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Don't Think Twice

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The clock on the wall read 1:15. That was AM. After a full, weighty, two second consideration, Booker concluded he had time for at least a couple more drinks and however many games of pool that would last. He had the day off and no particular plans, so his night-owl tendencies could definitely be indulged. He drained the last of his current beer in one gulp and then started back across the dim, hazy room towards the bar. It wasn’t one of his usual watering holes, but for some reason on this particular night, he happened to stop in and ended up kind of liking the place. They didn’t know your name, and yet you felt like you could be a comfortable, anonymous regular, if you wanted.

About halfway across the room, Dennis squinted in the darkness as he tried to surmise whether the familiar form sitting alone at the bar was the person he suspected.

Booker sidled up to the counter and motioned for another beer and then turned to address his colleague. He was leaning on one elbow and had a foot propped up on the bottom of a bar stool. In the moment, he was the epitome of calm and relaxed, which was in stark contrast to the man sitting directly to his right.

“Never woulda guessed I’d run into you here, and at this hour of the night,” he said in his typical smirking manner. “Did Fuller give you permission to stay out this late on a school night?” He reveled in giving Tom Hanson a hard time more than he knew he should. There was just something irresistible about seeing the other man squirm. If he was really honest with himself, it was as simplistic and immature as throwing spit balls at the girl he liked in third grade. He knew he didn’t have a chance, so getting her attention in any way possible was an amusing sport.

There was a moment of silence before Tom’s tired, defeated voice, was barely audible. “Booker, I’m not in the mood tonight. Just leave me alone.”

The extreme somberness in his tone prompted Dennis to study his coworker more closely. Tom hadn’t even looked directly at him, and now his eyes were shut as he pinched the bridge of his nose. His shoulders were hunched over, and his hand tightly gripped an almost empty tumbler of liquid. For a split second, Dennis thought he perceived the glass and the hand that held it, to be trembling ever so slightly, but either Hanson forcibly stilled his reaction or it had just been a momentary visual error.

Booker opened his mouth and almost started another barrage of snide comments, but something in the other man’s body language prevented him from continuing. Although he often masked his emotions or intentions behind crude jokes and inappropriate remarks, it didn’t mean he lacked feelings and common decency altogether. Hanson appeared truly unsettled. Dennis allowed his mind to shift from snarky-smart-ass to concerned cop. He knew their job sometimes pulled them into dark places, and that was nothing to joke about.

“Hey,” he breathed out gently, “Sorry man. You ok?” He hoped his genuine concern was coming through, but he wasn’t sure if Hanson would read it like that.

Tom hastily downed the remainder of his drink and pushed the glass forward, indicating another. “I really don’t want to talk about it.” In his mind he added, especially not with you.

Although Dennis knew that other people, other people with more appropriate boundaries, would just walk away at this point, he couldn’t back down. He sincerely wanted to help, and his natural tendency was to be a bit on the aggressive side. Now armed with a fresh beer, he scooted over a few inches. “That just sounds like even more of a reason to get it off your shoulders,” he stated matter-of-factly, and then took a long swig of his drink. “Just because you don’t want to talk about it, doesn’t mean that’s the best thing.”

Hanson’s anger now began to prickle across the surface of his skin. Hadn’t he been clear enough? Why did this guy never let up? And why, of all the people he knew, did he have to run into Booker on this specific night? He hadn’t wanted to go back to an empty apartment, but now that seemed much more preferable.

Still attempting to remain outwardly composed even though he could now feel his rage starting to rise in his throat, he placed both palms down on the bar top as his arms stiffened. “I’m serious Booker,” he swallowed. “Feel free to pick on me another day, but just not tonight. I’m warning you.”

Without thinking, without a filter, a low snicker escaped Dennis’ lips. Once again, he was unable to stop himself where others would have. It wasn’t a humorous situation in the least, but something in the way Tom said that last sentence truly did bring back memories of third grade. Right as it dawned on Booker how any normal person would misinterpret his odd reaction, and rightfully so, Tom cracked.

“Fuck you,” he snarled indignantly. “You really want to know?!” For the first time, Tom now fully turned to face the man that had completely riled him.

Tom’s eyes were wild with exasperation, but also with a shocking level of despondency. Dennis instantly registered this fact and was about to back-pedal and apologize when Hanson ripped into him. “You want to know that I just watched the execution of a kid, a barely twenty-one year old senseless kid? A group of complete strangers watched as a needle was shoved into his arm and he was pumped full of poison? You want to know that for some messed up reason, he asked me to be there? He asked the dumb cop who arrested him two years ago on drug charges that didn’t stick, to be there for him as he died because there wasn’t anyone else that cared enough? Huh? Do you really want to know all that? Because I don’t! I don't want to know any of it!”

Hanson was visibly trembling now, there was no mistaking it this time. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he nervously wiped the back of his hand across his mouth as his laser stare still bore a hole through his colleague’s face. Booker’s mouth was partially open in alarm and he struggled to find anything to say.

Breaking the heated moment, Hanson quickly turned back to the bar and his eyes fixated on his replenished drink. “Just leave.” He whispered hoarsely, hiding his eyes once again.

A shameful knot planted itself in Booker’s stomach. He’d inadvertently gone too far. He hadn’t meant to cross the line. He had no idea what occurred just a short time ago at the prison.

“I’m so sorry,” he said carefully, with heartfelt emotion. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do, even though I know there really isn’t…”

Despite his anger, Tom still recognized Booker’s legitimate apology. He knew how earnest it was, but he didn’t have the patience to acknowledge it. He was upset, and all he craved was numbness.

Dennis lingered for a minute. He still wanted to ease the hostility somehow but he was incapable of coming up with anything else to do. He sullenly paced back to the other side of the room.

Tom remained in his seat. He was still so rattled that it took a while before he could even lift his drink again. The most unnerving thing for him about the Seebok situation was how conflicted he felt towards all of it. He knew Penhall, and seemingly everyone else, viewed it only in black and white. And maybe they had every right to do so. But he couldn’t remove the filters of gray that plagued him. Ronnie was a deadly, immoral, felon. A cold-blooded murderer. And although Hanson knew those descriptors were fully supported by facts, he also saw another side to it. He saw the societal systems that perpetuated poverty and perhaps unintentionally upheld things like the illegal drug trade.

And what about all those kids still down in the Piedmont, idolizing Ronnie, as if he were the only role model on earth? He was the only role model that was relatable, that seemed real to their disadvantaged lives. What was going to happen to those kids? Did they even have a chance? He was fortunate enough to grow up in a home with economic stability, emotional and educational support. But when those things aren’t present, what options are there? There are always choices, but to overcome those odds, to get out alive and persevere, seemed sometimes impossible. He was fully aware that regardless of systemic problems, Ronnie still acted on free will and purposely chose a life of crime. There were no simple answers and no simple solutions.

And Ronnie Seebok aside, Hanson was also struggling on a personal level. When he’d asked Ronnie to make the tape and maybe make it all mean something, he’d been asking for himself perhaps even more than he was asking for Ronnie and the faceless kids. He had been striving to find meaning in his own life and career, and the events of the week just intensified the upheaval of emotions.

As the alcohol coursed through his system and he continued to brood, the fleeting thought of apologizing to Booker flitted across the periphery of his mind, but he remained sitting. He wasn’t in the mood to face the man again. Despite having a disastrous first case together, the two men had managed to scrape together a tolerable working relationship. On occasion, that relationship dipped below that fine passable line (depending on the circumstances and the disposition of the obstinate, moody men), but when things got tough, there was no question they had each other’s back, the way it should be.

An hour passed, and the entire time Booker couldn’t help but constantly glance back at the bar. The full weight of Hanson’s words had finally sunk in, and even though he couldn’t feel the same way towards the death row inmate as his colleague, he empathized with Tom’s distress. He often faulted Hanson for caring too much, and letting his emotions interfere with his job. But he also grudgingly understood that it was that quality that enabled Hanson to help in ways that others could not; ways in which he refused.

Booker had no way of knowing exactly how much the other man had to drink, but he was sure that by this point it was too much. He’d seen how Hanson nearly stumbled on his path to the restroom and the way his limbs dangled in an uncharacteristic manner that was much different than his usual controlled, agile fashion.

******

Concluding that the bar was too noisy, Dennis found himself at a pay phone across the street. He kept his eye on the door while he dialed the number he was surprised he could recall from memory. There was no answer on the first attempt, which he had anticipated might happen, so he inserted another coin and dialed again. This time, an aggravated voice picked up on the third ring.

“Who the hell is calling?” Demanded the drowsy, confused voice.

“Penhall, it’s me, Booker.”

There was moment of silence and then a slight groan of awareness. “What? Booker? It’s…” Doug searched for the clock that had fallen off the bedside table. “It’s the middle of the night. What’s the deal?” As his foggy head slowly awoke, he felt a sudden pang of worry. Booker wouldn’t call in the middle of the night, or hell, at all, if something weren’t wrong. If…

“What happened?” Doug sputtered, his heart now starting to race as his body tensed.

“It’s…” Dennis paused to re-calibrate his words. “Don’t worry, it’s not an emergency. But I think you should come down to the Corner Pub, on 12th and Park. I ran into Hanson, and he’s…not ok.”

Doug had silently sighed a breath of relief at the words not an emergency, but he was still concerned. He rubbed his face, still trying to wake up as much as possible. “What do you mean, not ok?”

“He’s hammered, and he could use a friend.” As Dennis spoke the words, a tiny voice in the back of his mind admitted to himself he was envious that he couldn’t be the friend that Hanson needed. Maybe in another life.

“Yeah,” Doug croaked, “Yeah, I’ll be there. Do you know what happened?”

“An execution. A kid from a drug bust a couple years ago?” Dennis didn’t know the details, but he figured that Penhall would.

“Oh that…shit. That was tonight.”

“Yeah…Did you know the kid asked Hanson to be a witness? He asked him to be there to see it happen. And of course good ol’ Tommy wouldn’t say no to that, so I guess he went. It’s really fucking with him.”

Doug dropped his head into his open hand. Damn. The whole Seebok thing was such a cluster. He and Hanson had openly disagreed on things, and even though there was no doubt in his mind that Ronnie did not deserve an ounce of anyone’s sympathy, it didn’t change the fact that his best friend was hurting. Guilt seeped into the crevices of his tired mind.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can…and…thanks,” he said awkwardly. “Sometimes, just sometimes,” Doug was now joking in a slightly high-pitched goofy voice, "You're an alright guy.”

“Gee thanks,” Dennis chuckled, “The assurance in your voice is astounding."

******

Booker sauntered back across the street, but he didn’t re-enter the establishment. Instead, he leaned up against the brick building and lit a cigarette. He knew he didn’t have to wait until Penhall arrived, but he figured while he was being such an alright guy, he might as well see it through.

He was almost finished with his second smoke when the bar door banged open. Expecting to see the drunk form of is colleague, he was surprised that it was just the bartender. The older man glanced around and when all he saw was Booker, he came over quickly.

“You Dennis? I got a phone message for ya.”

Booker nodded, finishing one last drag and then dropped the stub to the ground.

He was handed a small scrap of paper and the bartender hurried back into the building.

Truck won’t start. Give him a ride home?

Booker swore under his breath. He didn’t mind giving the guy a ride, it was just that he knew Hanson, and he knew he’d resist and be a jerk about it. But it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t shirk this responsibility, especially since he’d feel Penhall’s wrath if he didn’t.

He shook the cobwebs from his mind and then steeled himself for the awkwardness that was about to transpire.

By the time he entered the bar, Hanson was standing and attempting to settle his tab by fumbling with his wallet. A woman was now sitting next to him. She looked only slightly less drunk than Hanson, had a rough look about her and was wearing far too much make-up. Although Dennis wasn’t exactly sure what Hanson’s type was, he was sure this woman was not it. Tom appeared completely indifferent to her presence, but she on the other hand, seemed intent on claiming him for her own.

Booker involuntarily threw a glare in the woman’s direction and approached Tom.

“Hey Hanson,” he said as serenely as possible. “I’m gonna give you a ride home.” He casually clapped a hand on Tom’s shoulder.

As he anticipated, Hanson rebuffed the contact. He jerked his shoulder away and took a step backwards. “No thanks,” he said. Despite his body language indicating a high level of intoxication, his voice was surprisingly not as affected as his other gross motor skills. “I’m a big boy. I can get home on my own.”

“No, you can’t,” Dennis said firmly, but still with a friendly edge. “Hand over your keys.”

Hanson’s unfocused eyes met Booker’s and the side of his mouth curled into a self-satisfied sneer. “I’m gonna take a damn cab. I’m not a complete idiot ya know.”

At that, the woman at the bar shot off her stool and grabbed Hanson’s arm. “I can give you a ride baby,” she purred with a bit too much enthusiasm.

Booker tossed her another scowl just as Hanson yanked his arm away and staggered to the side. “I don’t need anyone’s help…” he mumbled.

The woman looked like she was going to continue, but Dennis’ impatience flared. He wanted to get this over with. He put his arm around Tom’s shoulder and directed him towards the door. “I got this just fine, thanks,” he said over his shoulder, not even attempting to hide his annoyance.

The woman looked irritated. She knew defeat when she saw it, but she couldn’t help getting in one last jab. “Well pardon me. I didn’t realize he was already taken,” she spat, adding a final homophobic slur just for emphasis.

Instead of being baited, Booker just smiled sweetly and then ushered his drunken, oblivious colleague out of the bar as fast as he could.

Out on the sidewalk, Hanson again attempted to brush off the other man’s aid. “Just lemme go home. I’m fine. Don’t do me any favors.”

Dennis rolled his eyes. “Believe me, this isn’t for you,” he half-joked. “Call it, my civic duty. Ensuring one of the city’s fine law enforcement officers makes it home and can continue to protect the innocent public from dangerous bad guys is of the utmost importance, you prick. Now, are you going to get in my car or do I have to carry you?”

Hanson swayed for a moment. It was obvious he still wanted to resist, but his level of fatigue and inebriation was getting the better of him. “Booker-“

Dennis shoved the other man towards his vehicle. “Shut up Hanson.”

******

Neither man spoke during the ride to Tom’s apartment. The radio kicked out some hard rock notes but the volume was low enough that it acted like white noise.

Hanson let his head rest against the passenger window. The passing streetlights provided swirls of color that cleared his loaded mind of any further complicated thoughts about Seebok, police work, life. It was the exact state of apathy he had been aiming to achieve. Although he would never admit it out loud, he was now glad that he was in Booker’s car instead of a dirty cab. He felt an unusual sense of total relaxation, although he was keenly aware that the feeling was generated by the whiskey. And perhaps a tiny bit of whatever magic spell Booker’s car had conjured and draped over his consciousness.

When they arrived in front of the apartment building, Dennis put his hand across the back of the seat. He suddenly wanted to snigger at the feeling he had, like he was dropping off a bad date at the end of a disappointing night that had once held such promise.

"Ok, g'night Hanson. Take some aspirin. You're gonna have a hell of a headache in a few hours when Fuller's yelling at you about being late."

"God, you never shut up," Hanson muttered as he opened the door. Although he was sure he could walk just fine, it seemed as though his legs weren't quite up to speed with the rest of his jumbled mind. Hanson tumbled onto the boulevard, catching himself just before his face hit the pavement.

"You're fucking kidding me," Booker grumbled, while also suppressing a laugh. The image of the drunken man splayed across the sidewalk was a sight he would have paid money to see.

Dennis quickly exited his car. By the time he reached Hanson's side, the other man was already on his feet, but still leaning forward, grasping at a nearby tree trunk. He waved his free hand in the air, "I'm fine, I'm fine." Tom's speech was only now beginning to show slight signs of slurring.

Hanson lurched several steps ahead, both trying to get to the safety of the apartment building as quickly as possible, and also to prove he was steady enough on his feet to not warrant any further help. He failed miserably.

Tom stumbled again, and this time, he was caught around the midsection by a strong pair of hands.

"Whoa there Captain Sober," Booker chuckled. He suddenly felt a wide smile break across his face. But this time, the smile wasn't born of smugness. The scene before him and the man that was haphazardly in his grasp, suddenly ignited something unexpected.

Although he'd always found Tom Hanson uncomfortably attractive, it was invariably from afar, atop an immovable wall. Dennis didn't go around lusting after all good-looking women or men he encountered, it wasn't like that. Even though he had somewhat of a reputation of being a womanizer, and it was a reputation he didn't altogether mind or try to refute, it was in truth, not an accurate representation of his real life. Sure, there were one-night stands or casual relationships here and there, but it wasn't as if he was on the prowl from dusk until dawn. And if he met the right person, then yeah a long term relationship could be in the cards, but he didn't feel the need to make that the highest priority in his life right now. He just didn't care what others thought, and if they wanted to label him a certain way, so be it. He figured that most people were going to think whatever they wanted no matter what he did, so he didn't want to expel any energy in trying to change their minds. He fully enjoyed the life he'd managed to eke out, so if anyone had a problem with that, they could go fuck themselves.

Booker held onto Tom as he stumbled forward again, but this time, the drunken man was too drained to protest. He allowed his colleague to guide him up the stairs and into the small lobby. Once inside, Hanson leaned against the wall, the room now tilting in multiple directions at the same time. He was gauging whether or not he could make it up the stairs to the second floor, but before he could speak, Dennis decided for him.

"C'mon," Booker said heading for the stairs. "I don't trust that these stairs aren't going to get pissed off and try and trip you, so I'm going to walk with you just to make sure they don't attempt any sort of ambush."

By the time the two men reached apartment 222, Tom had already handed Dennis the keys. Once inside the narrow entryway, the familiarity of the surroundings had a strange effect on Hanson. It was unclear if his extreme comfort with being back at home allowed him to let go, but the nausea came out of nowhere, and it hit hard.

"I'm gonna be sick," he gasped, now lunging towards the bathroom door that was only a couple feet away. He ricocheted off the door frame and got to the toilet just in time to start heaving.

Booker grimaced and turned his head at the sound and ambled into the living room. He wasn't so much disgusted as he was just glad that he wasn't the one getting sick. It had been a very long time since he had been that drunk, but he knew the feeling and his heart went out to the guy. He'd had a shitty night, and now the culmination of it all was retching his guts out on a bathroom floor.

Yet again, Dennis knew he didn't have to stay, and Hanson probably would have preferred it if he didn't, but he still felt obligated to help. Obligation, and a little bit more.

After several minutes of vomiting, the toilet flushed and then the bathroom door closed. The apartment was eerily silent and just as Booker was about to say something, he heard the sound of the shower.

Dennis felt conflicted. Was that his cue to leave? Hanson could barely walk a few minutes ago, what if he fell in the shower? Would it be weird if he stayed? Would it be weird if he left? What was the etiquette in situations like this?

Booker went to the small kitchen and helped himself to a glass of water. While he was at it, he poured one for his, friend. The word friend hung in his mind. They weren't really friends, were they? But they were more than just coworkers, kind of. Why was he suddenly confused and doubting what he should do next? It felt strange and uncomfortable to be so unsure.

He stood over the sink, in a state of deep thought. Part of him wanted to just walk out the door without saying a word. That would be the easiest thing to do. Then they would just continue on, the way things had always been between them. Normal.

And part of him wanted to stay and...see. There were thoughts, thoughts that his mind had never allowed him to indulge, because they were just so far-fetched that it was embarrassing. But something changed within the previous hour. All of a sudden, certain feelings awoke and seemed real and near, and even possible.

The sound of running water stopped, and he froze. It was his last chance to leave.

And he didn't. He didn't move a muscle.

So the choice was made.

When the bathroom door finally opened and the steam rolled out behind the figure before him, Booker instantly knew that he'd made the only decision he could live with. He had to know.

Tom stood there, dressed only in his boxers and a towel in his hand as he rubbed it over his damp hair. Water clung to his wet bangs that swished above his eyes, and large droplets fell down to his cheekbones and over the sides of his face. But who was noticing?

"Hey," Hanson said hoarsely, his throat still raw from the acid.

Dennis tried to keep his eyes off of Tom's smooth, bare, water flecked chest. He tried really, really hard.

"Hey," he replied back, taking another drink of water to keep his hands occupied. "I...I uh, just thought I'd stick around to make sure you didn't fall and bash your head open or something." He smiled, hoping he still appeared like he was joking.

Tom looked slightly ashamed. "Thanks..." He averted his gaze. "I appreciate your help. I feel kinda stupid right now. I'm sorry you had to see all that." He gestured towards the bathroom with his free hand. "This isn't...I'm not..." He was clearly flustered.

Booker decided to let the man off the hook and quickly handed him the glass of water. "Don't worry about it," he interjected with a another smile. "You don't have to explain anything."

Tom drank the entire glass of water down in one vigorous gulp. He quickly placed it on the counter and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He was clearly nervous. The tension in the air was palpable.

Both men's eyes locked at the same second, and a disorienting feeling swept over Tom. He was aware that he was still drunk, just with slightly less alcohol in his system. But he felt much more clear headed than before. The physical sloppiness of his pre-shower self was gone and now, although tired and still uneasy on his feet, he had an overwhelming, albeit false, sense of self-control.

And Booker had a strange glint in his eyes, like he had a secret. Although Tom had a suspicion, he didn't allow himself to admit he knew what was behind that stare.

Without breaking his gaze at Hanson, Dennis slowly put his glass down on the counter and started walking forward. His movements were slow and calculated, as if he were attempting to give the other man plenty of time to react, to perhaps move, if he wanted.

But something paralyzed Tom's reflexes. He thought about moving, he thought maybe he should. He could just turn and go into the other room. It was achingly simple.

And then in a blink, Booker was there, right in front of him. Although Tom didn't recall taking a step backward, he could feel his spine up against the wall. And Booker was still moving forward. So close.

In the same instant he could feel Dennis' warm breath near his face, foreign fingers lightly encircled his wrists. He swallowed hard, still incapable of unfreezing his body and mind. Why were the walls closing in? Why couldn't he breathe?

Booker was gliding on instinct alone. His brain had stopped consciously working when he saw Hanson emerge from the shower. Even if he wanted to stop and think about things, he couldn't now. What was set in motion was going to continue. Inertia.

And then, mouths collided and chests with pounding hearts were in such close proximity they might as well be one pulsing drum. Tom was still in a rigid state of shock, both surprised at the other man's actions as well as his own counter action, or lack thereof. Booker registered Tom's apprehension, but the fact that the other man hadn't pulled away, hadn't punched him in the gut by now, meant something. Meant everything.

Dennis, still holding Hanson's wrists, thrust them gently but firmly up against the wall and leaned in, with more conviction. And tongue. Despite all the beer he'd consumed that night, this moment gave him more of an intoxicated sensation than any amount of alcohol could possibly induce. It was the sort of high he hadn't felt in a very long time, perhaps ever.

Both men registered the second when Tom's body relaxed ever so slightly. The tension he'd been harboring finally let go, like a slippery hand releasing its futile grasp on the edge of a cliff. And he was falling.

But the sense of falling was also terrifying. Like the involuntary jerk your body makes when you feel the free-fall sensation right before sleep sets in, his mind screamed into action. He pushed his arms forward and when the grip released from his wrists, he placed both palms against Booker's broad, solid chest, and pushed.

The push wasn't angry though, and Dennis could sense that much.

Their eyes met again.

Hanson had never appeared so scorching, Booker thought. Dripping and breathless.

Neither man knew what to say or do next. There was just silence.

Tom could see warmth and desire in the other man's gaze. It wasn't unpleasant. It was difficult to categorize. He didn't have the vocabulary for it. But he could also feel a vice tightening around his throat. A dread, a weighted panic as thoughts raced across the expanse of his mind like time lapse photography. The implications of this, whatever it was, the tumultuous, life-altering out of control ramifications, produced a deafening thunder in his ears. He clamped his eyes shut and placed his hands on the wall behind himself in order to feel some semblance of control.

The silence stretched on. Dennis was waiting for Hanson to make the next move. The one who broke the kiss got to decide what came next. But it took all the restraint he had not to dive back in. He could picture himself stepping forward again, this time putting his hands in other places, running them through wet hair or along that pronounced jaw line or up the curve of a back. He could feel himself tremble. And he knew there was some part of Tom that wanted that too. But as the seconds ticked on, he could feel the moment slipping away.

When Hanson finally opened his eyes again, there was a pronounced anguish that emanated from his stare. His expressive eyes told the other man everything he needed to know. It was right there, an open book. The conflict and sadness was heartbreaking.

Booker's shoulders drooped slightly. He didn't want to accept it, not quite yet.

Although it wasn't entirely necessary, Tom felt like he needed to try and explain. "I can't..." was all he could manage to choke out.

Dennis looked at the floor and ran a hand through his dark, tousled hair. "I know."

Tom wanted to express regret in any way he could. He wanted to explain that he didn't think he was strong enough to venture down that road, that he wasn't prepared to face all that it meant, that he'd spent too long building certain walls around himself that to undo all that was unbearable even if...

He opened his mouth to try and say something more, but nothing came out.

Dennis jammed his hands deep in his pockets. All the air had left the room and he had to move away in order to take another breath. He lifted his head one last time in the direction of the other man.

Tom's eyes were now glassy with tears that he refused to let fall. He didn't know where the sudden emotion came from, but it was swift and unforgiving. After everything that had transpired in the last few hours of his life, this, above all else, was the most shocking to him.

Booker placed a hand on Tom's far shoulder, and as he turned to leave, he let his hand brush along the length of the other man's collar bone. Just as contact was about to be broken, Hanson's hand shot up and seized Dennis' palm. He stared down at their hands and then brought his pained eyes back up. "I'm sorry..." he whispered in such a tortured tone that it obliterated any lingering negativity.

"Me too."

And then the door swung closed, and he was gone.