The house at the end of the street is exactly the same, bar an overgrown lawn threatening to eat the sidewalk, and the paint peeling from five years of neglect. The windows are dark with dust and it looks like a ghost house. Sumo, head resting on a shoe box, lifts up from the bench seat, tail slapping Hank’s arm excitedly at the sight.
He asked his ex keep an eye on the place, told her it was hers if she ever needed somewhere, but it looks like that need had never come to pass. He climbs out of the truck, Sumo jumping out after, and slides out the shoe box. He grabs his bags, swinging them both over one shoulder, and follows the dog up to the front porch.
Dark, heavy clouds hang low in the sky, obscuring the pale sun. Thunder rumbles in the distance, the air thick with the clean smell of ozone. Exhaustion deadens Hank’s limbs, makes every step shuffling and slow, weighed down even more by the heavy bags under his eyes. He thinks he could sleep for a week, but he’s not sure if he’ll be able to. The last few days have been sleepless and hard.
The key slides home without a hitch, and he pushes into the dark of the living room. Stale air greets him, and the dead silence of an abandoned home. Everything is as he left it, from the empty beer bottles glinting from the kitchen counter to the book left facedown on the coffee table. He flips the light switch, and sighs when nothing happens, remembering he turned the breakers off before he left. Throwing his bags down next to the door, he kicks it shut behind him, then carefully sets the box down on the couch. His jacket he shrugs out of and hangs on the coat rack, before heading deeper into the house. Sumo trots ahead of him, stopping to sniff at the floor, at the door to the bathroom, at Hank’s room.
The garage is crowded with junk, but the fuse box is right next to the door. He leans in, flipping the breakers one after another, each solid click echoing loudly. When he heads back down the hall, he stops at the thermostat and the hum of the air conditioning coming on spreads through the house.
In the living room, he flips the switch again and his vision is flooded with light. It’s almost too bright and cheery as the sky grumbles outside, and Hank tosses himself down on the couch next to the shoe box, watching Sumo wander back into the room to inspect the furniture. He sighs, rubbing a tired hand over his eyes, feeling grit come loose. He should sleep, but his mouth feels dry. A drink first, and maybe he’ll be able to rest.
It’s what he’s been telling himself every day, and yet he always ends up with half a bottle gone, watching tv on mute, cheeks wet.
Leaning forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, Hank lets his head sink into his hands. He doesn’t know what he could have done differently, but the thought haunts him all the same. If he hadn’t gone to walk Sumo alone, if he’d kept a better eye out, if he’d reacted quicker when Sumo turned his nose to the air and started growling. But they’d been on him before he could react, materializing out of the dark, the cold edge of a knife pressing to his throat as Kamski took Sumo out. He shudders at the memory of watching Sumo’s body fall limp to the grass with barely a sound.
He doesn’t know how he could have convinced Connor to run instead of fight. At least Hank had made sure he had his revolver and holy water, but it had barely been enough to hold off the Chloe in such a wide space while also trying to watch Connor’s back. If he’d been faster, smarter, maybe he could have taken Chloe out and helped with Kamski, but he’d been torn between two fights, scared Kamski would whisk Connor away right under his nose.
If he’d been faster, maybe he could have reached Connor in time, to stop the sunlight from touching his skin. Hank can still feel Connor’s body shrinking to nothing beneath his hands, leaving him clutching the torn, bloodied hoodie. He’d been in shock, shaking his head, muttering the same word to himself over and over. “No, no, no no no.”
Finding that Sumo was still breathing had been the only relief. He’d left shortly after that, unlocking his cuffs with the key he’d dug from Kamski’s clothes. The bundle of what was left of Connor tucked in his arms. He had to avoid the motel owner asking what the hell was going on, the sleepy people peering out of rooms at the noise of gunshots. They left before the cops could be called, and found another place to hunker down, one where the desk attendant didn’t bat an eye at Hank’s stumbling, broken words, putting it down to a drunk needing somewhere to crash.
There wasn’t anything he could do for Connor. It was too fucking late. Everything he had left of the kid could fit in a fucking shoe box, and Hank scrubs a hand roughly over his face, teeth clenched tight, jaw and throat aching with unsaid words.
They hadn’t had enough time. Barely five days to themselves, thinking they were safe just because they’d reached Detroit. Of those five days, only a few hours of the closeness Hank hadn’t dared to think he could have.
He should have known better. He fucked up by getting so attached, but he can’t change it. Wouldn’t change it, even if he could. Deserves all of the guilt, the pain, the grief. Someone has to mourn Connor, cause god knows no one else on this earth will.
A sound, soft scratching, reaches Hank’s ears, and from the corner of his eye he catches movement on the sofa next to him. His head snaps up, heart suddenly in his throat. Sumo looks over at him with sad eyes before returning to nudging the shoe box, and Hank lets out an explosive sigh.
“Shit,” he mutters, shaking his head, trying to push away the feeling of foolish hope.
There’s whiskey in one of the cabinets. He knows there is, left there for if he ever decided to return. The Hank of five years ago had known he wouldn’t break his newfound habit so easily.
He sees no reason to stop now.
A loud bark startles Hank, and he tenses, one hand tucking into his jacket, touching the handle of his revolver. “Fucking come on, give me a break,” he groans. Kamski is dead, all of his Chloes are dead, who else—?
He stares at Sumo, halfway to his feet. Sumo stares at the shoebox, ears raised slightly, and barks again. He doesn’t stop barking, staring dead at the little box, and slowly Hank lowers his hand from his gun.
“Sumo,” Hank says, and the dog gives him another look but stops barking, though he turns back to the box, ears still tensed with expectation.
Lowering himself back to the couch, Hank picks the shoebox up carefully, and Sumo follows as he sets it in his lap. Sliding the top off, he sets it aside and peers into the beaten cardboard.
On a bed of navy cotton and polyester lies the small bat he’d picked out of the ashes in the field. Hidden in the shadows of Connor’s torn hoodie, beneath Hank’s body, it hadn’t been breathing, hadn’t moved. It had been dead, lifeless, but Hank couldn’t bear to leave him.
Now its softly furred wings twitch and Hank stops breathing, fingers curling against the box so tight it bends beneath his hands. The bones stretch weakly, its little feet curling. Small, brown eyes blink up at him, and its mouth stretches open on a yawn. Hank counts four empty holes where it should have fangs and feels faint. He’s dreaming, he must be.
It squeaks, a soft little sound, and Hank forces himself to let go of the box so he can reach in. Gently, he scoops the bat up, feeling the little hooks of its claws poking at his thumb. Sumo bounces on his front paws, mouth open in a panting grin.
Hank almost can’t believe what he’s seeing as the bat hooks its wings around Hank’s fingers and looks up at him, letting out another miniscule squeak. But as he sits there, staring down at the round, pointed ears and the soft, downy fur, the bat begins to change.
It’s a weird transformation, one Hank has seen before, but that is no less strange. The creature in his hands grows, the fur receding, bones stretching. Hank doesn’t care. He’s riveted, watching the little animal snout become a human nose, the skin freckled and dotted with little moles. The wings seem to grow and shrink at the same time, the webbing coming together as the bones compact themselves into a different shape, until pale human hands clutch at Hank’s own.
The body that leans against his chest, the weight that settles on Hank’s lap, is too good to be true. Hank is speechless as Connor’s form relaxes against him, completely naked.
“Hank,” Connor says, and his voice is rough, exhausted.
“You little shit,” Hank breathes, and he shakes his hands free of Connor’s grip just to grab those bare shoulders and pull Connor tight against his chest. “Oh fuck, I thought— You were fucking dead, Connor, you were dead.” His voice shudders and cracks as cool arms slip around him, turning into the embrace.
“I’m sorry,” Connor murmurs against Hank’s neck. “I didn’t plan that.”
“A little fucking warning would have been nice,” Hank huffs despite Connor’s words, turning his face against Connor’s mussed hair, cupping the back of Connor’s neck. Tears slip over his cheeks and he sucks a shaky breath in, trying not to break. “Jesus, Connor, I thought I was too late. The sun was right on you, I saw your skin just—dissolving.”
“You know I couldn’t warn you,” Connor says, voice gaining a little strength. “I wasn’t really thinking. I knew if I became smaller it would minimize my contact with the sunlight, and with the tall grass and my clothes, I might be relatively unharmed. It used more energy than I thought it would.”
Hank barely hears the explanation, nose pressed to Connor’s throat. Connor is alive. He is alive, and he’s here, in Hank’s arms, talking as if nothing happened, as if Hank hadn’t thought him dead for days now.
“Just give me a minute,” Hank says, and Connor falls quiet.
He holds onto Connor, feeling the solid weight of him, the cool skin under his hands, the soft breath tickling Hank’s neck. He hears snuffling, and in his arms Connor jolts, and finally Hank looks up and loosens his hold on Connor a little, accepting that his eyes just aren’t going to be dry enough for a while yet. Paws on the couch beside them, Sumo is standing up and sniffing at Connor, wet nose poking him and tail going a mile a minute.
Connor smiles, reaching back to rub the dog’s head, and Sumo leans into it with an excited whine.
“He missed you,” Hank says, and when Connor looks back, his smile softens.
“How long was I gone?” Connor asks, and then looks around, scanning the house. “Where are we? Is this your home?”
“Yeah, it’s my old house. You were out for a while, Connor. A few days. I thought you were dead. You didn’t move, didn’t breath, never woke up. I tried to feed you but—” He’d pricked his finger that first day, hovering it shakily over the small bat’s unmoving face. Nothing had happened.
Hands curl around Hank’s face, tilting his gaze up to Connor’s. It’s full of regret and pain. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I’m sorry.”
“Jesus, don’t give me that look,” Hank mutters. “I know you couldn’t do anything, I’m just so damn relieved you’re here.”
“I am too,” Connor says, leaning in. Hank’s heart jumps like a rabbit’s as Connor’s soft lips press over his, and he grabs Connor impulsively, pulling him close, returning it with a fervor. The slide of Connor’s mouth, the warmth of his tongue against Hank’s, is a comfort he hadn’t known he’d missed after only one shared kiss. It’s like the end of a long day, like setting down the baggage of worry and grief he’s been holding for so long, longer than he’s even known Connor. It’s like coming home.
His hands find Connor’s chest, thumb brushing the thick scar there. He pulls away, looking down at the initials, thicker than any of Connor’s other scars. White ropes spelling out two letters, a disgusting stamp of ownership.
One of Connor’s hands drops to cover it, his eyes flicking away. His mouth opens as if to say something, and then closes without a word.
“It’s okay,” Hank says, though he knows it’s not, but he can see the shame and self-recrimination building as Connor’s expression flattens. “It doesn’t mean anything anymore. That piece of shit is dead.”
“He is,” Connor agrees. “And I didn’t change back. I was wrong.”
“Oh,” Hank says, realization washing through him. “Shit. I didn’t even think—” He’d forgotten all about Connor’s idea to kill Kamski and return his humanity, too consumed by grief and drink in the aftermath of everything. “I’m sorry,” Hank says uselessly.
But Connor just shakes his head, a wry smile turning up the corner of his lips. “I should have known better than to trust a vampire.”
“Nothing wrong with a little hope,” Hank says, taking Connor’s hand away from his chest. “To me, it doesn’t matter what you are. I’m just glad to have you back. Got kinda used to having a partner on the road, you know?”
“Even like this?” Connor asks, eyes full of doubt. “As a creature that has to drink the life of others to survive? A monster?”
“Connor, this is gonna sound cheesy as fuck, but right now I don’t care.” Taking a deep breath, Hank steels himself before meeting Connor’s eyes squarely. “If you’re a monster, you’re the best damn monster I’ve ever met. There’s no one I would rather share my life with than you.”
Hope breaks through the clouds of uncertainty, and Connor says, “That is quite cheesy, but I can’t say I don’t feel the same. I would really like to continue on with you, but there are a few things I need to take care of first.”
“First, I believe I need some clothes.”
“Oh.” Hank resolutely doesn’t look down, and he reaches blindly over his shoulder to the musty blanket hanging over the back of the couch, dragging it awkwardly forward to offer to Connor. Connor takes it with an appreciative smile, draping the fabric over his shoulders.
“Second, Kamski wasn’t the only one who,” Connor hesitates, and his hand rises as if to cover the scar before falling against Hank’s chest instead, gripping his shirt. “Kamski had associates. I met them, briefly, when I was turned.” His voice turns bitter at those words, and Hank doesn’t need to know details more than that. He already wants to tear apart anyone who put that bitterness in Connor’s voice. “I know locations and companies. Not all of them, but enough key ones that I don’t think it would be hard to locate the others. It will be very dangerous, and—”
Connor blinks. “Excuse me?”
“I said okay,” Hank repeats.
Hank nods, and Connor looks down at him quietly.
“Okay,” Connor says, and then ducks his head, lips trembling, eyebrows drawing together. It must be all hitting him at once, and Hank’s chest aches for Connor.
“C’mere.” Hank leans up, planting a kiss on Connor’s wrinkled brow, then the dampening corner of his eyelids, and finally on his mouth before resting their foreheads together. He takes in the sight of Connor here, his light freckles, the smattering of moles, the darker flecks in his brown eyes. This is someone he could fall in love with. “We’re gonna kick their asses, okay?”
Connor’s laugh is breathless and thick with tears as he nods, and Hank thinks falling in love with a monster isn’t that scary at all.