“Hey, slow down. Are you all right?” They were face to face, close enough to kiss, and Hank’s hands were gripping Chase’s shoulders.
“Hank?” Even in this light, Chase got caught in those blue eyes. He swallowed before finding his voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I came looking for you.”
“What the fuck? Are you stalking me now?”
“No, of course not—I just wanted to talk to you, and you said you weren’t on a date so I didn’t think you’d mind. After today, I thought I should try to… look, can we go somewhere quieter? This place gives me a headache.”
Could the guy have any worse timing?The last thing he wanted to do was talk. “I don’t know about you, but I’m going home. Please let go of me.”
Hank dropped his hands immediately, but stayed standing in front of him. “Chase”—he leaned closer to combat the music—“why are you so upset? Is it because I came here?”
“No, and I’m not upset… okay I am, but it’s not about you… I don’t want to talk about it right now. I just want to go home.”
“All right. Can I walk out with you?”
“No… I already told you I don’t want to—”
“Come on, Chase. Don’t push me away… please?”
“Seriously? That’s kind of rich, don’t you think—you asking me not to push you away?” Chase could taste his own bitterness, but didn’t quite understand why it was even present. His eyes dropped to Hank’s lips, and he had to swallow again. Why did he still have this effect on him after all this time, after all that had happened? Like him fucking Kevin.
“I told you I was stupid. Look, I don’t like having to yell. Can we please go for a walk?”
Chase didn’t answer. Instead he pushed Hank aside and continued to the exit and down the stairs. The fresh air hit him with a welcome blast, and he gulped it, enjoying the coolness it gave to his still-overheated body. Hank, though, was right behind him. It wasn’t unexpected, so he turned to face him. “Fair warning, Hank. I’m not in the best mood for conversation right now.”
“I know, I know, but when are you and I ever? I know you’re angry—”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Yes, it is, if it’s not about me. It’s because of that guy, isn’t it?”
“The one who pissed you off in there.”
“You saw that?”
Hank nodded. “I was watching you dance—you looked like you were in another world—and then I saw him follow you off the dance floor. You know him?”
“No! Well, yes… sort of.”
“Looked like he was coming onto you.”
“Yeah, so?” he asked, his annoyance rising. He clamped down on it… for the moment. “Sorry, I told you I wasn’t in the mood to talk. Anyway, that wasn’t the problem, even though he was coming onto me. He’s… he’s that guy, the one who kissed me the last time I was here. I didn’t recognize him, but he recognized me.”
“Ah, I thought so.”
“You thought so? And you asked me if I knew him? Fuck, you still don’t believe me—”
“Yes I do, I absolutely do. Chase! Please don’t get mad. I thought he looked like the guy, but I didn’t want to make any assumptions like I did when I met Dawson. Every time I make an assumption lately, I’m wrong. He looks bigger than I remembered, and I didn’t know if I was right or if he was some jerk you were shutting down. It was pretty obvious you wanted to deck him.”
“The guy is a disgusting piece of crap.”
“You won’t get any argument from me.” Hank grinned, and Chase calmed down a little, but he couldn’t bring himself to return it.
“I think he’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous? Why, did he threaten you?”
“No, no nothing like that… just a vibe I got.”
“What kind of vibe?” Hank asked, suddenly looking loaded for bear.
“Relax, Hank. Just forget it. I don’t need you to protect me.” Not while he was sober, at least. He barely controlled another shudder as he thought about how bad things could have gotten that night if Hank hadn’t showed up. The fact the guy came into the stall uninvited should have been warning enough that he wasn’t harmless. “So, you really want to do this now?”
Hank’s gaze faltered, and Chase would have sworn he looked hurt. “I think we should clear the air, so yes… if you don’t mind.”
Chase waffled for a few more seconds before finally conceding. “Okay, let’s grab that cab over there.”
“Do you want to go to my place?”
“Why would we do that? It’s getting late and I’m worn out… we can talk on the drive home.”
“No, Chase, it’s not that late, and I would like to have a real conversation. Just you and me.”
“Come on, Hank, it’s been a long fucking day.” Chase got caught in those pleading eyes again. “Okay, fine, but I don’t owe you a thing, and that includes being civil.”
“I understand, and that’s fair.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Can we go to the apartment… maybe we can order something to eat?”
“Oh, I don’t know if I want to do that, Hank.”
“What’s the problem?”
The problem was Chase’s emotions were a mess, but he didn’t want to say that to his ex. He was still annoyed with him, and wasn’t even sure he should be, and that asshole had brought back the emotions of that fateful night. Even worse, the guy hadn’t been wrong about the fact Chase had participated in the kiss at first, and that pissed him off more than anything. He’d been wrong, though, about Chase liking him having his hands kneading his ass.
“All right, fine. I’ll go to your place… but I’m not staying long.” Chase signaled the cab parked on the other side of the street, and the driver spun over to their side once there was a break in traffic.
It was awkward as soon as the doors closed, and they waited silently for traffic to slow enough for the cab to pull out. Chase glanced at Hank when his head turned to stare up at the building. He studied his profile, and wondered if it had been hard for him to come back to this place.
The cab suddenly lurched forward, out into traffic, and Chase turned his head away quickly. They didn’t talk for the entire ride, but fortunately it wasn’t a long one. Hank insisted on paying, so Chase waited for him at the building entrance. They were silent in the elevator as well, and Chase continued to wonder what he was doing here.
Before they reached the apartment door, Hank spoke. “I forgot how much I enjoy watching you dance.”
Chase’s gaze darted towards the man, confused by the out of the blue statement. “It’s been months since… I haven’t danced in a while,” he finished lamely, wishing he hadn’t said anything at all. Why did everything come back to that one fucking night?
Entering the apartment first, he plopped down on the floor with Rex, allowing the dog to get the excitement out of his system, and for him to get a grip on this unsettled feeling. What was going on with Hank, that he wanted to talk here of all places, and why did he agree to it?
“How about pizza… or Chinese?”
“Huh? Oh, I’m not that hungry, but go ahead if you want.”
“Have you eaten?”
“No, but….” Rex, after getting enough loving, was on his way to greet Hank, so Chase had no choice but to get up off the floor.
“But what?You’re uncomfortable here, aren’t you? With me?”
Sighing, he met the man’s gaze. “It’s been a tough day, and… and… I want my bed.”
“You’re pissed off with me,” Hank said flatly.
“I’m pissed off with everything.”
“You want to explain that?”
Chase felt his anger spike, and he couldn’t hold it in any longer. “You lied to me, Hank! You didn’t believe me, you believed Julio, and that guy tonight, he… never mind, it’s not important.”
“I think it is,” Hank said softly.
“All right, then, if you really want to hear it.” Chase gritted his teeth at the memory. “He admitted he didn’t listen when I told him to keep his hands off me. I told him, Hank! I was drunk, but he’s obviously used to going after whatever or whoever he wants. He had no respect for me at all, and it… it just pisses me off… the whole thing pisses me off.”
“Do you?” Chase walked over and sat down on the couch. “I’m pissed at him, I’m pissed at you, and I’m really pissed at me. I never could handle my booze, so what the fuck was I thinking?”
“Well, you have a right to be angry with me. But can I tell you something?”
“That’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?” he asked, his irritation clear. Get a grip, Chase.
Hank nodded, appearing apprehensive. He cleared his throat and rubbed his hands together before speaking. “I’m sorry, Chase, I really am. I knew I was wrong a long time ago, but I was so hurt, I refused to think it all through.”
The sentence laid there as seconds ticked by. “Wrong about what?” Chase finally asked.
“About thinking you would have done that to me, or to us.”
“Yeah, you were dead wrong… and I was hurting too, just as much as you were. You had a right to feel betrayed, and no one knows that better than me. What I did was irresponsible—it was as fucked up as fucked up can be—and I own my actions.”
He groaned, his emotions flying high. “I still carry what I did around with me every day, and that smug bastard had me reliving it tonight, but it wasn’t fair of you to think I would lie. You weren’t fair, Hank. I’ve never been a liar, and you should have trusted me, at least enough to hear me out before you slammed the door in my face.”
“I know that… everything you just said.”
“That’s just great,” Chase said sarcastically. “When did you figure that out?”
“You mean when did I admit it to myself?”
“Okay… sure, whatever,” Chase answered, letting his disgust show.
Hank grimaced at his tone. “At your Dad’s condo, when he told us about Christine’s ring. After you left, I felt like such a fool. I wanted to go after you then and talk about it, but… instead, I did nothing.”
“So, you had an epiphany?”
“Something like that.”
“Then why not tell me?”
Hank joined him on the couch, facing him from a couple of feet away. He looked sheepish—and scared. “Kevin.”
“Kevin? Kevin didn’t want you to tell me? What the fuck? Do you think I want to hear—”
Hank sputtered, appearing unprepared for Chase’s sudden wrath at the mention of Kevin. “No… no… sorry, that’s not what I meant. Kevin and I… he was furious with me, and we hadn’t spoken for a while by then.”
“Then what the fuck are you talking about?”
Hank took a deep breath, his paleness startling. “It felt like I was the one who cheated, Chase, not you, and I was so ashamed. I fucked with Kevin’s life and—”
“And you did exactly what you accused me of. You ripped my heart out and stomped on it.”
He nodded, staring at his hands after making fleeting eye contact. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry.”
Chase glared at his ex, but the man’s anguish was too obvious to ignore. He took a minute, pushing away his own pain at the mention of Kevin, and the mental pictures he did not need.
“Chase? Please listen and try to not hate me. I have so many regrets, but doing that to you, sleeping with him, it didn’t give me any satisfaction at all—it really only happened once—and the next time… I couldn’t go through with it… I tried, but there was no way because it felt so wrong, and Kevin got—”
“Are you serious right now? Is that supposed to make me happy?”
“No… oh God, I always say the wrong thing. I was just explaining why Kevin was so angry with me. I knew you would hate me for sleeping with him, but I did it anyway. I think maybe at the time, I wanted to make you feel as bad as I did.”
Chase scoffed. “Maybe?”
“Yeah, okay… not maybe. I wanted to hurt you like you hurt me… it was wrong—I was wrong—and I used poor Kevin to do it.”
“Poor Kevin? Please! He knew exactly what he was doing. My side of the bed wasn’t even cold when that little weasel slid into it, so don’t expect for me to feel sorry for poor Kevin.”
“Fair enough, but he was never on your side of the bed. Anyway, he isn’t going to forgive me either.”
Either? So Hank was looking for forgiveness? Chase almost choked while trying to swallow down the irony. It was funny how the tables had turned, but… despite the fact he had a right to, it didn’t feel good to leave him twisting in the wind… what would be the point? He needed to let go of his anger, and that meant letting Hank off the hook. “We were broken up, Hank, so don’t sweat it for my sake. You didn’t cheat.”
“Feels like I did,” he uttered.
“Well, too bad. You’ll just have to work your way through that. Like Dawson said, it was a helluva weak move, but that’s all it was… it wasn’t cheating, but it was a shitty thing to do.”
Hank nodded. “I know it was, and I’ve felt terrible ever since. Dawson… he sounds like a decent guy.”
Again they sat in silence. “Do you think you could ever forgive my weak move?”
“What does it matter?”
“It… it just does.”
“Well, I don’t think about it as much as I did… not really,” he admitted. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Anything you want.”
“When you were talking to your mother tonight, you brought up what you saw from your bedroom window—them kissing and Cyril having his hands all over her ass.”
“Don’t remind me.” His small smile went unanswered.
“It sounded like you hated her for that.”
“Hate her? Yeah, I guess I did. I was so angry at the time, that she would do that to my dad—”
“Isn’t that how you saw me that night?”
“What? No, that had nothing to do with it.”
“You said the exact same words about it, though.”
“Yes, Hank, you did. The same words in the same tone. Did you hate me for doing what I did?”
“Hate you? No. I was hurt, and I guess I went to a dark place—that’s how my therapist describes it—but I don’t think I could ever hate you.”
“Maybe not, but it’s not what I felt. You changed into someone I didn’t know. You didn’t want to talk to me, and you wouldn’t even look me in the eye for the longest time. You made me feel like dirt, and a liar… even about Dawson. Do you know what that’s like? To believe the person you loved hates your fucking guts and can’t stand the sight of you?
“I lost you, my home, my friends… my mom was gone, my dad wasn’t around, and you hated me. I was scared, Hank. At first I thought I deserved it, all of it, but now—I know I made mistakes, but”—he sighed—“what’s the point? I don’t know who you are anymore, and I have no clue why I’m even here.”
Hank opened his mouth to speak, but instead slumped back against the couch. Hands rose to rub his face before gripping the hair on his head, and the little bit of color left, drained from his face. “Fuck!”
He looked so distressed, Chase felt some guilt at what he’d said. What was to be gained from hurting the man? “Look, I’m sorry, but you’re the one who wanted to talk. I didn’t intend to unload on you like that, but—it’s how I felt.”
“I am such a messed-up bastard.” Hank turned his head towards him, and the misery on his face was painful to see. “I closed up and pushed you away, just like I did with Mom—I wouldn’t listen to her either—but I never hated your guts. Fuck! Sorry… I think I’m going to throw up.”
He bolted from the room and Chase could clearly hear retching through the open door of the hall bathroom. It went on for a while. The sound of running water followed, and then the sound of him brushing his teeth. Chase had no idea what he should do, so he sat there the whole time and waited.
Hank returned, still pale, and obviously shook up. “Sorry about that.”
“Are you all right?”
“Guess I should have eaten,” he said while avoiding eye contact.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, don’t apologize. I deserved it. You were only being honest. I… ah… I have half a leftover pizza in the fridge. You want a slice… or… you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to?” This time he met Chase’s gaze, and his eyes looked haunted. Was biking the real reason he’d lost weight?
As much as he wanted to avoid confrontation, he couldn’t leave Hank in the state he was in. “Sure, I’ll have one.”
Hank nodded slowly, as if his answer had caught him by surprise, and in those few seconds, he looked defeated. It unnerved Chase. “Okay… ah… just be a couple of minutes under the broiler.”
He disappeared through the kitchen doorway, and Chase leaned back on the couch, stroking Rex’s neck while he thought about Hank’s weird reaction. It’d had been a monumental day for the man. Seeing his mother was something he’d balked at for ages, and to finally realize he’d been wrong about her—and about his dad—of course he needed a friend.
Hank must have expected he would be more understanding of what a big deal it was. Now was not the time for Chase to make things about him, and that was exactly what he’d done. He remembered how Hank had stayed all night at the condo when Chase hit his head on the floor, despite the emotional pain he’d caused him. He began to feel a little ashamed at going off on him about a past he should be over.
A sound from the kitchen caught his attention. He’d heard a pan slide into the oven, and the door close, but nothing since, except… was Hank sniffling? He strained to hear, and finally, a stifled sob reached his ears. Hank was crying? Hank? Uncertain, but knowing he needed to do something, he rose and walked to the kitchen.
“Hank? You okay?”
“Uh huh.” Hank’s back was to him, and he watched him open the fridge. “What do you want to drink? Something cold, or do you want wine? I have that merlot you like?”
The nonchalance didn’t fool him in the least. “Hank, look at me.”
The man closed the door and turned, and there was no hiding the fact he had shed tears. Reaching past Chase he grabbed paper towel and blew his nose. “Sorry, I don’t mean to make things weird for you. The pizza won’t be long.”
“What’s going on? Tell me… are you upset about what you heard from your mom today, because I know how hard that must have been? Your dad… he had a disease and maybe he wasn’t the best husband, but he was still a good father.”
Hank shook his head before leveling a tortured gaze at Chase. “No, it’s not that. I’m just feeling down. I’ll be okay.”
“What are you down about?”
“It doesn’t matter….”
“Of course it does.” He sighed. “This is what we do, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“We skirt around each other… I don’t say what I’m thinking unless it comes out in anger, and neither do you.”
“It didn’t use to be like that,” Hank said in a whisper.
“No, it didn’t. You asked me here because you wanted to talk, so talk. I’m a good listener, right?”
A brief smile appeared, but it didn’t reach Hank’s eyes. They still looked haunted. “Yes, you are, you always were. I’m down… I’m sad because I know it’s too late.”
“Too late? For what?”
“For us, Chase, for us.” He put his head down and stared at the floor.
Chase couldn’t help it, he froze, trying to work out what those words meant. Was this his guilt talking? Was there some possible meaning he was missing? “Us?” finally left his mouth.
Hank nodded, his head staying down, but Chase could see his jaw was trembling. “I thought maybe we could try to get us back, but it’s pretty clear I did too much damage—I’m so fucked up. Look how wrong I got it with my own family, punishing my mom for years”—his gaze lifted and settled on Chase—“and then I did the same thing to you. I keep getting it wrong.” He swiped at the new water in his eyes.
Hank could have knocked Chase over with a feather, and when he tried to talk, his tongue felt like it was stuck to the roof of his mouth, but he had to say something because the silence was deafening. “It’s too late?”
“Let me get this straight. Are you talking about friendship?”
“No… not friendship. Although it’s probably too late for that too. I was talking about you and me—the way we used to be.”
Chase knew what he wanted to say in response, but his brain wouldn’t let him, and the silence stretched out.
“It’s okay, Chase, really. I know you’re trying to figure out a way to be nice, but you don’t have to be. I didn’t want to put you on the spot. I can see how much you’ve changed—that you don’t need me in your life anymore.”
Finally, he found his voice after that last statement from Hank. “Okay, what the hell does that mean?”
“What are you talking about? What about me has changed?”
“Did I piss you off again?”
“No… no, Hank. I just don’t get what’s going on here, so you’re going to have to explain it. You say it’s too late for an ‘us,’ and that’s because I’ve changed?” His voice had risen higher with each word, and that caused Hank’s eyes to widen.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything was your fault… I know it’s on me. I just meant you’re stronger, and more confident. You… you stick up for yourself, and you obviously don’t have the same feelings for me.”
“And what makes you say that?”
“You don’t need me anymore, Chase… you said so yourself, tonight in front of the bar.”
“You’re right, I don’t need you, but what does need have to do with anything?”
Hank sighed, if possible, looking even sadder. “My therapist… she said….”
“She said what?”
“That I should be prepared for disappointment. That you might be more independent than you used to be… and you are.”
“So what? Why would she tell you that? Is that a bad thing?” Chase realized how defensive he was being, and made an effort to calm himself.
“No, of course not. It’s a good thing—and she said that—but I used to be the one who took care of you, the one who looked out for you and protected you, and you don’t need that anymore.”
Chase blew out a long breath, and his aggravation petered out. He got it. He used to be so dependent on Hank while his mother was ill. It was their dynamic, almost from the beginning. “Look, Hank, I didn’t love you because you looked after me. I loved you for it, yes, but I loved you because I loved you. Is that what you thought?”
“When you turned down my proposal, I questioned….”
“Whether I loved you?”
“Some people grow out of relationships. We’ve both seen that, and you weren’t ready for the commitment I was asking for. I should have seen it coming, and maybe I did, but—”
“Is that why you proposed?”
“No!” Hank’s expression became more animated. “Absolutely not. I asked because I wanted to spend my life with you.”
“That’s not really what I was asking.”
“Was I scared of losing you? I don’t know… maybe. But I proposed because I loved you. I still do,” he whispered.
So they both had the same fear of losing each other? “Yet, you’ve decided it’s too late.”
“I slept with Kevin, to hurt you for something you weren’t even guilty of, and you’re never going to forgive that."
“Don’t tell me what I can or cannot forgive,” Chase responded evenly. It was all beginning to sink in.Hank still loved him?
“I’m not… but I’ve heard it in your voice, and I can tell you don’t want to be around me—you’re just too kind to say it.”
“I went with you to see your mom tonight, didn’t I?”
“Yes, and I can’t thank you enough, but you were just being you, and I put you on the spot.”
“Yes, you did, but I didn’t have to agree. You didn’t push me, and frankly I enjoyed meeting Lilah, and it made me happy to finally see you two together.”
“But you were angry with me because I held back my conversation with Julio and—”
“I can be mad, Hank. Hell, I can be furious, and I have a right to be, but now I get why you did it. You were ashamed, and I certainly know how that feels. Did I not let you off the hook?”
“I told you sleeping with Kevin wasn’t cheating, didn’t I? It hurt me, and still does, but I’m not judging you like you did me. I’ll get over it.”
“So, that doesn’t make you hate me?”
“No, Hank, it doesn’t.”
“Then what?” Chase thought he knew what was being asked, but he had to hear it.
“Do you think you could ever love me again?”
As much as he knew where their conversation was headed, the question still caught Chase off guard… he needed to think… didn’t he? “No… not if that burnt pizza is all there is.”
Confusion marred Hank’s face, until it finally registered. “Oh, shit!” He pulled open the oven door and the light showed the blackened surfaces of the slices. He stepped back at the puff of smoke. “Damn, sorry, I should have put the rack lower. I have a couple more left.” After dumping the burnt offerings in the sink, he turned to face Chase. “Was… was that a no?”
Seeing the fear on Hank’s face, he knew in that second what his answer was. “No… no it wasn’t a no, but Hank, are you sure you want to go down this road again?”
The man swallowed and nodded. “I understand if too much has happened.”
“Stop… stop doing that.”
“Trying to give me an out because you think you know where I’m at. Just tell me what you want, and don’t dwell on the past few months. Tell me about now.”
“Okay. I think… no… I know I love you more now than I ever did, and I see that kiss the way I always should have—the way Christine saw your dad’s… one drunken mistake that meant nothing.”
Hank’s eyes showed some amusement, but his words were anything but light. “I don’t expect a thing, but I would gladly give you diamonds every year.”
Chase’s eyes widened at the declaration, and his blood began to pump faster—and it wasn’t from any anger this time.
“They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it has for me, Chase. Seeing you still excites me like it did the first time we met, but it also makes me ache in a way that never eases. It’s why I never managed to say the right thing any time we talked. I missed you so much. I still do… I miss us, and I want that commitment….”
Chase couldn’t resist asking the same question he had earlier in the night, but this time was different. “Are you proposing again?” His emotions were spinning, and that hope he’d refused to give life to, was now soaring.
Hank smiled, a small one. “Like I said, been there, done that, and I’m not asking something we’re not ready for. I only want to know if you’re willing to be open to giving us another—”
“What if I did the asking?”
Hank’s eyebrows rose, and slowly, his smile grew bigger. “Are you asking me what I’d say?”
“Oh, no… that’s cheating. I stuck my neck out, so it’s only fair you’d have to do the same if you ever want to find out the answer.”
Yeah, life was back in those blue eyes, and Chase grinned. “Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.”
They stood there, in the kitchen, staring at one another, the smell of burnt pizza in the air. “Ah, should I try heating up a couple more slices?”
“Well, I am hungry, but not for pizza.”
“Oh, okay, I have some organic chicken, so I could make—”
“That’s not what I’m hungry for.”
“It’s not?” He stared curiously at Chase. “Oh….”
“It’s been a really long time, Hank.” He raised his eyebrows in question.
“Yes, it has. So, you want this too?”
Chase nodded slowly. “If you do. I still love you too. I tried so hard not to, and I know I don’t need you, not in the same way I did, but my heart does. It needs you, and I want you… because I love you.” He held out his hand, and Hank took it.
“So… it’s really you and me?”
He searched Hank’s face, seeing everything he used to see there. It was enough. “You and me,” Chase confirmed before walking to the bedroom with Hank in tow. He looked around the familiar room. “Ah, Hank? Did you turn off the oven?”
“Ooops. Be right back,” he answered as he bolted out of the room.
He returned in seconds to stand a foot away, a goofy and downright adorable smile on his face. Chase, grinning, and filled with anticipation, reached out and began undressing him while Hank did the same to him. As many times as they’d done this, he was still in awe of how beautiful his body was. The lost weight didn’t make it any less so… in fact, Hank had never looked better.
This was all happening so fast, and while it was a big step to take, he wasn’t second guessing himself. Hank was Hank again, and Chase was exactly where he wanted to be—but as calm as his mind was, his body was anything but. Goosebumps erupted as they molded together, and their first kiss was slow and tender.
“I missed you so much,” Chase murmured when lips moved to his neck. He stepped back until his legs bumped the mattress. Falling backwards, he brought Hank with him, onto their bed, in a room he’d said goodbye to once. He didn’t think anything past that, because Hank’s teeth had found that place….
Once their foreplay reached a fever pitch, Hank made him aware of what he wanted, and while it surprised him, he didn’t question it. They’d had mostly defined roles in the past, but this was now, and Chase adapted happily.
With eyes locked, he slowly entered the man he’d thought lost to him forever, and they made love with the same astonishing passion as always. This was real—Hank’s whimpers and whispers of love were real, and they chased away all the shadows of the past months.
When it was over, they lay entwined, breathing heavily. Chase was serenely euphoric at what had just happened, and how Hank couldn’t seem to get close enough now. He squeezed him in a bear hug, turning them face to face, and reveled in the feel of the man’s breath on his face just before he kissed him.
“I am so happy,” Hank said when their kiss ended. “Are you sure about this?” A flash of apprehension appeared, and it made Chase want to ease his concern.
“I’m sure. I thought about what you said earlier, about absence making the heart grow fonder.”
“And?” Hank kissed the tip of his nose, something he used to do all the time, and it thawed the last bit of caution in his own heart.
“And, as much as I hated being apart, I think it was good for us. I feel more love for you than I ever did, and that’s saying a lot. We could have moved on in all this time, but neither of us did.”
“Well, I was the one who—”
“Don’t. Don’t go there again. You didn’t run off with Kevin, and you ended it… that’s what matters. Okay?”
“Okay.” Hank smiled. “Thank you.”
“For what… sex?” Chase asked teasingly.
“No!” Hank answered, snickering. “Well, yeah, that too, but thank you for not running off. Thank you for waiting for me to grow a brain.”
“Don’t be silly. You have a big brain. I should know because it’s poking me in the stomach again.” Chase laughed when the pressure increased. “Are you trying to tell me something?”
“Yeah, but I think we should eat first, and Rex has to go out soon.”
“Oh, right. Poor Rex.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t mind, because he has both his daddies here. I know I like having his other daddy here,” he said before pecking Chase’s nose again.
“And I like being here. Guess I’m moving back.”
“Is that what you want, because I’ll go wherever you—”
“It’s what I want, Hank. This is home.”
Chase saw the relief on Hank’s face, and it did something to him. It was obvious he hadn’t let go of the guilt. “Good, because this apartment and this bed haven’t felt right since… since that night.” He flipped the sheet off them, and went to get up, until Chase, grabbing his arm, stopped him. “What?”
“Come back here for a second. I want to… to stick my neck out.”
Hank’s eyebrows lifted, and Chase got a sudden case of nerves. Was it too soon? The soft look in the eyes locked with his, though, dispelled those thoughts and gave him courage.
“I know this might not be the right time to ask, but—”
Hank nodded. “Yes to whatever the question is.”
“I was proposing—”
“Then double yes.”
“It’s not too soon to make a decision like this?”
“Do you think it is?”
“Not for me, no. I want to marry you, I always have, and you should have listened to me when I told you that,” Chase chastised gently.
“You’re right. I should have… I should have done so many things.”
“We both should have, but regrets won’t get us anywhere. So… answer my question. Is this too soon?”
“No. No, absolutely not! I accept!” he said enthusiastically, laughing as he kissed him. “And, I think it’s the exact right time. We already have the rings designed, and we have the invitation cover your mom painted… and you’re the only husband I ever want to have.”
“Whew,” Chase said with feigned relief. “You could have paid me back big time by turning me down.”
“No, I couldn’t. You’re it, Chase. It’s taken me months to figure shit out, but you’re always going to be it.”
Chase’s response was to squeeze him with all the fervor he felt. “Boy, if Mom could see us now.”
“She can. I really believe that.”
“Jeez, I hope not. I’m hard as a rock,” he said, grinning.
“No kidding. Now who’s poking who?”
Chuckling, they curled up again, laying peacefully, and every part of Chase relaxed… well… every part but one. They’d found their way back, against all the odds, and it felt as right as right could be.
“I felt her that day at the condo.”
Hank’s words startled him from his thoughts. “You did?”
He could feel Hank nod. “I swear she was there.”
“That’s strange… I felt her that day too. After I left the condo, I went out the stairwell exit, and she was all around me.”
“See, she’s still here, and she’ll be at our wedding, laughing, dancing, and toasting us… and we’ll be able to hear that wonderful laugh of hers.”
Chase’s eyes watered, but it was from happiness. His grief had begun to lift that day at the old house, and now he could think of her, vibrant and alive, doing all the things she used to. He had no doubt she’d be giving him suggestions about the wedding, and he would listen for her voice. Sighing, he pulled Hank tighter and closed his eyes.
He stirred when Hank rose from the bed. “Hey, where are you going?”
“You stay here. I’m going to take Rex out. He did his whining thing.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll go with you.”
“You don’t have to—go back to sleep. You earned your rest.” He winked and Chase felt a tingle at the familiar gesture.
“No, I want to.” He got up and stretched, watching intently as Hank got dressed. “Besides, I have to make a phone call.”
“Oh, yeah, him too, but I meant Dawson.”
“Dawson, eh?” Hank teased. “Shouldn’t you wait till tomorrow? It’s one-thirty, you know?”
“Only ten-thirty there, and if I don’t tell him right away, he’ll give me hell. He’s the one who pestered me to keep trying and never give up hope… even though I did. I had to.”
“I could feel that, how you’d given up.”
“You did? I guess I’m not surprised.”
“Yeah, and my therapist told me I had to accept it.”
“But you didn’t.”
“Couldn’t… not until tonight. What you said—I was sure it was too late.”
“Truth is, so did I, long before tonight, but Dawson kept making me think about it.”
“Well, I owe him big time.”
Chase laughed. “And Brent, Dawson’s partner, thinks he owes me.”
“Sounds like he does. Hey, we should go visit them someday.”
“That would be great.” Chase hesitated with jeans in hand. “I just realized something. I want Dawson to be my best man.”
“Good choice. I don’t know who I’ll ask to be mine… maybe Stacy.”
“Oh, Stacy would love that. She likes weddings almost as much as Mom did.”
“True, and she loves us both.”
“Look at us, planning already. Do you realize Lilah can be at our wedding now?”
“That’s right! I’d like that… I really would. It’s good to have my mom back.” He sighed happily, and then frowned. “Sorry, that was insensitive of me.”
“No it wasn’t, and you don’t have to tiptoe around me like you used to, okay? Mom’s still here in spirit, and I get to share Lilah with you. I think she’ll make an awesome mother-in-law, and, we have Dad to share as well.”
“You’re amazing, you know that?”
“I don’t know about that, but I think I’ve finally grown up.”
Hank searched his face, and one of his thoughtful looks appeared. “I think we both have. Tonight was one hell of a night, wasn’t it? Maybe that sign was prophetic.”
“The “Endings” sign. You didn’t notice?”
“The other half was lit up.”
“I swear. I looked up when we were in the cab, and “Happy” was lit up in blue.”
“That’s weird. It wasn’t when I got there.”
“I don’t think it was on when I got there either… maybe it turned on just for us,” Hank said in a spooky voice. “Like I said, it’s been one hell of a night.”
Chase chuckled. “Maybe Mom flicked it on.” He used a spooky voice as well, eliciting laughter from his fiancé. “Best night I’ve had in a long, long, long, long time.” He dropped his jeans on the floor when Hank stepped forward and pulled him close. It was like he couldn’t stand for them to be apart, and that was just fine with Chase. There was still hunger in the kiss that followed.
“You can say that again,” Hank murmured as he pulled back.
“And you can do that again,” Chase said, experiencing overwhelming emotion at the expression on Hank’s face.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to.”
“I know. I didn’t think we’d find our way back to each other, either. I didn’t know if I could ever trust you with my heart again.”
“But you do, right?”
“Of course I do. I asked you to marry me, didn’t I? Do you trust me?”
“Yes, Chase, I trust you, and I never should have doubted you. I promise I will spend the rest of our lives trying to make it up to you.”
“Just kiss me again… just keep on kissing me, and we’ll be fine. That’s all I need.”
They were walking through the park with Rex when Chase dialed his best friend.
“Dude, hey. Guess what? You’re not the only one to get his happy ending….”
So, we've reached the end of Chase and Hank's story. What did you think of the journey? Of their Ending? Thanks for reading and for all the wonderful engagement, and thank you to my editor, Timothy M., for all his hard work. Reviews in the review section, and story likes/reactions on the front story page under the story description, if you think the story worthwhile, would be very much appreciated because they could encourage others to take this journey. Cheers! Gary....