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Phi Betta Kriminology

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January 12th, 2019

Dear Mr. Connor Stern,

 

Congratulations! We are pleased to formally invite you to the University of Detroit Mercy undergraduate class of 2023! We hope you will join us in September on one of our three beautiful Detroit campuses. We will be sending another email shortly with your scholarship information.

 

Accept offer

 

Best wishes, U of D Admissions



 

February 4th, 2019

Dear Mr. Connor Stern,

 

Congratulations on your acceptance to the University of Detroit Mercy Criminal Justice program. Your application was impressive on many different levels and it is due to this that I would like to invite you to join a research program of mine. Currently, I am studying some unsolved criminal cases alongside the Detroit Police Department and I believe that your unique insights and abilities will be a valuable asset to the team of your peers who are working alongside me. This is a highly competitive position so I encourage you to make a decision as soon as you can.

 

Jeffrey Fowler, PhD

University of Detroit Mercy, Criminal Justice



Connor reread those two emails as he sat in his undecorated apartment floor. Two years ago, none of this would have seemed possible but here he was. As he finished reading, his phone lit up again with a new notification.

 

The Best Roommates Ever

Kara: I’m almost there! The check-in line is soooo long.

 

Connor smiled and locked his phone. Amanda had dropped him off as soon as check-in began and helped him move in but he didn’t have much to move in in the first place so she hadn’t stayed too long. Alongside the new text from his new roommate was two more unread messages:

 

Amanda: Call me once you’re settled in, the house is very empty without you.

 

Chloe: So proud of you. Call me when you can. I want to hear everything.

 

Connor looked around the living room which was decorated with a scratchy rug, a coffee table, a small television, and a couch. Connor didn’t mind, the apartment wasn’t that expensive with two other roommates and had its own kitchen, individual bedrooms, and bathroom which was better than the first-year housing on campus.

 

He looked up when the front door opened and Markus walked in with a suitcase in one hand and a box under the other arm.

 

Connor jumped up to get the door for him “hello,” he said a little stiffly “it’s nice to meet you.”

 

“Hey, man,” Markus dropped the box on the couch and set his suitcase down “nice to meet you in person.”

 

They’d met through Kara, who’d posted on the U of D class of '23 Facebook group asking if anyone would be willing to rent an apartment with her. Kara had a six-year-old daughter who would be staying with them as well so she couldn't stay on campus but she had assured them that Alice was generally rather quiet and well behaved. Ideally, Connor would have preferred to live on his own but in downtown Detroit, he wasn't going to find anything in his price range without splitting rent.

 

“Are you already moved in?” Markus asked, looking around.

 

“Yes, I took that room,” he pointed to one of the bedroom doors “I hope you don’t mind. I left the largest one for Kara.”

 

“Fine by me. Any chance you’d mind grabbing the box for me? The elevator was way too crowded with so many people moving in, I just took the stairs.”

 

Connor picked the box up and took it into Markus’ bedroom “I have some stuff in the fridge if we want to get lunch once Kara gets here.”

 

“Sounds great. Just let me get unpacked.”

 

Connor planned to spend the next hour or so setting up his folders for each of his classes on his computer but Kara got in after a few minutes. “Hello?” She asked quietly but Connor could hear through the crack left open in his door. He nudged the door open more with his foot and smiled at her. She had the most stuff out of all of them which wasn’t surprising. She had two suitcases, a backpack, and a cloth bag over her shoulder. Markus beat Connor to taking her bags for her so Connor just waved at her.

 

“Welcome home?” Markus joked, but it wasn’t really a joke anymore, was it?

 

She smiled “I guess so.” She followed Markus into the bedroom and Alice trailed behind her, holding a book to her chest. Before she disappeared, she made brief eye contact with Connor. He waved again awkwardly.

 

“You said you have lunch stuff, Connor?” Markus called.

 

Connor got up and waited in the doorway “Yeah. Do you need a hand with anything?”

 

Kara sat down on the bed and looked around “I think I’ll be okay. Do you want something to eat, Alice?”

 

Alice was sitting on the bed behind Kara, she nodded.

 

“I’ll unpack if you want to get lunch together? I’ll go to the grocery store tonight and replace anything we take.”

 

Connor didn’t mind sharing food once and a while but until he got his first paycheck from his research position, he wasn’t going to complain about having a bit of extra cash. The research position was the ever-looming cloud above Connor’s head. It was a dream come true in that he was getting to work with a professor this early on a project that would get him connections with the police department, but there was also a constant feeling that he should have just taken his first year slow. He had his first day of work tomorrow, right after his first day of classes. The other students on the project had been working on it over the summer as well which put Connor at yet another disadvantage on top of being the only first year.

 

Connor took out one of the pots from the cupboard to make pasta. He put his headphones on while he cooked and turned on a podcast.

 

It wasn’t as if Connor was worried that he didn’t deserve his position, he knew that he did, he had a genius IQ even though he didn’t exactly talk about it much, could read and understand information at an incredible speed, and despite being in the foster care system until his junior year of high school and being bounced between schools constantly, graduated top of his class. He’d aced AP Calculus AB, BC, and Stats and scored a 1600 on the SAT and a 35 on the ACT (he was very bitter about that last point that kept him from a perfect score.) On top of that, he’d been on the cross country team and had a blue belt in karate. Regardless of Connor’s knowledge that any college program would be lucky to have him, he knocked Professor Fowler’s office with a shaking and sweaty hand. One of the very few places where Connor failed was when it came to talking to people. Human behavior he understood, psychology was a breeze when it meant understanding motivations and development but communicating with people… that was a different situation. Connor understood what he was supposed to do on a basic level but what Connor lacked was a relatability. He’d been called unempathetic and robotic on multiple occasions.

 

Professor Fowler called him in and smiled when he sat down. Smile, but not too much, shoulders back, head high, but not so much as to seem forced or worse, snobby. God, this was exhausting. He could do this (at least he hoped he could).

 

“Connor. It’s nice to finally meet you. How has your first day been?”

 

“It has been good so far, I greatly enjoy my course material, I am excited to have a greater challenge with this project, though.”

 

Fowler laughed “well, your resume certainly shows that you’re capable of handling it. I’ll take you to the lab and you can meet everyone.”

 

Connor followed him down the hall to the “lab” which was a classroom filled with files and a handful of tired-looking students.

 

“Alright everyone,” Fowler said from the doorway “this is Connor, he’s going to be helping you out from now on. Connor, this is Gavin, and - well - other Connor,” he chuckled “and our student leader, Hank. Hank’s my second in command on this so he can help you out getting started.”

 

None of the other students looked too thrilled about him, more neutral than anything, but Connor noticed the way Hank balled his fist under the desk when Fowler mentioned Hank helping him to get started. This was what Connor was worried about. “Right then…” Fowler gestured to Hank’s table “why don’t you two get acquainted? I’m sure Hank has some work you could help him with.”

 

Connor sat across from Hank, who had a pile of files beside his laptop. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Connor.”

 

“I heard.” Hank rubbed his eyes. Connor thought that if it weren’t for the scowl, he might have been pretty attractive. His dyed (at least Connor assumed that it must have been dyed) gray hair was pulled into a messy bun and his matching beard was unkempt but there was a sort of rugged handsomeness there. In another light, Connor could picture him as being the kind of guy Connor could be attracted to, maybe he already was. “You’ve got a computer, right?”

 

Connor was thankful to have put his old laptop into his backpack that morning “yeah, of course.” He said, taking it out. 

 

Hank handed him a stack of files “could you transcribe these? I’ll share the spreadsheet with you. What’s your last name?”

 

Connor opened his computer and then the top folder “Stern. Thanks.”

 

Hank shook his head but at least this time it seemed less annoyed and more… amused. “Yeah, no problem.”



Connor checked his phone on the walk home and found he’d missed a few texts while he was at class and then work.

 

Amanda: Good luck today!

 

Kara: Want to get delivery tonight? I’ll pay - I still owe you for lunch yesterday.

 

Connor decided to text Kara back. He’d call Amanda that night.

 

Sounds good. I’ll be home in a few minutes.

 

When Connor got home (it still didn’t feel like he expected home to feel but then again he hadn’t lived anywhere long enough for it to really feel like his space), Kara was sitting on the couch with her laptop open. Alice was watching tv on Kara’s phone with bright yellow headphones on.

 

“Hello,” she said without looking up from her work “how your first day?”

 

“Class was as I expected.” Connor replied, setting his bag down by his door before sitting with her “may I join you?”

 

“Of course,” she looked at him “but I didn’t ask how class was. Work didn’t go so well?”

 

She reminded him of Amanda when she said that, some sort of mother’s intuition. He hesitated a moment before answering “it was informative. I’m not sure how well I’m fitting in with my coworkers.”

 

She gave him a half-sad half-reassuring smile “I’m sure they’ll warm up to you.”

 

Connor decided to let the conversation drop after he asked her about her day and got a short reply of “good but stressful.” It seemed that Kara had a good deal on her plate today. They worked on their respective homework for probably close to an hour, Kara on whatever she was doing on her computer and Connor on the stack of files he’d brought home to finish transcribing. Kara suddenly sighed in frustration “Connor, I hate to spring this on you but the nanny that was going to take Alice for the night canceled and I can’t miss work again this week… is there any chance you could just keep an eye on her?”

 

Connor looked at Alice, who was still sitting on the rug with Kara’s phone “that should be within my capabilities. And Markus should be home soon, I’m sure we can handle her.”

Chapter Text

Alice was a well-behaved child who didn’t mind that Connor had quite a lot of work to do that evening. Marcus came home after a half-hour and went into his room to do homework but left the door open so Connor could call if he needed any help. Once he finished transcribing his files, he put his computer down on the coffee table “what are you reading?” he asked Alice, who had been reading silently since Kara left.

 

She looked up and held out the book. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. Of course.

 

“That’s a very good book. How do you feel about mac and cheese for dinner?” He couldn’t mess that up and everyone liked mac and cheese, right?

 

Sure enough, she gave him a shy smile and a nod. He got up and went to the kitchen “do you have a favourite character?” He asked as he filled a pot with water. 

 

He was surprised to see that Alice followed him “I like how friendly Alice is. She is nice to everyone even if they’re mean to her. People should be like that.”

 

Connor smiled and glanced back at her “I agree.”

 

“You two need a hand with anything?” Markus asked from the doorway.

 

Connor turned around and shook his head “I have it under control, thank you.”

 

Markus held his hand out to Alice “how about we set the table while Connor cooks?”

 

She smiled and nodded. Markus had a way with people, that much was clear, he understood how they thought and how to make them like him. Connor envied that. Alice was telling Markus about her classmates and classes when Connor brought dinner out to the table. She said a quiet thank you to Connor before returning to her stories. Connor got the message after a few minutes of her talking to Markus alone as they ate that Connor wasn’t a part of the conversation so he reached for his computer.

 

Dear Connor,

 

I hope you enjoyed your first day. I appreciate you being willing to jump into this project on your first day, I hope you find it very rewarding. I have attached our meeting schedule as well as Hank’s phone number. Please text him and ask him to add you into the “team groupchat” that the students use to communicate.

 

Jeffrey Fowler, PhD

University of Detroit Mercy, Criminal Justice

 

Connor added Hank’s number to his contacts and hovered his thumb over the message button before hitting it. He thought about what to type for what was definitely too long for what should have been a simple text.

 

Hi Hank!

 

He deleted that.

 

Hi Hank. This is Connor. Professor Fowler wants to know if you can add me to the groupchat. I also finished transcribing the files.

 

He clenched his jaw as he hit send and watched his phone for a while before putting it back into his pocket and closing his laptop as well. He took everyone’s dishes out and Markus offered to wash them, which he appreciated. Connor put a movie on for Alice before sitting back on the couch with headphones to watch some television as well. As he was scrolling through Netflix, a notification popped up at the top of his screen.

 

Hank Anderson added you to “Crime Fuckers”

 

Connor smiled and went back to scrolling. Maybe he wasn’t as stern as he seemed. He was relieved when no one in the grouch chat said anything, while he did want to be a part of the group, the idea of everyone being friends outside of a professional setting also made him uncomfortable. He would much rather have a friendly, professional work life and then return home at the end of the day to a completely separate home life - one that ideally also did not include much unnecessary socialization. He hoped that a group of highly advanced grad students would have better things to do than hang out with each other in their free time, they should all be focused on work.

 

Kara came home a few minutes after Alice fell asleep on the couch next to Connor who was reading one of his textbooks in the light of the television. She smiled and took off her jacket “thank you so much, Connor, it won’t happen again.”

 

He smiled and stood up. While he didn’t mind helping out, he also needed to stay focused on his schoolwork. “It is not an issue, I assure you. Markus helped as well but he couldn’t focus on readings with the television on.”

 

She picked Alice up, careful to not wake her “I’ll thank him in the morning. Have a good night, Connor.”

 

Connor watched her go before turning off the tv and finishing his homework in his own room.



Connor set down a new pile of files to transcribe at his desk which had been set up across from Hank’s. Hank was late and his desk was a mess.

 

“He’s got our assignments for today, doesn’t he?” The other Connor asked.

 

Gavin rolled his eyes “of course he does. I texted him this morning too. You want to ask Fowler?”

 

“Hell no.”

 

“Is this a regular occurrence?” Connor asked.

 

Gavin and other Connor looked at each other and then other Connor nodded “he’s a hard worker when he bothers to show up he’s just…”

 

“A fucking jackass?”

 

Other Connor elbowed him “shut up, like you’re such a saint. We can just catch up on transcribing until he shows up. I’ll call him.”

 

Connor didn’t mind the busywork that was transcribing another pile of files into the computer records but he’d love to do something more intellectually stimulating soon. They didn’t get to directly work on cases but they were given cases that had gone cold to look through and see if they could make any new connections. Connor itched to get to actually get some real work done, especially if it was in the field. Connor could see connections in cases easily enough on paper but the thrill of doing it in real-time… he knew that it was rare that the police force let students visit scenes but sometimes when they were really stumped, Connor knew there was a chance he could be allowed out. He was about to start another file when the door opened. No one said anything when Hank walked in with a computer bag over his shoulder and a travel mug of coffee in his hand. Gavin stood up like he was about to confront Hank but other Connor pulled him back down. “We got a few new cases faxed over,” Hank mumbled before handing a file to Gavin “look over them and see what you think.”

 

Connor kept transcribing until the file landed on his desk. He looked through the description of a robbery that had ended in the escape driver crashing into a pylon and which killed him but his accomplice had survived and disappeared. It was on his second read-through that he started to notice inconsistencies.

 

“The driver was suspected of getting away from a string of other robberies, he always outsmarted the police force and got away, just to do it again and escape again, correct?”

 

Hank yawned and nodded. Connor continued “the chances that a driver that experienced crashes in such an avoidable way with a relatively low police following seems… unusual, don’t you think?”

 

“Bad luck for him?” Other Connor supplied.

 

“At the speed he was going, he should have been able to make that turn, it doesn’t make sense,”

 

“You think he was sabotaged?” Hank asked, Connor had gotten his attention now.

 

“No, that’s pure conjecture. This was the first time someone died in one of his robberies. A petty criminal who is suddenly responsible for someone’s death? That could be quite a lot to handle.”

 

Gavin gave him a questioning look “could be?”

 

Connor ignored him “it was the one who escaped who is being investigated for the murder but, if we assume that this was a guilt-driven suicide and not just a moment of failed driving, wouldn’t that implicate the driver?”

 

Hank rubbed his temple “it makes sense, he had gotten out of much more difficult chases without a problem, and the passenger side was, all things considered, unharmed. We still need to find the other guy before we can do much more than make educated guesses, though.”

 

“I could do more if I could see the scene.”

 

Hank groaned quietly before tossing the file to other Connor “alright, don’t make me regret this, though. You’re lucky that it’s not far. Come on.”

 

“You’re taking him to the field and leaving us here?” Gavin crossed his arms.

 

“And I would have taken you if you found anything. Call me if you make any breakthroughs.” Hank got up and pulled Connor after him by his wrist.

Chapter Text

Hank was quiet as he drove. He turned on the radio to fill the silence and quickly turned it down as extremely loud metal music started blaring. “Sorry,” he muttered.

 

“It’s okay.” Connor hid a smile behind his hand “sorry to make you drive when you’re tired,”

 

“What?” Hank said shortly, then scoffed “I’m fine, kid. Where’d you get so observant when it comes to crimes? That was pretty decent detective work for your second day.”

 

“I guess I just think differently than a lot of people. I have always had a talent for seeing connections that others may miss.”

 

“Not a bad talent to have.” He pulled into a parking garage and fell silent until he parked and took Connor to the elevator “they took all the debris out months ago and repaired the damages but you can at least get a feel for the area.”

 

Connor scanned the street once they stepped out of the elevator “I assume it was this one?” he pointed to a pillar had noticeably newer cement. Hank nodded and flipped his sunglasses down, his arms crossed over his chest. Connor looked at the intersection ahead of them. The pillar was on the corner, at the speed that the car was reportedly going, a skid would have caused the car to hit the opposite corner and turning too soon would result in a head-on collision and not one only affecting the driver’s side, in fact, it would be far more likely for the passenger’s side to be damaged and yet… “and the passenger just disappeared?”

 

“Police were on the scene in under a minute with the whole block barricaded and patrols looking for him.”

 

Connor looked around, the street was pretty open, no alleys or anything he could have escaped too easily. He stepped back and heard a soft clang. He looked down and saw a manhole. Surely, the police would have known to check that, though.

 

Hank shook his head “they only open with a key for city maintenance,”

 

Connor kneeled down “and what about from below?”

 

Hank was quiet for a minute “for safety reasons, they have to… there was no attempt to check the sewer system because there was no way any one person could have gained access to it in such a small amount of time…”

 

“How easily could a third person get into the sewer?”

 

“There are several locations where the sewer system can be accessed, not legally, of course, but a city planning map could get someone in and to the right location-”

 

“Where our passenger purposely crashes the car, killing his partner, and escapes with our third guy and the money.”

 

“Precisely. We should inform the police that they are looking for a third person, likely someone close to our passenger if he put that much trust in him, any faults in the plan would lead to him being caught. They should look into his social circles.”

 

Hank was already getting his keys back out “you’ll need to do a full report, we should get back.”

 

Connor nodded and followed him back to his car in silence.



Connor didn’t mind the paperwork, he was glad to know he’d done something to prove himself. He didn’t even mind when it became clear that Gavin, other Connor, and even Hank were all being far more social than him. Gavin and other Connor were grumbling over their paperwork but still occasionally joking around with each other when he returned with Hank. Hank scoffed and sat back down at his desk but he still smiled when other Connor handed him his phone and showed him something that Connor was apparently not privy to. Connor didn’t want to be included in the social lives of his coworkers so much as he wanted none of them to have social lives around work at all. He stayed quiet and focused on his paperwork until he had a few pages outlining in detail all of his findings as well as several official city maps which verified what Hank had said about the sewer system. 

 

“Hank?” He spoke hesitantly, interrupting the conversation happening on the other side of the room where Hank was reprimanding the other men about their lack of focus. “Should I drop this off with Professor Fowler?” He asked, holding up the stack of forms he had printed.

 

Hank leaned against the desk and checked his watch “he’s probably already out of the office now and I should look over it before you turn it in.” He took his hair down “speaking of which, we should probably head out, too.”

 

Other Connor stood up and grinned “perfect, are we still grabbing dinner?”

 

Gavin glanced at Connor but it was clear there was no friendship in his eyes. “Yeah, if you two are.” 

 

Connor took the hint that there was no room for him in the party that night so instead, he just handed the stack of papers to Hank, thanked him, and left the room. He called Amanda as soon as he got home, he knew that he had already probably caused her a good deal of stress by putting it off as long as he had.

 

“Hello?” She said once she picked up.

 

“Hi, mom,” he said, even though it still felt a bit forced.

 

“Oh, Connor!” She said happily, “how are you?”

 

“I am doing quite alright, thank you, mother.”

 

“How are your classes?” Straight to business as usual, Connor appreciated that. Amanda was one of the few people that seemed to not only understand Connor’s distaste for useless social interactions but share the same opinion.

 

“Yes, they are rather enjoyable and I have made some progress when it comes to my research as well.”

 

“That’s fantastic, Connor, I knew you would do well. How are your roommates?”

 

Connor glanced at his closed door “fine, I suppose, though I do not spend much time with them. My priorities lie with my academics and career, as you know.”

 

“Yes, of course, I am happy to hear that you are still on good terms with them, though.”

 

“Yes, I am, and how are you?”

 

She sighed audibly “rather busy but all things considered largely the same. Have you talked with Chloe lately?”

 

“Oh, no, I am meaning to call her tonight.”

 

“Well, I will not keep you in that case. I am glad to hear that you are alright. Maybe sometime soon you could come home for a few hours?”

 

Connor nodded then even though she couldn’t see him “I’d like that, thank you, Amanda.”

 

She said goodbye and hung up. Connor knew he should call Chloe but instead decided that it was easier to just text her instead so that he could start on his homework. When he took out his phone, he saw a text already on his phone.

 

Hank: Fowler says good job. Thanks for the hard work today

 

Connor: Thank you for the update. I will see you tomorrow.

 

It wasn’t until later that night that Connor realized that his text may have come off a tad sharp. Chloe had advised him that proper grammar could be interpreted as coldness when it came to the medium of texting but it was not information that Connor had been able to take to heart yet. That thought reminded him to text Chloe as well.

 

Connor: How are you?

 

Her reply was just under instantaneous.

 

Chloe: Good! I miss you though!

 

Connor smiled as he texted back.

 

Connor: how is your new job?

 

Chloe: The dude I’m working for is a bit of a bitch but his house is nice and I get to live there. You should come visit me.

 

Chloe had been Connor’s foster sister for almost six months and he’d stayed in contact with her even once they were split up. She was the only person he’d met whom he did not feel obligated to act around. Things were easy with her.

 

Connor: I’d hate to get you into any trouble.

 

Chloe: He lets me bring guests on my off hours

 

Connor: then I’d love to join you. I miss you too.



There was an argument happening when Connor walked into work the next day.

 

“Well maybe if you didn’t drink so much last night, you wouldn’t be too hungover to work,” other Connor grumbled.

 

“Funny how I’m the one getting shit for this when Hank is just as bad,” Gavin slapped the back of other Connor’s head.

 

Hank shot them a glare “knock it off you too, you’re both being too loud,”

 

Connor sat down at his desk despite the very definition of a hostile work environment spreading out around him. “Fowler is going to fire all of us at this rate,” other Connor groaned, rubbing the back of his head “you two need to start acting more professionally,”

 

“Shut up,” Hank and Gavin said in unison before glaring at each other. This was precisely why he hated inter-business relations.

 

“Stern,” Hank said after an awkward moment of silence “there’s some follow-up emails for you from yesterday, I’ll forward them to you.”

 

Connor nodded in response, glad to have something to do now as he took his laptop out. The room was primarily quiet after that as everyone started their work, the hostility between the group didn’t dissipate, though. Connor carefully wrote his email from a member of the police force. They had thanked him for his work and asked for clarification on a few points. Connor was pleased by the recognition but more than anything, just glad to have something he could work on again. If he could spend the rest of his life just filling in missed connections in cases and then returning home, he thought he’d be perfectly satisfied with life.

Chapter Text

Crime Fuckers

Hank: The police force just confirmed the case we worked on last week has been reopened in light of new information that we provided. Fowler wants all of us to do something with him to celebrate and wants to know what you all want to do.

 

Crime Fuckers

Gavin: drinks. Any night.

 

Crime Fuckers

Connor K: I second that. The pub across from Hank’s place?

 

Connor swallowed as he read over the texts that had come in during his class before replying

 

Connor S: I’m not 21 but you can go without me

 

Crime Fuckers

Connor K: that’s rough, you’ll get to go eventually

 

Crime Fuckers

Hank: as much as I like that idea, Fowler wants all of us there, including Stern. It’s happy hour at the sports bar on campus once we get off on Friday, though, so we could all do that

 

Connor S: Sorry

 

No one replied after that so Connor assumed that meant that was the plan. He sat down at his usual table in the library to mark it down and start transcribing a new set of files, gritting his teeth to distract himself from the guilty feeling in his chest. His coworkers made no effort to hide the fact that he was an outsider and in Gavin’s case, a very unwanted outsider. Other Connor and Hank mainly just ignored him unless work required them to work together and Gavin actively made his life difficult, usually dropping off extra files on his desk or claiming that any mistakes he made were Connor’s doing instead. 

 

Connor was not looking forward to spending more time with his coworkers than necessary when Friday rolled around. Professor Fowler had emailed them all to tell them he was hoping to see them all there so Connor couldn’t get out of it without him noticing but he would really rather be at home catching up on the extra work Gavin had given him than spending what little money he had on overpriced chicken wings and burgers with people he didn’t particularly like. The bar was close enough that it was easier for them to walk together instead of driving there with traffic the way it was so Connor walked quietly while other Connor and Gavin argued about how they were splitting the bill. He glanced over and saw Hank walking beside him and watching him but he looked away quickly. Connor usually wasn’t too bothered by what people thought of him but something about Hank… he wanted to impress him.

 

“Will you two shut it?” Hank mumbled as he held the door for everyone and as Connor passed and thanked him, he felt Hank’s hand rest on his shoulder for just a second. It was a brief moment of affirmation but somehow Connor felt like he needed it. He was quiet until the host showed them to a table and they sat down “personally, I’d rather only pay for my own food where I will not be drinking, if you do not mind,”

 

Hank sat beside him at the booth which made Connor cross his ankles under the table, somehow more excited than he should have been at such a random act. “Connor’s got a point, just drop it, Gavin,”

 

“It’s so much easier if we-” Gavin started to protest from across the table but was cut off by Professor Fowler walking over.

 

“Sorry I’m late, boys, I hope I didn’t leave you waiting too long but I had a meeting that ran long.”

 

There were murmurs of “no worries,” “it’s fine” and “we just got here” from around the table as Professor Fowler sat down. Once they ordered, Fowler raised his glass of water “I’d just like to say congratulations to all of you for your teamwork this week. I hope this inspires each of you to work even harder in the future. Your reputation as a team gets higher with every case you work on successfully which means more job opportunities, time in the field, and funding; but it also means more responsibility and a greater workload. On that happy note,” he chuckled “here’s to what the future brings for all of you.”

 

Connor was pretty quiet through the night, chiming in only when he was asked something or Fowler looked at him with concern as if he suspected Connor wasn’t fitting in very well. He supposed that it wasn’t surprising. The other students were all grad students, other Connor and Gavin were new this year, having started in the summer, so they were probably twenty-two or so, Hank was at least a year above them so twenty-three at the youngest. Connor wouldn’t want to hang out with someone four years younger than him so why would they? Until college, it had seemed like every adult was about the same maturity level, like once you turned eighteen a magical switch got hit and suddenly you were mature and ready to take on the world but Connor felt in some ways like he was leagues behind his colleagues even though, with the exception of Hank, they were supposedly equals. It would even make sense for the other students to have some resentment towards him, in their eyes they worked for four years and earned a degree only for a first-year to skip all of that just because their supervisor said so? Connor knew it wasn’t his fault that Professor Fowler had picked this year to be when he took a chance on selecting a younger student but he could also see where their anger towards him came from. At the end of the night, he impulsively grabbed Hank’s hand as they left the bar “can I talk to you?”

 

Hank zipped his jacket “sure, can we talk and walk, though? I’ll give you a ride home.”

 

Hank raised a very good point, now that the sun had set, it was pretty cold. Connor could see Hank’s breath as he spoke. “Yeah, thanks, I didn’t know we would be out so long.”

 

“So what’s up?” he asked as they walked back to where Hank’s car was parked at the office.

 

“I just… I realized why you guys don’t like me and I’m sorry if you feel like I don’t deserve my position here, but the reality is that I do deserve this, I earned my spot just like the rest of you did and while your envy is understandable, it is irrational and I would appreciate if the animosity between us could not get in the way of us being able to work.” Connor said sternly, he hadn’t meant for it to sound so cold but he didn’t regret what he said.

 

To Connor’s surprise, Hank laughed, he didn’t think he’d heard Hank laugh before “I’ve got nothing against you, Stern, none of us do, not you specifically at least. Connor is just really competitive and kind of hates everyone, Gavin definitely hates everyone, and I’m just not really here to make friends.”

 

“Oh,” Connor said contemplatively “well, that does make me feel relieved. I did not want to have made enemies in this field already.”

 

“You’re doing fine, you just got tossed into the most antisocial group of grad students on campus.”

 

“Thank you for telling me, Hank, it is comforting to hear that it is not because I have done something wrong. I hope I have not offended you by acting out of place.”

 

Hank chuckled “you’re too straight and narrow most of the time, stop worrying about impressing everyone. It’s okay to just do what you want sometimes, regardless of consequences.”

 

“Sadly, the effects that could have on my life are rather great - as you know, I already have a very precarious position here and I -”

 

Hank cut him off by pushing him back against the hood of his car. The frost on it sunk into his pants and stung his skin but he was a bit too in shock to notice. “What part of ‘stop caring about consequences’ did you not hear?” Hank stood in front of him, one hand on his shoulder. “What do you really want to do, Connor?”

 

Connor looked up at Hank for a few seconds before averting his eyes and shaking his head “I can’t…”

 

Hank huffed and stepped back “whatever, just get in so we can get out of the cold.”



Connor didn’t know why he felt like he was missing something that night. After Hank dropped him off, he thanked him quickly and then went up to his apartment where he was now lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Overall, tonight had been quite a success. He’d made a minor breakthrough when it came to Hank today and yet he felt like he'd… missed out on something, like there was something more he should have done. He didn’t usually obsess over stuff like this, it wasn’t rational, but he wanted Hank to like him. Even if he knew his work in the office should be enough to impress Hank, Connor wanted more, Connor wanted Hank to respect him as more than a coworker. He sighed and texted Chloe.

 

You’re sure I can come over?

 

He checked his email until she replied.

 

Chloe: He said that so long as I am not actively working, then yes. I mainly just get him drinks and do chores and stuff. You can come over in the evening, I don’t do much then.

 

Tomorrow?

 

Chloe: is everything okay?

 

Work trouble. I think. I don’t know.

 

Chloe: boy related work trouble I hope? I don't have the supercomputer mind needed to help you with your classes

 

Connor swallowed. He hated to admit it but he knew what this feeling was. It was irrational and would never lead anywhere but he couldn’t lie to himself. It was easy to confuse emotions, what he was feeling towards Hank could easily be admiration because of his status but Connor had a growing suspicion that he had a bit of a crush on Hank.



“So he’s not your boss?” Chloe asked, handing Connor a martini as she sank into the indoor hot tub.

 

He shook his head and sat beside her, taking the drink. “No, he’s my supervisor because he's been on the project the longest but our professor is - but that doesn’t matter anyway because nothing is going to happen from it.”

 

“You don’t know that, Con!” She flicked water at him.

 

He wrinkled his nose “he can barely stand me,”

 

“So what actually happened last night?” She leaned back.

 

He looked out the huge window at the flurrying snow outside. It wasn’t cold enough to make it to the ground but this high up you could just tell that winter was on its way - and by how quickly the frost had started, soon. “After our professor took us to celebrate, I stopped him to tell him that… that if he blamed me for getting the position so young, that he shouldn’t because it was not rational, and then he gave me a ride home because it was freezing.”

 

“Yeah but what stuff did you talk about? What did he do that made you realize it?”

 

Connor leaned his head back against the edge of the hot tub and closed his eyes “he… he told me that I was too… ‘straight and narrow’ which is slightly ironic, I might add, and then,” he sighed “he pushed me up against his car and said I should act without thinking about the consequences.”

 

When he opened his eyes, she was looking at him with an 'are you stupid?' expression, which was not an uncommon sight. She had had to explain many, as she seemed to think, normal human interactions to him but he was pretty sure it was her just projecting onto others, there was no way she could know for sure what someone else's intentions had been. “Connor, he was totally coming onto you!”

 

“No, that’s not true, you only think that because it serves your motives.”

 

“What else did he say?”

 

Connor pursed his lips “he asked what I wanted to do but wouldn’t let myself…” he wasn’t doing a good job of proving his point, he knew that, but it wasn’t like that.

 

“Oh my god,” she whispered “you idiot, he was pretty much begging you to kiss him there.”

 

Connor scoffed and sipped his drink “that’s not true, he barely said anything to me after that.”

 

She pushed his shoulder “idiot, he was quiet because you turned him down after he pretty much asked you out!”

 

Connor winced and looked away “that is not true, Chloe, stop. He doesn’t seem like the relationship type anyway.”

 

“You’re making excuses. What did he say that makes you think that?”

 

“He said he was really antisocial and stuff so…”

 

“Connor!” She got out of the hot tub and poured herself another drink “that just proves my point! If he’s antisocial and anxious, that just explains why he didn’t ask you out directly and why he was hoping you’d make the first move! So,” she asked, slipping back into the water next to Connor “what are you going to do to fix you telling him that you aren’t interested in him?”

 

“I didn’t say that,” he said, looking back out the window.

 

“If I ask a man what he wants to do to me and he says ‘nothing’, Connor, love, even you’re not that dimwitted.”

Chapter Text

“Hank’s not here?” Connor asked as he put his bag down at their desk.

 

Gavin scoffed as he picked at his nails “you’re still surprised?”

 

“It was a simple question, Gavin,” other Connor smacked the back of his head “and no, Hank has not yet shown up.”

 

“Is he okay?” Connor took out a file from his bag.

 

“Why do you care so much all of a sudden?” Other Connor asked.

 

Connor didn’t answer so he instead took out his phone and texted Hank himself, it seemed that his coworkers were not going to do it on their own.

 

Hope everything is okay

 

Let me know if there’s anything we need to be doing in the office today. He texted again to make it sound more professional. He didn’t mind when he didn’t get a response, he didn’t expect one. He just wanted Hank to know what he wasn’t upset. Not that he thought he’d hurt him, he didn’t think that Hank had opened himself up to be hurt in the first place but… just in case.

 

Just in case.



Hank: thanks. Sorry for playing hookie today, I couldn’t handle being in the office today. I’ll send over the new files once I get coffee. Do me a favour and give Gavin the biggest stack.

 

Connor smiled and reread the text. It had taken a few hours to come in but Hank had actually texted him back. “Hank is sending new files,” he said to a chorus of groans from his coworkers. Connor decided to take the high road and not mention that their workload would be lower if they had been working instead of showing each other memes and watching vine compilations all afternoon. He did as he was told after the printer turned on behind him and started working, signaling that Hank had sent the files over electronically and put a few extra files on top of Gavin’s already tall stack of papers.

 

Done. He texted as he started on his own pile. It was only a few minutes before he got the next text.

 

Hank: Good boy. Make his life hell for me. You deserve it for the shit he did to you

 

He’s not that bad . Connor chuckled.

 

Hank: Shouldn’t you be working?

 

I can multitask.

 

Hank: Fowler is dropping off more files in a few minutes, don’t be on your phone when he comes. Can I ask for one more favour?

 

Connor glanced at the door before replying.

 

Anything.

 

Hank: Tell Fowler I’m in the bathroom when he comes and bring my files over? I don’t live far from the office and I’ll pay for your Uber, I just can’t get myself out of bed right now.

 

Connor sighed and slipped his phone back into his pocket to wait for the door to open. He scanned his laptop screen and then he heard the doorknob turn. “No Hank again?” Fowler asked from the doorway.

 

Connor spun around in his chair “bathroom. I can take the files until he comes back.”

 

Fowler glanced at the other boys, whose eyes were firmly on their laptops, before handing the files to Connor. “Alright, just make sure everyone gets some. I’ll have more exciting work for you guys later on.”

 

As soon as Fowler left the room, Gavin stood up “why are you defending him, Stern?”

 

“Gavin,” other Connor warned “do your work,”

 

“You’ve already got Fowler wrapped around your finger and now you’re sucking up to Hank too?”

 

Connor slid half the pile into his bag along with his laptop before standing up “I don’t have time to debate my qualifications with you.”

 

“What qualifications? You’re eighteen!”

 

“And yet which one of us solved a murder, which I should mention is currently open again and the suspect is in police custody no thanks to you. I’ll send you my resume if you’re that interested.” Connor clenched his fist before letting himself out and texting Hank again.

 

Send me your address? I’m coming over.

 

Hank: Everything okay? Isn’t it early to be done? Hank said along with his apartment number and address.

 

Could I work from your place?

 

Hank: of course.

 

Connor sighed in frustration as he knocked on Hank’s door. He hated that Gavin had gotten to him like this but he’d hate it even more if Hank saw him like this so he wiped his eyes and forced himself to relax. 

 

Hank opened the door in his pajamas, a pair of gray sweatpants and a Detroit Pistons hoodie. “Oh, hey, you brought those files?” Hank looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. His brown, curly hair fell down to his shoulders and into his face, his eyes half-closed with dark bags under them.

 

“Yes, sir.” He went to open his bag but Hank’s hand on his wrist stopped him.

 

“You said you were working here for a while?”

 

“As long as you do not mind, it would be useful to have a second opinion and the office is less than helpful at the moment.”

 

Hank nodded and stepped back “that’s fine. Connor texted me that you and Gavin got into a fight.”

 

“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Connor said, following Hank to his table. 

 

Hank cleared off a few piles of papers so it was clean before they sat down. “I hope you punched him for the shit he said. I would have.”

 

“There’s no reason to respond with violence if it is unnecessary. His opinion of me is very low on my list of concerns.”

 

Hank rested his head on his hand “you’re a better man than I am. Did you do anything to set him off?”

 

Connor took out the files and his laptop “he thinks I’m sucking up to you.”

 

Hank chuckled “he probably sees any motivation as sucking up, honestly, it doesn’t come naturally to him. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable yesterday.”

 

“Of course not, why would you think that?”

 

Hank shook his head and took half of the files “forget it, let’s just get through these.”



They worked primarily in silence, occasionally asking for a second opinion or assistance but mainly working independently despite their physical closeness. Connor at one point asked Hank for clarification on a point he fully understood just to be able to speak with him. Something about the way Hank’s eyes crinkled a bit when he smiled was… very appealing. It made Connor smile as well. It was nearly five, about the time when they would leave the office, when Connor finished his stack of files. “I should be going,” Connor said as he stood up and gathered his things.

 

Hank stood as well and closed his laptop “thanks for bringing stuff over, I’ll be back into the office tomorrow, I just couldn’t deal with everything right now.”

 

“That is perfectly understandable, Hank, in fact, I really enjoyed our afternoon. I’d say we make rather good partners.”

 

Hank smiled a bit and rolled his eyes “uh-huh. You should get going before the sun goes down.” he paused “hold on, do you need a ride?”

Connor shook his head “oh, no, I will be fine. My apartment is only a few blocks away.”

 

“At least let me give you a coat? It’s too cold to walk around in just a polo.”

 

Connor gave in and nodded, following Hank up to his bedroom but not entering, not sure if that was crossing a professional boundary “thank you… I’ll give it back to you tomorrow.”

 

Hank handed him a thick winter coat that smelled like cheap cologne and aftershave. Connor tried not to notice how loose it was on his body even when Hank chuckled and covered his mouth with one hand. “No worries, just get it back to me at some point. It looks good on you.”

 

Connor zipped the coat up and pulled the sleeves up so they didn’t cover his hands “I feel warm at least.”

 

Hank smiled and walked him to the front door “text me when you get home, okay?”

 

Connor glanced at him curiously “okay. Why?”

 

“I want to know you get home safe.”



Home. Thank you for caring about my wellbeing. Connor texted Hank once he took off his boots and coat and climbed into his warm bed.

 

Hank: glad to hear it. Have a good night.

 

Connor pulled the blankets over his head and smiled at his phone screen as he typed. You too. See you tomorrow.

 

He set his phone down and sat back up when Kara knocked on his door “Alice wants to play a board game, any chance you have time to join us?”

 

Connor smiled and followed her out to where Alice and Marcus were sitting at the table with bowls of animal crackers and Candyland set out in front of them. Connor sat beside Kara across from Alice and Markus, for once, completely ignoring any work he could be doing at the moment.

Chapter Text

Hank had new cases for them to look over the next day. He even made it into the lab in person. They each had their own case but were supposed to brainstorm together, Connor found an inconsistency in the witness’ descriptions of the perpetrator almost immediately which could explain why the police search had not turned up much. He slid the file to Hank’s side of the desk before reaching over to take one from Gavin’s desk.

 

“Hey, I was about to start that,” Gavin snapped, putting his phone down.

 

“I’m only trying to help,” Connor sighed, disinterested, as he flipped through the papers inside.

 

“You’re sucking up to Fowler again,” Gavin said, snatching the file back.

 

Hank looked up “knock it off, you two. If Stern’s finished with his, he can help you with the case that you’re now behind on. Connor, how are you doing?”

 

Other Connor took his pen from between his lips “almost done. Can I go home once I finish the report?”

 

“Sure. Stern, you can also go home early too if you’d rather,” Hank offered.

 

Connor clenched his jaw for a moment “not until my task is done, but thank you. If Gavin would -”

 

Connor was cut off by Gavin tossing the file back onto Connor’s lap “fine, just find something and I’ll write the report.”

 

Connor shrugged and started looking through it again. Hostile or not, at least Gavin was letting him work. He looked through the crime scene photos, writing down details that weren’t put into the file on a note pad before setting it on Gavin’s desk. As he stood up, Hank huffed “hold on, let me give you a ride if you’re heading out.”

 

“That really isn’t necessary,” he offered but was brushed off by a wave of Hank’s hand “if you’re sure it’s not an issue, I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

 

“I’m going to get lunch anyway. You two,” Hank picked his bag up “have your reports in by five,” 

 

There was a brief moment where Hank passed close enough that Connor expected to feel his arm around his waist or shoulders. He wasn’t even sure why. Hank hadn’t done anything to suggest any interest in him. “Thank you,” he said, picking up the pace to catch up with Hank after he had fallen behind in his moment of shock.

 

“Don’t overthink it. I’m just getting lunch and dropping you off on the way.”

 

“Still,” Connor said “thank you anyway.”

 

“How’s freshman year treating you outside of work?” Hank asked as he took out his keys and let Connor into the car.

 

Connor shrugged “it’s alright. Most of my classes are pretty easy.”

 

“I’m sure they are for you, child genius,” Hank scoffed. He patted Connor’s knee when he didn’t respond “I’m just fucking with you, don’t take it so hard.”

 

Connor looked out the window at the passing buildings and tried not to fixate on Hank’s sudden friendliness and definitely not the way his hand had felt on his leg. “I apologize, I have a rather difficult time reading people…”

 

“I find that hard to believe, seems like you’re good at just about everything,”

 

Connor shook his head “not that.”

 

“Can I ask if you were homeschooled or something? Because if that’s the case, you’ll catch up quick, don’t worry.”

 

Connor shook his head. He didn’t want to explain his childhood yet. It wouldn’t change anything. “I hope so, but no, I don’t have an excuse, people are just rather unpredictable.”

 

Hank chuckled “I’ll drink to that,”

 

“Do you want to join the police force after you finish school?”

 

Hank nodded as he pulled into the parking lot of Connor’s building “having a degree gets me a higher paycheck and I get to skip some entry ranks, so yeah. I’m hoping to be a lieutenant.”

 

“Lieutenant Anderson has a nice ring to it. I’m sure you’ll be great at it.”

 

Hank chuckled, which was a nice sound, and then Connor realized he was smiling too and wow. “Alright, now you really are sucking up.”

 

Connor smiled back as he got out of the car once it was stopped “thank you again for the ride.”

 

“No problem, Stern. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

“See you tomorrow,” he bit his tongue as he momentarily felt the urge to invite Hank in for lunch so instead he just waved and went inside.



Chloe: How’s Hank?

 

Connor shook his head and smiled as he read the message and returned to his reading. Markus glanced up from his laptop and hid a smile “who’s that from?”

 

Connor glanced up again “my friend. She is convinced my coworker is in love with me.”

 

“Oh?” Markus chuckled “are they?”

 

“My coworker?” He shook his head “no. He… we’re just friends.”

 

“Is that who has been driving you home lately?”

 

Connor pursed his lips, from the outside, sure it might look like there was something more than just a working relationship between them but Connor was more rational than that “it is, but just because he was already passing through.”

 

“Are you into him?”

 

“He’s my coworker, that’s all.” He looked back at his textbook until he felt Markus’ eyes still on him “I don’t have time to date right now even if I was into him, which I’m not. We’re not even friends, not really, he’s just the only person who I work with who I don’t mind spending time with.”

 

“What’s his name?”

 

Connor sighed and looked back up “Hank. Why does it matter?”

 

“I just think that you should have Hank over some time. It would be good for you to have some friends that you don’t live with.”

 

Connor shrugged “I don’t think we’re on that level, but maybe one day. We worked at his apartment once so maybe I’d return the favour.”

 

“That’d be good for you two. He seems like a good guy.”

 

“You don’t even know him,” Connor furrowed his eyebrows.

 

“Yeah,” Markus held his hands up in surrender “it's just sweet of him to drive you home and all. Here’s hoping I’m right, though. You sure smile a lot when you talk about him.”

 

Connor was fairly certain that wasn’t correct but he had too much work to do to argue about it. Plus what would his argument even be? He knew that his relationship with Hank wasn’t anything more than coworkers who got along, even if the rest of the people in his life disagreed. He finished the page he was reading before texting Chloe back. He wasn’t going to just restart the same conversation again so instead, he chose to lie, which wasn’t something that he was particularly proud of but what was the harm?

 

Haven’t seen him, I’ve been working from home.

 

Chloe: 😭

 

Chloe: boring

 

Sorry to disappoint

 

He turned off his phone then and took his textbook into his room. He didn’t need any more distractions.



“Work is fine,” Connor said as he folded his laundry. Amanda hummed from the speaker of his phone.

 

“Nothing more specific? How are your classes?”

 

“Fine as well. I’m afraid that everyone seems to think my life is much more exciting than it is.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

Connor leaned against his bed for a second before adding another shirt to the pile of clothes to iron “oh, nothing. My roommate just thinks that I’m better friends with my coworkers than I am is all. So far my college experience has been anything but eventful when it comes to my social life, which I am enjoying.”

 

Amanda was quiet for a second “do you ever think that maybe that’s not a good thing? I mean, I know that you’ve never been the most social and that’s alright but I just don’t want you to have any regrets.”

 

“I won’t. I’m here for an education, not to go to parties or anything of that sort. What I would regret is wasting my potential and my time on something that will only slow me down.”

 

“I’m not saying that, I just want you to also get to relax a bit. Sometimes just having a night off with friends is a good thing so long as your studies are still your top priority. I’d hate to see you burn out.”

 

“I have my roommates should I ever desire someone to relax with, thank you. And Chloe.”

 

Thankfully, the conversation then switched to the topic of Chloe’s new job and how preposterously affluent her boss’ home was in Connor’s eyes. Once Amanda hung up, Connor didn’t bother checking his phone afterward, assuming that any texts would be from Chloe. If he had, he would have noticed the notification which read:

 

Hank: you forgot a notebook in my car. Should I drop it off or just get it to you tomorrow?



Connor jumped when Hank dropped the book which he had been looking for that morning onto his desk. “Oh, thank you,” he said, pulling the notebook closer to him.

 

“I would have dropped it off but I didn’t know your apartment number,” Hank said as he sat down.

 

“That’s surprising,” Gavin mumbled before other Connor hit him in the back of the head with a folder.

 

“Thanks so much, I was looking everywhere for it this morning,”

 

“Don’t mention it,”

 

Connor caught an eye roll from other Connor and a less subtle scoff from Gavin. Whatever was bothering them went over Connor’s head, though, because he couldn’t figure out what he was doing to annoy them now.

Chapter Text

Other Connor followed Connor out once he left for the day “can I walk with you?” He asked.

 

Connor furrowed his brow but nodded “sure, I guess. Is something going on?”

 

Other Connor glanced behind them as they walked before he continued “so you and Hank,”

 

God, he could not do this again “what about him?”

 

“I’m not judging you or anything,” other Connor said “he’s just a good guy, he really helped me get started here. As much as we get after him and all, he’s like a big brother to Gavin and I so just… I know you want to get ahead and all and that’s fine, as much as it bugs me how focused you are it’s not a bad thing it’s just annoying but please don’t use him as a way to get ahead.”

 

“What do you mean use him?”

 

“You know what I mean, Stern, just - I’m not above telling Fowler if you do anything to hurt him. He’s a good guy and the last thing he needs is for you to let him down.”

 

“I have no intention to, but I’m afraid I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Connor admitted.

 

“You don’t have to admit what’s happening, I just couldn’t not say anything,” other Connor took his car keys out of his pocket “see you on Monday,”

 

Connor nodded politely “you too.” He put his headphones on and turned on a podcast to distract him as he walked home. People really were impossible to understand.



Connor looked up from his laptop when Alice knocked on his door “Connor?” She asked in a quiet voice. He waved slightly in acknowledgment and she continued “mom and I are going to go to the park, do you want to come?”

 

Connor almost declined in favour of finishing the paper he was working on but the look on Alice’s face made him nod. While he did not fully understand it, he was sure that living with people who were so busy all the time must be hard for someone so young. “I’d like that. Thank you for inviting me.”

 

Alice grinned “okay!” she said with a quiet excitement before disappearing to put her shoes on. Connor shut his computer, a break would do him good anyway, before going to his closet to get a  jacket. He frowned when he realized that he had not given back Hank’s coat. He put on one of his own coats and took Hank’s off the hanger - Hank’s apartment was not far from the park and Connor was sure that returning it at work would only annoy his coworkers more.

 

Once he got his shoes and gloves on, he met Alice and Kara in the living room. Markus was working at the library, Kara told him, so he would not be joining them. “How is school, Alice?” Connor asked once they left the apartment and locked the door behind them.

 

She shrugged and put her hood on in preparation for the evening chill. Connor wondered if that had been the wrong thing to ask. Kara put her hand on Connor’s arm in a way that Connor figured must have been intended to carry some message but Connor had no idea what it was supposed to say. “Is it really cold enough for that already?” Kara asked after a brief moment of silence, gesturing to the coat under Connor’s arm. It would definitely be overkill on top of the coat he was already wearing.

 

“I borrowed it from one of my coworkers, I’m just dropping it back off while we’re near his apartment.” He clarified, watching Alice’s face light up as she pressed the button for the elevator. He didn’t understand how small things like that could bring her so much joy - but he also supposed that he was envious of how such small things could bring her so much joy.

 

“Oh,” Kara smiled, checking to make sure Alice’s coat was zipped up properly in that worried mother way “that’s sweet of you. Do you like your coworkers?”

 

Connor hummed as the got out of the elevator and walked through the lobby “they are tolerable.”

 

“That bad?” She laughed as they left the building, the cold hitting them suddenly.

 

“I did not say bad, I said tolerable.” Connor clarified.

 

Connor could see Kara’s breath as she spoke “well, isn’t it nice when you work with people who you are also friends with?”

 

Connor hummed for a moment as he considered if he could ever be close with the people he worked with. Doubtful. “I suppose it could have its advantages.”

 

There was a brief second where things were silent besides the sound of their footsteps on the sidewalk. Connor had lived in the city his whole life, true silence wasn’t something he was very familiar with, there was almost always the sound of cars passing, someone talking, a radio or television playing, or just the ever-present buzz of unidentifiable noise. The moment passed quickly as a car drove past. “If you’re thinking of the possible advantages, is it really friendship?”

 

“Shouldn’t you always be thinking of how each decision can benefit you to some extent?”

 

“What about us?” Kara asked after a second.

 

“Well, having roommates makes financial sense for me.” Connor didn’t realize that would be a hurtful statement until he saw Kara’s jaw clench as she nodded. Of course, she had to realize that his primary motivation for his current living arrangement was a financial one? Was it not hers? “I do enjoy your company, Kara,” he said in a way that he hoped was comforting. Her expression didn’t make him think that it was, but it was pretty clear at this point that he couldn’t read people at all.

 

The park was only a few blocks from their apartment, it wasn’t anything special, just a block with paths crossing through a few trees, a small dog park, a playground, and a pond in its center. Alice ran to the playground, even though there were no other kids there, and Connor and Kara sat at a nearby bench. “I didn’t mean to say that I only spend time with you for practical reasons,” Connor said again.

 

“It’s okay, Connor,” she said quietly.

 

“I only meant that the reason I looked for roommates in the first place was for financial reasons but that wasn’t why I chose to room with you specifically, I really do enjoy your company. I apologize if I haven’t made that clear enough. I’m afraid that communication is often rather lost on me.”

 

“It’s fine,” she reaffirmed “it’s not my feelings that I worry for,”

 

 Connor’s eyes flicked to where Alice was playing on the swingset by herself “did I hurt her feelings?”

 

“I don’t know, Connor, but she really likes you. She doesn’t have a lot of friends and the fact that an adult who isn’t related to her voluntarily spends time with her is pretty exciting for her, I don’t want her to lose that too…”

 

Connor nodded “should I go apologize?”

 

Kara looked at him “I won’t make you, but I think she’d appreciate it.”

 

Connor walked over and sat on the swing next to Alice. The metal was cold even through his clothes. “Hello, Alice,”

 

She looked up and waved, the palm of her glove damp from frost. It probably wouldn’t be long before she was cold enough that they had to go home. He should return Hank’s coat - which he’d left on the bench with Kara - soon. “You know that I really like hanging out with you and Kara, right?” She still didn't say anything so he continued “I’m sorry if what I said made you think differently. While I originally chose to live with roommates as a way to save money, I am truly glad to have met all three of you.”

 

She got off the swings and hugged Connor quickly. He hugged her back in return, though it was rather foreign to him. “I have to give something back to someone I work with but maybe when we go home, we can do something together.”

 

She looked up at him and nodded “my mom says your really smart, does that mean you know how to play chess?”

 

He raised one eyebrow “well, those two things are not mutually exclusive but yes, I can play chess.”

 

“Will you teach me? There’s a chessboard in the lobby. My teacher says it’s like checkers for big kids.”



Connor promised to be back in a few minutes after he returned Hank’s coat as Kara kept an eye on Alice as she played at the playground. Hank’s apartment was across the street from the park so he wouldn’t be long. It occurred to him that he probably should have texted Hank to make sure he was home but he figured that if he wasn’t, he could hopefully leave it at the front desk for when he got back. By the time he knocked on Hank’s door, he’d come to the conclusion that Hank being home was rather unlikely so he was surprised when after a moment, the door swung open.

 

“Oh,” Hank murmured, pushing messy hair out of his very tired face “you’re not who I was expecting.”

 

“I came to return your coat, I hope I’m not intruding,” Connor offered, holding the coat out.

 

Hank rubbed his eyes and took the coat “huh, forgot you had that. Thanks. You, uh, want to come in for a drink or somethin’?”

 

Connor almost accepted but he had promised to be back soon and Alice really wanted him to teach her to play chess before her bedtime and it was already late. “I wish I could but I have a prior engagement tonight. Maybe another time.”

 

Hank nodded and grunted in reply “have a good night, Stern,”

 

Before Connor could reply, the door was closed again. Hank was clearly either exhausted or possibly intoxicated, probably both, Connor concluded as he walked back to the park. He hoped that Hank hadn’t taken his refusal too personally, he didn’t have much time to ponder it, though, because Alice and Kara were standing hand in hand by the playground when he got back to them. “Should we start walking back?” Kara asked, but it wasn’t much of a question. Connor didn’t mind, he certainly wasn’t going to complain about being back home.

 

“Sure,” Connor agreed as they started walking back towards their own apartment. “Do you have any homework, Alice?”

 

Alice looked up at him and nodded “I have a spelling test tomorrow and a math sheet.”

 

“Well once you finish those, perhaps I can show you how to play chess.”

 

“Can’t I do my homework after that?” She pouted, which was very uncharacteristic for her, as far as Connor had seen, she was usually very agreeable.

 

“Alice, Connor is being v-” Kara started.

 

Connor put his hand on Kara’s shoulder and smiled “it’s okay, I have my own homework that I have to do first too, we can do it together if you want.”

 

Kara smiled at him warmly and puts her hand over his for a moment. “Thank you,” she mouthed silently. Connor wasn’t quite sure for what, though.



Markus was home with Chinese takeout when they got back to the apartment. Kara let Alice eat on her lap while she studied her words for her spelling test. Connor sat on the couch with her and proofread the first few pages of his paper. He had a long way to go on it but he couldn’t resist setting it aside when Alice closed her homework folder after about a half-hour. “Can we go to the lobby now?” she asked once she saw that he had closed his laptop.

 

Connor glanced over to Kara, who was sitting at the table while she did her own work and smiling, before looking back at Alice. “So long as your mom is okay with it, sure.”

 

Kara nodded “of course. Just make sure to come back before your bedtime and no complaining when Connor says it’s time to come back up.”

 

“Of course!” Alice said, jumping up in a moment of surprising excitement. Connor waved at Kara and Markus before letting Alice take his hand and lead him out the door. It was a bit shocking to see Alice so openly excited and open about something, until then he’d been rather closed off. Connor was glad to see that, he hoped it meant that she trusted him. He didn’t really get kids but he wanted to at least get along with her. He couldn’t remember the last time that he’d made someone smile the way Alice smiled at him. He hadn’t had a great childhood, he hadn’t felt particularly loved or wanted, he certainly wasn’t going to let his poor interpersonal skills make her feel the same if he could avoid it. “Did your parents teach you to play chess? I asked my mom but she said she didn’t remember how.” Alice said, still holding Connor’s hand in the elevator.

 

Connor looked at the floor for a second until the elevator doors opened and Alice took him to a small shelf of board games. “A - um, a friend taught me.” He answered, deciding that was easier than saying his foster sister had taught him. He could have said sister, he supposed, but then what if she asked to meet her? God only knew where she was now, Connor sure didn’t.

 

“Do you have a lot of friends?” She asked, sitting down at one of the chairs in the small lounge.

 

Connor set up the board and chuckled, “I don’t really have time for friends right now but maybe in the future,”

 

Alice picked up one of the knights and ran her thumb over the small horse-shaped piece before looking up at Connor “well maybe… maybe we could be friends?”

 

Connor smiled “I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

Connor rolled over in bed for probably the hundredth time that night. The digital clock on his nightstand read 2:37 AM. He could at most get 3 hours and 23 minutes of sleep if he fell asleep right then… but he didn’t, he stared blankly at the clock until it turned to 2:40 and then he rolled back over to look out his window instead. He couldn’t see much sky because of the buildings and light pollution, in the thin corner of the sky that he could see between the buildings, he could only see four stars. The longer he looked at it, the more seemed to appear, though, still faint but he could now see maybe three of four more stars than he had noticed at first. His blinks became longer and he yawned, good, he thought, he was finally getting tired. He refocused his eyes on the sky and now there was a blinking light crossing his small section of sky as an airplane passed. 

 

He could imagine a simpler life for a moment. He was tired of counting down how many minutes he had to himself before his next task, and he was tired of not being able to enjoy those moments because he was always focused on his next task. Shouldn’t this be the kind of moment he looked forward to? When there was nothing he had to do for the moment except sleep? Isn’t that the kind of thing he should enjoy? He had so much of what he had always worked towards, he was so close now, why didn’t he feel more fulfilled? He still felt like he was missing so much. He was tired of feeling like he was missing out. He wondered when that feeling would stop. He fell asleep with the thought of a life where he could take the time to see the stars one day - all of them.

 

And then his alarm startled him awake. He yawned and rolled over to turn it off. There was a moment where he almost pulled the blankets back around himself and stayed in bed - it would be so easy to just stay in bed, would anyone really be hurt by that? But he knew better than to let himself indulge that thought for too long so he slid his legs out of bed. The floor was cold under his feet and the air felt like if it cooled off any more, Connor would be able to see his breath so he pulled on a pair of socks and wrapped his blanket back around his shoulders as he walked out to the kitchen. He found the coffee maker already brewing, signaling that someone was already up, so he poured himself a bowl of cereal to force himself to eat while he waited. He wasn’t hungry yet but it was going to be a long day with four classes and then work with only a ten-minute break between each, not enough time for lunch. It was Markus who joined him in the kitchen when the coffee was ready. “You seem tired, couldn’t sleep?” Markus asked as he poured two cups of coffee.

 

Connor took one and shrugged, leaning against the counter “no, I suppose not as much as usual. Work has been keeping me up a bit.”

 

“You should call in sick if you’re keeping yourself up for it, that’s not fair to yourself.”

 

Now that he was awake the idea of not going to class or work seemed preposterous. This was his job. What good was he if he couldn’t even go to work? What would he even do here all day? Just be bored and then wish he had gone to work anyway. “It’s not that bad, I can still get work done.”

 

Markus gave him a concerned look though Connor couldn’t understand why “it’s not about whether you’re physically capable of working, it’s about whether it’s good for you. Do whatever you want, just don’t work yourself to death over this.”

 

Connor looked at his coffee, unsure of what else to do “it’s my responsibility to be there, it doesn’t benefit anyone for me to stay here, but I appreciate your concern, though,”

 

Markus seemed to sense that Connor wasn’t giving in on this subject so he just patted Connor on the back and nodded before going to sit down. Connor could hear him turn on the tv in the other room as Markus moved on with his day. Connor couldn’t quite shake the tightness in his throat, though. He still hadn’t fully moved on even as he was walking into the office to meet his coworkers that afternoon.

 

“You good, Stern?” Gavin asked, with probably the closest thing to concern that he could manage. Connor had a feeling he was going to say something else but other Connor kicked him under the desk.

 

“Of course I am,” he refuted, sitting down. He hadn’t meant to sound so sharp, he felt more indifferent than anything but it felt like his brain hadn’t told his voice that. Gavin didn’t follow his statement up with another one. He briefly met Hank’s eyes but he remained quiet as Connor took his work out. The room fell silent as everyone worked on their own files, occasionally one of them would say something brief but it was always work-related and it seemed that when they could only talk about work, they didn’t talk about much of anything. It was just further proof that they wouldn’t be friends were it not for their careers, not that they were friends now anyway. 

 

Connor took his hands off the keyboard as a thought came to him. He hadn’t really thought too much about college when he was young, he hadn’t thought he would have the opportunity to attend a university but he’d always had a dream that he’d be something more… so he’d allowed himself occasionally to picture what his life would be like in college, perfect and happy and everything his childhood wasn’t. He’d thought that having a family and going to college would fix everything, that college would be when he finally had everything he’d wanted. He’d imagined himself having lots of friends and doing all the stuff he’d dreamed of doing - going to amusement parks and traveling and partying, being spontaneous and living each day to the fullest. But instead of a spontaneous adventure, he was looking at a stack of files surrounded by people who at best he didn’t know and at worst he didn’t like (he still didn’t know where his opinion of his coworkers fell). 

 

He jumped when a heavy hand fell on his shoulder “take a walk with me, Stern,” Hank said from behind him. Connor hadn’t noticed him standing up. Connor nodded and stood up, almost surprised when Hank’s hand fell back to his side. Had he really expected him to keep his hand on his shoulder, his arm around him? Maybe he was more tired than he’d thought, clearly he wasn’t thinking straight. He followed Hank outside, the chill of the siar instantly making him wish he’d declined Hank’s offer (though he wasn’t sure that was an option, he had a feeling that Hank would have insisted if he’d declined). Hank leaned against the brick wall and crossed his arms, Connor couldn’t tell if it was an act of defensiveness, annoyance, or just a reaction to the cold. That was the issue with human behavior, too many options, too many exceptions. “What’s up with you today?”

 

Connor expected him to clarify what he was walking about but instead, he just looked at Connor expectantly. Connor cleared his throat and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I’m just tired, I couldn’t sleep last night.”

 

“Your resting bitch face is at an all-time high, so I don’t think it’s just you being tired. What’s actually going on?”

 

Connor looked up at him. He hadn’t meant to be looking upset, but he supposed no one ever did. “I’m not trying to,”

 

Something in Connor’s demeanor must have changed because Hank sighed and uncrossed his arms (not the cold then, very confusing, Connor thought) “listen, you don’t have to tell me shit if you don’t want to but if you’re going through something, you should take some time off.”

 

Connor rolled his eyes “why does everyone keep saying that? I’m fine. What’s going to make me feel better is just being able to get my work done.”

 

“If you’re just tired and pissy, though, you won’t be able to work properly, Connor,” there was a hint of bitterness on Hank’s voice.

 

“I’m doing just fine, I shouldn’t have to put everything on hold just because I - I don’t know, I just want things to feel normal.” He was aware that he was oversharing now and he wanted to, at all costs, avoid that. “Sorry, it’s fine, I just couldn’t sleep last night.”

 

“It’s not crazy for you to be under pressure, Stern, you’re doing as much work as the rest of us and you’ve only just gotten out of high school… you can take a step back if you need.”

 

“That’s no excuse, we’re all adults,” Connor scoffed “if anyone can handle this workload, I should be able to, there’s no reason why I am not capable of this.”

 

“Connor-!” Hank cut him off sternly but then his voice lowered “I’m not telling you this because I don’t think you’re intelligent or a child or any of that - I’m telling you to take a break because I care about you, because I did that shit to myself too and it fucked me up, okay? I don’t want you to do that, just, please go home if you’re tired, it’s okay, we all take days off and we’re more used to this than you are, you don’t need to be superhumanly capable.”

 

Connor looked down at the ground. As determined as he was to keep work his first priority, Hank made some good points. And as much as he tried to ignore his physical state, he was also aware that he was more distracted today than usual. He wished he could just ignore the weariness he felt but clearly he wasn’t capable of that yet. He’d have to find a way to, in the future when he’s that tired, make it less obvious to others and stay focused. Until then, it may be best to get a few hours of sleep so that he could be more focused when he returned. 

 

He nodded and Hank smiled slightly, clearly thinking that he’d talked Connor into prioritizing his mental health more (he hadn’t). It wasn’t so much that Connor didn’t value his mental health, it was more just that he hadn't thought about it. He didn’t ignore how little sleep or enjoyment he had gotten recently, he had just rationalized that he’d find those later. He’d have plenty of time to sleep and do whatever people did when they couldn’t work once he got injured and had to take time off or got too old to work. Assuming he made it that far. A lot of people in this field didn’t make it to any sense of retirement, he decided to ignore that thought. “

 

“Let me give you a ride home,” Hank offered.

 

Connor shook his head “no, it’s fine, really, I enjoy the exercise, and you’ll have even more to do today with me leaving early.”

 

“It’s really no trouble-”

 

“I’d really rather walk, Hank,” he said before turning around to get his bag from where he’d left it in the office. Hank didn’t press the issue further, instead just following him back inside. He quietly thanked Hank as he picked up his bag. Gavin and other Connor looked at him but didn’t say anything, averting their eyes back to their laptops as they passed. He could just imagine what they had to say once he closed the door behind him. They probably thought he was just slacking off, he definitely did, or that he wasn’t able to handle the job like they could. He’d catch up on sleep and then prove them wrong first thing the next morning. He felt better already as he walked home, he probably didn’t even need the break but if it made everyone feel better, he’d do it. He could probably just use tonight to get ahead in his other classes so he could work even harder on his files the next day.

 

Still, he couldn’t quite shake the tightness in his throat that he’d had since that morning. His interaction with Hank hadn’t helped any. He was tired of people not thinking he was good enough. It was like no matter how hard he worked or how capable he was, there was always something thinking he couldn’t handle it. He wasn’t sure if it was his age or his background or what but something was holding him back from getting the respect he deserved. He couldn’t have that. He wouldn’t. He’d prove them wrong.

 

He unlocked the door and thankfully found the apartment empty. He went into his room to put his bag down. He sat down on the bed just to take his shoes off and get his textbook out but it was pretty cold and the bed was warm and comfortable… He supposed a few minutes wouldn’t hurt. He’d wake up when everyone else got home in an hour or so so he didn’t bother to set an alarm. He pulled off his coat and t-shirt then changed into sweatpants before curling up under the blankets. He wasn’t even that tired, he probably wouldn’t even sleep, he just needed to get off of his feet and warm up. Maybe rest his eyes for a minute. He leaned over and pulled the curtains closed, they didn’t block out the light fully but they did a pretty good job. He yawned, a part of him knew that he would be able to stay awake a lot better if he turned a light on or kept the window open but this was so… cozy.  He closed his eyes and pulled the blankets up to his neck. He decided that in thirty seconds he’d get up and start his work. One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten… eleven… twelve… thirteen… fourteen… fifteen… sixteen…

Chapter Text

Dear Mr. Stern,

 

My name is Stef, I’m a counselor from the University of Detroit Mercy’s mental health outreach office. We’ve received a report that someone in our community is worried about your mental wellbeing and I’m reaching out to ask if there is a time you would be able to meet with me. I’d like to stress that you are not in trouble, my goal for this meeting is just to help you find ways to help you adjust. This meeting should only take about a half-hour to an hour depending on what we talk about but of course, you can always book additional time at no cost to you upon a later date. I understand that you are a first-year and also part of a study program usually reserved for upperclassmen so I’m happy to help you work through the often difficult process of adjusting to university life. Please let me know what time works for you to meet with me.

 

Best wishes, Stef Myers,

University of Detroit Mercy

Mental Health Outreach Office

 

Connor rubbed his eyes as he read over the email. He really didn’t have time for this right now. He had a feeling that skipping the meeting would only do more to convince this woman that he was mentally unstable. He had a break between his classes later than afternoon so he emailed her back before rolling out of bed. He hadn’t meant to sleep until morning but there was nothing he could do about it now. If he skipped breakfast and his lunch break then didn’t sleep tonight he would be caught back up by this time the next day. Sure, he wouldn’t enjoy it but if he wanted to enjoy his day he shouldn’t have let himself get away with taking that much time off. 

 

He took his laptop out of his bag and started working on the articles he was supposed to get through before his 8:00 AM class. True, he could probably eat while he read but not letting himself eat or sleep until he caught back up would keep him motivated to stay on top of his work. By the time he finished the articles, it was time to start the walk to class. He put headphones on so he could listen to an audio recording of his textbook, no use in wasting time that could be used for studying for work. It was frustrating that a chunk of his day would be taken by having to sit through this meeting but he’d just have to get it over with so his life could go back to normal.



The counseling office was one of the parts of campus that Connor had always filed under Not For Him. It was filled with comfy chairs, a record player and stack of records, a bowl of snacks, and a bookshelf of self-help books, exactly the sort of place that Connor thought was a waste of a perfectly good room and tuition money. A woman with large glasses and a kind looking face sat behind a desk but Connor knew better than to judge someone based on their appearance, he had already decided that this woman was not his friend. “Hi, anything I can help you with?” The woman asked cheerfully. 

 

God, Connor really wanted to be anywhere else right now. How could you possibly care about whether someone thought he was stressed when he had so much work to do? How irresponsible was it that he was here of all placed when there were other things that should have been higher up on his priority list?

 

“My name is Connor Stern, I am supposed to be meeting with someone?...”

 

She stood up quickly, her yellow dress dotted with embroidered white flowers fell just above her knees and Connor couldn’t help but think it was a little over the top when it came to the happy vibe. She reached her hand out to shake Connor’s “great to meet you, Connor, I’m Stef, if you want to come with me into my office, it’s a bit more private.”

 

He only nodded as he followed her through a door into another room with yellow walls and a white couch and armchair. Connor really wished he had just pretended to not see the email now. “So,” she said, sitting in the armchair and gesturing for Connor to sit on the couch “before we start, you should know that this conversation is semi-confidential. I won’t tell anyone the things we talk about but if I think that you’re in danger, I am going to have to report it to the university and if it’s serious enough, to the police,  just to make sure you’re safe. Are you okay with that?”

 

Connor nodded. He definitely didn’t need to be here if she usually worked with people who the school needed to report to the police because their mental health was so bad. “Sure,”

 

“Perfect,” she smiled “now that we’ve got that cleared up, how are you, Connor?”

 

He shrugged and sat down “I’m fine, really, this is really just a misunderstanding, I’m sure. I don’t need to do this.”

 

“Oh?” She gave him an almost amused look “and why’s that?”

 

“Because I’m fine? I like my work, my classes are fine, I get along with my roommates… I’ve addressed my childhood trauma already so… who made the report anyway?”

 

She raised an eyebrow “we’ll get to that in a minute. Is there anything you can think of that would make someone in your life think you aren’t as well adjusted as you are? If we know why they’re worried we can find ways to let them know that you’re doing well.”

 

Connor crossed one ankle over his knee “I don’t know, I’m not good at reading people. I guess I work a lot.”

 

“Why don’t you walk me through a regular day for you?”

 

This was pointless. “I usually wake up at 6 and then study until I go to class, if I have a break between classes or work I’ll go to the library and do stuff there, then if I have afternoon classes I’ll go to those and then work until five and then I go home.”

 

She waited and minute, as if expecting him to continue but then spoke again when he didn’t “and what about once you go home?”

 

He had almost forgotten his day didn’t end once he got done with class. He shrugged “uh… I usually just do homework and then go to bed. I guess I’m pretty boring.”

 

She nodded “I’m less interested in your academic life right now and more interested in where among all of this studying you find time for yourself,”

 

“Like sleeping and stuff? I usually get like… three or four hours per night, it depends on how much work I can get done during the day.”

 

She wrote something down on a notepad and nodded “that’s a start. What about hobbies and downtime?”

 

He thought for a few minutes “sometimes my roommate has me babysit her kid,”

 

If Connor was better at reading people he might have seen the concern on her face “when was the last time you did something just for you? Not for your classes or job or roommates, just something you enjoyed?”

 

He looked at the ceiling, he couldn’t just watch her stare at him while he thought. After a few minutes, he sighed “I don’t usually do much of that because, like, what’s the point if I don’t get anything from it, but I visited my foster sister a few weeks ago because she wanted me to see where she was working.”

 

“But you visited her because she asked you to?” He nodded, surprised she hadn’t mentioned the foster part of that statement and confused as to why she cared about any of this. “Would you have visited her if she hadn’t asked you to? Not invited yourself, I mean, but would you have asked her to come spend time with you instead?”

 

He considered it briefly “probably not, not unless she needed someone to stay with.”

 

“So you really did that for her more than yourself then?”

 

“I guess when you put it like that… I still saw her though.”

 

She smiled and nodded “you did, and that’s good, but sometimes you also need to do things just because you want to.” 

 

He couldn’t help but laugh “I wish I had enough time to do things just because I want to. I barely have time to sleep and eat as is.” She didn’t laugh, instead, she wrote another note. He cleared his throat “you said we’d get to who made the complaint?”

 

That she did laugh at “we don’t see them as complaints, Connor, it’s not someone upset with you, it’s someone worried about you and who wants to make sure you’re safe. Now, I can’t tell you who brought your situation to our attention but I can tell you that they care deeply about you and just want to see you happy.”

 

“I didn’t come to college just to be happy. I’m pretty sure if your first priority here is having a good time you probably won’t make it very long.”

 

She hummed contemplatively “I’m sorry you feel that way, Connor, because you do deserve to be happy. You’re right that your academics are important but so are you. You’re not a means to an end. Your happiness and your feelings are important.”

 

“I think that’s a little overly optimistic, don’t you?” He scoffed. He was very much aware that every second that he spent here was one less second he was spending catching up on work which meant one more second he’d be waiting until he could sleep or eat. It was going to be a long day. He could feel his stomach tightening as it threatened to rumble. His body hadn’t caught up to the fact that it had betrayed him by sleeping too long and it deserved this.

 

Stef’s eyebrows furrowed “no, Connor, I don’t, I think we each deserve a life where we feel both fulfilled and happy, including you, even if you don’t see it yet. Do you feel like you’re not deserving of happiness?”

 

Connor glanced at the clock, was she really going to keep him here for his entire break? He had a chapter to read by the end of the hour, he’d be even more behind at this rate “it’s not really that deep, I just need to finish other stuff first.”

 

“I’m not trying to argue with you, Connor, but I do want you to understand that the level of stress you’re putting yourself under can have very real consequences to your health. I’m worried that this will lead to academic burnout, sleep disorders, a damaged metabolism, anxiety, cardiovascular damage, memory loss, disordered eating… any of these and many others are all common side effects of academic stress. Would you be open to taking some preventative measures to avoid these?”

 

Connor wanted to roll his eyes, this was so overdramatic, he’d be fine. “Everyone deals with that, though, it’s not a big deal.”

 

She pursed her lips “it’s a very big deal, actually, these can each be very dangerous, so would you work with me to help reduce the stress in your life?”

 

He actually considered it for a moment, being less stressed didn’t sound too bad… but he’d have to come back in for more meetings with her which would only mean he’d have even less time to work which would make things way worse. This lady really had no idea what she was talking about if she thought adding a new obligation to his schedule would somehow make him feel less stressed. “I don’t think this is for me,”

 

“I see. I’m sorry to hear that, I really am only here to help you,” her gaze followed his to the clock on the wall “anxious to get out of here?”

 

Connor shrugged “don’t take it personally. I’m just only letting myself eat once I catch up on the work I didn’t do yesterday so having to wait even longer isn’t something I’m excited about.”

 

Steff took a soft inhale of breath and then pursed her lips. Connor didn’t have to be an expert on human behavior to know that he had messed up. “Connor,” she eventually said, “are you aware that withholding food from yourself is a means of self-harm?”

 

Connor scoffed “okay, yeah, but like… I’m not doing it like that, it’s not a big deal.”

 

She gave him a sad look “it’s a very big deal, Connor, and I know that you won’t like this but I am going to have to report this to the university and to your advisors so that we can all make sure you’re safe.”

 

Connor’s jaw fell open “you can’t be serious. I’ll stop, okay? If you let me go right now I can probably make it to the cafeteria to get lunch before they close.” He held his hands up in surrender, this was such bullshit.

 

She shook her head “that’s not the point, I’m afraid. I really do hate to do this but it is for your own safety, you’ll have the choice to either continue seeing me on a regular basis and accepting treatment, or you can take medical leave and seek treatment at a separate institution, that part is up to you for now, but I will reserve the right to request medical leave for you if I feel that your academic career is hindering your recovery.”

 

Connor groaned, this could absolutely not be happening. He ran his fingers through his hair “you can’t just let this go?”

 

“What you’re doing is a very serious danger to yourself so no, it’s not something I can ignore. It would be selfish of me to let you continue this pattern.”

 

“Fine, I don’t care, I’ll meet with you but only because you’re forcing me. This is a waste of everyone’s time, though.”

 

“We’ll see, I have a feeling you might come around to the idea, though. Can I book you in for the same time next week?”

 

He rolled his eyes and stood up “sure, whatever you want, can I go now?”

 

Stef nodded stiffly and got up as well “you may, go get yourself something to eat. I’ll see you next week.”

Chapter Text

Connor didn’t get angry often. He prided himself in his emotional stability but this was above even his level of rationality. He was going to be losing even more of his already precious time. He didn’t go eat like he had promised he would, how could he? He didn’t have nearly enough time if he wanted to be ready for his next class. He ignored the discomfort in his stomach and mild ache behind his eyes as he sped back to the library to finish his readings. Once he was caught back up and finished at work he could have all the food he wanted, this was getting blown way out of proportion. 

 

It wasn’t that Connor didn’t value mental health, it’s just that his mental health wasn’t a problem, he was fine. Sure, there were people who did need counseling and did have unhealthy habits when it came to stress and eating but Connor was fine. He’d been through far worse than missing a few meals, he’d be fine. He just had to convince everyone else that he was fine. 

 

He found a seat at the library and opened his laptop to do his readings when he saw the notification show up at the bottom of his screen:

 

Email

Jeffery Fowler

Work studies time off

 

It was probably just him saying that he was taking the weekend off or something standard but it was never a good idea to ignore a supervisor’s email. Despite not having enough time for his current task, he clicked the notification to open the email.

 

Connor,

 

I received a message from the mental health center that you have been struggling to balance your studies and physical wellbeing. I can assure you that the details of your meeting were not shared with me, though I am always available to speak with you if you would like to talk to someone in your field about work-related stress, they did advise me to allow you to take some time off work. While your input will be deeply missed, your wellbeing is of the utmost importance. 

 

After your next meeting with the outreach center, should you feel ready to return, we will be happy to have you back again but please do take an extra week off if you need it. Enjoy your time off.

 

Jeffrey Fowler, PhD

University of Detroit Mercy, Criminal Justice

 

The person at the table beside him glared when Connor put his hand down on the table forcefully. What right did this lady have to mess up his life this much? What could he have possibly done to deserve this? He recognized that there was no cosmic scale of who got what based on their moral actions but this somehow still felt unfair. He was getting his entire life messed up, and for what? So that people could feel like they were helping someone? Nevermind the fact that he didn’t need help. He didn’t have time to be upset about it, though, he had to finish this reading.



It felt strange to walk back home after class, he was so used to his regular schedule of going from class to the office. What was he even supposed to do with his day? He listened to a recording of his Victimology notes while he walked home but the whole thing felt a little pointless. He’d definitely never be accepted by his coworkers after this. He was sure they were all mocking his weak will and work ethic. He considered texting them that this was all against his will but decided that would only make him seem more childish. He’d just have to work twice as hard when he returned.

 

When he got back to the apartment, Marcus was sitting on the couch. He looked up, surprised, and gave Connor an uncertain wave “I thought you had work tonight?” He asked.

 

Connor ignored him and went straight to his room even though he didn’t have any real purpose besides getting away from everyone. He locked the door behind him and collapsed into bed. He kicked his shoes off before curling up and sighing into his blankets. This was meant to make him feel better and yet he felt more overwhelmed than ever. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw as if that were enough to turn his emotions off. All he wanted to do was go back to that morning and say the right things so that he could avoid this situation, say the right thing to whoever had submitted the complaint. He wanted to be back to when his only concern was work and class and yet he couldn’t find the will to get himself out of bed and study. 

 

Things felt rather pointless. He wouldn’t be accepted by his coworkers after this and he’d fall behind in his classes due to the time he’d be losing with counseling, then because he wouldn’t impress Professor Fowler enough with his poor work ethic and time management, he wouldn’t be able to get onto a good career path. So, as a way to avoid sabotaging his academic career, Connor, logically, fell asleep.



Connor woke up to a dark room and an arm numb from laying on it. It had been the kind of nap that left you completely unaware of your own surroundings. Connor suddenly was hit by the panic that he might have slept through the entire evening and might not have time to prepare for his classes but he was calmed by the 8:31 PM displayed on his clock. What got him out of bed wasn’t the idea of doing his schoolwork, but instead the realization that there were pizza rolls in the freezer and he really was hungry. He wasn’t supposed to eat until he was done with his homework, but it would be fine just this once.

 

When he got himself up and into the living room, Kara, Marcus, and Alice all looked up from where they were sitting in front of the tv. Alice waved shyly but Kara pulled her onto her lap and whispered something to her. Marcus stood up and Connor walked a little faster to the kitchen. Please don’t let this be some sort of intervention…

 

“Hey, Connor?”

 

Connor forced a neutral-verging-on-happy expression onto his face as best he could before turning around to face Marcus “yes?”

 

Marcus looked uncertain and hesitated before speaking “if you want to talk about anything…”

 

Connor shook his head “I’m fine, man,” the word sounded foreign in his mouth but he hoped that it eased Marcus’ mind.

 

Marcus cleared his throat awkwardly and it was an odd look for him. He was usually so stable and sure of himself, was it really that big of a deal that he was upset? Why did he even care? “Right, well,” he continued “just in case, we’re still here for you. We’re watching a movie if you want to join us, and there’s pizza in the oven.”

 

Connor considered it for a moment, only a moment, though “not tonight, I have a lot of homework.” He didn’t want to be a part of this conversation any longer so he just grabbed a bag of grapes out of the fridge and went back to his room. He didn’t feel particularly motivated to get any work done but what else was there to do? He didn’t want to go back to sleep necessarily, he just wanted to… he didn’t know. But he didn’t want to do this.



Chloe: what’s up? I miss you

 

The text came in around midnight but Connor was still up, his textbook open on his lap but he wasn’t reading it. Instead, he’d turned to rereading his text conversations with Hank and thinking about how disappointed Hank would be in his inability to handle himself. He almost didn’t reply but he’d run out of texts with Hank and then he’d need to find something else to distract himself from his homework.

 

It has not been the best day. How are you?

 

After a second he added I miss you too

 

Chloe: what happened?

 

Connor sighed and leaned back against his headboard. He didn’t really want to talk about it but yet here he was. He did want someone else to validate how stupid and unfair this was, though.

 

Someone turned me into the mental health clinic because they thought I was overworked and they’re making me take a week off work

 

The little dots on the bottom of the screen showed Chloe typing for far longer than it would have taken her to type only “ are you okay?”

 

I’m fine, they’re overreacting. It’s not like I can’t handle it.

 

Chloe: being able to handle something is different than it being healthy, though

 

He sighed, this was not going the way he’d wanted.

 

I’m fine

 

Chloe: you always say that

 

I mean it. When have you not seen me okay? So long as I have a goal to work towards, I’m fine. It’s just frustrating because now I have nothing to work on.

 

Chloe: you could work on relaxing?

 

Of course she’d say something like that. Chloe was the kind of person who cared about emotions and friends and being liked. Connor didn’t have time for that. He loved her but her priorities really were off focus. Once she missed school for a “mental health day” - voluntarily. She’d just stayed home and caught up on sleep and… what else would you even do when you weren’t working? She didn’t have any other career aspirations or talents to work on. That sounded harsh, but there was truth to it in Connor’s mind. She wasn’t the type of person that Connor would take career advice from.

 

Very funny. Not that kind of working

 

Chloe: what kind do you mean then? How is working on yourself different than working on a paper?

Chloe: working on yourself also stays with you much longer than a single grade

 

They’re just different, and a grade does stay with me since it will affect my gpa and I won’t get hired if I don’t have a good gpa, even you know that

 

Chloe: I want you to be happy, I just also don’t think a week off is the end of the world, I think some time off might be good for you

 

I’m not the kind of person who needs time off from a starter job. If I can’t handle this, how can I get a more advanced position? I need to get used to this.

 

Chloe: I’m just saying to try and relax while you can and just see how you feel at the end of it, okay?

 

Okay. I need to go to sleep.

 

Except he wasn’t going to sleep. He knew how he was going to feel at the end of the week, he’d feel exactly the same as he did now: angry and disappointed in himself. He wished none of this week had happened but now he just had to live with the consequences, as bad as they might be. He put his phone down and picked his textbook back up. He stared at the pages for a few minutes but the motivation just wasn’t there. Instead of reading, he found himself running through situations of how this one day would probably ruin the rest of his life in growingly drastic ways.

Chapter Text

Despite Connor’s intentions to get ahead on the work he could do, he found it very difficult to get himself out of bed. He wasn’t even doing anything, just laying curled up in bed and watching the wall. He had started watching Youtube, which was usually something he only did if he needed to look something up for work, but a trending video of a dog trainer had caught his eye and suddenly he’d watched all 87 episodes on the chanal and an entire day had passed. He got up to microwave some pizza rolls before returning to his bed to eat dinner and watch more dog videos - this time dogs running obstacle courses. That was how Connor’s week went, without work he didn’t have any motivation to get himself working. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to work or didn’t know that he needed to get up and do his schoolwork, he just couldn’t. “I’ll do it when I get home” became “I’ll do it after dinner” became “I’ll do it in an hour” became “I’ll do it tomorrow” and the cycle repeated. Connor even felt unmotivated when it came to going back to work, he almost skipped his meeting with Stef but he’d told Kara when his meeting was and she’d forced him up.

 

“You’ll regret not going, Con, won’t it be nice being able to go back into work? You always talk about how bored you are without it.” She encouraged as she walked with him to the office.

 

“I’ll probably be just as bored there, and who knows if she’ll even say I’m good enough to go back,”

 

She sighed and patted his shoulder “how about we focus on the positive? Even if you can’t go back quite yet, it’ll probably feel good to talk about things with someone.”

 

Connor shrugged “not much to talk about but I guess.”

 

She frowned and fell silent. Connor felt bad for making her upset, which only made him feel worse about everything else. Maybe he wasn’t as exceptional as he’d thought, maybe he’d just been lucky. He wasn’t cut out for any of this. There would be someone better than him who would come along soon, someone who could do his job well and keep people happy. He stopped in front of the office but couldn’t find the words to say so he just looked at his feet. Kara looked at the ground for a second before hugging Connor tightly. He was a little taken aback but then he hugged her back. “Try and make the most of this, okay? I hate seeing you upset.”

 

He sighed into her shoulder “I will,” he wasn’t sure how honest that was, but he wasn’t going to say anything to hurt her more.

 

“I love you,” she murmured quietly “you’re pretty much the best friend I’ve ever had, I don’t want you to hurt anymore.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

She let go after a minute and waved before he went inside. Stef was waiting for him at her desk like before “hi, Connor, nice to see you again,”

 

“Hello,” he said and nodded politely.

 

“Why don't we get started,” she said before taking him back into the same room as they’d talked in last week. It was clear that the room was meant to feel calming but Connor’s negative experiences here last week had formed a very uncomfortable association. “How are you feeling?”

 

Connor sat down and shrugged “fine, I guess, just bored.”

 

She laughed softly “well at least you’re being honest. I understand, therapy isn’t always fun, but I hope it can at least be a cathartic experience that you can learn from.” Connor only nodded so she continued “how has life been focusing mainly on classes?”

 

Connor sighed “uh, I guess I’m just… I haven’t been really getting much done, I’m just kind of…” he trailed off and looked at the blank wall.

 

“Unmotivated?” She suggested after a few minutes of silence.

 

“Yeah, I haven’t really done anything,”

 

“And how does that make you feel?”

 

He pursed his lips and hummed “I guess kind of… useless is a harsh word…”

 

“Is it a fitting one?”

 

“As good of a word as I can find.”

 

She wrote something down before continuing “a change of pace can make us feel like that. We often base a lot of who we are around our careers or another very specific part of our lives. With that part of your day gone, what have you been doing instead?”

 

He shrugged “nothing really, I watched a lot of youtube and slept a lot.”

 

She nodded “well, taking time for yourself is good, but usually passive activities such as those help us relax but don’t help us to feel fulfilled. Have you considered a hobby or activity that allows you to create something?”

 

“Like… working?”

 

“Let’s focus on something that isn’t involved with work.”

 

Ways to create something… “like pottery or something? I don’t know if that’s my thing.”

 

She smiled “it doesn’t have to be working in the physical sense. Anything that creates a change that you can see, like drawing or writing in a journal or something more abstract like learning a language or volunteering.”

 

“I guess, I feel like being busier will only make things worse,”

 

“I think you’d be surprised how much a half-hour of your day spent doing something productive other than work can change your outlook. Would you be open to trying that?”

 

He exhaled “I mean… I’d try it I guess.”

 

“That’s a start. Do you have an activity you’d like to try? If not, I have a list you can look through.”

 

He crossed his arms over his stomach “I don’t really see the use in many leisure activities.”

 

“List, then?”

 

He nodded and watched as she picked up a binder full of papers that was sitting on the ground beside her. She flipped through pages for a while before taking out a stapled set of several sheets of paper. He took it and skimmed over the pages.

 

Activities for when we feel like we can’t do anything

Read a book

Knit

Sew

Crochet

Learn to code

Learn a language

Draw

Paint

Do a coloring page

Sing

Go jogging

Tutor a classmate

Cook a meal

Bake

Visit an animal shelter

Clean up trash

Learn to play an instrument

Dance

Write in a journal

Write poetry

Write a story

 

He set the papers down, he had barely made it halfway down the first page but could already tell this wasn’t the thing for him, none of them were. Sure, there were things he physically could do, but why would he want to? Usually, he’d be able to rationalize that at least something like learning a language or working out could help him get ahead for work and give him some skills that would help him but right now even that seemed pointless. There was no guarantee he’d even be able to make this career path work after taking this much time off and embarrassing himself like this. 

 

“Can I think about it?” he asked, not wanting to have her psychoanalyze why he felt like everything on that list was useless.

 

She nodded “of course, how about you keep that and look over it tonight. When you figure out what you want to do, you can email me and we can figure out how to implement it into your life tomorrow? We’ll cut today’s meeting short to make up for it.”

 

He nodded, he didn’t want to come back tomorrow but he wanted to get back home so that he could get back into bed. He’d skipped his morning class to sleep in and yet he still felt exhausted. He’d deal with this whole list thing later. 

 

“Connor,” she said as he stood up “I know that taking time to work on yourself can feel pointless to a lot of people, but please do try and take this seriously. It might be very helpful for you.”

 

He nodded “I will,” he wasn’t sure how honest that was but if it got him back sooner, he’d put up with a little bad karma. He didn’t believe in karma anyway.

 

Once he was outside, he checked his phone.

 

Kara: text me when you’re done, thinking about ordering lunch, let me know what you want

 

He texted as he walked home. Usually, he’d listen to a recording of his textbook while he walked but for some reason he couldn’t bother today. He found the steady hum of the city around him almost relaxing. 

 

Fine with anything. What are you thinking?

 

She texted back quickly.

 

Kara: Alice asked for Chinese food if you’re okay with that. How did your session go?

 

Pretty boring. She wants me to find a hobby. She gave me a list and everything and wants me to pick one by tomorrow.

 

Kara: fun! Do you know what you want to do?

 

Whatever gets me done with this the fastest.

 

While he was waiting for a reply from Kara, he was surprised to see an email from Professor Fowler pop up in his notifications.

 

Connor,

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed your week off. I’ve shared this week’s schedule with you should you feel like coming in to the office, but please let me know if you need to take some more time. As I mentioned last week, your health is very important so please don’t hesitate to take another week off if you need it. We all miss your insights and are excited to have you back when you’re ready.

 

Best wishes, Fowler

 

Connor stopped walking and chewed his lip. He could go back to work. Maybe that would fix things and he wouldn’t have to do this stupid hobby sheet.

 

Raincheck on lunch, stopping into the office. He texted Kara.

 

Kara: Just don’t burn yourself out. See you tonight. Look after yourself.

 

I’ll be fine. It’s just work.

Chapter Text

“Stern,” other Connor said from his desk when Connor opened the door. Connor didn’t know how to interpret that. Other Connor’s eyebrows were raised in surprise and the statement sounded like a question was meant to follow but the room remained silent until Connor waved a bit and set his bag down.

 

“We didn’t know you were coming back so soon,” Hank said, standing up. He hesitated a second, looking at Connor, before extending his hand to shake Connor’s like they hadn’t known each other for months. It felt like forever, though… not just Hank, of course, that would be suggesting of more than they were but (why was he even thinking that, he wondered)... but everything. The time before college was so recently and yet it felt like a lifetime ago. The office felt practically more like home than his home with Amanda did now.

 

“Fowler made me take a week off but I am happy to be back now”

 

Gavin cleared his throat, taking his feet off the desk “before you get started, can we…” he trailed off and sighed in annoyance before pulling Connor back outside with him by his arm. He closed the office door behind them once they were outside “listen, don’t make this a whole thing but like… if the stuff I said to you, like, got to you, then I… I didn’t mean to be so hard on you. It’s nothing personal, you know? We had a good thing going before you got here is all, we’re all pretty close and it was pretty fun because Connor kind of did all the work but we didn’t really have many responsibilities but then you showed up and started one-upping everyone and it’s… I just wasn’t ready for that to end. I guess I was just taking my frustration out on you which isn’t fair but it’s just what I do so just don’t take it personal, okay?”

 

Connor blinked a few times, wondering if Gavin was done rambling, but after a second of silence he responded: “your behavior towards me had no part in me being made to take time off, I assure you, though I do appreciate your sentiment.”

 

“Oh,” Gavin said, shuffling his feet uncomfortably “well, sweet, glad to hear that. Well, sucks that something else is going on but I’m glad I wasn’t making it worse.”

 

Connor chuckled “I’m not really bothered by what you think of me, but a working relationship could be beneficial,”

 

Gavin rolled his eyes and punched Connor’s shoulder gently “don’t make this some big thing, we’re not friends or anything, you’re still kind of annoying as fuck but like… you’re not awful .”

 

Connor fought a smile as they walked back inside, being not awful was a good place to start. The only problem was, he still didn’t know what he was starting.



“Don’t think you’re leaving without me at least offering to give you a ride,” Hank said from behind Connor as he left. He’d stayed late to catch back up on work, as had Hank but Connor was fairly certain he wasn’t working for the past hour so much as waiting to drive him home. That was insane, right? Why would Hank do that? He should abandon the thought but Hank hadn’t gotten a new file in a while, usually he worked much faster than that. Regardless, Connor hadn’t minded the company. 

 

Connor turned around and adjusted his bag on his shoulder “I suppose you won’t take no for an answer, will you?”

 

Hank shrugged “Detroit can get nasty at night, hate to see you get hurt.”

 

“You’re very thoughtful,” Connor smiled as Hank joined him “I’m sorry I dumped extra work on you this week.”

 

Hank shook his head and briefly touched his palm to Connor’s back as he walked with him to his car. Connor hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until Hank’s hand dropped to take out his keys. He was aware that he found Hank attractive but he knew better than to allow that to get in the way of having a strictly professional relationship with Hank - he was also aware that he needed to think about something else right now, somehow scared his feelings would show on his voice or face. “Don’t worry about that,” Hank comforted, unlocking his car “freshman year can be pretty stressful. I wish I had people who cared about me then like you do, don’t take shit like that for granted.”

 

Connor shrugged “I don’t know if people care about me so much as they care about being paid to keep people from killing themselves,”

 

Hank leaned against the hood of his car and clenched his jaw hard enough that Connor could see the bones shift under his light beard and skin “you didn’t… did you?”

 

Connor shook his head “no, of course not, just like… I guess someone reported me to the mental health office because they thought I was stressed and they made me take a week off is all.”

 

Hank relaxed visibly “thank god,” he breathed “don’t- don’t scare me like that.”

 

Connor frowned, he hadn’t expected Hank to be so… invested in him. He hadn’t considered that people would be worried about him, especially not his coworkers. His mind flashed back to other Connor’s concerned look when he had walked in and Gavin making sure his words hadn’t upset him too much, maybe he was more a part of the team than he’d thought. “I didn’t think you’d care that much, it’s not really a big deal,”

 

Hank sighed and pushed his hair back “if you say so, but I care about you, y’know? You’re a sweet kid, I’d hate to see something happen to you. I got kind of fucked up with stress and being on my own freshman year so like… if you wanted to talk to someone who gets it…”

 

Connor nodded “I appreciate the offer… I’m sorry I’ve worried you.”

 

Hank sighed in exasperation and pulled Connor closer to hug him. Connor wasn’t really a hug kind of person but being this close to Hank was somehow comforting. “Don’t apologize,” he breathed into Connor’s hair, his voice shaking slightly “just look after yourself.”

 

Connor leaned into Hank, closing his eyes for a moment and letting himself relax “I will. Thank you for caring.”

 

Connor was very much aware of Hank’s arms wrapped around his body and the scent of cheap cologne that hung to Hank’s skin but then Hank was letting go and shifting away. “Of course. Let’s get you home before this gets any more cliche than it already is,”

 

Connor smiled and got into the passenger seat “I didn’t know you were so caring.”

 

Hank got in beside him and started the car “I look after my friends the best I can.”

 

Connor hid a smile behind his hand “well I appreciate it.”

 

“If you ever need a way to destress… I just got a dog and he’s trained to help with anxiety so…”

 

Connor looked over at Hank as he drove “I’d love to meet him. I’ve always wanted a dog. I like dogs.”

 

Hank chuckled “well you should come over sometime then.”

 

“Does he know any tricks? I… I kind of spent a lot of time watching dog training videos while I was off work,” Connor admitted bashfully.

 

“He knows a few but I bet you could teach him some more if you want.”

 

Connor smiled to himself. He didn’t bother to try and hide it this time.



“Did you pick an activity outside of work?” Stef asked as they walked into their usual room. This was starting to feel routine, which Connor wasn’t exactly thrilled with but at least he was starting to not resent this part of his day so much.

 

“I did, actually.” He sat down “my - a coworker just got a dog and I want to try and teach it some tricks.”

 

Stef smiled “that sounds like a fantastic idea. I’m glad you’re giving this a shot, Connor. As overused the saying is, these things only work if you work them. Therapy can’t be forced, you need to put in the effort. I’m glad to see you doing that.”

 

Connor shrugged “I guess, yeah, I just like dogs.”

 

“Animals can be very soothing. Do you have any pets at home?”

 

Connor shook his head “I’ve never had a pet before.”

 

“Well I hope that this will help you find some fulfillment outside of work. Speaking of which, have you returned to working again or was this dog training conversation something that occurred elsewhere?”

 

“Both, I suppose. I went back to work yesterday and then Hank offered to drive me home like usual and said something about having a dog that’s trained to handle anxiety and… sorry, I’m getting off-topic. Yes, I have returned to work.”

 

“Please don’t cut yourself off. It seems like he really cares about you. I’m happy to hear that.”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“You seem very happy when you talk about him, happier than I’ve seen you in our prior meetings. Can we talk about that?”

 

Connor shrugged “I guess. There isn’t much to talk about, though.”

 

“I’m not so sure that’s correct. Friendships are extremely important to our mental wellbeing. Humans are social creatures and require close bonds.”

 

“I’m more of an introvert but Hank’s alright.”

 

“Even introverts require bonds, they’re likely want strong bonds with fewer people though and prefer casual interactions within their relationships as opposed to adventurous or outgoing ones. Being introverted does not mean that we should avoid being around others, only that we do not get our energy from others. So perhaps you would prefer to stay home and watch a movie with someone than go to a party with them but that does not make those relationships any less important. Do you and Hank spend time together outside of work and him driving you home?”

 

Connor shook his head “not really. I don’t really hang out with people very often, I don’t have time usually.”

 

“Perhaps you should try and find the time, or even invite him over to work together. Having company is important.”

 

Connor nodded, it had been nice that one time he’d worked at Hank’s apartment “maybe. He’s probably busy too, though...”

 

“No harm in asking. Is there something in that which makes you anxious?”

 

“I’d rather not be a burden on anyone…”

 

Stef pursed her lips “I’m sorry you see yourself like that. Now, does Hank usually offer to drive you home or do you ask for a ride?”

 

“He offers, in fact, he usually insists, it’s always too dark or raining or something, I think at this point he’s making up reasons to take me home.” He realized he was rambling again “why?”

 

She smiled “because I don’t think someone who insists on driving you home every day to make sure you get home safely views you as a burden. In fact, I think he cares very deeply about you.”

 

Connor smiled and looked at the floor sheepishly. He supposed she was right.

Chapter Text

“How come you only ever take the twins with you into the field, Hank?” Gavin asked out of the blue as they worked. They were nearing five and had so far gone a whole day without fighting, which was rather unusual with Gavin in the office.

 

“The twins?” Connor asked, raising his eyes from his file.

 

Gavin raised an eyebrow and frowned “come on, you have to admit that you guys are practically identical. It’s, like, scary.”

 

Connor shared a glance with other Connor “I suppose we have some similar characteristics… I don’t really see the resemblance.”

 

Gavin scoffed “whatever, you two are ridiculous. I’m serious, though, when do I get to go into the field?”

 

“When you help solve something worth justifying fieldwork,” Hank propped his feet up on the desk “and I’ve only taken Stern once.”

 

“You know I’m not a paperwork person, Hank. I’ve got to get out and, like… do something. How am I supposed to visualize a case from just a file? I’ve got to see and feel it for myself. You feel me, right, Connor?”

 

Other Connor glanced up from his file “it’s not that hard.”

 

“This office has no empathy. All a bunch of fucking robots, I swear. Especially the twins.”

 

Other Connor chuckled and returned to his file. Connor was about to do the same when Hank judged his leg under the table “want to finish this up at my place?”

 

Connor felt eyes on him as he smiled and nodded “can I meet your dog?”

 

“That’s the idea,” Hank replied as he got up. Connor grabbed his bag and followed him, sending a confused glance at Gavin when he scoffed under his breath. He didn’t much mind, but he didn’t understand why he had seemed so invested. Why did it matter so much to everyone that Hank drove him home and occasionally had him over? “You still doing good?” Hank asked as they walked to the parking lot.

 

“I am happy to have work to do again.” Connor wasn’t lying, he enjoyed his routine. It was comfortable.

 

“Yeah but, like, emotionally, you good?”

 

“Is that not what I said?”

 

Hank rubbed the bridge of his nose as he opened the car door for Connor “no, it’s not, but it’s a start I guess.” Somehow Connor felt like he was supposed to apologize, which was odd because he knew that he hadn’t done anything wrong and yet… His indecision as to whether or not to apologize led to an awkward silence until Hank continued: “listen, kid, I’m not trying to pry or overstep here but… I might be your supervisor, but I’m not your boss or anything, you know that, right? You can talk to me and I won’t go blabbing it to the others or Fowler or anything, if you were worried about that.”

 

“I wasn’t, but I appreciate it. I have no concerns about speaking with authority figures.”

 

“I’m sure you don’t,” Hank laughed softly as he pulled the car out of the parking lot.

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

“You just don’t seem to be uncomfortable with anything is all. You’ve aced every test you’ve been given so far in the office.”

 

“There are…” Connor ran his thumb over a coin in his pocket, a nervous tick he’d never been able to kick, pulling it out to flip it onto his palm “there are a few.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Hank glanced at him “name one.”

 

“I’m nervous about the prospect of being in a relationship but also just as nervous that if I am not in one that I will always be alone. And I’m nervous that there will be a day when I don’t want that.”

 

Hank was silent for a long moment while he drove before eventually clearing his throat “oh, that sucks, man, but that’s kind of everyone. Not to say it’s not important, it’s just - you’re not alone in thinking that.”

 

“Are you seeing anyone, Hank?” Connor asked casually.

 

“Uh, no, not really. I assume you’re not either?”

 

“I’ve never been in a relationship before,” Connor admitted. Something about the silence and enclosed nature of the car made it feel like he could share more than he usually would.

 

“Really? Never?” Hank propped his elbow against the window at a red light and leaned his head on his hand “not even a short-term thing?” 

 

Connor shook his head and flipped his coin again. Heads. “Opportunity never presented itself, and it’s never been a priority of mine - I just occasionally worry that one day I’ll want someone and my chance will be gone.”

 

“Huh. Figured someone like you would have a whole list of girls you could pick from.”

 

“What do you mean ‘someone like me’?”

 

Hank didn’t get to answer because they were distracted by someone behind them laying on the horn as the light turned green and Hank didn’t move. “Jesus,” Hank muttered, stepping on the gas again.

 

Connor decided not to return to their previous conversation because while he was curious about what Hank had been saying about him, he also knew that discussing relationships with Hank may not be the best idea if he wanted to keep him unaware of his attraction to him. “When did you get your dog?” he asked instead.

 

“Last week, been on a waiting list for him forever.”

 

“I’ve never had a dog. They seem very fun, though.”

 

“Not even as a kid?”

 

Connor shook his head, thinking back to his foster homes. A few had had pets but they’d never been his. He liked the idea of having his own dog, or even a family dog. He liked the idea of having something that belonged to him. Something that no one could take away or make him leave behind. He hadn’t had much of that as a kid. He wondered what Stef would say about that.

 

“Well,” Hank continued, smiling, “he’s something, bit of a knucklehead sometimes but real nice to have around.” Connor recognised Hank’s apartment as they pulled up. 

 

It was strange not going back to his own apartment after work but he liked spending time with Hank, especially if there was a dog involved. He followed Hank inside and up to his apartment. “He’s kinda thick but well-trained so if he tries to climb on ya’ just say down and he’ll listen.” Connor nodded and chewed his lip excitedly while Hank unlocked his door. Once inside, they were greeted to a large head ramming against their thighs. “Easy, Sumo,” Hank said, patting the dog’s head.

 

Connor set his bag down on the table and kneeled down “hello, Sumo,” he said uncertainty. He wasn’t sure how to approach a dog this large. Sumo responded by licking Connor’s face and drooling on his lap. “Are we friends now?” Connor asked, wiping his face off on his sleeve. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

Hank sat down on the floor beside Connor and pulled Sumo over by his collar “c’mere, dummy. Down.”

 

Sumo obediently laid down in front of them and put his head on Hank’s lap. “Are you allowed to have a dog this big in an apartment? Mine doesn’t allow pets at all.” Connor asked, petting the soft hair of Sumo’s ears.

 

Hank gave Sumo a pat between the shoulders “Sumo here’s a service dog, so he can go wherever I go.”

 

“Oh,” Connor said, caught off guard “sorry, I hope that wasn’t too personal.”

 

Hank shifted back so that he could lean against the couch behind them “it’s fine, Stern, it’s not a huge deal. He just helps me if I get panic attacks.”

 

Connor nodded and rested his forehead against Sumo’s. This was the part where he said something stupid because he couldn’t read the situation and would mess things up. Was he supposed to tell Hank that his opinion of him hadn’t changed? To ask more to show that he cared about Hank? To apologize again? To ignore it? He didn’t get a chance to really decide because Hank patted Connor’s shoulder and stood up “you want to go sit somewhere more comfortable?”

 

Connor gave Sumo one last scratch behind his ears before standing up “I suppose we are supposed to be working,”

 

Hank laughed “I just said that so that Gavin and Connor wouldn’t get on our cases.”

 

“Oh. Why would they care? We always leave together.”

 

Hank shrugged “there’s a difference between offering to take someone home and inviting them over, I suppose, but you have a point. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze to get Sumo on the couch with more than one person so we could go sit on the bed. Sumo doesn’t like being too far away from me and my house isn’t really set up to have him and guests yet. Sorry.”

 

Connor smiled and reached down (not that he had to reach far) to pet Sumo “it’s fine. Your home is far calmer than mine, and I appreciate that.” He looked around as Hank led him into his bedroom (though any significance that would have for most people was lost on Connor) and noticed for the first time how messy the apartment was. It wasn’t messy in the sense dishes hadn’t been done in a few days or the bed was unmade - it was messy in a way that suggested that nothing had been done to reduce the mess in a while. There wasn’t enough room in the open cupboards for the dishes so even the clean ones sat in piles on the counter. The bookshelf was full and void of any organization system, with dusty books laying on the floor beside the shelf. There was an empty plant pot by the window still with dry dirt in it as if a plant had been allowed to wither until the point where it was indistinguishable from the soil under it. Sumo’s food and water bowl were full, though, and Connor was pleased to see that much. 

 

Sumo trotted after them and waited patiently beside the bed when Hank sat down on the edge of the bed “how long do you want to stay for? We can actually do some work if you want or you can just hang out with Sumo.”

 

Hank sat beside Hank on the foot of the bed and shrugged “I have some readings to do today but those shouldn’t take long. Please do ask me to leave if you tire of me playing with your dog.”

 

Hank laughed and shook his head before patting the bed beside them. Sumo jumped onto the spot where Hank’s hand had hit the bed and he quickly padded between Hank and Connor to receive attention from both of them “stay as long as you want. It’s been a while since I’ve had company. It’s kind of nice, so long as the company’s you, at least.”

Chapter Text

“What got you into this line of work anyway, Stern?” Hank asked from the kitchen as he poured himself a drink.

 

“I’m very perceptive of minute details that others miss so it seemed like a good fit.” He crossed his ankles and leaned over to see Hank, not getting off the bed for fear of waking Sumo up by moving the dog’s head off of his lap.

 

“Yeah, but do you like it?”

 

Connor’s hand instinctively went back to the coin in his pocket. Did he enjoy it? He’d always just been good at it, it gave him something to do and kept him busy and gave him a job but… “I’ve never really thought of that. I think so.”

 

“Huh,” Hank said thoughtfully before getting another glass down from the overflowing cupboard “you want a drink?”

 

“Oh,” Connor flipped the coin over in his pocket “I’m not 21,”

 

“Suit yourself,” Hank shrugged and put it back.

 

“Shouldn’t you follow the law a bit more if you aim to become a lieutenant?” Connor asked as Hank sat beside him again.

 

Hank laughed loud enough that Sumo picked his head up to see what was happening “you really take this whole thing pretty seriously, don’t you?”

 

“Shouldn’t you?” Connor didn’t like the feeling that he was being made fun of here. Usually, he wouldn’t care, but this was Hank, and somehow Hank was the exception to quite a lot of rules Connor had for himself.

 

“It’s no big thing, Stern, it’s just that it’s okay to live a little sometimes - and to live for something other than work. I’m not gonna peer pressure you to drink or any shit like that but just - if you want to do something, you shouldn’t stop yourself because you think work should come first. Some things are more important than work.”

 

“I’d like to believe you but I’m afraid that’s a very idealistic way to look at things.”

 

“I’ve been there, I get it, but what’s the point of being successful if you can’t ever enjoy yourself? What do you really gain from it?”

 

And that was a very good question.  “What about you?” He eventually asked.

 

“Uh,” Hank sighed, sounding very tired but Connor could sense that it wasn’t just not getting enough sleep, he’d heard that from Hank before but this was different, “a lot of cops kind of suck, you know? I’ve seen a lot of people get ignored or targetted by people who joined the force for the wrong reasons so I guess I’m just trying to be the one to hold people accountable. You can get away so easily if you’re the right kind of person and I want to be the one who says that if you do something wrong there should be a punishment, no matter how much money you have or whatever.”

 

Connor nodded “that is a very admirable cause, Hank, I know you will do great,”

 

Hank scoffed “it’s not some valiant cause or something like that, it’s just the right thing to do.”

 

“I still think it’s admirable.”

 

“That’s the thing, though, people always act like I’m some angel for that - until they find out I’m kind og shit at all of this but that’s besides the point - like the fact that I think people’s lives shouldn’t be ruined because we have a system that ignores them, that’s not a revolutionary idea. It pisses me off that we act like that’s not just something everyone should think.”

 

Connor was used to Hank seeming pretty laid back about just about everything, it was almost odd seeing him so passionate about something. He didn’t know why Hank was so passionate about not wanting to be praised, though. True, it would be nice if everyone thought that way but Connor knew enough about the world to have lost his rose-coloured glasses on that topic quite some time ago. He still admired Hank using his anger on the topic to try and change things. “You’re right, but I still think you’re a good person for channeling that into action. I wish I had the same connection with my work.”

 

“You’ll get there,” Hank said, patting Connor’s shoulder “or you won’t and you’ll find something else, you’ll be fine, though.”

 

Connor looked at Hank “how can you be so sure?”

 

Hank shrugged “something about you. You seem like the kind of person to always land on your feet.”

 

Physically, that might be true but emotionally, Connor wasn't quite so sure anymore.



Connor had put up a weak argument that he didn’t need Hank to walk him home but he didn’t really mind all that much. It was starting to get warmer now. Connor never minded the cold too much but he usually was relatively excited for summer. This year he was wondering if Hank would stop driving him home when it got hot again. He wondered if he was really interesting enough that anyone would stick around if they didn’t have to.

 

“So you’re from Detroit?” Hank asked as they made the short trip to Connor’s apartment on foot.

 

“Bounced around a bit but I’ve always been around the city, yes.” He replied vaguely “and you?”

 

“Same story I guess. Almost seems weird that we’ve never run into each other before, doing the same stuff and all. What high school did you go to?”

 

It was still chilly enough that Connor felt his chest tighten a bit when he inhaled sharply without meaning to “like I said, I moved around a lot so I had to transfer a lot.”

 

“Ah. Ran in different circles I guess. You can come over and see Sumo whenever you want, by the way. He likes you.”

 

Connor smiled, glad for the change of topic “I like him too.”

 

Connor stopped outside his apartment entrance and turned to Hank to say goodbye but Hank beat him to it “or, you know, we could get out and do something sometime.”

 

“Oh?” Connor tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat “did you have something in mind?”

 

Hank rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at the overcast sky for a moment “not exactly, I just - if you ever wanted to go out to dinner or something or we could get a coffee or - whatever you want. I’d like to get to know you better, if you catch my drift on that.” 

 

Connor didn’t catch his drift. In fact, he was very very lost. Was Hank asking him out or asking him to hang out as a friend? This was impossible. Regardless of what Hank was implying, though, Connor did want to spend more time with him so he nodded “I’d like that a lot. I’ll text you to sort out a plan. Will you give Sumo a treat for me?”

 

Hank grinned, which was an odd but not at all unpleasant change to his usual stoic expression “I will. See you later, I guess.”

 

“I guess you will. Get home safe.” He said casually before turning to go inside. As he took the elevator upstairs, he texted Chloe a summary of the interaction. Her reply came in by the time he had set his bag down in his apartment.

 

Chloe: !!! back up. Word for word. What EXACTLY did he say?

 

Connor kicked off his shoes and took his coat off before heading into his room to type out as many of Hank’s works as he could before the memories started to get jumbled. Luckily, he had a nearly photographic memory. If he was being honest, his haste was more connected to wanting to hear Chloe’s input than the risk of him forgetting.

 

He said “or we could go out and do something sometime” and I asked if he had something in mind then he said “not exactly but if you ever wanted to go out to dinner or something or we could get a coffee or whatever you want. I’d like to get to know you better, if you catch my drift on that.”

 

Chloe: that’s definitely a date!!!

 

I don’t know, I think you’re reading too much into it

 

Chloe” impossible. Have I ever been wrong with this stuff? If you don’t know, why don’t you text him and ask?

 

Wouldn’t that make things awkward?

 

Chloe: not if you phrase it right

 

How do I phrase it though?

 

Chloe: you’re impossible. I’ll text you a script. Hold on.



Connor’s thumb hovered over the send button as he chewed his lip and considered whether this was a good idea. After a second, he gave up and just hit send. ‘Fuck it, what was the worst that could happen?’ He thought in a rare moment of thinking inconsequentially. ‘The worst that could happen is he ruined their work dynamic and his chances of friendship or anything more with Hank’ his usual realism caught back up to him ‘not that there was much of a chance to begin with.’

 

Hey, I had a really good time today. Sumo is a very sweet god. I was wondering, though, when you asked to get to know each other better, what you meant by that? I’m hoping that I’m not getting the wrong signs here.

 

He read the message and the ‘delivered’ symbol under it a few times before locking his phone and rolling onto his stomach in bed to press his face into the pillows. He didn’t expect an immediate reply, Hank had never been fast to reply to Connor’s texts, but he was hoping that the universe would be kind to him today and make Hank check his phone soon. It wasn’t. Connor didn’t get a reply until a few hours later when he had finished his work, showered, and gotten ready for bed. Despite having been busy, he hadn’t stopped checking his phone all evening just in case. He knew that it wasn’t rational to be so worried about Hank’s reply but he still felt like his heart was racing every time he got a notification.

 

Hank: depends on what signs you’ve gotten

 

Connor sighed. Hank wasn’t going to make this easy on him. He was probably as nervous about this as Connor was, that didn’t make Connor wish that he was a little more straightforward, though.

 

Are you asking me on a date?

 

Connor eventually got the nerves to send.

 

Hank: I guess I am. Are you agreeing to a date?

 

Connor hid a smile behind his hand that wasn’t holding his phone even though his door was closed and no one could see him.

 

Definitely.

Chapter Text

Connor couldn’t say he was surprised when Hank had suggested a low-key place to grab food. “Nothing fancy but damn good food,” Hank had phrased it. Despite that, Connor still found himself overthinking his appearance the morning of their date. He sighed and set down one of the three jackets that he was choosing between and yelled for Markus, who was intimidating and probably busy but also had immaculate fashion sense.

 

“What’s up, man?” Markus asked as he walked into Connor’s room.

 

Connor pursed his lips and gestured to the clothes laying on his bed “I believe I need your help with deciding on an outfit,”

 

“Ah,” Markus noted, scanning over his options “what’s the occasion? Job interview?”

 

Connor shook his head “actually, I - I have a date,”

 

Markus glanced at him and grinned “congratulations. Where are you going?”

 

“I’m not sure, actually, but he says it’s very casual,”

 

Markus hummed “well, your issue is that you have absolutely no casual clothes. Do you own a t-shirt?”

 

Connor thought for a second before shaking his head. He had no need for casual clothes, he would either be in work or class where he preferred to dress up, or in pajamas.

 

Markus chuckled and put a hand on Connor’s shoulder “well, for now, you can borrow something of mine, but we really need to take you shopping some time.” Connor nodded, not sure what else there was to do, Markus knew far more about this than he did, and followed him into his room “so who is the guy?” Markus asked as he pulled a few outfits from his dresser and closet.

 

Connor exhaled, knowing that Merkus had already asked about Hank and Connor had snapped at him for it. He hadn’t expected that Hank would ever be interested in him too. “A coworker, it’s nothing serious,”

 

Markus raised an eyebrow “is this your first date with this nameless coworker?”

 

Connor nodded and watched as Markus laid out a plain black t-shirt and blue jeans, two things that Connor hadn’t worn in over a year. Amanda had stressed the importance of making a good first impression at all times and making sure to visibly separate himself from his background, but if this is what would get Hank’s attention “you’re sure this will not be too understressed?”

 

“If you’re going somewhere casual, aim for quality over flashiness. A well-ironed shirt and a nice pair of jeans makes you look put together but not like you’re trying too hard,”

 

“Shouldn’t I want to look like I’m trying to impress him?” Connor asked.

 

Markus held one hand up in warning “no, no, definitely not yet. I mean, he should know that you care, but not that you care too much. You don’t want him to feel like you’re… interested to a concerning level. You don’t want to scare him off, right?”

 

Connor shook his head “no, I don’t. Does it seem obvious that I’m too interested in him then?”

 

Markus shook his head and smiled before handing the outfit to Connor “no, but everyone is before a first date, we all just try and play it off like it’s fine. I’m sure he’s just as freaked out about coming on too strong as you are. Don’t worry.”

 

Connor took them and pursed his lips “what do I say?”

 

Markus moved a stack of political theory books so that he could sit down on the bed “just be yourself, he asked you out knowing you, right?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Well, he didn’t choose to ask you out, or say yes to you asking, just based on a photo or something, right? If he didn’t like you as a person, he wouldn’t be going out with you tonight. Just be yourself.”

 

“Myself but with different clothes?”

 

“Exactly,” Markus grinned “if he’d a genuine guy then he won’t mind if you’re a little awkward, you’ll be okay,”

 

“If you say so...” Connor muttered “thanks for the clothes, though, I’m not good at this sort of stuff,”

 

“No problem. Just let me know how it goes tonight, okay?”

 

Connor nodded “I will. Thanks, Markus,”



Hank had offered to pick Connor up outside his apartment so that they could get lunch the weekend after he’d asked Connor out. Connor stood nervously outside his apartment building, feeling very underdressed even though his hair was still gelled neatly and his clothes were in good condition and well-matched. He understood what Markus had said about not wanting to come on too strong, but now he was scared of coming on too strong as well as appearing uncaring. His nerves didn’t ease when Hank pulled up and opened the passenger door for him “hey,” Hank said, eyes ever so briefly scanning Connor’s body in a trained way that most would have mistaken for a blink “you look nice, ready to go?”

 

Connor nodded and got into the passenger seat “thank you, as do you,”

 

Hank was wearing a leather jacket over a patterned button-up and black jeans. His hair and beard even looked more well-kempt (possibly even trimmed) than usual. “Sorry we can’t do anything nicer but I’m short on cash so-”

 

Connor shook his head “oh, no, this is fine, I’m sure, even though I don’t know where we’re going, I’m sure it will be fine. And I can pay if you’d like.”

 

Hank scoffed “no, I asked you out, so I pay for the first date. Unspoken rule.” Hearing Hank refer to this unequivocally as a date made Connor feel suddenly weak. He was glad he was sitting down. “Alright, so like I said, it’s nothing special, it’s this food truck but I swear it’s the best food in Detroit.”

 

Connor smiled “I really don’t mind where we go. I’m excited.”

 

Hank glanced over at him as he drove, a smile pulling at his lips “oh yeah? Me too,” he reached over and nudged Connor’s chin with his knuckle gently “you’re cute like that,”

 

Connor could feel himself blushing and he looked away instinctively, though he didn’t mind the praise quite as much as usual when it came from Hank “like what?”

 

“Not focused on work, I dunno, happy.” 

 

Conner hid another smile behind one hand “thank you,” he mumbled.

 

Hank rolled his eyes “you’re gonna make me work to see your smile again?”

 

Connor smiled wider and nodded. It had been a while since he was this happy, not just this moment, he realized, but these past few days. Hanging out with Hank as well as Alice, Markus, and Kara lately had been really fun. As much as he hated to admit it, he’d felt a lot more free since he’d started seeing Stef. He felt like he was finally making his own choices instead of having them made for him. It was a liberating feeling to just do things without being so scared of how they will turn out. Today, it didn’t matter how any of this affected his career. Today, he only planned on just having a good day with Hank.

 

“So you’ve got roommates, huh?” Hank asked, letting the previous subject drop.

 

“Yes, three, well, perhaps two and a half is more accurate. Why do you ask?”

 

Hank shrugged “just making conversation. How ‘two and a half’?”

 

“Well, it’s me, my roommate Markus, my roommate Kara, and her daughter Alice,”

 

Hank nodded “huh, interesting. They criminology too? The adults, I mean,”

 

Connor dropped his hand and shook his head “no, actually, I don’t know many criminology students outside of our office. Kara studies childhood development and Markus studies political science.”

 

“Probably for the best, sucks to be in competition with your friends,”

 

Connor frowned “are we in competition then?”

 

Hank chuckled “us? Nah, but we’re in competition with every criminology student outside of the office. Most people would kill for your spot.”

 

“Despite your use of hyperbole, I see where you are coming from…” Connor admitted. He knew Professor Fowler’s research positions were practically a thing of legend for first-year criminology students. “Is that something I should be worried about?”

 

“Getting killed?”

 

“I was referring to the level of competition within the field,”

 

Hank glanced over and scoffed “I have a feeling you can handle yourself just fine, can’t you?”

 

Connor had to admit to himself at least that Hank had a point.

Chapter Text

Connor trailed off from what he was saying about the case he’d been reading earlier as a clap of thunder interrupted him. Both he and Hank looked up at the dark sky “um, as I was saying, I-”

 

Hank put one hand over Connor’s. They’d found a bench in a small park to eat and watch the river. “Tell me something about yourself other than work,”

 

Connor cocked his head “like what?”

 

Hank shrugged “anything. Favourite colour, deepest fear, whatever you want.”

 

“Hm. Navy blue, and not having control of my actions.”

 

Hank nodded “huh. Very specific.”

 

“Is that odd?”

 

Hank shook his head “no, I just mean - most people say heights or spiders or something like that.”

 

“Well what’s yours?”

 

Hank leaned back, one arm on the top of the bench behind Connor’s shoulders “I suppose… probably ending up having it all be for nothing.”

 

“I don’t think it will be, for you at least,” Connor said comfortingly.

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,”

 

“You’re welcome. What other questions do people ask on dates?”

 

Hank laughed softly “usually stupid ones like what’s your family like and what is your favourite movie, I usually hate first dates. Just sharing random information that doesn’t really matter.”

 

“Well, my mother is a social worker who hates pretty much everyone including me most of the time, I don’t have a favourite movie, though I did find Bambi rather enjoyable, though depressing, I’m fantastic at chess but awful with people, I realized I was gay when I was 14 and came out over the summer. I like dogs, I’m scared of horses, I’ve never been on a date before, and I really like you. Is it your turn now?”

 

“Huh,” Hank laughed “alright then.”

 

“Have I done something wrong?”

 

“No, no, I just - usually my issue with first dates is you don’t have any real conversations about things that actually matter, those mattered, though. So. My dad’s not in my life, I never knew my mom, my favourite movie is A Few Good Men, I’m good at shooting but don’t support mass gun ownership. I realized I was bi when I was eighteen, came out when I was twenty one I suppose but I never made a big deal out of it. I also like dogs and I’m scared of the ocean, I got married when I was eighteen, and I also really like you.”

 

“You’re married?” Connor asked, chewing his lip.

 

“Was married,” Hank held up and hand “and I don’t want to talk about it right now,”

 

Connor nodded “oh, alright, so long as you’re not anymore,”

 

“I’m not. Scared of horses, huh?”

 

“They’re extremely powerful animals. You’d be scared too if you understood their anatomy.”

 

“And what makes you think I don’t understand anatomy?”

 

“Do you?”

 

Hank laughed “no, not a clue. Not when it comes to horses at least. Pretty decent with human.”

 

“I suppose in this field, it’s good to be,” Connor contemplated.

 

“Among other things,”

 

Connor was about to ask what Hank meant by that before a drop of rain landed on the tip of his nose, making him briefly go cross eyed. Hank wrapped his arm around Connor’s shoulders to wipe the rain drop off “let me get that for you,”

 

Connor looked at Hank and chewed his lip for a moment before the rain started pouring, drenching both of them. Hank jumped up and covered his head with one arm but it was futile, they were both already soaked from the sudden, heavy rainfall. “My car!” he yelled over the sound of the rain.

Connor nodded and followed him at a run back to where they’d parked, almost three blocks down. Hank reached the car first and, as usual, opened the passenger door for Connor before sliding over the hood to get into his own side. Connor took a second to catch his breath before sighing “I’m sorry about your upholstery, I’ll help pay for any repairs.”

 

Hank laughed and reached over to rub Connor’s knew “relax, Stern, it’s fine.”

 

Connor pushed his hair back and laughed as well “right, well,” he trailed off and forgot what he had been meaning to say the second he made eye contact with Hank. “I, uh…”

 

Hank smiled and his eyes flicked down for a second before a flash of lightning made them both jump back. “We should probably get out of here before the car gets torched,”

 

“Statistically,” Connor noted, leaning back in his chair “a car in a large city is probably one of the safer places to be during a storm so long as winds don’t pick up,”

 

“Eh, whatever, statistics always have exceptions. Want to go back to my place and get dried off? Or I could drop you off at yours or go somewhere more public if you’re more comfortable.”

 

“Why’s that? Your apartment is fine.”

 

“Right, sounds good then. Sumo will be happy to see you.”

 

“And I’ll be happy to see him.”



“If you want to shower first I can probably find you some clothes. I’ll throw yours in the dryer if you want.” Hank said as he closed the door behind them.

 

“Thank you. That would be perfect,” Connor smiled, already pulling his coat and shirt off.

 

“Oh, wow,” Hank looked away “sorry, just wasn’t expecting you to-”

 

“I hope I haven’t made you uncomfortable, I just thought, if you’re going to put clothes in the dryer, you’ll need my clothes, right?”

 

Hank shrugged and held his hands up in surrender “hey, no complaints here,” 

 

“Would you mind turning around?”

 

“Shit, yeah, of course,” Hank said, turning around and closing his eyes.

 

“I’ll be just a second. I’ll just leave these here…”

 

“Bathroom’s just over there, I’ll bring you some clothes once these are in,” Hank said, back still turned, gesturing to the bathroom door behind him.

 

“Thank you,” Connor said before quickly folding his clothes and leaving them on the front mat then slipping into the bathroom. The hot shower felt amazing after running through the freezing rain, as did drying himself off with a towel which he wrapped around his waist before walking back out into the living room. He was greeted by a very excited Sumo, who sat down in front of him and blocked his path out of the bathroom. “Hello,” Connor said, kneeling down to pet Sumo before Hank came out of his bedroom in dry clothes and with an outfit for Connor under his arm.

 

“Here, you should get dressed,” Hank said, handing him the clothes “I’m just - gonna…” he turned around again awkwardly while Connor changed into Hank’s clothes which were easily about ten sizes too big for him. He had to belt the jeans tightly to keep them from falling to the floor and even then he wasn’t feeling confident about it and he was completely swimming in the t-shirt. He set the towel into the hamper before tapping Hank’s shoulder.

 

Hank turned around and hid a smile behind one hand “sorry, I tried to find something closer to your size,”

 

Connor shrugged and smiled bashfully “I probably look ridiculous, don’t I?”

 

“Honestly, I think you look pretty cute,” Hank admitted, eyes on the ceiling.

 

Connor jumped when his phone rang from where he’d left it on the shelf “sorry, I should check that,” he grabbed his phone before glancing back at Hank “thank you, by the way.”

 

“No problem,” Hank muttered before sitting down on the couch to pet Sumo.

 

Markus: everything okay?

 

Going great. We are at his apartment because of the storm.

 

Markus: you went home with him already?

 

Connor sighed and shook his head.

 

It’s not like that. I’ll be home soon.

 

“Everything alright?” Hank asked, concerned.

 

Connor nodded and sat beside him, letting Sumo nuzzle his hand until he pet him “my roommate has the wrong idea about things is all.”

 

“How so?”

 

Connor pursed his lips “he seems to have the impression you have,” he cleared his throat “taken me home, not in the literal sense because of course -”

 

“I get it. Don’t worry, we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

 

Connor glanced over and smiled “thank you… you’re a good guy, Hank.”

Chapter Text

“So,” Markus said, spinning around from his seat on the couch once Connor opened the door to the apartment “how’d it go?”

 

Kara was sitting cross legged on the floor in front of him with Alice. She covered Alice's ears and looked up as well “tell us everything,”

 

Connor shook his head. Luckily, he’d changed back into his clothes once they were out of the dryer before Hank had driven him home - that would have been hard to explain. “Nothing like that happened. We just went out for lunch and then spent some time at his apartment when it started raining.”

 

Kara hugged Alice close to her, uncovering her ears “did you have a good time?”

 

“Yes,” Connor smiled, sitting beside her “he has a dog,”

 

Alice looked up at him, biting the inside of her cheeks in an attempt to hide a smile “a dog?”

 

“Yes, a Saint Bernard named Sumo. He’s very friendly.”

 

“If you went to his apartment to stay out of the rain,” Markus interrupted “why are your clothes dry? Your hair is barely wet too. Shouldn’t you be soaked?”

 

“Leave the boy alone, will you?” Alice leaned over and smacked Markus’ leg “this isn’t an interrogation. He never said they were caught in the storm, just that it started raining, could have been a drizzle.”

 

“Relax, I’m just hasteling him,”

 

“He dried my clothes once we got into the apartment. Would you like to see a picture of Sumo?” Connor really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. He thought everyone would be far more interested in Sumo than his time with Hank.

 

Markus shook his head “he dried your clothes, huh?”

 

Alice furrowed her brows “I want to see the dog…”

 

“He seems very sweet, Connor, I’d love to meet him when you’re ready,”

 

Connor smiled at her before taking his phone out to show Alice the photo that he’d taken earlier “it was a very kind thing to do, I agree. I insisted that it wasn’t necessary but I was happy for the extra time I could spend with him.”

 

“Yeah,” Markus scoffed “very thoughtful,”

 

“Markus,” Kara scolded again “what has gotten into you?”

 

Markus sighed and stood up “Kara, can I talk to you?”

 

She pursed her lips before kissing Alice’s cheek and following him into the kitchen. It was a small apartment so they had to whisper to remain unheard as they argued. Over what, Connor couldn’t tell.

 

“He’s a cute dog.” Alice said, handing the phone back to Connor “if you get married could I visit?”

 

Connor almost laughed “I do not think marriage is something we are quite considering yet,”

 

“Do you love him?” Alice looked up at him.

 

Connor frowned, not sure how to answer “no, not yet, maybe one day -”

 

He was cut off by Kara calling his name from the kitchen. He held up one finger to signify that he’d be back soon before joining the other adults “am I missing something?”

 

Markus had his arms crossed and was leaning back against the counter “this guy’s a grad student, right?”

 

Connor nodded “yes, he’s-”

 

“And he’s your supervisor?”

 

Connor cocked his head “in a sense but I do not see the signiffigance of this. Office relationships are allowed in the lab.”

 

“And he’s been taking you, the freshman and the youngest person in the office, home consistently and now, Connor it just seems off, doesn’t it?”

 

Connor glanced to Kara for backup but she raised her palms in surrender “I don’t know, Con, he makes some valid points. It all depends on the person but you’d be an easy person to target for someone who wanted to hurt you. I’m sure Hank is a good person but, I just don’t know.”

 

“Hank isn’t like that,” Connor argued.

 

“There’s just some red flags, Connor, that’s all. We just want you to be safe. An eighteen year old in a new environment who hasn’t been in a relationship before makes an ideal victim for a-”

 

Kara interrupted “let’s just… Markus, you’ve made your point.”

 

“I can protect myself just fine, thank you.”

 

“Can you?” Markus snapped “you haven’t dealt with this stuff before, how do you know that-”

 

“I deal with cases like that every day, you don’t think I’ve been worried about that too? But at some point I have to stop being paranoid that every person in my life is trying to kill me otherwise I’d never talk to anyone again!”

 

The brief moment of silent after Connor’s outburst was broken by Kara muttering as she walked off, clearly annoyed, to take Alice into the bedroom. Connor retreated into his own bedroom as well, he needed some space. His first thought was to text Chloe but the message chain from Hank caught his eye. He kicked his shoes off before laying down in bed.

 

Today was fun.

 

He watched the delivered symbol under his message for a moment before sending another text.

 

I’d like to see you again someime. Outside of work, obviously.

 

He breathed a sigh of relief when Hank responded.

 

Hank: me too. Everything okay?

 

Connor frowned.

 

Why do you ask?

 

Hank: you made a typo. You never make typos.

 

Connor smiled despite his best efforts.

 

My roommates were getting after me for being too trusting.

 

Hank: with me?

 

Yes

 

Hank: they’d be bad friends not to. If I were in their place I’d be worried about you too. You’re worth protecting.

 

Connor chewed his lip and reread the message. From anyone else, that would be condescending but from Hank…

 

You’re sweet, but I don’t need protecting.

 

Hank: you don’t, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still deserve it. I’ll admit, on paper it’s a situation that could raise some eyebrows

 

What do you mean?

 

Hank: If you were anyone else, you might make an easy victim, from a behavioral perspective

 

If I was anyone else?

 

Hank: You’re a hell of a lot smarter and stronger than me, if I ever tried anything I’d be the one in trouble. Lucky for me I have no plans on doing anything besides maybe asking you on a second date once the rain clears up next week

 

Connor smiled.

 

I’d like that.

 

He set down his phone when there was a knock at the door. He looked up to see Markus crack the door open “can I come in?”

 

Connor sat up and nodded “I suppose.”

 

“Look, man, I’m sorry,” he sighed, sitting next to Connor on the bed “I know you can take care of yourself and I’m happy for you that you’re having a good time but I just overthink things, you know?”

 

“I’m not going into this blind, Markus,”

 

“I know you’re not, I just care about you a lot and I don’t want to see someone take advantage of you is all.”

 

Connor pursed his lips, as mad as he was, he also could see himself doing the same thing if one of them was suddenly spending a lot of time with someone he didn’t know, especially someone who could hurt them. “I appreciate your concern, even though it is unnecessary,”

 

“I’m sure it is but I just had to get it out, I couldn’t just not say anything. I trust you to look after yourself but, if anything does happen…”

 

“You’ll kill him?”

 

Markus laughed “precisely.”

Chapter Text

“Things get worked out between you and your roommates?” Hank asked quietly from the driver’s seat. The whole lab was on their way to the police precinct where they would be assisting on a large scale robbery case. Until last weekend, it had seemed like an unconnected string of robberies, sadly not uncommon for downtown Detroit, but a matching partial print had been constructed from the crime scenes to link it to a single individual. Usually, in a case like this, it would stay in the hands of the police for a while and then maybe end up on their desks in the form of an emailed-over file but this was a unique case. The partial print had been matched to someone in the criminal database but they hadn’t been seen for over ten years when their parole for another set of robberies ended. The police force had hoped that Professor Fowler’s expertise in criminal behavior would help them track him down and they were allowed to tag along so long as they didn’t get in the way. Connor was excited, almost enough that he didn’t mind Other Connor and Gavin sitting in the back seat of Hank’s car behind them and probably listening in on their conversation.

 

“Yeah, he apologized so I guess we’re fine,”

 

“Hope I didn’t freak anyone out, you included. It’s not… because of your -” he shook his head “we should talk about this another time, but…”

 

“Hey,” Gavin said from behind Connor, kicking the back of Connor’s seat like a child “no secrets.”

 

Connor looked back and glared at him but Hank put a hand on his shoulder “Stern had a fight with his roommates is all, it’s nothing,”

 

“What about?” Gavin leaned forward, his elbows on his knees.

 

“None of your business,” Connor retorted.

 

“Boys, stop,” Other Connor huffed, pulling Gavin back by his shoulder “this is unprofessional,”

 

“I haven’t done anything,” Connor said, rolling his eyes but returned to facing forward nonetheless. He missed Hank’s hand on his shoulder now that it had dropped back to the center console. He wouldn’t reach for it, that would actually be unprofessional. Not that he didn’t agree with other Connor, but Gavin rubbed him the wrong way with his constant prying.

 

“Connor’s right, none of us can be embarrassing themselves there.”

 

“Yes professor Anderson,” Gavin laughed with a sing-song tone in his voice.

 

Connor should have been annoyed - he normally would have been - but he felt himself forcing back a smile. It had been kind of funny, not that he’d ever admit that.

 

“Oh yeah, very funny, knock it off now,” Hank said, putting the car in park as he pulled into a parking spot outside the police office.

 

Other Connor and Gavin got out of the car and Hank was about to follow them when Hank’s hand came down on his knee “sorry to get after you back there, can’t let anyone think I’m playing favourites,”

 

Connor looked over and smiled “are you, though?”

 

Hank chuckled, his fingers sliding partway up Connor’s leg “definitely,”

 

Connor swallowed “I thought Professor Anderson had a nice ring to it, I still prefer Lieutenant, though,”

 

“Can you two get out of the car or are we doing this without you?” Gavin teased from the glass double doors in front of them.

 

Connor felt himself blushing and envied how casually Hank stepped outside as he was pretty sure the way he practically tripped out was very noticeable to anyone watching. He took a deep breath and shook his head to ground himself before following the rest of the crew inside.



“Perfect,” Professor Fowler said as they walked into the room set aside for this case “this is my team of students,” he gestured to the woman beside him “while I’m sure that her reputation speaks for itself, this is police chief Ferragni.”

 

“Nice to meet the next generation of officers, some of our best people come from Dr. Fowler’s lab.” She said before taking out a box of ziplock bags from a shelf “he’s what we have set aside as the most pertinent evidence from the scenes, but the rest of it is in storage if you’d like it,”

 

“What I’m more interested in,” Fowler said, flipping through the file he was holding “is where he’s going next as opposed to what he’ll do once he gets there…”

 

“The houses he picks seem to be random, there’s no correlation in class, security level, or victim.”

 

“Robbing someone in broad daylight in an upper-class neighborhood is risky, were there no witnesses?”

 

“None that we could find, the neighbors all said that they didn’t see anyone,”

 

“Didn’t see anyone or didn’t see anyone suspicious?”

 

“By the time we made the connection, most people’s memories were already pretty unreliable, but we didn’t get any leads from it. People out jogging, walking dogs, but nothing out of place,”

 

“Your issue is that you’re looking for something that isn’t there,” Connor interrupted, other Connor elbowed him but he continued once Fowler and Ferragani’s eyes were on him, a matching look of surprise on their faces “the connection would have been made sooner if he was suspicious, he would need to seem inconspicuous if he was going to be ignored for this long. Walking a dog is a pretty perfect disguise, though, isn’t it? It’s inconspicuous and gives an excuse to be making frequent stops, your first step shouldn’t be looking for what stands out but what people think doesn’t matter, that’s what he’s counting on you overlooking,”

 

Fowler rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed in frustration but Ferragni nodded slowly “you have a good point,he could easily scope out a house without attracting attention like that, it’s still just a hunch, but it’s a starting point. I’ll see if we can recontact some witnesses and see if they remember any details like the dog’s breed, could help us narrow down a suspect pool by cross checking with vets to see if he’s got paperwork under a fake name, he might use the same alias in other places too. Good thinking,”

 

“If you all want to head back to the lab, I’ll email Hank the witness reports, maybe you can make some connections there. Wouldn’t want you getting in the way here,” Fowler said, nodding to Hank who pursed his lips and took his keys back out of his pocket.

 

As Connor followed the rest of his peers back outside, a hand on his forearm stopped him. He turned around and saw Police Chief Ferragni. “That was good thinking earlier, we could use a mind like yours on the force one day,”

 

“Thank you,” he said, pride instinctively pushing his shoulders back “I’m sorry for interrupting, I know that our role here was supposed to be as passive observers,”

 

She shook her head “a good idea is still good regardless of where it comes from. What’s your name?”

 

“Connor Stern,”

 

“Connor Stern,” she repeated before giving a short nod and smiling “I’ll remember that. I hope to see you again, Connor.”

Chapter Text

It sounds like you had an eventful week” Stef noted, looking up from her notebook after Connor finished recounting the recent events. Connor only nodded in response so she continued. “And you and Hank?”

 

Connor pursed his lips “it is not anything serious,”

 

“Would you like it to be more serious?”

 

Connor sighed and leaned back on the couch “I don’t know, maybe… I think so,”

 

She smiled and nodded “well, I’m happy for you, a few weeks ago, this level of progress seemed much farther off, you’re doing very well. How do you feel outside of that?”

 

“Good,” Connor said almost without thinking “visiting the station reminded me why I actually want to do this and that I am still very… advanced when it comes to my peers, even without working myself as hard as I was before,”

 

“That’s great, Connor,” she smiled “that’s a really big realization. I’d just like to remind you that while relationships can be a great source of joy, they can also be very stressful. Before jumping into something serious, please make sure you’re ready for that.”

 

Connor tensed his jaw and nodded. He wanted to dispute that and say that he would be fine but he knew that was irrational. He had avoided relationships for a variety of reasons but that had been one of them. He knew that most relationships ended painfully just from a statistics point of view. He hoped things with Hank didn’t end the same way, but how would he be sure? “I’ll be aware of that,” he eventually said.

 

“That’s all I ask,” she smiled sweetly like she hadn’t just made Connor doubt himself again. He knew he probably needed to hear it. Even the most rational parts of his mind were caught up in the euphoria of being around Hank and hearing that Hank enjoyed being around him. He instinctively reached for the coin in his pocket and flipped it.

 

“I haven’t meant to upset you,”

 

“I’m not upset,”

 

She smiled sadly “Connor, I know you well enough by now to know when something is bothering you. What about this has made you emotional?”

 

He slipped the coin out of his pocket and ran his thumb over the now-fading face “I just don’t want to lose him is all. I don’t have too many people in my life who care about me.”

 

“Not wanting to lose someone close to you is completely rational, there is no shame in that, but so long as you are comfortable in yourself, you will be able to get back up from that easier. And your support group extends beyond Hank, I have faith that you will be okay so long as you continue working on yourself,”

 

“Easier said than done but I will try,”

 

“That’s a perfect first step,”



While Connor wouldn’t go as far as to say that he was therapy’s number one advocate now but he couldn’t dismiss that it was helping. As he left the office, he put in earbuds and decided that now would be a good time to reach out to his original support group (of one) - so he called Cloe.

 

“Connor? What’s up?” She said after it rang a few times.

 

“I have an update for you?”

 

“Ooh, let me sit down, I’m excited,”

 

“Are you working?” He asked as he walked across campus to the lab.

 

“Technically, but I don’t have to do anything really unless he asks. I’m fairly sure he keeps me around mainly for show.”

 

“Huh. Well, Hank and I went on a date,”

 

“What? Like a real one? Connor, how did you not tell me sooner?”

 

“What classifies as a real date?”

 

“Tell me everything.”

 

Connor shook his head, he should have known this would happen (if he was being honest, he had anticipated this response and a part of him might have even wanted a chance to talk about it again.) “Well he got a dog and invited me over to meet him, after that he asked if I wanted to go out sometime. We went out for lunch and then back to his apartment after it started raining.”

 

“You went home with him?!”

 

“It wasn’t like that… he just talked. Why does everyone assume that we…”

 

“Because that’s why most people go home with someone on the first date, but since when were you most people? So of course, you didn’t.”

 

Connor furrowed his eyebrows “what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing! Don’t worry, it’s a good thing. You’re special. Why else would I put up with you? Are you seeing him again?”

 

“Well, I’ll be seeing him in the office today, so yes,”

 

“Not like that, are you going on another date?”

 

Connor shrugged even though she could not see him “yes but I do not know when,”

 

She squealed “will you let me help you plan it?”

 

Connor chuckled and opened the door with his free hand “I just go the office so I’ll have to let you go, I’ll talk to you later,”

 

“Connor! I have so many more questions!”

 

“Goodbye, Chloe,” he said, smiling, before hanging up.

 

“Who's the girl?” Gavin teased as Connor sat down.

 

“My sister,”

 

“Didn’t know you had a sister, Stern, is she as weirdly robotic as you?”

 

Connor could have punched Gavin, he was sure it would have been justified, but instead he chose to just shake his head “you never asked.”

 

“Anything else we should know about you?”

 

Hank cleared his throat from the other side of the desk “drop it, Gavin,”

 

Gavin pouted jestfully “whatever, I’m gonna make a coffee run, when did you get so stuck up? Stern rubbing off on you? You guys want anything? Motor oil, I assume for Stern,”

 

Connor just ignored him. He was getting better and better at that. He got so caught up in work, fueled with a new motivation after their trip to the police station, he almost skimmed completely over the sticky note placed on the inside of one file.

 

Sorry about Gavin. He’s better than you’d think, just also a pain in the ass sometimes.

 

Connor smiled and glanced up at Hank, whose head was down until Connor tapped his foot with his own to get his attention. “It’s okay,” he mouthed once Hank met his eyes.

 

Hank smiled back and nodded before picking up his phone to type something. After a second he slid his phone over, open to the note’s page.

 

Any interest in taking Sumo to the dog park with me some time?

 

Connor tried to suppress an even wider grin as he nodded. He really did. Enough that he’d even let Markus take him shopping if it impressed Hank on their next date.

Chapter Text

“What does your boyfriend look like, Connor?” Alice asked out of the blue while Connor was outlining a particularly complex case at the dining table.

 

Connor looked up and blinked at her “I’m sorry, what was that?”

 

She sat down beside him “I asked what your boyfriend looks like,” she repeated casually.

 

“Well,” he chuckled, setting down his pen “he isn’t really my boyfriend, I don’t think,”

 

“What makes someone a boyfriend then?” she asked.

 

Connor frowned. He honestly had no idea. When did they cross that line between this and dating? Had they already? Well, Connor wasn’t going to be the one to ask. “I’m not sure, Alice, but when I find out, I’ll let you know,”

 

She smiled and nodded, seemingly pleased enough by that. He looked back to his file but decided to take a short break to send a text.

 

Still up for a trip to the dog park?

 

He was halfway done with a page of bullet point notes when his phone screen lit up with a notification.

 

Hank: need a break? Fowler mentioned that you were way ahead this weekend.

 

I wasn’t really meaning right now, but I could do now if you are free.

 

Hank: I already picked up the leash so now so I have to take him out either way. Wouldn’t mind some company.

 

Connor smiled and packed his notes and files back into his bag before getting up. He threw a coat on and slipped on a pair of shoes before walking outside. The park nearby wasn’t a far walk but Connor’s heart was still pounding by the time he reached the greed chain-link fence which enclosed the dog park. The park was split into two sections - a large dog section and a small dog section - and within each side were a series of obstacles. It wasn’t hard to find Sumo, as he was twice the size of the other large dog in the park. Hank was sitting on a bench on the far side of the dog park, reading a book when Connor spotted him.

 

“Mind if I join you?” Connor asked, smiling, as he sat beside him.

 

Hank looked up and smiled “hi, thanks for joining me,”

 

“Of course. How has your day been?”

 

Hank shrugged “better now. Busy, but that doesn’t really matter. You?”

 

Connor nodded slightly and watched Sumo run through a large plastic tunnel “same, I suppose. May I ask what you’re reading?”

 

Hank held up the book and looked at it like he reminding himself “I found it in a yard sale. Something about a beluga who learned to mimic human speech.”

 

“Oh? That sounds interesting. Human behavior is extremely complex.”

 

“Huh, good point. I’m pretty much just skimming it, but you could have it if you’re interested,”

 

Connor smiled “thank you, I appreciate that.”

 

“It’s kind of crazy to think what it would be like for that beluga, right? Sorry,” he chuckled “this is probably a boring conversation,”

 

Connor shook his head “I think it is an interesting philosophical question. Trying to figure out how to talk to the people around you when you’re so fundamentally different, but wanting so badly to understand them and in turn to be understood? It must feel awful.”

 

“Don’t you feel like that sometimes?”

 

Connor thought about it for a second before leaning against Hank “not as much anymore.”

 

Hank casually wrapped one arm around Connor’s shoulders “if this is your way of saying you’re doing better, I’m glad to hear it,”

 

“I am. I am… better able to understand my emotions now than I was at the beginning of the semester. Having friends helps.”

 

“It’ll do that,” Hank chuckled “the crew growing on you?”

 

“From the office? Certain people are,” he teased “but I like our little group, even if they are a pain sometimes.”

 

Hank laughed “good description. How long do you want to hang out here? We could go back to my apartment and order dinner if you want?”

 

“I thought the point was to take Sumo to the park?”

 

Hank shook his head and squeezed Connor’s arm “the point was to find an excuse to spend time with you, but don’t tell anyone I said that,”

 

Connor smiled “let’s let Sumo play for a while longer, then we’ll go. He looks happy.”

 

“Sure, sounds good.”

 

Connor brought one hand up to hold Hank’s hand which was resting on his arm.

 

Hank glanced at him and smiled “you’re cute,”

 

Connor rolled his eyes and pushed Hank’s leg with his other hand “stop it,”

 

“I’m serious, Connor,” Hank laughed until he saw Connor’s expression change “what is it?”

 

Connor shook his head and smiled “it’s nothing, you just haven’t called me Connor before,”

 

Hank knit his eyebrows together “I haven’t? Huh. Guess you’re right. Dunno, guess at some point you became the main Connor in my life.”

 

Connor smiled “think Sumo is ready to go?”

 

Hank nodded “yeah, let’s get going,”



“Wait,” Hank started, looking at Connor with confusion “you’ve never seen The Lion King ?”

 

Connor shook his head, resulting in Hank blinking at him “jeez, you’re something else. Well, I guess that settles what we’re doing tonight. You wanna order dinner? I can’t cook.”

 

Connor smiled as he sat down beside Hank on the couch “that sounds good, or I could see what I could throw together if you have the pantry and fridge stocked,”

 

Hank chuckled “you can cook too? Remind me again what I have to offer you?”

 

Connor frowned “I like you, you make me happy.”

 

“Rhetorical question, but thanks. My ingredients lift is rather limited to leftovers and frozen dinners, and I won’t ask you to do that. I’m sure you’re a great cook, though,”

 

“I think I’m alright. You know, a balanced diet is vital to-”

 

Hank covered Connor’s mouth with one hand, effectively silencing him “yes, Dr. Stern, I’m sure it is,”

 

Connor shook his head and pulled Hank’s hand off, grinning “stop, Dr. Stern is my mom’s name,”

 

Hank hummed “rich family then? If your mom’s a doctor?”

 

Connor furrowed his eyebrows “I guess. She’s a psychologist. She doesn’t help me out that much financially, though. Hense the roommates.”

 

“Got it, didn’t mean to hit a nerve or anything, just curious. I don’t know too much about your family or anything.”

 

“I don’t know about yours either,” Connor countered.

 

“I don’t really talk to my family much,”

 

“My mom pretty much sees me as just bragging rights,”

 

“Seems like we’ve both got great families, huh?” Connor smiled slightly. It was an odd statement for him to be smiling about but it was nice to feel seen. “Other than your mom, are they decent?”

 

“I don’t have much else besides her. My grandparents died before I knew them, my mom isn’t married - I did have a foster sister who I see a lot, though, she’s nice. Do you have any siblings?”

 

Hank sighed and leaned back, putting his feet up on the coffee table “no.” 

 

Connor was a bit taken aback by Hank’s abruptness but he just nodded. “So, um, can I ask when you were adopted? I’m assuming that’s the case with what you’ve said.”

 

Connor nodded “yeah, it’s okay. I was seventeen.”

 

“Woah,” Hank breathed “I won’t say you got lucky since it seems like she kind of sucks, but - you know,”

 

“I know,” Connor nodded “I’m a statistical anomaly,”

 

Hank laughed “you certainly are, in so many ways,”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“In a good way. You’re just… you’re special.”

 

“Oh,” Connor smiled “thank you, I think.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Hank laughed and patted Connor’s shoulder “anyway. Dinner?”

 

Connor nodded and watched Hank lean away to grab his phone. He was surprised to notice how… unusual it felt to not be right next to Hank all of a sudden. He’d always considered himself rather unemotional and independent - perhaps he didn’t know himself as well as he thought.

Chapter Text

Connor hadn’t meant to fall asleep on Hank’s couch but when he awoke to his phone buzzing in his pocket, it was dark outside. He reached under the blanket that Hank must have thrown over him to reach for his phone.

 

Markus

 

“Hello?” He answered softly, not knowing if Hank was asleep in the other room.

 

“He picked up,” Markus said away from the phone before bringing it closer again “are you okay? You went awol,”

 

Connor stretched out on the couch “I’m fine, I fell asleep at Hank’s apartment,”

 

Markus sighed “so everything’s fine? Do you need someone to pick you up?”

 

“It’s fine, I’m going to go see if he’s awake and then get a rideshare home, it’s not far.”

 

“Alright, look after yourself,” Markus concluded.

 

“Kara there?”

 

“Yeah,” he replied.

 

“Tell her I’m alright, then you too go to bed too, I’ll call if there’s an emergency.”

 

“Thanks, Con. Goodnight.”

 

“Goodnight, Markus,” Connor said before hanging up and walking as quietly as he could to Hank's bedroom. The door war open slightly so Connor leaned over just to see if Hank was up but as soon as he did, Sumo locked eyes with him from the foot of the bed and immediately jumped up to greet him. As Sumo trampled over Hank’s sleeping form in his excitement to see Connor again, Hank bolted upright with probably the most energy Connor had ever seen from the other man.

 

“Sorry,” Connor breathed before reaching down to pet the large dog “I was just going to - um” he stuttered before regaining his composure and standing back up “get a ride back home. I had not meant to wake you.”

 

“It’s fine,” Hank muttered, reaching for the lamp switch and his glasses “let me call you a ride - or you could always just crash here if you’d rather…”

Connor pursed his lips before shaking his head “my roommates will probably assume you killed me and dumped my body by then. I should get home before they call the police.”

 

“Understood,” Hank chuckled lowly “get back here Sumo, give the boy some space,”

 

Sumo reluctantly retreated back to the bed and climbed back on. Connor was pretty sure if Hank had insisted, Connor’s night would have been very different but something about Hank’s lack of persistence that made Connor reconsider. He shook his head again “actually,” he started before yawning “if you’re sure you don’t mind - a ride share would probably be really expensive this time of night,”

 

 “And there’s no way I’m letting you walk home,” Hank chuckled before swinging his legs out of the bed “I’ll swap with you and take the couch if you want,”

 

Connor bit the inside of his cheek “that’s not necessary, Hank, I’ll sleep wherever is most convenient for you, be that the couch or sharing the bed, if that isn’t too presumptuous”

 

In the dim light, Connor could still see Hank’s eyes widen before he shrugged “sure, if that’s alright with you. Just push Sumo off if he tries to climb on you. He’s a cuddler.”

 

Connor patted Sumo’s head as he passed before climbing into Hank’s bed, trying not to take up too much space or be annoying “he can cuddle with me all he wants.”

 

Hank chuckled before turning off the lights but even in the moonlight, as Connor turned his head to the far wall, a memory resurfaced. He stared at the framed photo for a few more minutes, blinking as he tried to convince himself he was wrong but he knew the chances of that were slim. Connor knew him crime cases.

 

“I’m sorry about Cole,” he said quietly.

 

Hank sat up again quickly, his face unreadable, but he didn’t sound pleased “where’d you hear about that?”

 

Connor sighed and sat up “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything, I just remember the news stories. He was your brother, right?”

 

Hank closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands briefly before nodding “yeah.”

 

“I’m sorry I brought it up.”

 

“It’s okay,” Hank said, reaching over to pet Sumo, who was nuzzling concernedly at his side “how’d you figure it out?”

 

“It clicked when I saw his photo,” Connor admitted, gesturing to the frame.

 

“Yeah,” Hank breathed, “guess I should have figured you would. I meant to tell you at some point.”

 

Connor leaned closer and shook his head “I don’t mind that you didn’t. You don’t have to talk about that stuff. I just wanted to let you know so that we don’t have to… have an uncomfortable conversation.”

 

Hank’s free hand came to rest on Connor’s side “I won’t ask about your childhood if you don’t ask any more about Cole. You know the story now. I’d rather not have to…”

 

Connor spoke before Hank had to continue that sentence “sure, as long as you’re okay,”

 

Hank sighed “it’s been a rough year but… I’m managing.”

 

“My therapist would say that’s a good starting point,” Connor smiled sheepishly.

 

Hank exhaled in what Connor was fairly sure was amusement “how are you handling things?”

 

“Better than I was,” he paused “don’t spin this around to be about me!”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because you’re so much more interesting to talk about,”

 

“I dunno,” Hank smiled “I think you’re a pretty interesting topic. Guess that’s why I’m always thinking about you.”

 

Connor knew he shouldn’t fall for a line like that. He knew that Hank was probably joking. He also knew that the responsible thing to do would be to laugh or go back to bed, but he also knew that a little irresponsibility would likely make him more personable and maybe even happier. Perhaps that’s why instead of any of the rational things to do, he kissed Hank, even though this was unequivocally horrid timing and he’d never kissed anyone before so he probably wasn’t doing it right but yet… and yet was happy he did.



“Is this your first walk of shame?” Markus teased from the table as Connor walked into their apartment the next morning.

 

“I don’t know what that means but I anticipate I will be annoyed at you should I Google it.”

 

“Leave him alone,” Kara tutted, smacking Markus’ arm gently with the notebook she had been putting into her bag. “Welcome back, Connor. How’s Hank?”

 

“Good, thanks for asking. I really need to get ready for class, though. Can we talk after I get back?”

 

“Oh,” she said, a bit taken aback “yeah, of course. Everything okay?”

 

Connor nodded “great. I just slept in more than usual.”

 

Markus laughed but it was warm and unaccusing, Connor had heard enough people laugh at him to know that wasn’t what Markus was doing “relax, man, we’ve all been there,”

 

Connor didn’t know exactly what Markus was referring to but he didn’t have time to ask if he was going to shower and get ready for class without being late. He was sure he’d hear it all again that night.

 

He was certain he was going to be coming in late to his 8am lecture until someone honked as he speed-walked out of his apartment building. He looked up quickly to see Hank’s car parked in the visitor’s lot. “Figured since I’m the one who made you late, least I can do is drop you off,”

 

“You didn’t make me late,” Connor laughed, already jogging to climb into the passenger seat “but I appreciate it. I should have set my alarm earlier to account for having to get home.”

 

“Most people just skip class when this stuff happens, but-”

 

“Let me guess, I’m not most people?”

 

Hank glanced at him and smiled “smartass. Just tell me what building I’m dropping you off at. Just drop me off by the bookstore? My class is right across the quad.”

 

“Will do.”

 

“I had fun last night,” Connor said, flipping his coin.

 

“Glad to hear it. You should stay over again, preferably sometime when you don’t have anything to do in the morning.”

 

Connor glanced at his phone to make sure he still had time “actually,” he said “you should come over to my place sometime first. Otherwise, I think my roommates will start to think you’re not real. My roommate’s daughter also wants to meet Sumo.”

 

“I hate dinner parties, but for you I’ll make it work.”

 

Connor scoffed “it won’t be anything fancy, don’t be dramatic. You’ll like them.”

 

“If you promise,” Hank teased, stopping the car in the closest parking lot to Connor’s lecture “see you this afternoon?”

 

Connor nodded and leaned over to kiss him. He had never understood public displays of affection but he hoped everyone walking past the car saw them. He wanted that for the rest of his life, but that was really cheesy and not the kind of thing Connor would let himself say out loud, so he’d just say that he liked being around Hank. He liked the way being with Hank felt, but more than that he liked the way life felt now. It wasn’t perfect but it was so much better than it had been a few months ago, and not just because of Hank. Hank had helped, sure, but Connor was fairly certain things wouldn’t feel this good if his mental state was still as bad as it once was. He’d certainly have a lot to unpack in therapy tomorrow.