting his head, he studied Booker’s contrite expression for several moments before the muscles in his face relaxed. “How ‘bout you buy me breakfast and I’ll think about it.”

Booker’s brow puckered. “Think about what?”

Tom’s lips tilted at the edges. “About whether I want you as a friend.”

It was on the tip of Booker’s tongue to ask, “Can you really afford to be that choosy?” But as it was his big mouth that had gotten him into trouble in the first place, he bit his tongue. He was making progress, and he wasn’t about to pour salt on Tom’s wounds by making any more hurtful remarks.

“Okay, deal,” he replied. “Where do you wanna go?”

Tom took a moment to look around the school grounds before giving his reply. “As far away from here as possible.”

**

As the strong black coffee slowly worked its magic, Tom closed his eyes and exhaled a sigh. Although used to a solitary existence, his fight with Booker had affected him more than he would have liked, bringing back the unwelcome feelings of loneliness he hadn’t experienced since he was a child. After years of conditioning, he’d considered his mind immune to such sentiments, and yet after only a few days of interaction, the thought of losing Booker’s friendship had caused him deep mental anguish. Unable to shrug off the hurtful words, he had hidden behind his metaphorical wall, his grief and anger slowly eating him up inside. Inexperience had prevented him from reaching out to his partner, even when he knew he was burdened with regret. His fear of rejection was too ingrained, too powerful to ignore, and so he had withdrawn back into his shell, where he was safe from harm. But it seemed Booker was far more adept at righting past wrongs, and he was grateful—if also a little cautious—of his clumsy attempt to repair their damaged relationship. While the memory of the officer’s venomous words still caused a physical pain in his heart, he was willing to move forward because apart from his brother, Dennis was the only friend he had.

“I’m sorry.”

Startled back to reality, Tom’s eyes jerked open. “Huh?”

Booker was getting used to his partner’s frequent daydreams, so he repeated his apology. “I said I was sorry. I never should have said those things last night, and I wish I could take it all back.”

“Oh,” Tom replied, the corner of his mouth twitching ever so slightly. “Um...okay. But you don’t have to apologize. Everything you said is true. I know I’m weird, and I know I’m not easy to work with, so if you don’t want to partner with me then—”

“Whoa!” Booker interjected, his eyebrows rising in surprise. “How did you get that from me saying I was sorry?”

“Because this is what always happens,” Tom explained in a small voice. “I’m not stupid, Dennis, I know what the others say about me. They hate working with me and soon, you will too.”

Booker’s skin prickled and sitting back in his chair, he folded his arms across his chest. “So, what you’re saying is, I’m a sheep, and I’m gonna follow what everyone else does. Geez, thanks a lot, Hanson, it’s good to know what you really think of me.”

Flustered by his friend’s reaction, Tom violently shook his head. “N-No! That’s n-not what I meant! I just...oh God! Why do I always fuck everything up?”

Misery etched tiny lines around Tom’s eyes and mouth. He was desperate for Booker to tell him he was wrong, that it was all in his imagination, but when his friend remained silent, he dropped his head and mumbled the words that were never far from his lips. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you finished?”

Taken aback by his friend’s words, Tom slowly lifted his head. “Wh-what?”

“I asked if you were finished,” Booker answered in a flat voice. “Because if not, I’ll leave and come back when you’re done feeling sorry for yourself.”

Embarrassment raised the color in Tom’s cheeks. “Sorr—”

“STOP!” Booker yelled, his palms slamming down on the table. “Jesus Christ, Tom, stop apologizing!”

A petulant pout formed on Tom’s lips. “Why? You apologized to me, so why can’t I apologize to you? You don’t own the patent on the word sorry, asshole. So, if I want to apologize, I’ll do it, whether you fucking like it or not!”

Amused by his friend’s response, Booker’s mouth parted in a wide grin. He hadn’t meant to lose his temper again, but Tom’s self-flagellation grated on his nerves. However, he wasn’t about to let another argument destroy their friendship, and so, in an attempt to defuse the situation, he uttered the one word he was certain would bring a smile to his friend’s lips. “Sorry.”

Tom’s lips twitched at the edges. “Jerk.”

“So, am I forgiven?”

Unable to resist Booker’s goofy grin, Tom smiled back. “I s’pose.”

Eager to put the past behind them, Booker decided not to dwell on the subject. He had witnessed a spark inside Tom that gave him hope, all he had to do was figure out how to keep it ignited.

“So, what do we do now?” he eventually asked. “Do we go back to school or do we wait and meet Carson at the pool?”

Tom considered their options for several moments before giving his answer. “I think we should go back to school...I mean, if you’re okay with it.”

“Hey, you’re the boss,” Booker grinned. “School it is.”

The tension around Tom’s eyes melted away, and he relaxed against the back of his chair. Booker was trying his hardest to boost his confidence, and although he would never say it, he was deeply grateful for the effort. While it was obvious he and Dennis were as different as chalk and cheese, he was starting to believe his new friend was worth getting to know, despite the risks involved. But he wasn't about to waste time thinking about the future. The present was all that mattered, and he would enjoy the freedom Tom McQuaid afforded him before slipping back into the nightmare that was his life.

Chapter Text

CoaS 10

There was a subtle shift in temperature as the sun began its slow descent toward the horizon, the impending dusk transforming the western sky from faded blue to an artist’s palette of muted pink and orange tones. Across from the aquatic center, Tom and Dennis loitered at a bus stop, their teenage attire helping them blend into the urban environment. However, despite Tom’s outwardly composed appearance, the young officer was anything but calm. His eyes scanned the street, searching for any sign of their suspect, his senses primed and ready. Tyrell Carson was an unknown quantity, and therefore, he needed to stay alert and not become too complacent. While Booker had voiced a certain amount of skepticism, Tom knew all too well the dangers of dealing with teenage felons, and he never underestimated their intellect. Despite their tender years, many of those he had arrested had the cunning of a seasoned criminal, making them equally formidable. Therefore, even though his theory about Tyrell was based purely on speculation, he was not about to let down his guard. Flying blind always made him nervous, but he was confident in his skills as a police officer and having Booker by his side gave him an added sense of security. So far, the dark-haired officer had proved himself a worthy partner, and he was grateful for the backup. Booker was intelligent, eager, and he brought a fresh perspective to the case while readily accepting guidance. Overall, he was the perfect colleague, and despite his previous reservations, Tom hoped Fuller would see their compatibility and pair them together in future cases. After all, Booker had apologized to him, and therefore, he saw no reason to hold a grudge. A clean slate was all they needed to start again, and he was happy to give his new partner another chance if it meant salvaging their friendship.

“Is that him?”

Tom’s gaze followed Booker’s, and squinting his eyes, he scrutinized the three figures approaching the swimming center. “Yep. Let’s go.”

The two officers strolled across the street, their demeanors casual despite the adrenaline secreting from their glands. If all went to plan, they would be one step closer to making an arrest and shutting down the drug ring operating out of the high school. But first, they had to infiltrate the gang, and to do so, they needed to play it cool or risk detection.

“Hey, fellas,” Tyrell greeted. “I wasn’t sure you’d show. Nice of you not to keep me waiting.”

Tom stepped forward, the right corner of his upper lip curling into a sneer. “Yeah? Well, when we’re talking about money, we’re always punctual. Right, Brady?”

“Right,” Booker confirmed, his tough-guy mask showing little emotion. He was happy to let Tom take the lead, especially if it helped bolster the young officer's confidence. He trusted his friend’s abilities, and there was no point in them both fighting for the dominant role.

Tyrell nodded at the two teens by his side. “This is Seth and Joel,” he introduced. “They’re friends of mine.”

“Don’t care,” Tom replied in a bored voice. “Let's get down to business.”

A wide grin spread across Tyrell’s face. So far, McQuaid and Brady were living up to their reputations, and he mentally started to visualize all the cool things he could buy with the extra money he would make after recruiting the two misfits. But first, they had to pass the test, and with a twitch of his head, he turned and walked toward the back of the building. “Follow me.”

Tom and Dennis trailed behind the teen, their muscles tensed in readiness. Seth and Joel brought up the rear, their heads bowed together in deep conversation. Their voices were too low for the officers to hear what they were saying, but from their accelerated rate of speech, it was obvious they were excited about something. Booker shot Tom a look, one eyebrow arching, his expression questioning. In return, Tom gave a slight shrug. He had no idea what had the teens so hyped, but experience had taught him to be prepared for anything.

When the two officers turned the corner of the building, they found Tyrell leaning casually against a giant oak. The relaxed, almost rubbery way he reclined against the tree gave him an air of confidence much older than his years, and Tom’s instincts immediately went on high alert. Hidden from the road, the shady expanse of trees provided shelter from prying eyes, making it the perfect environment for an ambush. If it came down to a fight, three against two wasn’t a difficult task. But as the young officer had no idea if there were others concealed in the leafy environment, he moved closer to his partner and muttered a warning out of the corner of his mouth. “It could be a trap. Stay vigilant.”

Booker gave a barely perceivable nod of his head. The nervous excitement coursing through his body coupled with the slight tremor of trepidation was what he lived for. He was an addict, and the adrenaline high rarely disappointed. They were venturing into the unknown, and he couldn’t wait to find out what it was they were about to face.

As Tom and Dennis approached, Tyrell motioned toward a rectangular window situated above a large double door. “I hope you’re agile.”

The two undercover officers gazed up at the open transom window, but it was Booker who posed the obvious question. “How the hell are we supposed to climb through that?”

“Easy,” Tyrell grinned, and with the nimbleness of a cat, he shimmied up the trunk of the tree and out onto an overhanging branch. With the window now in reach, he pushed his feet through the gap and with a wink, he slithered through the opening and disappeared inside.

“Jesus,” Tom muttered. “Do you think we’ll fit?”

“Only one way to find out,” Booker replied, and before Tom could stop him, he scaled the tree and dropped through the opening.

Annoyed at his partner’s impulsive actions, Tom stood staring up at the window, a deep frown creasing his brow. But before he had time to overthink his plan of attack, Seth Madison stepped toward him, his expression menacing. “Whaddya waiting for, butthead, get inside...Now!”

While the words were threatening, the teen’s delivery was shaky, and Tom made a mental note of the conflicting behavior. It appeared Tyrell Carson was both the brains and the brawn behind the operation, and if it came down to a physical fight, the young officer’s inner voice told him he could take out the two lackeys without breaking a sweat. But Tyrell was a whole different kettle of fish. It was obvious the high school thug had backup other than the two teens standing beside him, and the knowledge had Tom proceeding with caution. But the exhilarating game of cat and mouse between the hunter and the hunted was what he loved most about his job, and despite his nerves, he couldn’t wait to jump head first into the contest because deep down, he was sure he would win.

As he approached the tree, he shot a withering look at Seth. “Or what, dickwad?”

Unsettled by Tom’s attitude, the corner of Seth’s left eye twitched nervously, and he took a step back. “N-Nuthin’,” he stuttered. “It’s just...we d-don’t wanna be seen.”

Smothering a grin, Tom scaled the tree and crawled out onto the oak’s leafy limb. As he inched his feet through the window, he briefly wondered what would happen when he landed inside. But a part of him was dying to find out, and with his senses primed by the excess adrenaline his body was producing, he grasped the window’s aluminum frame and slipped toward the unknown.

The nine-foot drop jarred his ankles, but he flexed his knees to absorb some of the jolt before rolling onto his side. He scrambled to his feet, his pride wounded, but he quickly recovered and ignoring Booker's amused grin, he focused on his surroundings.

The Olympic size pool took up over three-quarters of the available floor space, its clear water deceiving many of its depth. The vast expanse of water made Tom nervous, and for the first time, he started to wonder why Tyrell had chosen the public pool for their rendezvous. But before had time to ponder the whys and wherefores of their location, Seth dropped through the window, closely followed by Joel.

“Let’s take a tour,” Tyrell instructed, his tone friendly, and walking past the wooden bleachers, he stopped beside the edge of the pool.

“This,” he indicated with a sweep of his arm, “is where we sort the men from the boys.”

Seth giggled, and a chill ran down the length of Tom’s spine. But the young officer managed to control his rising panic by channeling his inner McQuaid. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cocking his head to one side, Tyrell’s ice-blue eyes fixed on Tom’s face. “It’s quite simple, McQuaid. There’s been a lot of talk about the mayor’s undercover program. Have you heard of it?”

Tom’s expression remained neutral. “I have.”

“Then you’ll understand my concern,” Tyrell continued. “So, before I say anything more, I need to make sure you’re not part of this secret team.”

A scornful snort echoed throughout the swimming center. “You’re joking, right? Do we look like cops to you?”

Unmoved by Tom’s reaction, Tyrell continued to stare at him, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “Well, that’s kinda the point, McQuaid. These cops look exactly like teenagers, so it’s hard to tell. But we’ve come up with a way to make sure our potential friends aren’t wired and about to arrest us. Not that we’re doing anything wrong, of course, but it pays to be careful.”

Apprehension flashed in Tom’s eyes before he quickly gained control of his emotions. “Yeah? So, what’s this genius plan of yours? Enlighten me.”

Clasping his hands behind his back, Tyrell walked around the two officers, his pace slow and measured. “It’s quite simple. I’m going to give you two choices. You can either strip naked or jump in the pool.”

Anxiety raised the fine hairs on the back of Tom’s neck, and another rush of epinephrine surged through his system. Public nudity and water were his two greatest fears and taking a deep breath, his gaze flitted toward the pool.

Yellow light danced over the still water, the amber glow of a street light filtering in through the narrow window bathing the pool in its luminescence. The artificial radiance created abstract patterns on the white tiled walls, giving the illusion of movement. Most would have found the serene ambiance calming, but for Tom, it was a vision straight out of one of his nightmares. Over time, he’d developed a fear of water, and while others experienced the terror of falling when trapped in the REM cycle of sleep, in his dreams, he was always drowning. His phobia was deep-seated, and he no longer went swimming. But strangely, if he had a life vest, he was still able to enjoy the ocean’s tranquility if he were on a boat. He put the disparity down to his favorite childhood memory, a vision so pure, even the brutality of his punishment couldn’t destroy the contentment he derived from it. While it proved the complexity of the human mind, he never questioned the paradox too closely, for fear of bursting the bubble and destroying one of his last remaining pleasures. His memories were all he had left of his past life and to lose them would surely be the beginning of his end.

Fighting back his fear, the young officer attempted to portray an air of nonchalance. “Hey, man, I’m not getting wet just ‘cause you’re paranoid.”

A grin curled Tyrell’s lips, but it failed to reach his eyes. “C’mon, McQuaid, it's just a little water. Whaddaya afraid of? Unless you’ve got something to hide.”

Booker shot Tom a quizzical look. He couldn’t figure out why his friend was stalling. But he quickly realized they were losing face, and so he decided to take control of the situation. “I’ll go first,” he offered, and kicking off his boots, he walked to the side of the pool and stared into its depths.

“I don’t care who goes first,” Tyrell growled, all traces of his friendly demeanor vanishing along with his patience. “But one of you had better get in, or I’ll get Seth and Joel to throw you in. Got it?”

“No problem,” Booker replied with a smile. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Tom’s worried face. In his mind, anything was better than stripping naked in front of a group of strangers, and Tom’s hesitancy surprised him. But he put it down to his friend’s overcautious nature, and removing his most valuable item—his jacket— he shot him a cheeky wink and dived into the pool.

Tom’s muscles tensed, his anxiety curling his fingers into fists. Holding his breath, he suffered through several long, agonizing moments, his heart hammering against his chest, waiting...watching...counting down the seconds in his mind until Booker’s head bobbed to the surface. When he caught sight of his friend’s dark hair, he exhaled a weighty sigh. But his relief was short lived. As Booker effortlessly swam to the side of the pool, the cold hand of fear once again gripped his heart, and he gulped down his rising panic. His lower lip pulled between his teeth as he tried to focus his mind. Tyrell had given him two choices, neither ideal, leaving him caught between a rock and a hard place. Both options were likely to bring on a panic attack, the trauma of which would prove him unworthy in the teen’s eyes. But he couldn’t just stand there like the coward he was and not expect the shadow of suspicion to fall upon him. His lack of courage was putting the whole program at risk, and he knew he needed to act fast or live with the consequences forever.

But before he could formulate a stalling tactic to buy him some time, Tyrell Carson made his decision for him. “Time’s up, McQuaid. The pool it is. Throw him in, boys.”

The color drained from Tom’s face, and he slowly backed away. “Hey, w-wait a minute,” he stammered, his dark eyes widening in panic. “Can’t we—”

He hit the deck of the pool hard, the weight of Seth’s body forcing a loud oooff from between his lips. Before he could recover, Joel immobilized his legs by grabbing his ankles, giving Seth the opportunity to gain his footing. Seconds later, his wrists were captured in a vice-like grip, and he was lifted off the ground, his body suspended between the two teens. Instinctively, he started to struggle, his body swaying erratically as he fought to gain his release. Behind him, he heard a shout, but he couldn’t make out the frantically spoken words. Laughter sounded in his ears, taunting him, the distorted echo bouncing off the walls. Realizing he was unable to break free, his frightened eyes sought out Booker. But when strong arms propelled his body from side to side, he became disoriented, and he started to yell, his panic mounting. “STOP! PLEASE STOP!”

But his desperate plea went unanswered. Instead, a loud voice started to count. “Ooone...twooo...threee!”

Tom hit the pool with a splash, the force knocking the air from his lungs. Instantly, the water engulfed him, swallowing him beneath its icy depths. Voices echoed from above, but the silence inside his head screamed louder than any sound. Invisible arms wrapped around him, pulling him toward the bottom of the pool, the pressure squeezing his empty lungs. Panicked, his limbs refused to function, and he began to sink, his eyes wide open, the weight of his clothes dragging him down. His chest burned, demanding air, forcing his mouth open in one last silent cry for help. But before he drew in a final watery breath, the ghostly apparition transformed into a solid form, and he was propelled back toward the light.

His face broke the surface, and with a gasp, he sucked in a fresh breath. Spluttering, he struggled to keep his head above water, his mind still panicked. As his breath rasped from his tortured lungs, he sank back below the waterline. Chlorine stung his eyes and his nose and mouth filled with water, but he managed to push back to the surface and coughing loudly, he forced his limbs to cooperate and keep him afloat.

“Hey, man. Are you okay?”

The voice sounded out of breath, and turning his head, Tom wiped a trembling hand over his eyes. Booker’s worried face slowly came into focus, and it was then he realized the dark-haired officer was treading water next to him.

“Yeah,” he managed to choke. “I th-think so.”

“Can you make it back to the edge of the pool or do you want me to help you?”

“I can do it,” Tom replied, wary of the three sets of eyes watching from the poolside.

“Alright, but I’m right beside you, okay?”

Too exhausted to swim properly, Tom doggie-paddled to the steps at the corner of the pool. As he and Booker climbed out, a chorus of slow claps met their ears.

“Very heroic, Brady,” Tyrell chuckled. “I’m betting little Tommy wants to give you a big sloppy kiss for saving his life.”

“Shut up, Carson,” Booker growled, water pooling around his feet. “We did what you asked, now tell us, what’s your plan?”

The sight of Tom and Dennis’ bedraggled appearance gave Tyrell an inordinate amount of pleasure, and his grin widened. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you already know what I’m offering. So, are you in or out?”

Somewhat impressed by the way Carson had managed to deflect his demand so as not to incriminate himself, Booker asked what he hoped was the obvious question. “What’s our cut?”

Tyrell Carson took a moment to study his two prospective sellers before deciding they were trustworthy. “Ten percent,” he replied. “But we’re not talking dime bags, boys. This is a very lucrative business, if you get my drift.”

The information came as no surprise to the officers. Tom had already deduced Tyrell was nothing more than a teenage contact for a local drug cartel, which meant they were talking hard drugs and not just weed. But having already tipped off Fuller, they had a strategy in place to fund the operation.

“We do,” Booker confirmed with a smile. “So, when do we start?”

“You’ll be hearing from me,” Carson advised, and casting a nod in the direction of his two friends, he turned and walked away.

Booker addressed the teen’s retreating back. “Hey, how do we get out of here?”

Without breaking stride, Tyrell held up a key. “Through the door. Slam it closed when you leave.”

Amused, Booker turned to Tom. “Geez, and he made us climb—hey, Hanson, are you okay?”

Tom stood shivering, his wet hair plastered to his pale face. “Cold,” he informed his friend through chattering teeth.

After collecting his boots and jacket, Booker placed an arm around Tom’s trembling shoulders. “My place is closer. Let’s go there and dry off. Okay?”

With a confirmatory nod, Tom followed the dark-haired officer out of the aquatic center. Wednesday night was Will’s bowling night, so he did not fear any reprisals for staying out late. Also, it would give him an opportunity to see where Booker lived, which, he hoped, would further cement their blossoming friendship.

Chapter Text

CoaS 11

Booker’s apartment was just how Tom had imagined it, small, messy, and filled with gym equipment. The young officer thought it reflected his friend’s insouciant personality perfectly, and as he looked around him, the casualness of his surroundings triggered a feeling of benign envy. But the morally innocuous emotion did not last long. He knew he was different and he accepted it, except on the odd occasion when he wished his life mirrored those of his coworkers. But those thoughts were mostly fleeting. After all, he’d had twelve years to acclimate to his situation, which was almost half his life.

“Here,” Booker smiled as he handed Tom a towel. “You can dry off in the bathroom while I find your clothes. I know they’re here somewhere.”

“Thanks,” Tom replied absently. But a moment later, the meaning of his friend’s words suddenly became apparent. “My clothes?”

A puddle of water formed around Booker’s feet as he hunted through some random garments piled in a heap on the floor. “Yeah. Um...I forgot to tell you, I took your clothes from the locker room the other night. Don’t worry, I had them cleaned. They’re as good as new...well, not new exactly ‘cause I’ve gotta say, Tommy, they’re about ready for the trash.”

Behind the teasing words, there was an underlying tone of friendship that brought a smile to Tom’s lips for the first time since his unceremonious dunking. “Hey, don’t disrespect the clothes,” he chuckled. “Not everyone can afford a fancy leather jacket.”

“Fancy?” Booker mouthed, one eyebrow arching in mock surprise, and grabbing a pair of jeans from the pile, he studied them for a moment before tossing them across the room. “Go dry off, Ralph Lauren, I’ll knock when I find your chic ensemble.”

The reference brought another smile to Tom’s lips. “I don’t know what's more disturbing, you knowing who Ralph Lauren is or you saying chic ensemble.”

Booker’s laugh rang out, the rakish guffaw creating life inside the drab apartment. But before he could retort with another witty comeback, Tom interrupted him. “Um...thanks for salvaging my clothes, Dennis. You really shouldn’t have bothered.”

Not one for praise, Booker shrugged his shoulders. “It wasn’t a big deal. Now go, you’re dripping water all over my expensive flooring.”

Tom glanced down at the ripped linoleum beneath his feet. Humor was obviously a facet of Booker’s personality, and he used it adroitly, and naturally to put others at ease. But the young officer couldn’t help but wonder if his friend also used it to deflect emotional pain by deferring it for another time; a time which may or may not, ever come. Over the last few days, he had come to realize there was a deeper, more complex side to the dark-haired officer’s character than first met the eye, giving him some hope their odd friendship could actually survive the test of time. It was a promising thought, but he didn’t dwell on it too much for fear of jinxing the one thing he craved the most.

Tossing the borrowed towel over his shoulder, he went in search of the bathroom. With only two doors to choose from, he played a game of ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ inside his head, which ultimately had him landing on the door to his left. With a fifty-fifty chance of being right, he stepped forward and opened the door. A flicker of disappointment crossed his face. For reasons unknown even to him, he had hoped he would get a glimpse inside Booker’s bedroom, but as fate would have it, he had picked the correct door. He glanced back at his friend and another smile graced his lips. Bent double with his backside in the air, Booker continued to fling items of clothing around the messy apartment. His sodden jeans hung low on his hips, revealing several inches of bum crack. The sight ignited an unexplained heat in Tom’s belly, and he quickly averted his gaze before Booker could catch him ogling his behind. Embarrassed, he hurried into the bathroom, his chest rising and falling as he struggled to catch his breath. The unfamiliar feeling so overcame him, he failed to latch the door, leaving it ajar several inches. It took a moment for the strange sensation to leave his body, and it was then he noticed he was shivering. Squatting down, his trembling fingers struggled to untie his laces, but after several frustrating attempts, he finally succeeded in unknotting the wet fibers. He pulled his boots off his feet and stared at the battered leather, a melancholy smile touching the corners of his lips. When he’d first joined the Jump Street program as a rookie cop, it was Judy who had taken him under her wing and helped kit him out so he looked like a high school student. She’d been unbelievably sweet and patient with him and yet he still hadn’t managed to let his guard down enough to accept her hand of friendship. On reflection, if he’d played his cards right, he could have had a brand-new start in life. But by the time he had felt ready to at least try and fit in, the damage was already done, and his reputation as a nervous, taciturn officer was cemented in stone. It was then he had given up trying, and although it still hurt when he was the only one not invited for drinks at the BoHo, in his heart, he knew he only had himself to blame. Funnily enough, he never held Will accountable for his solitary existence. He accepted responsibility because it was easier to acknowledge his own foibles than admit he was too afraid to stand up to his brother.

But dwelling on the past only helped to lower his spirits, and he was determined not to make the same mistake with Booker as he had with his other coworkers. Despite their ups and downs, he was beginning to feel more relaxed around the charismatic officer, and the idea of having a friend had awakened in him a long-forgotten desire to try harder. However, although it was a fresh and exciting prospect, he knew their friendship would have its limitations. But come hell or high water, he would find a way to make it work, at least until the hand of fate intervened.

The sound of Booker’s frustrated mutterings reached his ears, and placing his boots on the black and white tiled floor, he began the process of undressing. Once naked, he patted his goose-bumped flesh with the borrowed towel, carefully avoiding the tattoo of bruises covering his skin. He then turned his attention to his dripping hair, his fingers mindful of the hematoma on the back of his head. His preoccupation prevented him from hearing Booker’s triumphant yell, and unaware of the partially open door, he had no idea he was about to become the floor show.

With Tom’s clothing in hand, Booker tiptoed his way back across the room, his dripping clothes leaving a trail of water behind him. When he approached the bathroom, he pulled up short, his gaze zeroing in on the firm flesh of Tom’s bare buttocks framed within the crack of the open doorway. A licentious smile hovered over the dark-haired officer's lips, his dark eyes lingering on the erotic sight before a pang of guilt brought him to his senses. Tom was not just his friend, he was also his coworker, and coveting his naked body was neither morally nor professionally acceptable. Throughout his working life, he’d had kept his bisexuality a closely guarded secret, not through shame, but because he figured it was nobody’s business but his own. Discrimination was rife in the police department, and while he doubted Tom was homophobic, the last thing he wanted to do was give his new friend a reason not to trust him. And so, with one final glance, he stepped away from the door.

“FOUND ‘EM!” he shouted.

A moment passed before Tom stepped out of the bathroom, the fluffy blue towel wrapped securely around his narrow waist. It took all of Booker’s willpower not to focus on the purplish-blue contusion running the width of the young officer’s chest. But when Tom reached for his clothes, Booker noticed his bruised wrists, and without thinking, he lightly grasped his friend’s fingers so he could get a better look. “Jesus, Tom, did Parry and Shaw do this?”

The tenderness of Booker’s touch sent tiny shockwaves of pleasure through Tom’s body. Flustered, he pulled from Booker’s grasp, and crossing his arms protectively across his chest, he tucked his hands under his armpits before uncrossing his arms again and letting his hands fall to his side.

“Tom?” Booker pressed when he didn’t receive an answer.

With his face burning under the intensity of Dennis’ scrutiny, Tom shifted uncomfortably. “It’s nothing,” he muttered, his eyes carefully avoiding his friend’s concerned gaze. “I told you, they were just foolin’ around.”

Although Booker knew the young officer was lying, he made the conscientious decision not to pry any further. “Here,” he smiled as he handed him his clothes. “Get dressed, then I’ll order some takeout.”

Eager to make his escape, Tom hurried back into the bathroom and shut the door. Exhaling a weighty breath, he leaned against the wooden paneling and closed his eyes, his freshly laundered clothes clutched against his chest. If he weren’t careful, Booker would find out his secret, and any hopes of friendship would vanish on the winds of missed opportunity.

In need of some confidence, he pulled off the towel, and hurriedly dressed in his favorite McQuaid clothes. The costume helped ease some of the tension forming across his shoulders, but he was still uptight. Having never had takeout with a friend, he had no idea what was expected of him. Did he offer to pay or was it supposed to be Booker’s treat? Sweat prickled his upper lip and closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and slowly counted to ten. When he opened his eyes, he caught a glimpse of his pale face in the mirror, and he immediately berated himself. Tom McQuaid wasn’t a pussy like the image reflected in the glass, he was confident and robust, and he could deal with any situation, just like Booker. Although his McQuaid persona was nothing more than a fantasy, it was the pep talk he needed and closing his eyes again, he visualized his alter ego in his mind as he muttered the name McQuaid over and over until he felt the change wash over him. His eyes opened, and avoiding the mirror, he squared his shoulders and walked back into the living area before he had a chance to chicken out.

With his friend nowhere in sight, Tom perched on the edge of an easy chair, his fingers gripping the worn fabric arms. Barely a minute later, Booker strolled from the bedroom, his finely toned body now dressed in a white T-shirt and black jeans. Tom’s muscles instinctively tensed, his front teeth nervously worrying his lower lip. Socializing wasn’t his forte, and despite wearing his McQuaid face, he hoped he wouldn’t make a fool of himself like he had at Nino’s Café.

Ignoring Hanson's obvious unease, Booker headed toward the small kitchenette at the back of the apartment. “Chinese okay?” he called out, his hand rubbing a towel over his damp hair.

“Sure, that’d be great,” Tom smiled, and settling back in his chair, he tried to relax. It wasn’t easy, but he was determined to savor the moment, just in case it was the last time he ever shared a Chinese meal with someone who considered him their friend.

**

The slam of a door ripped Tom from his dream. His eyes flew open, and he instinctively stared at the chink of light shining under his door, his muscles rigid, his ears tuned for any telltale signs his brother was approaching. A loud smash followed by a string of angry expletives had him shuddering, and shutting his eyes, he attempted to silence the unwanted thoughts swirling inside his head. In need of comfort, he reached under his pillow and rubbed the soft material of Booker’s sweatshirt between his thumb and forefinger. Since his assault at the chapel two days earlier, he had kept his partner’s sweats secreted in his bed. It was his equivalent of a toddler’s blankey, the soothing texture helping to ease his anxiety. But while the childish crutch embarrassed him, his mind refused to question why it was Booker’s clothing that provided him with the security he craved. Therefore, he remained blissfully unaware of the reasons behind his choice of comfort because to psychoanalyze the symbolism would undoubtedly reveal a part of his personality he was not yet ready to explore.

The creak of the bedroom door alerted Tom to Will’s presence, the light from the living room suffusing his lids with an orange glow. Behind him, the mattress depressed, and he held his breath, his heart hammering painfully in his chest. Panic welled inside him, the pressure building like a geyser, inflating inside his ribs until he was sure his chest would explode. He waited...terrified...hoping against hope nothing would happen, but when he heard the familiar chh of wood sliding on wood, he knew his prayers had once again gone unanswered. Unable to move, unable to speak, he listened to the disturbing sound of a hand rummaging through the bedside bureau. Moments later, the wooden drawer slammed shut, the force shaking the metal-framed photograph standing on top of the dresser. Silence thickened the air...heavy...expectant, a cruel precursor to what was to follow. Several minutes passed before the groaning started, and screwing his eyes closed, his mind started screaming, “No! No! No!” over and over, his futile mantra blocking out the coital vocalizations. But when an intimate hardness pressed against him, he knew he had lost the battle, and a single tear slid down his cheek.

“Can I stick it in, Tom-Tom?” Will murmured, the wispy threads of his beer-soaked breath tickling the fine hairs on the back of Tom’s neck. “I wanna stick it in.”

Tom’s body stiffened, and in an instant, he was transported back in time to when he was a frightened eleven-year-old child who was too confused and defenseless to voice his objection. And in nearly twelve years, nothing had changed. Even as an adult, he was still emotionally ill-equipped to deal with the abuse, but most terrifying of all, he felt obliged to consent. Will had taken care of him ever since their father had died and their mother had ceased to care, and as a shy and sensitive sixth grader, he’d needed his brother’s love more than anything in the world. But what had started out as fraternal affection, had quickly escalated into molestation. Will was three and a half years older, powerfully built, and with the heavy burden of worry and responsibility wearing him down, he had developed a chip the size of Everest on his shoulder. As their mother slowly drank herself to death, he had taken on two part-time jobs to help make ends meet, all while still attending school. At barely fifteen years of age, he had felt cheated out of a childhood where all his friends were playing baseball and dating girls. Abandoned by both parents, he’d looked for comfort from the only other person close to him; his brother. He had never meant to take it so far, but when Tom didn’t resist, his juvenile mind saw it as a green light to continue. Over the years, he’d managed to justify it to himself and to him, it had become the norm. But for Tom, it was a nightmare he was unable to wake up from, and the guilt and shame festering inside his soul were slowly destroying him. Forbidden to wear boxers at night, his body was always accessible. But after so long, he was too physically and emotionally battered to fight back, and so, the cycle of abuse continued, week after week, month after month, year after year, until all that was left was acceptance.

Will’s hand pushed against Tom’s unyielding body. “Aw, c’mon, Tom-Tom,” he cajoled, his soft, persuasive voice still managing to send chills of panic down Tom’s spine. “I promise I’ll only keep it in for a minute.”

As his brother forcefully maneuvered his bent leg toward his chest, Tom started to zone out. It was a trick he’d learned early on as a child. He would retreat way down into the darkest depth of self and stay there until the abuse ended. It was a sensory version of ‘Anywhere but here.’ His mind would shut down, and he would transport himself to another place, another time, when life was happy and free from pain. It was a form of escapism common with victims of assault, and the only coping mechanism he knew. His choice of fantasy was simple; his mother and father were still alive, and he was safe, and loved, and living the life of an average American boy.

“Good boy, Tom-Tom,” Will crooned, a shiver of arousal running down the length of his spine as he pushed his oil-slicked erection into Tom’s anus. “Oh, fuck, you’re such a good boy.”

Tom, however, remained too deeply embedded in his fantasy to react to the trauma of the incestuous act. The violent rocking of his body became the lurch of a yacht, its bow dipping and rising across the face of white-capped waves; the nasal pants the flap of the spinnaker fluttering in the breeze. It was a recollection of when he was eleven, and his family had vacationed in Florida over the Labor Day weekend. They’d spent their days on the ocean, their nights playing board games at their rented beach house. For Tom, it was one of his happiest memories, and he treasured it for its simplicity. As a family of four living on a police officer’s wage, vacations were a rare treat, and the trip to the Florida Keys was their last. A mere five months later, Thomas Hanson had died, shot in a diner on Valentine’s Day. It was then the boys’ world had imploded. Their mother drowned her pain in the bottom of a vodka bottle, eventually succumbing to the effects of booze and prescription medication less than a year later. By then, Tom’s abuse had already become a regular part of his life, and with his mom gone, it soon became a whole lot worse. The genital fondling quickly escalated to full sexual intercourse, leaving his twelve-year-old body bloody and raw. He’d attempted to control the after-bleeding by stuffing toilet paper down his underwear, but he wasn’t always successful. Not that Will, his Aunt Susan, or anyone else noticed. It was his own private shame and one he lived with every day.

“Oh...God,” Will puffed, his shallow breaths punctuating the air. “Oh...my...fucking...God.”

Although Tom’s mind had buried itself in the annals of his memories, his body was not immune to the physical stimulation. It was an inherent reaction, an intrinsic reflex that had passed down through the generations since the dawn of man. His erection pressed against the mattress, each measured thrust from behind creating friction between flesh and cotton. Pre-cum bubbled from the tip of his cockhead, the viscous fluid staining the pale blue sheet below. He was close to ejaculating, and yet the gratification would never register in his mind. He was nothing more than a robot responding to a pre-programmed command. He was, in his mind, his brother’s toy.

With his orgasm rising, Will’s hips began a succession of uncontrolled pistoning thrusts, the upward movement forcing his cock deeper inside Tom’s rigid body. “Yes...yes...yes...I’m gonna...I’m gonna...ohh.”

A jet of warm semen shot inside Tom, his rectum filling with his brother’s seed. Moments later, his own body betrayed him, and without uttering a sound, he climaxed against the mattress. But once the pleasure waves pulsating through his body subsided, a switch flicked on in his mind, jolting him back to consciousness. Inhaling a sharp breath, his eyes flew open, his panicked gaze darting frantically around the room. Little by little, full awareness dawned, and stifling a sob, he screwed his eyes shut and tried to ignore the throbbing in his anus. He’d allowed ‘it’ to happen again, leaving him feeling ashamed and worthless. He was nothing more than a whore, and for the thousandth time in his short life, he wished he’d never been born.

“Thank you, Tom-Tom,” Will sighed against the sweaty nape of Tom’s neck, and withdrawing his softening penis, he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

Tom lay beside his brother, too numb to move, to breathe, to show any signs of life. But eventually, the switch in his mind turned off, and once again, he sank back into the welcome oblivion of his memories, the soft material of Booker’s sweats still grasped in his hand.

Chapter Text

CoaS 12

Tom stood at his bedroom window, his eyes fixed on the hypnotic stream of early morning traffic. Exhaust fumes snaked and vanished in the beams of the street lights, choking the air in its noxious haze. He found the sight strangely comforting, the muffled rumbling of the vehicles below helping to calm his nerves. It was a form of escapism, allowing his mind to focus on the everyday monotony of human existence rather than what had occurred just hours before. Cocooned in a fantasy bubble of his own making, he was finally free from his shame, if only for a short while.

Behind him, the coils of the mattress squeaked, but his gaze did not falter, and when a warm hand lightly caressed his bare buttocks, he allowed his abuser to lead him back to his bed.

**

When Tom failed to show up at the warehouse the following morning, Booker made the executive decision to go it alone. Disappointment weighed heavily on his mind as he drove the short distance to Westview High. He’d thought he’d made significant inroads with Hanson the night before, their conversation flowing without too many awkward silences. They’d discussed their case at length, each giving their own opinion on how far the drug cartel had managed to extend its tentacles of power and violence. It had made for a pleasant and entertaining evening, the few beers they’d downed, and the tasty meal of Kung Pao chicken, and sweet and sour pork helping banish the memories of Tom’s ordeal to the back of their minds. But it appeared it had only been a remedy, not a cure and Booker wondered if Tom’s absence had anything to do with his dunking in the pool. While he hoped the officer was professional enough to shrug off the humiliation and jump back into the fray with his game face on, the echo of Penhall’s warning continued to reverberate inside his head. “I’m tellin’ you, man, he’s fuckin’ crazy...crazy...crazy...”

Arriving at the school, the dark-haired officer parked his Cadillac and sauntered into the brown-brick building, unaware his well-practiced cavalier swagger had many raising an amused eyebrow. He stopped in front of his locker, his eyes scanning the crowded hallway for any sign of Tom’s familiar bandanna. But he found it impossible to distinguish one person from the next in the sea of faces, and pushing down his growing feelings of animosity, he dialed the locker combination and yanked open the door.

Inside, scattered throughout the small space, lay half a dozen plastic bags of white powder. Booker stared at the cache, his heart hammering in his chest. He estimated each bag held a gram, giving a total street value of roughly seven hundred dollars. If Tom’s locker contained the same amount, they were looking at some serious money for a high school drug ring, and a tingle of excitement ran down his spine. If they could trace the drugs back to the source, they might even bring the cartel to its knees, making the streets of L.A. a little safer. But first, he needed to get in Tyrell’s good graces by pretending to sell the six baggies of coke. The only problem was, the teen had omitted to tell him how much he expected for each gram, leaving him in a bit of a quandary. He briefly wondered if Tom’s locker held further instructions, and he mentally cursed the young officer for his dereliction of duty. Maybe Penhall was right, maybe Tom really was unhinged.

When the class bell rang, the cacophony of teenage voices moderated ever so slightly. Locker doors slammed, and the horde of students scurried to their classes, leaving Booker alone in the hallway. He continued to stare at the stash, the suffocating quiet closing in on him. Without Tom’s guidance, he was unsure how to proceed. Should he leave the drugs where they were, hidden from sight in the safety of his locker or should he pocket the seven-hundred-dollar hoard and take it directly to Fuller? Indecision creased his brow. If he returned to the chapel, Fuller would know Tom was a no-show, which might get the young officer in trouble. But being in possession of such a large quantity of drugs made him nervous, especially when he didn’t have any backup. His teeth worried at his lower lip as he struggled to internalize his situation. But whatever his decision, he knew he needed to make it in a hurry or risk getting caught.

Eventually, it was the sound of approaching footsteps echoing throughout the deserted hallway that made up his mind and closing his locker door with a bang, he walked with adrenaline-induced speed toward his first-period classroom.

**

The irregular clickety-clack of a typewriter echoed throughout the chapel’s central hub, the staccato rhythm bouncing off the walls as Ioki typed up a report using the clumsy, two-finger method most cops seemed to favor. Several officers stood around the water cooler, chatting casually, while others sat at their desks, their heads bowed, their eyes skimming over paperwork. The atmosphere was far less frenetic than the last time Booker had requested an audience with Fuller, and the dark-haired officer hoped he would find his superior in a good mood. While he didn’t like the idea of snitching on Tom, he felt he had a responsibility to keep his captain informed.

After pausing to chat with Harry, he strode toward Fuller’s office. Raising a hand, he knocked twice on the closed door and waited for an invite to enter. His foot tapped impatiently, his mind acutely aware of the drugs burning a figurative hole in his jacket pocket. He longed to rid himself of the illegal contraband, to make the seven hundred dollar stash someone else's responsibility. Drugs always made him nervous, and the longer he held onto them, the more aggravated he felt. There was no greater pain than watching someone you loved, love their drugs more than they loved you. Relationships failed, families split apart, there were no winners, just a path of destruction that left everyone involved battered and broken. As a teenager, he’d witnessed the emotional carnage from the sidelines. His cousin was an addict, and when he became a cop, he’d vowed to do everything he could to get the pushers off the street and into prison where they belonged. His career had taken an unexpected turn when he was assigned to I.A.D., but his mission was back on track, and he was eager to find out more about the cartel that recruited high school students to do their dirty work.

Just as he was about to knock for the second time, Fuller’s voice shouted out from behind the door. “ENTER!”

Pushing down his feelings of guilt about Tom, Booker turned the door handle and walked inside.

**

Standing outside apartment 222, Booker took a moment to study his surroundings. While not new, the decor was certainly a step up from the Art Deco building he lived in. Contemporary light fixtures cast a soft luminance throughout the wide hallway, the yellow glow creating shadows on the cream-colored walls. Beneath his feet, the tiled floor gleamed, as yet unscuffed by the ongoing foot traffic. Although not a jealous man, Booker wished he could afford to live somewhere equally as nice. But unless he got a roommate, all he could do was dream about the day when he had enough money saved to move to a more affluent part of town.

As he stared at the door, a frisson of excitement rippled through the dark-haired officer’s body, awakening his innermost desires. He was about to see inside his friend’s home for the first time, and the intrigue had him guessing. Would it mirror his own disorganized bachelor pad or would it reflect Tom’s methodical, high-strung attitude toward life? The buildup of suspense helped suppress the annoyance he felt toward his partner. He’d expected more from Tom, and he hoped the young officer had an adequate explanation for leaving him high and dry.

Canned laughter filtered through the closed door, the muffled sound of the Hansons' television competing with the tinny echo of the neighbor's radio. After taking a calming breath, Booker announced his presence by rapping his knuckles against the cream-painted paneling. Time passed slowly before footsteps sounded from within and the door was yanked open, revealing an unsmiling Will Hanson.

“Hey, Will,” Booker greeted amicably. “Remember me? I’m Tom’s partner, Dennis Booker. We met at the mayor’s party.”

Will Hanson stared at the dark-haired officer, his hazel eyes cold and unblinking. “I remember. Whaddya want?”

The corners of Booker’s lips turned down, his demeanor visibly hardening under the older man’s unrelenting stare. “I came to see Tom. Is he home?”

Will’s gaze flitted behind him before settling back on Booker, his expression wary. “He is, but he's not feeling well, so—”

“It’s okay, Will, I’ll speak to him.”

Tom’s interruption did little to alleviate his brother’s displeasure. A disapproving scowl etched deep lines in Will’s furrowed brow, hardening his features into a stony mask of resentment. But it was the furious clenching and unclenching of his hands that had Booker on high alert, and the dark-haired officer took a step back, his muscles flexing, his body and mind primed for an attack.

“Five minutes,” Will eventually muttered, his narrowed eyes focused firmly on Booker. “I’ve gotta be up early tomorrow.”

While the fear of losing a friend was stronger than his fear of reprisal, Tom knew it was in both his and Booker’s best interest to heed his brother’s words. “Okay, five minutes. We’ll talk out in the hallway, that way we won’t disturb you.”

It was then Will realized his plan had backfired. With Tom and Dennis outside the apartment, he had no chance of eavesdropping on their conversation. Furious with himself for being such an idiot, he pushed past Tom, leaving the two undercover officers alone.

Tom stepped out into the hallway and closed the door. “Sorry about that. Will gets kinda angry when people turn up unannounced.”

“No shit,” Booker remarked. “He acts like a possessive boyfriend. What’s up with that?”

The analogy had Tom shifting uncomfortably. “I dunno,” he mumbled, unable to meet Booker’s curious gaze. “He’s just protective. We’ve been through a lot together.”

“I guess,” Booker finally conceded. He found the elder Hanson’s behavior somewhat troubling, but having never lost both his parents, he figured he wasn’t one to judge the brothers’ odd relationship. However, what he did understand was the differences in their personalities. Will lacked the subtlety and nuance of his younger sibling, his blatant rudeness leaving Booker cold. The dark-haired officer wondered if jealousy played a part in Will’s shameless attempts to try to undermine his brother in public. Although awkward around people, Tom possessed traits many envied. Intelligent and highly intuitive, the young officer’s capabilities far outweighed his social incompetence. Then there were his physical attributes. The classical symmetry of his features put him in a league of his own, his slender yet lithe physique unmatched by many his age. But for Booker, it was the soulful depths of Tom’s dark eyes that left him physically wanting. His vulnerability begged attention, yet he shied away from contact. It was these conflicting signals that confused Booker to the point of distraction. He’d only known Tom for a week, but in that short space of time, the young officer had managed to infect his heart like no other person he knew.

Fading beneath Booker’s watchful gaze, Tom changed the conversation by offering up an apology. “Sorry about today. I tried to call you, but I got the machine. I left a message.”

Not quite ready to forgive and forget, Booker pressed for an explanation. “Yeah, Fuller told me, he said you’d called him. But you kinda left me hangin’, Tom. Tyrell’s a smart one. He knows better than to leave all the incriminating evidence in one place, so he deposited six baggies of cocaine in my locker, and I’m pretty sure he put some kind of instructions in yours. But without you there, I was flying blind. So, I’ve handed the drugs over to Fuller so he can get them tested and we’ll see what’s in your locker when we get to school tomorrow.”

Humbled into silence, Tom stared at the floor. Working with Booker was proving more of a challenge than he’d expected. While his sexual abuse wasn’t new, being in close contact with someone whom he considered more than just a colleague was causing him a great amount of personal distress. He could barely look Booker in the eye knowing what he allowed his brother to do to him in the bed they shared, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to keep the shame buried beneath the surface of his consciousness. His guilt hung like a millstone around his neck, and he would rather drown beneath the white-capped waves of the ocean than have his partner know his shocking secret. But while he hated himself for allowing the violation to continue, he had no idea how to make it stop, and therefore, he remained trapped within a never-ending cycle of abuse.

“Tom, did you hear what I said?”

Startled back to reality, Tom looked up, his dark eyes full of contrition. “Yeah...um...that sounds great. But can we talk about it tomorrow? I’m kinda beat.”

“Or you could invite me in, and we could talk about it now,” Booker responded with a cheeky smile. “It’s not that late.”

Fear clouded Tom’s eyes, the very suggestion turning his face a chalky-white. “M-Maybe another time. I don’t think Will’s in the mood for visitors.”

Tom’s consternation immediately raised Booker’s suspicions, but he kept his thoughts to himself. “Okay, well, I guess there’s no need to meet up at the warehouse, so I’ll see you at school.”

“I’ll be there,” Tom murmured, and with a twitch of his lips, he walked back inside his apartment and closed the door. Immediately, the sound of running water accosted his ears, and looking around, he spied Will standing in the bathroom doorway. The firm set of his brother’s lips told him he was in trouble, and a shiver of fear ran down his spine. But he was too tired to put up a fight, and with slouched shoulders, he accepted his fate and walked toward the tub.

**

When Booker pushed open the door to his home, he immediately noticed the answering machine's light blinking red. Curious, he hurried forward and hit the play button. Tom’s voice filled the apartment, his initial words spoken with a cautious hesitancy. “Um...hey, Dennis, it's me...I mean, it's Tom. I...um...I guess you’ve already left, but I could really use your...um...I…”

A moment of silence followed the disjointed message before the young officer continued in a rush of words. “I’m sick so I guess I’m gonna stay home see you tomorrow.”

Booker replayed the strange message, his brow furrowed in concentration. It appeared Tom was about to ask for help before changing his mind and hurriedly revealing his reason for taking the day off. The half-spoken narrative sent a chill down the dark-haired officer’s spine. Something was definitely wrong, but until Tom found the courage to confide in him, there was nothing he could do to help.

Overcome with an unexplained weariness, his finger moved toward the delete button. But before it made contact, a little voice inside his head told him to keep the message. He had no idea why it was important, but he trusted his gut and dropping his hand to his side, he turned and walked toward his bedroom.

Chapter Text

CoaS 13

As expected, when Tom opened his locker the following morning, he found a note from Tyrell Carson. Typed on a ripped piece of paper, the instructions were clear yet concise.

CoaS 13a

Crumpling the correspondence in his hand, he shoved it in his pocket. Booker’s calculations had proved close to the mark and Fuller was now in possession of six hundred dollars’ worth of cocaine. It amazed him that high school students could come up with such a large sum of cash, but he figured those from wealthy families didn’t bat an eye at spending a hundred dollars on some blow. The entitled rarely considered what that amount of money could do for those whose low socioeconomic status had them scrambling for every penny they could find. It was the age-old law of society: The rich got richer and spent their money without a care in the world, and the poor, well, they just needed to suck it up and try harder.

Angry at the world, the young officer slammed his locker door closed with a bang. It was then he caught sight of Booker standing beside him, one eyebrow raised in question.

“Problem?”

Tom huffed out a sigh. “It’s nothing. I’m just pissed off at the unfairness of it all.”

A grin crinkled the corners of Booker’s eyes. “You’re gonna have to be more specific.”

In no mood to get into a deep and meaningful discussion with the man who, through no fault of his own, exacerbated his feelings of inadequacy and shame, Tom attempted a half smile. “Forget it. It’s just one of those days, you know?”

Booker did know, but he sensed the uncomfortable vibe in the air had something to do with him. For some unknown reason, Tom was pulling away, and the dark-haired officer couldn’t help but think he might be responsible for his friend’s sudden desire to retreat back into his shell. It was a puzzling scenario, but try as he might, despite the dunking in the pool, he couldn’t come up with any valid reason for Tom to withdraw from human contact. His friend’s mood troubled him, and so he attempted to clear the air by using humor. “C’mon, what did I do? You’d better tell me, or I’m likely to make an ass of myself by doing it again.”

There was no mistaking the playfulness behind the statement, but it surprised Tom that Booker thought he was the reason behind his somber mood. Eager to make amends, he grabbed his friend by the sleeve and dragged him into the boys’ bathroom. After checking the stalls were empty, he pulled the crumpled note out of his pocket and handed it to his partner. “I found this in my locker.”

After reading the message, Booker gave the note back to Tom. “Yeah, so? We already figured Tyrell would leave you a message. What’s the big deal?”

Annoyed by his friend's lack of understanding, Tom snatched the piece of paper from Booker’s hand and crammed it back in the pocket of his tight-fitting jeans. “The big deal, Dennis, is the rich kids think nothing of spending a hundred bucks on a gram of blow when the poor kids come to school hungry. It’s fucked up. Why do some people get to stroll along the paved road of life while others are forced to climb a fucking mountain?”

Sensing Tom’s outrage was more to do with his own life than that of the students at Westview High, Booker attempted to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. But Tom instinctively pulled away, leaving the dark-haired officer’s hand suspended in midair...ineffectual...impotent, unable to bestow the comfort its owner craved. Hurt by Tom’s reaction, Booker let his hand fall to his side, his brow creasing into a frown. “Geez, Hanson, what’s up with you? I thought we were getting along and now you’re acting all weird again.”

“It’s McQuaid,” Tom muttered.

Tired of the head games, Booker rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

Tom opened his mouth to speak, but the shrill clang of the class bell cut him off. He stood waiting, his hands clenched, his face a mask of pure misery, but by the time he found his voice, Booker was already walking out the door.

**

Booker spent the rest of the day asserting his authority as the school bully, his carefully orchestrated charade cleverly played out in front of Tyrell Carson’s watchful eye. Tom hung in the background, unwilling or unable to participate in the deception, his jaw tight, his eyes deliberately avoiding the panicked looks on the victim’s faces. The two officers met briefly at the warehouse during their lunch break, but neither man confessed their dissatisfaction with the other, even though it was foremost on their minds. Instead, they briefly discussed Tyrell and the elusive men he worked for before agreeing to meet up at the chapel after school.

So, when the final bell of the day released the students from the drudgery of passive learning, Booker hightailed it to his car and drove the short distance to the Jump Street team’s headquarters. Being a Friday afternoon, he was pleased to see Penhall, Ioki, and Hoffs and he quickly integrated himself into their group. As their conversation flowed, all thoughts of Tom’s strange behavior vanished from his mind. It was the end of the week, and he was happy to put the stress of breaking in a new partner out of his mind for a while. While he genuinely liked Tom, he found his conduct mentally exhausting, and he longed to relax and forget about Tyrell Carson and his band of brothers for the next two days and enjoy some much-earned R and R.

“Are you busy tonight?” Penhall inquired. “We’re thinking of going to the BoHo to celebrate if you wanna join us.”

The casual invitation immediately gained Booker’s full attention. “Celebrate what?”

Penhall clapped the dark-haired officer on the back, an impish smile curving his lips. “Who knows, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

Keen to blow off some steam, Booker grinned back. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go.”

From behind his desk, Tom watched the four friends leave together, their excited chatter fading as they disappeared into the stairwell. The ensuing silence bore down on him, crushing his spirit, but outwardly, he remained stoic. His exclusion from group activities wasn't a new experience, and he wore his disappointment like a faint scar, visible only to those who chose to look closer. It was less painful that way, especially when misfortune and heartache continued to plague his life. However, despite his benign resignation, he longed to call out, to ask his colleagues to wait up so he could join their fun. But the words froze on his lips, forever unspoken, his fear of rejection too ingrained to risk yet another brush off.

A distant feeling settled over him, and his gaze remained fixed on the doorway, his vision blurring in and out of focus, his mind transporting him back to a happier time. As the minutes ticked by, he remained locked within his memories, blissfully unaware of his surroundings until the bang of a door released him from his past. With a jolt, his eyes refocused and looking around him, he realized he was alone. Pushing back his chair, he stood up and placing his hands on his hips, he stretched out his spine. When he glanced up at the wall clock, he was surprised to see an hour had passed, and a tingle of fear ran down his spine. Will was expecting him, and if he didn’t act swiftly, he’d find himself enduring the punishment for the third time in five days.

Picking up his backpack, he hurried from the chapel. If he were lucky, he might just make it home in time. If not, he would suffer the consequences in the same manner he always did...obediently, respectfully, and without complaint.

**

The BoHo on a Friday was the place to be. Workers from all walks of life congregated at the trendy bar, most to drink, some to hook up, and others just to hang out and listen to the local indie bands. For the Jump Street officers, it was a place to shake off the stress of work while hanging out with people their own age. Masquerading as a teenager paid the bills, but by the end of the week, they were ready to revert back to their own identities and kick up their heels, if only for a few hours.

Leaning against the wooden bar, Booker’s leg jigged to the beat of the music. His first week in a new job was over, and his fear of not fitting in had proved unwarranted. For the first time in his career, he felt part of a team, due in part to the age compatibility of his colleagues. Internal Affairs was a breeding ground for overweight, middle-aged cops, many jaded by long years on the job, others bitter after being passed over for promotion. His first year as a rookie was mostly dissatisfying, but all that was behind him. He finally had the chance to make his mark as an undercover officer, and he was grateful for the opportunity. Life was funny that way, you never really knew where it would lead you, but the ride, whether bumpy or smooth, was all part of the adventure.

Out of the corner of his eye, Booker saw Ioki and Penhall approach. “So, it looks like I’ll be joining you and Hanson on Monday,” Harry informed him with a smile. “Try not to rough me up too much while selling me your drugs.”

At the mention of his partner’s name, Booker looked around the crowded bar. “Speaking of Tom, where is he?”

Harry shot a look at Penhall, who downed the remainder of his beer before answering. “He’s not here.”

Booker's eyebrow arched in surprise. “He's not? How come?”

After signaling to the bartender to pour him another, Penhall gave Booker a cryptic reply. “I would have thought the answer was obvious.”

As the meaning behind the officer's words became apparent, Booker's brow furrowed. “You mean he wasn't invited? Shit. I thought he’d follow us here. I can't believe I left him alone at the chapel.”

After swallowing a mouthful of his freshly-poured beer, Penhall wiped a hand over his froth-flecked lips. “Don't sweat it. He made it pretty clear he wasn't interested in our Friday night shindigs, so eventually, we stopped asking him. Anyway, you’ve spent time with him, can you really imagine him here, shooting pool or drinking shots? C’mon, man, the guy’s a buzzkill, he’d ruin the party, and after a hard week, we’ve earned a night of fun.”

“I s’pose,” Booker reluctantly agreed. But as the evening wore on, he couldn’t shake off his feelings of guilt, and at 8 p.m., he called it a night and went in search of Tom.

**

From his position curled up on the couch, Tom watched his brother prepare a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. Much to his surprise, Will had picked up on his melancholy mood and had offered to make him his favorite meal. It was these small acts of goodwill that helped soften the pain of his abuse. When his brother showered him with kindness, it was easy to forgive him his transgressions. In Tom’s mind, it was all about balance. Life wasn’t all bad, and he tried to focus on the good as much as possible because otherwise, he feared the weight of his despair would eventually drive him toward the unthinkable.

“Food’s ready,” Will called out cheerfully. “I hope you’re hungry ‘cause I over-spaghettied.”

The lame joke elicited a faint smile from Tom, and rising to his feet, he walked into the kitchen. “Thanks, Will,” he murmured, and taking the offered bowl, he returned to the couch and proceeded to force the food into his mouth. His stomach churned, but he continued to eat because the last thing he wanted to do was let his brother down.

Chapter Text

CoaS 14

Later that night

The familiarity of the Hansons' cream-painted door sent a touch of déjà vu snaking down Booker’s spine. By showing up unannounced, he was aware he was about to break Will’s cardinal rule, but there was a part of him that didn’t care. Always the rebel, he refused to conform to the elder Hanson’s regime. He owed Tom an explanation, and without a telephone number, he had no choice but to turn up at his door and deliver an apology in person.

Inside the apartment, the sound of voices carried through the wall, followed by laughter. For a split second, Booker thought it was Tom and Will joking around, and his face relaxed into a smile. However, he quickly realized the jovial banter was not coming from the occupants, but was, in fact, only the television. His smile slowly faded, replaced by a thoughtful frown. Try as he might, he couldn’t imagine life inside the Hanson apartment. There was something odd about the brother’s relationship, a disharmony he couldn’t quite put his finger on, and it wasn’t just because Will ruled the roost. Taking a position of authority wasn’t uncommon in older siblings, and therefore, nothing unusual. What bothered Booker was the flicker of fear he’d witnessed in Tom’s eyes when Will had arrived at the mayor’s party. Not to mention his transformation from a shy, yet debonair young man into a shoe-shuffling, stuttering fool in the space of only a minute. But it wasn't just his brother's physical presence that caused the young officer emotional distress. The very mention of Will’s name was enough to elicit a reaction, leaving Booker with the impression there was more to the brothers’ relationship than met the eye. It was obvious Will was a bully, but why Tom continued to kowtow to him was a mystery, and the psychology behind their dysfunctional kinship fascinated him. While he had his own healthy sibling rivalry with his sister, Kathy, Will Hanson’s need to dominate his brother was bordering on sociopathic. As an outsider, it was unsettling for Booker to witness, and he made a silent vow to himself to find out more about the man who appeared to control every aspect of his friend’s life.

With that thought in mind, the dark-haired officer lifted a hand and rapped his knuckles on the door. Memories of Will’s unwelcoming demeanor had him taking a step back, giving himself enough room to counteract any unprovoked attacked if necessary. He trusted the elder Hanson about as much as he trusted the perpetrators of the crimes he investigated, and he was prepared for the unexpected. But his concern proved unwarranted. When the door opened, it was Tom’s eyes, not Will’s, who peeked out from behind the cream paneling.

“D-Dennis?” the young officer stuttered, his surprise draining the color from his face. “Wh-what are you doing here.”

Not about to pass up the opportunity to see inside his friend’s apartment, Booker didn’t wait for an invitation. Instead, he pushed past Tom and walked straight into his home. After glancing around the immaculate living area, the dark-haired officer's gaze settled on Will. “Hey,” he greeted, his audacious acclamation leaving the elder brother speechless. Pleased he’d managed to put one over the obnoxious officer, Booker hid a smug smile before turning his attention back to Tom. “Sorry for coming around uninvited, but I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have gone to the BoHo without you.”

Horrified by the dramatic scene unfolding inside his home, Tom’s muscles tightened. He remained perfectly still, his frightened eyes flitting between Booker and Will, his fearful gaze watchful. Both officers were alpha males, but as it stood, Booker had the upper hand. However, if there was one thing Tom knew about his brother, it was that Will prided himself on his ability to reign supreme within the walls of his own home, and with that thought in mind, the worried officer prepared himself for a showdown.

On the other side of the room, Will’s actions almost mirrored Tom’s. He stood with his shoulders tensed, his fingers slowly clenching and unclenching, his brachialis clearly visible with each flexing action. But unlike his brother, his dark eyes shone with annoyance, not fear. It was blatantly obvious that despite his warnings, Tom had gone against his wishes and pursued a friendship with the irritating dark-haired officer. The awakening knowledge breathed life into Will’s inner green-eyed monster, his envy blistering to the surface, reddening his face. Ever since the death of their parents, he’d begun to harbor a growing resentment toward Tom. Sweet natured and pleasing to the eye, his brother had all the attributes he lacked, leaving him with feelings of inadequacy. Adulthood had brought on a whole new set of insecurities, many of which stemmed from the infuriating knowledge Tom not only outranked him as an officer, he also earned a considerable amount more money, making him the primary breadwinner. It was a stain on his ego, a painful thorn in his side that niggled continuously at him and reminded him of his failures. In his eyes, life had given him a raw deal, and while he loved his brother, a part of him hated him too. Time was often touted as the great healer, but try as he might, Will couldn’t shake off his seething jealousy. Over the years, his resentment had festered and brewed, unleashing in violent outbursts as he attempted to lord control over Tom. But as he studied Booker’s unflinching bravado and confident stance, he understood the need to change tack. While backing down went against every fiber of his being, he saw no other option, and forcing his facial muscles into a smile, he spoke in a pleasant tone. “Why didn’t you go out with your friends, Tom-Tom? A night out would have done you good. You spend too much time on your own.”

If Jesus Christ himself had walked into the room, Tom’s face could not have shown more surprise. Caught off guard, he stared at his brother, his eyes wide, his mouth slightly open, his slack-jawed expression perfectly mimicking that of a cartoon character. He could feel his brother’s gaze boring into him, silently, yet decisively instructing him to play along, to not show any signs of uncertainty or bewilderment, to say the right things so they could get rid of Booker and go back to their lives. In essence, Will was commanding him to lie.

With no choice but to react appropriately, Tom’s lips stretched over his teeth, the incongruous smile out of harmony with the panic shining from his eyes. His mind desperately sought a reasonable explanation, but unprepared, he came up blank. “I...um...I—”

Ignoring Tom, Booker rolled his eyes. “Oh, cut the crap, Will. He didn’t go because he wasn’t invited. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

The dark-haired officer’s statement hung in the air, thick with discord, the bluntness of the allegation challenging the elder Hanson to a duel of words. The smile on Will’s face slowly faded, his expression hardening under Booker’s accusatory glare. He had mistakenly assumed he could fool Tom’s partner in the same way he’d duped all his other coworkers, but it appeared he had grossly miscalculated the younger man’s gullibility. Booker wasn’t buying his carefully formulated deception, and he had no doubt it was all Tom’s fault. If his younger brother hadn’t balked under the strain, they’d be home free. But once again, Tom had let him down by failing to follow his instructions, giving Booker the upper hand and leaving the door open for him to pry further into their lives. It was a heavy blow, and for someone who prided himself on wielding an iron fist, it did not sit well with Will Hanson. It did not sit well at all.

With the charade over, Will saw no reason to disguise his antipathy. “Is that right, Book? And you know this how, exactly? You’ve worked with my brother for a week, and you’ve met me for what? Maybe three minutes total? So, c’mon, Mister Know-it-all, dazzle me with your insight into our lives. I can’t wait to hear what you’ve got to say.”

Dennis shot down Will’s steely gaze with a hostile look of his own. “It’s Booker, William, and I know this because Tom’s a freakin’ bundle of nerves, and being a betting man, I’d lay odds the reason behind his neurosis is you. You don’t want him to make friends because if he does, someone might tell him you’re a fucking bully who controls every aspect of his life. How’s that for insight, asshole?”

The two men spoke as if Tom wasn’t there, but the young officer felt the stab of every gibe as if it were directed at him personally. Distressed, his eyes continued to dart anxiously between his brother and his friend, the frosty atmosphere slowly sucking the air from his lungs. Booker’s observations were too close to the mark for him to ignore, and he knew he needed to do something to diffuse the festering situation. But whose side to choose? On the one hand, he had his brother. Will was his family, his life, and despite the sexual abuse, and frightening punishments, he loved him with all his heart. Then, on the flip side, there was Booker. Dennis had extended the hand of friendship without asking for anything in return, giving him a chance at a more normal existence. But while it was a convincing argument to vote for the latter, there was the bond of consanguinity to consider. Blood ran thicker than water, and as much as he wanted Booker in his life, when it came to picking sides, Tom knew in his heart he would always stand beside Will.

With his mind made up, the young officer swallowed his anxiety and taking a deep breath, he stepped between the two most important people in his life and addressed his friend in a soft trembling voice. “You’re wr-wrong, Dennis. None of this is W-Will’s fault. I’m the one with the p-problem, n-not him. Ever since our parents died, he’s th-the one who’s taken care of me. So, I think it w-would be b-best if you leave. We can t-talk again at the ch-chapel on Monday morning before s-school. Okay?”

Two sets of dark eyes widened in surprise, followed by antithetical reactions. Confusion furrowed Booker’s brow, his uncertainty causing him to shift uncomfortably, his gaze moving between the two brothers. He’d convinced himself Will was the cause of all Tom’s problems, and to be told differently, had him rethinking all he thought he knew about the young officer. If Hanson’s anxiety came from within, then he wasn’t sure he could trust him as a competent partner. While Tom's behavior at the swimming pool had surprised him, at the time, he’d dismissed his panic attack as nothing more than an irrational fear. After all, an aversion to large bodies of water was a common phobia and therefore, somewhat understandable. But now he wasn’t so sure. The young officer’s changing personality was becoming a legitimate concern. Maybe he really was crazy, and if so, he was a ticking time bomb. It was a worrying thought, and the more Booker thought about it, the more he started to wish Fuller had paired him with the easygoing Penhall rather than a neurotic screwball like Tom.

While Booker pondered the complicated workings of Tom’s mind, Will stood with his arms crossed, a satisfied smile curling the corners of his lips. He’d underestimated his brother’s ability to lie convincingly when under duress. Although the delivery was shaky, Tom’s words rang true, and it was refreshing to know the dark-haired officer hadn’t managed to come between them. His Tom-Tom was his and his alone, and he’d be damned if he’d lose him to an interfering piece of shit like Dennis Fucking Booker.

Ignoring Will’s triumphant smirk, Booker turned back to Tom, his expression contrite. “Sorry, I guess I misread the situation. Are we cool?”

Wary of making matters worse, Tom shot a quick glance in Will’s direction. Anticipation thickened the air, the heavy silence adding a sense of drama to the scene. But with his brother’s eyes boring a hole in the back of his skull, Tom knew he needed to speak up, and licking his lips, he addressed his friend. “Sure. But I think it would be best if you don’t come around here anymore.”

Although his voice was steady, there was a touch of sadness intertwined in the young officer's words. But Booker was too upset by Tom’s request to pick up on the hint of regret inflected in his tone. He’d offered the hand of friendship, only to have it slapped back in his face. Tom could rot alone in his apartment for all he cared, he was tired of trying, and he didn't need telling twice not to come around. Once was definitely enough, and pulling himself up to his full height, he strutted toward the door. “No problem, Hanson,” he replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “See you Monday.”

“Dennis, wait!”

Booker turned, his eyes hardening into an annoyed stare. “What?”

Tom hurried across the room, and grabbing Dennis’ arm, he pulled him into the hallway. Once out of earshot, he looked questioningly into his partner’s eyes, his expression panicked. “W-We’re still friends, right?”

A look of weariness passed over Booker’s face, and he exhaled a weighty sigh. “What do you want from me, Hanson? Huh? I try to get close to you, you push me away, then you beg me to come back. It’s exhausting. I’m starting to think we’d be better off keeping our relationship professional. I’m not sure I can deal with all this bullshit.”

Pain seared Tom’s heart. “Is that what you want?”

“It is.”

Tom’s heart dipped, but he managed a weak smile. “I understand,” he murmured, and turning away, he walked back into his apartment and closed the door. An emotional lump formed in his throat, and leaning against the wooden paneling, he closed his eyes and waited for the heavy beat of his heart to settle back into its normal rhythm. With his sight impeded, his ears immediately tuned into the familiar sound of running water, and his eyes flew open, panic gripping his heart. But when he saw Will standing at the kitchen sink, his breath expelled in relief. The steady stream of water was nothing more sinister than his brother washing the dishes, and he slumped back against the door. A tension headache pulsed behind his eyes and screwing them closed again, he pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb to alleviate the pain. By standing with his brother, he’d saved himself from another punishment, but in doing so, he’d lost a friend. It was the story of his life. Whenever he experienced a taste of freedom, fate—meaning Will—intervened and snatched it from him in the cruelest of ways. He knew he should feel angry, but he didn’t. He accepted his destiny, and there was no point fighting something he was incapable of changing. He was doomed to spend the rest of his life in the company of his brother, and pretending otherwise, only caused him more heartache.

The rattle of cutlery brought Tom back to the present, and opening his eyes, he took several deep breaths. He needed to remain calm or risk triggering another of Will’s outbursts. If he showed the slightest sign he was upset about Booker leaving, he would suffer the consequences, and while he was confident he had done enough to keep his brother happy, there was always a nagging doubt that he could have done more.

“Need any help?” he called out, the cheerful timbre of his voice an octave too high to sound convincing.

Will turned his head, a smile forming on his lips. “Sure.”

Lulled into a false sense of security, Tom walked into the kitchen, his mind awash with thoughts of Booker. Preoccupied, he failed to see the shift in his brother’s mood, and before he had time to react, a hand shot out and grabbed the back of his neck. It took a moment for his brain to compute what was happening, but once he realized he was under attack, he started to struggle. Will tightened his grip, propelling Tom's head forward, the swift action leaving the young officer's nose hovering only inches above the dirty dishwater. Frozen in fear, Tom’s frightened voice stammered from between his lips. “W-Will! I d-did what you asked! Wh-Why are you—”

“Shut up!” Will growled. “You disobeyed me, Tom-Tom. You ran after that cock-sucking shit-stirrer, and now I have to punish you.”

The smell of grease assaulted Tom’s nostrils, and he instinctively tried to pull his face away from the contaminated water. But Will held him firm, his nails digging into the back of the frightened officer’s neck, the tips of his fingers bruising the tender flesh. “Don’t fight me, Tom-Tom. ‘Cause if you do, you’re only gonna make it worse.”

There was no misinterpreting the warning, and as his face submerged beneath the foul-smelling water, Tom knew any form of resistance was futile. And so, like the loyal, and dutiful brother he was, he closed his eyes and silently counted down the minutes until his punishment was over.

Chapter Text

CoaS 15

Booker arrived at the chapel early Monday morning, keen to get his debriefing with Tom over with as quickly as possible. He was professional enough to know he needed to put his disappointment to one side and concentrate on their assignment, but the sting of Tom’s rejection still lingered. He thought they’d made a connection, and he’d looked forward to building a solid friendship with the shy officer. But despite a promising start, he realized he now had no choice but to accept what Penhall had told him. Tom was weird, and his mercurial temperament made it impossible to break down the barriers that kept him at arm’s length. Whether Will was responsible for his brother’s character traits or not was still open for debate, but as far as Booker was concerned, he’d tried, failed, and it was time to move forward. He had no regrets, he’d enjoyed Tom’s company while it had lasted, but he wasn’t prepared to waste any more time on a man who wasn’t interested in social interaction.

With that thought in mind, the dark-haired officer shot a furtive glance in Tom’s direction. Sitting slumped behind his desk, his head bowed low, his face hidden behind a curtain of hair, Tom cut the same sad, lonely figure he had the first time Booker had laid eyes on him. It was a depressing sight, but Dennis wasn’t about to fall into the trap of feeling sorry for his partner. Tom brought a lot of his heartache on himself, and if he wasn’t prepared to try and fit in, then he only had himself to blame.

A melancholy cloud of regret dampened Booker’s mood even further, and turning away, he went in search of Penhall. He was in need of some humor, and the laid-back officer never failed to bring a smile to his lips. But before he’d made it halfway across the room, a loud voice echoed throughout the chapel. “BOOKER!”

The dark-haired officer stopped in his tracks, and turning his head, he addressed his captain. “Yes, Coach?”

“My office,” Fuller instructed, his brow puckered into a solemn frown.

Intrigued by the summons, Booker followed his superior into his room and closed the door.

“Take a seat, Dennis.”

Mildly surprised by the serious tone of his captain’s voice, the dark-haired officer flopped down onto a chair and casually twined his fingers together behind his head. “Wassup, Coach?”

Ignoring the informal greeting, Fuller perched on the edge of his desk. “How are things, Booker? Are you fitting in okay? I guess the job’s a lot different to what you were used to at I.A.D.”

Suspicion narrowed Booker’s eyes, and lowering his arms, he sat forward in his chair. “What’s that supposed to mean? Has someone said something about me?”

Fuller continued to study his young charge for several long moments before answering the question. “Hanson’s requested a change of partner.”

“WHAT?”

While Booker’s reaction was expected, the level of hurt shining from his eyes perplexed Fuller, and folding his arms across his chest, he studied the dark-haired officer with interest. “You seem upset.”

“DAMN RIGHT I’M UPSET!” Booker shouted. But when he saw his commander’s warning look, he slumped back against the back of his chair and moderated his voice. “Did he give a reason?”

“He said you weren’t the right fit for the assignment,” Fuller revealed. “I spoke to him at length, and he thinks he’ll get more information if he goes it alone.”

When the angry officer remained silent, Fuller pushed the point. “Is he right, Booker? Did something happen I should know about?”

“No, he’s not right!” Booker shot back, and jumping to his feet, he began to pace around the small office. “And yes, something happened, but I’m not the one who’s jeopardizing the assignment, he is! He almost gave the fucking game away!”

Fuller’s expression darkened. “That’s a serious allegation. You’d better have a damn good reason for—”

“He refused to jump in the pool to prove we weren’t wired,” Booker blurted out in a rush of words.

Surprised by the revelation, the muscles in Fuller’s jaw flexed. “Go on.”

Having received the go-ahead to continue, the disgruntled officer didn’t hold back. His hurt and anger bubbled forth as he revealed all of Tom’s foibles. He disclosed the young officer’s plan to bully the students of Westview High, and how he’d caught him pushing a young student to the ground, the aggressive action far exceeding what they’d agreed upon. On and on he talked, his hands gesticulating wildly in front of his face, each accusation punctuated with a volley of expletives. A full twenty minutes passed before his voice finally petered out, and he stood silently in the middle of the room, his chest heaving heavily, his dark eyes blazing. He’d ratted out his friend, but he didn’t care. Tom had attempted to throw him under the bus, and he’d counterattacked with the truth, however detrimental it might be to the young officer’s career. He was done being Mister Nice Guy. Hanson had made his bed, and as far as he was concerned, he could damn well lie in it for all eternity.

On the other side of the room, Fuller stood silently, his meticulous mind carefully processing the plethora of information spewed forth in Booker’s emotional tirade. While he knew Tom’s behavior bordered on dysfunctional, the young officer had never—to his knowledge—come close to blowing his cover. If Booker was telling the truth, he needed to think long and hard before deciding which man should continue investigating the Westview case. While Hanson had never given him cause to doubt his abilities as a cop, Booker had presented a compelling argument, and he began to wonder if his best undercover officer was starting to feel the strain of the job. It wasn’t unusual, many good cops cracked under pressure, and Tom had always strived to do his very best, often pushing himself to the point of exhaustion. And while he didn’t know Booker well enough to form an opinion on his professional conduct, his statement about Hanson’s behavior rang true. Therefore, he made the executive decision to allow the dark-haired officer to remain on assignment and pull Tom from the case. Whether he would live to regret his choice remained to be seen, but he was prepared to give Booker the benefit of the doubt, at least until he proved him wrong.

“Okay, Booker,” Fuller announced. “I’m going to give you a chance to show me what you’ve got. You can keep working the case with Ioki as your backup, and I’ll assign Hanson to desk duty for the rest of the week.”

With his reputation back intact, Booker’s shoulders relaxed. “Thanks, Cap’n, you won’t regret it.”

“I’d better not,” Fuller replied, and with a glance at the clock, he picked up a stack of manila folders. “I have a meeting with the commissioner. I expect a report at the end of the day.”

“Yes, Coach,” Booker murmured, his gaze following his superior out the door. Once alone, he took a moment to compose himself before walking out into the main hub. He immediately set his sights on Tom, and sauntering over to the young officer’s desk, he made his presence known in a loud, domineering voice. “Hey, Tommy. Care to tell me why you don’t want to partner with me anymore?”

Tom visibly stiffened. “Go away,” he muttered, his gaze fixed on his paperwork. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

Affronted by the brush off, Booker could feel his muscles tensing and placing his palms on Tom’s desk, he leaned forward, his dark eyes flashing with anger. “What’s your problem, Hanson? How dare you tell Fuller I’m a bad cop. What the fuck did I ever do—”

“YOU’RE GONNA GET ME KILLED!”

The absurdity of the statement provoked an angry response. “I’m gonna get YOU killed?” Booker exclaimed with a derisive snort. “Who’s the one who almost blew our cover at the swimming pool, asshole? It sure as hell wasn’t me! In case you’ve forgotten, I’m the one who saved your sorry ass from drowning! But guess what? You thought you could go behind my back and get me booted off the case? Well, think again, hotshot. Fuller’s decided you're the one who's gonna spend the next week on desk duty, not me. How does that feel, Tommy, huh? Are you gonna cry? Are you gonna go home and—”

“That's enough, Dennis.”

Judy’s soft voice had the desired effect, and Booker fell silent, a momentary pang of regret upsetting the rhythm of his heart. But he quickly pushed his misgivings aside. Tom had betrayed him in the cruelest of ways, and as far as he was concerned, his anger was justified.

Aware he was under the scrutiny of a room full of his peers, Tom continued to stare at his desk, his cheeks flaming pink, his shallow breaths hitching in his throat. He could feel a heavy weight bearing down on him, compressing his lungs until he couldn’t breathe. Panicked, his fingers curled into fists and closing his eyes, he started to count, the sequence of numbers tumbling from his trembling lips in rapid succession. But when the numeric incantation failed to calm him, he began to hit his head with the heels of his hands, the heavy thumps falling into rhythm with his words. To the left of him, someone laughed, the loud guffaw continuing to echo inside his head long after the sound had passed through the air and vanished into the ether. Mentally disoriented, he stopped counting, giving his mind the chance to shut down the phantom vibration, leaving nothing but the tinnitus of silence ringing in his ears...wordless...taunting...the high-pitched whine slowly robbing him of his sanity. Panic squeezed his heart, and jumping to his feet, he fled the room, the sound of Booker’s parting word chasing him down the stairs and out into the parking lot below. “FREEEAK!”

“BOOKER!” Judy scolded, the palm of her hand slapping the dark-haired officer's upper arm. “ENOUGH!”

Ashamed, Dennis lowered his eyes to the floor. “Sorry,” he muttered. “He’s just so fucking infuriating, you know?”

Judy’s expression softened. “Yeah, I do know. But verbally attacking him in front of a room full of people is a low blow, Booker. I expected better from you.”

“Sorry,” Booker repeated. A heavy silence followed his apology, but eventually, he lifted his head and spoke again. “Jude, can we talk?”

The request took Judy by surprise, and she faltered for a moment before answering. “Um...sure. What’s up?”

Taking the young officer by the arm, Booker led her into their superior’s office and closed the door.

“I don’t think we should be in here,” Judy advised, her gaze flitting nervously around the room. “What if Fuller comes back?”

A reassuring smile played over Booker’s lips. “He won’t...at least not for a while. He’s with the commissioner.”

“Oh,” Judy replied, her face visibly relaxing. “So, what’s this all about, Dennis? I’m assuming it’s got something to do with Tom. Am I right?”

Trailing his fingertips over the smooth surface of Fuller’s desk, Booker spoke without making eye contact. “Yeah, you’re right. I was just wondering what you could tell me about him.”

“Tell you?” Judy parroted, her brow knitting in puzzlement. “What exactly is it you want to know?”

Booker shrugged. “I dunno. Anything, I guess. I just want to know what goes on in his mind.”

“Are you feeling guilty?”

The question brought a blush to the dark-haired officer’s cheeks. He wasn’t proud of his behavior, but somehow, in some strange way, Tom brought out both the best and the very worst in him. Their friendship was a cosmic joke, an oxymoron, and he didn’t understand why he was drawn to someone he was so incompatible with. But drawn to him he was, and even though he was still too angry to try and make amends, his inquisitive mind wanted to figure out what made the young officer tick.

Raking his fingers through his hair, he exhaled a weighty sigh. “Yeah, I guess I am. But…”

His voice trailed off, the unfinished sentence leaving Judy guessing. “But what?” she pressed.

“But part of me thinks he deserved it,” Booker finished in a quiet voice.

A deep sadness shone from Judy’s eyes. “Then we’ve nothing left to talk about,” she murmured, and turning away, she left Booker to his reflections.

The metronomic tick of the wall clock lulled the frantic workings of Booker’s mind, calming his conscious thought until all his anger and confusion ebbed away. Emotionally depleted, he glanced up at the object of his peaceful transformation, and realizing he was running late for school, he squared his shoulders and walked out the door.

Chapter Text

CoaS 16

The sound of the school bell greeted Booker as he pulled into the parking lot. In no mood to attend classes, he sat in his car and watched the steady stream of teenagers filing into the brown-brick building. At the rear of the crowd, a familiar figure climbed the steps, his gait hesitant, his demeanor forlorn. Ioki was on the case, masquerading as a defenseless nerd. From Booker’s vantage point, he’d nailed the brief, and at that moment, the dark-haired officer felt slightly less alone. Harry was a good man, but he wasn’t Tom, and as furious as Booker was at the self-effacing officer, he missed his presence. Tom McQuaid was a charismatic character, and watching him mouth off to teachers while keeping his endearing personality intact had been one of the highlights of Booker’s working career. But therein lay the problem. Tom McQuaid was a fictitious character, an imaginary being who disappeared as soon as night fell, much like a modern-day Cinderella. Tom Hanson was the flesh and blood man, the cop, the person he should be able to trust with his life. And while he accepted the consensus that Tom was an outstanding officer, he didn’t have complete faith in his coping abilities when facing an unforeseen situation. The nervous disposition of Tom Hanson simmered just beneath the surface of the Tom McQuaid persona, giving credence to Penhall’s Jekyll and Hyde analogy. It was unsettling, and while Booker had managed to overlook the young officer’s eccentricities in the beginning, after his unsolicited stunt that morning, he was mostly glad to be rid of him.

Mostly, but not completely.

As the last peal of the bell died, carried away on the whispers of the warm spring breeze, Booker exhaled a weary sigh and climbed out of his car. He had a job to do, and with or without Tom, he would do it to the best of his ability.

**

Tom pushed his legs harder, his lungs burning as he tried to outrun the sound of Booker’s voice. He wanted to put as much distance between himself and the chapel as possible, to leave behind the amused snorts and tinkling laughter that threatened to suck the life right out of his being. Once again, he’d exposed his weakness to his peers, making a mockery of himself for all to see. It was soul destroying, yet oh so familiar, and he wondered why he even cared anymore. No matter how hard he tried, he always ended up making a fool of himself, and he couldn’t help but think his public humiliation would follow him from life into death with an anecdotal epitaph engraved on his headstone.

Here lies Tom Hanson
Loved by none
Friend of nobody
He died as he lived
Alone

Entering through the gates of a leafy park, the young officer pulled up abruptly and leaning forward, he rested his hands on his knees. Closing his eyes, he sucked in some air, each breath flowing through his lungs in a tight wheezy pant. Although he had stopped running, his heart continued to pound in his chest, the blood pulsating in his ears drowning out the sounds of the city. Droplets of sweat trickled down his face and opening his eyes, he rubbed a hand over his brow. He was physically and emotionally spent, but he had no choice but to turn around and walk straight back to the scene of his embarrassment. Because that’s what he did. He always returned to his antagonists because as much as he wanted to escape the indignity of their teasing, he had nowhere else to go.

**

When the lunch bell rang, Booker packed up his books and avoiding the line of students filing into the dining hall, he made his way outside. A light breeze whipped the hair from his brow, allowing the heat of the April sun to warm his face, instantly elevating his mood. The first half of the day had flown by in an uneventful haze of boredom. Ioki had played his part well, his obvious intellect quickly singling him out as an easy mark, making Booker’s job that much less complicated. He knew Tyrell would expect him to target the new kid, especially because Ioki—aka Nguyen—was proving himself a shy, goody two-shoed conformist. But while they’d shared three classes during the morning, the dark-haired officer hadn’t had the opportunity to initiate contact. His gut told him he should follow the masses and seek Ioki out in the lunchroom, but his heart wasn’t in it. Time had dulled his anger, leaving the heavy ache of guilt sitting low in his gut. Tom's panicked face was seared into his memory, and he longed for the day to end, so he could seek out the quietude of his apartment and drown his regret in a bottle of whiskey.

“Hey, Brady! Wait up!”

Flipping the metaphorical switch in his brain that transformed him from an undercover police officer into a wayward teen, Booker turned and greeted the approaching youth with a flick of his head. “Wassup, Carter?”

Out of breath, Tyrell jogged the last few feet until he was standing next to his newest lackey. “I’m looking for McQuaid,” he puffed. “Have you seen him?”

Hearing Tom’s pseudonym uttered out loud caused a physical pain in Booker’s heart, and caught off guard, he immediately went on the defensive. “Do I look like his fucking mother? How the hell should I know?”

Tyrell’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Settle down, Brady. Don’t get your panties in a knot. I was only askin’ ‘cause you two have been joined at the hip since coming to Westview.”

“Yeah? Well, just ‘cause we hang out doesn’t mean I track his every move,” Booker shot back, his lower lip pushing into a moody pout. “Maybe he’s sick or playing hooky. Personally, I couldn’t give a fuck. I don’t need him to do what I gotta do.”

“Is that right?”

There was a hint of a dare behind the softly spoken question, almost as if the high schooler was mocking Booker’s capabilities to go it alone. Not one to back down from a challenge, the dark-haired officer’s eyes scanned the quadrangle, looking for a victim. As luck would have it, at that moment, Ioki walked out of the large double doors and down the broad cement steps toward them, his nose buried in a thick textbook. It was an opportunity too good to miss. Booker hated roughing up innocent students, but Harry was mentally and physically prepared for the bullying. Playing the mark was his shtick, after all, it was why he was there.

A sly smile curled one corner of Booker’s lips. “See that new kid?” he asked with a nod in Ioki’s direction. “I reckon he’s just dying to buy some blow.”

Turning his head toward the school entrance, Tyrell squinted against the sun as he observed Ioki descending the wide steps. “You mean the gook? He’s probably poor. You need to prey on the rich kids, Brady. Otherwise...well, let’s just say, if you don’t sell your weekly quota, things are gonna get...interesting.”

The thinly veiled threat wasn’t lost on Booker, but it was the racist remark that had his skin prickling in annoyance. However, as much as he wanted to punch the teenager in the mouth, he reined in his anger and channeled it into giving the best undercover performance of his life. “Check out his clothes,” he suggested. “Nguyen’s one of those rich Asians. His parents probably own a chain of grocery stores or something.”

The racist stereotype left a bad taste in the dark-haired officer’s mouth, but as he watched Tyrell’s lopsided sneer transform into a wide grin, he knew he’d succeeded in changing the teen’s mind.

“Hey, you may be right,” Tyrell agreed, his steely blue eyes sparkling with a greedy excitement. “Go hit him up.”

Adrenaline surged through Booker’s body, the rush quickening his heart. These were the moments he lived for, the deceptive roleplay and whether or not he could pull it off. Having never worked with Harry, he was primarily flying blind, but the unknown only added to his nervous excitement. Tyrell Carson was no fool, and one false move could see their undercover operation shut down before it had even begun. However, the dark-haired officer was egotistical enough to believe in his own abilities. Failure was not an option, not now, not ever. He was going to take down the bad guys or die trying.

Throwing his teenage accomplice a cheeky wink, he swaggered over to Ioki. Their eyes met, and a faint flicker of understanding passed between them. They both knew what to expect, but neither knew how the other would react. After Tom’s meltdown at the chapel, they’d barely had time to speak before it was time to leave for school. It left them at a disadvantage, but as trained professionals, they were prepared for the unexpected. However, that didn’t always mean they would respond in an appropriate manner. Tom was a prime example of what could go wrong when taken by surprise. But with Tyrell Carson hovering in the background, Booker had no opportunity to assuage his new friend before launching an attack. Time was of the essence, and if he were to convince Tyrell of his worth, he needed to go in all guns blazing or risk being labeled a pussy.

And so, with lightning speed, his hand shot out, knocking the book from Ioki’s hand. Before Harry could react, he grabbed a fistful of the undercover officer’s navy blue button-down shirt and twisted the material into a tight ball. “Hey, Bruce Lee,” he smirked. “How’s it going? Wanna buy some blow?”

It was the perfect gibe. Referencing the famous martial artist was a clever way for Booker to sound like a racist asshole while not actually insulting his friend. Harry was renowned for his skills in many traditional forms of Asian self-defense, and Lee was one of his idols. The cunningly thought out put-down was a gesture of solidarity in an otherwise violent confrontation, and Ioki was grateful for the support. Racial intolerance was rife in the force, but he was fortunate enough to have found his niche with the Jump Street team. He was a minority, but he never felt out of place. If anything, he considered his coworkers his family. Their bond went beyond friendship, it was a kinship he treasured, and he loved Judy, Doug, and even Fuller with all his heart. As the new member of the team, Booker had yet to leave his mark, but Harry already felt an affinity with the dark-haired officer he had never sensed with Hanson. Tom was a ghost, an enigmatic outsider whose strange ways and reticent behavior made him difficult to befriend. It wasn’t through a lack of trying, but the metaphorical wall was too thick, too impenetrable, and like those before him, Harry had eventually given up. He didn’t dislike the young officer, he just didn’t understand him, and therefore, unless they were working together, he basically pretended he wasn’t there.

Keen to make a good impression with his new partner, Ioki slipped into character by playing the part assigned to him. “H-Hey, fella, I don't want any trouble. I-I only came out here so I could study.”

Booker glanced down at the book, an amused smile twitching his lips. “Algebra?” he jeered, his hand tightening around Harry’s shirtfront. “Geez, man, you’re really gonna need a snort after reading that. Lucky for you I came along. How ‘bout a gram to help alleviate the boredom of all those formulas?”

“Um...okay,” Ioki replied in a hesitant voice. “H-How much?”

Pausing in thought, Booker looked Harry up and down. “For you, my friend, I’ll sell it for the discounted price of a hundred and ten bucks.”

Harry’s frightened expression shifted ever so slightly. He knew the going rate—as set by Carson—was a hundred dollars, meaning his partner had upped the price by ten percent. It was an amusing yet brilliant improvisation that was sure to put him in Tyrell’s good books. Singling out the minority kid and making him pay extra was the perfect way for Booker to prove his allegiance. The tactic left Harry suitably impressed, and any misgivings he had about working with the rookie undercover officer instantly disappeared. There was no longer any doubt in his mind, Booker was his kind of cop, and he knew in his heart they were going to get along just fine.

Reaching into his pocket, Harry pulled out a wad of notes. “H-Here,” he stammered, pushing the cash into Dennis’ free hand. “Take it.”

Booker released his grip and carefully counted the money. When he finished, his face broke into a smile. “Well, look at that. You’ve given me an extra five bucks. Thanks, Bruce!”

Ioki gulped down an imaginary lump in his throat. “C-Can I go now?”

“Not without your goodies,” Booker grinned, and reaching into his jacket’s inner pocket, he pulled out a baggie of bicarbonate soda.

“Th-thanks,” Harry stammered, and pocketing the drugs, he picked up his book and hurried back up the steps.

“Be sure to tell your friends!” Booker called out before turning to address Tyrell, one eyebrow raised in question. “Satisfied?”

A slow grin relaxed the teen’s features. “You were right. Who needs McQuaid? You can sell the lot on your own if you want.”

They were the words Booker had hoped to hear, and handing over their ill-gotten gains—minus his commission—he returned a devilish grin. “Deal.”

**

Later that day

Arriving at the chapel, the first thing Booker noticed was Tom’s absence. With his guilt gnawing at his conscience, the dark-haired officer immediately sought out Hoffs. “Hey, Jude, have you seen Tom?”

Judy’s eyes narrowed, and placing a hand on her hip, she studied Dennis’ face with suspicion. “Why? Do you want to pour more salt on his wounds?”

Embarrassed, Booker lowered his gaze to the floor. “No. I wanted to apologize to him for...well, you know.”

The muscles in Judy’s jaw tightened, but eventually, her face relaxed, softening her features. “He went home early. He wasn’t feeling well.”

The news added another weight to Booker’s load of guilt, and he fidgeted uncomfortably. “Do you think I should go see him?”

Judy took a moment to ponder the question before giving her answer. “He’s hurt, Booker, you embarrassed him in front of everyone and knowing Tom as I do, I think you should give him some space. Leave it a few days and then make contact. Otherwise, you might make things worse.”

Although it wasn’t the advice he was looking for, Booker had faith in Judy’s judgment. “Okay,” he sighed. “I’ll wait. I just hope I’m doing the right thing.”

The lines around Judy’s eyes crinkled as she smiled. “Trust me, you are.”

But unbeknownst to Booker, his inaction was about to set in motion a nightmare that would ultimately, change Tom’s life forever.

Chapter Text

CoaS 17

Later that night

Easing himself into the tub, Tom released a contented sigh. As the warm water washed over his tired body, he felt himself starting to relax, the sensory gratification helping to mute the voices echoing in his head. From its position on the bathroom vanity, a small transistor radio played an innocuous rock ballad, the low-quality tinny sound invoking memories of his childhood. Leaning back against the hard porcelain, he hummed along to the tune, the familiarity of the song releasing a kaleidoscope of images into his head, each one carefully selected for maximum pleasure. It was the tonic he needed, and when the tension in his shoulders finally melted away, he closed his eyes and took a stroll down memory lane.

A small smile tweaked the corners of his lips. He was back in the fourth grade, and he’d just hit the winning run in the final game of the little league playoffs. Coach Edison had taken the team out for pizza, and he’d positioned Tom at the head of the table, in what he’d referred to as the hero’s seat. It was a proud moment for the youngest Hanson, and he’d relished the adoration. But all that was before the death of his parents, back when he was still a normal American boy doing normal American things. Time, however, had proven to be his enemy. He was no longer that starry-eyed kid, full of hopes and dreams for the future. The weight of his abuse had crushed his spirit, and while his mind often returned to the freedom of his childhood, he was realistic enough to know he would never experience that life again.

It didn’t take long for the memories of Booker’s verbal attack to chase away the young officer’s happy thoughts, and his serene smile slowly faded, his bitter recollections returning in a stream of consciousness. When he’d returned to work, he’d found himself facing more ridicule. In his short absence, Sergeant Parry had coined the nickname Take flight Tommy, a moniker that all the other officers readily adopted. The unwanted attention had soon taken its toll, and he’d feigned illness so he could leave the chapel early, the audible sniggers and stage whispers following him out the door. It was another blow to his confidence, a chink in his already battle-scarred armor, and he felt happy to be home, sheltered within the walls of his apartment. Many would have questioned his ideology on what constituted a safe house, but for him, the answer was simple. His dysfunctional relationship with his brother had become the norm, he knew what to expect, and although emotionally and physically damaging, he accepted it for what it was…his life.

When his fingertips started to wrinkle, Tom heaved himself out of the tub and grabbing a towel, he dried his battered flesh. He was looking forward to an early night so he could lose himself in the black and white images of his past. But no sooner had he slipped on his terry cloth robe than a cold draft swirled around his bare legs. He turned, his brow creasing into a worried frown. But when he saw his brother standing in the doorway, his muscles relaxed, and he managed a wan smile. “Hey, Will. Is something wrong?”

Will’s eyes wandered over his sibling’s robe-clad body. “I was going to ask you the same thing. You hardly touched your pizza. Is everything okay, Tom-Tom?”

The question was one Tom was used to, Will often quizzed him about his day, and he’d honed his talent until he was a consummate performer, the well thought out lies slipping easily from his tongue. But the tender concern in his brother’s voice was unexpected, and he found himself struggling to keep his composure. He blinked several times, his Adam's apple bobbing with suppressed emotion. But he knew he was fighting a losing battle. Tired and emotional, he longed to share the burden of his tumultuous day, to release his inner demons so he could vanquish them to the darkest corner of his memory. His lower lip started to quiver, and as his face contorted into a mask of misery, his anguish spilled forth in a whiny torrent of sorrow. “They keep making fun of me! No matter how hard I try to fit in, they keep making fun of me!”

A sympathetic pout formed on Will’s lips, and pulling Tom into a protective embrace, he rubbed a consoling hand over the small of his back. “You don’t need them in your life, Tom-Tom,” he reassured in a soft voice. “They’re all a bunch of assholes. Especially that Booker.”

Comforted by the soothing touch, Tom relaxed against Will’s chest and closed his eyes, the steady beat of his brother’s heart helping to calm his tormented mind. Will’s hand continued its circular motion, his long fingers moving slowly downward until the tips skimmed over the curve of Tom’s buttocks. When the younger officer didn’t protest, he grew bolder. His fingers moved lower, the tips curling under the hem of the soft terry toweling robe, inching it up, the sly action revealing the bath-warmed skin beneath. But when he lightly caressed the exposed flesh, Tom’s eyes flew open, and struggling out of his brother’s hold, the young officer took a step back. “Don’t!”

A look of bewilderment crossed Will’s face. Never had his brother denied him access, but it didn’t take long for his surprise to turn to anger. “What did you say?”

Flustered, Tom’s eyes blinked rapidly. But having finally found the courage to speak up, he was determined to free himself from the abuse that ruled his life. “I s-said don’t. I d-don’t w-want you to d-do that to me anym-more.”

Will’s expression hardened. “Do what, exactly? Has that Booker been filling your head with lies, Tom-Tom? Can’t you see what he’s doing? He’s trying to split us up, he’s trying to steal you away from me and—”

“I’M NOT YOURS TO STEAL, WILL! I’M YOUR BROTHER, AND WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO ME IS WRONG! IT’S FUCKING INCEST!”

If Tom had managed to keep a level head, he probably would have noticed the subtle change in his brother’s expression, forewarning him of the impending attack. But he didn’t. Out of nowhere, a fist slammed into his jaw, the force of the punch buckling his knees. He crumpled to the floor, his temple striking the edge of the tub with a sickening crack. Pain exploded inside his head and moaning loudly, he slumped over onto his side. Blood flowed from the large gash above his eye, the thick amber fluid staining the black and white tiled floor. With a groan, he attempted to crawl away, to protect himself from another assault, but a wave of nausea clouded his vision, instantly disorienting him. Unable to think straight, his arms gave way, and he collapsed back onto the floor, the coolness of the tiles against his cheek helping to keep him conscious. Again, he attempted to drag himself out of harm’s way, but before he could make his escape, cruel fingers grasped a handful of his hair and yanked him backward. He yelped in pain as Will forcefully dragged him toward the tub. His legs kicked weakly in protest, his hands desperately scratching at his brother’s wrists in a vain attempt to make him let go. When Will heaved him into a sitting position, he fought to break free, but his valiant effort was no match for his two hundred and twenty-pound brother. Within seconds, he found himself draped over the edge of the tub, the weight of Will’s body pressing against him, holding him down. The aroma of the soapy bathwater immediately triggered the neurons in his olfactory cortex, the powerful sensory overload prompting an automatic stress response. Knowing what was about to happen, he inhaled a deep breath, his mind preparing for the dunking. But when Will’s unlubricated penis rammed inside him, the much-needed air rushed from his lungs, and he screamed in pain. “DON’T! STOP! OH, GOD, WILL, STOP! YOU’RE HURTING ME! YOU’RE HURTING ME!”

But his desperate plea went unheeded. Will’s mind had snapped, his rage engulfing all rational thought, leaving behind an unhinged man. “Shut up,” the elder Hanson growled. “Shut up and take it like a man.”

For the first time in years, Tom’s childhood memories failed to protect him, the searing pain burning inside his anus preventing his mind from taking him to his happy place. Unable to move, he was helpless to act, leaving him both mentally and physically vulnerable to the assault. His abused body lurched forward and backward, his torso digging into the edge of the tub, the friction inflaming the large bruise already adorning his flesh. Snot bubbled from his nose, the steady stream mixing with his tears, the slivers of mucus falling into the bathwater below. With a voice hoarse from screaming, he continued to beg his brother to stop, to spare him from the vicious attack that was destroying his sanity. But the rape continued, Will’s frantic movements driving his cock deeper, the blood oozing from the terrified officer’s anus helping to lubricate the unwanted flesh savagely invading his body.

Will’s coital grunts bounced off the tiled walls...low...heavy...a primordial song of control and dominance. The line between forced consent and rape had blurred, and in his world, there was no turning back. Tom had betrayed him...made a fool of him, and he needed to teach him a lesson in respect. He would take what he wanted with or without permission, as was his right...his brother at least owed him that much.

Eventually, Tom’s senses dulled, and his mind went blank. There were no happy childhood images, just an empty void inside his head protecting him from the brutality of the assault. His erection jutted out in front of him, the tip bouncing against the side of the tub. But he remained blissfully unaware of his impending orgasm. He was a hollow shell…unthinking…unfeeling…a mindless automaton, his body’s arousal remotely controlled by his brother’s frantic thrusting.

“Fuck...fuck...fuck,” Will huffed, his warm breath whispering over the strands of damp hair at the nape of Tom’s neck. “I’m close, Tom-Tom, I’m so...fucking...ohhahh.”

Will’s semen filled Tom’s anus, his seed mixing with the blood coating the young officer's anal canal, marking its territory with its unique scent. Still locked in his fugue-like state, Tom’s body eventually betrayed him, his own semen splattering against the side of the tub...ineffectual...wasted...the saliferous fluid clinging to the cold porcelain. With a satisfied grunt, Will withdrew his softening cock, the action releasing a crimson stream of sanguine juices, the bloody droplets running down Tom’s inner thighs. Liberated from his nightmare, the young officer’s consciousness returned, and a pathetic whimper trembled over his lips, the trauma of the rape sending violent tremors through his abused body. It didn’t take long for the screaming inside his head to start, his guilt manifesting in angry words of self-condemnation. He was a whore...a freak, he should have found a way to stop it, he should have fought harder, he should have yelled louder, he should have...he should have…he should have…

Unable to silence the torrent of abuse echoing inside his mind, Tom sought comfort the only way he knew how. Dropping to the bathroom floor, his body curled into the fetal position, and closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to once again, fade into the past.

Rising to his feet, Will turned his attention to the lifeless figure lying next to his feet. He felt no real remorse, just a sense of sadness his brother had taken it so badly. He didn't understand why Tom had decided to reject his affections after so long, but he had a feeling it had something to do with Booker. His brother may have told the pesky officer not to come around anymore, but words didn’t always reflect the desires of the heart. For some inexplicable reason, despite never showing any signs of wanting to pursue a friendship with his other coworkers, Tom appeared to crave an intimate working relationship with the dark-haired officer. It was a baffling development, and one Will was determined to nip in the bud. As far as he was concerned, they didn’t need outsiders prying into their lives. They had each other, and that was all that mattered.

Shifting his gaze, Will noticed the blood and semen coating his now flaccid penis. His nose wrinkled in disgust, and bending down, he used the corner of Tom’s robe to wipe away the offending fluid. Once clean, he pulled up his pants, the metallic clink of the handcuffs attached to his belt an ominous portent to what was to come. He took a moment to tuck in his shirt before he emptied the dirty bathwater and refilled the tub, all the while singing along to the various tunes playing on the radio, his mind oblivious to his brother’s suffering.

Steam swirled throughout the small room, the moist air clinging to the scent of sex that still permeated the atmosphere. When the bath was full, Will turned off the faucets and stared down at his sibling.

Tom remained on his side, his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped protectively around his torso. Caught between the hypnagogic realm of semi-consciousness and sleep, his eyes remained partially open, his sightless gaze fixed on the tiled floor, a soft pout adorning his full lips. A look of tenderness passed over Will’s face. Tom’s angelic features never ceased to amaze him, and even though his brother’s good looks brought about feelings of animosity, in a twisted way, he was also proud of how beautiful he was. His Tom-Tom was exquisite—even with a blood-smeared face—and he felt lucky to have him in his life.

A tender smile played over Will’s lips, and lowering himself to the floor, he knelt beside his brother. Tom remained oblivious to his presence, his eyes unblinking, his body motionless. Unwilling to disturb the serene vision laid out before him, Will’s hand hovered over Tom’s head for several moments before finally coming into contact with the bloody gash adorning his temple. Startled back to reality, Tom instinctively jerked away, an anguished cry sounding from between his lips. Surprised by the reaction, Will sat back on his heels, two deep lines wrinkling his brow. “Geez, Tom-Tom, chill out. I’m not gonna hurt you. Don't you wanna get cleaned up?”

Will’s matter of fact tone, coupled with his contradictory statement, added an air of surrealism to the already bizarre situation. Blinking several times, Tom remained immobile, his only awareness, the unrelenting throbbing in his head and anus. When he didn’t receive an answer, Will stood up, and without thought for his brother’s fragile state of mind, he lifted him by the armpits and dragged him toward the tub.

Fearing he was once again under attack, Tom’s body lurched into action. Instinct powered his arms and legs into a violent frenzy, his limbs flailing frantically, his panicked protest echoing around the room. “NO! NO! NO! PLEASE DON’T! OH, GOD! PLEASE DON’T!”

“Calm down,” Will huffed. But when Tom continued his distraught objection, the disgruntled officer heaved him to his feet, and taking hold of his shoulders, he shook him violently. “HEY! I SAID, CALM...THE FUCK...DOWN!”

Defeated, Tom’s body went limp, and choking back a sob, he sagged against Will’s muscular frame. Compassion softened Will’s eyes, and placing a reassuring arm around his brother’s waist, he maneuvered him toward the edge of the tub. “Get in, Tom-Tom. You’ll feel better after you soak a while.”

With his brain on autopilot, Tom shrugged out of his robe and stepping into the tub, he sat down. Circling his arms around his bent knees, he lowered his head and stared at the water...detached...broken...a ghost of his former self.

“You’re okay,” Will crooned softly, and taking a clean washcloth from the metal towel rack, he dipped it in the warm water and studiously dabbed at the blood trickling down Tom’s face. “See? No harm done.”

Filmy ribbons of blood swirled around Tom’s legs, the pinkish-red threads seeping from his anus silently confessing their part in the horror story of abuse and humiliation that had played out just minutes before. Devoid of emotion, his mind numb, the young officer seemed immune to his brother’s tender ministrations. But when the water started to cool, his eyes came back into focus and lifting his head, he spoke in a soft, mumbly voice. “I’m cold.”

Will’s hand stilled. “Do you wanna get out?”

Tom nodded. The pounding in his head felt like a jackhammer drilling into his brain, and a wave of nausea rolled over him. But he was clear-headed enough to know he needed to keep it together or risk falling victim to another attack.

Happy to oblige his brother’s request, Will helped him from the tub. Tom stood on the nylon bath mat, his arms wrapped around his trembling body. After pulling the stopper from the drain, Will grabbed a clean bath towel and proceeded to dry his brother’s mottled flesh. When the towel came away bloody, a frown of annoyance destroyed his calm exterior, and throwing the soiled material to the floor, he strode toward the door. “Stay here.”

Too tired to protest, Tom sank to the floor and placing his head on the blood-stained towel, he drew his legs up to his chest and closed his eyes. His breathing quickly fell into rhythm with the throbbing in his anus, and lulled by the familiar tune playing on the radio, he fell into a troubled sleep.

**

Thirty minutes later

A harsh kaleidoscope of color invaded Tom’s dream, the luminous glow violently jerking him back to full consciousness. Groaning, he squinted against the harshness of the overhead light, his muddled mind searching for answers. Gradually, his memories returned. A slow-motion picture show of pain, violence, and unexpected tenderness played inside his head, the background score of Van Halen’s ‘When It’s Love’ adding a touch of surrealism to the recollection. Confused, he struggled to push himself into a sitting position, but his right hand refused to cooperate. Fear crept through his body, bringing goose-bumps to the surface of his skin, and opening his eyes, he turned his head and stared at his hand.

A circle of metal bound his wrist, and Tom immediately recognized it as a standard police issue handcuff. The steel had already left an angry red mark, the manacle biting into his pale flesh. Panicked, he yanked his arm, and shock gave way to disbelief when he discovered he was secured to a pipe under the bathroom sink. Using his left arm as support, he pushed himself into a sitting position. It was then the room went silent, the catchy strains of Van Halen’s ballad cut off mid-vocal, leaving an eerie silence hanging in the air. Suddenly aware he wasn’t alone, a shiver ran down the length of his spine, and turning his head, he gazed up into his brother’s impassive face.

“Sorry,” Will apologized. “I fuckin’ hate that song.”

That his brother found it necessary to apologize for turning off the radio, but not for handcuffing him to a pipe only added to Tom’s confusion. He shook his head in the hopes of vanquishing the bizarre nightmare, but his reality remained unchanged. He was a hostage in his own home.

“Here,” Will offered, his hand holding out a packet of menstrual pads. “I bought you these.”

Tom stared at the feminine hygiene product, his expression mortified. “I d-don’t understand...wh-why are you giving m-me—”

“It’ll contain the bleeding,” Will explained in a matter of fact tone. “We can’t have you leaving a mess everywhere, now can we?”

Sickened by the comment, Tom’s heart thudded heavily in his chest, but he ignored the inappropriate gift, and instead brought up the most obvious issue. “Wh-why am I handcuffed to the sink?”

Squatting down beside his brother, Will exhaled a weighty sigh. “You let me down, Tom-Tom, and now you have to pay.”

With no thought for his safety, Tom grabbed Will’s hand, his dark eyes frantic. “B-But...b-but, I didn’t Will! I did what you asked, I sent Booker away! I even told Fuller I wanted another partner. So, why are you doing this to me? WHY?”

Pulling free from Tom’s hold, Will rose to his feet. “Because I can,” he replied in a flat voice, and tossing the packet of pads to the floor, he walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

CoaS 18

Three hours later

A dull throb radiated through Tom’s hip, the cold tiled floor providing no relief for his aching joints. He shifted slightly, searching for a more comfortable position, but the subtle movement did little except exacerbate the pain radiating through the base of his thumb. Opening his eyes, he stared out into the gloom. He had no idea how long he’d slept, but judging by the location of the waning gibbous moon shimmering through the small bathroom window, it was past midnight. As his mind slowly reawakened, he became more aware of his physical discomfort, and a low moan trembled over his lips. He knew enough about Handcuff Neuropathy to surmise the pain around his thumb was because the metal shackle had bruised his superficial radial nerve. It was a worrying sign, and flexing his fingers, he winced as the cold metal bit deeper into his swollen flesh. The cuff was too tight, and unless Will released him, he was facing some serious nerve damage.

A dull ache in his bladder had him rethinking his priorities, and pushing himself upright, he stared at the toilet. Even in his drowsy semiconscious state, he knew he had no hope of reaching the bowl, and cold panic gripped his heart. If he didn’t act quickly, he’d end up humiliating himself by pissing all over the floor. He desperately tried to formulate a plan, but his mind came up blank, and with his need to urinate fast becoming an issue, he used the only option open to him...his voice.

“WILL! I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM! WILL! UNCUFF ME NOW, YOU SONOFABITCH! UNCUFF MEEE!”

Several long, agonizing minutes passed before the door opened, revealing a groggy Will. “Whatcha yellin’ about?” he asked, his hand rubbing his sleep-blurred eyes.

Surprised his brother hadn’t torn him a new one for calling him a sonofabitch, Tom decided not to push his luck by repeating the insult. Instead, he addressed his captor in a non-confrontational voice, hoping against hope his subservient manner would placate his sibling enough so he’d agree to uncuff him. “I need to pee.”

Will appeared to consider the request before disappearing out the door. The minutes ticked down, leaving Tom squirming uncomfortably. If his brother didn’t hurry up, he’d find himself sitting in a puddle of his own waste.

“WILL!” he cried, his free hand grabbing at his crotch. “HURRY THE FUCK UP!”

Eventually, Will strolled casually back into the bathroom, a blue bucket swinging from one hand. “Geez, Tom-Tom,” he admonished in an unsympathetic tone. “Settle down. There’s no need to raise your voice at—”

‘UNCUFF ME!” Tom screamed hysterically, his tethered arm frantically pulling at the restraint. “UNCUFF ME YOU CRAZY MOTHERFU—OH FUUCK!”

Warm urine flowed over his fingers, the yellow stream trickling down between his naked thighs and onto the black and white tiled floor below. Shocked into silence, he stared down at the waste pooling beneath him, his mind barely able to comprehend what it was his eyes were seeing. But when the flow eventually stemmed, a convulsion of pure anguish shuddered through his body, and unable to bottle up his emotions any longer, he burst into tears.

The young officer’s tortured sobs echoed throughout the bathroom, each wretched howl telling a story of helplessness and despair. “Wh-why?” he cried, his tears rolling unchecked down his pale cheeks. “Wh-why would you d-do that to m-me?

Will stood in the doorway, his fingers clenching and unclenching around the handle of the bucket, his expression grim. Any compassion he might have felt for his brother had disappeared the moment the scent of ammonia hit his nostrils. He wore his disgust openly, his pursed lips and wrinkled brow leaving nothing to the imagination. He was pissed off, but rather than berate his brother, he positioned the bucket under the tub’s spout and turned on the faucet.

The sound of running water soon reached Tom’s ears, and his sobs slowly subsided. Lifting his head, he drew his bare arm under his streaming nose and wiped away the mucus. From his position on the floor, he watched his brother fill the bucket, all the while thinking he was going to clean up his mess. But when the pail was almost full, Will turned off the faucet and lifting the bucket from the tub, he spun around and threw the contents over his brother.

Cold water splashed over the young officer’s groin, numbing his extremities. With a cry, his body lurched backward, the motion slamming the back of his head against the side of the sink. “OW!”

Oblivious to his brother’s pain, Will threw the remaining water over Tom’s legs. “Disgusting little pig,” he muttered, and tossing the pail to the floor, he turned and walked away.

“DON’T LEAVE ME!” Tom screamed, his hysterical outburst cording the muscles in his neck. “COME BACK, YOU MOTHERFUCKER! COME BACK!”

But the only reply the young officer received was the slam of the bathroom door.

**

Fifteen hours later

As Booker pushed open the discolored metal door, the familiarity of the empty warehouse brought back a flood of memories, and a heavy knot of regret settled in his chest. Thirty-three hours had passed since he’d verbally attacked Tom, and the weight of his remorse was beginning to affect his ability to perform his job. While he’d given a stellar performance bullying Ioki the previous day, his mind was no longer focused on the task at hand. He’d spent a restless night tossing and turning, the image of Tom’s distressed face haunting him through the long hours until dawn. He felt lousy, and as he’d stood under the shower, his mind disillusioned and his spirit at an all-time low, he’d almost considered giving up completely and phoning in sick. However, the thought of disappointing his captain soon had him reevaluating his thinking. Fuller had chosen him over Tom, and he wanted to prove to his superior he’d made the right choice. But when he’d pulled into Westview High’s parking lot, his mood had once again darkened, and he’d spent the day carefully avoiding contact with both Harry and Tyrell. While he knew his behavior would cause Ioki to question his motive, he doubted Tyrell would bat an eye. After all, mood swings were a common occurrence for the average teenager, and he figured he could get away with keeping to himself for at least one day without drawing too much suspicion.

The screech of the warehouse door’s rusty hinges alerted Booker to Ioki’s presence, and turning around, he offered him a twitch of a smile. “Hey, Harry.”

“Hey, yourself,” Harry replied in an offhand manner, his dark eyes carefully studying his partner’s face. “So, what’s up with you? The whole point of being at Westview is to bust this drug ring. You’re treating it like a vacation.”

Embarrassment heated Booker’s cheeks, and he shuffled uncomfortably. “I know, and I’m sorry. I’m just having a bad day. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“A bad day because of Tom?”

The question took Booker by surprise, and he stood in silence for several moments before his dazed expression transformed into one of sneering derision. “Why would you think that?”

A knowing smile curled the corner of Harry’s lips. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’ve got feelings for him. It was obvious yesterday when you tore into him for requesting a new partner. The disappointment I understand, but you really lashed out at him. You wanted to hurt him in the same way he hurt you, and people only go to that extreme when someone they love lets them down.”

Booker’s cleverly constructed facade faltered before crumbling completely, and unable to meet Harry’s discerning gaze, he lowered his eyes to the floor. He wasn’t comfortable discussing his affection for another man with a coworker, and under ordinary circumstances, he would have told Harry to mind his own business. But there was nothing ordinary about his and Tom’s bizarre relationship, and for the first time in years, he made the decision to let his guard down. “Jesus,” he muttered, his hand rubbing the back of his neck. “What is it with you and Penhall? You’ve known me for less than two weeks, and somehow, you’ve got me all figured out. It’s kinda scary.”

Smiling, Harry gave a small shrug. “I don't know, but I'm right, aren't I?”

Several seconds passed before Booker answered. “Yeah, okay, I do have feelings for him. But you’ve got to believe me, Harry, I didn’t mean to react the way I did. He just frustrates the hell out of me, and I lost my temper.”

“You called him a freak,” Ioki pointed out in a quiet voice. “That’s some pretty hefty frustration. Are you in love with him?”

Guilt sent a stab of pain through Booker’s heart, and his shoulders sagged from the weight of his contrition. “I don’t know, maybe,” he muttered. “I mean, he’s gorgeous and all, but he’s really not my type. He’s so damn timid and insecure, it’s hard work just getting to know him. Anyway, none of that's really the point. I’m gonna apologize to him for being such a prick, and hopefully, we can salvage what’s left of our friendship. Judy reckons I should wait a few days, but I dunno. What do you think I should do? Should I give him time to lick his wounds or should I talk to him today?”

After careful consideration, Harry answered the question. “I think Jude’s right, I think you should wait a while. Tom’s...complicated. If you crowd him, he’ll panic, and you'll only make it worse. But you shouldn’t leave it too long either. Hanson's his own worst critic, and once he starts to overthink what happened, he’ll blame himself, and the self-condemnation will eat him up inside.”

Booker considered the advice before slowly nodding his head in agreement. “Yeah, I think you’re right. I’ll wait until tomorrow before I say anything. Thanks, Harry.”

“Happy to help,” Harry laughed. “Man, I can’t believe out of everyone at the chapel, you picked the weirdest person to fall in love with. You must really like difficult relationships.”

“Yeah,” Booker replied absently, his mind already planning what he would say to Tom. “I guess I do.”

Harry slapped his partner on the back. “Good luck with that. Just try not to break his heart.”

“Yeah,” Booker murmured again, his mind deep in thought. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to have Tom in his life, but he had a feeling if he ignored his gut, he’d live to regret it.

**

Five hours later (Twenty-three hours since Tom’s incarceration)

Trapped within the horror of his living nightmare, time had no meaning for Tom. His exhausted mind faded in and out of sleep, the black and white images of his dreams a cruel reminder of how his life used to be. The incessant throb of his muscles tortured his aching limbs, the cramps flowing and ebbing in a progressive tide of pain. But despite his suffering, somewhere, deep in the subconscious part of his brain, he knew that to keep his blood circulating, he needed to remember to wiggle the fingers of his tethered hand. He had no idea how long Will intended to keep him captive, and he needed to do whatever he could to keep himself in good shape. He’d tried to make a game out of it, to move each finger in rhythm to the beat of a song he sang in his head. But his mind soon began to play tricks on him. With each passing hour, the line between reality and fantasy blurred, confusing his thought process. The sanctuary of his dreams gave him the peace he craved, and so, little by little, his mind slipped into a fugue-like state, leaving his body motionless. His memories became the present and his nightmare the past, and while the time switch helped protect his sanity, his unconscious mind left him vulnerable and exposed to his brother’s continued abuse.

**

Four hours later

Lying in bed, Booker found sleep elusive. He stared up at the ceiling, the luminous dial of his clock radio mocking him with each passing minute. Even after two days, his fight with Tom still weighed heavily on his mind, and his abusive behavior gnawed at his conscience. It was difficult for him to admit he was wrong, but in his heart, he knew he’d treated his friend badly. Not that he didn’t attribute some of the blame squarely on Tom’s shoulders, he did, but after careful reflection, he knew he could have handled things better. Verbally attacking a shy, nervous man in front of his colleagues was a low act, and he wished he hadn’t lost his temper in such a public manner. At twenty-four years of age, he knew he should have more self-control, but he’d always been a hothead, and he rarely thought before he spoke. It was, according to his mother, the Booker curse. His father was the same, and so was his grandfather. He was, by all accounts, a chip off the old block.

Closing his eyes, he willed his mind to relax. It was 1 a.m., and there was nothing he could do to repair his friendship with Tom until after school. That gave him fifteen hours to find the right words so he could prove to his friend he was sorry and set their relationship back on the right path.

As his mind slowly faded toward sleep, content in the knowledge he would soon make peace with Tom, he had no idea of the abuse occurring in the Hansons’ bathroom. If he did, he wouldn’t have waited so long to check up on his friend.

Chapter Text

CoaS 19

Ten hours later

Hidden from view by the thick copse of trees bordering the east side of Westview High’s running track, Tyrell Carson watched with interest as Dennis approached Harry. The two males exchanged a few words before Dennis turned and walked away. Although out of earshot, Tyrell could see well enough to know the meeting was not a drug deal, and his eyebrows drew together into a frown. Something was off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was that had his spider-sense tingling. He’d started to sense it after Dennis had bullied Harry into buying a baggie of cocaine. The deal had gone off without a hitch, but in Tyrell’s experience, the transaction was a little too easy, a little too clean. He’d played the scenario frame by frame in his mind, but when he couldn’t shake off his suspicions, he’d decided to do some investigating. Arriving at school early, he’d attempted to bribe a student office aide into stealing Brady and McQuaid’s files so he could read up on the two misfits. But despite offering money and threatening violence, he’d failed to coerce the student into fulfilling his request. To say he was disappointed was an understatement. Failure did not sit well with the arrogant teen, and he took his displeasure out on those closest to him. Both Seth Madison and Joel Sanders had found themselves on the receiving end of his ire, their matching black eyes a sad testimonial of the brutality they encountered in their everyday lives. Not that they complained. At the age of seventeen, their view on life was already jaded. After all, if your best friend, parent or sibling had no qualms beating the living hell out of you, it made sense the rest of the world was against you too. Right? It was the tragic conditioning of the tough, lower socioeconomic youths of the Westview school district, and one that was unlikely to change without outside intervention and understanding. But those caught in the web of abuse didn't give a rat’s ass about their community or their fellow battlers. All they cared about were themselves, and if anyone was foolish enough to get in their way, then God help them because as in any war, there would be innocent casualties.

Tyrell’s eyes narrowed as he watched Harry wander over to the bleachers, sit down, and open a book. With Tom suspiciously absent and Dennis and Harry meeting in secret, Tyrell knew he had every reason to doubt their motives. There was something not quite right about the relationship between Brady, McQuaid, and Nguyen and he wouldn’t rest until he found out what it was that had him questioning his own judgment.

**

Seven hours later

The numbers on the Hansons’ door sparkled under the luminance of the overhead light, the brightly polished digits warning all callers of the ordered regime that lay within. For the second time in less than a week, a tingle of déjà vu raised the fine hairs on the back of Booker’s neck, the weird sensation sending a tingle of apprehension down his spine. He was nervous, more so than previously, and he wiped his sweaty palms on the legs of his jeans. His attempt to recast his bond with Tom hinged on his ability to articulate his genuine remorse, which was something he wasn’t always successful at accomplishing. But despite his anxiety, he would give it his best shot. Then, if Tom were receptive to his apology, he would do his best to rekindle their relationship so they could continue working and socializing together as friends.

Lifting his hand, the dark-haired officer rapped his knuckles on the door. There was no sound of life from within the apartment, even the television remained suspiciously silent. Surprise etched two deep lines between his brows. When he’d gone to the chapel in search of Tom, Judy had informed him he was still sick. With no option but to go to his friend’s apartment, Booker had taken the time to go home and shower before driving back across town. However, although Tom’s Mustang was parked outside the apartment building and a telltale strip of light shone from underneath the door, no one answered his knock. Unsure whether to risk disturbing his sick friend, Booker pondered the benefit of knocking a second time. If he woke Tom, the young officer would probably be in a bad mood, but if he turned around and went home, another twenty-four hours would pass before he could offer up his apology. It was a catch-22 situation, and indecision deepened the dark-haired officer’s frown. He mentally worked through the pros and cons in his mind, his teeth absently chewing at a dry piece of skin on his lip. But it didn’t take long for him to make a decision. He was a man of action and having made an effort to track Tom down, he was determined to follow through with his initial plan.

Taking a deep breath, he lifted his hand and knocked again, louder this time. Ten seconds passed...twenty...and then, out of nowhere, the sound of muttering filtered through the walls, the disgruntled grumbling growing louder as the occupant moved toward the door. Mentally preparing himself, the dark-haired officer took a step back and waited, his smile wavering somewhere between apologetic and persuasive. If he could win Tom over then maybe, if he were up to it, they could go out for a drink and work on putting their differences behind them.

The door opened, revealing a damp-haired Will. Upon seeing Booker, the elder Hanson’s expression immediately soured, the veins in his temples bulging and knotting in displeasure. “What the hell are you doing here?”

In an almost comical representation, Booker’s countenance mirrored the furious officer’s. Anger tightened his smile into a scowl, his brittle, thin-lipped glower challenging his nemesis to a battle of wills. “What do you think, asshole? I’m here to see Tom.”

The muscles in Will’s jaw flexed in annoyance. “Are you deaf or just plain stupid? He told you he doesn’t want you coming around here anymore. So, why don’t you respect his wishes and fuck off!”

The slam of the door abruptly ended the brief conversation. Furious at himself, Booker cursed loudly. As he continued to stare at the door, a surge of anger worked its way through his body, the urge to slam his fist into the offending wooden paneling almost too titanic to control. But as it was his temper that had landed him in trouble in the first place, he eventually decided against it. If Tom didn’t want to see him, there was nothing he could do except wait until their paths crossed at the chapel. Hopefully, once they were both on mutual territory, he could take his friend to one side and apologize for his appalling behavior. If not, then he could console himself with the thought that at least he’d tried.

Deflated, the dark-haired officer turned and walked back toward the stairs. Having convinced himself he would have the opportunity to make amends, he was bitterly disappointed with the outcome. He took his time descending the two flights of steps, his mind preoccupied with thoughts of Tom. Once outside, he stood on the pavement for a moment and breathed in the scented spring air. April was his favorite month. Partly because it was the only time the aroma of the flowering plants blocked out the acrid stench of car fumes in the city, and partly because the gentle breeze held a seductive hint of summer in its midst. It was the season of new life, the increased growth and strength of nature. But it was also the time to shake off the old and move forward with the new, and he hoped it wasn’t an indication his relationship with Tom was well and truly over.

In need of a drink, he walked the short distance to his Cadillac and climbed in. Inserting the key in the ignition, he was about to start the engine when he caught a glimpse of a figure descending the building’s steps. Instinct had him crouching down in his seat, and peeping out through the window, he watched with interest as Will Hanson crossed the street and got into a battered green Toyota sedan. Curious, he stared up at Tom’s building. The Hansons’ apartment window was unlit, the snaking steps of the fire escape steeped in shadow. Turning his attention back to the road, he watched Will’s vehicle disappear in the slanting copper light of evening. In a twist of fate, the Gods of opportunity had given him a fighting chance, and stepping back out of his car, he slammed the Caddy’s door closed. With renewed determination, he hurried across the street and entered the apartment building. Taking the steps two at a time, he raced up the stairs, his heart hammering from the unexpected exercise. When he reached the second floor, he took a moment to compose himself before striding up to Tom’s apartment and pounding loudly on the door. “Tommy, it’s Dennis. Open the door!”

No sound emanated from the apartment, the eerie silence unsettling Booker’s stomach. While he had no evidence to back up his theory, his gut told him something wasn't right. A shudder of foreboding coiled down his spine, the ghostly chill trembling through his entire body. He wasn’t always the most intuitive person on the planet, but his hunches were rarely wrong. Taking a step back, he stared at the polished numbers on the door, his mind carefully weighing up his options. A minute passed, then two, but eventually, his inner cop voice convinced him to launch a plan of action. After all, what was the worst that could happen? If he barged into Tom’s apartment and found him sleeping peacefully, he’d add it to the apology he already owed his friend and move on. But if he ignored his sixth sense and something really was wrong, then he might have to live with the consequences forever, and that wasn’t something he was prepared to deal with. There was something about Will Hanson he didn’t trust, and if he had to embarrass himself to check on Tom’s welfare, then embarrass himself he would.

Springing into action, he ran back down the stairs. When he reached the ground floor, his eyes darted left to right in search of the superintendent’s residence. It took him a moment, but he eventually saw a small sign located on the door of an apartment and sprinting forward, he rapped his knuckles on the door. “Police! Open up!”

Several seconds passed before the chained door edged open and a suspicious eye surveyed him through the crack. “What’s going on?”

Booker showed the man his badge. “I’m Officer Dennis Booker, a colleague of Officer Tom Hanson. I think he’s in trouble and I need the key to his apartment.”

The superintendent rubbed a nervous hand over his mouth. “I dunno. I’m not supposed to just—”

“Hey, man, are you deliberately obstructing a police investigation?” Booker challenged, his annoyance raising the timbre of his voice. “Because if you are, I'll arrest you now.”

The door closed, followed by the rattle of the chain sliding back. When the door opened again, the super stepped out, a ring of keys held in his hand. “Show me your identification again.”

Swallowing down his irritation, Booker held up his badge. “Okay,” the man eventually acquiesced. “But I’m coming with you. Those are the rules.”

Not wanting to waste any more time arguing, Booker grudgingly agreed. “Fine. Let’s go.”

The two men hastened up the stairs, the clink of keys an ominous audio backdrop to the heavy stomp of their footfalls. When they reached Tom and Will’s apartment, the super held up a hand, preventing Booker from moving any closer. “I’ll unlock the door, but I’m not leaving until I know one of the Hanson brothers is home and they’re okay with you being there. Got it?”

“Got it,” Booker replied, a restless anticipation tensing his muscles. If Tom was okay, he was in for one hell of a tongue-lashing. But if he wasn’t, he had no idea what he would find.

The click of the super’s key turning in the lock had Booker’s hands clenching in readiness. As the door creaked on its hinges, he pushed his way past the older man. “Wait here.”

The super nodded, his lined face pinched with concern. He had a soft spot for the younger Hanson, his shy, awkward manner reminding him of his younger self. Not that he really knew Tom, the brothers pretty much kept to themselves, but he hoped he was okay and not lying on the floor dead from an accidental gunshot wound.

Nudging the door open, Booker entered the gloomy apartment, his senses on high alert. To his right, a light breeze wafted in through the partially open window, the gentle air movement rattling the Venetian blinds. The soft vibration mixed with the traffic noise filtering up from the street below, the everyday sounds helping to calm his nerves. He took a moment to familiarize himself with his surroundings, absorbing every feature and storing it in his memory. It was all part of his police training; know your environment or run the risk of an ambush.

Unlike his previous visit, he had time to observe the little things. As he stared around the room, he noticed the open-plan living/kitchen area was meticulously tidy, the sink and countertops devoid of dishes and clutter. There were no knick-knacks or personal items except two photos encased in metal frames, both of which took pride of place on top of a retro coffee table. Stepping forward, he picked up the nearest picture. Two smiling faces stared back at him, the happy, carefree expressions of the young Hanson brothers causing his heart to skip a beat. Will stood a head taller than Tom, his arm draped casually around his sibling’s shoulders, a proud older brother taking care of his kin. Tom wore the goofy visage of a typical fourth grader, his crinkled nose and wide-mouthed grin bringing a smile to Booker’s lips. There was a hint of mischief sparkling in the younger Hanson’s brown eyes, a clear indication that the now twenty-three-year-old man was a shadow of his childhood self. Losing both parents had obviously impacted on Tom’s personality, and for the first time since meeting both Hansons, Booker began to wonder if he’d unfairly vilified Will’s character. Everyone else seemed to think he was an okay guy, and maybe his own affection for the shy yet endearing officer had clouded his judgment. The two brothers were obviously close. They lived together, socialized together, and worked in the same profession, all of which pointed to an amicable relationship. Therefore, maybe the problem didn’t lie with Will, but did, in fact, lie with him. What if he were subconsciously jealous of the brothers’ bond? It was a reasonable enough assumption, and at that moment, Booker considered abandoning his mission. He suddenly felt foolish for ever doubting the elder Hanson’s motives, and placing the photo frame back on the table, he moved toward the door. But as he passed by the two closed doors adorning the eastern wall of the apartment, a strange feeling settled over him. Stopping midstep, he turned and stared at the innocuous white paneling. A two-bedroom apartment would have three extra rooms, not two, and a tingle of awareness shot down his spine. Something was wrong with the picture-perfect home...something was very, VERY wrong.

“Is everything okay in there?”

Startled by the unexpected interruption, Booker spun around. “Stay outside,” he instructed in an authoritative voice. “Don’t come in unless I tell you to.”

Disgruntled mutterings reached his ears, but he ignored the man’s grumblings. He edged closer to the nearest door, his chest heaving and nostrils flaring under the strain of his heavy breathing. When he was close enough, he reached out a hand and grasped the doorknob. Fear and uncertainty had him pausing for a moment, but with no choice but to proceed, he turned the handle and pushed open the door.

Pale moonlight filtered in through a large window, illuminating the room in its ethereal glow. In the middle of the room, a double bed dominated the floor space, the aqua-colored quilt unwrinkled, the pillows plumped to perfection. On either side of the bed stood a chest of drawers, their wooden surfaces conspicuously vacant except for a single photo frame placed in the middle of the bureau closest to the window. Moving slowly across the room, Booker stopped beside the built-in closet. The heavy tempo of his heartbeat sent adrenaline-induced tremors through his body, and with an unsteady hand, he slid open the door.

It was immediately apparent two different individuals utilized the closet space. Shirts of varying sizes hung from wire hangers, each one pressed to within an inch of its life. Rows of shoes lined the floor, the larger of the pairs all black patent leather, the smaller, a variety of sneakers and boots. Hot bile rose in Booker’s throat, and he stumbled backward, a trembling hand covering his mouth. He could no longer deny the indisputable evidence...Tom and Will not only shared an apartment, they also shared a bed.

Keen to put some distance between himself and the heart of the unorthodox living arrangement, Booker turned to leave. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of an assortment of clothes shoved into the darkest corner of the closet. The disorganized heap was out of place in the meticulously coordinated cupboard, and bending down, he pulled out the nearest item. As he turned the familiar brown hoodie over in his hands, a thousand thoughts raced through his mind. For some inexplicable reason, Tom kept his McQuaid clothes segregated from his everyday clothes, almost as if he wanted to keep his work life separate. The word, ‘uncontaminated’ popped into Booker’s mind, and he shuddered, the involuntary spasm bringing goosebumps to the surface of his arms. Tom’s home life was more than just abnormal, it was downright screwy, and the sooner he found the young officer, the happier he would feel.

Exiting the bedroom, he approached what he assumed was the bathroom. This time, there was no hesitation, and grasping the handle, he took a deep breath and opened the door.

Chapter Text

CoaS 20

The first thing that hit Booker was the smell. The pungent aroma of urine and feces permeated the stale air inside the unlit bathroom, the contents of the upturned bucket polluting the tiled floor. The mess was so out of place in the pristine apartment, the officer immediately assumed the toilet had overflowed. Curious, he covered his nose and mouth with his hand and pushed the door back on its hinges, revealing the entire room. At first, his brain refused to register what he was seeing, but as his shock gave way to gut-churning panic, he jumped into action.

“CALL AN AMBULANCE!” he yelled at the super and dashing into the bathroom, he dropped to his knees beside Tom. “HANSON! HANSON, CAN YOU HEAR ME? WAKE UP, TOMMY! WAKE UP!”

Tom’s eyes fluttered open. “W-Will?”

“No, baby, it’s Dennis,” Booker murmured, the affectionate pet name tumbling unchecked from between his lips. “Try not to move, okay? An ambulance is on its way.”

“Imma...freak,” Tom mumbled, his eyelids drifting closed.

Tears pricked at Booker’s eyes and reaching out a hand, he lightly stroked Tom’s matted hair. “No, Tommy, you're not. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.”

“M’kay,” Tom managed to murmur before his mind, once again, returned to the Elysium Fields of his past.

Booker gently shook Tom’s shoulder, and when he didn’t get a response, he quickly checked the unconscious officer's pulse. Satisfied his friend was in no immediate danger, he started to rise, and it was then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadowy figure approach the door. But before he could speak out, the building supervisor walked in. “The ambulance is on its way. Is he—JESUS CHRIST!”

Instinctively using his body to protect Tom from view, Booker’s head snapped around. “GET OUT!” he shouted at the frightened man. “GET THE HELL OUT, NOW!”

The man staggered out of the room, leaving Booker alone with Tom. Grabbing a discarded towel, the dark-haired officer started to cover Tom’s naked body, but as his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he noticed the blood encrusting the woven cotton pile. His breath caught painfully in his throat, and with a cry, he threw the towel across the room. Fear sent a shiver vibrating through his body, and rising to his feet, he walked over to the door and flicked on the light switch.

Nothing could have prepared Booker for the sight laid out before him. Pinkish-red streaks coated Tom’s thighs, his pale flesh providing a human canvas for the gory artwork. Beneath his body, dried rivers of blood caked the floor, the crimson stains seeping deep into the grouted edges of the tiles. The injured officer’s right hand hung from the pipes beneath the sink, suspended in space, his fingers swollen to nearly twice their normal size, the skin around his wrist rubbed raw from the compression of the tight metal ring. A yellow puddle of urine pooled around Tom’s lower body, the sharp, acerbic smell adding to the stench from the upturned pail. Booker’s mouth thickened with bile, and closing his eyes, he forced the vomit back down his throat. Never had he witnessed anything so brutal, so dehumanizing. It was a scene straight out of a horror movie...except it wasn’t. The sickening display was not a deranged mind’s work of fiction, it was, in all its grotesque realism, Tom’s life.

Opening his eyes, the dark-haired officer suddenly became aware of a dampness around his knees, and looking down, he stared at his wet jeans. It took him a moment to realize he’d knelt in a puddle of Tom’s urine, and his heart skipped a beat. But he felt no disgust, just an overwhelming sadness at the indignity his friend had endured. Feeling the need to comfort his unconscious partner, he started to move when he caught sight of something lying next to the toilet. Being careful to avoid the human waste covering the floor, he walked across the room and picked up the parcel. His gaze widened, and he stood staring at the packet of menstrual pads in his hand, his brain stubbornly refusing to believe his eyes. The feminine hygiene product added a whole other nightmarish dimension to the disturbing scene, and it was then he knew he could no longer ignore what was staring him right in the face. Will had raped Tom, and it was all his fault. He should have known something was wrong...he should have known, and he should have acted sooner.

The sound of sirens reached Booker’s ears, the distinct eeeoooeeeooo high/low wail splitting through the still night air. Throwing down the offending package, he moved back across the room and squatted down next to Tom. “Help’s coming, baby,” he whispered, his fingers brushing a stray strand of hair from the comatose officer’s forehead. “I just need you to hang in there, okay?”

Tom remained silent, his mind too deeply entrenched within his fantasy world to hear the reassuring words or feel the comforting touch. But if he’d known he would eventually have to face the reality that his secret had finally been exposed, he probably would not have wanted to wake up at all.

**

The astringent scent of antiseptic stung the air of the E.R., the strong aroma barely masking the smell of sickness and death. Booker paced the floor of the waiting room, one eye on the clock, his need for a cigarette intensifying with every step. Three hours had passed since the paramedics had cut Tom free from the bathroom pipe and transported him to St. Mary’s. In that time, the young officer had remained unresponsive, his mind locked in the memories of his past, oblivious to what was going on around him. For Booker, however, escaping the horror of the situation was not an option. He’d waited for the detectives to arrive, and like a scene from a movie the director had decelerated for dramatic effect, he’d watched the two men bag and tag the evidence with detached professionalism. Time had passed in a slow kaleidoscope of color, the surrealism of the graphic scene giving it a dreamlike quality. Unable to help in the capacity he was used to, he’d felt hopeless...impotent...useless to the point of thinking he might actually be in the way. Patience had never been his strong point, and he’d paced the hallway, smoking one cigarette after the other until he was finally called upon to give his statement. Although desperate to get to the hospital, he’d taken his time, carefully recounting every aspect of Tom and Will’s relationship before hurrying from the building and driving at breakneck speed to the hospital. Upon his arrival, he’d inquired about Tom’s condition, but a po-faced nurse had told him she couldn’t pass on any information and to take a seat. Frustrated, he’d made a call to Fuller, explaining the situation as best he could. When his superior assured him he was on his way, he’d felt some of the pressure lift from his shoulders. But that didn’t stop his ritualistic pacing. He needed to do something to take his mind off the horrific image burned into his brain, and as smoking wasn’t permitted in the hospital, pacing was the next best thing.

Another ten minutes passed, and desperate for information, Booker approached the po-faced nurse for the second time. “Um, can you give me an update on Officer Hanson’s condition?”

Without looking up, the nurse spoke in a bored voice. “Are you family?”

The lack of compassion was the straw that finally broke Booker’s patience. “FAMILY?” he yelled. “HIS SO-CALLED FUCKING FAMILY IS THE REASON HE’S HERE!”

The nurse pursed her thin lips together, the disapproving expression accentuating the wrinkles around her mouth. “Sir, please take a seat, or I will call security.”

About to give the authoritarian caregiver a piece of his mind, Dennis started to speak, but a gentle hand on his shoulder stopped him before he could utter a word. “That’s enough, Booker.”

Turning to meet his superior’s steely gaze, Booker started to protest. “But, Coach, Tom’s been here for hours, and they won’t tell me—”

“Let’s sit down,” Fuller interrupted, his expression softening slightly.

It was an instruction not a suggestion and reining in his anger, Dennis followed his captain to an empty row of plastic chairs. He paused, his urge to pace back and forth far outweighing his urge to sit and do nothing. But when he caught a glimpse of the strained look on Fuller’s face, he gave in. His captain was under an enormous amount of pressure, and behaving like a brat wasn’t helping anyone, least of all Tom.

Dropping down onto the nearest chair, he waited for Fuller to take a seat beside him before asking the obvious question. “Are there patrols out looking for Will?”

Fuller passed a shaky hand over his mouth. “Are you certain Will Hanson attacked Tom? Because it seems unlikely given their relationship.”

Unable to contain his growing agitation, Booker leaped from his chair, his face twisting in anger. “OF COURSE HE DID IT! HE’S A FUCKING OPPRESSIVE ASSHOLE WHO MAKES TOM’S LIFE A FUCKING MISERY! WHY CAN’T ANYONE ELSE SEE IT? ARE YOU ALL FUCKING BLIND?”

The disrespectful tirade earned Booker a stern look of disapproval, and he quickly lowered his eyes to the floor. “Sorry, Cap’n,” he apologized in a quiet voice. “It’s just...I know I’m right. I’ve seen how afraid Hanson is of his brother. Will rules his life and...shit, I just remembered something. The other day Tom and I had a fight about him wanting another partner. I asked him why he didn’t want to work with me anymore and he screamed at me that I was going to get him killed. At the time, I thought he meant on the job, but now...what if he meant Will would hurt him if he kept working with me?”

The hard lines trenching Fuller’s brow softened into a thoughtful frown. “Do you really think Will Hanson is capable of such a horrendous crime against his brother.”

Relieved his captain was finally taking him seriously, Booker gave a quick nod of his head. “Yeah, Coach, I do. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Fuller mulled over the information in his mind for several minutes before replying. “It’s been a stressful night for you, Booker. Go home, get some sleep and we’ll talk in the morning. In the meantime, I’ll put out an APB for Will’s arrest.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather stay here.”

The statement took Fuller by surprise. But when he saw the genuine worry etched on the dark-haired officer’s face, it didn’t take him long to make his decision. “Okay, I’ll speak to the nursing staff. It’s probably a good idea to have someone guarding Tom’s room just in case Will finds out he’s here and decides to pay him a visit.”

“Thanks, Coach,” Booker replied, his lips twitching into a half smile. But his relaxed expression didn’t last long, and reaching out, he grabbed Fuller by the arm. “Um, Coach? Would it be okay if you didn’t tell the others about what happened to Tom?”

It was an odd suggestion, and it took Fuller a moment to understand the reason behind the request. But as much as he agreed with the logic, he had no choice but to deny the officer’s demand. “I’m sorry, Booker, I know you want to protect Tom’s privacy, but Will might reach out to one of the team, and they need to know he’s a wanted fugitive. He could be armed, and as of now, he’s also considered dangerous.”

Disappointment sagged Booker’s shoulders, but he didn’t argue the point. “Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right.”

A strained smile stretched over Fuller’s teeth. “I am,” he replied, and getting to his feet, he walked over to the nurses’ station.

A sudden wave of exhaustion washed over Booker, and flopping back down onto a chair, he watched as his captain spoke to the po-faced nurse in charge. The two faced off for several minutes before Fuller turned and walked back over to the row of seats. “They’ve moved Tom to a private room. As of now, you’re his security. I’ll get Penhall to relieve you in the morning.”

Relief shone in Booker’s dark eyes. “Thanks, Cap’n.”

“Stay vigilant,” Fuller instructed, and with a final glance at the nurses’ station, he turned and walked away.

Desperate to see Tom, Booker went in search of a vending machine. If he were to stay awake all night, he needed coffee, lots and lots of coffee. He may have let Tom down in the past, but he’d learned his lesson, and there was no way in hell he would let Will Hanson hurt his friend ever again.

**

Thirty minutes later

Parking at the end of his street, Will stared through the Toyota’s windscreen at the strobing blue and red lights. He watched as two uniformed officers entered his building, and his hands tightened around the steering wheel. He’d lost his Tom-Tom, and there was only one person to blame...the meddling and loathsome, sonofafuckingbitch Dennis Booker.

With nothing left to see, Will turned the key in the ignition, and calmly performing a U-turn, he drove back up the road. Booker might have won the first round, but he’d be damned if he’d lose the fight. It might take him a week, a month or even a year, but with God as his witness, he’d get his Tom-Tom back. And when he did, he’d make sure his brother never had contact with anyone ever again.

Chapter Text

CoaS 21

A child’s high-pitched wail echoed throughout the third floor of the hospital, its mother’s soothing mutterings barely audible over the sustained crying. Booker passed the woman as she paced up and down the corridor, the screaming child bouncing in her arms, but he carefully avoided eye contact. It wasn’t that he was an insensitive bastard who didn’t care, he did, more than most people realized. However, offering a smile of solidarity to a stranger wasn’t high on his list of priorities. He didn’t have the energy or the inclination to get involved in anyone else’s problems. Tom was the only blip on his radar, everyone else was nonexistent, and if that made him an asshole, then so be it.

Stopping at the nurses’ station, he pushed down his rising panic. He had no idea what he would say to Tom once he saw him face to face. Blunt to the point of rudeness, he was a ‘call a spade a spade’ kinda guy, and empty platitudes seemed—at least to his mind—pointless and a little insulting. While he’d cut Tom some slack at the beginning of their friendship, their relationship had evolved too far for him to worry about sparing his feelings by taking the softly-softly approach. Honesty was the best policy, and if telling Hanson his brother was a dangerous psychopath lost him his friendship, then so be it. Lying about it wasn’t going to make the problem go away, he wanted Tom to press charges or, at the very least, cut Will out of his life. Because then, and only then, would the young officer find the inner peace he seemed to crave. And then, and only then, would Booker sleep easy at night.

When a young female nurse approached him, the dark-haired officer offered her a shaky smile. “I’m Officer Dennis Booker, I’m here to see Officer Hanson.”

The nurse glanced at a board on the wall, her expression visibly softening when she realized who Booker was referring to. “Ah, yes, they told me you’d be coming. I’ve put a chair outside Officer Hanson’s room. I hope you won’t be too uncomfortable.”

Confusion knitted Booker’s brow. “Why would I sit outside his room? I’m his friend, can’t I sit with him?”

Mirroring Booker’s reaction, the flustered nurse stared back at the board before speaking again. “Um, they told me you were here to guard his room.”

It took all of Booker’s willpower not to lose his cool, and suppressing a frustrated sigh, he did his best to explain himself in a calm and pleasant manner. “I am, but as I said, I’m also his friend and the person who found him. So, if he’s up to having visitors, I’d really like to see him.”

A look of understanding passed over the nurse’s face, but she appeared hesitant to act on the information. For the third time in less than a minute, she glanced up at the whiteboard, her expression uncertain. Eventually, she appeared satisfied with the explanation, and walking out from behind the nurses’ station, she proceeded up the corridor. “Follow me.”

Mentally noting the nearest vending machine, Booker followed the nurse. They passed several rooms before she stopped beside a single chair that looked out of place in the deserted corridor. Staring at the open door, the dark-haired officer’s heart hammered against his chest wall. Room 314 was now Tom’s sanctuary, a sacred space free from Will’s violence, where he would receive round the clock protection from those he worked with. But Booker knew he would continue to monitor his friend’s safety long after he left the hospital. There was nothing like a violent rape to change your thinking. Whatever frustration he had felt about Tom had disappeared the moment he saw the young officer lying on the bathroom floor...bloody...beaten...broken, and now his friend was free from the horror, he would do everything in his power to help make him whole again.

“Are you aware of his condition?”

The question jarred Booker’s mind back to the present with a jolt. His fingers curled into claws, and licking his lips, he worked some much-needed saliva into his mouth. “He was raped, right?”

Compassion shone from the nurse’s eyes. “Yes, he was. We also suspect he has some nerve damage from the handcuffs, but the doctor doesn’t think the injury is permanent. You should also know that when he regained consciousness in the E.R., he was distressed, so the doctors made the decision to sedate him so they could minimize further emotional trauma while they examined him. He’s still asleep and probably won’t wake up until the morning. Do you still want to sit with him?”

Pain flared in Booker’s heart, but he managed to keep his expression professional. “I’d like to be there when he wakes up. We need a statement as soon as possible so we can start our investigation.”

It was a standard police answer, but the nurse knew better. There was an obvious connection between the two men, and she was glad Tom would have a friend by his side when he finally woke up. “Of course,” she smiled. “My name’s Janet. I’ll be doing half-hourly obs, so if you need anything, let me know.”

“Thanks, Janet,” Booker replied, a tense smile pulling at his lips. “I’ll be sure to do that.”

With a nod, Janet left for her rounds. Alone in the corridor with only the sound of the screaming child for company, Booker took a moment to compose himself. With his adrenaline waning and the effects of his caffeine consumption kicking in, he felt jittery and ill-prepared. If he’d learned anything about Tom in the short time he’d known him, it was that the young officer was fiercely private, and he wasn’t sure his friend would welcome his presence, especially after their fight. The observation left him oddly conflicted. Tom’s emotionally fragile state was foremost on his mind, and he didn’t want to cause him any more pain by upsetting him further. But the idea of leaving him to deal with his grief alone was unthinkable. He weighed the pros and cons up in his mind, and it didn’t take long for him to come to a decision. He needed to man up and at least offer to help his friend through his pain because who else was there? The answer was simple. No one. Not a single living, breathing human being had managed to infiltrate the Hansons’ lives except for him, and taking care of Tom was a challenge he took seriously. Will Hanson was still on the loose, and until the local authorities caught, charged, and locked him up, Booker had a plan. Determined to shadow Tom’s every move...or at least try to, he would offer his friend twenty-four-hour protection. Whether his captain agreed to pull him off the Westfield case was something he couldn’t preempt, but that was a problem for another day. The present was all that mattered, and that meant pushing aside all his misgivings and giving Tom the support he needed.

When the sick child’s cries suddenly stopped, Booker took it as a sign, and swallowing down his fear, he walked into Tom’s room.

The low beep-beep of the heart monitor greeted the dark-haired officer, and stopping at the foot of the bed, he stared down at his friend. A white dressing concealed the wound on Tom’s temple, the square fabric stained red with blood. Casting his eyes downward, Booker studied Tom’s face. With his pale complexion and relaxed features, the undercover officer looked much younger than his twenty-three years, and another physical pain stabbed at Booker’s heart. No one should have to suffer such a violent and degrading assault, but when the perpetrator was a relative, it made the exploitation the root of all evil. Will Hanson had forcibly taken from his brother what should only be given in love, a love that should only exist between two consenting, non-related adults. It was a violation of all of society’s laws, a sick and perverted breach of common decency to those unfortunate enough to fall victim to such a depraved act, and as Booker continued to stare at Tom, his stomach lurched. But he managed to keep his emotions under wraps, and moving to the side of the bed, he pulled up a chair and sat down. Feeling the need to express his support through a tactile gesture, he took hold of Tom’s hand and gently squeezed his tapered fingers. As the minutes passed, he stared at the cannula inserted into the back of the injured officer’s hand. Theirs was a strange friendship, but it was a friendship nonetheless, and his undeniable affection for his colleague had him silently vowing to do everything in his power to bring Will Hanson to justice.

A sudden weariness blurred his vision, and stifling a yawn, he settled back in his chair. He wished he’d thought to bring something to read to occupy his mind, but he couldn’t be bothered getting up and going in search of a magazine. Instead, he focused on the sounds of the hospital. The comforting squeak of soft-soled shoes echoed up and down the corridor, the sound intermingling with the sporadic chatter of voices. In the distance, the occasional ring of a call button broke up the repetitive monotony of sound, the harsh buzz a stark reminder there were sick people who needed attention. An hour passed, then two, and as the stress of the evening slowly ebbed away, it didn’t take long for the strangely soothing beep-beep of the monitor to lure the dark-haired officer’s exhausted mind toward slumber. He tried his hardest to stay awake, but the pull was too strong, and eventually, he lost the fight. His eyes fluttered closed, and moments later, his chin dropped to his chest and exhaling a weighty sigh, he drifted into a dreamless sleep.

**

Two hours later

The soft sound of snoring penetrated through the opiate-induced fog shrouding Tom’s mind, and as if by magic, the protective veil lifted, and his brain began to reawaken. Little by little, his nociceptors responded to the burning in his anus, and a moan rumbled in the back of his throat. He was in pain, excruciating pain, but his parched lips refused to form the words he so desperately wanted to scream. He tried again, but the heaviness of his tongue impeded his speech, and all he managed was a low groan. Forcing his eyes open, his gaze flitted wildly from side to side as he struggled to maintain his vision. A wave of nausea rolled over him, and closing his eyes, he waited until his head stopped spinning before trying again. He took it slower this time, allowing his mind time to catch up with the jerky rhythm of his uncoordinated movements. Little by little, the room came into focus, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he realized he was in the hospital.

He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths before opening them again. This time, his gaze fell on the shadowy figure sitting next to him, and licking his lips, he tried to speak. “W-Will?”

“Hello, sweetheart,” a voice to the right of him murmured. “Are you in any pain?”

Turning his head, Tom stared into the face of a strange woman. Tears filled his eyes, and clenching the fingers of the warm hand entwined within his own, he nodded. “Yes,” he managed to croak before a welcoming blackness dragged him back into unconsciousness.

**

The low budget motel room smelled of cigarettes and sex. It was a far cry from Will Hanson’s clean and tidy apartment, but with his mind occupied with thoughts of Dennis Booker and how he could seek his revenge, the officer barely noticed the offending odor. Picking up his police issue firearm, he cradled the weapon in his hand, marveling at its simplistic beauty. His skilled fingers released the safety catch, and raising the gun, he stretched out his arm and pointed the muzzle in the direction of the television. Closing one eye, he looked down the barrel, and took aim, his sight lining up the figure on the screen. Then, ever so gently, he squeezed the trigger. There was a muffled click as the gun’s empty chamber pushed through a notch. “Bang, you’re dead, motherfucker.”

Lowering the gun, he picked up his handkerchief and studiously wiped the muzzle and chamber, whistling as he polished the stainless steel until it gleamed. The dry fire had not given him the satisfaction the discharge of a loaded gun usually did, but he was a patient man, and he was willing to bide his time. Then, when Booker least expected it, he would make his move. And when the interfering sonofabitch drew his last, painful breath, he would step over the officer’s cold dead body and bring his Tom-Tom home.

Chapter Text

CoaS 22

Booker woke with a start, disoriented for a moment by the darkened room. When the rhythmic beep-beep of the heart monitor reached his ears, his memories returned and turning his head, he stared down at his friend.

With his face relaxed in sleep, Tom’s beautiful features radiated an innocent tranquility that reminded the dark-haired officer of a small child. But on further inspection, the bloody bandage and myriad of bruises covering his friend’s arms painted a far different picture...a brutal picture of a frightened man living with a controlling bully. That the physical abuse had escalated into rape only reinforced Booker’s belief Will was unhinged, and he wondered how long Tom had suffered in silence. A month? A year? Always? An image of the Hanson brothers’ bedroom flashed into his mind, and he suppressed a shudder. One bed for two adult siblings didn't make sense. It didn't make sense at all.

Tom’s fingers twitched in Booker’s hand, faintly at first before the spasm grew stronger. The dark-haired officer’s heart thumped heavily in his chest and leaning forward in his chair, he brushed a stray strand of hair from his friend’s brow. “Hey, Tommy. Can you hear me?”

“W-Will?” Tom croaked, his eyelids fluttering weakly. “Will, is that you?”

A chill ran down Booker’s spine. “No, Tom, it’s Dennis.”

“Dennis?”

Booker squeezed Tom’s fingers. “Yes, it’s me. Open your eyes. You’re safe now. You’re in the hospital.”

When Tom’s eyes slowly blinked into focus, the illusion of youthful innocence was shattered, replaced by a world-weary countenance of pain and suffering. Staring up at his friend, he swallowed several times before asking the one question Booker did not expect to hear. “Is Will okay?”

The concern in his friend’s voice caught Booker by surprise. “Um...I don’t know. I guess. Is there a reason he shouldn’t be?”

A shadow of pain crossed over Tom’s face. “I’m thirsty.”

Compassion softened Booker’s features and disengaging his fingers, he stood up. “Do you want me to get you some water?”

“Tired,” Tom muttered, his eyes fluttering closed.

Booker laid a gentle hand on Tom’s head. “Okay,” he murmured. “Get some rest.”

“Don’t leave me,” Tom mumbled, the effects of the pain medication once again dragging him toward darkness.

“Never,” Booker murmured, his hand lightly caressing Tom’s hair. “I promise, baby. I’ll never leave you again.”

**

Three hours later

A sharp burning pain dragged Tom back toward consciousness. A low moan quivered over his lips, his discomfort intensifying as the effects of the drugs circulating through his system slowly wore off. He whimpered again, and a warm hand squeezed his fingers, reminding him he wasn’t alone. Opening his eyes, he saw Booker’s worried face hovering above him, and biting down on his lower lip, he stifled a sob. His brother had raped him, he was in the hospital, and everyone knew his secret shame. Life had officially hit an all-time low.

“Hey, Tommy. Are you okay? Can I get you anything?”

It was a stupid question, an empty banality that served no purpose except to make the speaker feel useful. But under the circumstances, Tom forgave Booker his clumsy attempt at offering him aid. After all, what did one say to a battered and bleeding twenty-three-year-old victim of incest lying in a hospital bed? Sorry? Sorry for what? Sorry your parents died and left you to fend for yourself? Sorry your brother’s a perverted, deviant asshole? Sorry you didn’t have the cojones to tell said brother to keep his fucking hands off you? There were no politically correct platitudes, and even if there were, would they help? In Tom’s mind, the answer was no. But that didn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the effort. Booker was the only person to have taken the time to get to know him, and even though they’d had their ups and downs, he trusted the dark-haired officer had his best interests at heart, even after their very public fight. However, that was before fate had exposed his dirty little secret in such a dramatic fashion. He had no idea whether Booker’s feelings toward him had changed, but he was certain his friend wouldn’t abandon him in his time of need. It was a comforting observation, and yet, he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to share his feelings about his and Will’s unhealthy relationship. Fiercely private, the very idea of opening up and talking about his dysfunctional life terrified him. Then there were his conflicting feelings about Will. He loved and hated his brother in equal measures, and he wasn’t sure anyone else would understand the complexity of his emotions. In fact, he wasn’t even sure he understood why he cared so deeply for the man who had made his life a living hell. But love him he did, and despite everything that had happened, he didn’t want people to think of Will as the bad guy. His brother was in dire need of help, not judgment, and if his rape was the catalyst that prompted his sibling to seek psychiatric support, then something good had come out of his suffering. He wanted his brother back, and rightly or wrongly, he was prepared to go to any lengths to ensure he didn’t lose the only remaining family member he cared for. Yes, Will’s actions had hurt him, but compared to the thought of spending a lifetime on his own, the damage was, in his mind, minimal.

“Tommy?”

Mustering all his inner fortitude, Tom managed a weak smile. “I’m okay.”

Impressed by his friend’s strength of character, Booker returned an affectionate look. “Are you thirsty? You said you were thirsty, so I got you a pitcher of water.”

Touched by Booker’s tender concern, Tom’s eyes filled with tears. But he quickly blinked them back. “Yeah, thanks.”

Booker poured a cup and held it out to his friend. “Do you need help?”

The thought of moving his battered body filled Tom with a familiar dread, but his inner determination soon won out and clenching his jaw, he rolled onto one elbow and pushed himself into a half sitting position. He visibly winced as pain flared inside his anus, and drawing in a sharp intake of breath, he waited for the throbbing to ease before reaching for the cup. But the nerve damage in his wrist restricted his movements, and the plastic receptacle slipped from between his numb fingers, spilling its contents over his chest.

Tears pricked at Tom’s eyes, and using his other hand, he picked up the empty tumbler. “Here, let me,” Booker offered, and taking the cup from his friend, he refilled it and held it to his lips. Embarrassed, Tom allowed the dark-haired officer to assist him, and leaning forward, he swallowed several large gulps of the cool liquid.

“More?” Booker asked quietly.

Exhausted, Tom shook his head, and flopping back against his pillow, he closed his eyes and waited for the pain to subside.

“Should I call the nurse?”

Opening his eyes again, Tom shook his head. “No, I’m okay. I’m just tired. What time is it?”

Glancing at his watch, Booker was surprised to see it was 3 a.m. “Three o’clock in the morning,” he replied with a yawn.

A frown knitted Tom’s brow. “What time did I get here?”

Easing himself out of his chair, Booker stretched his aching back muscles. “I dunno, about seven o’clock last night I guess. Why?”

“Does Will know I’m here?”

The muscles in Booker’s jaw tightened. “You don’t have to worry about him. You’re safe here. Fuller’s put you on a twenty-four-hour security watch.”

“Why?”

It was on the tip of Booker’s tongue to say, “Because your brother’s a psycho rapist,” but he caught himself just in time. Instead, he approached the question with careful consideration for his friend’s feelings. “Um...Tom? Do you remember what happened to you?”

Lowering his gaze, Tom gave a slight nod of his head. “Of course I do.”

Rubbing a hand over his temple, Booker withheld the exasperated sigh that threatened to expel from between his pursed lips. “Then you know why.”

Embarrassment colored Tom’s cheeks. “But it wasn’t his fault,” he muttered into his chest.

Booker could feel his blood pressure rising along with his heart rate. "He raped you, Tom. If it wasn’t his fault, whose fucking fault was it?”

Tom’s lower lip started to tremble. “M-Mine,” he choked, his eyes shiny with tears. “I was so young, Dennis. I was so young, and I didn't know how to s-stop...”

His voice hitched, his shame rendering him speechless. How could he explain the fear and confusion he’d felt the first time his brother had stroked his penis through his gym shorts? There were no words to articulate the titillating sensation pulsating through his groin, his body’s awakening fighting for dominance over the guilt and shame screaming inside his head. Eventually, his inner voice had won the battle, and his mind had taken him to his happy place so he wouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment. But by shutting down, he’d given Will the green light to proceed, and by the time his prepubescent mind had sorted through his conflicting emotions, he had no idea how to rebuff his brother’s advances. Months turned into years, and he had remained trapped in a cycle of escalating abuse, unable or unwilling to speak out in case he hurt Will’s feelings. But all that had changed the moment Booker had called him a freak, and although he hadn’t realized it at the time, the public humiliation was the wake-up call he had needed to find the courage to take back control of his life. He had found his voice and finally said no...not that it had done him any good. His audacious rebellion had resulted in him spending two days chained to a sink, and the sexual abuse had continued throughout the long, agonizing hours of his incarceration. And to add insult to injury, his work colleagues now knew about his rape, giving them more ammunition to make his life a living hell. Speaking out hadn’t changed a damn thing. His objective had failed, and he was worse off than before.

Happy fucking days.

A long, drawn-out silence followed Tom’s admission. Booker remained seated, his questioning gaze locked on his friend’s flushed face as his mind processed the painful truth. “Jesus, Tom,” he eventually croaked. “How long has this been going on?”

Tom swallowed several times. He could no longer pretend, no longer hide his and Will’s flawed relationship from Booker. His words caught painfully in his throat, his stutter reflecting his embarrassment. “H-He didn’t m-mean to h-hurt me,” he whispered, a single tear trailing down his pale cheek. “H-He just...he just n-needed comfort and—”

“How long?” Booker repeated through gritted teeth.

Tom’s fingers nervously plucked at the pilled blanket covering his legs. Eventually, he found the courage to share his secret with his friend, his words filling the empty void stretching out between them. “I was almost twelve when it first started,” he admitted in a quiet voice. “It’s been h-happening ever since.”

Watery bile stung the back of Booker’s throat, and with a grimace, he swallowed it back down. He continued his silent observation of Tom, his face frozen into a mask of horrified disbelief. A stillness settled around him, all the hospital sounds fading into the background as the enormity of the young officer’s admission finally hit home. His friend wasn’t the victim of an isolated sexual assault, he was the victim of recurring abuse that had started when he was a child. But while the horrendous discovery offended every fiber of his being, the dark-haired officer couldn’t get past one glaring fact. When Tom transitioned from a child to an adult, he’d allowed the abuse to continue without fighting back. He was, at least in Booker’s mind, a willing participant, and that made him complicit in his own sexual assault.

Sickened to the stomach by the revelation, the dark-haired officer rose to his feet, his movements slow and clumsy, the tremors vibrating through his body impeding his mobility. Once standing, a surge of adrenaline secreted into his system, and the need to escape the close confines of the room suddenly overwhelmed him. “I can’t...I...I’ve gotta go!” he blurted out, and spinning around, he stumbled out the door.

A tsunami of emotion rose from the very depths of Tom’s soul, and burying his face in his hands, the young officer attempted to stifle the flood of tears threatening to spill from his eyes. But his grief was too consuming, and hunching forward, loud, racking sobs forced their way out of his body, each pain-stricken cry piercing the silence. The disgust in Booker’s eyes remained cauterized in his memory, the animated visual providing another piece of an image that had formed a twisted facsimile of his friend’s face mouthing the word freak over and over again in his mind. The mental picture mercilessly taunted him, validating his own opinion of himself. On and on the torment continued until his exhausted mind finally snapped, and falling back against his pillow, he closed his eyes and allowed the screaming inside his head to chase the ghostly apparition away.

**

Booker hunched over the toilet, his eyes screwed closed, long slivers of bitter tasting saliva dangling from between his lips. He’d only just made it to the hospital restroom and into a vacant stall before his rising nausea spewed forth in a torrent of watery vomit. And as he continued to heave, purging the vile liquid from his body along with the memory of Tom’s words, he wondered how he would ever look his friend in the eyes again.

Chapter Text

CoaS 23

Outside Tom’s hospital room, Doug Penhall chatted amiably with one of the nurses. He stood with one foot on the chair, his right arm resting on his thigh, the casualness of the pose negating the seriousness of the situation. Fuller had assigned him a shift as Hanson’s personal security guard, but unlike Booker, he chose to stay in the corridor rather than sit inside with Tom. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to visit his coworker, he did...sort of. The problem was, he didn’t know what to say to him. “Hey, Hanson, how’s it going?” sounded crass and uncaring, yet “Hey, Hanson, are you okay?” opened the floodgates of actual dialogue, encouraging an anything-goes, free-for-all discussion. And while he did care, he wasn’t prepared to insert himself into the drama of the brothers’ fucked up lives. He’d always considered Will Hanson an okay kinda guy, and he struggled with the concept he was capable of sexually assaulting his sibling. Rape was not an easy topic to discuss, especially for a man, and with Tom’s overall propensity toward depression and anxiety, he didn’t think he was the right person to offer support. Both Harry and Judy were far less likely to put their foot in their mouth when trying to offer a sympathetic ear. And Booker? Well, from what Doug had witnessed, their newest recruit appeared to have a love-hate relationship with Hanson, so whether he was the right man for the job was anyone’s guess. Then there was Fuller, the oldest, and wisest of their group. If anyone had the finesse and experience to speak openly to a victim of sexual assault, it was their no-nonsense, well-respected captain. But as Tom was known to shy away from contact, it was doubtful even he had the skills needed to break down the barriers built over a lifetime. It was a sad state of affairs, and one Penhall was glad he didn’t have to deal with. As far as he was concerned, Tom needed help, and the sooner he sought the advice of a professional, the more normal his life would become.

Inside room 314, Tom’s ears tuned into the flirtatious chatter, and a single tear ran down his cheek. The ease with which the two young people communicated highlighted his own inadequacies, leaving him feeling isolated and empty inside. He wished he were back in his apartment with Will, not tied up, of course, but living his life without interference from the outside world. Although safe from harm, he felt more vulnerable than he had during the worst forty-eight hours of his life. At least he’d known what to expect from Will. Hospital was a new and frightening experience, and one he hoped he would never have to revisit. He didn’t like people prying into his life, and he had a suspicion his doctor wouldn’t discharge him until he’d spoken to a therapist. Whether he liked it or not, he was now ‘in the system’, and unless he capitulated, the so-called professionals would continue to hound him long after he returned to the sanctuary of his closeted world.

The harsh sound of someone clearing their throat snapped Tom from his musings and turning his head, his eyes widened in surprise. “C-Coach.”

With a nod of his head, Fuller stared back at Tom through tired, red-rimmed eyes. “Hello, Hanson. Are you up for a visit?”

Tom rubbed a shaky hand over his mouth before giving his reply. “Sure, Cap’n,” he sanctioned with a sigh. “C’mon in.”

Fuller entered the room, taking the time to close the door behind him. Pulling up a chair, he sat down, and as he studied Tom’s pale face, the lines around his eyes softened. “How are you, son?”

The fatherly concern in his superior’s voice caught Tom off guard, and looking away, he fought to compose himself. During his father’s lifetime, he had known nothing but love, and for the first time in years, he wanted someone...anyone...to gather him in their arms and hug away his pain. He physically ached for contact, but he was incapable of asking for it. Emotionally stunted, he lived in a loveless vacuum, the nefarious affections of his brother distorting his outlook on relationships. And as much as he wanted to reach out to his captain, he knew he would continue to suffer in silence because Will was more important to him than his own peace of mind. It was his cross to bear, and with his fortitude withering under his captain’s steely gaze, he gave what he hoped was a nonchalant shrug. “I’m okay,” he croaked, his crooked smile failing to mask the pain etched on his face. “A few more days of rest and I’ll be good as new.”

“Is that right?”

There was a weightiness behind the question, a hint of cynicism that held a thousand messages within the innocuous statement. It said, in effect, “I’m sorry, I don’t believe you, but you keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better,” without ever actually uttering the words. A heavy silence followed, the only sound, the incessant beep of the heart monitor. Embarrassed, Tom nervously picked at his blanket. Even after his disastrous conversation with Booker, he wanted to speak out, to unburden his soul to someone, but he didn’t know where to start. Will was his friend, his brother, and his rapist, how could he even begin to explain the conflicting emotions tearing him apart? There were no words, no justification for his feelings, just an open wound he didn’t know how to heal.

“Talk to me, Hanson,” Fuller encouraged in a soft voice. “Tell me what’s been going on.”

All the emotion Tom had valiantly suppressed leaked from the corners of his eyes. “I can’t,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Coach, I just can’t."

“Don’t you trust me?”

It was a valid question, and one Tom didn’t have any trouble answering. “It’s not that,” he sniffed, his fingers wiping the stray tears from his face. “I just...I can’t talk about it to you, Cap’n, so please, don’t ask me again.”

A glimmer of understanding shone in Fuller’s eyes. “Would you like to speak to someone else? Hoffs, maybe? Or Harry?”

Tom managed a watery smile. “I don’t think so, Coach. I’m fine, really. And I’ve already spoken to Booker so…”

His voice trailed off before the quaver rising in his throat threatened to give him away. The memory of Dennis’ horrified face was still so raw, so hurtful, and thinking about it caused a physical pain in his heart. He’d opened up to the one person he thought would understand, only to have it backfire, leaving him once again, friendless and alone.

With the beginnings of a headache pulsing behind his eyes, Fuller lightly massaged his temple, the circular motion relieving some of the pain. He didn't know Booker well enough to judge whether he had the compassion needed to offer adequate comfort when dealing with a rape survivor, but he was glad Tom had someone on his side. “Okay,” he nodded. “But you’ll have to speak to the departmental psychologist before you can return to work, and when you’re up to it, I’ll arrange for someone impartial to take your statement. I’ve already issued a warrant for Will’s—”

“No.”

Fuller’s hand paused mid-rub before dropping to his side. “No? Tom, your brother sexually assaulted you. You have to press charges so—”

And I said, no,” Tom reiterated, his love for his brother blinding him to reason. “So drop it, okay?”

When Fuller’s eyes narrowed, the young officer felt compelled to explain. “Will’s my only family,” he continued in a quiet voice. “I can’t and won’t be responsible for putting him in prison. Please try and understand, Coach, he’s all I’ve got. Without him, I’m nobody.”

It was a troubling statement, but rather than focus on Tom’s warped loyalty to his brother, Fuller clarified his stance on the matter. “The district attorney can still prosecute,” he reminded the young officer. “We have a solid case against Will, and with or without your help, it will go before the courts.”

A moody pout formed on Tom’s lips and turning his head, he stubbornly stared at the wall. “I’m tired.”

The apparent snub signaled the young officer’s unwillingness to continue the conversation, leaving Fuller no choice but to let the matter drop. Rising to his feet, he laid a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Okay, Hanson. Get some rest. I’ll visit you again tomorrow.”

It was on the tip of Tom’s tongue to say, “Don’t bother,” but he respected his captain too much to treat him with such contempt. However, that didn’t mean he was prepared to roll over and concede defeat. Ratting on Will was not an option, and if the D.A. wanted to prosecute, then he could do it without his testimony.

“Okay, Cap’n,” he muttered at the wall. “But you won’t change my mind.”

“We’ll see,” Fuller murmured, and turning away, he walked out the room, leaving Tom with his thoughts.

**

After several hours sleep and a long hot shower, Booker felt ready to face the rest of the day. Walking into the chapel’s main hub, he immediately noticed the subdued atmosphere. Tom’s rape had affected everyone, even Parry, the staunchest of his bullies, appeared uncharacteristically somber. It was a reminder of the fragility of the human existence, thereby highlighting the flaw behind the, it’ll never happen to me mentality. It had happened, and in all probability, it would happen again to someone in the next second...minute...hour. Like it or not, there were no guarantees, just a vague, barely acknowledged hope it wouldn’t happen to a friend, loved one, or God forbid, yourself.

Avoiding the furtive looks and surreptitious nudging, the dark-haired officer made his way to his desk and sat down. He was in no mood for a grilling, the memories of the previous night still too painful to discuss. But he was out of luck. Within minutes of taking his seat, Fuller approached him, his captain’s expression a mask of serious contemplation. “We need to talk.”

It was a command, not a request, and pushing back his chair, Booker followed Fuller into his office, the curious stares of his fellow officers raising the color in his cheeks. Taking a seat, he sat rigidly, his arms folded protectively across his chest. The interrogation was about to begin.

“How are you, Booker?”

While silently acknowledging the concern in his captain's voice, Booker’s outward stance remained defensive. “I'm okay,” he muttered. “When can I get back to work?”

Ignoring the question, Fuller continued to study his subordinate’s moody expression. “Tom tells me he’s not willing to press charges against his brother. He also told me the two of you talked. Did he reveal anything you think I should know?”

Booker shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Disclosing his friend's secret would undoubtedly go a long way in securing a conviction against Will. But could he, in all consciousness, betray Tom’s trust? He wasn't sure he could, but not just for the obvious reasons. While he did want to protect his friend's dignity, a part of him couldn't help but cringe when he thought about the extent of Tom’s abuse. How could Hanson have allowed his brother to sexually assault him for twelve years without ever fighting back, and how could he, as Tom’s friend, ever explain it to their captain? It was embarrassing, not just for Tom, but for him, the narrator because he knew the disgust in his eyes would give away his true feelings. He genuinely liked Tom, but he would never understand his and Will’s twisted relationship, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. That he’d made a silent vow to protect the young officer from the iniquities of his brother seemed to have conveniently slipped his mind. He wanted nothing more than to quietly transform back into his Brady persona and forget all about Tom’s rape and the disturbing images that refused to leave his thoughts. But he had an uneasy feeling Fuller had other ideas, and he chose his words carefully so as not to insert himself further into the drama than absolutely necessary. “No, not really. He admitted it was Will, but he didn't say anything else.”

“But he did open up to you?”

There was an underlying edge cutting through the soft inflection of Fuller’s voice, and Booker proceeded with caution. “Um...I s’pose, if you wanna call it that.”

Fuller’s toothy smile sent a shudder down Booker’s spine. He knew what was coming before his captain even spoke the fateful words. “Good. Tom needs round the clock protection, so I’m appointing you the job of keeping him safe until Will Hanson is in custody. As of now, consider yourself on guard duty, starting tonight. Someone will relieve you every morning at seven so you can go home and catch some shuteye before you return to the hospital promptly at two. Is that understood?”

“And the Westview case?”

The smile faded from Fuller’s lips. “That’s no longer your concern. I’m sending Penhall in with Harry.”

A look of annoyance passed over Booker’s face, but he was smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself. Pushing himself out of his chair, he addressed his superior in a clipped tone. “Will that be all, Cap’n?”

Fuller’s expression softened slightly. “I know it's not an easy assignment, Booker, but I have faith you're the right man for the job. Tom’s been through a lot, and he could really use a friend.”

It was a compliment Booker didn't think he deserved, but he took it with the grace in which it was intended. “Okay, Coach,” he muttered, and with the burden of Tom’s care weighing heavily on his mind, he returned to his desk to lick his wounds.

Chapter Text

Hospital corridor

The late afternoon sun played hide and seek with the dark arcus clouds rolling over the city, the fast-moving formations hinting at an evening storm. Passing through St. Mary’s glass doors, Booker’s muscles instinctively tensed. He hated hospitals, but it was the thought of seeing Tom again that had his nerves jangling, and his brain triggering a primal flight response. The urge to flee was so powerful, he almost turned and walked back out the door, but the memory of his friend’s tortured eyes had him rethinking his actions. Fuller, in his wisdom, had been right about one thing. Tom did need a friend, and he was the best—if only—candidate. Therefore, as much as he’d rather work the Westview case, he knew he owed it to Hanson to at least offer to help him through the trauma of his rape. They did have a bond, albeit a shaky one, and although he felt ill-equipped to deal with the subtleties needed to help someone deal with such a life-changing ordeal, he felt proud his captain had shown faith in him. It was this unexpected honor that fueled his inner determination and pulling himself up to his full height, he strolled toward the elevators. He might not know the right words to say to take the hurt away, but he could provide Tom a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, even if he didn’t understand how a grown man could have allowed his abuse to carry through into adulthood.

When the lift doors pinged open, Booker stepped in and pressed the button for the third floor. He barely had time to get his thoughts in order when the doors opened, revealing the softly lit corridor. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out onto the waxed floor and turned right. As he walked past the unattended nurses’ station, he could see Penhall sitting outside Tom’s room, his nose buried in a magazine. Booker’s pace slowed, his nerves once again getting the better of him. From this point forward, there would be no reprieve. He and Tom would spend every moment of his seventeen-hour shift together until the police arrested Will, and despite his best intentions, the dark-haired officer wasn’t sure he was prepared to forego his normal, easy-going life to take care of a psychologically damaged man. But whether he liked it or not, he had no choice. His fate—as he saw it—was now in the lap of the Gods. Que sera, sera…yada, yada, yada.

The sound of footsteps caught Penhall’s attention and looking up from the latest issue of ‘Popular Mechanics’, his lips tilted into a lopsided grin. “How’s it goin’, Book? Ready for babysitting duty?”

Booker’s muscles stiffened, and he returned a tight smile. “Is that what you call taking care of one of our own? Nice one, Doug.”

Shame reddened Penhall’s face. “Hey, man, I didn’t mean—”

“I know you didn’t,” Booker replied with an apologetic sigh. “And I didn’t mean to overreact. I guess I’m a little uptight.”

Not one to hold a grudge, Penhall dismissed Booker’s apology with a wave of his hand. “Forget it. From what I hear, Fuller’s given you a rough gig. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

Booker didn’t want to be in his shoes either, but unlike Penhall, he didn’t have the freedom to walk away. But thinking about it only intensified his gloomy outlook, so he pushed his self-pity aside and nodding toward Tom’s door, he asked the obvious question. “How is he?”

Rising to his feet, Penhall tossed his magazine onto the chair. “I dunno, I haven’t spoken to him. I wanted to, but...well, you know how it is, I don’t know what to say.”

“Yeah,” Booker sighed again. He did know how it was, but keeping Tom at arm’s length wasn’t an option. The last thing his friend needed was judgment, and although challenging, he was determined to give the ol’ supportive friend thing his best shot.

Stifling a yawn, Penhall stretched his aching back. “Well, I guess I’ll be going. Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Booker mumbled, his eyes focused on Tom’s partially open door. He had no idea how to initiate contact, and as Penhall sauntered away, he remained in the corridor, his mind silently contemplating the best way to announce himself. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice Janet until her pleasant voice broke the silence. “Aren’t you going in?”

Booker spun around, his eyes registering surprise. “Huh?”

Janet’s face broke into a smile. “I said, aren’t you going in?”

“Oh,” Booker replied, his hand rubbing nervously at the back of his neck. “I...um...I dunno. I’m not sure if he wants to see me.”

The smile faded from Janet’s face. “Did something happen? The only reason I ask is because Tom’s become very withdrawn and it would help if we knew what was going on so we can give him the emotional support he needs.”

“Oh,” Booker replied again, a rosy glow heating his cheeks. “I can’t really say anything. It’s kinda personal.”

The statement compounded Janet’s concern, and her eyes wandered to Tom’s door before settling back on Booker’s face. “If you’re going to upset him, I strongly suggest you don’t go in there.”

It was a valid point, but one Booker chose to ignore. He wanted to make his peace with his friend, and although he knew it wouldn’t be easy, the longer he left it, the harder it would become. “Don’t worry,” he reassured with a strained smile. “I promise I won’t do or say anything that’ll hurt Tom.”

Janet cast another worried glance at the door before slowly nodding her agreement. “Okay, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

Booker couldn’t fault the nurse’s willingness to protect her patient, and the muscles around his mouth relaxed into a cheeky smile. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Janet.”

Secretly flattered by the handsome officer’s not so subtle flirting, a light blush colored Janet’s cheeks. “Stop it,” she laughed, and with an amused shake of her head, she left for her rounds.

Alone in the corridor, Booker turned toward Tom’s door. He had no idea what type of reception he would receive after his unceremonious exit the day before, but his inner voice told him the outcome wouldn’t change no matter how long he procrastinated outside. Tom would either reject or accept his apology and worrying about it was a waste of both time and energy.

Ill-prepared but with a clear head, he took a deep breath and rapped his knuckles on the partially open door. “Hey, Tom, it’s Dennis. Can I come in?”

The absence of sound sent a shudder down the length of the dark-haired officer’s body, and pushing open the door, he stepped into the unlit room. The bed was shielded from view by the blue curtain, and unsure whether to approach or retreat quietly, he stood for a moment, contemplating his choices. Eventually, he made the decision to try again, and moving forward, he called out to his friend. “Tommy?”

“What do you want?”

There was no warmth in the angry response, but Booker did notice a slight quaver in Tom’s voice, the shaky delivery of his words indicating a level of pent-up emotion. His friend was hurting, and at that moment, he wasn’t sure if his presence was a help or a hindrance to the young officer’s well-being. But the niggling need to right his mistakes soon overrode any misgivings, and stepping forward, he stood at the foot of the bed. “I want to apologize.”

“For?”

A weighty sigh preceded Booker’s heartfelt acknowledgment of past wrongs. “For not being there when you needed me.”

When his words were met with stony silence, Booker exhaled another sigh. “Tom, if I’m going to apologize, can we at least do it face to face?”

The seconds ticked slowly by before Tom’s whispered answer filtered out from behind the curtain. “Okay.”

Relieved he had made some progress, Booker stepped forward and pulled back the drape. His eyebrows arched in surprise, the mask of pain etched on Tom’s face triggering the involuntary reaction. He stared at his friend, and his dark, expressive eyes softened with sadness. “Oh, Tommy.”

Tears glistened in Tom’s eyes, but he managed to swallow down the surge of emotion before it enveloped him. “I’m okay,” he choked, his lips tilting into a brave smile. “It’s just...I’ve stopped taking my pain medication so…”

The rest of his sentence remained unspoken, but Booker knew enough about rough anal sex to know his friend was suffering. Pulling up a chair, he sat down, his gaze fixed on the young officer’s pained expression. “Why aren’t you taking your meds?”

Tom’s lower lip pushed into a stubborn pout. “Because I don’t do drugs.”

“Jesus, Hanson,” Booker huffed, his eyes rolling for effect. “Taking pain medication for an injury isn’t the same as doing drugs. Why are you putting yourself through all this suffering when you don’t have to?”

A single tear rolled down Tom’s cheek. “Because I deserve it.”

The whispered revelation sent shockwaves through Booker’s body, and taking hold of Tom’s hand, he gently squeezed his cold fingers. “No, you don’t. I know I reacted badly yesterday, but none of this is your fault. Will took advantage of you when you were too young to fight back. He’s the one you should be blaming, so stop taking responsibility for his behavior. You’re the innocent party in all this, not him.”

A glimmer of hope shone from Tom’s eyes. “Is that what you really think or are you just trying to make me feel better?”

Sensing victory, Booker squeezed Tom’s hand. “It’s what I think, and if you ever want to talk about what happened, I’m here for you, man. Okay?”

Tom’s mood immediately shifted and snatching his hand away, he stared at Booker with unveiled hostility. “Is that right?” he snapped, his voice dripping with rancor. “Is that ‘cause you want all the juicy details? I bet that’d really boost your popularity with all the other officers. Imagine the laughs you’ll get when you tell them the whole sad fucking story of how little Tommy Hanson allowed his brother to fuck him up the ass.”

Although shocked by the vulgar outburst, Booker understood why his friend felt the need to lash out. But that didn’t mean he was about to let the spiteful accusations go unchallenged. “If you think that, you don’t know me at all,” he replied in a quiet but firm voice. “There’s nothing funny about this, Tom. Everyone’s beating themselves up over this because they didn’t see the warning signs, especially Fuller. We all feel guilty because deep down, we think we should have known. So, if you’re going to accuse me of something, at least get your facts straight. Otherwise, I’m outta here, and you’re on your own.”

Ashamed, Tom lowered his gaze. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I don’t know why I said that.”

Taking Tom’s hand in his, Booker offered his friend a smile. “Forget it. I think we’ve both said and done things we regret. Let’s put it behind us and move forward.”

When the dark-haired officer’s thumb fluttered against his palm, Tom’s breath caught in his throat. The strange sensation he’d experienced in Booker’s bathroom returned, the tenderness of the touch elevating his heart rate. Moments later, a pleasant warmth spread through his body, pulsating outward from his groin. The radiating glow heated his skin, the prickly warmth raising his body temperature. Flustered, he withdrew his hand, the rapid thump of his heart causing his fingers to tremble uncontrollably, and he quickly shoved the offending digits under his armpits. Inexperience had him misinterpreting his arousal as something more sinister, and he started to hyperventilate. Had Will’s attack damaged him internally, and if so, what were the consequences? As fate would have it, at that moment, blood seeped from his anus, dampening the sheet beneath him. Fear widened his eyes, his anxiety squeezing the air from his lungs. In his mind, something was wrong...very, very wrong, but he remained trapped in a bubble of silence, unable to voice his rising panic.

Concerned by Tom’s odd behavior, Booker climbed slowly to his feet, his expression fearful. “Jesus, Hanson, is everything okay?”

“Get a doctor,” Tom eventually managed to gasp.

A surge of adrenaline pumped through Booker’s body and pushing past the chair, he ran to the door. “I NEED A DOCTOR IN HERE!”

Within seconds, Janet arrived, followed closely by a young intern. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room,” the young nurse informed Booker.

“But—”

“Go!” Janet instructed in a no-nonsense voice, and grabbing the worried officer by the arm, she steered him toward the door.

With no choice but to comply, Booker exited the room. The door closed, muffling the voices within. Immediately, the familiar urge for a cigarette crawled over the dark-haired officer’s skin, the ghostly sensation making him jittery. He had no clue what had just happened, but it had scared the bejesus out of him, and he needed something to calm his frazzled nerves. He quickly glanced at the closed door. His craving for a cigarette was steadily mounting, but it was his job to protect Tom, and going outside, even for a few minutes, would give Will the window of opportunity to act if he were keeping a watch on the hospital. Frustration had him swearing under his breath, and he toyed with the pros and cons for several moments before accepting what he knew all along. If he succumbed to his addiction, Tom could end up paying the price for his grave error in judgment, and no matter how strong the urge, he wasn’t about to put his friend’s welfare in jeopardy. He’d deserted Tom once, the revelation of childhood abuse too much for him to cope with. It was a grave mistake on his part, and no matter how he tried to sugarcoat it, he knew it was a dereliction of duty. But he’d learned his lesson. He was there to do a job and nothing, not even a threat to his own safety would have him abandoning his post again.

And so, with that thought in mind, he did the next best thing to try and stave off the cravings...he started to pace. It wasn’t the ideal solution, the nicotine craving continued to coil through his body like a hungry python squeezing its prey. But he did have peace of mind knowing Tom was safe, and so he focused on the positives while his mind counted the steps until he could see his friend again.

Chapter Text

CoaS 25

When Tom’s door opened, Booker rushed to greet the intern before he could disappear on his rounds. “What happened? Is he okay?”

The young doctor emerged from the room, his expression professional. “I'm sure you're familiar with the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality. But if you’re asking me if his condition has worsened, the answer is no.”

Frustrated by the doctor’s by the book attitude, Booker turned his attention to Janet. “Can I see him?”

A sweet, understanding smile lit up the nurse’s face. “Of course, but be careful what you say. If he wants to talk to you about his condition, he will. Just don’t pressure him.”

With a nod of his head, Booker moved into the open doorway. Someone had pulled the blue curtain back around the bed, obstructing Tom from view, and for a brief moment, Booker felt like an interloper. The line between friend and paid protector was somewhat blurred, and he wondered if Tom grudgingly put up with his presence or if he genuinely wanted him by his side. Too timid to speak his mind, Tom often endured in silence because he hated hurting people’s feelings. Booker had witnessed the altruistic behavior before and he had an uneasy feeling the trigger for his friend’s latest attack wasn’t so much from his injuries, but more along the lines of something he’d said or done. Tom had snatched his hand away right before he’d started hyperventilating, so maybe it was his touch that had sparked a memory connected to his friend’s abuse. The thought added another metaphorical weight to Booker’s overburdened shoulders. Perhaps he wasn’t the right person to protect Tom after all. Maybe the young officer was better off with someone who kept their distance rather than offered comfort. It was a confusing complexity of half-baked theories entwined with the ghostly chill of intuition, the bewildering blend of uncertainty leaving him with more questions than answers. But in the end, he decided to place his trust in his captain. If Fuller thought he was the best man for the job, then he would do all he could to prove him right. However, he wasn’t going to force his presence on Tom. If his friend needed time alone, then he could keep watch over him just as effectively from outside the room. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but if it did, he’d respect Tom’s wishes and do as he asked.

Happy with his decision, Booker stepped into the room and vocalized his thoughts. “Hey, Tom. Do you want me to sit with you or do you want me to stay outside?”

“Sit with me,” came the murmured reply from behind the curtain. “But close the door first.”

Pleased his friend hadn’t relegated him to the uncomfortable chair in the corridor, Booker closed the door and approached the bed. “Can I open the curtain?”

“Yeah, okay.”

Taking hold of the blue drape, Booker pulled it across the railing, revealing Tom in a freshly made bed. Mindful of Janet’s cautious words, he pulled up a chair and sat down without saying anything. An awkward silence ensued until Tom finally spoke. “Sorry if I scared you.”

It was the opening gambit Booker had hoped for, and leaning forward, he rested his folded arms on his thighs and studied Tom’s tired face. “Don’t worry about me. As long as you’re okay, we’re cool.”

Tom’s teeth anxiously worried his lower lip. He wasn’t really sure if he was okay. When the doctor had sufficiently calmed him to the point where he could speak, embarrassment had suffocated his words, preventing him from mentioning the weird sensation snaking through his groin. And so he’d stayed silent, his humiliation mounting with each passing minute. The intern’s face had registered annoyance, but to his credit, he’d taken a seat and gently asked Tom to tell him what was wrong. Eventually, the young officer had muttered something about feeling wetness beneath him, and the doctor had dutifully examined him. Upon finding the blood-stained sheet, he had reassured Tom there was no cause for alarm and that he was still healing. Mumbling an apology, the young officer had wanted nothing more than to be left alone. But Janet had insisted on cleaning him up and changing his gown and sheets to make him more comfortable. He’d reluctantly agreed, and although the whole ordeal had taken less than fifteen minutes, for Tom, it had felt like a lifetime. As the nurse gently wiped the blood from his trembling buttocks, another part of his soul had died. He was a joke, a pathetic joke, and for one brief, fleeting moment, he’d wondered why he wasn’t desensitized to the shame. After all, he’d spent most of his life moving from one embarrassing moment to the next, so why was he still affected by the indignity? He had no answer except he sometimes thought God was punishing him for his indiscretions. But as he no longer believed in a higher power, as far as he was concerned, it was a moot point, leaving him once again wondering.

Suddenly remembering Booker was in the room, the young officer refocused his eyes. He owed his friend an explanation, and gripping a handful of blanket, he forced the words from his mouth. “Th-there was some b-bleeding and...Well, the d-doctor says it’s n-normal so…”

A look of understanding passed over Booker’s face, but he remained silent. He could sense Tom’s embarrassment as distinctly as he could feel his own heart beating rapidly in his chest. The humiliation undulated off the young officer in waves, and he didn’t want to add to his shame by prolonging the conversation. He understood well enough what was going on, he didn’t need a blow-by-blow description. And so, he leaned back in his chair, and stretching out his legs, he offered his friend a smile. “So, how do you wanna pass the time? There’s a Dodgers’ game on, and I remember you saying you’re a fan. Do you wanna watch it?”

The casual change of conversation brought tears to Tom’s eyes. He’d expected Booker to quiz him about his meltdown, and he was grateful he didn’t have to relive his humiliation in detail. “Yeah,” he replied with a shaky smile. “They’re playing the Padres, right?”

“You’re the expert,” Booker grinned, and picking up the television remote, he hit the power button. Color filled the small screen mounted above the bed, and settling back in his chair, he flicked through the channels until he found the game. Casting a furtive glance in Tom’s direction, he saw the muscles in his friend’s face visibly relax, and he mentally licked his finger and chalked one up to success. Score one to Booker. He’d trusted his gut, and it had paid off. Watching sports together was a passive yet intimate male bonding exercise, and the beauty of it was, he and Tom didn’t actually have to say anything profound or meaningful. It was a time to sit back and unwind, without the burden of heavy conversation. What could possibly go wrong?

Feeling justifiably proud of himself, Booker turned his mind off and started enjoying the game. But his jubilation was short-lived. Six minutes into the top of the third inning, the door opened, revealing a gray-haired, middle-aged male doctor. Behind him stood Janet, her lips twitching nervously, her ill at ease stance instantly evaporating Booker’s high-spirited mood. Something was going on, and it obviously had to do with Tom’s freakout.

“Good evening, Mister Hanson,” the doctor greeted Tom in a pleasant tone. “How are you feeling?”

As Tom turned his head, the light played across his face, highlighting the ghostly pallor of his skin. “Um...okay, I guess,” he replied quietly.

The doctor dismissed the comment with a slight nod of his head. “Good. Perhaps your friend could wait outside. I’d like to do an internal exam to see how you’re healing.”

Tension rolled off Tom’s body, his muscles stiffening in response to the request. “No,” he answered in a petulant voice. “I don’t want to.”

A look of annoyance passed over the doctor’s face. “I’m sorry, Mister Hanson, but as a patient under my care, I must insist you comply with my recommendation.”

Booker rose to his feet, his face hardening into a scowl. “He...said...he...didn’t...want to,” he reiterated, making sure to carefully enunciate each word for maximum effect. “And guess what, Doc, he does have a choice. No means no. Look it up, asshole.”

“Dennis, you’re not helping,” Janet interjected, her worried gaze flitting between the disgruntled officer and the proctologist. “If Doctor Yu feels it’s necessary to examine—”

“I want to go home.”

The softly spoken request had all eyes focusing back on Tom. Immediately, Janet stepped forward and rested a reassuring hand on the young officer’s arm. “Tom, I don’t think that’s a good—”

“I SAID, I WANT...TO GO...H-HOME!”

A racking sob tore through Tom’s sentence like a wound, and covering his face with his hands, he started to cry. For a few short minutes, he’d managed to ignore the pain throbbing inside him, the memory of his violent rape temporarily forgotten as he’d lost himself in the fast-paced action of the baseball game. But in the space of a moment, the doctor had shattered his tranquil mindset, bringing back all the emotional and physical trauma in one fell swoop. It wasn't fair, and he briefly wondered if he would ever know peace again.

“Happy?” Booker spat, and pushing past Janet, he sat on the edge of the bed and placed a comforting arm around his friend’s trembling shoulders. “Shh, Tommy. It’s okay. If you want to go home, no one can stop you.”

“Excuse me,” the specialist snapped. “Who the hell are you? This is about Tom’s wellbeing, not yours, and it’s important we monitor his recovery very carefully. A more detailed internal exam is crucial at this point because if his injury has resulted in fissures, we need to keep a close eye on how they’re healing.”

“I’m his best friend,” Booker retorted, his voice rising in anger. “And I’m pretty sure his own doctor can do that. Am I right?”

The doctor’s jaw tightened. He found the brash, argumentative young man challenging to deal with and he pondered the advantage of calling security and getting him thrown out of the hospital. But in the end, he decided to let the matter drop. The surly best friend was right about one thing, he couldn’t keep Tom at the hospital against his will, and if the young officer wanted to leave, he had no power to stop him.

After much thought, the doctor made his decision. “It’s not ideal, but if you insist, I can send my findings to Tom’s family physician.”

“We insist.”

Ignoring Booker’s statement, James Yu spoke directly to his patient. “Is that what you want, Tom?”

Tom lifted his head and wiping a shaky hand over his eyes, he brushed away his tears. “Y-Yes,” he hiccupped. “I w-wanna g-go h-home.”

“As you wish,” Yu muttered before turning to address Janet. “Prepare the discharge papers and give Mister Hanson a pamphlet about sitz baths. I’ll send a letter through to his G.P. along with a referral so he can speak to a psychologist.”

Janet nodded. “Yes, Doctor.”

Yu turned to leave, but he paused midstep and turning his body, he addressed Tom over his shoulder. “If the bleeding gets any worse, you must come directly to the E.R. Is that understood?”

Tom’s exaggerated nod reminded the doctor of a dashboard Bobble Head doll, and with a disapproving shake of his head, he left the room.

“You really shouldn’t have done that.”

Booker gave Janet a weak smile. “Yeah, you’re probably right. But if Tom wants to leave, that’s his choice.”

“Maybe,” Janet replied with a sigh. “But I don’t think it’s a smart one,” and picking up Tom’s chart, she walked out the door.

Desperate to get moving, Tom threw back the bedclothes. “So, can we go now?”

Booker raised both hands in a halting gesture. “Whoa!” he exclaimed. “If you’re going to do this, I need to take care of a few things first.”

A moody pout formed on Tom’s lips. “Like what?”

“Liiike,” Booker replied slowly, cleverly using the word as a filler until he could get his thoughts in order. As far as he knew, the Hansons’ bathroom still resembled a scene from a horror movie, and he wanted time to get it clean before Tom returned to the apartment.

“Don’t you want me to go home?” Tom asked in a soft, child-like voice.

Suppressing an exasperated sigh, Booker squeezed his friend’s shoulders. “Of course I do. But there are things I need to organize. I have to speak to Fuller, pack a bag—”

“You’re coming with me?”

Booker threw Tom a quizzical look. “Well, yeah. Why? Don’t you want me there?”

Tom’s head shook from side to side, the movement whipping his long bangs across his face. “No, it’s not that. It’s just...I didn’t think you’d want to keep babysitting me. Don’t you want to go back undercover on the Westview case?”

Cupping Tom’s face in his hand, Booker stared into his friend’s troubled eyes. He was about to make an announcement he knew his friend didn't want to hear. “It’s not babysitting, Tom,” he clarified in a soft voice. “And Fuller’s already put Penhall on the Westview Case because I told him I wanted to be the one assigned as your security, and that means wherever you go, I go. Okay? But I think you should start taking your pain medication again. I’ve got no medical training, so it’ll be easier on both of us if your pain is under control.”

Tom internally debated the request, but eventually, he gave a reluctant nod. “Okay,” he sighed.

Relief softened the lines around Booker’s eyes. He may have guilted Tom into taking his meds, but it was for his own good. And the white lie he’d told about asking Fuller to assign him the job of security guard was—as far as he was concerned—a small yet necessary one. Initially, he’d accepted his position as Tom’s protector because he had no choice, but his attitude had changed. They’d aired their grievances, and his friend had forgiven him his transgressions, meaning they could start again with a clean slate. As bizarre as it was, he found himself genuinely looking forward to spending time with the fragile officer, even though he knew it wouldn’t be easy. He had no idea how Tom planned to work through his psychological trauma now he was leaving behind the trained medical support offered by the hospital, and the not knowing scared him. Would Tom want to talk about his rape and if so, was he equipped to deal with such an emotional issue? The answer to his question remained elusive, but that didn’t discourage him. He would do his best to support his friend in whichever way he needed, and although there were bound to be a few hiccups, he was confident they could ride the storm together.

Giving Tom’s shoulders another squeeze, he stood up. “Good,” he smiled. “So, how ‘bout we schedule your release for tomorrow. That’ll give me enough time to sort everything out.”

They weren’t the words Tom wanted to hear, but he grudgingly accepted the terms of Booker’s agreement with a nod of his head. “I guess.”

Booker’s smile widened, and settling into his chair, he turned his attention back to the game. “Hey, the Dodgers are two-nil up.”

But Tom barely heard him. He had bigger things on his mind. He was finally going home, and maybe, just maybe, Will would return home too.

Chapter Text

CoaS 26

After relegating his shift to a uniformed officer, Booker spent his designated seven-hour break getting things ready for Tom’s impending release from the hospital. His first stop was the one he’d been dreading...his friend’s apartment building. Behind his cleverly crafted cool exterior lurked a man with a weak stomach, and knowing his limitations, he didn’t feel emotionally or physically capable of cleaning the excrement from the soiled bathroom. So, rather than put himself through the ordeal, he took a chance and spoke to the building supervisor. Keen to help, the super immediately offered a solution by recommending a biohazard remediation contractor sanitize the room from floor to ceiling, while further stating he was more than happy to coordinate the cleanup by letting the cleaners into the apartment and locking the door once they left. He felt bad for the youngest Hanson, whose shy, awkward ways made it easy for his bully of a brother to isolate and marginalize him, and he made it clear to Booker he would do whatever was needed to help Tom get back on his feet. The plan suited the dark-haired officer perfectly. With less than six hours remaining until he returned to the hospital, he wanted to try to catch some z’s between packing a bag, buying food, and showering. Hyped up on adrenaline, it was a feasible—if somewhat hectic—agenda. However, it didn’t leave him a lot of time to prepare mentally for the upcoming days. Living with Tom was different from spending time with him in the sterile environment of a hospital, and he wasn’t sure how their personalities would jell. But he figured it wouldn’t take long for the daily grind to get them into a routine, so he made the decision to wing it instead of over-complicating their arrangement by planning every detail. There was, however, one thing he had straight in his mind. Despite Tom’s ordeal, he wasn’t about to cater to his every demand. Life wasn’t a structured regime, and he wanted his friend to experience the real world, free from Will’s overprotective, domineering, and watchful eye. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t offer comfort when needed. Showing support was imperative to Tom’s recovery, and he hoped one or all the other Jump Street officers would find time in their busy schedules to drop by. It would mean a lot to the young officer if he thought people cared enough to visit. Tom was, by design, a loner, and he lacked certain social skills others possessed. Being around people he knew would help boost his confidence, and it was Booker’s hope, the young officer would then find his wings and soar above all that had held him back. But first he needed to help his friend through the trauma of his assault, and although he had no clue how he would do that, one thing was certain. He never backed down from a challenge.

With the cleanup organized, Booker drove to his local 7-Eleven store and picked up some groceries. He didn’t buy much, just a few items to see them through the first few days. Placing the bags on the passenger seat, he then drove to his apartment, and after a much-needed nap, he showered, dressed, and packed a bag. As an afterthought, he tossed several of his favorite CDs into his luggage. Music was his go-to drug, especially during times of stress, and he wasn’t sure Tom would have the same rock and roll taste that got his adrenaline pumping. For some reason, he imagined his friend enjoying contemporary blues or maybe even classical. He’d witnessed the faraway look in Tom’s eyes as he’d listened to the string quartet at the mayor’s ball, his slender hips swaying ever so slightly to the haunting melody. It was one of the few times Booker had seen Tom look genuinely at peace, and it was at that moment, he knew he was falling for the quiet, gentle man whose dark eyes had the power to express a feeling without the need for words. But that was then, and a lot had changed since that night. Time and circumstance had dampened his lustful thoughts, and he no longer felt the same attraction he had when he’d disclosed his feelings to Harry. There was no doubt Tom was gorgeous, but after everything that had happened, the physical pull was no longer there. He’d convinced himself the rationale behind his sudden change of heart was because after getting to know his new partner, he had come to realize the shy officer just wasn’t his type. But that was a lie. The real reason had more to do with Tom’s incestuous relationship with his brother than their incompatibility. But to admit his true feelings exposed his own inadequacies as a friend, and so, he continued to believe his own fictitious story. It wasn’t difficult. All he had to do was keep telling himself again and again that even if—and after all that happened, it was a possibility—Tom was gay, he felt no desire to pursue him romantically. In his mind, theirs was a relationship built purely on friendship, nothing more, and he was more than happy with that arrangement. Except, he was kidding himself. If he scratched the surface of his soul and dug a little deeper, his true feelings would have lit up like a Christmas tree. He was utterly and hopelessly in love with Tom, but there was a catch. His undying devotion was for his version of the perfect Tom Hanson, not the man too afraid to stand up to a controlling bully. And if he could have that Tom, he would go down on bended knee—figuratively speaking, of course—and profess his love, even though he knew that love would never be reciprocated.

With a glance at the clock, Booker gathered his bags and exited his apartment. As he loaded his vehicle, he suddenly remembered Tom had arrived at the hospital naked as the day he was born. Staring down at the food items packed in the trunk of his Caddy, he weighed up his options. He could lend his friend something to wear, thereby speeding up the process of getting him back to his home and settled in for the night or he could return to the Hansons’ apartment and grab something for him to wear. Indecision furrowed his brow, and he chewed thoughtfully at his lower lip until he suddenly remembered the sweats he carried in his car. It was the ideal solution, but just as he reached into the trunk to pull them out of his gym bag, he remembered he’d lent them to Tom, and his friend had not bothered to return them. A flicker of annoyance passed over his face. If he had his sweats, he could proceed with his journey as planned. But as there were far more important issues at hand, he pushed his irritation to the back of his mind, and slamming down the lid of the trunk, he walked round to the driver’s side door. An echo of his displeasure continued to resonate in his mind, and consciously unaware of his reasoning, he made the snap decision to go to Tom’s apartment and pick up some clothes. It would delay his arrival at the hospital, but as he was doing his friend a favor, he told himself it wouldn’t matter. At least that way, he could check the contractors had cleaned the bathroom, and make sure everything else was in order before Tom’s arrival home, making his friend’s transition less stressful. He could also unpack all the food, lessening the risk of it spoiling in the heat of the Caddy’s trunk. Not that he’d bought anything perishable. He hated cooking, preferring takeout to the tedium of food preparation, which suited him just fine as a bachelor working long, unpredictable hours. But as he wasn’t sure if Tom would approve of such a hedonistic lifestyle, he’d bought some pasta and ready-made sauces, just in case.

Climbing behind the wheel of his Cadillac, he pulled the door closed with a bang. He was already running late, and a prickle of frustration ran down his spine. Tardiness was a sign of laziness, something he abhorred, and his vexation traveled down his arms, culminating in his hands. He sat stiffly in the bucket seat, his eyes staring straight ahead, his fingers grasping the steering wheel so tightly, his knuckles shone white through his skin. He wasn’t sure why he felt so pissed off, but he put it down to a fear of the unknown. It was a reasonable explanation, but mulling over the whys and wherefores only wasted more valuable time. And so, with a quick glance in the rearview mirror, he slammed the Caddy’s shifter into gear, stamped his foot on the gas and with a squeal of tires, he sped off up the road.

**

Tom stared up at the muted television, his eyes stubbornly ignoring the wall clock hanging just out of his line of sight. The medication coursing through his body had reduced his pain to a dull throb, and while he hated taking drugs, he couldn’t deny their magical effect. He almost felt normal...almost, but not quite. Try as he might, he couldn’t dispel the memories of his rape...the pain...the whisper of Will’s breath against his skin...the feeling he was going to die...and wanting it, really wanting it. In his heart, he knew if his brother had dunked his head under the water, he would have welcomed his last, watery breath because then his mind would finally know peace. Forgetting was not an option. Putting it behind him was not an option. He could work through his anguish, but it would not change the one fact he couldn’t get past. Every person at the chapel knew his secret shame, and that meant only one thing...he had to quit the force.

Giving in to his urge, Tom glanced up at the clock. Booker was an hour late, and a shiver of foreboding ran down his spine. What if his friend were having second thoughts? What if the idea of babysitting a grown yet ineffectual man wasn’t high on the dark-haired officer’s list of priorities? And worst of all, what if it were all a joke and he was back at the chapel, laughing his ass off with Parry and all the other officers? Despite not wanting to believe his friend could stoop so low, in Tom’s mind, it was a real possibility. He’d suffered so much ridicule throughout his short life, it was difficult not to think people were plotting against him. But although it hurt, it wasn’t a life-changing moment. He’d learned long ago how to bury his feelings beneath the dark, impenetrable shield of isolation, and therefore, people rarely noticed the anguish shimmering in his eyes. They had their fun and walked away, leaving him to deal with the pain alone. But he preferred it that way. Life was less stressful when he was on his own. There was no one to bother, no one to disappoint, just the heavy thump of his heart keeping him company as it counted down the beats until his ultimate demise.

“Hey. Sorry I’m late.”

Turning his head abruptly, Tom’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “You came back.”

Confused by the statement, two deep lines furrowed Booker’s brow. “Well, yeah,” he replied as he placed a bag of clothing on the overbed table. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Tom immediately regretted revealing his insecurities, and he attempted to disguise his concern by returning a small shrug. “I dunno. Forget it. What’s in the bag?”

Booker returned a grin. “Well, I didn’t think you’d want to walk out of here with your ass hanging out for everyone to—” He stopped abruptly, a look of horror widening his eyes. “Jesus, Tom, I didn’t mean...I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say.”

Keeping his gaze fixed on the bag of clothing, Tom took several deep calming breaths. He could see his white patterned bandanna peeking out the top of the crumpled paper sack, and drawing strength from his signature McQuaid attire, he returned a small smile. “It’s okay, Dennis, I know you didn’t mean anything by it. Thanks for bringing my clothes, I’d forgotten I didn’t have any.”

“Really?” Booker blurted out without thinking.

The sweet, shy smile melted from Tom’s face, and lowering his gaze, he stared at the pilled blanket covering his legs. “Pretty stupid, huh?” he muttered. “I mean, my brother raped me then held me hostage in our bathroom. Of course I don’t have any clothes.

Heat raised the color in Booker’s cheeks. “Shit, Tom,” he apologized for the second time. “I didn’t...I don’t know why I said that. But in my defense, I’m a fucking idiot, so you’d better get used to me putting my foot in my mouth.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of Tom’s lips. It was another one of Booker's lame jokes, but, once again, he appreciated the effort. “Yeah?” he replied, a faint glimmer of amusement shining from his dark eyes. “Is there anything else I should know about you before I invite you into my home?”

Pleased his friend had managed to maintain enough of a sense of humor to see the funny side, Booker’s face split into a cheeky grin. “I can’t cook.”

A low chuckle resonated in the back of Tom’s throat. The casual back and forth repartee was the tonic he needed, and for the first time since watching the baseball game, he began to feel normal. Life suddenly didn’t seem so bad and relaxing back against his pillow, he gifted his friend a genuine smile. “That’s okay. Neither can I.”

Chapter Text

CoaS 27

The superintendent turned the key in the lock and pushed open the door. “Welcome home, Tom,” he greeted softly.

By ducking his head, Tom managed to conceal his embarrassment behind a curtain of hair. “Thanks, Jerry.”

Removing his key, Jerry placed a hand on Tom’s arm. “If you need anything…”

The unfinished sentence hung suspended between them, the sudden silence sending a prickle of heat rippling over Tom’s skin. There was no doubt in his mind the super had witnessed him lying in a puddle of his own urine...naked...bloodied, and with his dignity stripped bare for all to see. The reality of his life had spread further than he had initially realized, and he wondered if the whole building were now privy to his dirty little secret. It was a sobering thought, and his chin sank closer to his chest, his shoulders slumping forward in shame. How could he ever hold his head up again, knowing everyone was talking about him? His status as resident doormat had intensified tenfold. No one would take him seriously because he’d proved himself a weak, ineffectual man too afraid to stand up to his brother’s abuse. His humiliation was palpable, and he lowered his head a little further, tears of shame stinging his tormented eyes. He’d thought he’d find peace in the familiar surroundings of his apartment, but in truth, it had only brought on more heartache, and it was then the realization hit him. Not only would he have to leave the job he loved, but he would also have to abandon the one constant in his life...his home.

Sensing Tom’s need to escape the super’s well-intentioned offer of support, Booker ushered his friend inside. “Thanks, we’ll let you know,” he responded over his shoulder, and with a nod of his head, he closed the door.

Safe from the unwanted attention of others, a metaphorical weight lifted from Tom’s shoulders, and he exhaled an audible sigh. He was finally free from prying eyes, free to relax without fear of ridicule. But as he stared around his apartment, a cold sweat spread over his body, dampening his skin. Then, as if on cue, a collage of multi-colored memories burst open inside his head, overriding all his other senses. The vivid images brought to the surface all his anguish and pain, the tortuous flashbacks working their way down into his throat, suffocating him with the truth. Panic squeezed his heart and closing his eyes, he started to count, his balled fists thumping his thighs in rhythm to his anxious mutterings. “One...two...three...four…”

“Hey, man, are you okay?”

The unexpected contact of a warm hand gripping his shoulder had Tom jumping in alarm, and spinning around, he stared into Booker’s worried face. “I-I…” he stammered, the words lodging painfully in his throat. He was drowning in a sea of memories and unable to cope, he squeezed his eyes closed, and wrapping his arms around his torso, he started to sway.

Lowering his hand to his side, Booker rubbed a nervous hand over his mouth. Although the odd behavior gave him cause for concern, he remained where he was, unwilling to invade his friend’s space during such an emotional moment. And so, he watched on, the long, drawn-out pause hanging uncomfortably between them, waiting for the sound of a voice to cut through the leaden shrill of silence thickening the air of the stuffy apartment.

It took several minutes for the distressing images in Tom’s mind to clear, and opening his eyes, he stared down at the floor. “Sorry.”

The single-word apology sounded like a pistol shot, the vibration of Tom’s voice ricocheting off the suffocating stillness, bringing life back into the room, and with it, the opening Booker needed to continue their dialogue. Clearing his throat, the dark-haired officer offered his friend a smile. “There’s nothing to apologize for.”

The left side of Tom’s mouth twitched at the edges. He felt the need to explain himself, but he found it difficult to articulate his feelings. “It’s just...overwhelming, you know?”

Booker didn’t know, how could he? He’d never experienced a sexual assault, nor had he suffered at the hands of a deviant brother. But he made sure to keep his expression neutral while craftily changing the conversation to more mundane matters. “Are you hungry? If you are, I could make you a sandwich.”

A slow, appreciative smile danced over Tom’s lips before vanishing beneath a wave of pain. The tidal spasm engulfed his brief moment of serenity, and he closed his eyes for a moment before refocusing on Booker's face. “No, I think I might lie down for a while, I’m kinda beat.”

“Have you taken your meds?”

Tom’s fingers toyed with a telltale bulge in his pocket. “Not since this morning.”

“Gimme,” Booker commanded, his outstretched hand beckoning impatiently.

Suppressing a sigh, Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out the bottle of pills. He stared at them for a second before reluctantly handing them over to his friend. Booker took a moment to read the pharmaceutical label stuck to the orange vial. Once satisfied he had the dosage correct, he unscrewed the cap, tapped two tablets into his hand and held them out to Tom. “Here.”

With no choice but to comply, Tom took the pills and placing them on his tongue, he swallowed them down with a grimace. Taking any form of prescription medication went against his principles, but he’d made a promise to his friend, and he was a man of his word. And while he hated bowing down to pressure, a small part of him welcomed the relief the pills afforded him. He found the sharp, jagged pain ripping through his insides exhausting, and he longed for some respite from the physical and mental suffering he’d endured since his assault. It was a cop out, of sorts, but he was past caring. All he wanted was to go to sleep and not wake up until everyone had forgotten the crimes his brother had committed against him.

Happy he had things under control, Booker placed the container of tablets on the coffee table. “I was thinking of ordering pizza later. Do you want me to wake you in a couple of hours?”

“I’m not really hungry,” Tom replied in a soft voice. “But you go ahead, the takeout menus are in the kitchen drawer.”

Disappointment shone in Booker’s eyes, but he accepted Tom’s decision. “Okay, well, I guess I’ll see you in the morning.”

Tom managed a forced smile. “Yeah, see you then. G’night.”

“‘Night,” Booker murmured, even though it was only four o’clock in the afternoon, and exhaling a weary sigh, he watched his friend walk into the bedroom and close the door.

**

Left to his own devices, Booker took the time to explore Tom’s apartment. He found some bed linen in a wall cupboard and taking out two pale blue sheets and a pillow, he set them aside ready to use on his makeshift bed, a.k.a. the sofa. As he started to close the cupboard door, he spied what looked to be the corner of a wooden box partly concealed beneath a pile of neatly stacked towels. Squatting down, he pulled the box from its hiding place. Small in size—approximately five inches by seven inches—the first thing he noticed was the mahogany-colored chest’s convex decorative lid. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he traced his fingers over the ornate engraving, the feel of the finely carved woodwork beneath his hand triggering an artistic awakening. It was a work of supreme craftsmanship, a testament to the mastery of its creator, and he briefly wondered where the box came from and which Hanson brother it belonged to. Curious, he tried to open it, but the lid remained stubbornly closed. Turning the container in his hands, he noticed a tiny keyhole, the scallop-edged brass plate matching the two hinges at the back. Intrigued as to the box’s contents, he held it up to his ear and gave it a gentle shake. A soft rustling resonated from inside the chest, the sound reminding Booker of Fuller shuffling a stack of paperwork. But without the key, he had no way of knowing what secrets the box held, and with a sigh, he placed it back beneath the towels and quietly closed the cupboard door.

Looking at his watch, he was surprised to see it was nearly five o’clock, and on cue, his stomach growled. With pizza now on his mind, he glanced at Tom’s bedroom door, and he briefly considered checking in on his friend. But as he didn’t want to risk waking him, he decided against it. When his stomach growled for the second time, he came to the conclusion that eating was as good a way as any to pass the time and hauling himself to his feet, he went in search of a menu.

**

Six hours later

A dull, aching throb inside Tom’s bladder gradually dragged his mind back to consciousness. Opening his eyes, he squinted into the inky darkness until his vision adjusted to the gloom. He lay for a moment, contemplating the urgency of nature’s call. But after a couple of minutes, he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer, and gritting his teeth, he swung his legs over the edge of the mattress and sat up.

The sudden movement caused an unexpected drop in his blood pressure, leaving his head swimming and his vision tripling. With a moan, he flopped back against his pillow and waited for his head to clear. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, he took his time before slowly pushing himself back into a sitting position. Black spots danced before his eyes, briefly disorienting him, and he gripped the edge of the mattress as he wondered if it were the medication making him feel woozy or the effects of a deep sleep. Either way, he silently prayed it wasn’t a harbinger of ill health. Since childhood, he’d always prided himself on his ability to stay fit, and he rarely suffered from any physical ailments apart from the common cold. Emotional ailments, on the other hand, came hand in hand with his abuse. Even those too wrapped up in their own lives could see he was a nervous wreck eighty percent of the time. Of course, no one had known why until his spectacular fall from grace. His rape was a turning point, and whether he liked it or not, he no longer had the luxury of ignoring the facts. People would expect him to get help, and that meant, opening up to a therapist about his and Will’s incestuous relationship. The thought terrified him, not just because he was a private person, but because he didn’t want to have to acknowledge the painful reality of his life. After all, the truth hurt, and he wasn’t sure he was ready to hear out loud what he already suspected in his heart.

Not wanting to dwell on the uncertainty of his future, Tom rose to his feet and walked over to the window. Unaccustomed to wearing boxers in bed, he readjusted the underwear so it wasn’t giving him a wedgie. It was then he noticed a damp stickiness adhered to the soft folds of material, and moving his hand in front of his face, he studied his bloody fingers beneath the light of the waning half moon. His shoulders slumped forward, pressed down by an unseen weight, and he wondered when the indignity of it all would end, if ever. But there were more pressing issues at hand than lamenting the unfairness of his life. He needed to pee, and if he didn’t hurry up, he’d make a bigger fool of himself than he already had.

Wiping his fingers on his soiled boxers, his eyes scanned the room, looking for his robe before remembering he was wearing it on the night of his assault. Technicolored memories flooded his mind once more, the unwanted parasitic images feeding on his will to live. It was all becoming too much, too painful, and he briefly considered opening the bedroom window and jumping out. He wasn’t certain a twenty-six-foot fall would kill him, but the pull was so strong, his fingers hovered over the window’s latch, daring him to man up and take matters into his own hands for once in his life. But as he grasped the cool metal lock, a vision of Booker’s panicked face chased away all the other thoughts inside his head, and his hand dropped to his side. He couldn't do it. He couldn't lay the burden of guilt onto the only person who had stood by him. He couldn’t and he wouldn’t. He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a selfish sonofabitch, and Booker meant too much to him to hurt him in such a deliberate way.

Moving away from the window, he spied Will’s robe hanging in the open closet. He hurried across the room and pulling the terry cloth gown from its hanger, he put it on. With his need to urinate becoming more urgent with each passing minute, he grabbed a pair of clean boxers and shoved them in his pocket. Time was of the essence, and clutching the edges of the toweling robe in his hand, he opened the door and tiptoed out into the living area of his apartment.

The soft sound of breathing reached his ears, the slow, steady tempo soothing in its regularity. By the faint light of the pale crescent moon, he could just make out the shape of Booker’s body stretched out on the three-seater sofa. His heart fluttered against the wall of his chest, the unexpected sensation sending a shiver over his sleep-warmed flesh. Turning away, he moved toward the bathroom, but as he approached, a slow rising panic crippled his weakened body, forcing him to a standstill. Wide-eyed, he stared at the door, his body incapable of movement. Behind the innocuous looking paneling, the ghost of his past lived on, and he could almost hear his own tortured screams echoing off the tiled walls. The crime that had taken place was so horrific it was only spoken about in whispers, and yet inside Tom’s head, it reverberated louder than his own voice. A part of him had died that day, and his spirit remained trapped within the bathroom’s four walls, reliving his ordeal over and over again...unable to break free...unable to put the nightmarish reality of his past behind him.

Too terrified to proceed, the frightened officer did the only thing he could think of, he switched on the living room light. Flashes of color invaded Booker’s dream, the luminous glow jerking him back to full awareness. A disgruntled groan rumbled in the back of his throat and rolling over, he threw an arm over his eyes, shielding them from the harsh glare. “What the hell?”

Tom danced from one foot to the other, his hand cupping his genitals. “S-Sorry,” he muttered. “I n-need to pee.”

“So, pee already,” Booker mumbled, his eyes fluttering closed.

“I CAN’T!”

The desperate scream had Booker bolting upright, his expression one of confusion. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I CAN’T GO IN THERE!” Tom yelled, his face contorting in discomfort as he struggled not to wet himself.

It took Booker a moment to understand the problem, but when he did, he knew exactly what he needed to do. Jumping to his feet, he walked swiftly across the room, and opening the door, he turned on the light.

“Then I’ll come in with you,” he stated in a calm voice, and taking Tom by the arm, he ushered him into the bathroom. As soon as Tom’s bare feet hit the tiled floor, he ran across the room and flipping open the lavatory seat, he emptied his aching bladder.

The steady stream of urine hitting the toilet water awakened a need inside Booker, and he jiggled up and down, his own desire to pee becoming stronger with each passing moment. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, Tom pulled the chain and moved over to the sink. Booker immediately took his friend’s place, a loud sigh exhaling from between his lips as he relieved himself into the bowl.

Embarrassed by the public display, Tom exited the bathroom without having a chance to change his boxers. Outside, City Hall’s clock struck eleven, but rather than return to bed, the young officer went and stood by the large living room window. Mesmerized, he stared at the haze of neon lights showcasing the city’s skyline, but the bright colors failed to chase away the shadows blanketing his mind. His bleak mood intensified as a light rain started to fall from the night sky, the misty drizzle creating iridescent rainbows on the pitted asphalt below. Drawn toward the oppressive misery of the inclement weather, his vision blurred, the abstract pattern of raindrops forming on the window waxing and waning as his eyes went in and out of focus. A weighty sigh expelled from his nostrils. He was tired...tired of not fitting in and tired of feeling inadequate. But most of all, he was tired of feeling alone.

“Is everything okay, Tom?”

At the sound of his name, Tom turned, the faint light emanating from the window casting half shadows across his pale face. “Yeah,” he murmured, his distant gaze coming back into focus. “I...um...I was just...I never thanked you for cleaning up.”

The memory of the shit-covered bathroom sent a shudder of revulsion rippling down Booker’s spine, but he managed to keep his disgust under wraps. “It wasn’t me,” he answered truthfully. “I employed someone to...anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s done, let’s forget about it.”

“How much do I owe you?

“I said forget about it, Tom,” Booker reiterated a little too loudly. “It’s not important. You can buy me a couple of beers next time we go out.”

Turning away, Tom stared at the ghostly image of his reflection mirrored in the rain-splattered glass. “It wasn't supposed to be like this.”

A look of sadness passed over Booker’s face, and taking several steps toward the window, his reflection joined Tom’s. “No, I don't suppose it was.”

“My parents were good people,” Tom continued in a soft voice, his expression a picture of wretchedness. “And my brother...my brother always took care of me. He was my best friend. He was my everything, and I know he didn't mean to hurt me.”

There was a hint of uncertainty in Tom’s voice, and it was this slight hesitation that fueled Booker’s decision to speak his mind. “But he did hurt you, Tommy,” he murmured. “What Will did was a crime, and he needs to be punished.”

Tears glistened in Tom’s tortured eyes. “I know,” he whispered, his fingers anxiously plucking at the oversized terry toweling robe. “I know but...I can’t, Dennis, I can’t b-betray him! I can’t I can’t I can’t...”

Tom’s strangled cry tore through the small apartment, the pain reflected in the younger man’s voice sending chills through Booker’s body. His friend was hurting, really hurting and throwing caution to the wind, he stepped forward and pulled the distraught officer into a tight hug.

Tom stiffened, his distressed sobs freezing on his lips. But as the soothing heat of Booker’s body enveloped him, he sank into the embrace. The simple gesture offered more comfort than words, and he felt an unexpected twist of his heart, the flip of his stomach sending a series of delicious shivers up and down his spine. It was a strange, indescribable feeling, another rousing introduction to his body’s awakening. He was so removed from real human contact, he rarely experienced the intimate touch of another person—except his brother—and the sensation was electrifying. Flesh on flesh...heart to heart...blood flowing...warm...zoetic...their bodies speaking the same language without the need for words. It was surreal in its artistry, a tactile invasion of the sensors, if only fleeting, but unlike his breakdown at the hospital, there was no fear associated with his body’s reaction. For the first time in years, he felt truly alive, and breathing in Booker’s scent, he committed it to memory so he could relive the moment, over and over again, and gain comfort from the recollection.

The sensation of Tom’s slender body pressing against him sent an unexpected thrill through Booker’s groin, and releasing his hold, he took a step back. Two dark, soulful eyes met his flustered gaze, and unnerved by Tom’s sated expression, he raked a hand through his sleep-mussed hair. “So, um, are you okay?”

It was a difficult question for the young officer to answer. If he looked at the bigger picture, he was far from okay. But if he dissected the volume of his feelings into tiny slivers of time, at that exact moment, he felt better than he had in days. So, he had a choice. He could dwell on the negatives or embrace the positives, and for the first time in a long time, he chose the latter.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “Thanks to you,” and without further explanation, he walked past Booker and disappeared into his bedroom, leaving the door open behind him.

Booker remained standing, a look of bewilderment arching his eyebrows. He had no idea what had just happened, but he had an uncomfortable feeling, things were about to get very complicated.

Chapter Text

CoaS 28

For Tom, the next ten days passed in a haze of self-proclaimed inactivity. He spent most of his time sleeping, giving his body the much-needed rest it required to heal from the horrific injuries inflicted by his brother. Each hour passed in a cycle of fluctuating pain, his discomfort ranging from almost bearable to teeth-gritting intolerable, depending on how much medication was in his system. But even during his darkest times, he rarely complained, preferring to keep his suffering to himself rather than burden Booker with his troubles. Not that the dark-haired officer was backward in speaking his mind. After allowing Tom a day to settle in, he’d pestered his friend into making an appointment with his doctor. Frightened at the thought of an internal exam, Tom had initially used every excuse in the book...he was too tired, too weak, too stressed, etc. etc. etc. It was classic avoidance behavior, and while Booker understood the reasons behind the stalling tactic, he didn’t give up on his objective. Unlike Tom, he didn't have a laissez-faire attitude, and so he continued to push, gently at first before ramping up his efforts. Eventually, his endeavor paid off, and although the visit proved awkward and uncomfortable, it had given his friend some much-needed peace of mind. Despite the brutality of the assault, Doctor Goodman had announced there were no signs of any permanent injury. An immense sense of relief had shown on both men’s faces, and although neither spoke of their jubilation, each had celebrated the good news in silent contemplation. For Tom, the disclosure allayed his fear for the future, and for Booker, knowing his friend’s physical pain would soon ease was the greatest reward he could have asked for. As much as Tom tried to mask the extent of his injuries, there remained an intractable look of suffering that even the medication failed to remove. It was heartbreaking to witness, and Booker hated seeing that depth of torment shining in his friend’s eyes. Not that all of Tom’s pain came from his physical suffering. It didn’t. Feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and vulnerability all hindered a rape survivor’s emotional recovery, and when you added to that the incestuous component, Booker completely understood why Tom was a mess. And therein lay the dark-haired officer's most significant problem...convincing Tom to see a psychologist. Privacy had always played a big part in Tom’s life, and getting him to open up to a stranger would be a challenge. But Dennis knew enough about sexual assault to know if his friend didn’t seek help, in all likelihood, he would suffer in silence until the self-condemnation slowly drove him insane.

**

After checking the water temperature with his hand, Booker stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain around him. Ducking his head, he let out a contented sigh as the warm water cascading from the shower head washed away the day’s trials and tribulations. He’d found the last few days mentally exhausting, but not in the way he had expected. His vague connection with Tom had melded into something resembling real friendship, and he’d even managed to put aside his feelings of disgust whenever he thought about the Hanson brothers’ unhealthy relationship. However, that didn't mean there weren't certain issues. Spending twenty-four-hours a day with a virtual stranger was a new experience, and Tom was unlike anyone Booker had ever known. The young officer’s shy mutterings were often punctuated by long, awkward silences, making conversation difficult, and these idiosyncrasies grated heavily on his nerves. With not much to do, he had too much time to think, and at night, he found his mind constantly analyzing his housemate’s odd behavior. What bothered him most wasn’t Tom’s reticence per se, but more the strange way he looked at him whenever they spent time together. For some inexplicable reason, his friend had gone from barely making eye contact to scrutinizing his every move. The long, lingering looks had made for some uncomfortable exchanges, especially because on the odd occasion, he had helped Tom button his jeans because his motor skills still weren’t up to par. During such encounters, he had felt the invisible heat of the young officer’s gaze penetrating his flesh, stirring inside him thoughts he didn’t want to address. He’d found the physical contact so confronting, he’d recommended Tom wear sweatpants until the nerve damage in his wrist healed. But the proposition had not gone down well. Hurt by the suggestion, the young officer had moodily withdrawn, and from that moment on, he’d refused any offer of help. Although somewhat frustrated, Booker chose to ignore the petulant behavior. He was not one to bow down to emotional blackmail, and although it had taken several days, his friend’s icy demeanor had eventually thawed. It was a win of sorts, but Booker remained wary. He sensed a co-dependency in Tom, and it was a role he wasn’t willing to fulfill. With his brother on the run, Tom had the opportunity to reclaim his independence, and the dark-haired officer was determined to help him find his wings. Friendship was one thing, but he had the uncomfortable feeling he was becoming a substitute for Will, and with good reason. On their second night in the apartment, he’d checked on the young officer as he lay sleeping, and what he’d discovered had sent shockwaves of unease rippling through his body. At first, he thought he was mistaken, and switching to stealth mode, he’d crossed the room for a closer look. But as he approached the bed, his fears were soon confirmed. Peeking out from beneath Tom’s pillow were the sweatpants he’d loaned his friend a lifetime ago, the soft material clutched tightly in the sleeping officer’s hand in a display of childlike innocence. The sight and underlying message had unnerved him, and he’d quietly withdrawn to the safety of his makeshift bed. More than anything, he wished the other Jump Street officers would show an interest in supporting their comrade, thereby taking the focus off him as primary caregiver. But their only visitor was Fuller, who checked in every few days to see how they were coping. It was during one of these visits that Booker had considered pulling his captain aside and verbalizing his concerns, but something held him back. Whether it was loyalty to his friend or his own embarrassment, he wasn’t sure. All he did know for certain was he wasn’t comfortable confiding in his captain, and for the hundredth time, he wished Penhall would make an appearance so he could at least speak to someone he considered his peer.

With thoughts of Tom planted firmly in his mind, Booker abandoned the idea of a leisurely wank, and turning off the faucets, he stepped out of the tub. After drying off, he wrapped his towel around his waist and opened the bathroom door. The sound of voices immediately caught his attention, and he instinctively turned his head toward the television. When the cold, vacuous blackness of the blank screen met his eyes, a prickle of fear ran up and down his spine, and turning his head in the opposite direction, he stared at the apartment door. Since moving in with Tom, he’d made a habit of keeping the door’s security chain latched. Not that the flimsy links would stop Will Hanson from gaining access if he wanted to, but it would slow him down enough for those inside to gather their wits before facing a fully-fledged attack. What the dark-haired officer hadn’t factored into the equation, however, was the possibility Tom would willingly let his sibling into the apartment. But as he stared at the unlatched door, Booker realized he’d grossly underestimated his friend’s loyalty toward his brother. The wolf had come a-knockin’, and instead of screaming for help, the lamb, in his naivety, had opened the door and welcomed him inside with open arms.

A surge of adrenaline flooded Booker’s veins, accelerating his heart rate, and tip-toeing across the room, he picked his Smith and Wesson up off the coffee table. Holding the gun in both hands, he inched toward the partially open bedroom door, his weapon pointed downward, but ready to swing up at the slightest provocation. The voices inside the room grew steadily louder, and flattening himself against the wall, he paused to listen, his muscles braced in readiness.

“W-Will, don’t. Please! I t-told you, I d-don’t want to d-do that anymore.”

“Aw, c’mon, Tom-Tom. Just one more time, I promise I won’t hurt you. I love you.”

“I love you too, but you h-hurt me, r-really hurt me, and now everybody knows and—”

“You only care because of that Booker. Ever since you started working with him, things have changed.”

“N-No, they haven’t. I’ve always hated it. ALWAYS! It’s not normal, Will! It’s sick! Sick and perverted and I won’t let you—Stop! Don’t! Will, please! You’re hurting me, you’re HURTING ME!”

Tom’s terrified scream forced Booker into action and spinning around, he kicked open the door and trained his gun on the two men standing by the window. “Get your hands off him, motherfucker!”

Caught off guard, Will’s eyes widened in surprise. But his shock was fleeting and wrapping an arm around Tom’s throat, he pulled him into a chokehold. Using his brother’s boxer-clad body as a shield, he edged closer to the back of the room, and with the reflexes of a cat, he whipped out his own service weapon and pressed it against Tom’s temple. “Well, well,” he taunted. “I guess we have a Mexican standoff. Whatever will our hero do?”

Panic registered in Tom’s eyes. “W-Will? Wh-what are you doing?”

“Shut up, Tom-Tom,” Will growled, his maniacal gaze fixed on Booker. “Me and your knight in shining armor are gonna have a conversation about people stickin’ their noses in where they don’t belong. Isn’t that right, Lancelot?”

Beads of perspiration glistened on Booker’s naked torso, but when he spoke, his voice was clear and calm. “Will, put down the gun.”

“Why?” Will sneered, his arm tightening around Tom’s neck. “So you can take him away from me?”

Booker kept his gun trained on Will’s forehead. “That’s not what I wanna do, and you know it.”

When Will remained silent, the dark-haired officer adjusted his stance ever so slightly and tried a different tactic. “C’mon, man, put the gun down. Let’s talk about this.”

“There’s nothing left to talk about.”

“Yeah, there is,” Booker murmured. “But you have to let Tommy go so—”

“DON’T YOU SAY HIS NAME!” Will screamed, droplets of spittle flying from his lips. “HE’S NOT YOUR TOMMY, HE’S MY TOM-TOM! MINE!”

Real fear flickered in Booker’s dark eyes, the depthless pools shimmering like moonbeams dancing over the still surface of a lake. Untrained in hostage negotiations, he knew one false move could prove catastrophic. But he wasn’t about to give into the demands of a deranged lunatic either, and so in a desperate effort to appease, he attempted to appeal to Will’s fraternal side. “C’mon, man, you’re scaring him. You and I both know you don’t want to hurt him, so why don’t you let him go, and you and I can keep talking. Okay?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Tension rippled through the room, the wrath of power electrifying the air. Sweat prickled Will’s brow, and flicking out his tongue, he swept the tip over his lips, moistening the flesh before he spoke. “Because you’ll arrest me and I’ll go to prison.”

It was a valid point, and one Booker knew he needed to address. “Yeah, okay, you’re right,” he acknowledged. “I will arrest you, but if Tommy doesn’t press charges, maybe—”

“STOP CALLING HIM THAT!” Will yelled, his eyes flashing with insane fury. “HIS NAME ISN’T TOMMY, IT’S TOM-TOM! TOM...TOM!”

“D-Dennis?” Tom croaked, his hands gripping his brother’s forearm in a vain attempt to lessen the pressure crushing his windpipe.

Booker’s gaze flitted to Tom’s frightened face before he once again locked eyes with the eldest Hanson. “It’s okay, Tom,” he reassured in a calm voice. “He’s not going to hurt you. Are you, Will?”

Will’s panicked eyes darted wildly around the room. He was trapped in a situation of his own making, and he could feel his freedom slowly slipping away along with his sanity. Life had taken an unexpected U-turn, and he was no longer in control, no longer the master of his own destiny. Which left him only one choice. To end his pain, he needed to end a life, and wrapping his arm tighter around Tom’s neck, he pressed his mouth against his brother’s ear. “Forgive me, Tom-Tom,” he whispered, and closing his eyes, he squeezed the trigger.

Chapter Text

CoaS 29

“NOOOOOOO!”

Booker’s blood-curdling scream ricocheted around the room, the painful cry drowning out the residual vibration of the gunshot. He stood paralyzed, unable to breathe, unable to move, unable to do anything but watch in horror as the two men collapsed to the floor. The scent of blood assaulted his nostrils, the coppery aroma of death fighting for dominance over the acrid tang of burnt cordite tainting the air. But as much as he wanted to flee the brutality of the scene, he remained in position, his arms outstretched, his gun trained on the wall beside the bed. He didn’t need to see the body to confirm his worst fears, the blood and brain matter staining the paintwork told him everything he needed to know. Tom was dead, and at that precise moment, he knew he would do everything in his power to make sure the perpetrator fried.

Widening his stance, he fought to control the quaver in his voice as he issued his command. “Get up, you sonofabitch.”

From behind the bed came the sound of movement, but when a bloodied face peered out from behind the mattress, Booker did a double take. “T-Tom?”

Two frightened eyes stared out of a gory mask of sanguine fluid, their focus on Booker before flitting down toward the floor. “Will?”

“TOM, NO!” Booker yelled, and rushing forward, he vaulted over the bed and pulled Tom from his dead brother’s arms. Acting on instinct, he used one hand to shield his friend’s eyes, while dragging his body across the room.

As his senses returned, Tom’s shock turned into panic, and kicking out his legs, he started to struggle. “LET ME GO!” he screamed. “WILL! WILL! LET ME GO, I WANT TO SEE WILL! LET ME GO LET ME GO LET ME GO!”

Booker hugged the distressed officer close to his chest as he fought to get him through the door. “He’s gone, Tommy. He’s—”

“NOOOOOOO!”

The agonized wail shredded the thick blood-scented air, the animalistic howl bouncing off the walls of the small room. Distressed to the point of madness, Tom’s legs gave way, and the two men collapsed to the floor in a tangle of limbs. “WHY?” the young officer screamed hysterically. “WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?”

Pain ripped through Booker’s heart, and gathering Tom in his arms, he pulled him onto his lap. “Shh, baby,” he whispered into his friend’s blood-soaked hair. “It's okay. It’s gonna be okay.”

But as he continued to rock Tom’s trembling body, Booker knew the empty platitudes were a lie. Will Hanson was dead, and Tom’s life would never be the same again.

**

The sound of sirens split through the still April night. Booker had no recollection of dialing 9-1-1, and his brow furrowed in confusion as he stared at the phone in his hand, the incessant beep of the off-hook tone reminding him he hadn’t hung up after making the call. Lowering the receiver into its cradle, his eyes scanned the room, searching for Tom. For one terrifying moment, he thought his friend had returned to the bedroom, and his heart skipped a noticeable beat. But on closer inspection, he spied a figure huddled on the floor next to the bookcase. As he started to cross the room, he felt weirdly exposed, and it was then he realized he was naked. He had no idea what had happened to his towel, but he quickly concluded it must have come off during the scuffle to get Tom out of the bedroom and away from the sight of his dead brother. Not that he cared. His focus was on the distressed man cowering in the corner, not his own dignity, and sitting down next to his friend, he wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulders and waited for the police to arrive.

**

A steady stream of emergency services personnel moved in and out of the apartment, their faces set in grim masks of professionalism while they carried out their designated duties. On the sofa, Booker sat stiffly, one hand clutching Tom’s cold, lifeless fingers, the other gripping the armrest. Time had no meaning, his only focus the recollections filling the void inside his mind...a gunshot...blood...screaming...a gunshot...blood...screaming...a gunshot...blood...screaming...over and over like a 1940s Avant-garde movie stuck in a perpetual loop of flickering imagery. Death had invaded their lives in the most brutal way imaginable, the hand of darkness leaving a bloody imprint on both their souls. One man’s iniquities had destroyed whatever remained of their innocence, and they were forever tainted by the blood spilled inside the bedroom. Losing a loved one to suicide was one of life's most painful experiences, and the hurt left a lasting scar. Friends and family were often swamped with feelings of guilt, confusion, shame, anger, and trauma, and Booker knew it would take years before Tom came to terms with the senseless death...if ever. By ending his own life, Will had condemned his brother to a lifetime of therapy, and with it, a lifetime of survivor’s regret.

Out of the corner of his eye, the dark-haired officer saw a familiar figure approach, and releasing Tom’s hand, he stood up. “Coach.”

Observing Booker’s state of undress, Adam Fuller’s eyes bulged ever so slightly before his expression settled back into one of grave sobriety. “Are you both okay?”

Booker glanced down at Tom’s bloodstained face before addressing his captain. “I’m fine,” he murmured. “But Hanson...I think he’s in shock.”

The lines around Fuller’s eyes softened with understanding. “I’ve arranged for an ambulance to take him to St. Mary’s for observation.”

With a nod of acknowledgment, Booker turned away. “I’ll go with him.”

Fuller placed a hand on the officer’s arm, halting him midstep. “You might want to put some clothes on, son,” he advised in a quiet voice.

Looking down, Booker’s eyes widened in surprise, and he quickly cupped his hands over his exposed genitals. “Oh...I, uh, I had a towel, but I guess…”

His voice trailed off, the memory of Tom’s impassioned screams creating a lump in his throat. He could feel an emotional wave rising inside him, the surge of sentiment reaching a dizzying peak before crashing through his body in a tidal monsoon of sorrow and despair. Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes, and covering his face with his hands, he started to cry, quietly at first, but then with great, racking sobs he couldn’t control. His shoulders shook under the strain, and he barely felt the comforting arm circling his quivering body. But as his grief slowly ebbed away, he became aware of his captain’s close presence, and wiping a hand over his eyes, he sniffed loudly and took a step back. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Fuller replied in a soft fatherly tone. “Maybe you should take a break. I can go with Tom to the hospital and—”

“No,” Booker interrupted. “I think he’d feel more comfortable if I went with him.”

Fuller stared down at Tom before exhaling a weighty sigh. “Okay, get dressed while I retrieve Tom’s clothes from the bedroom. The crime scene investigators have left, and as you’ve already given your statement, you don’t need to wait for the coroner to arrive.”

It was a relief for Booker to have something to do, and turning away, he picked his bag up from its position next to the couch and pulled out a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt. Once dressed, Fuller handed him Tom’s clothing. “Help him change, and I’ll let the paramedics know he’s ready for transportation.”

With a nod of his head, Booker took the jeans and shirt from his captain, and squatting down next to Tom, he laid a hand on his knee. “Hey, Tommy. I’ve got your clothes. Let’s get you dressed then we can get you checked out at the hospital.”

Tom’s blank stare came into focus and looking up, he spoke in a barely audible voice. “I want to see him.”

Booker’s expression sobered. “Tom, I don’t think that’s a good—”

“I SAID, I WANT TO SEE HIM!”

A dozen heads turned in Tom’s direction, their eyes focused on the bloody face of the distraught officer. In a gesture of protectiveness, Booker attempted to use his body to shield his friend from view. “Okay,” he murmured. “But first you have to get dressed.”

“Booker,” Fuller warned.

“Cap’n,” Booker interrupted over his shoulder. “If he wants to see him, I think we should let him see him.”

A deep frown furrowed Fuller’s brow, and with a flick of his head, he gestured for the dark-haired officer to follow him.

Turning his attention back to Tom, Booker handed him his clothes. “Get dressed. I’ll be back in a minute,” and standing up, he followed his captain across the room. “What?”

Given the circumstances, Fuller decided to ignore the dark-haired officer’s impertinent tone and instead, he addressed the matter at hand. “Will Hanson took a bullet to the head,” he advised in a quiet voice. “That’s not something Tom needs to see and trust me, if he does see it, the memory will stay with him forever. Let him keep the recollections of his brother free from the violence that occurred inside that bedroom. He’s been through enough, let’s at least protect him from the brutal image of Will’s death.”

Booker’s jaw tightened. “Free from the violence?” he questioned through gritted teeth. “Tom’s lived with that sonofabitch’s violence for most of his life. Maybe he needs closure. Maybe seeing his brother’s lifeless body will finally give him the peace he’s been searching for since he was twelve fucking years old.”

The shocking statement had Fuller’s mouth dropping open in horror. “Since he was twelve?” he hissed. “Will was sexually abusing Tom since he was twelve?”

Realizing his mistake, Booker attempted to back-pedal. “Th-that’s not what I meant,” he stammered, his eyes flitting nervously from his captain to Tom and back again. “Wh-what I m-meant was—”

“Don’t lie to me, Booker.”

There was an edge to Fuller’s voice, a not so subtle warning for Booker to think carefully before he spoke again. Wiping a shaky hand over his mouth, the dark-haired officer glanced at Tom. As he watched his friend struggle to button his jeans, he thought his heart would break. He was about to betray Tom’s trust, and while snitching on a friend sent his moral compass into a spin, there was part of him that longed to offload the Hansons’ horrific secret. He felt bad, but not bad enough to prevent him from talking, and all he could do was hope if the young officer ever found out, he would find it in his heart to forgive him.

Turning back to face his captain, Booker expelled a weary sigh. “Okay, yeah, it’s true,” he finally admitted in a quiet voice. “Will did abuse Tom from an early age. It started after their father died. But it’s more complicated than that, Coach. Tom didn’t stop him, and I’m having a really hard time accepting he allowed it to happen. Why didn’t he fight back? Why did he let Will keep doing those things to him for all those years and not speak up, especially once he was old enough to say no? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost like he wanted it to happen...which is stupid, but it’s difficult not to think that way.”

Fuller’s gaze rested on Tom’s bowed head, but when he spoke, he addressed his question to Dennis. “Do you have an older brother, Booker?”

Taken aback, Booker quickly shook his head. “No, Cap’n, I have a sister.”

“Young boys look up to their older brothers,” Fuller continued in a soft voice, his gaze never leaving Tom’s blood-matted hair. “They idolize them, they want to be them. When Will first...when he approached Tom, seeking comfort from the emotional upheaval they were experiencing, Tom wanted to ease his brother’s pain, and so he didn’t protest. As the days turned into weeks, then months, and finally, years, he probably figured it was too late to speak out, and it almost became part of the norm. In a twisted way, he probably thought he owed Will a debt of gratitude for taking care of him after their mother died. So, don’t judge him because you don’t understand the reasons behind his loyalty. Tom was too immature to know how to deal with such a monumental change to his life. He lost one parent, then another. Will was all he had left, and I guess he figured it was his duty to keep him happy.”

It was a heartfelt speech, and one of the longest Booker had ever heard his captain utter. He mulled over every word in his mind, assessing the validity of each phrase before concluding his superior was one hundred percent right. Tom was a casualty of his brother’s clever manipulation, and to think otherwise, only reinforced the misguided concept of victim blaming.

Casting his gaze back in Tom’s direction, Booker locked eyes with the young officer, and his heart plummeted. But it wasn’t the dried blood coating his friend’s face that had his heart ripping in two. It was the little boy lost look in his eyes and the deflated hunch of his shoulders that made him want to gather him in his arms and hug away his pain. Tom wasn’t just broken, he was damaged, and Booker wasn’t sure he would ever recover from the shock of losing his brother in such a violent and brutal manner.

“Booker?”

Turning his head, Booker offered his captain a small apologetic smile. “You’re right, Coach. None of this is Tom’s fault. Which is why I think he needs to see Will one last time. He needs to know he’s finally free from the pain his brother inflicted on him, but he also needs to say goodbye.”

It was on the tip of Fuller’s tongue to say, “Be it on your head,” but he refrained from uttering the words. If anyone knew Tom’s state of mind, it was Booker, and he made the decision to trust the brash, yet insightful officer’s instincts. Tom needed closure, and if seeing his dead brother’s body lying on the floor helped him on the long path toward healing, then who was he to argue? And so, with a reluctant sigh, he gave his permission. “Make it brief, I want Hanson checked by a doctor as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Cap’n,” Booker murmured, and taking a deep breath, he walked over to Tom and placed an arm around his sagging shoulders. “The coroner’s ready to take Will. Do you still want to see him?”

Drawing comfort from the warm embrace, Tom looked up, his eyes huge in his pale, drawn face. “I need to see him,” he whispered, his voice choking with emotion. “I know you don’t understand, but I have to tell him I’m sorry and I forgive him.”

Tom was right, Booker didn't understand, especially the part where his friend was sorry. But he kept his thoughts to himself, and taking Tom by the hand, he gently squeezed his fingers. “Take your time. I’ll be right beside you if you need me.”

Hand in hand, the two officers walked into the bedroom. Tom stopped at the foot of the bed, his muscles tensing in preparation. From his vantage point, he could see the toe of Will’s shoe peeking out from beneath a white sheet, and his heart started to race. He could no longer deny what he knew to be true. Will was dead, and he was, for all intents and purposes, alone.

Releasing Booker’s hand, Tom walked to the side of the bed and slowly dropped to his knees. His hand hovered over Will’s shrouded body before coming to rest on the top of the bloody sheet covering his brother’s head. A single tear trickled down his cheek, and sniffing loudly, he made his peace. “I love you, Will,” he whispered. “And I know you loved me. None of this was your fault. I let you believe it was okay for you to do those things to me when I should have told you to stop. Maybe if I had, none of this would have happened. Anyway, give Mom and Dad my love. Tell them I miss them, and I’ll see you all someday soon.”

The final sentence sent a shiver of foreboding down Booker’s spine. Grief after any loss was to be expected, but when someone took their own life, the bereavement process for those left behind was particularly complicated, leaving some at a higher risk of suicide themselves. It was a sobering thought, and one Booker didn’t take lightly. And while he wasn’t sure Tom’s statement implied anything sinister, he made a silent vow to keep a close eye on his friend, just in case. Will’s death was sad, but he knew in his heart, if he lost Tom, his world would implode.

When cold fingers entwined in his own, he realized Tom was standing next to him. “Ready to go?” he asked in a gentle voice.

“No,” Tom replied truthfully, “But I think Will is,” and without looking back, he led Booker from the room.

Chapter Text

CoaS 30

Inside Booker’s tiny apartment, the rhythmic thrum of water hitting tiles did little to banish the bereft mood chilling the atmosphere. The dark-haired officer sat stiffly in a battered armchair, one hand clutching a glass of whiskey, the other resting on his knee, his fingers clenched, his knuckles shining white through the taut skin. His gaze remained fixed on the small wall clock mounted above the bookcase, his mind tuned into each metronomic tick as the second hand loudly announced the passing of time. When the two officers had returned from the hospital, Tom had followed Booker into the apartment, and without uttering a word, had walked into the bathroom and closed the door. Moments later, the sound of the shower had reached Booker’s ears, a telltale sign the ritualistic cleansing had begun. He was astute enough to know the young officer wasn’t just ridding himself of the dried blood contaminating his hair and skin, he was purging his mind of the memory of his brother’s suicide. It was classic stress-induced behavior, and Booker hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Shifting his gaze to the bathroom door, the dark-haired officer worked the muscles in his jaw. Tom had been in the shower for nearly an hour, and he wondered how long he should leave it before he intervened. Another minute? Ten? Thirty? What was the acceptable time limit on showering after witnessing your brother’s suicide and did he, as an outsider, have the right to enforce it? But as the minutes ticked by, his unease slowly morphed into real fear, and a cold prickle of panic snaked under his skin. What if Tom were lying on the bathroom floor, a bloody razor clutched in one hand, his wrists sliced open in a final act of fraternal unity? It was a terrifying thought, and once the image had planted itself in Booker’s mind, he couldn’t rid himself of the frightening vision. His guilt was already consuming him in a raging torrent of what-ifs and determined not to make the same mistake again, he came to a decision. Interrupting his friend in the shower might not win him any brownie points on the friendship front, but he certainly wasn’t about to sit back and allow another Hanson brother to intentionally end their life through a self-inflicted act of violence. He knew he would never forgive himself if his inaction failed to save another life, and as he focused on the deadly possibilities, the glass of whiskey slipped from his fingers and tumbled to the floor, spilling its contents over the worn linoleum. Startled out of his stupor, he jumped to his feet and sprinted across the room. Pulling up outside the bathroom door, he raised a hand and banged his fist on the chipped wooden paneling. “Tom!”

An ominous silence followed his frightened cry and with his fear mounting, he frantically jiggled the door handle. When the door didn’t budge, he yelled again, this time louder. “TOMMY! IS EVERYTHING OKAY? TOMMY, ANSWER ME!”

The continuous sound of running water drifted through the crack under the door, its hypnotic rhythm fueling Booker’s anxiety. “I’M COMING IN!” he warned, and pressing down on the handle, he rammed his shoulder into the door. The wooden frame splintered under the full force of his weight, and with a crash, he burst into the bathroom.

Tom sat in the bath, his knees drawn up to his chin, his arms hugging his bent legs. Cold water cascaded over his body, his slight frame shaking violently from the chill. But despite his body’s suffering, his eyes were vacant, his mind no longer in the present. Recycled memories played through his head, the snapshot visions taking him to a time where the parents he adored still protected him. He was once again back in his happy place, and he wanted to stay there forever, free from the harsh existence of the real world, where the pain of his insurmountable loss became nothing more than a bad dream he could and would, eventually wake up from.

Shocked into action, Booker leaped forward and turned off the faucet. Grabbing a towel off the rail, he knelt next to the bath and wrapped the fluffy material around Tom’s quivering shoulders. “Jesus, Tom,” he murmured, his hand gently wiping the thick strands of wet hair from the young officer’s eyes. “What the hell are you doing?”

The tenderness of Booker’s touch brought Tom’s vision back into focus, and turning his head, he stared at his friend with tear-filled eyes. “I killed him,” he whispered, his voice choking with emotion. “If I’d let him do what he wanted, he’d still be alive.”

A shiver of repulsion ran down the length of Booker’s spine, and wetting his lips, he struggled to find the right words to allay Tom’s guilt. “You didn’t kill him, Tom. Will was sick and giving in to his demands would have only prolonged his illness. I just wish I’d done more to help you both. If I had, maybe none of this would have happened.”

Tom’s head shook slowly from side to side. “It’s not your fault. You weren’t to know.”

“I guess,” Booker answered in a quiet voice. But his friend’s reassurance didn’t lessen his own feelings of regret. Whichever way he looked at it, he was partly responsible for Will’s death, and the knowledge would haunt him till the day he died.

In no mood to dwell on the whys and wherefores of his and Tom’s culpability, Booker stood up. “C’mon, let’s get you warmed up, you’re turning blue.”

The lame joke barely registered in Tom’s mind, but he allowed his friend to help him from the bath. Holding the off-white towel close to his body, he stood shivering on the worn bath mat as Booker fussed around him. The night’s events had left him mind-numbingly exhausted, and all he wanted was to crawl into his own bed, fall asleep and never wake up. But circumstances had him trapped in Booker’s apartment, at least for one night, and unable to deal with the situation, he closed his eyes and allowed his mind to travel back in time, where he once again, lost himself in the comforting memories of his past.

**

Booker rolled over on the couch, the persistent ache in his right hip pulling him toward consciousness. As his eyes fluttered open, the low buzz of voices drew his gaze toward the small television perched on top of a wooden cabinet. Disoriented, he stared in confusion at the black and white movie playing on the screen. He had no memory of watching the Spaghetti Western, but as the thick veil of sleep slowly lifted, clarity returned, and the memory of the night’s events swamped his mind.

After finding his friend in the shower, he’d helped him dry before leading him into the bedroom. He’d found an old pair of sweats, and laying them on the bed, he’d instructed Tom to dress while he went in search of the vial of painkillers. But when he’d returned, the young officer was still standing in the middle of the room, the off-white towel clutched around his shoulders, his expression vacant. It was a troubling sight, and Booker had stood for a moment, wondering what to do. He’d briefly considered calling for an ambulance, but he felt guilty abandoning his friend in his hour of need. And so, against his better judgment, he’d gently coaxed Tom over to the edge of the bed and sat him down. When Tom remained unresponsive, he’d squatted down next to him, and spoken in a soft, soothing voice until his friend’s eyes had shown a flicker of recognition. But with the slow dawning of awareness, came a new set of problems. As Tom’s mind left behind the comforting memories of his past, something inside him broke. His face had crumpled, the agony of his loss distorting his beautiful features, and opening his mouth, he’d drawn in a loud, ragged breath before releasing all his torment in one long, distressing howl of pain.

The memory sent a shiver through Booker’s sleep-warm flesh, and sitting up, he stared at the partially open bedroom door. No matter what else he faced in life, he knew the inhuman wail would stay with him until his dying day. It was a sound unlike anything he’d ever heard before, and he hoped he’d never hear it again. The intensity of raw pain had gouged a hole in his soul, creating a cavernous crater of grief too large to fill, and at that moment, he hated Will. Not only had he stolen Tom’s childhood, but by taking his own life, he’d also saddled the young officer with a lifetime of emotional scarring.

The sudden need to check on his friend had Booker rising to his feet, and switching off the television, he padded over to his bedroom and pushed open the door. Steeped in shadow, the room projected a mood of cold desolation. A lone street light shone through the window, strained through the canopy of leaves and branches of the majestic oak growing out of the cracked pavement below. At first, Booker thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but as he moved further into the room, a cold draught of fear ran down his spine. Rumpled bed linen lay to one side of the bed, the discarded duvet revealing an empty space. Traces of blood speckled the undersheet, the crimson stains silently confessing a horrifying story of suffering and abuse. But the grim scene barely registered in Booker’s mind. It was the absence of Tom’s physical presence that concerned him, and pinpricks of fear chilled his bare torso. His friend was missing, and although he didn’t want to face the possibility, he knew there was a real chance Tom had succumbed to his grief and committed an act of self-harm.

Spinning around, Booker rushed from the room, and without thought for his friend’s privacy, he stormed into the bathroom. “Tom!”

The empty room mocked him with the echo of his own panicked voice. “Shit!” he exclaimed, and ignoring his state of undress, he dashed toward the apartment door. Pulling up with a start, he instinctively reached into the bowl sitting on a wooden bureau and scrabbled for his car keys. When his fingers found nothing but air, he cursed again, and flicking the light switch, he stared into the empty bowl. It took a moment, but his mind finally registered what his eyes refused to believe. His keys were missing, and that meant only one thing. Tom had stolen his Cadillac.

“DAMMIT!” he yelled, his fingers raking anxiously through his sleep-tousled hair. But while he directed a small part of his anger toward Tom, for the most part, he was furious at himself for leaving his friend alone. After all that had happened, he should have known the young officer was mentally unstable, and that meant he should have kept a closer eye on him instead of falling asleep. But as he silently berated himself for being such a fool, a loud voice inside his head told him to pull himself together and think. Yes, he’d made a mistake, but there was no time for regrets. He needed to figure out where Tom had gone and get himself there as quickly as possible or he might just end up with more than Will’s blood on his hands.

Hurrying into his bedroom, he quickly dressed. His first stop was the most obvious, and after calling for a cab, he took one last look around his apartment and rushed out the door.

**

Yellow and black police tape dangled uselessly from the edge of Tom’s apartment door, the limp plastic strip reminding Booker of a discarded snakeskin. It was a belated warning, an innocuous sign alerting those who passed of a crisis that was no longer a threat. But for the dark-haired officer, the danger remained very real and pushing open the door, he stepped inside the dimly lit apartment.

A frantic swishing met his ears, and he paused, his brow knitting in confusion. “Tom?” he questioned as he moved toward the unidentified sound. “Is that you?”

As he approached the bedroom, the strange whispering sound grew louder, and his heart reacted by palpitating several beats faster. The idea of entering the room of the most horrific scene he’d ever witnessed terrified him, but despite his reservations, he felt duty bound to check on Tom. But it wasn’t because Fuller had entrusted the young officer into his care. His sense of responsibility ran far deeper than any assignment. Because he genuinely cared for Tom, the intense pain and immeasurable grief radiating from the young officer was causing him an insurmountable amount of suffering. He physically hurt for his friend, and he wanted to comfort him. If he had it in his power, he would have gladly switched places and taken on all the pain and grief himself. But that was a pipe dream. Through no fault of his own, Will’s suicide was Tom’s cross to bear, and nothing he did would change that fact. Only time would lessen his friend's suffering, and even then, it wouldn’t end it completely. All Booker could hope was that Tom would seek professional help, and then maybe, just maybe, he could move forward with his life and once again, find happiness.

Stopping outside the partially open bedroom door, Booker took a moment to compose himself. He had no idea what he would find when he entered what he now thought of as the Vortex of Hell. The whole situation was playing havoc with his confidence, and he found himself starting to doubt his abilities as a cop. Police officers were trained for such events, and it surprised him he wasn’t immune to the panic racing through his heart. Adrenaline yes, panic no. But after finding Tom bloodied, broken, and handcuffed in the bathroom his belief in himself had taken a nosedive. He should have been more aware, he should have known the reason behind Tom’s odd behavior had something to do with his brother. Then, to top it off, he’d failed as a negotiator, and his lack of competence had resulted in Will taking his own life. In his eyes, not only was he a screw-up, he had neglected the welfare of the one person who needed him most...Tom. And he knew if he walked into the Hanson bathroom and found his friend injured, or worse still, dead, he would give up his badge and walk away from the job he loved. It wasn’t about being a martyr, it was about being able to live with himself, and if he failed Tom, then, in his opinion, he wasn’t fit to wear a uniform. But first, he had to face his demons, and with that thought in mind, he took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

Tom sat on the floor, a bucket of soapy water beside him. Wide-eyed, Booker watched as he dipped a large scrubbing brush into the plastic pail and proceeded to scour Will’s blood and brain matter off the pale blue paintwork of the bedroom wall. There were no tears, no emotion, just a dogged determination to get the job done. But for Booker, it was another terrifying chapter in a book of horror stories. As he stared at his friend, he realized that for all his efforts, all Tom had managed to create was a ghoulish epitaph. Instead of erasing the shocking evidence of his brother's violent death, he’d commemorated it in a terrifying mural of blood and brains and the tears of those left behind. The scene was almost worse than Booker had imagined, and hot bile rose in the back of his throat. But he managed to force it down and stepping into the room, he announced his arrival. “Tommy.”

When he didn’t receive an answer, he walked over to his friend and squatted down beside him. “Tom, you need to stop. This isn’t helping. Let’s go back to my place, and we can talk about how we’re going to deal with all this. Okay?”

“I have to clean up,” Tom muttered as he frantically scrubbed at the bloody streaks smearing the wall. “Will hates it when I make a mess.”

Swallowing down his reservations, Booker reached out a hand and lightly grasped Tom’s shoulder. “Tom—”

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” Tom yelled, his body jerking sideways. “DO YOU HEAR ME? DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME! YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, YOU'RE NOT MY FUCKING BRO—”

The last word hitched in his throat, and choking back a sob, he buried his face in the crook of his arm. He’d tried his damnedest to escape the memory of Will’s suicide, but he could no longer ignore the cold, hard facts. His brother was dead, and no matter how much he tried to dodge the truth, Will was never coming back. Finis. It’s a wrap. End of fucking story. He was now alone.

“Oh, G-God, he’s gone,” he sobbed, his shoulders shuddering with pent-up emotion. “He’s r-really gone.”

Watching Tom’s stoic demeanor dissolve into a flood of tears was difficult to watch, and a sharp pain stabbed at Booker’s heart. He had no real words of comfort, and so he pulled his friend into his arms and whispered empty platitudes. “Shh, baby, it’s okay,” he murmured. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Leaning into Booker’s warm embrace, Tom savored the intimacy that had been lacking in his life for so long. “Wh-Why did he leave me?” he sobbed, his tears soaking the front of the dark-haired officer’s shirt. “Wh-Why didn’t he l-love me enough to stay?”

A wave of emotion washed over Booker and pressing his lips against Tom’s scalp, he lightly kissed the top of his head. “I think he was in too much pain to stay, Tom,” he murmured into his friend's sweet-smelling hair. “And he did love you, don’t ever doubt that. He just showed it in the wrong way.”

Soothed by the gentleness of Booker’s touch, Tom closed his eyes and allowed himself to take comfort from the reassuring words. He may have lost a brother, but he’d also gained a friend. And although Booker would never replace Will, he hoped one day, he might accept him into his heart in such a way, he could experience the one thing lacking in his life...real physical love.

Chapter Text

CoaS 31

Five days later

In an unspoken agreement, Tom had packed a bag and officially moved into Booker’s apartment. The dark-haired officer tried his damnedest to make the living arrangement work, but life in the cramped quarters was proving problematic. Tom spent most of the day asleep in the bedroom, the door closed, the defiant act a clear warning for his friend to leave him alone. It wasn’t ideal. Being relegated to the couch in his own home was an inconvenience Booker could have done without, but he understood the reasons behind Tom’s behavior. The young officer needed time to process his brother’s death. Time and space. But as the days dragged by, he realized he could no longer ignore the elephant in the room. The coroner had cleared Will’s body for release, but Tom still hadn’t organized a funeral. The dark-haired officer had considered broaching the subject with Fuller and asking for his help, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized it was a bad idea. As much as Tom respected their captain, they weren’t close, and discussing personal details about his brother’s life might prove awkward with their commander in the room. And so, after much soul-searching, he rose early, showered, dressed, and with the words of his scripted speech playing through his mind, he knocked on the bedroom door.

Silence met his first knock, and for the briefest of moments, he almost took the coward’s way out and walked away. But he knew he couldn’t avoid the conversation forever, and knocking again, he turned the handle and cracked open the door. “Tom? Can we talk?”

The smell of stale sweat and fevered nightmares greeted Booker, the sour, pungent odor hitting him in the face like a fist. Wrinkling his nose, he walked into the room and pulling back the curtains, he threw open the window. A warm spring breeze wafted into the room, the channel of air rhythmically caving and billowing the sheer drapes adorning the glass pane. He breathed deeply, the scent of hickory and oak intermingled with exhaust fumes preferable to the musty smell of body odor. He couldn’t remember the last time Tom had showered, but judging by the smell, it was a least a few days. But all that was about to change. Grief was one thing, depression was another, and he’d be damned if he’d continue to sit idly by and watch the dreaded black dog drag his friend into the dark, empty void of reckless despair. Life was a gift, every new breath a blessing, and it was time to support Tom by actively helping him move forward. Laying Will to rest was the first, and probably the most challenging step of the intervention, and though he questioned his ability, he knew he had no choice but to man up and give it his best shot.

Turning around, he stared at the rumpled bed. Tom’s brown hair peeked out from beneath a swathe of covers, the sleep-mussed tresses bringing a sad smile to the dark-haired officer’s lips. The vision reminded him of a small, vulnerable child and his heart skipped a beat. Shutting out the world wasn’t helping Tom deal with his grief, it was only masking the symptoms. The problem was, sleep did afford his friend some peace from the horror of his brother’s death and waking him would cast him right back into the harsh light of reality. It was a no-win situation, and he felt like a complete bastard, but needs must when the devil drives, and moving forward, he laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder and gave it a shake. “Tom.”

A disgruntled moan sounded from beneath the covers. Encouraged, Booker gave another shake. “Tommy, wake up.”

Seconds passed before the duvet moved and Tom’s bleary eyes peered out from beneath the protection of the bedclothes. “What?”

Perching on the edge of the mattress, Booker exhaled a weighty sigh. “We need to talk.”

Disinterested, Tom snuggled back down beneath the covers. “I’m sleeping.”

“You’re always sleeping,” Booker pointed out. “And it’s not healthy. It’s time for you to sort things out.”

Slowly pushing himself to a sitting position, Tom rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “What things?”

Known for his forthright approach, Booker came straight to the point. “Will’s funeral. The coroner has officially ruled his death a suicide. It's time to lay him to rest.”

Tom’s eyes bugged ever so slightly, the pale pink of his sleep-warmed cheeks slowly fading away. He couldn’t believe he’d actually left his brother lying in the morgue of the local coroner. His bereavement was so consuming, his mind had switched to survival mode, and he’d blanked out all conscious thoughts of his brother’s death. It wasn’t unusual. Grief was a profound and complex mixture of emotions. But now his mind was back in the game, he had no choice but to face the cold hard truth yet again. He’d buried both his parents, and now he found himself facing the daunting task of burying his brother. It was like experiencing Will’s death all over again and his eyes glassed over with unshed tears. But he bravely blinked them back, and mustering all his courage, he offered his friend a shaky smile. “I can’t believe I forgot about the funeral.”

Booker laid a reassuring hand on his knee. “It doesn’t matter. We can organize it together. Do you want me to set up a meeting with a funeral home?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

A relieved smile relaxed the muscles in Booker’s face. “Okay, I’ll do it today. Now, how ‘bout you take a shower, ‘cause I hate to break it to you, man, you really stink.”

The observation brought a faint flicker of amusement to Tom’s eyes. “Yeah, I really do, don’t I?”

“Little bit,” Booker laughed and rising to his feet, he headed toward the door. “Get cleaned up, and I’ll make us some breakfast.”

“Okay,” Tom murmured. But his mind wasn’t on the bacon and eggs he knew Booker would offer up as a bribe to get him eating again. It was on an image of his dead brother’s face, once again screaming at him that he’d let him down.

**

Two phone calls later, and Booker had not only organized the same biohazard remediation contractor to clean the bedroom in Tom’s apartment, but he’d also managed to set up an appointment with a local funeral home. He felt relieved Tom had managed to pull himself together long enough to take some of the responsibility off his shoulders. But as they sat in the funeral parlor, the bright sunlight streaming in through the glass patio doors warming their flesh, he could sense his friend’s growing unease. Anxiety rolled off the young officer in powerful waves, his newly-acquired habit of linking his fingers and rolling his thumbs in a rhythmic cycle of three rolls forward, three rolls back, slowly driving him crazy. But instead of slapping a hand over the offending digits, he averted his gaze to the small patio garden. His clouded expression turned to one of curiosity as a lone house sparrow hopped over to the glass doors and peered in. While not a pretty bird, the chestnut brown plumage flanking its dark gray crown gave it a certain air of nobility. The two eye-balled each other for several seconds, their heads tilted, their eyes communicating a silent message of interspecies unity before the sparrow turned and hopped into a bush, leaving Booker wondering if it had a family nesting in the foliage.

At that moment, a door at the side of the room opened, revealing a tall, thin man with a large hooked nose. He was the epitome of an undertaker, and Tom stifled a giggle. He could feel his hysteria rising, the violent tide of emotion coiling through his body squeezing the air from his lungs. But when Booker’s hand covered both of his, he drew strength from the warmth of his touch, and inhaling a deep breath, he stood up.

“Please, take a seat,” the man instructed after shaking Tom’s hand. “My name’s Terrance.”

“Tom,” Tom murmured. “And this is my friend, Dennis.”

Terrance gave Booker’s hand a limp shake before turning his attention back to Tom. “Firstly, please allow me to express how sorry I am for your loss. Losing a loved one is never easy, but you can trust the staff at Fereday Funeral Home to guide you through the arrangements necessary to create a meaningful ceremony that celebrates the unique life of...” He glanced at his paperwork before continuing his spiel. “Your brother, William’.”

“Will.”

A frown creased the man’s brow. “I’m sorry?”

“His name’s Will. Not William. Will.”

“Of course. My apologies,” Terrance murmured, his hand surreptitiously sliding a glossy folder across the coffee table. As he continued to talk, his fingers flicked through the pages of the booklet before coming to rest on a page of expensive looking coffins. “I’m sure the two of you were very close, and I know you would want to give him a send-off befitting a valued member of our illustrious police force. May I recommend this magnificent mahogany casket with ornate bronze handles. It’s one of our most popular, and I think it speaks of your love for the deceased.”

Tom rubbed a nervous hand over his mouth. “I...uh...I don’t—”

Booker’s palm slammed down on the glossy pages, the sudden thump cutting Tom off mid-sentence. Poker-faced, Terrance turned his attention to the dark-haired officer, his right eyebrow rising in question. “Is there a problem?”

“Yes, there’s a problem,” Booker snapped. “I won’t sit here and watch you guilt my friend into spending more money than he needs to. So, why don’t you take a hike and let us talk in private.”

Terrance’s enormous nostrils flared ever so slightly and rising to his feet, he gave a brief nod. “As you wish. Please press the buzzer next to the door when you’re ready to discuss details."

As he watched the man walk into the adjoining room and close the door, the muscles in Booker’s shoulders relaxed. And while he felt bad for losing his temper, he didn’t feel bad for protecting Tom. The young officer was in a vulnerable mindset, and he wasn’t about to let an unscrupulous funeral director take advantage of his friend, even if Fereday’s did have a reputation for being the best in the city.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

Booker turned, a reassuring smile curling his lips. “Don’t worry, we can find another funeral home. You don’t have to put up with that shit.”

A deep sadness projected from Tom’s eyes. “No, it’s not that. It’s just...I don’t know what casket to choose because I don’t know what Will would like.”

Pain stabbed at Booker’s heart and placing an arm around Tom’s shoulders, he gave a friendly squeeze. “Maybe this time, it's not so much about what he’d like, but more about what you like. And you don’t need some asshole undertaker to help you figure it out.”

“Do you really think so?”

The pitch of Tom’s voice reminded Booker of a small child seeking reassurance, and widening his smile, he offered up one of his lame jokes. “Of course. I’m Dennis Booker, I know everything.”

It was the lighthearted interaction Tom needed to keep battling through the dark curtain of depression enveloping him, and he offered his friend a faint smile. “Dream on, hotshot.”

Pleased his friend hadn’t buckled under the strain, Booker posed the obvious question. “So, what do you want to do? Do you want to stay here and deal with Gonzo, or shall we find another funeral home?”

“Stay here. I just want to get it over with.”

With a nod, Booker picked up the display book and handed it to Tom. “Take your time.”

In a daze, Tom leafed through the glossy pages, his mind barely registering the different caskets and coffins displayed within. He was about to choose Will’s final resting place, dooming him to an eternity inside a seven-foot taffeta-lined box. And as one photo blurred into the next, he hoped whatever casket he picked, his brother would finally find peace.

Chapter Text

CoaS 32

Seven days later

Tom stood at the edge of his brother’s gravesite, his eyes fixed on the mahogany-colored casket lying at the bottom of the six-foot hole. The graveside service had taken less than ten minutes, the only mourners himself, Booker, and Captain Fuller. The officiating celebrant had spoken fondly of a man he didn’t know, respectfully acknowledging Will’s service to the community while blissfully unaware of his lewd, criminal behavior. For Tom, it was an unfitting send off for the brother he’d adored, but for Booker, it was an appropriate ending for the cruel, sadistic officer who had made his friend's life a misery. In death, Will was friendless and alone, which was somewhat apt, considering he’d forced Tom to live in social isolation all his adult life. However, for Booker, it still wasn’t enough, and he was mindful of keeping his hatred toward the deceased in check. He’d managed to hide his contempt during the short eulogy, but it was a struggle. Police officer or not, Will did not deserve the accolades bestowed upon him, and he’d wanted to scream about the hypocrisy of it all. But he’d remained silent, his jaw set, his face an unreadable mask, while inside his head, he’d thanked whichever God was listening for giving Tom a second chance at life.

As the celebrant approached Tom and offered him some well-worn platitudes, Fuller motioned for Booker to follow him. The two men took a short walk across the perfectly manicured lawn and stopped beneath a large white oak, the thick overhanging canopy of leaves shielding them from the afternoon sun. Perspiration slicked Booker’s skin, the damp patches under his arms staining his navy-blue shirt. But his discomfort was more a testament of his pent-up tension rather than a reaction to the mild spring weather. He’d taken the burden of worry to new dizzying heights, his concern for his friend physically churning his stomach. Tom was unpredictable, calm one moment, anxiety-ridden the next, and he’d had no idea how he would react during the burial service. The young officer, however, had surprised him. It appeared his friend had managed to diffuse the ticking time bomb of emotion inside him, making for an uneventful interment. But the uneasy feeling in Booker’s gut remained. He had no way of knowing if Tom were really okay or if it were the proverbial calm before the storm. Only time would tell, but he knew if it all turned to shit, he would be there to pick up the pieces.

“How are you holding up?”

Booker turned and faced his superior, his dark eyes blinking against the harsh sunlight filtering in through the thick-veined leaves. “I'm fine, Cap’n,” he replied in a terse voice. “But Tom could have really used some support today.”

Exhaling a weighty sigh, Fuller cast a glance in Tom’s direction before addressing the dark-haired officer. “Don’t be too hard on them, Booker. They’re still coming to terms with Tom’s rape. Will was one of their own, it’s a lot to process.”

Fuller sounded tired, the strained pitch of his voice matching the pained look in his eyes. But his captain’s weary countenance didn’t deter Booker from making his point. He was pissed off, and he didn’t care who knew it. “This isn’t about Will, Coach. It’s about Tom. You can make excuses for them, but the way I see it, they failed him, just like they always have.”

Once again, Fuller’s gaze drifted toward Tom, lingering longer this time before settling back on the angry officer. “Maybe,” he replied cautiously. “Or maybe they did Hanson a favor. Will wasn’t just his brother, he was also his rapist, and if Penhall and the others had turned up, they would have watched his every move, waiting to see how he reacted. Do you really think that’s what Tom would have wanted? Being the center of attention would have probably brought on a panic attack, and I think he's suffered enough, don't you?”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it,” Booker shot back, his voice dripping with rancor. “This isn’t about sparing Tom’s feelings. They didn’t come because they’re nothing more than a bunch of cowards.”

Although his young subordinate made a valid point, Fuller remained impartial. The past was no longer his priority. He needed all his officers back in the game, including Booker, and the only way to achieve his goal was to push the friendship part of their relationship to one side and assert his authority. “It doesn’t matter now. The funeral’s over, and we need to look to the future. I want you back at the chapel first thing tomorrow. You and Penhall have a new case.”

The information took Booker by surprise. “I thought Penhall was undercover at Westview with Ioki?”

Fuller’s jaw tightened. He wasn’t happy the commissioner had shut down the assignment before his officers could get a lead on who was behind the operation, but his loyalty to his superior prevented him from revealing his disappointment to Booker. “The Westview case is closed. Penhall and Ioki busted Carson and his friends last week. They’ll spend time in juvie, and the D.E.A. will continue the investigation.”

“But—”

“It’s over, Booker,” Fuller stated in a no-nonsense voice. “As of tomorrow, you and Penhall are assigned to an arson case involving two schools. I’ll brief you both in the morning.”

A moody pout formed on Booker’s lower lip. “And Tom? Who’s going to look out for him.”

In the distance, the disruptive sound of a lawnmower cut through the stillness. Moments later, the invigorating scent of freshly cut grass wafted through the air, the earthy aroma stimulating both men’s senses. Booker waited, his impatience mounting, his hands clenching into tight fists. But when Fuller did eventually speak, they were not the words the dark-haired officer wanted to hear. “As of now, he’s no longer your responsibility. I’ve arranged a meeting with the departmental psychologist. Once I’m satisfied Hanson’s fit for work, he can return to the chapel.”

Fearing he might say something he later regretted, Booker looked away. His eyes immediately found Tom, and he watched as the celebrant laid a comforting hand on his shoulder before walking away, leaving the young officer alone by his brother’s graveside. A glimmer of sadness shone from Booker’s dark eyes, and it was then he knew his relationship with Tom was no longer bound by the burden of responsibility assigned to him by his superior. It was all about friendship, and whatever happened next, he would stand by the young officer’s side, for however long he needed him.

**

As the two officers entered Booker’s apartment, Tom felt the stress of the day crushing down on him. All his pent-up emotion was brimming to the surface, threatening to spill at any moment. He was a powder keg of anxiety, and all he wanted to do was go to sleep and bury his grief beneath the comforting dreams of his past. But as he’d given up the luxury of Booker’s bed in exchange for the couch, he had no option but to tough it out. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he owed his friend a debt of gratitude, and the last thing he wanted to do was offend the one person who had stood by his side through the worst moments of his life. And so, with thoughts of Booker’s friendship spurring him on, he flopped down on the couch and prepared himself for the inevitable awkward small talk that always seemed to follow a funeral service. In need of a distraction, he switched on the television and flipped through the channels, his mind barely registering the flickering images. All he could think about was his brother’s decaying corpse rotting in its taffeta-lined coffin, the flesh sloughing off until all that remained were two-hundred and six bones, and thirty-two teeth. Then, as time wore on, Will’s skeleton would reunite with the earth from which it was created. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, it was the cycle of life, the ultimate ending for every living being, and yet, for Tom, it was still too painful to accept. The brother he had loved with all his heart and hated with every fiber of his soul was destined to become nothing more than fertilizer. But the more he thought about it, the more he felt a desire to join him. He couldn’t help but wonder if lying in a box six feet underground was the key to finding peace. And if it were, then maybe death wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

“Are you okay?”

Tom’s head whipped around, his look one of confusion. “Huh?”

Compassion softened Booker’s features. “I asked if you were okay, which was a stupid question because of course you’re not. How could you be?”

Tom’s profound sense of gratitude had him digging deep, and taking a calming breath, he managed to gift his friend a small smile. “I’m fine. Honestly. Just a little tired, you know?”

Booker did know, and it wasn’t even his sibling lying in a six-foot hole. His back ached, the muscles across his shoulders bunched so stiffly, he felt like a tightly wound spring ready to uncoil at the slightest provocation. Somehow, Tom had managed to keep his emotions in check during the funeral, but how long would it take before he once again spun out of control? An hour? A day? A week? A month? It was the unpredictability of Tom’s mental state that was playing on Booker’s mind, especially knowing he was going back to work the following morning, leaving his friend alone in the apartment. Despite making a last-ditch effort to convince Fuller to allow him to stay home for another week, his captain had stood firm, leaving him frustrated and more than a little angry. He was to report to the chapel first thing Tuesday morning, and if he failed to do so, then it would be his neck in a noose...proverbially speaking of course. Not that he was a novice when it came to bucking against authority, he wasn’t. But unlike his previous captain, he had great respect for Fuller, and deliberately disobeying his order was, in his mind, tantamount to mutiny. Like it or not, he had a job to do, and that job was to investigate an arsonist, not babysit an emotionally disturbed officer who just happened to now be his friend.

Such was life.

Taking a seat beside Tom, Booker laid a hand on his knee. “Is there anything you need? I could make us a snack if you want?”

As the warmth of Booker’s touch heated his chilled flesh, Tom knew he was losing his inner battle. He could no longer pretend he was okay because he wasn’t. The stench of freshly dug earth remained trapped inside his nostrils, suffocating him with the finality of his brother’s interment. It was too much, and in need of some quiet time, he rose to his feet and attempted to explain his desire for solitude. “Thanks, but I’m not hungry. I think I’ll take a bath. You know, to try and relax. That’s if it’s okay with you?”

It seemed an odd question to ask, but Booker let the comment pass without interrogation. “Sure. Maybe you’ll feel like pizza later?”

“Maybe,” Tom murmured, and turning away, he headed toward the bathroom. But before he’d even reached the middle of the room, he stopped and turned back to face his friend. “Um, I never really thanked you.”

Booker’s right eyebrow arched in surprise. “For what?”

“Everything,” Tom mouthed, and without further explanation, he walked into the bathroom and closed the door.

**

The water flowing from the faucet slowed to a trickle, the steady drip, drip, echoing around the bathroom. Stepping onto the bathmat, Tom stripped off his clothes and neatly stacked them in a pile on top of the laundry hamper. Naked, he moved over to the bath and stared down into its rippling depths. A strange feeling settled over him. He’d spent most of his adult life terrified of water, but at that moment, he found himself inexplicably drawn to the calming pool. Mesmerized by its stillness, he dropped to his knees and grasped the edge of the cold porcelain, a shiver of anticipation raising goose-bumps over his exposed flesh. A desire too strong to ignore had him leaning closer, and closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to wander. It wasn’t long before the visions of his past infiltrated his present, the two worlds colliding until they became one cohesive whole. As his mind succumbed to the hypnotic trance-like state, ghostly fingers grasped his hair, the invisible hand coaxing his head forward. An inner peace washed over him and inhaling a deep breath, he submerged his face beneath the warmth of the bathwater. This time, there was no fear. He wanted it...needed it, and as the familiarity of watery tendrils lapping at his skin slowly warped all conscious thought from his mind, a phantom voice whispered to him from beyond the grave. “You don't need friends, Tom-Tom. You’ve got me, and that’s all you’ll ever need.”