"Hank?" The voice on the other end of the call was wary, as if braced for bad news; Hank figured he'd earned that.
"Yeah," he said, and while he'd practiced what he was going to say beforehand, he found his mind a complete blank.
"You there?"
"Yeah," he repeated. "Hi, Maureen."
"Are you--is everything okay?"
Hank heard a low, murmured question in the background, and Maureen's muffled reply including the words "Hank," "I have no idea," and "I hope not."
"Everything's all right," he said, loud enough to cut through whatever conversation was happening.
"Oh!" The wariness had turned to confusion. "You're sure?"
"I could say 'what, I can't call up my ex-wife for a friendly chat?' but we both know I haven't been in the habit of it," Hank said. "I get it, it's probably weird to hear from me out of the blue."
"It's a little weird."
Hank barked out a laugh and slapped his thigh. "Ha! Fuck, I'm sure it is. It's a little weird for me too, I guess. I don't want to keep you, but I wanted to ask you something."
"All right." Now Hank could hear the faintest hint of...not a smile, perhaps, but maybe something more
than wariness in Maureen's voice. The background noise of the call faded, as if she'd moved into a quieter area to talk. "What is it?"
Hank closed his eyes. "I took the day off work next Friday. For Cole's birthday." When Maureen didn't respond, he forged ahead. "I wanted to ask
if you want to come to the cemetery with me, or, you know. Meet me there. So we can talk for a bit."
"Oh." It was very quiet, just an exhalation of surprise. "You want to talk. To me."
"I really do," Hank said, "and I--listen, Maureen, some things have changed for me lately."
"I think you'd approve of it. I hope you would. I have people in my life I can talk to about shit, and sometimes, if you can believe it, I actually fucking do it, but there isn't someone I can talk to who loved our son like you or I did. And I just--" he sighed. "I get it if you
don't want to see me, I do. I won't bug you about it. But I want to remember him with someone else who remembers, too. So I figured I'd ask."
"I don't know," Maureen said, a little shakily. She'd never been much of a crier, but he could hear the brittleness in her voice.
"You don't have to tell me now," Hank said. "You can call and let me know, or just show up or not, it's all right. I just wanted to ask. And, shit, I guess I wanted to ask how you're doing, but maybe now's not the time, huh?"
"Maybe not," Maureen agreed, with a weak laugh.
"I'm all right, though, I guess. Doing well enough."
"Good," Hank said, aiming for as much sincerity as possible. They'd never been good at this shit, talking plainly with each other. Being honest instead of stubbornly trying to nurse their wounds in private. "That's. I'm glad."
They sat in silence for a moment.
"Listen," Hank said, after a handful of seconds had passed. "We're going to go in the afternoon around 3, so that's when to come by or when to steer clear if you don't want to run into me, all right? You don't owe me anything. I understand
if you'd rather not see me then, or at all, or whatever."
"Who's we?"
"You said 'we' were going to the cemetery. I'm just curious."
"I'm seeing someone," Hank said. "It's pretty serious, and he wants to come along. Feels like the right time to bring him with me."
"If it would be weird to have a stranger there, he can take a walk for a bit, give us some space if you want."
"I'll think about it. I'm not blowing you off, but I can't decide right now."
"Sure." Hank chuckled. "Shit, I'm just glad you picked up at all when you saw it was me."
Maureen huffed out an exasperated noise, one Hank was intimately familiar with. "Of course I did. It's so rare for you to call, I figured--"
"I don't know what I thought, but it made me worry about you. Haven't done that in a while."
Hank couldn't quite manage to voice
the apology rattling around in his throat. He figured there were too many he needed to make, anyway, more than he had time for at the moment. Maybe if she showed up next week, he could start with one or two.
"This guy you're seeing," Maureen said cautiously, after another stretch
of silence. "You're really serious about him?"
"Listen, I'm just as surprised as you are. But yeah, I am."
"Honestly," Maureen said, "I don't know if I'm more surprised that you're dating again or that you called because you wanted to talk to me, but it sounds like he's been good
for you. Or something else has, if not him."
"It's mostly Connor," Hank said. "He's like that."
"Maybe I should meet him, then," Maureen said thoughtfully. "I'll let you know, all right?"
"Yeah," Hank said. "I'll let you go, I don't want to keep you from whatever else you got
going on today. I'll, uh. I'll see you next week, maybe."
"Maybe," Maureen said, and this time the smile in her voice sounded genuine. "Thanks for calling, Hank. It was good to hear from you."
"You too," Hank replied, and he was surprised by how much he meant it.

"How'd it go?" Connor asked, when he returned home a half-hour later with an exhausted Sumo in tow. He'd offered to take him to the dog park while Hank made the call, for which Hank was grateful. There wasn't anything he'd said to Maureen he couldn't say in front of Connor, of
course, but he'd felt awkward and nervous enough without having someone around to hear his side of the conversation. And shit, maybe hers as well; Connor's hearing was probably sensitive enough.
"All right, I think," he said, "although she needed some time to think it over, which
is fair enough. It was kinda awkward, I guess, but not half as bad as it could have been. Last few times we talked didn't go so well."
"So I've gathered," said Connor, settling next to Hank on the couch and leaning into him; at the obvious prompt, Hank obligingly wrapped his arm
around Connor's shoulder and pulled him close. "You still don't mind having me come with you, even if she's there? I won't make things more awkward?"
"I want you there," Hank said firmly. "I'm gonna feel shitty and awkward no matter what, because I'll be at my son's grave."
"There's no way around that. But if you're there, it'll be better. It always is. I know he's not--" Hank turned and buried his nose in Connor's hair, breathing deep to keep from crying. Connor reached up, took the hand draped over his shoulder and squeezed it gently, waiting.
"He's not there, what's buried there isn't him any more than that photo's him," he continued, gesturing at the picture of Cole that he'd finally put on display, next to photos of Sumo and of himself and Connor by the waterfront. "It's not my boy down there. Not anymore."
"But it still feels right to go there, and it feels right to bring you with me, if you want to come."
"I do," Connor said, squeezing his hand again. "Of course I do."
Hank exhaled deeply as his eyes finally stopped prickling with the threat of tears. "And maybe Maureen will come,
and maybe she'll want to talk about our fucking amazing kid we made together."
"I hope so," Connor said. "I think I'd like to meet her."
"She'll love you, I bet. She thinks you're a good influence on me."
"I don't want to take too much credit," Connor preened, "but I'll accept
a little."
"Don't get a big head, hotshot," Hank grumbled, but he lifted Connor's hand to his mouth and gave it a kiss.
"I'll do my best," Connor said. "I'm proud of you for making that call, though; I know it was difficult to reach out when you weren't sure it would be welcome."
"I don't know how close we can ever be, now," Hank said, "but avoiding her stopped feeling good a while back. Not that it ever felt right, but it felt like the only thing I could do. Now maybe that's changed. I guess we'll see." He sighed. "For now, I think I need to talk about
anything other than my ex-wife for a minute. How'd your trip to the park go?"
"Actually," Connor said, "Annie messaged me while I was out; I have some juicy work gossip to share, if you'd like to hear it."
"Please," Hank said. "You know just what I need, sweetheart."
It was a difficult week. The run up to Cole's birthday always was, of course, but this year Hank was spending less time pushing his grief away by drowning it in alcohol or patching over it with self-loathing, and more time trying to acknowledge it. To accept that it wasn't going
away, and that ignoring it made it worse.
It still felt terrible, of course, but it felt terrible in a better way, somehow. The pain felt like something he could take into himself and keep safe and find a way to live with, eventually.
Connor was a sweet, supportive presence, of
course. He fretted, at times, that he didn't know how to help Hank, or that he wished he could do more, but Hank was keenly aware of the state he'd be in if Connor wasn't there.
"You do enough," he said, any time Connor voiced that worry, and he hoped Connor could tell how much
he meant it. How true it was. He owed so much to him.

"I am gonna be a mess for the rest of the day, you realize," Hank said, as they drove the final miles to the cemetery. "Even if things with Maureen go well, even if I seem okay while we're there, I know I won't be. Not making
excuses if I'm short with you or anything tonight, but sometimes I just know when a bad time's coming, you know?"
"I do," Connor said. "And I'll be there with you. If you need space tonight, I understand, but if you want--"
"I don't think I'll need space," Hank said. "I won't
want to be alone." He sighed and drummed his hands on the steering wheel. "Thanks for coming here with me."
"It's important," Connor said. "I'm glad you asked me." He took one of Hank's restless hands in his own.
"He'd like you, I bet," Hank said softly.
"I hope so. I'm sure I
would have loved him."
They rode in silence for a few minutes more, until Hank took the final turn into the cemetery. It was still mostly green, even in late September, but a few yellow maples and deep red oak trees stood among the beech trees spread throughout the cemetery.
"It's lovely here," Connor said.
"Yeah," Hank said, reaching into the back seat for the flowers they'd picked up on the way, "we wanted a place he would have liked to come, you know? Maybe it seems silly, but..."
"I don't think it's silly," Connor said. "You chose a place to
put Cole to rest that he would have enjoyed visiting, and when you visit you have the chance to feel some of that enjoyment yourself. I think it's a lovely way to honor him."
Hank nodded, unsure of how to respond. He'd slowly begun the process of speaking about Cole at all, about
admitting and addressing his grief, but his words felt too blunt and graceless. There was no eloquence in him for discussing how he felt. Maybe it would come with time.
"Maureen said she was showing up earlier, so she could have some time alone," he said, "so she should be
waiting for us. You ready?"
Connor gave him a gentle smile. "I am. Are you?"
"No," Hank said, "but here I go, all the same." He held the bouquet in front of him like a shield, looped Connor's arm through his, and stepped through the gate onto the gravel path.
Cole was a five minutes' walk along the broad, shaded path, and Hank did his best to soak in Connor's quiet, reassuring presence next to him. He'd never come here with anyone else, after that terrible day when they laid Cole to rest. Maybe it was too much, bringing Connor for the
first time and trying to talk to Maureen too, especially given how raw they'd both be on this of all days, but he wanted both things to happen. He wanted to show Connor this part of his life, to open up a bit more about who he'd been before they met, although the specifics of
what he wanted from Maureen were harder to pin down. He wanted to show her he was changing, he knew that much. He wasn't trying to rub anything in her face or, god forbid, make her want him again, he just wanted her to know that he wasn't the worst version of himself anymore.
And he wanted to keep a connection, he had finally realized, with the mother of his child. There was no undoing that bond, even though he was--

The bond was still there. She knew things about Cole, about those precious years they'd had together, that no one else did. He didn't
want to lose his connection to that time.
"Hank," Connor said softly, with a gentle bump to his side. "Is that Maureen waving at us?"
"Oh, yep," Hank said, peering at the tall figure ahead. "Sorry, was lost in thought. That'll be her." He waved back. "Huh. She cut her hair."
There was an awkward moment, once they drew close, where no one seemed quite sure of what to do, but before the moment could drag on too long, Maureen huffed as if she was used to dealing with Hank's awkward bullshit (which she was, of course, even if she was slightly out of
practice), closed the distance between them in a few long strides, and clapped her hands on Hank's shoulders, holding him at arm's length as she looked at him appraisingly.
"Hank! It's good to see you."
"Yeah," Hank said, hoarsely. "You too, Maurie."
"And this is--Connor, right?"
"You didn't tell me he was so young."
"Just over a year old," Connor said, shifting his stance slightly so that his LED was impossible to ignore, "but age is a complicated concept for us, I suppose."
"Oh," Maureen said, after a startled pause. "I didn't realize."
"No reason you
would have known," Hank said, wondering if his intentional decision not to tell Maureen in advance was about to bite him in the ass. It had seemed disrespectful, in a way, but perhaps he should have asked Connor for direct input.
"There's a story there, I bet," she said, finally.
"You could say that, yeah," Hank said, with a self-conscious bark of laughter.
"Well," Maureen said, a little too cheerfully, "as long as you're both happy." She didn't quite sound skeptical, but it was clear she had a lot of questions. Hank couldn't blame her, he supposed, but
he wondered if he'd ever have a chance to fill in some of the details. If either of them were ready for that personal of a conversation.
"We are," Connor interjected, looping his arm back through Hank's and giving it a squeeze. "We're very happy." He offered his other hand to
Maureen, who at least showed no hesitation in shaking it. "I'm sorry it couldn't be in happier circumstances, but it's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
"Oh, don't start with that," she said. "Just 'Maureen' is fine." She angled her head back over her shoulder, where Hank saw the
familiar pale gravestone waiting for them. "Shall we?"
Hank let out a long, slow exhale. "Yeah," he said, nervously straightening the flowers in his hand where they'd been slightly jostled on the walk from the car. "Let's go see our boy."
He knelt down when he reached the grave,
and rested his hand over where Cole's name had been chiseled into the granite, beneath a delicate carving of wild Michigan roses. "Hey, buddy," he said softly, blinking back tears. "You'd be ten today. I wish I could buy you whatever overpriced shit kids are begging for these
days, and watch you go nuts playing with it. I miss seeing how excited you'd get for birthdays. I brought you these, though." Hank kissed the sunflower in the center of the bouquet and set it down next to the bundle of yellow daisies Maureen had brought. "Your favorite colors."
"I don't even know if--I don't know if you can see them, honey, but we brought these for you because we miss you so much." There was no way Hank could stop himself from crying, now. "We--"
Hank shook his head and leaned forward, resting his forehead against the stone. He'd never
known what to say in this place. Nothing felt right the moment it left his mouth; what he felt for Cole, what he wanted to say to him, welled up inside him in abstract shapes and in longing, but rarely in words.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Not Connor's hand; smaller and more
distantly familiar. Maureen crouched beside him, one arm tentatively draped over his back as he struggled to get his breathing back under control.
"Thank you," he said, finally. "I'm glad you're here."
"So am I," she said. "It's hard, but it's hard when I'm alone, too."
Hank lifted himself off his protesting knees, not bothering to brush the grass off his pants. Connor stepped forward, slipping something out of his jacket pocket that Hank couldn't quite see.
"I brought Cole something, if that's all right," he said, quietly.
"Of course," Maureen
said, before Hank could respond. He nodded in agreement.
"I know he liked dogs, like me." Connor opened his hand to reveal an intricately-folded origami corgi. "I thought he might like this."
"Of course he would, sweetheart," Hank said, already starting to cry again.
Connor gently set the dog between the two bouquets nestled together at the base of the gravestone. "I'm sorry I never had the chance to meet you," he said. He paused for a moment, as if he had more to say, then stood up and took Hank's hand. "What were his other birthdays like?"
It was a transparent attempt to distract Hank, to get him to turn to happier memories, but Hank appreciated it all the same; he'd wanted to talk about Cole with Maureen there, hadn't he? And birthdays were times when, even as it grew more apparent that they weren't well-matched
as romantic partners, they were good at working together to make Cole happy.
"Christ, do you remember the ladybug cake?" he asked, turning to Maureen.
"I had nightmares about that damn cake for months," she said. "I still hate ladybugs." She turned to Connor. "He was obsessed
with bugs right around his fourth birthday. Ladybugs were his favorite, so I bought a ladybug cake to have for his little party. Just family and a couple neighbor kids, you know? We had it at his grandparents' place, back when they lived in town, and their yard was fenced and
totally safe, so we let the kids run around for a bit without watching them too hard. We called them back for the cake and Cole comes running with this little dixie cup in his hands and he just--" she broke off and swatted Hank on his arm. "Stop laughing, I haven't even finished
the story yet. Anyway, he runs up to the table with this little cup, yells 'WADYBUGS!' and throws it at the cake, and out come a couple dozen live ladybugs--"
Hank is trying valiantly to stifle his laughter, but he's struggling; something about the tension and heightened emotion
of being here is making it impossible not to laugh at the memory of Cole trying to share his cake with a handful of new bug friends.
"He threw the ladybugs onto the cake?" Connor asks.
"He threw the whole cup," Hank says. "Just chucked it at the cake. He had terrible aim, the way
kids do, but this time he hit the bullseye. Bugs all over the place."
"Oh dear," Connor says, but Hank can see him trying not to laugh, too.
"We ate the cake," Maureen said, "but I had to go scrape off all the icing those damn bugs had touched beforehand. It turned out there were
a bunch of them living in my mom's old shed, and he'd just scooped up a pile of them so they could come to the party too."
"That was very sweet of him," Connor said, "but I can understand why you wouldn't want ladybugs on his cake."
"He was mad at us for making a fuss about it,"
Hank said. "Kept telling us they were his friends and he wanted them at the party. He mostly let it go when we let him have some extra ice cream, but I think that was because the sugar rush got him too hyped up for presents to think about a bunch of ladybugs."
Once the first
story had been told, Hank found it easier to keep going; he and Maureen told Connor about the birthday when Cole got food poisoning and threw up into a party hat, about his favorite stuffed animals, about how devoted he'd been to Sumo as a puppy.
"I have a photo of him with Sumo
on my phone, if you want to see," Maureen said to Connor, who nodded eagerly.
"Can you send that to me?" Hank asked. "I have a few, but not that one, I don't think." He held his hand up when Maureen held her phone out so he could look. "I don't think I can right now, but I want
to be able to see it later on. When I feel ready."
Maureen nodded and look at him thoughtfully. "This is the most you and I have talked about Cole since he died, isn't it?"
Hank sighed. "Yeah, I think so. I didn't feel like I could, for a long time. I'm still getting used to it."
"I think I'll take a walk, for a few minutes," Connor said. "If you don't mind."
"You don't have to," Hank started, but Connor smiled sadly and leaned in to kiss his cheek.
"I know, but I think it'll be good to give you two a moment." He looked at Maureen. "If that's all right?"
"Of course," she said. "Thank you, Connor."
They were quiet for a long moment, as Connor's footsteps faded away down the path. Hank was struck by how odd it felt to be alone with Maureen, when they'd spent nearly a decade together. Things had been slowly unraveling between them
before Cole's death, but that was the wedge that had fully driven them apart. They'd handled their grief so differently, and neither one of them felt capable of being much of a support for the other, as mired in their own pain as they were. They'd kept things amiable, to some
extent, through the divorce, but neither of them were at their best, at the end. Neither of them made it through without saying some shitty things to each other.
"Thank you," Maureen said, eventually, "for calling. I know we've given each other space here, in the past, but you're
right that it's good to talk about Cole with someone else who was there for it. You might be a little rusty at telling those stories but once you get started, I can tell you miss it."
"There's a lot I miss," Hank said. "But yeah. I do."
"What I don't understand," she said,
"is how Mr. Fuck-All-Androids winds up in a relationship with one. And you said it was serious, didn't you?"
"I did."
"Well, can you walk me through it?"
Hank scratched the back of his neck. "I don't know what to tell you, Maurie. I was wrong about androids. Hell, I was wrong
about Connor when I met him, thought he was a plastic piece of shit like all the rest. I even told him as much, which I'm not proud of." The guilt that always plagued Hank when he thought about the things he said to Connor in those first days reared up deep in his chest. "But at
some point the truth was obvious: he was just a person. They're all people, free to fuck up and have lives and fall in love like the rest of us."
"And he fell in love with you."
"Listen, I was just as surprised as you are. And I don't--I'm not trying to be a dick, but if it's
something you have a problem with, I need to know now so I can go ahead and tell you to fuck off."
Maureen laughed, the exuberant, braying laugh Hank had loved so much when they'd first gotten to know each other. "Oh my god," she said, when she'd calmed down enough to talk again.
Her face was red, and she wiped a tear from her eye as she talked. "You fucking asshole, you really do love him, don't you?"
"What have I been telling you? Do you think I'd bring someone here, today of all days, if I didn't love him so much I'd tear off my own arm for him?"
hello! I'm continuing this thread!
I figured I'd start this update with a "hi this is an ongoing thread" tweet since it's been....a while! I didn't want to abandon this, I just had to take care of other things before I could come back to it. :)
ok let's go:
"I guess not," Maureen said, still red-faced from laughing. "I just never would have expected it, not from you."
"Pretty much everything about Connor has been unexpected," Hank said. "I didn't see myself here when I met him, that's for sure." He wasn't sure how much of that
first week he'd ever want to tell her about, even if she asked. How would he describe what had happened between them, what he'd felt every time he looked at Connor and thought he saw something there that he couldn't explain?
Maybe he and Maureen wouldn't ever be close enough that
he could tell her any of it. He considered it a win, at least, that after her initial surprise she didn't seem to have a problem with Connor, or the idea of Hank and Connor together. At least not enough of a problem to say anything about it, and that was good enough, as far as
Hank was concerned.
"How about you?" he asked, not caring if it was too transparent of an attempt to change the subject. "Are you seeing anyone?"
Maureen raised an eyebrow at him, but shrugged and said, "hell, no. I'm done with all that for good, I think. Do you remember Laurie?"
"I used to go on those trips to Chicago with her in the springtime?"
Hank cast his mind back, trying to place a face with the name. "Uh yeah, she was real short, right? And had that tiny dog, the black one?"
"Of course that's what you'd remember," Maureen said, rolling her eyes.
"I moved in with her last year. I missed living with someone else, she wanted help with the rent, and we've always traveled together well so we figured maybe we could live together, too."
Hank was startled, for a moment, to hear that Maureen had moved and he hadn't heard about
it, but why would she have told him? He hadn't called her in almost two years, and it wasn't like he was going to visit her any time soon. He had no reason to expect she'd tell him anything about her life. It struck him, again, how distant they had become.
"And that's working out? Living with her?"
She snorted. "It's working out so well my sister's convinced we're together but I'm too embarrassed to tell her, and won't believe otherwise no matter what I say. I've just given up correcting her. We're happy and I don't really
give a shit about the rest of it. Best case scenario, I never have to move again and we can get old and cranky together."
"It's good, isn't it?" Hank said. "To feel like the rest of your life is someting to look forward to. Something you can picture at all."
"I think maybe you lost sight of that a little more than I did," Maureen said, and while her expression was unreadable as she said it, her voice was kind, at least. "But yeah, it is good." She turned towards Cole's gravestone, which looked much less lonely with the flowers and
tiny dog arranged at its base. "I thought for a long time that there wasn't a way to move forward from this. Without him."
Without *me* was pretty easy for you, Hank thought. It was unfair, he knew; at the end, they'd been no good for each other, and they'd been heading
that direction for a couple years at least. It had looked easier for Maureen to move on, at the time; she'd had family to live with, she actually saw a grief counselor, she threw herself into work while Hank let his reputation slowly slip away. But he knew, with the advantage of
time and a lot less bitterness, that it couldn't have been easy for her. That the appearance of things being easier for her didn't mean shit. He'd made that same assumption with Connor, once, and he'd been wrong then, too. He and Maureen had just handled the divorce in
different ways, just like they'd handled Cole's death. Even the way they each drew apart had driven that wedge more firmly between them.
None of that was worth saying aloud, certainly not then, so Hank just coughed and ran his finger over the trailing vines carved into the stone.
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