Protect and Serve by Aiden Bates
Tom staggered into the station. Every muscle in his body ached. Back when he’d joined the force, the guy training him had warned him about this. “Kid, this job hurts. There will be days when you feel like you’ve just done sixteen hours of physical training after a ten-hour shift where you didn’t do anything but walk and talk.” Tom had nodded and smiled, not really believing a word the man said since it sounded a little far-fetched.
Of course, that was before he worked his first domestic.
That was years ago. Now here he was, shuffling into the station to do his paperwork like an old geezer. He hadn’t done any heavy lifting, and his part in today’s work hadn’t gotten physical once. Yet, back ached like he’d carried boulders all day.
“Damn, I need a drink.” Tom’s best friend, Max tried to stretch his back beside him. If his facial contortions were anything to go by, the stretching wasn’t getting him anywhere, but Tom could hear the crackling of his spine. “And that’s not something I say often.”
No, you only say it every time we hit a domestic. Tom left those words unsaid. They wouldn’t help either one of them, and it wasn’t like Max drank much. If they ran across a domestic, he might have a whole two drinks instead of one. “Want to hit up Shields?” he asked instead. Tom certainly wasn’t going to pass up a chance to take a little liquid painkiller himself.
Max tilted his head to the side. “Part of me wants to say I shouldn’t, I should be responsible and go do yard work or something like that. And then the other part of me wants to erase every lawn implement I’ve ever seen from my brain.”
The pair had made it through the dingy entrance to the station and found their desks in the bullpen. Their shift was over. Now they had to file their reports. Thankfully, they could do that from their laptops. They didn’t have to sit there and monkey around with typewriters like their dads had. Tom opened up his laptop and got started. “I hear that. Think they can fix that poor kid’s hand?”
“No,” Max didn’t hesitate. “Not a chance. I’m not a doctor or anything, but some things just aren’t fixable.” He shuddered. “You go ahead and fill out the report on that one, big guy. I’ll report on the cat lady.”
“You won’t get an argument from me.” Tom’s stomach threatened to rebel at the thought of The Cat Lady. She was a woman who’d died in her apartment down near Harvey Park. Neighbors had called police when the smell became a nuisance. They didn’t know her well, but said she lived alone. They hadn’t known about the seventeen cats.
The medical examiner hadn’t been optimistic about his ability to estimate time of death, but mail had piled up for about a week and a half. The cats hadn’t gone hungry, at all.
“That’s why I’ll never get a cat,” Tom vowed. His fingers flew across the keyboard, already filling out the report for the domestic assault with additional charges of child abuse. He could already see days in court over the assault case - not that he should object, he reminded himself. The poor kid who’d lost a hand was the one he should be thinking of. Tom would get paid either way. “They sit there, and they purr, and they get up on your lap all cute and everything, and the second you die, they start eyeing you up for their next meal. A dog would go for help.”
Max shook his head, laughing quietly. “You get you’re dead by that point, right?” He clacked away at his laptop too, dueling with the sounds from Tom’s. “It’s not like you’d care. You’d be dead, so would it really matter whether you’re wormfood or cat food for days? I think not.”
“It’s unsanitary.” Tom tabbed through the different fields.
“Have you seen dogs? They define unsanitary.”
They quieted down as their supervisor wandered through the bullpen, and they finished soon enough. With their reporting done, they were able to head to the locker room, change out of their uniforms, and make their way over to Shields.
Shields was like a second home to them. They’d been coming to this same bar now for years, especially after a tough shift. Tom’s muscles loosened up just at the sight of the old neon sign hanging out over the sidewalk. He and Max waltzed right in and found seats at the bar, even though the place had a decent crowd.
Tom knew about half of the people in there. Most of them were cops. A few were cop hangers-on - spouses, friends, family. He recognized a lawyer from the DA’s office talking with a detective, and a guy from the crime lab. Miro, the owner, was working behind the bar this afternoon. He greeted them both with a smile and looked surprised when they ordered hard liquor instead of beer. “Tough shift?”
“It was pretty rough.” Tom could admit it to Miro. Miro ran a cop bar. Miro had been a cop once, before an accident took him out of uniform permanently. He knew how things were. “Could’ve been worse.”
“That’s the spirit.” Miro disappeared to fill their orders and came back with two generously proportioned martinis. “A couple of these should fix you right up. Don’t worry about getting home, I’ve got a couple of Lyft vouchers here for you.”
“You’re a saint, Miro.” Tom took his drink with gratitude and focused on it, instead of on the image of the weed whacker from their last case of the day.
Neither he nor Max spoke about the incidents. The cases were off their plates and in the hands of the relevant departments. If they didn’t have to testify, they would keep moving on to the next one. It had seemed callous to Tom when he first started, but his trainer explained it to him kindly. “It’s like this. You can’t change it. It already happened. All you can do is keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other and dealing with the next case. If you keep thinking about the cases you already saw, you’ll go nuts.” And old Martin had been right.
They nursed their drinks in silence for a minute, and then Max turned to Tom. “Hey, how’s your dad doing?”
Tom chuckled. “My old man’s all right. He just signed on to an Everest expedition. It’s a thing. Who’d have thought he’d tackle something like that at his age, with his history?”
“Right? I guess the cancer thing threw a scare into him.” Max snorted. “Good for him. I’m sure you’re nervous as hell though.”
“Goes without saying. People die on Everest all the time.” If Tom’s dad died on Everest, no one would ever be able to bring him down. He’d be one of the many permanent fixtures up there, and Tom wouldn’t be able to save him. The thought sent chills up his spine, but Tom plastered a smile onto his face anyway. “Yeah, of course I am. I’d never try to stop him, though. He’d kick my ass from here to Nepal.”
“Right?” Max lifted his drink in a kind of salute. “Does your mom know?”
“Nah, and she doesn’t care. As long as it doesn’t involve her in any way, she’s good, you know?” He shrugged. His parents had divorced, messily, back when Tom was eight. All kinds of people insisted they should have stayed together for the kids, but Tom’s life had gotten measurably better once his parents weren’t near each other and fighting constantly anymore. “She’s living in New Mexico in some kind of artist’s colony now. Whatever, if it makes her happy, it’s fine.”
“I guess. As long as she doesn’t leave your house covered in glitter like she did last time.” Max snickered. “How long did it take you to get rid of all that stuff?”
Tom groaned. “I’m still finding it in weird places. I think glitter’s like herpes, you know? You can kind of get it under control, but it’s always there just under the surface and you know you’re going to have breakouts here and there.”
“Better you than me, bro.” Max patted him on the back. “Hey, did I tell you my brother got the job?”
Tom took a swig of his martini as he rifled through his mental filing system. Max had more than a few siblings, so it took a while. The martini helped to keep intrusive thoughts, like memories of today’s abused child, from distracting him. “Which brother and which job?”
“Wilson. Catch Ben getting a job,” he scoffed. “Or keeping one.”
The mention of Wilson, Max’s older brother, made something warm stir deep inside Tom’s belly. Wilson had been everything back when Tom had been a young boy. He’d been tall, and strong, and heroic - everything a guy could want, or want to be. Sometimes Tom wondered if he’d have realized he was gay as early as he did, if Max hadn’t had Wilson for a brother.
He couldn’t say that to Max, though. They didn’t have many forbidden topics between them, but no one wanted to hear their friends talk about how hot their brothers were.
“At least Ben’s employment issues keep him around to help your folks,” he offered. “There’s that.”
“There is that.” Max sucked in his cheeks. “Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess. But whatever. Yeah, Wilson’s coming back to Colorado. He got a job as a hospitalist at Mercy. He’s all moved in and he starts next week.”
Tom hid his shock with another gulp from his drink, which had drained much faster than he’d expected. Miro popped up with another one before Tom could ask, for which Tom was grateful. “That’s… not what I expected. When he took off for Johns Hopkins, I figured that was it, the end.”
“It kind of was.” Max grinned softly. “Dad wasn’t even thrilled about him going for pre-med, you know? It’s a long line of cops, and he wanted Wilson in uniform. He wanted all of us in uniform. But Wilson probably wasn’t cut out to be a cop anyway. Whatever, he’s making good money as a doctor and if he likes doing it, more power to him.”
Tom nodded. His family hadn’t completely understood his drive to go into law enforcement, but they’d supported it. Of course, it was different for him. His family had no particular tradition of public service, as opposed to the Lauritz family. It wasn’t for him to judge them. “But he came back to Denver to do it? Sounds a little weird to me.”
“Yeah, I guess Mercy made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Or wouldn’t, I’m not sure which it was. It’s no real skin off me either way, you know?” He took the second drink Miro poured for him. “I’m as surprised as you are to be honest, but yeah. He’s coming back, and he’s going to treat people right there in the hospital. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Plenty of time off, no dealing with trying to insure himself or a private practice. Nice, huh?”
“I’ll bet. Where’s he been working?”
“He did four years in the Army after his residency. It was a good way to get medical school paid for, you know? So, he’s been all over.” Max waggled his eyebrows and nudged Tom with his elbow. “Come on, bro, I know you’re not thinking about Wils like that. He’s Wilson. He’s like… he’s basically my dad.”
“No, of course not. I’ve barely even seen Wilson since I was what, fourteen? Fifteen?” Tom waved a hand and turned back to his drink. The low lighting in here kept his slight blush between himself and the walls.
Despite what Miro had said about having Lyft vouchers for both of them, Tom and Max didn’t linger after their second drinks. They both saw the temptation. It would be hard to ignore on days like today, when they saw the absolute worst humanity had to offer. Both of them knew what could happen when a cop fell too far into a bottle, and neither of them wanted to feel it firsthand.
Tom drove them back to their homes in Harvey Park. They’d grown up around here, and neither had thought much about looking for a place outside the neighborhood. Tomorrow, Max would drive. It just made sense to carpool, if neither of them had anything going on where they couldn’t go straight home.
Sometimes Tom wondered what it might be like to live, work, or spend most of his time with someone who hadn’t known him since second grade. It sounded moderately terrible, and he promised himself he wouldn’t try. Every once in a while, when Max dropped in to borrow something while Tom was in the middle of an intimate moment with someone, Tom rethought that promise. He usually got over it quickly.
Tonight, he flipped his TV on and changed it to the home and garden channel. He didn’t want the news on, at all. He didn’t even want baseball on, in case local sportscasters mentioned the news. They might not think a case of severe child abuse, resulting in amputation, would be enough to mention during a baseball game. Tom had seen news helicopters and multiple vans around the scene when they’d cleared the scene and made the arrest, though, so he wouldn’t count on it.
They’d taken the suspect, Bob, in without having to fire a shot. Tom could, technically, be proud of that. He didn’t want to be that cop in the record, the one who got a reputation for being trigger happy. If anyone deserved a shooting, it was this guy - especially when Tom considered Bob would likely not get any jail time and would almost certainly get to keep his kids.
He grabbed hold of his thoughts and reined them in. That way lay madness. Sure, it all sounded like a great idea right now, with the images of what had been done to the poor kid fresh in his mind. When cops started playing judge, jury, and executioner, society started breaking down. It wasn’t Tom’s job to judge people like that. His job was to protect people, to serve them, and to try to prevent things like what had happened today from happening again.
He’d gotten there too late to save the kid’s hand. The boy would live, though. Tom had saved his life. Tom had been the one to stop the bleeding, to get the poor boy to safety before the medics could arrive. It wasn’t everything, but he would have to be content with that.
He forced himself to focus on good things, like Wilson Lauritz’ return to Denver. He promised himself he wouldn’t think about Wilson as a potential partner. Wilson had never shown the slightest interest when Tom was younger - nor should he have, given that Tom had been all of fourteen when he left for college. The Lauritz family had simply always functioned better when Wilson was around to keep track of things for them. Tom loved his friend’s family, and he wanted to see them successful and happy. With any luck, Wilson would be able to help turn things around.
And if he was up for a little bit of a fling, well, so much the better.
Wilson glared at the mountains in the distance as he drove toward the hospital. Maybe he could pretend he was in Afghanistan again. That would be a neat trick. He didn’t know a lot of guys who wanted to believe they were still there once they were back home. Of course, they weren’t coming back to a home like Wilson’s.
He gave himself a mental shake and reached for his coffee. He’d had other offers. None of them had the benefits or pay of Mercy, but he still could have chosen one of them. Wilson had other options. He’d made a decision. He was in Denver again of his own free will, and he didn’t get to sit around and whine about it now. Once he had some more coffee, he’d be fine.
After all, Denver was a big city. He wasn’t likely to see anyone he didn’t want to see.
The garage at Mercy had a floor reserved just for employees. Wilson pulled into an empty spot there and headed into the hospital. His stomach was tied up in knots, but he kept his head high and his walk confident. No one else needed to know he was having doubts.
He found the human resources office without much trouble and spent the next two hours filling out forms. No matter where he went or what he did with his life, this part was the same. When Wilson died and faced the final judgment, he’d probably still have to spend his days filling out forms. Good thing I’ve had so much practice, then.
Once he’d finished filling out formal applications, retirement plan information, insurance information, and diversity plan disclosures, the HR representative called his supervisor and he was finally allowed to start work. It was about time. His hand was starting to cramp up.
His supervisor, Gina, stood about five foot two with the most impressive head of curly red hair Wilson had ever seen. She shook his hand and gave him a bright, open smile. “Good to have you on board, Dr. Lauritz. I hope they didn’t give you too much trouble up there in HR, because we’re absolutely getting slammed downstairs.” She led him through the warren of construction every American hospital seemed to be constantly under and brought him to the office he’d be working from for the next several years at least.
The waiting room was packed with people. Wilson was used to reading a waiting room quickly. He’d had to develop that skill quickly in the Army, and it had saved him more than once. He didn’t see anyone likely to be a bomber in the Mercy waiting room. Most of the people seemed to come from lower incomes, presenting with a variety of symptoms that all looked a lot like flu.
A lot of illnesses looked a lot like flu, at some point in their development anyway. The trick was figuring out which ones were just flu, and which ones were more than that.
Gina let him assess the scene, and then led him to his office. “Okay. I know you got the tour of the place the last time you were here, so you know where the supplies are kept and where your exam room is. Are you comfortable? Do you need anything, or are you ready to jump in and get started?”
“I’m good.” Wilson grinned. He’d worked in far less comfortable places. “If I have any questions, I’ll holler.”
“Awesome.” She turned around and left.
Wilson had time to turn his computer on before a nurse in light purple scrubs came into the room. “Dr. Lauritz, your patient is ready for you.”
Just like that, Wilson jumped into the fray. He strode out to his exam room, took the folder from the wall, and looked it over. “Asta Waltersson, twenty-five, persistent cough lasting three weeks with discharge.” Hm. He knocked on the door, waited to be invited in, and went inside.
Mercy scheduled hospitalists in blocks. They worked twelve-hour shifts, five days in a row. Then they got seven days off. It was a good life if you could hack the twelve-hour shifts, and Wilson had no problem with them at all. Most of the patients he saw on his first day on the job presented with flu, or some other comparatively mild infectious disease. He did get to treat three cases outside the usual, referring one case to oncology and two to social services for suspected elder abuse.
Those were the downside of being a hospitalist. People didn’t like to go to their primary care doctor, if they had one, if they were being abused. Wilson knew that all too well, just as he was a little too familiar with all the lies people told to cover for the abuse. No one wanted someone they loved to go to jail. No one wanted to face the unknown, either. Wilson was sympathetic to those needs, but he also had to take their safety into account.
Plus, he was a mandated reporter. He wasn’t about to lose a license he’d fought tooth and nail to get just to protect the kind of guy who beat his ninety-year-old mother with a stick.
He held the hand of that mother as he explained that he had to go to the police with his concerns, because it was the law and because he was concerned about her health and safety. Not only was it wrong for her to suffer like that, but her wounds had become infected. She’d cried, and said it was her own fault because she “couldn’t hold it.” She didn’t want to get sent to a home, where she wouldn’t fare any better and wouldn’t know the people around her.
Wilson held her in his arms for a while, and he checked her into the hospital himself. “I’m going to visit you every day while you’re here,” he promised. “And I promise, it’s not your fault. But you have rights, and one of those rights is the right to not be treated like that. You have the right to be safe at ninety, ma’am.”
He did visit with the patient, whose name was Grace, before he left for the day. She was settling into her room nicely. The antibiotics would take a day or so to take hold, but the police had already been to talk to her and her son had been arrested. “Now my grandson is mad at me for splitting the family up,” she sighed. “I told him I didn’t have a choice, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Ah, geez, there were kids in the house too? Wilson sat down in the chair by Grace’s bed and took her hand. “Let me ask you something. Did the kids see their grandfather treating you like this?”
She looked away. “It’s not much different than the way he treated them, to be honest.”
“Then the police and social services didn’t get involved a moment too soon. It sounds awful now but believe me. If social services had gotten involved when my brothers and sisters were younger, I think things would have turned out very different for some of them. It’s a big deal to separate a family, and it’s not something they should do lightly, but sometimes folks need help they won’t get while they’re busy being caregivers. This way, the kids can be safe while their grandpa deals with his issues, and you’ll get the help you need too.” He squeezed her hand gently. “Trust me here, I’m living proof.”
She wiped at her eyes. “I wish it could be different. I don’t know where I’m going after this.”
“Grace, wherever it is, you’ll be well taken care of. And your grandson and great-grandkids can visit if you want them to.”
That seemed to cheer her up, and Wilson got to leave on a good note. He promised to check in on her the next morning, and he headed back to his home near the University.
He liked this house. He liked the cute architecture, a nice and simple Denver Square style of home built about a hundred years ago. He loved its unpretentiousness, its classic and uncomplicated lines, and the fact that it was nowhere near anyone related to him by blood or marriage.
The floors squeaked just enough as he walked over them to remind him of the home’s age, and he smiled. The house wasn’t a palace, but he didn’t need a palace. If he found someone someday, and started a family with him, the place would be big enough to raise a kid or two. He didn’t need more than that. He could almost see a little kid running through the living room even now, wildly laughing as their father chased them.
He shook his head ruefully and fixed himself a salad for dinner. He shouldn’t be thinking about kids or starting a family before he found someone to date. He knew better than to put the cart before the horse that way, and if he hadn’t found someone by now, he had no reason to get too hopeful. There weren’t many guys who would want someone who had a schedule like his, for one thing. And he wouldn’t exactly be able to offer them a splendid and exciting family life.
He brought his salad into the living room, clicked the TV on, and sat back. Grace sat on his mind. What would Wilson himself be like if forced to care for his own parents? Was he himself capable of doing what Grace’s son had done, if pressed?
He could answer himself right away. He was not. He could afford to have them cared for in a facility. For that matter, his father’s pension should be able to cover long-term care for both of his parents. Wasn’t that supposed to be one of the perks of the job, one of the reasons they’d shoved at him in an attempt to convince him to sign up?
He turned his mind firmly away from the subject. Anyone who knew him knew he shouldn’t be a cop. That hadn’t changed in all the years since he’d been gone. Lord only knew why someone would want to force a man into a job like that, one that put other people’s lives on the line, when they knew he didn’t want to be there. Wilson had barely been able to tolerate being in the Army, and his job had been limited to medicine.
He grabbed his tablet and retreated to bed. He liked to get some reading done before calling it a night, even when he was tired to the bone. He’d just opened up his e-reader when he noticed an alert for an incoming message. He hadn’t been expecting anything, but when he checked he saw the message was from his younger brother Max.
Wilson grinned. He might not have wanted to live with, or near, family when he came back to Denver, but Max was an exception. Max was a good kid. He was funny, sweet, and kind. He also had the balls to stand up to the old man every once in a while. Wilson took full credit for his brother’s steel. Max sure as hell hadn’t learned it from their mother.
Hey bro, how was your first day at work? Max’s message arrived with a flurry of emojis Wilson couldn’t decipher. They reminded him of hieroglyphics. Someone probably viewed them as language, but to Wilson they were useless.
Not too bad. Get a flu shot. He shuddered to think about all the germs Max must come into contact with on a daily basis.
You said that last time, bro. And I did. Max included a laughing emoji, so at least this time Wilson knew what he was talking about. You missing army life yet?
Wilson chuckled. The thing about a battle between Army food and hospital food is that one of them has to win.
Gross. Max added a puking emoji. Listen, a handful of us guys are getting together at Shields on Saturday after our shift is done. You want to come?
Wilson cringed. Isn’t that a cop bar? I’ll take a rain check. He had no intention of ever cashing that rain check in, but he didn’t feel like being rude and saying that out loud.
Max was smart enough, and knew Wilson well enough, to push back right away. Dude you have no social life in Denver anymore and you need to get out. It’s only going to be young guys - no one you’d know from back in the day, except maybe Tom. Who, I’ll point out, is very eager to see you again.
Wilson searched his memory for Tom. Wasn’t that your best friend? The short, skinny one?
LOL. He’s not short anymore. And he’s gained a muscle or two. But yeah. That’s him. So at least you’ll know one person there. Just show up and put in an appearance. It’ll get you in the habit of having a social life again. I know you didn’t have one in medical school.
Wilson stared at the screen for a long moment. The last thing in the world he wanted was to set foot in a cop bar, ever. Max would have warned him if their dad was going to be there, though. And Max had a great point about Wilson having a social life. If he didn’t hit the ground running and build up the habit, he’d become a hermit. He’d get cats. The cats would eat him when he died, and no one would ever be able to sell the house.
It would become a parade of pathos. Wilson didn’t want to become a parade of pathos.
I’m in, I guess. I’ll at least show up. No promises about sticking around. Badges give me hives.
Max sent him another laughing emoji, this one with tears. Weirdo. See you then.
Wilson turned back to his book. He’d probably just made a huge mistake.
Tom all but bolted into the locker room to change once his shift was over on Saturday. He couldn’t wait to get out of his uniform. He could usually wear it into Shields’ without a problem, and some of the guys would be doing exactly that. Today was different, for a perfectly practical reason. A car wreck victim had bled all over Tom’s leg. It had soaked into his trousers, dried, and now it was making him itch like crazy. Item 4621 they don’t warn you about at the Academy. Dried blood itches.
He ran into the showers to get the blood off of himself. He didn’t want to be the guy holding people up. Max would wait for him. He didn’t have to worry about that, but that didn’t make it okay to jam Max up. Max had been looking forward to tonight all week. Tom didn’t know why a trip to the bar was so important to his buddy, and he didn’t have to.
Maybe Max had a date. Wouldn’t that be something?
He rushed into his clothes and met up with the others in front of the station, just in time to head out. Tom had timed things perfectly.
They walked over to Shields’ and claimed a corner section for themselves. They had a good crew going tonight, maybe twenty guys. All of them were on the young side, and all of them good cops. Every once in a while, one of the bad eggs would tag along on one of these little outings, and they couldn’t say no but no one wanted them there. Tonight, everyone was a good and honest cop who just wanted to help people and keep the city safe.
Well, and have a good time. That was important too.
Tom bought the first round. Max helped him carry pitchers of beer back to the tables, because there was no way Tom could bring them back by himself. He ordered a good variety of local brews, because he knew this crew and knew what they liked. Denver was a city of beer snobs, and Tom couldn’t think of a single thing wrong with that.
He sat down to join in the conversation and let it all wash over him. Janson had started dating someone new, which everyone agreed was good for him. De Laurentis had proposed to his girlfriend, and Kokoros had finally walked out on the cheating bastard she’d been living with. Aquino had just closed on a house, and Arkwright was moving across town. Everyone’s news was good, and Tom could relax into the gathering.
No one talked about the job. That would start later, once the beer had its effect and everyone had their chance to decompress. People came here to remember there was more to them than just the badge and the gun. Tom needed it just as much as anyone else, especially after today’s car wreck.
As the beer in Tom’s glass moved inexorably toward empty, he became aware of someone moving toward their tables. The man seemed reluctant to approach, which immediately set off red flags for Tom. He was on the tall side, maybe six feet, with neatly styled black hair and artfully styled stubble. The stranger wore all black, but dressed professionally, and he looked at the gathering with wary eyes.
He might have been the most beautiful man Tom had seen in his life.
Most locals knew Shields’ was a cop bar. Civilians were welcome, of course, but they didn’t spend a lot of time there. Maybe this guy was from out of town? Sure, this area wasn’t exactly a tourist hotspot, but things happened. Tom made a list of possibilities in his head. Maybe Tall, Dark, and Handsome was an author, doing research. Maybe he was with some federal agency, here to meet with local law enforcement. Maybe he was a criminal spy, here to scout out the enemy. That would be disappointing - he’s way too pretty to arrest. And I’d rather have him put me in cuffs than the other way around.
Max turned around. “Wils! You made it!”
The most beautiful man in Colorado ducked his head sheepishly. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and moved forward. He smiled, just a little bit, and embraced Max. “Hey, good to see you.”
Tom just about swooned. He wasn’t a “swoon” kind of guy. He’d been in shootouts, car wrecks, and burning buildings. Guys like him simply didn’t pass out. He gave it some thought when he heard Wilson Lauritz’ voice, though. How was it, when he remembered his adolescent crush, that he didn’t remember Wilson with a voice that deep and smooth? Wilson could sit there and read the phone book and Tom would be hooked.
Or he could give me an anatomy lesson. I mean Jesus Christ, look at him.
He grabbed at his beer to hide his reaction. No one needed to see that, least of all Max.
Max turned to face the rest of the table. “Guys, this is my big brother, Wils. Sorry, that’s Dr. Wilson Lauritz to all of you.”
Wilson blushed. “Wilson is fine,” he said, looking down a little bit.
“Hush, you worked your ass off for that alphabet soup after your name. Be proud, bro. Be proud.” Max patted Wilson on the back and then introduced everyone around the table, starting from his right hand. “And of course, you remember Tom Cattaneo from when we were kids,” he finished at the end.
Thanks, Max. Way to pick a brother up. Tom plastered a smile onto his face. “Wilson. Good to see you again.”
Wilson widened his eyes. “Are you kidding me? This is Tom? Last time I saw you, you were maybe five foot two and eighty pounds.” A laugh went around the little section of tables.
“That was fourteen years ago.” Tom passed Wilson a pint glass. “I grew.”
“I’ll bet you did.” Wilson took the empty chair between Max and Tom.
Tom pretended his heart wasn’t fluttering at Wilson’s choice. He knew Wilson didn’t have a whole lot of options, and he’d obviously rather sit near people he knew than in the middle of a bunch of strangers. Still, Tom could let himself pretend Wilson had chosen to sit there just for him. “So, how’s the new job going?”
“It’s going pretty well, actually. I like what I’m doing, and the work is always interesting. It’s a little bit like what I was doing in the Army, just with fewer guns and more old people.”
Armando leaned forward. “You served? Where?”
Wilson relaxed visibly. “I had tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I served in Egypt and in Germany too. I was medical staff, obviously - I don’t want to take away from people who were out in the field taking bigger risks.”
Armando nodded briefly. His eyes looked a little lighter now. “I served in Afghanistan myself. It’s good to know there’s someone around, in the family so to speak, who knows what it’s about.”
Tom looked away. He sometimes forgot Armando was a combat vet. He and the other guys went out of their way to be supportive and everything, but Armando was right. They couldn’t know what it had been like if they hadn’t been there themselves. They couldn’t provide the kind of support only someone who’d been through it could.
Wilson gave a gentle little smile. “It is. I’m definitely more comfortable knowing there’s another one of us around. You work with my brother here?”
“Oh yeah.” Armando laughed and then launched into the story about the time Max and Tom took care of a hostage situation that turned out to be a grade school kid playing with a gun he thought was a toy. Of course, being Armando, he played up the drama as much as he could.
“And then, after all that, your brother Max looks like a damn light bulb has gone off over his head. He mutters, ‘Damn it, Wils,’ and gets on the radio. ‘Someone bring me a plate of cookies. Big ones, with chocolate chips and everything.’ We go back and forth with the whole thing, and finally someone does.
“And he goes up to the door - dumbest thing you can do, but you know that - and he offers to trade the kid cookies for the gun. And the kid just comes out and does it. The kid thought he was just playing with the babysitter, and then she called 911 because she saw it was a real gun. Kid’s all of five years old.” He shook his head, laughing.
Wilson’s smile looked a little strained, which gave Tom pause. “Wow. That’s amazing. Let me guess, dad’s nightstand?”
“Mom’s, actually, but close enough.” Tom leaned a little closer to Wilson. “We did charge the parents with endangering a child - both the five-year-old and the teenaged babysitter.”
Max looked just as oblivious to his brother’s discomfort as everyone else at the table. He slung his arm around Wilson’s shoulders and beamed. “And you know how I managed to resolve that situation without giving the entire department a bad name for firing at a toddler? I’ll tell you. Many centuries ago, when your good friend Max was a small one, we had a little incident in which one of our younger brothers got hold of my dad’s service weapon. Wils here bribed him with cookies to give it back.”
Wilson’s cheeks turned bright red. “It’s hardly the same thing. SWAT never got involved, for one thing.” He looked down at the table and toyed with his beer, and then looked up. Now he projected nothing but confidence. “And hey - congratulations on the win. Any time you can avoid shooting little kids is a cause for celebration.”
“Damn straight.” Ferber raised his glass, and everyone else joined in.
Tom leaned into Wilson. “How did one of the younger kids get their hands on your dad’s gun?”
A shadow passed over Wilson’s face. “It’s not important anymore. These things happen, you know? The important thing is you guys got the gun away from the kid, saved the babysitter, and everything’s okay now, right?”
Tom refilled his beer. Max hadn’t shared that story with him before, and it would almost certainly have happened after Tom and his dad moved to Denver. How would old man Lauritz have let a kid get hold of his service weapon?
But more stories were coming out now, and it was Max’s turn to buy the next round. Tom helped carry the pitchers, and they settled in to hear stories about cases gone haywire. There was a rhythm to these outings, almost like church. First, they filled each other in on news, they drank beer in concert, and then came the Telling of Tales.
No sad stories ever got told. No one had ever tried, at least not in Tom’s presence. If they did, he was pretty sure someone would throw beer nuts at them until they stopped. Nights like this were for merriment and pleasure. Hailey told a story about a call he’d gotten about screams in the night that turned out to be two possums mating. Loris told a story about a DUI she’d dealt with in which the driver tried to get her to sing drinking songs with her all the way back to the station. Loris still remembered some of those songs and taught them to the rest of the table.
Tom had heard plenty of these stories before. That wasn’t important. In the bigger scheme of things, the guys needed nights like this to remind them they wore the uniform for a reason. They were out there to help people, but the job wasn’t just nonstop misery. They had fun. They met some interesting and good people. Even the people they arrested were sometimes good people.
They and their colleagues around the country were getting knocked around in public opinion lately, and Tom privately thought they kind of deserved it some of the time. They still had a job to do, and it was easier to do the job if they remembered to laugh.
Wilson stayed quiet for most of the discussion, which only made sense. He wasn’t a cop, so he didn’t have any good “no-shit-there-I-was” stories to share. After a little while, Tom worried he might not feel included. He turned to Wilson. “I’m sure in your job you must have some funny moments too. I mean hasn’t every doctor had to remove something weird from a patient’s orifice?”
Wilson chuckled. His shoulders lost their “bunched up” look immediately when he got to talk about something that wasn’t police work. “Yeah, well, you know how it is. There’s HIPAA rules and everything, and the nurses are the ones with the really good stories. Anyway, I was doing my residency in this one hospital in Chicago, on the North Side. And the ER had sixteen kids brought in from the same early childhood center.”
“You mean daycare?” asked Lowry with a snort.
Wilson pretended to be aghast. “My word no. You or I might call it a daycare. But this was an Early Childhood Center, costing fifty thousand dollars a year in tuition - and yes, tuition, not fees. So. Sixteen kids from this same Center, all with the same symptoms. They had difficulty breathing, bloody nasal discharge, headaches. Coincidentally, teachers noticed the Lego play area was somewhat cleaner than it had been before.”
“Oh geez.” Sawyer turned away.
“Right? Fifty thousand a year, and no one notices all sixteen kids sticking Legos up their noses at the same time. And I did ask. It was all at the same time. They had a dare. They wanted to see who could stick the most up their noses at the same time.” Wilson shook his head. “So, I spoke to each and every parent, because I figured they’d want to know this stuff, and what do you think their concern was?”
“Legos.” Tom took a sip from his beer.
Wilson smirked over at him. “You cheated! You flipped to the end of the book.”
The rest of the cops laughed. “Nah,” Max told him. We just see these folks all the time. But why wouldn’t they at least admit the teachers were paying attention to something other than the kids?”
“Because they were paying too much for the school. That would mean admitting they’d made a very expensive mistake. So, the school actually banned Legos, never spoke to the kids again about sticking things up their noses or about peer pressure, and the next week the exact same kids were brought in for sticking coins up their nose.”
Wilson spread his hands wide. “The end.”
Tom laughed. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. One kid got six quarters in there. I’ve still got them in a jar in my office. I use them to explain the necessity of childproofing.” Wilson grinned.
Yeah, I’m definitely going to be a swooning kind of guy if he keeps this up. Tom stared openly at Wilson’s grin and didn’t feel the least bit of shame about it.
Wilson stretched out in his bed. He’d had a good time at the bar last night with Max and his friends, even though he hadn’t expected to. They’d been relaxed and happy, all out to have a good time. None of them had been looking to erase the job with the bottle, and none of them had gotten aggressive or nasty.
Wilson tried not to read too much into it. He knew the outing had been planned. It wasn’t exactly a celebration, but it was a day set aside for being happy. He wasn’t about to turn around and forget everything he’d known about the boys in blue just because he had one good outing.
Then again, there was Tom. Tom had been a skinny, short kid with a bad case of hero worship for any first responder he could see back when Wilson last spent time in Denver. He’d grown - and grown by a lot. Of course, people did that, when they went from being boys to men. It was part of the package.
He got out of bed, shuffled over to the coffee maker, and fixed himself a pot of coffee. He shouldn’t be thinking about packages and his little brother’s best friend. Okay, the age difference wasn’t creepy now, twenty-eight and thirty-two. He was still the guy Wilson had known as Max’s buddy, the one who had to be carefully shielded from seeing any part of the ugly truth about the Lauritz household. The one who stared up at Wilson’s father, Sergeant Anselm Lauritz, with those shining dark eyes and asked to do a ride-along.
He went out for a run to clear his head, before he could obsess about either childhood or about Tom Cattaneo. What was Wilson thinking, anyway? Even if Tom hadn’t spent every waking minute with Max when they were kids, Tom was a cop now. Wilson had a strict hands-off rule when it came to cops. Some things just didn’t need to happen.
When he came back from his run, he grabbed his tablet and made himself comfortable. He had the day off, and he had no idea what he was going to do with himself. His options were limitless. He could go hiking in the mountains. He could stay home and read. He could look into getting a cat…
He hadn’t been in a position to have a pet before. It would be nice to have one now. He didn’t have a lifestyle that would allow for a dog, not as long as he stayed single. He worked long hours, and a dog needed more companionship and attention than he could offer. A cat could be exactly the right companion for him.
He did briefly wonder what would happen if he wound up dating someone who didn’t like cats, but he pushed the thought aside. People who didn’t like cats, or dogs, were people he didn’t need in his life.
His father hated cats. He wasn’t too fond of dogs either, unless they had badges.
His decision made, he headed down to the municipal animal shelter and started the application process. He understood it would take time to go through his references and make sure he wasn’t some kind of lunatic. He didn’t want to choose a cat only to have it get adopted before his application was approved, so instead of meeting and greeting cats he headed home to do housework. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he didn’t want to get attached and lose out.
Someday, maybe, he’d have someone to help out with that.
At least, he hoped he would. His childhood had soured him on cops, but it hadn’t soured him on family life. He’d bought this house in the hopes of someday having someone to share it with, and if he got lucky a kid or two would join them eventually. As he mopped the kitchen floor, he imagined stopping a toddler from running onto the still-wet tiles, barely catching him before he slipped and fell while his husband laughed in the background.
The husband sounded suspiciously like Tom Cattaneo.
He pushed the image away. He was only thinking of Tom because he’d seen him yesterday, and because of how powerfully Tom had attracted him. Anyone would feel the same way, because Tom had been hot. The absolute last person Wilson would consider marrying would be a cop.
Wilson’s phone rang just as he ran outside to empty the mop bucket. He checked the ID and took the call. Some people might not have taken a call from their employers on their day off, but Wilson had only been working there a week. Besides, he had the rest of the week off to rest. “Hello?”
“Wilson? This is Gina. I know today is supposed to be the start of your off week, but we’ve had six people call out sick in the ER. Do you think you might be able to sub in for a while? You’ll be paid overtime, of course.”
Wilson looked down at the bucket. He didn’t have anything else going on today, and work would help to keep him away from his inappropriate thoughts about his little brother’s best friend. “Yeah, of course. Just let me clean up and I’ll be right there.” Better that Wilson should work the extra shifts than someone who had a family to care for anyway. He hoped someday he’d be in a position to be the guy other people covered for, but for now he was the one with less responsibility. He could put in the time.
He cleaned himself up, changed into more professional clothes, and headed into the hospital. Wilson’s time in the military qualified him to handle trauma. He was certified in emergency medicine, although he wasn’t a surgeon. He could handle a few shifts in the ER.
Emergency was already hopping by the time Wilson arrived. It was Sunday, so even people who had regular doctors had nowhere else to go. Fortunately, Mercy had a separate emergency department for pediatrics. He didn’t have to see many of the youngest patients. Most of the patients waiting on the uncomfortable, orange plastic chairs were here for the same reasons they’d be in his waiting room on a weekday. They had caught viral or bacterial infections, or they had symptoms they couldn’t treat with over the counter medications.
Some of the cases he saw, though, required different skills. Sundays in the fall brought in a lot of burns, mostly from outdoor grills and tailgating. He’d treated a lot of burns in the Army, some worse than the ones he saw today, but that didn’t mean he liked it. The smell was what bothered him the most, but all he had to do was provide immediate treatment and send them on to the burn unit.
Every doctor had a particular area they didn’t like dealing with. For Wilson, it was burns.
Denver was in general a decent city, but violence would always be part of the story any time a group of people got crowded together into one place. He treated injuries from attempted murders, gunshots, stabbings, and brawls. None of these were new to him either, and he didn’t judge anyone who came into his treatment space. It wasn’t his place. He did chase the police out of his work area a few times when their questioning got to be more than his patients could handle, or when they tried to question a clearly intoxicated person. His responsibility was to his patients, damn it. He understood they were trying to do a job, but they couldn’t exactly put someone on a witness stand if they bled out in front of them.
Gina never came around to tell him he was relieved, so he kept working. As the evening wore on, the ratio of sick visits to injured visits shifted in favor of injuries. Apparently, the local baseball team wasn’t doing well today, which meant he had a lot of referrals to social services as well. There was a pattern to these things, a predictability, and he wished he didn’t recognize it so easily.
He cleaned up from stitching up a patient who’d made the mistake of wearing Boston’s quarterback’s jersey in the wrong bar. He went to grab a cup of coffee and came back, grabbing the file with the new patient’s folder from the hangar outside the treatment space. He knew based on the sticker on the tab what was wrong with the patient already. Probable alcohol poisoning, with possible multi-drug intoxication. Fabulous.
He pushed the curtain aside to get into the room. “All right, I’m Dr. Lauritz. It looks like you might have overindulged just a bit?”
His patient had his face in an emesis bin, so all Wilson could see of him was his shock of greasy dark hair. When Wilson said his name, though, the patient snapped his head up so suddenly he sloshed the contents of the basin over the sides. The sour contents - vodka, maybe cheap bourbon, and gastric juices - seeped into the sheet covering the patient’s legs. “You’ve got big shiny brass ones showing your face around here, Wils.”
Wilson didn’t recognize the patient’s sallow face. He recognized the signs of long-term alcohol abuse, along with track marks on the patient’s tattooed arms. Only family members ever called him Wils. He frowned and looked down at the patient’s chart.
Well, this was what he got for not checking the file first. “Ben.” He forced a little smile to his face and glanced at the vitals monitor attached to Ben’s body. Christ, Ben was a mess. “So, I should definitely not be the doctor taking care of you. I’ll go pass you along to the next available.”
“No, no. Stay a while. You should stick around and see what happens when you abandon your family.” Ben shouted the last three words loud enough to make him heave, which had him back in the emesis basin.
Wilson rubbed his back as he vomited. Ben wasn’t the first person he’d done this for, and he wouldn’t be the last either. “Going to college isn’t abandonment, Ben.” He kept his voice mild and soft.
“You had a job. You had a duty. It was your job to take care of us, and you just walked away. Well look at me now, Wils. Aren’t you proud of your baby brother? I’m a junkie, I’m a drunk, I can’t keep a job and I don’t even want to. And it’s all your fault.” Ben sneered up at him.
Ben breathed through his mouth. He didn’t want to inhale more of the foul stench in the room than he had to. “You make your own choices, Ben. Just like our parents made their own choices. It’s not the child’s job to supply their deficiencies.”
Ben scoffed, messily. “Would you listen to yourself? You talk like a damn textbook. You don’t sound like a person. You sure as hell don’t sound like my brother. Should’ve stayed gone. Should’ve blown up in Afghanistan. Where’s a suicide bomber when you need him, huh?”
“He’s profoundly drunk, Wilson.” Gina stepped into the treatment bay. Wilson hadn’t heard her approach, but here she was. “Like .3 blood alcohol content drunk. It’s enough to kill some people.” She raised an eyebrow at Ben, who returned a look of smug satisfaction.
“I’m a pro,” he told her, and swayed in his spot.
Wilson disposed of the contents of the emesis basin and returned a fresh one. “I obviously can’t treat this patient. It’s a serious conflict of interest.”
“Of course.” Gina smiled at him, gently. “Things are starting to taper off here. Why don’t you go on home? You’ve been a godsend.” She turned back to Ben. Her gentle smile disappeared. “Fortunately for you, we don’t need to intubate you at the present time. However, we will need to keep you under observation due to the vomiting and your history with heroin. We don’t want you going into withdrawal while you sober up.”
Wilson could hear no more. He fled the room, headed for the locker room, and left the hospital.
He hadn’t told anyone but Max he was coming back to Denver, and he’d asked Max to keep it under his hat too. Apparently, Max had complied, because Ben had certainly been surprised to see him. All bets were off now. The best-case scenario was the rest of his family staying the hell away, sharing Ben’s belief that Wilson going to college had been the worst kind of betrayal.
Wilson knew better. They all believed Wilson had betrayed them when he left. He knew that. He also knew they believed every doctor in the world literally slept in a nest of hundred-dollar bills. He could count on them showing up with their hands out, or worse. They might not demand money, but pills.
Things to look forward to.
He shouldn’t have taken the job. Mercy had offered him great money and a fantastic work/life balance. A work/life balance was no good to him when he had to worry about his wretched family showing up, pestering him for things he couldn’t provide and guilting him for not becoming the man Anselm wanted him to be.
As he pulled into his driveway, the image of the family waiting for him faded. Who was he kidding? His own family only wanted him around when he could do something for them. He wasn’t going to start a family. And a guy like Tom Cattaneo, sweet and from a great family, wouldn’t want anything to do with him at all.
He trudged into the shower, washed up, and went to sleep. With any luck, Ben would have completely forgotten about having seen him by the time he sobered up. Wilson knew luck rarely worked that way, but he had to hold onto hope.
Tom’s palms ran slick with sweat. They’d had plenty of call-outs for violent situations before, but never for anyplace quite so dangerous. The situation at Mercy hadn’t gotten violent yet, but Tom knew how these things tended to go. They had the perfect storm of horrible in there. They had a suspect with a gun, who seemed to be going through withdrawals if the many people calling it in were right. They had a frightened, unpredictable and above all sick population of hostages, any one of whom could do something to startle or anger the gunman at any time.
It might not even be their fault. People had seizures in the ER all the time, whether from fevers or other symptoms. The gunman himself could shake so bad from fever or chills his finger slipped. He might sneeze, for fuck’s sake, and kill some little old lady or toddler. That was all it would take.
Max’s face was pale, but his hand didn’t shake as he stood on the other side of the emergency room entrance. “Are you ready to go in?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Tom took a deep breath and opened the doors to the emergency department. It was now or never. He stood tall and proud. “Hi. This is Denver PD. We’re here to talk about releasing some of these people?”
The gunman looked up from his seat. He’d been biting his nails, facing his hostages but not really seeing them. “I said to send someone with the key to the pharmacy!” His voice broke as he shouted, and several of the hostages huddled in the corner of the waiting room flinched.
All of the hostages were huddled together, regardless of symptoms, age, or reason for being at the hospital. Some were nurses. Some were patients. Some were children, and Tom wanted to throw up. He wasn’t going to shoot a guy in front of kids, not if he didn’t absolutely have to. The gunman wasn’t likely to feel the same way. “We haven’t found anyone with the key to the pharmacy yet.” He kept his hands in the air.
Tom hadn’t heard about that particular demand, and he didn’t expect to. People who took sick people hostage at gunpoint didn’t get to make demands, or at least they didn’t get to ask for things and expect to get them.
“I said I didn’t want to hear from any cops.” Their perp waved his gun around casually, like it was a toy. “I want the pills, and that’s all!”
Tom saw something moving behind the suspect. After a second, he recognized Wilson Lauritz. If he thought Wilson looked good at the bar, he looked amazing in a lab coat. Tom couldn’t acknowledge more than that, though, because he had to focus on the hostage taker.
Wait a minute, why would Wilson be walking into a hostage situation?
“We’ve got someone coming.” Tom met Wilson’s eyes, trying to communicate with glances that Wilson should not be wandering into a hostage scenario. “They’ll have the key to the pharmacy soon. In the meantime, why don’t you tell me your name?” He kept his hands visible and slowly drifted in between the gunman and the hostages.
The gunman’s reddened eyes narrowed, and he pursed his lips. Finally, he spoke. “Owen,” he said. “My name is Owen.”
“Okay, Owen. I’m Tom, and this is Max.”
Wilson, damn the man, walked into the scene with all the confidence and arrogance of any other doctor anywhere in the world. “Owen, good afternoon. I’m Dr. Lauritz. It looks like you’re not feeling too well.” His tone was perfectly calm and serene, as though he couldn’t see the gun or the cowering civilians.
Owen eyeballed Wilson. “I’m not. I’m dope sick.”
Wilson stepped a little closer. He didn’t show any fear, or any indication that Owen was any kind of threat. He just looked sympathetic, in a detached sort of way. “Hm. Yeah, that seems to fit your symptoms, all right. How many days have you been feeling like this?”
Owen scratched at his forearm. “About a day. ‘M not sure.” He looked down and away. “But I’m out, you know? I’ve got to get some more.”
“You do. You absolutely do. It’s a life or death situation. I’d say it was a medical emergency.” Wilson nodded a couple of times. “How about if I bring you inside and we’ll get you set up with someone who can help you out, okay? It might be rough, but we’re not going to let you down and we’re not going to let you die.”
Owen met Wilson’s eyes, just for a second. Then he sniffed, deep and snotty, and looked away. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, all right. I can do that.”
Wilson reached out and took the gun from Owen’s hand. He didn’t make a big deal of it, he just acted like he was relieving him of a minor burden. “There we go,” he said. He unloaded the weapon like an expert and held it out behind him, without looking. He just trusted someone - either Max or Tom - to be there to grab it.
Tom jumped into action, taking the gun from Wilson’s outstretched hand. His hand brushed against Wilson’s when he took it, and a spark of electricity passed along with the firearm. No one else reacted when the jolt happened, but it must have been a visible thing. How could they not see the actual lightning bolt?
Wilson wrapped an arm around Owen’s shoulder, and the pair shuffled into the treatment area like old friends.
Tom looked over at Max. Max was looking back at Tom with his jaw hanging open. “Did that just happen?” he whispered.
“All right everyone, nothing to see here.” The head nurse clapped her hands, and the hostages shuffled back to their seats and became patients again. Tom and Max helped those having trouble standing up and took statements from them besides.
Detectives filed in. The SWAT team stood down. It was over, or at least the public part of it was over.
One of the detectives, Detective Marsh, stormed up to Tom and Max. “Did that just happen?”
“I just said that,” Max muttered. “Apparently it did. I mean it’s a peaceful resolution, so I guess we can’t complain.”
Marsh glowered at him. Tom caught sight of a nicotine patch, almost invisible under his jacket. “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t complain about, Lauritz. Was that idiot your brother or not?”
“Oh, he was definitely my brother.” Max cringed, just a little.
“How in the hell does Anselm Lauritz’ son think it’s okay to just walk up to a suspect, unarmed, and just grab his gun like that? I saw everything on your body cam footage.” Marsh ground his teeth. “I’ve got half a mind to call your dad to come down here to give him a piece of his mind.”
Tom rubbed his jaw. “Sir, Dr. Lauritz isn’t just some civilian. He was an Army doctor before he came here, with tours in more than one combat zone. Chances are he’s had similar situations come up. I doubt he made that choice without careful thought.” He’d had similar thoughts going through his head, but there was no way he was going to let Marsh say anything bad about Wilson.
Marsh opened his mouth as if he was going to yell. He closed it again. “That does put a different spin on things, I guess.” He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “All right. Cattaneo, you go take his statement.”
“He’s my brother!” Max squawked in outrage. “I should be the one making sure he’s okay.”
“He’s your brother, which puts him too close to the situation.” Marsh met Max’s eyes squarely. “You go corral the media and make sure they don’t get in here to pester patients. I’m all for freedom of the press, but I think people in the ER trying to get treatment for whatever that guy has deserved some freedom from the press sometimes too.” He indicated a man bleeding from his ear. “I’ll talk with you later.”
Tom led Marsh over to the doors to the treatment area. Hospital security tried to stop them on privacy grounds, but a crime had just taken place. They couldn’t get away with keeping the police from investigating.
They found Wilson in his office. He glanced up when he saw them, clicked on something on his computer, and stood up. “Good evening.” His eyes softened when he saw Tom. “Are you okay?”
Marsh turned bright red. “Are we okay? Are we okay? You just walked up to a psychotic junkie, unarmed, and you’re asking if we’re okay?” He threw his hands into the air. “Cattaneo, you deal with this. I’m done.” He stalked off.
“So, the suspect…” Tom said after a moment.
“Patient.” Wilson cleared his throat. “Mr. Jones is officially an inpatient in our psychiatric unit, receiving treatment for opioid addiction and withdrawal.”
Tom took a step back. “I know you’re not suggesting we shouldn’t prosecute a man who just took an entire ER hostage looking for a fix.”
Wilson chuckled and ducked his head. His shy smile hit Tom like a ton of bricks. “No. Not at all. For one thing, getting him into rehab was the safest way I could think of to resolve the situation. Owen didn’t know how to handle that gun. I’ve seen eight-year-olds who could handle a gun better. For another, he wouldn’t survive to see his arraignment if you tried to put him in prison in his state. He needed help.”
Tom ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah. Yeah, he did. It was dangerous, what you did, but you’ve seen that kind of thing before.”
“Maybe once or twice.” Wilson picked his head up. “Listen, we’re not going to discharge him until he’s safe.”
“That’s okay.” Tom had no idea if it was okay or not, but he wasn’t here to fight it out with Wilson. He was here to save lives. What Wilson had done definitely saved lives. “Can I give you a ride home? I want to make sure you’re okay. I know the day must have been difficult for you.”
Wilson hesitated. What could be giving him pause? Tom had seen the way he relaxed when Tom walked into the room. Then he smiled. Whatever barrier he’d seen in his mind, Wilson found a way around it. “That sounds like a fantastic idea,” he said.
They left the hospital quickly. Tom didn’t quite use the lights and siren, but he gave it some real thought. He didn’t want to draw too much attention, and somehow, he didn’t think Wilson would get the humor. He put the address into the GPS and they headed out to Wilson’s address near the university.
Tom walked Wilson into the house. It was a nice enough place, an older house that had been beautifully renovated. Tom didn’t look around much. He only had eyes for Wilson. He made sure his body camera was off, both visual and audio. His pulse was still a little haywire as he stepped a little closer to Wilson. “Listen, what you did today. I shouldn’t say this, but it was incredibly brave of you.” His cheeks felt hot, and he knew he was blushing. “It was actually pretty hot.”
Wilson grinned. “You thought it was hot?”
“Would it be all right if I kissed you?”
“Oh God yes.”
Wilson kissed Tom then. Tom had dreamed about this moment since he was old enough to realize kissing didn’t actually transmit cooties, and it was more than he could have imagined. Wilson’s kiss was hungry, a little demanding, but not rough or grasping. He took what he needed, but in ways that made Tom’s knees buckle.
They met each other’s eyes for a long moment when they came up for air. “I don’t want to be forward.” Tom couldn’t look away. “But I really don’t want to go home right now.”
Wilson’s eyes were dark with lust. He reached out and stroked Tom’s cheek. “Then stay.”
He led Tom upstairs. Tom’s breath quickened. Maybe he’d hit his head at the hospital and this was all a dream. Could he really be getting a chance with Wilson? When Wilson opened the door to a simple, bright bedroom, he relaxed.
This was real. It was happening.
Tom stripped himself of his uniform pants and let himself fall backward onto Wilson’s bed. Maybe this was just a chance. Maybe this was just a one-night stand. Maybe they’d have something real, but whatever happened, Tom would know he hadn’t missed his chance. Just the smell of these sheets filled him with more desire than he’d ever thought possible. The bed smelled like Wilson, like good soap and safety.
It smelled like the kind of man who could rescue an ER full of hostages without pulling his gun, or even raising his voice.
He pushed the thought away and pulled Wilson’s face down to his. He needed this. He wanted this, and from the way Wilson had shimmied out of his work clothes so fast, Wilson was feeling it just as much as Tom. That only made sense - Wilson had just gotten through a life-threatening situation, same as Tom.
“Yeah,” Wilson purred. “Look at you. You’re beautiful like this. You’re completely uninhibited. I love it.”
Tom’s face got hot as he nodded. “Can you blame me?” He rocked his hips just a little bit, letting their hard cocks slide against each other. He hissed at the contact, the sweet friction he craved. “I wanted you that night in the bar.” He decided at the last second that disclosing his childhood crush would be a little too much. “And you - I mean look at you.” He kissed him again, trying to urge Wilson to get on with it.
Wilson mouthed along Tom’s jaw, down to his collarbone. It felt amazing, perfectly right to let Wilson devour him like this. For a second, Tom felt bad about it. He was just lying there while Wilson did all the work, making Tom feel incredible. But Wilson seemed to need it almost as much as Tom, so Tom just lay back and wallowed in the attention.
Wilson must have been psychic, because he was able to figure out exactly how much teasing Tom could take. Just when Tom thought he might explode from need, Wilson smiled and reached for the lube and condoms. “Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked, meeting Tom’s eyes squarely. “The absolute last thing I’d want to do is make you feel forced.”
Tom’s chest swelled. “Yes, please, do it. I need it.”
Wilson looked deep into Tom’s eyes, and then he nodded. He slicked his fingers up. “So gorgeous when you beg like that,” he murmured. “It’s almost illegal. Open up for me. Perfect, just like that. You’re amazing.”
Tom wanted it too badly. He couldn’t stop thinking about what was to come. He was so caught up in anticipation he almost couldn’t make himself relax, but Wilson settled him down. When he finally felt the hot, slick head of Wilson’s cock pressing against his entrance, it was all he could do not to rock back and take him too fast.
This was Wilson. This was Wilson, splitting him open. This was Wilson, filling him up. He cried out. “More,” he begged. “I need more.”
Wilson obliged him. He pulled his hips back and snapped them forward, burying himself deeper again and again. Now Tom did rock back onto him. It was as if he could take Wilson so deep into himself, he could completely merge the two of them, giving himself entirely to Wilson.
The thought scared him. He’d always enjoyed sex before, but he’d never had thoughts like that. He’d always been perfectly happy being independent, thank you very much. Now, though, he found himself delighted by the feeling of surrender. Every thrust, every stroke, brought him closer to Wilson. And when he came, untouched and messy, he floated freely on the waves of his orgasm instead of riding high and crashing.
Wilson had plenty left in him, but he soon reached his release. He waited a few seconds before pulling gently out of Tom.
Wilson kissed him before disappearing into the bathroom for a washcloth. When he was done cleaning them both, he stroked Tom’s face. “Thank you so much for that. It was amazing.”
Tom snuggled in close by his side. “It was everything I imagined.” He nestled his head into Wilson’s arm. He couldn’t stay long. He still had a report to file, but he wasn’t ready to leave the shelter of Wilson’s arms quite yet.
Wilson couldn’t believe himself. He and Tom had really gone to bed together, only a couple of nights ago. It had been amazing, and Tom had been perfect. Wilson could easily lose himself in everything Tom had to offer. That picture of a little family running around the house, with Tom holding their child and Wilson playing with their older one, felt almost so real Wilson could taste it.
And why not? Tom was a good guy. He was a great guy. He was smart, handsome, and came from a family of smart and functional people. Wilson could have this, if he tried hard enough.
He scoffed as he went about his morning routine. Who was he kidding? They’d slept together once. One night doesn’t make two people a family. What was more, their one night had come after an exceptionally tense and potentially life-threatening situation. How many nights had Wilson spent with guys after bad firefights or bombings, only to find it had just been the situation and not anything real after all? “Thank-God-I’m-alive” sex was real, and it could be amazing, and Wilson knew damn well he shouldn’t set his heart on a guy after surviving a hostage situation with him.
Also, Tom was a cop. Wilson had damn good reasons to not want to start a family with a cop. Or to date a cop, if he was being honest with himself. He knew the statistics. He’d been a statistic. Tom seemed like a good guy, but they probably all seemed like good guys until you let your guard down. What was worse, Tom was a cop with a bad case of hero worship for other cops. He’d always idolized cops, Wilson’s father in particular.
Anyone who idolized Wilson’s dad was not relationship material.
Still, Wilson had enjoyed an incredible night with him. He texted him the next day, just to say thank you, and they’d enjoyed a little bit of chatting time.
Today, Wilson wasn’t going to think about it. He’d have fun with a chat, but he wasn’t going to think about dating, sex, or relationships. He was going to work his shift, and then he was going to head up to the shelter and pick up his cats. Wilson had found the cats he wanted - or rather, the cats he wanted had chosen him. They were a bonded pair, two long-haired cats named Tiger and Taylor. He’d passed through all the hurdles to adoption, been proved to not be a lab or a homicidal maniac or another unsuitable adopter, and now he was ready to bring home his two sweet little beasts.
He could hardly wait.
His morning shift went more or less without a problem. They had the usual patients, with the usual ailments. He was able to help an elderly patient with no family get into a program to help her with food and regular tasks while keeping her in her own home, so that made him feel pretty good about himself for a while.
As the afternoon wore on, anticipation grew. Tiger and Taylor would be home soon. He knew they’d take a little while to adjust to the new house, but they would love it once they got used to it. He couldn’t wait to have someone living in the house again, someone to care for - and someone to care for him.
At two o’clock, he got a text from Tom. Hey, I’m in your ER.
Wilson almost had a heart attack. OMG are you okay? What if Tom had been shot, or stabbed, or run over by an idiot while helping a stranded motorist?
I’m fine. I came in to help someone on a domestic. You free to grab a coffee?
Okay. So, the problem had been resolved. Wilson’s knees buckled with relief. Yeah, sure, just let me take care of this one patient. He got through his next patient with almost record speed and headed down to the cafeteria.
Tom looked amazing in his uniform. Wilson hadn’t thought about it before. He wasn’t usually attracted to guys in uniform, but Tom? Tom was the perfect exception. The dark blue pants fit just right, making him look taller and framing his ass perfectly. The uniform shirt was almost tailored to show off the perfect “v” of his body.
Wilson hoped he hadn’t drooled in public.
“Hey, how are you?” He shook hands with Tom and headed into the cafeteria with him. He considered hugging him or even giving him a peck on the cheek, but this was a workplace. Public displays of affection didn’t often go over well at work, anywhere.
“Not too bad. Domestics are hard, you know? You never know which way it’s going to go, but this one went okay. We got her to safety, and she’s going to be okay.” He smiled softly, showing off his perfect white teeth. “I can be proud of it. What about you, how’s your day going?”
“It’s going pretty well. I’m looking forward to when the day is over. I made a special appointment to go pick up my cats today, so every minute feels like ten hours.” Wilson chuckled. “Pathetic, I know.”
Tom froze. “Cats?”
“What, are you allergic?” Wilson held his breath. Not that it put much of a damper on his plans - Tom wasn’t sticking around. Still…
“No, no. We just worked this case, me and Max. It was this thing - never mind. You don’t want to hear about it. I didn’t want to hear about it.” He gave a full body shudder. “I had no idea you were a cat person.”
“I like them well enough. I definitely want some kind of animal around the house, and I don’t have the right kind of lifestyle for a dog, you know? A house that big feels kind of empty without someone else around.” Wilson made himself smile. “So, what’ve you got going on today?”
The hospital’s loudspeaker pinged, indicating someone was being paged. “Dr. Wilson Lauritz, please come to Urgent Care. Dr. Wilson Lauritz, please report to Urgent Care.”
Wilson frowned. He was on one of his brief, permitted breaks. Why would they be paging him? “It must be important,” he said, rising to his feet. “Sorry to cut this short.”
“Maybe it’s Max, looking to say hi. I’ve got to meet up with him anyway.” Tom shrugged and followed him. “I’ll come with you.”
Wilson didn’t object. He liked spending time with Tom, even if he was a cop. They threw away their trash and headed for the elevators. Then they threaded their way through the maze of construction and disconnected corridors that confounded people in every hospital.
The receptionist in Urgent Care smiled up at Wilson when he walked in. “There you are!” She leaned forward. “I’m sorry to disturb your break, but we had a patient brought in by a family member. They were only willing to be seen by you, and it was better to get them out of the waiting room than to try to argue with them. They were disturbing some of the other patients.”
A knot formed in Wilson’s stomach, and he glanced out over the assembled patients. A few glared at him. Some stared at him with open curiosity. Some shook their heads in disapproval, or possibly sorrow. “All right, I’ll go see them.”
The receptionist tilted her head to the side when she saw Tom. “Funny, there’s already an officer in there with them.”
Bile, hot and acidic, rose in Wilson’s throat. He hoped he was wrong. “You don’t need to stay for this,” he told Tom. “Believe me, it’s nothing you want to see.”
Tom snorted. “They had to be separated from the other patients because of their behavior and they already had to have a cop babysit them? No way I’m sending you in there without backup.”
Wilson closed his eyes. Well, Tom should probably have lost his blinders about the Lauritz family a long time ago. “Okay then.” He faked a smile at the receptionist. “Thanks, Barbara.”
They headed back into the area with the exam rooms. Wilson didn’t need to ask which one he was supposed to go to. He could hear his mother screaming from behind the closed door to Exam Room Six from the door to Reception.
He couldn’t make himself look at Tom. His cheeks blazed, but he marched straight ahead toward the door. He didn’t bother to knock, but barged right in.
Just as he’d expected, he found Max inside. Max jumped when he saw Tom, and then looked down at the ground. “What’d you bring him for?” he muttered. “He shouldn’t have to see this, Wils.”
Ben’s eyes were glassy, and he swayed a little bit on his feet. “Oh, come on, big bro. I think it’s a good thing he brought your sweet little buddy here. I’ll bet money he wants to jump cute little Tommy’s bones, too.” Ben cackled, like a hyena, while their mother tried to backhand him.
“Don’t you talk like that!” she bellowed. For such a skinny woman, Olivia Lauritz had quite a set of lungs on her. “And we don’t talk about Wils at all! You know that!”
Fortunately for Ben, Olivia was too drunk to backhand anyone. Ben’s gain was Olivia’s loss, because her equilibrium was so off-kilter she swayed and nearly fell to the floor. Only Wilson’s quick reflexes prevented a fall - or another fall, if the bruising on her once-pretty face was any indication.
The last time Wilson had seen Olivia, she’d been a little too thin, the result of a mostly-liquid diet. Now she was positively skeletal. Her salt and pepper hair hung in greasy strings past her shoulders, and she’d lost a few teeth along the way. Ben had dragged her in wearing a food-stained nightgown that smelled like it hadn’t been changed in a few days.
Her left arm was probably the reason she’d been brought in. The wrist, in particular, had swollen up to an almost obscene size, and Wilson could see her fingers had become immobile. He sighed. “Did he break it, or did she fall?”
Ben shrugged. “Six of one, half a dozen of the other. It’s all the same to you, though, isn’t it, Wils? It’s not like you cared enough to stick around and stop it.”
Max pinched the bridge of his nose. Tom paled and took a step back. The room wasn’t big enough for so many people, and so he could only take one step before he wound up on the scale, but it was as much distance as he could get. Wilson didn’t blame him.
“You know I’m not supposed to treat you, right? It’s a huge conflict of interest.” He picked up his mother’s arm and held out two of his own fingers. “Squeeze these.”
Olivia couldn’t. She couldn’t move her hand at all.
“We were only interested in seeing one doctor in the whole of Denver, brother dear.” Ben slurred his words a little, but all the tequila in Colorado couldn’t dull his meaning. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to turn your back on your family again. Not if you’re getting paid for it, anyway.”
It wasn’t the first time Ben had made an insinuation like that, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Nevertheless, it hit Wilson like a punch to the gut. “It’s not a matter of wanting or not wanting to help family. It’s a matter of violating ethics.”
“You mean like the ethics of walking away from people who needed you to take care of them.” Ben scoffed. “You should have stayed in the Army. At least people there don’t know what you’re really like.”
Tom stepped in. He didn’t look Wilson in the eye, but he did make eye contact with Ben. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to violate any codes of ethics Ben. Or at least you wouldn’t want to when you’re sober. And I’m positive you wouldn’t either, Mrs. Lauritz.”
Olivia moaned and curled in on herself. Then she scowled up at Wilson. “Go on, run. Just like you always do.”
Wilson rolled his eyes. “Nurse,” he said, turning to the nearest woman in scrubs, “if you could please go and get the next available physician, I’d appreciate it. There’s a clear conflict of interest here and I’m not willing to open the hospital to any liability. Also, I think she’s going to need an x-ray, but confirm that with the next doctor to come on through.”
Wilson turned to leave the exam room, but Ben grabbed him by the shoulder. “You can’t even help your own mother when she’s clearly hurting? What the hell kind of son are you, anyway? Oh right. You’re a selfish bastard who doesn’t think of anyone but himself. Why couldn’t you have just stayed gone?”
Wilson didn’t have to fight to get out of his brother’s grasp. “You have to pick one, Ben. You either want me to stay gone or you want me to stick around. You can’t have it both ways.” He slipped out of the treatment room.
Tom followed him. “Well that was harrowing.” He searched Wilson’s face as Wilson braced himself against the wall. “You okay?”
Wilson took a deep breath as one of the other hospitalists on duty, Dr. Forest, approached. “Be careful,” he warned his colleague. “They’re both deeply intoxicated. I suspect the lady’s wrist is broken, but I don’t want any issues to come up, so I didn’t want to be the one to order x-rays.”
Forest shrugged. “You’re probably right, but I’ll check them out. Wasn’t the son in here a little while ago?”
Wilson stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Yeah. Alcohol poisoning. Anyway, thanks for taking this one for me.”
Forest put a hand on Wilson’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go take a breather, man? I’ve got this.”
“Thanks.” Wilson squirmed with shame, but he kept his back straight and his head high as he bolted for his office. Tom followed along until they could get the door closed.
“Wow.” Tom let out a low whistle. “Your mom’s in bad shape, huh?”
“Yeah, well.” Wilson rubbed at his face. The last thing he wanted was to admit to it, but Tom had just seen everything. “She’s been an alcoholic for a long time. We kept it hidden, when I was in school. Sometimes I wonder if that was the best idea, but you know how it is. You’ve probably seen it a thousand times. Kids want to protect their parents. It’s a natural urge. And you always tell yourself it’s going to get better.”
“But it doesn’t.” Tom put a hand on Wilson’s shoulder. It felt warm, supportive - more than Wilson should expect. “For what it’s worth, I’m here for you. Max is here for you too. We’ve got your back.” Then he smirked. “Of course, we’ve each got our reasons, but still.”
Wilson had to chuckle at that. “I hear that. Thanks, Tom. I appreciate it. Can I buy you dinner? Maybe to make up for having had to see that?”
Tom winked at him. “I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse on this job, but I’m not going to say no to dinner with a handsome and amazing guy.” He checked the time, and then planted a quick kiss onto Wilson’s lips. “I’ve got to run. I’ll see you later, okay? Say around eight?”
“Awesome.” Wilson beamed as he followed Tom out the door. Seeing his mother and brother might have been a shock and not a good one, but Tom had turned his mood around with a few simple words. If Wilson wasn’t careful, he might start to hope for more.
Tom’s stomach gave a little lurch until he was past the stink of cheap vodka. He wasn’t typically someone who was sensitive to smells. It just wasn’t something that would work for a beat cop, especially not a cop who worked in areas with either heavy tourist traffic or large homeless populations.
LoDo tended to get plenty of both.
Ordinarily it wasn’t an issue for him, but for the past week or so any kind of strong smell was likely to set him off. He couldn’t exactly understand why. All he knew was it was happening, and he didn’t like it. Some smells, like cheap vodka or nail polish remover, turned his stomach so fast he couldn’t see straight.
And forget about those air fresheners that hung from the rearview mirror. Those were a scourge, designed by Satan specifically, to make Tom throw up. If he ever needed an emetic, he’d be sure to grab one of those before heading out on patrol.
Max rode along with him and said nothing, most of the time. Finally, at the end of the week, he took Tom aside and sat him down. “Look. This is none of my business, and please for the love of all that’s holy don’t give me any details. But, um, maybe this is something we should bring Wils in on.”
Tom waited patiently for Max to explain what he meant by that. When no more details were forthcoming, he frowned. “Is that because he’s a doctor?”
Max rolled his eyes. “Sure. It’s because he’s a doctor. And because he’s a doctor he’ll probably be able to diagnose what’s wrong with you over the phone. Anyway, you’ve been feeling crappy for what, a week now?”
“Maybe, yeah, what’s your point?” Tom hunched in on himself a little.
“And the two of you did the do three weeks ago?”
“‘Did the do?’ What are you, twelve?” Tom’s cheeks felt hot, and he looked down.
“Look, I don’t want to think about my brother having sex. I don’t want to think about my best friend having sex. And I don’t want to think about my brother and my best friend having sex together, even though all three of those things have obviously occurred.” Max made a pained face, like he had particularly bad heartburn.
“You don’t know that.” Tom crossed his arms over his chest and wished the ground would swallow him up.
“I walked in on him and Wyatt Kocsis back when you and I were in the sixth grade and believe me, I know what I saw. I know you’ve had sex because you freaking told me. And you were on the clock when you drove back to his place —”
“We could have just been talking!” Tom drew himself up to his full height.
“But you weren’t.”
“Okay, no.” Tom slumped again. “But anyway —”
“Anyway, don’t give me any details, please. I’m a sweet and innocent young boy. I don’t need to know these things. Anyhow, call him up, and tell him what’s going on, and we’ll see what he has to say about it.”
Tom almost didn’t want to know what Wilson had to say about it, but Max was right. Wilson was a doctor, and he’d seen a wide variety of ailments. He sent Wilson a text, and Wilson called right away.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Wilson sounded concerned. In spite of his fear and his annoyance with Max, Tom had to be kind of touched about that.
“I don’t know. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately. Like for the past week or so.” He described his symptoms to Wilson. “I don’t mean to use you for your medical expertise, but Max was pretty insistent that I call you and talk to you about it.”
“Hm.” Wilson hummed for a second. “Well, if you’re free tonight, I can stop by and bring a couple of tests over. I’m sure you’ll want this done discreetly and everything. We’ve got a clinic here at the hospital if you’d rather go through someone who isn’t so personally involved.”
Tom pulled his phone away and looked at it for a second. “No, no. I’m happy to take the excuse to see you tonight, you know that.”
Wilson’s voice sounded a little lighter when he replied. “Okay, awesome. I’ll be at your place at around eight thirty. I’ll call if I’m going to be late, okay?”
“Sounds good.” Tom hung up and repeated the conversation to Max, who shook his head.
“I think he already knows what’s up, but that’s none of my business.” He smirked. “Let’s get through this shift and you can call me tomorrow, let me know what’s going on.”
Tom couldn’t have said what happened on the rest of the shift. His paperwork told him he did five traffic stops and responded to three assaults, but he didn’t remember any of it. He could only think about the number of minutes until eight thirty. He had no idea what Wilson might think was wrong with him, but he knew he wanted to see Wilson again.
Funny how things worked. He was anxious about the test results, sure. And he was worried about what kind of tests Wilson thought he might want to keep private. But he mostly just wanted to see Wilson. He’d had a crush on Wilson since he was young, but now that they got to be together some of the time, he couldn’t help but feel his crush, like Tom himself, had grown.
Maybe it could blossom into something even bigger and better.
When he got home, Tom puttered around making dinner. He felt a little weird about it. He’d never been the “homemaker” type. He’d always prided himself on his masculinity and bustling around fixing dinner for his man just didn’t fit into his mental image of himself. The funny thing was, he liked it. He liked it almost as much as he liked just being around Wilson.
When Wilson showed up at eight twenty-five, Tom had a beef and broccoli stir-fry on the table. It wasn’t fancy, but Tom didn’t think Wilson went in for super fancy cooking anyway. Wilson’s eyes widened when he saw the kitchen table, set for two with candles beside.
Tom bit his lip. “Is it too much?”
Wilson shook his head. “No, not at all. It’s sweet. I just - no one’s made me dinner before. Definitely not with candles.” He slipped his hand into Tom’s and gave it a little squeeze. Two little spots of pink had appeared just over that artful stubble of his, taking Tom’s breath away. “We should eat it before it gets cold.”
“What about the tests you wanted to run?”
“They can wait. They’re not so time-sensitive we can’t have dinner first.” Wilson pulled Tom in for a hug. “Thank you, by the way.”
Tom blinked in confusion. If Wilson had wanted to get together that same night to do the test, why was he willing to wait until after dinner? He didn’t say anything. He wasn’t going to complain about spending more time with Wilson, even if he was nervous.
Wilson asked about Tom’s day, and Tom told him about the encounters he’d had with the general public. Most of them had been fairly decent, and Tom wasn’t shy about telling Wilson that. “A lot of people have this idea that police work is super grim, all the time. And it can be - no one calls the cops because they’re having a great day and they just want to share it with someone,” he added with a grin. “That wouldn’t be a great use of 9-1-1 resources. But sometimes you do get to have a little fun or bring a happy ending. We saved a dog from a sewer grate today. And we managed to talk a disturbance that would have escalated into violence down to a dance party, so there was that.”
Wilson laughed. Tom loved to see the corners of his eyes crinkle, just a little bit. “Wow. That’s awesome. I wish we’d gotten to see more of that side of things when we were kids. But maybe Dad didn’t have so many of those skills. I don’t think they teach dance party formation tactics at the Academy, although maybe they should.”
Tom almost choked on his dinner. “I don’t want to think about Sgt. Lauritz dancing. Not now, not ever.” The image of Wilson and Max’s father, with his massive belly and ever-present billy club, trying to dance made him cringe.
Wilson grimaced. He was probably suffering from the same mental images. “Yeah, you’re probably not wrong. I’m sure he must have danced at their wedding, but I hope they decided to buck tradition.” He toyed with his fork for a second. “I don’t think I ever met your parents.”
“Probably not. My mom wasn’t really around, except when I had to go stay with her during vacations. And there’d be no strong reason for you to hang around with my dad back in the day. Right now, he’s off climbing mountains in India and Nepal.” Tom smiled fondly. “I hope he’s having fun. It’s the trip of a lifetime for him. We moved to Colorado for the mountains, which should tell you just how excited he is to be over there.”
“Well he should be pretty ecstatic then.” Wilson reached tentatively over the table and took Tom’s hand. “Do you think you’re ready to take the test now?”
Tom swallowed. He’d almost forgotten about the test. “Is it like a blood test?”
“No. If we have to go to cytology, I’m going to want to do that at the hospital. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.” He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a small box.
Tom stared at the label in disbelief. “That’s a pregnancy test, Wilson.”
“Um, yeah. The symptoms and timing fit. If it comes back negative, we’ll explore some other options, but we usually go for the simplest solution first.” Wilson tugged at his collar and looked away.
“Do you honestly think I’m pregnant?” His cheeks burned. “We used a condom. I distinctly remember that.”
A little bit of sweat had broken out on Wilson’s forehead. “In various studies, condoms had between a .8 and 40 percent failure rate. Look. I know it’s not what you want to hear, and I’m sorry. But sometimes they fail. And if that’s what happened we can explore our options. I’ll stand by you every step of the way no matter what the outcome is, but before we can make a plan we have to know. Some options become less feasible the longer we wait.”
Tom licked his lips. “Okay.” He knew, intellectually, what Wilson was talking about. He just didn’t want to consider it right now. He wasn’t sure he wanted to consider any of it right now.
He trudged over to the guest bathroom to take the test. It wasn’t much of a test. All he had to do was pee in a cup, stick a dipstick into it, and wait. It was kind of repulsive if he thought about it, so he refused to think about it. Cops got randomly drug tested all the time, and this was no different. He did his job, put the dipstick into the cup, and set the timer.
Then he left the bathroom.
He flopped down onto the couch, and Wilson came to wrap an arm around him. He didn’t say anything, and neither did Tom. He just rested his head on Wilson’s shoulder. Five minutes had never seemed to last so long. He didn’t know what he hoped for. They hadn’t been together that long, but they’d known each other forever. If this was the result of some random one-night stand or hookup, Tom would be horrified at the thought of being pregnant.
His current situation was a bit more complicated than that. They hadn’t discussed the status of their relationship, but Tom knew what he wanted. He wanted to be with Wilson. It was too early to have a baby, but if a baby was on the way, Tom didn’t think he wanted to just turn his back on the chance to have a closer bond with the guy who’d basically formed his ideas of what “attractive” meant.
Wilson had defined a whole host of words for Tom, when Tom was going through adolescence. Words like masculine, caring, and good.
Wilson would make an incredible father. Tom didn’t give Ben’s insults about abandonment a moment’s thought. Sure, Wilson had gone to college. Didn’t most kids from their school? And who wouldn’t be proud of a son who turned out to be a doctor? Okay, Wilson’s dad wanted his kids to be cops, just like every other man in their family, but still - a doctor was nothing to sneeze at. Wilson was an amazing guy and even if things didn’t work out with him and Tom, he’d be a fantastic parent for any child.
The timer pinged. Wilson kissed Tom’s cheek and went to go check the dipstick. Tom heard the toilet flush and the dipstick land in the trash can. Wilson himself came out of the bathroom a few seconds later. A weird little smile split his face. “Well,” he said, approaching Tom. “We won’t need to go to the cytology lab.”
Tom’s pulse fluttered in his throat. “So that means I’m…”
“Pregnant. Yeah. You’re having a baby.” Wilson swallowed. “With me, for what that’s worth.”
Tom jumped up and flung his arms around Wilson. Wilson froze for a second, and then he relaxed. He wrapped his arms around Tom and held him close, warming him with his body and his smile.
“I take it this isn’t the worst news in the world?” he murmured into Tom’s ear, breath warm and loving - and, if Tom was judging correctly, nervous.
“It’s a little soon,” he confessed. “The timing isn’t exactly what I’d have picked if I had my way. But I think you’ll make a great dad. And I want to give us a shot. I think it’s worth it - the baby’s worth it, we’re worth it.” He buried his face in Wilson’s shirt for a moment. He wasn’t usually given to so many emotional outbursts, but if a guy couldn’t be emotional when he found out he was pregnant then when could he be emotional?
“Are you okay with this?” he asked Wilson. He hadn’t considered whether or not Wilson wanted kids or was ready for kids.
Wilson chuckled and kissed him. “I’m nervous. I think you’ve already noticed my genes aren’t exactly the best. But I do want a family. And I definitely can’t think of anyone I’ve known that I’d rather start a family with than you.”
“You’re nervous?” Tom looked up at Wilson, and then they sat on the couch together. “I’m surprised. You’re a doctor, right? You know all about this stuff.”
“Oh, sure. I can write you sixteen books on everything that’s ever gone wrong with a pregnancy.” Wilson made a face. “Plus, it’s a big step. I kind of feel like if you’re looking at parenthood, especially for the first time, and you’re not at least a little bit nervous you’re probably a robot or something, right?”
Tom laughed. “True. How many times have we seen articles or whatever that insist someone was screwed up for life within the first three days of birth, because the parents didn’t hold it the right way and turned it into a serial killer or some crap?”
Wilson snorted. “I know, right? And I tell my patients, when they come to me, that kids are pretty resilient. I know it’s totally different when it’s my kid, or it will be. Which, for the record, is one of the reasons we’re not supposed to treat our own family members.”
“Truth.” Tom relaxed a bit. “So, you’re not mad?”
Wilson smiled. “How could I be mad about something I had at least as much a part in doing? That’s anti-science. And I may be nervous, but I’m also very, very happy. I’m looking forward to making a family.”
Tom leaned in to kiss Wilson, deeper and more passionately than he had before. He didn’t want to stop. He was sure he’d find all sorts of roadblocks tomorrow, but for right now everything seemed to be perfect.
Wilson left the store like a man in a dream. He’d been moving around like a man in his own little bubble of unreality for a week now, ever since getting the positive result on Tom’s pregnancy test, and he never wanted it to end. In his hand, he had a bag with a whole bunch of child locks for cabinets and drawers. They were for his house. He was going to install them on the fixtures in his house so the child forming in Tom’s flat stomach would be able to move around at will in Wilson’s house without finding cleaning products or anything else it shouldn’t get into.
He knew he was being ridiculous. Tom was, at best, four weeks along. He had plenty of time before he had to worry about things like child-proofing the house. A lot could go wrong in the eight months between now and the baby’s birth, and the nine months between then and when any point when the child could be reasonably expected to be mobile.
If he thought about things rationally, he might as well have saved his money. The chances that the baby would ever see the interior of Wilson’s Denver Square house were minuscule at best. He shouldn’t let himself get his hopes up.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be with Tom. He did. He just couldn’t understand for the life of him why Tom would want to be with him. Since it didn’t make any sense, it had to blow up at some point. If nothing else Tom would certainly have to want to avoid Wilson’s family like plague. Hell, Wilson didn’t want to allow the baby around his family, with the exception of Max.
Maybe that was where the break would come. Tom still saw the Lauritz family through rose-colored glasses. He still wanted to believe Anselm and Olivia were good parents, even if Ben was a bad seed. Sure, he’d seen Olivia drunk and barely coherent, but obviously she was just “going through some stuff right now.” The whole family, Wilson in particular, had gone to great pains to keep anyone from outside from knowing just how screwed up they were, and this was the end result.
Tom would want to let their baby spend time with its grandparents, possibly unsupervised. Wilson would put his foot down, because his responsibilities as a parent came first, and that would just be the end of it.
He almost threw the childproofing supplies into the next trash can he passed. He was an arrogant fool for thinking he’d ever get to use them. He needed to keep reality in mind. He should never count his chickens before they hatched. He knew better, damn it.
The sight of a patrol car approaching made him hold back. When the patrol car pulled up to the curb, Wilson smiled. The sight of Tom in his uniform always made him weak at the knees, even if he had fundamental problems with the uniform itself.
“Hey now, citizen, what are you doing out in a place like this on a fine day like this one?” Tom affected a cheesy voice and leaned out his window.
Wilson blushed in spite of himself and leaned into the patrol car. “Would you believe I’m childproofing?”
Tom blinked at him, blankly. “Childproofing?”
“You know. Cabinets and stuff. I don’t want the baby to go drinking Drano or something like that.” Wilson looked down. He remembered getting into the kitchen just in time to keep one of his little sisters from chugging from an open rum bottle she’d found in a cabinet. She’d been maybe fourteen months old.
Tom gave him a measuring look. “I get you’re the science guy here, but you do get the baby’s just like sixteen cells altogether, right?”
“Something like that. Look, I’ve seen kids get into the strangest things, and they get into them a long time before you think they’re ready. So, um, I figured I’d preempt that.”
“By over a year and a half. Not judging, I’m just saying you might be taking things to a little bit of an extreme here.” Tom held up his hands. “It’s okay. It’s cute. And you know what? It’s better to be over prepared than underprepared. Listen, they asked me to work a detail tonight. Are you okay with that?”
“Sure. Of course.” Why wouldn’t Wilson be okay with it? He didn’t get any kind of veto power over Tom’s life.
“It’s just - they’re going to be transferring me to a new unit soon, because of the pregnancy. I want to take advantage of all the overtime and detail pay I can, while I can, you know?” He pulled at his ear. “I know it’s stupid, but it’s making me nervous.”
“What kind of unit?” Wilson couldn’t speak to the change of job, not without more information.
“It’s a diversionary unit, mostly dealing with substance abuse. It’s weird. It’s working with users and the probation department and the rehab centers - it’s kind of like community policing and all that, but the whole point is I’m not going to be in a position to get shot at or run over while I’m pregnant.” He sighed. “You know, I went into police work to be a beat cop. You know, jump in, be the hero, save lives. I didn’t do it to ride a desk and that kind of thing.”
Wilson gave him a sympathetic smile. He didn’t dare do more, not while Tom was on the clock. “Yeah, I get that. But you’re still going to be saving lives. It’s not in an adrenaline junkie way, but it does save lives. It’s meaningful. And hopefully it’ll be a stepping stone to something bigger for you - a promotion or something.” He didn’t want Tom to think he didn’t respect his work, even if he did have some issues with it.
“Yeah, maybe. Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow maybe? You’re still off then, right?” Tom gave a wan little smile.
“Yeah. I’m off until next Monday. We’ll catch up tomorrow. I’ll talk to you then, okay?” Wilson patted the side of Tom’s patrol car and stood back.
He’d already ruined Tom’s life and they hadn’t even officially announced their pregnancy yet.
He knew he shouldn’t think like that. This was a joyous occasion. Tom’s life wasn’t ruined, either in theory or practice. He was frustrated by having to do another facet of police work while he grew a baby inside of him, but he was still doing police work. He would still be saving lives, and once he got into the meat of the work, he’d find he was just as good at this part of it.
Wilson watched as Tom pulled up to the curb a little further on. Tom got out of his patrol car and squatted down next to what Wilson initially thought was a pile of trash next to the side of a building. When the pile moved, Wilson realized Tom was talking to a person, presumably homeless, who had been sleeping beside the building. At such a distance, and with the person lying so still, Wilson figured his mistake could be excused.
Tom hadn’t made the mistake. Tom spoke to the man. After a few seconds, he opened up the back of his patrol car. He pulled something out of it, something that looked like a throw-sized blanket and a small plastic bag. Toiletries, maybe? He couldn’t ask right now, not at this distance, but he made a mental note of it.
Yeah, Tom would be perfect to help folks struggling with addiction. He had such an incredible heart.
Wilson went home and worked to install some of the child-safe latches. He tried to stay positive about the whole thing instead of thinking about it as a remote possibility, something unachievable. Maybe that was the real reason he was putting the child latches in now - to make starting a family seem more real to him, more like something that was happening now instead of something that might happen sometime in the distant future.
When his doorbell rang, he almost hit his head on the cabinet he was working on. He got up and ran to the door. He wasn’t expecting anyone, but maybe Tom’s detail assignment had been canceled. He’d take it.
When he opened the door, he didn’t find Tom. He found his brother Max instead, carrying a big bag of takeout and carrying a six-pack. “Mind if I come in? We should talk.”
Wilson cringed internally, but he let his brother in. Both cats, Tiger and Taylor, rushed up to examine the new human. When Max proved to have no treats for them, they trotted off again. “Cats?” Max turned to Wilson with a look of utter disgust on his face. “Seriously?”
“Tom said almost the same thing.” Wilson led his brother into the kitchen and got them plates. Max put the beer into the fridge, fishing out cold beers for them to drink now. “What is it with you guys and cats, anyway?”
“We worked a case where a crazy cat lady died alone. Let’s just say the cats didn’t starve.” Max made a face. “Anyway. You planning to invite the rest of the fam over here or nah?”
Wilson recoiled. “Are you kidding? First of all, Dad would no more set foot in my house than he would chop his own foot off with a rusty spoon. Mom is still mad I ‘forced my attentions on her’ by showing up when she presented herself for treatment and she and Ben specifically requested me. And oh yeah, you’re the only one of our siblings who bothered to keep in touch with me after I went away to college. So, hm, no.”
Max chuckled a little. “But you’re not bitter.”
“Not at all.” Wilson took a swig from his beer. “Look, I came back to Colorado for the job. I’m happy to see you and spend time with you, don’t get me wrong, but I could have come back to visit during vacations now that those are a thing for me. And this… thing… with Tom has been the weirdest, wildest, most amazing thing ever.”
Max held up a hand. “No details, for the love of God.”
“Not an issue. I potty trained you, I’m not giving you the details of my sex life.” Wilson grinned. “I’m just saying, it’s incredible. I’m terrified, but at the same time it’s kind of like… I see a future where I never had one before. It’s one I wanted, but never believed I could have. And it’s… it’s intoxicating, Max.”
Max squirmed in his seat. “Yeah, I’ve got a bone to pick with you about that. You know they’re moving my partner into a special drug unit while he’s pregnant.”
Wilson hung his head. “Yeah, I know. He mentioned it when I saw him this afternoon. Does he always give stuff away to the homeless?”
Max rolled his eyes, but he smiled fondly. “Oh yeah. Ever since they took the training wheels off. He’s even started up a collection and has a bunch of the guys doing it now. Some guys get really competitive about it. It’s kind of cute, really.”
Wilson smiled and leaned back. “He’s amazing. How does a guy like him wind up idolizing our dad, of all people?”
Max looked away. “It’s not like he’s ever known he saw Dad drunk or high. Let the guy have his heroes, you know?”
Wilson bit his tongue. It was all well and good for Max to say. Max wasn’t the one hiding stuff from the father of his child, or from the man he hoped would choose him for life. But fighting about old wounds wouldn’t help either of them right now. It would only open up a rift with his brother, and Wilson didn’t feel he could afford that. Max was the only person who’d been there for him the whole time. He needed Max.
“So, you knocked up my partner.” Max made a face. “I’m kind of grossed out. I’m happy for both of you. He had the biggest crush on you. He thought I didn’t know, but he all but had it tattooed on his face. I mean seriously, the dude had it bad.” He tucked into the cheap Chinese food he’d brought over.
Wilson followed suit. Max had brought it over from the same place they used to get takeout from as kids, not far from their house growing up. Wilson didn’t want to know how that old dump was still in business. There had to be bribery involved. Still, the same familiar flavors and smells brought old family dinners to mind, when their father had been out at the bars and their mom had been passed out on the couch.
“Did he really have a crush?” Wilson toyed with his noodles. Max even remembered Wilson’s favorite dish. “Ugh. Now I’m worried I’ll disappoint him. I’ve probably already disappointed him.”
“Oh my God. Finish your beer. Get another beer. We cannot let you go on like this. It’s going to be fine. But this kid.” Max shifted his weight. “It’s going to have a family, you know? I mean besides you and Tom and his super awesome, super cool uncle Max.”
“Tom’s mom lives in New Mexico. His dad’s off on the other side of the world, conquering mountains that’ve been climbed by locals for centuries. I don’t think family’s an issue.” Wilson smiled. It felt brittle, but it was important to him to make the effort.
“Don’t be a dick, man. You know exactly what I mean. Mom and Dad are going to be grandparents. They have a right to be involved with their grandkid’s life. If nothing else, grandparents have fought in court and won. Then there’s Ben and his wife —”
Wilson had been going in for another gulp of beer. Now he snorted the beer from his nose. “Are you kidding me? Ben’s married? Someone married Ben? On purpose, it wasn’t a drunken Vegas thing?”
Max scratched his head. “It might have been a drunken Vegas thing, but they are married. You can’t live here in Colorado and just not allow them to know this new member of the family. It’s not going to happen.”
Wilson sighed. “The only reason they’d want to know my kid would be to get back at me for leaving.”
“That’s not true. I mean yes, everyone’s pissed at you for leaving. Dad really fell apart after you left.”
“He was always a mess, Max.” Wilson lifted his head. “I just didn’t want you all to have to deal with it, so I hid what I could. And then I couldn’t anymore. It was too much, so I left. It’s not my fault that he is the way he is. He’s made his choices and I’m not responsible for any of them.” He took another bite of his noodles, feigning a nonchalance he didn’t feel. “And he can’t get near my kid if I say he can’t. I’ve got the receipts to prove everything.”
Tom’s feet felt lighter as he jogged up Wilson’s front porch steps. He couldn’t wait to see his boyfriend. Wilson had the best schedule ever. He only worked every other week, and this week he’d been off. They could probably save a ton on childcare that way. Maybe Wilson’s mom would agree to watch the baby during Wilson’s work weeks.
An image sprang to Wilson’s mind of Olivia Lauritz, skeletal and fetid on the exam table, shouting her hate at Wilson. Maybe asking Olivia wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest, least of all the baby’s. Surely one of Wilson’s sisters would be willing to step in and help out, though. And Ben was married. Sandy had to be willing to participate, right? The baby would be her nephew, or niece.
He knocked on the door and waited. Wilson didn’t waste time. He flung the door open almost as soon as Tom knocked. He looked amazing. He wasn’t wearing much, just low-slung jeans, and he had to know how he looked. The weather had taken a turn for cooler weather, but a little flush of heat crept along his neck when he saw Tom.
“Well hello there,” Wilson said by way of greeting, and then he laughed at himself.
“Hello to you.” Tom stepped inside quickly, so the cats wouldn’t get out. “Do you always answer the door like this?” He ran a hand down Wilson’s chiseled torso.
“Not as a general rule, but today is a special occasion. I was looking forward to seeing you. And I wanted you to see just how much I wanted to see you. Well, except for that whole public nudity thing. That’s still frowned upon in the state of Colorado.” He grinned, impish and adorable. “I checked.”
Tom laughed out loud and caught Wilson up in a huge kiss. “I’ll just bet you did.” He shrugged out of his windbreaker and hung it on the peg behind the door. “Good thing we’ve got the whole weekend to spend together, so you can show me exactly what you mean by that.”
“Sounds delightful.” Wilson took Tom’s hand and guided him into the kitchen. “Right now, though, dinner’s ready. Would you believe I had to invest in one of those room-service domes because of the cats?” He gestured to the offending item, covering up something on the table. “I haven’t managed to break them of trying to steal the food yet.”
Tom chuckled and sat down. “Something tells me you haven’t tried very hard, either.”
“Well, no.” Wilson blushed. Tom loved it when he blushed. “They’re healthy now, but they were found starving. So, I guess I get where they’re coming from, with the whole food scarcity thing. They can’t be a hundred percent sure their next meal is going to be there yet, so they’re still in a mindset of ‘get it while you can.’ We’ll get there, though. They’re going to find out they’re home now. They’ll get used to having as much food as they need, whenever they need it.”
Tom smiled and served himself from the bowls under the tray. “So, what do we have here?”
“It’s nothing too fancy. It’s just a couple of stews I learned from one of my local colleagues when I was overseas. They’re healthy, and they taste incredible. I can’t make them as well as Jamal could, but I do my best.” He dished out some rice. “So. You had your first day on the new job today. How did it go?”
Tom hesitated, and then he made himself smile. “It’s different. I’ll give you that much. There’s a huge part of me that feels like if I’m not out there making arrests, kicking butt and taking names, that I’m not actually making a difference in anyone’s life. But I’ve got my badge and my gun, you know? I’m still me. I’m still a cop, still protecting and serving.”
“I’m glad.” Wilson lowered his eyes for a moment. “I was worried I’d ruined your life or something. I know you’re not exactly thrilled with the change, but it’s only temporary. And I think you’ll get used to it, eventually. Plain old prohibition and arrests aren’t working to stop drug use anymore. We have to try something new. I honestly think an approach like this, where we’re working with people and their families, is probably a better approach than anything else we’ve tried.”
“Harm mitigation.” Tom rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry. I know it’s a good way of approaching the problem. It’s just that I was in training all day, and they repeat a lot of buzzwords, and if I never hear that particular buzzword again it will be way too soon.”
“I see.” Wilson leaned back and took a bit of his food. “I hear that. They do that a lot in the Army too. Training by buzzwords. I swear, sometimes you hear them in your sleep.”
“Please God no.” Tom shuddered. “Let’s talk about something else. Anything else. Um, public or private school for the baby?” He was grasping for a topic, but he figured it was as good a time as any to talk about the issue.
“Public.” Wilson didn’t hesitate. “At least to start. If we wind up with a lot of problems, we can move the kid, but I’m not a big fan of private schools. Religious schools are fine for people who are religious, but I’m not, and as far as I’m aware you’re not either.”
“Lord no.” Tom chuckled. “Why don’t you like private schools?”
Wilson did hesitate here, but only for a moment. “I’ve met a few people who went to them. There’s a lot of… um, what’s a good word here… I guess permissiveness? Privilege? Guys I knew who went to private school were just a lot less likely to understand the idea of consequences for their bad behavior. And our kid is going to have a cop for a father. I’d like to think we’d raise the kid to know right from wrong, but I’ve been that kid. I know what it’s like to have everyone you know pressuring you to help them get away with something because your old man’s a cop, so he’ll cover it up for you. I don’t want the added social pressure of the private school environment, you know?”
Tom looked at Wilson for a long moment. He wasn’t sure what to say in response. He knew Anselm Lauritz would never cover for anyone who did something wrong, and certainly not one of his sons. He could definitely see where people might have hassled the kids about it, though. “I never thought about it like that. I can see your point though. I just thought I had a great experience in public school. Glad we agree there.” He reached over the table and put a hand on Wilson’s arm.
Wilson always seemed to appreciate these affectionate little touches. They almost seemed to make him melt. “What about child care?” he asked, after the look of bliss had passed.
“Were you reading my mind?” Tom laughed, but he almost wondered if it weren’t possible. “A lot of my friends get help from their moms, but I don’t see that as much of an option here.”
“No.” Wilson’s jaw tightened. “Not even a little bit. Even if she offered, we couldn’t take her up on it. I mean you saw her.”
“Yeah. I did. She’s not safe to be around a baby right now. Maybe in a few years’ time, if she gets sober, but not right now. And what do you mean, if she offered? She’s your mom. Of course, she’s going to want to be with her grandkid. It’s the first one, isn’t it?”
“As far as I’m aware, yeah. I haven’t heard from any of the rest of my siblings since I was eighteen, but Max hasn’t mentioned any other kids. But listen, they’re not exactly going to be throwing down the welcome mat for me. We can’t look to them for help with this. I’ve got the money to hire someone to come in every other week and help out.”
Tom was having trouble parsing that one. “Wait. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.” He held up a hand. “I’m not trying to invalidate your sense of the situation. And I’m not trying to… I don’t know. I’m not saying you don’t know what’s going on or anything like that. But I guess what I’m saying is I can’t understand. It’s family. My whole time here in Denver, you guys were all about family and sticking up for each other. You were at every one of Max’s school assemblies and little elementary school concerts and whatever. I know you were there for the rest of them. Don’t you think it’s time they were there for you?”
Wilson looked down and away. “You don’t understand. I wasn’t there for them. I left, Tom. I walked away. I left them here, with Mom and Dad, while I went away to college. They hate me. And it’s fine. Maybe they should hate me. But they’re sure as hell not going to help me, now or ever. So anyway. Nanny. I think there’s another hospitalist at work, Genny. She’s got someone she likes, who might be available next year during the weeks I’m off. Do you want me to reach out to her and see if she’s interested?”
Tom chuckled. “You get I’m not even showing yet.”
“I know.” Wilson blushed again. “I guess I’m just a planner, you know? At least with something this big. I can probably afford to support you, and the baby, and maybe one more kid before we start to feel a little bit pinched. Maybe not, you and I both seem to live pretty frugal lifestyles, but we wouldn’t be able to move out of here for a bigger place and still save for retirement.” He widened his eyes. “Which is me getting way ahead of myself. The point is, you love being a cop. And you shouldn’t have to choose between being a father and doing what you love. We can afford for you - for both of us - to do both, so I kind of feel like we should.”
Tom gaped at Wilson. “How did I get to be so lucky as to get to be with a guy like you? Seriously, how? I mean look at you. You’re handsome, you’re smart, and you remember how much I’ve wanted to be a cop since I was a little kid.”
Wilson slung his arm around Tom’s shoulders. “How could I forget? It was all over the news. That robbery, I mean.”
Tom turned away. “I didn’t catch the robber.”
Wilson snorted. “Most ten-year-olds don’t catch bank robbers, Tom. What you did do was save the teller’s life. Ten years old, and that was you. Saving people, helping people. Yeah, I remember you.” He ruffled Tom’s hair, just like he had that same day when they’d been kids. “You’ve always been amazing, Tom.”
Tom looked up into Wilson’s eyes. Then he came around the table to sit on Wilson’s lap. “I am beyond lucky,” he said. He could feel Wilson growing against him. It gave him an incredible rush, a sense of power. Tom was the one making Wilson feel like this, no one else. Tom was the one he’d shown up at the door for in nothing but jeans.
He kissed Wilson then, deep and hard and full of promise. “Will you let me make you feel good?”
Wilson let his head loll back a little. “Like I could ever say no to you.”
Taking a chance, Tom pulled his cuffs out of a back pocket. He cuffed Wilson’s hands behind the chair, keeping his beautiful body exposed to his sight. “You okay with this?” he asked, when Wilson tensed up a little.
“All things considered it’s a little weird.” Wilson smirked at him. “But like I said, I don’t think I could say no to something you wanted.”
Tom grinned and mouthed his way down Wilson’s collarbone. He heard the little hitch in Wilson’s breath as he licked and sucked his way toward his amazing pectorals, and Tom’s soul all but sang. Tom might not know everything that went on in the Lauritz household, but he knew Wilson had spent a lot of time taking care of other people. It was time someone took care of Wilson.
And if Tom had to cuff him to get it done, well, they were both consenting adults.
He slid backward as he moved his mouth down Wilson’s incredible body, moving slowly to build up anticipation for both of them. Wilson already glistened with sweat, but he wasn’t fighting the cuffs. Not his first time in this position, then. Tom fought a surge of jealousy. I’ll just have to make sure he forgets anything else. He licked his way up and then down each side of Wilson’s abs, treasuring every ridge and dip in his six-pack.
Then he continued down. He looked up into Wilson’s eyes, almost begging for permission. Wilson nodded, lifting his ass off of the chair. Tom removed his jeans right away, revealing his proud, stiff cock. It stood out from its neat, trimmed little thatch of hair, angry and demanding.
Tom stared at it for a moment, just appreciating how beautiful it was. He rubbed his cheek against it, more as a tease than anything else. Then he took it into his mouth.
He had to work his way down Wilson’s shaft. Wilson wasn’t a small guy, but Tom was already prepared for that. He had to take some time to get used to the feel, the scent, and the flavor that were all uniquely Wilson. Little by little, Tom opened up his mouth and throat for Wilson. This was his incredible man, this magnificent lover who made his toes curl, his heart swell, and his whole body light up.
Every little moan or groan Wilson made urged Tom forward. He’d heard about other guys who came from giving head, and he’d written it all off as a fairy tale. Nestled down here between Wilson’s legs, with Wilson’s huge cock at the back of his throat, gasping and moaning like Tom was sucking the actual life out of him - Tom might have to reevaluate his position. It was Tom, and Tom alone, making Wilson feel this good.
He met Wilson’s eyes, just for a moment, and Wilson just melted. “I’m going to —” He choked himself off.
Tom could have pulled off, finished Wilson off by hand. He gave some thought to finishing them both off by hand, but he decided against it. He wanted to feel Wilson finish. He wanted to give this to Wilson, and he wanted to give this to himself too. So Tom kept at it, kept sucking until Wilson came with a strangled cry.
Tom worked him until Wilson was completely soft. Only then did he stand up. When he moved to unlock the cuffs, he found Wilson had already freed himself.
Wilson kissed him. Something about the moment was just too much for Tom. Maybe it was the way Wilson had been able to free himself, almost immediately from the sound of it, but had chosen to seem restrained to please Tom. Maybe it was the Way Wilson claimed his mouth, humbling and demanding and everything Tom needed. Tom came then and there, just like a teenager in his jeans.
He buried his face in Wilson’s shoulder, muffling his cries until the aftershocks left him. Wilson held him close. “What do you say we move this into the bedroom?”
“I’m a mess,” Tom protested.
“So, go ahead and get cleaned up.” Wilson winked. “I’ll clean up in here and come meet you.”
Tom had never moved so fast after an orgasm in his life.
Wilson paced in the hallway just in front of the lawyer’s office. The appointment with the lawyer guy - McNabb, if Wilson remembered correctly - was five minutes away, and Max was nowhere to be found. Where the hell could he possibly be? He knew Wilson was waiting for him. He knew how important this was.
Heavy feet pounded their way up the stairs, and Max’s heart-shaped face finally peered out from the stairwell. “I made it!” he said, breathing hard. “I know it was a near thing, but I did make it on time. The guys from Vice decided to pull a little prank on the beat cops, and then once I got out of that there wasn’t any parking - it was a mess.”
“I’ll bet.” Wilson’s stomach had turned itself inside out. He didn’t have words, or even the mental capacity, to speak right now. “Come on, let’s just go inside.”
They ran into the lawyer’s office, were a pretty receptionist in a black and white polka dot dress greeted them with a bright and cheery smile. She let her boss know they were there, and then Max and Wilson only had to wait a moment before they were ushered into McNabb’s office.
McNabb, a tall Black man in a nice suit, shook both of their hands. “So, which one of you is Dr. Lauritz?”
Wilson’s mouth went dry. He stared into space for a several seconds before he managed to shake the words out. “Me. It’s me. Um, call me Wilson. This is my brother Max. He’s here for moral support.” He sat down and ran his hand through his shock of dark hair. “Sorry. You know, I’ve faced down armed gunmen, suicide bombers, and cases of friendly fire. You would think I’d be able to handle an attorney’s office.”
“Chicken,” Max muttered under his breath, because siblings are always helpful.
McNabb didn’t comment on Max’s contribution. He just smiled. “Estate planning is a scary topic for most people. I have yet to meet the person who wouldn’t rather face death than think about it and plan for it. Why don’t we have a talk about what your specific needs are right now. What is it that made you decide to come in, today, and start setting up a will and an estate plan?”
And here it was. Wilson swallowed. His hands shook, so he balled them into fists. “Um. Well, it looks like I’m going to be a father.” He considered his words. “Sorry. There’s no doubt. The way I phrased it made it sound like I wasn’t so sure. I am going to be a father. It’s just - well, it’s earlier than I’d planned it. But it’s happening, and I know I’m the father, and I’m excited about the whole thing even if it’s all feeling a little bit out of control right now.” He bounced his knee a few times, until Max knocked his knee into Wilson’s. “Ow! Quit it.”
“Well, you’re definitely brothers. Wilson, what is it you want to do with your will? Are you looking to set up a guardianship plan?”
Wilson took a deep breath. “That’s something I’d need to talk to Tom - the other father, the carrier parent - about. We -” His face got hot. He was a grown man. He didn’t need to be embarrassed by any of this, but he still found his face getting warm like he was getting called out by a teacher. “We hadn’t been together very long before he got pregnant. I hope he’ll move in with me before the baby’s born, but I’ll respect his choice no matter what. Anyway, we’d have to discuss guardianship and that kind of thing for the baby.” He looked down at the ground for a second.
Max turned to face him, lip curled in confusion. “So, wait a minute. What is this, exploratory surgery?”
“No, no. We’d have to decide together on any custodial arrangements for the baby. We’re here today to talk about the disposal of my estate, if something happens to me.” Wilson turned back to McNabb, wiping his sweaty palms on his hands. “I don’t have to consult anyone else about what happens to my stuff when I’m gone. There’s no prior will to override or anything. When I die, I want my estate to be divided between Tom and the baby. That’s it.”
McNabb cleared his throat and shuffled through a few pieces of paper on his desk. “We can certainly do that. I haven’t seen your assets yet, and I don’t necessarily need to. I can tell you the transfer would be much simpler if you were to marry your partner prior to your death.”
Max’s eyes bulged almost out of his head.
“I’d like that.” Wilson hoped Max wouldn’t hold the soft tone in which he spoke against him. For that matter, he hoped the lawyer wouldn’t either. “I’d really like that. I’m not sure what Tom is thinking right now. We might get there, and we might not. But I’d like that.” He basked in the warmth of the fantasy for a few seconds.
Then he brought himself back down to reality. “But let’s face it, I’m not bringing a whole lot to the table here. I don’t see Tom saying yes, and he has no obligation to do so.”
“Then maybe you might want to consider just leaving the estate to your child. You can always put Tom in as the trustee.” McNabb folded his hands-on top of the documents on his desk. “That’s one option.”
Wilson closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. “I could do that. I could. But I’m not going to.” He opened his eyes again. “Even if Tom decides we can’t be together, I want him to get half of my estate. It’s not a bad estate now, and I have a reasonable expectation that it will grow. Maybe someday it will be something to write home about. Maybe not. But Tom is giving me, right now something I’ve always wanted. He’s giving me a second chance for a real family. He’s putting his body, his life on the line to offer that to me. The least I can do is give him my money when I’m far beyond using it anymore, right?”
Max turned to give him an exasperated look. “You have a family, Wils. What do you call me, a pet?” He faced McNabb again. “I swear, he’s going to get me a leash and a dog bowl.”
“Leave me out of any kink discussions, please.” McNabb held up his hand. “Your brother, Wilson, does bring up a good point. Are you certain you want to leave the family you already have out of your will? They’re likely to have some hurt feelings, which they may take out on your child or on your partner.”
Max snorted. “You don’t know the half of it.” He glared at Wilson. “Seriously, bro? You’re just going to leave Ben hanging?”
“Ben is twenty-five years old and can’t hold a job longer than two weeks, Max.” Wilson gritted his teeth. McNabb didn’t need to know any of that. He just needed to draw up the documents. “And it’s not like the rest of them didn’t leave me hanging for years. I already have a life insurance policy that pays out to you, Max. I got it when I went into the Army. As for the rest of it, I want to pass it down to my kid, you know?”
“Have you warned Tom about the shitstorm you’re planning to send his way?” Max crossed one leg over the other.
“No. We haven’t discussed estate planning. We haven’t discussed marriage, or cohabitation. We’re trying to be sensible adults about the whole thing and not rush into it.” Wilson tilted his head back to look up at the ceiling. At least drywall didn’t judge him.
“Oh good. I’d hate to think you rushed into something major like having a baby.” Max gave an eyeball so dramatic he might get an Oscar for it.
“We didn’t have a lot of control over that. We’re managing what we can control. Why is this hard for you?” Wilson rubbed at his temples. Family stuff always gave him a headache. Maybe he should have just agreed to pay child support, as much as Tom wanted, and run off to Bolivia or something. God knew he was obviously crap at family.
“My brother’s an idiot. I’ll talk to him after this meeting. My apologies.” Max faked a big, bright smile to McNabb, and they continued with the meeting.
The rest of the meeting didn’t take long at all. McNabb told him the documents wouldn’t be hard to draw up, and he’d have a draft in Wilson’s inbox within a week. They shook hands, and as soon as they were out of the office Max grabbed Wilson by the collar and dragged him down the stairs. “All right. That’s about it. We’re going to Shields and we’re going to talk some sense into you.”
Wilson went along with it. He wasn’t sure he had a choice. “You realize this is kidnapping. I mean I could so make a major case out of this.”
Max scoffed. “I’ve got cuffs if we need to go that far.”
Wilson remembered that night a couple of weeks ago, when Tom had cuffed him to the chair. He was almost ashamed to have liked it as much as he had. He couldn’t say anything, though. He definitely wasn’t giving up those details to Max, of all people. “No cuffs,” he said meekly, and stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets.
“Gross.” Max shook his head and led Wilson over to his car. Max was a pretty bright guy, and he could figure things out for himself better than most guys could.
The drive to Shields didn’t take long. Wilson would rather go anyplace but Shields, but it was Max’s favorite place, so they were going to Shields after all. The crowd was quite a bit different than it had been a couple of months ago, when they’d been out with all the young beat cops. Now they saw a bunch of cops of all ages, to include a few Wilson recognized from the days of his youth.
He tried not to make eye contact.
A couple of sneering guys in cheap dress shirts with loose ties walked up to Max. “I see you made it out of your new office, Lauritz.” The younger of the pair snickered while he spoke. The older one just gave them both a mocking grin.
“Fuck off, Macias. I don’t have to pretend to like you off City property.” Max’s demeanor shifted from long-suffering frustration to one of pure venom. He sat down in a vacant barstool and indicated the one next to him. Wilson didn’t dare refuse, even though every muscle in his body had tensed up. “If they’re not paying me, I don’t even have to pretend to respect you.”
“Of course, you do, if you ever want to get promoted onto Vice.” Macias wrapped an arm around Max’s shoulders.
Max moved so fast even Wilson couldn’t see him. Macias wound up on the ground, clutching at his foot and writing in pain. “There,” he said, sliding back onto his stool. “Enjoy your eight weeks of disability, Macias. And if you ever think of putting your hand on me again it’ll be your trigger finger.”
Wilson grimaced and squatted down on the ground. He eased the shoe off Macias’ foot. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” shrieked Macias’ friend. “Those are thousand-dollar Italian leather shoes!”
“You want me to take it off now or you want them to cut it off down at Mercy? If it’s broken, it’s going to swell up fast. Look, it’s already starting.” He pointed to the affected part. “Get him to Mercy and ask for Dr. Vargas. He’s got a way with small bones and he’s working the late shift tonight.”
“Who the hell are you?” Macias groaned from the floor.
“I’m his big brother.” Wilson jerked his head toward Max. “I’d get him to the hospital quick if I were you. The longer you wait the longer it’s going to take to fix.”
Macias’ friend helped him to his feet, and then they limped out of the bar.
When Wilson turned around, there was a beer in his spot. The bartender, an older guy with a hipster beard, smiled at him and went back to his business. No one seemed to care that Max had just put another cop on the disabled list. “What the hell was that?” Wilson asked quietly, leaning in. “Is bone breaking the new intrasquad softball game now?”
Max shook his head. “These guys in Vice think they’re the absolute shit, when in reality they’re just shit. Six of them got busted last month for dipping into the evidence, do you think that takes them down a peg? Nah. It makes ‘em worse. Like anyone would take a ‘promotion’ there these days.” He waved a hand over his beer. “But we’re not here to talk about why the whole vice squad needs to be flushed. We’re here to talk about why my big brother, who everyone looks up to, is a flaming, flying moron.”
Wilson took a gulp of his drink. “Wow, tell me how you really feel.”
“There are only two ways for Tom to feel once he finds out about this whole thing with the will. You know this, right? He can either be deeply touched, or he can be completely weirded out that you’d make arrangements for him and just not tell him. Guess which way I’m betting? I’m all for doing nice things for people when they can’t see you, don’t get me wrong, but this is a little bit beyond the pale. I mean you’re creating drama where no drama has to be. What is it you always used to tell us? Don’t be a drama llama?”
Wilson chuckled. “Yeah, I remember that. Then all of you would run around chanting about llamas. Seriously, though. I just - I don’t want to bring that stuff into our relationship right now. We’re in this beautiful, golden spot in the relationship where the real world doesn’t venture. I know things with Tom won’t be this great forever, but I don’t have to do hurry the good stuff out the door either.”
Max blinked at him. “Sorry, I don’t follow. Tom is a sweet and innocent guy.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say innocent.”
“TMI, Wils. No details, remember? Anyway, he’s literally the nicest cop you’ll ever meet. Why do you think the good times won’t last?” Max leaned forward.
Wilson sucked his cheeks in. “For one thing, and don’t take this the wrong way, he’s a cop.”
“Is there a right way to take that?”
“I’m not cut out to live with cops. I barely made it through the Army. I don’t do well with authority. And I mean… well, if I go bringing things like money, and finance, and estates and crap, into the picture, it takes away the illusion. It goes from being something that is working to something that can’t ever work. I’m not ready to lose that, you know?”
“Did you get hit in the head while you were in the Army?” Max squinted into Wilson’s eyes. “I heard a lot of people wind up with CTE just from all the explosions.”
Wilson let out a little groan of frustration. “You do the math, Max. Tom has spent his whole life holding Dad up as the patron saint of all things good, of law and order. That guy, the one who wants to be Dad when he grows up, is never going to love me.
“And I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to bribe him into staying with me. I don’t want him to feel obligated, and I don’t want him to feel cornered or controlled. Okay? I just want him and the baby to be protected and safe. That’s all.”
Max took a deep breath. “That’s some pretty heavy stuff.” He sipped from his beer.
“Tell me about it.” Wilson toyed with his.
Max cracked half a grin. “You’re still a flaming, flying moron.”
Wilson laughed in spite of himself. “Thanks for the support.”
Tom sat back in his chair and watched the clock. It didn’t matter how many days - or weeks - had gone into this new job. He’d been into it for close to two months now and it sucked. It was never going to not suck. It might stop sucking when the stars fell from the sky, but not until then.
He knew he should have a better attitude. He could have simply been assigned to file reports all day or sent down to the property clerk’s office (their motto: Where Careers Go To Die.) Instead, he’d been given a good assignment with a brand-new unit, one with a lot of visibility and a lot of theoretical upsides. Even Max, who hated the idea of them being separated, thought of it as essentially a straight shot to promotion.
The only problem was that Tom didn’t want a promotion. He liked being a beat cop. Detectives, whether in Vice, Major Crimes, or Special Crimes, didn’t get to go out and help people. They didn’t save people. They showed up after the fact and tried to make sense of it all, but they weren’t the heroes.
Tom could still remember back to that day when he’d been a little kid. He’d saved the man who’d been shot. He hadn’t cared about the medal, even though he still had it. He hadn’t cared about being on TV. He hadn’t cared about getting excused from his homework for the whole rest of the school year, although it had been a pretty nice reward when he thought about it later. All he’d cared about at the time, or at all, had been feeling that man’s heart beating under his small hands and knowing it had been his own work that made it happen.
This job… well, it didn’t offer any of that. Tom stayed indoors all day. He didn’t chase bad guys, he sat at a table and listened to people talk about their feelings. And their feelings were valid, sure. They had a lot to do with the reasons they wound up in the positions they did. But Tom wasn’t getting that incredible feeling of saving a life, of knowing that someone else was still walking the earth because Tom had been there at the right time to make a difference.
No, Tom took notes.
Emilie, the team member from Social Services, bounced over to his desk. Emilie loved the team. Emilie loved the work they did. Emilie was a True Believer. In his darker moments, Tom suspected Emilie had created the Diversionary Programs Task Force.
“Hey, Tom, I know it’s almost quitting time, but do you think we’ve got time for one more intake meeting? It just came across our desk, and the Powers That Be want it dealt with quickly. It’s a bit of a sensitive situation.” She grimaced and gave his Denver PD coffee mug a significant glance.
Great. So, whoever the person coming in was had connections to the police department. Well, that wasn’t exactly surprising. The whole Vice squad was under the microscope right now. The Commissioner and Chief were in a hell of a bind - sack the entire Vice squad and let drug crime run rampant in Denver or try to divert as many cases as they could and risk accusations of double standards later on.
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” Tom stood up and grabbed his tablet. “I’m sure it’s important, and it’s definitely important to the client to get the ball rolling, right?”
Emilie bounced again. Her curly ringlets of brown hair bounced with her. “That’s the spirit!”
They moved into the conference room so the whole team could meet and discuss the case together. Tom hated these meetings, but he understood why they had to do them. Everyone in the program came in with a unique set of circumstances, a circumstance which touched on a different team member’s agency. The whole point of having a multi-agency task force in the first place was to make sure everyone could sit down together and share information, right out of the gate.
It sounded great, on paper.
Bob, from the Office of Drug Policy, looked up at them from his seat at the head of the table. A roundtable shouldn’t have had a head, but Bob had arranged his seat, so everyone knew he was sitting at the head of it. His yellow shirt was marred by darker yellow sweat stains, even in the cold weather. “Good of you to join us,” he said, and sniffed deeply.
Janice, from the Office of Public Assistance, passed out paper files. “Today’s new referral comes to us from the Denver PD. Is he a friend of yours, maybe?” She looked down her long, thin nose at him when she asked, leaving no doubt about her meaning.
Tom reined in his temper and looked at the file. “I wouldn’t say ‘friend,’ exactly. He got busted for using coke on the job - and it looks like he did it again. He’s from Vice. Charming guy. I think the two of you would get along well, Janice.” He typed the cop’s name into the appropriate file on his app. “Ah, yes, here we have it. Will Montero, age forty-two, suspended for brutality twice, once for cocaine use, and now we have him here.”
Amit, from the Housing and Health Department, curled her lip. “I see. Does he have any redeeming qualities?”
Emilie gave them all severe looks. “Everyone has redeeming qualities, people. That’s why we have this group in the first place. Tom, since Will is known to you, maybe you can get us started and give us some suggestions on what he’s running from?”
Tom sighed and flipped through Montero’s record again. “Okay. First of all, Vice doesn’t exactly socialize outside of Vice. There’s been some stuff in the paper lately, if I remember correctly? But anyway, Amit, maybe you could look up visits by his wife or kids to the hospital.”
Amit clacked away at her own tablet. A moment later she looked up, muttering in Hebrew. “You think he’s done this?”
“I’ve been to the house at least once myself. We filed the report, but it didn’t go anywhere. He brings in enough dealers, and gets enough confessions or convictions, that they’re willing to do whatever they have to do to keep him out of trouble.” Tom looked away for a second. “It’s not pretty. And it’s not common. But it does happen, and when it does it’s a nightmare. If the higher-ups don’t care, and especially if she’s too scared to file charges, nothing’s going to come of it.”
“Wow.” Amit pushed the file away from her, as if she could get distance from the case itself.
Emilie clapped her hands together. “Okay, people we’re not here to pass judgment on Officer Montero. We’re here to come up with ways to help him, okay? Plenty of people who have issues with substance abuse wind up having issues with domestic assault. It comes with the territory. If we can help him deal with whatever his demons might be, he’ll have the incentive to get clean and he’ll stop using his wife and kids as punching bags.”
Tom stayed silent for the rest of the meeting. He didn’t have anything constructive to offer. He already knew nothing they offered was going to work. He knew Montero.
He went home feeling more disgusted with his job than he had before. Thank God he got to go over to Wilson’s place today. Wilson would let him vent. Wilson wouldn’t sit there and try to convince him Montero needed his little hand held, just because everyone was important, and everyone needed to be lifted up or whatever buzzwords Emilie had in her bonnet today.
Wilson did indeed have a nice dinner laid out for them both - nothing big, but stuffed chicken breasts, rice pilaf, and broccoli. Tom still wasn’t showing, but the baby growing inside of him already had marked preferences when it came to food. The baby liked broccoli. Wilson wasn’t the best when it came to words, but he made sure he had plenty of broccoli available for Tom, and he changed up how he served it just, so Tom didn’t get bored with it.
Wilson had learned to cook, so he could make broccoli for their baby, in ways that didn’t bore Tom. If that wasn’t love, Tom didn’t know what was.
They made relatively small talk as they ate. After dinner, though, Wilson asked the big question. “So, are you finding you like your job any better than you did?”
Tom squirmed. They were on Wilson’s super-casual, super-comfortable couch. Tom was lying back with his feet up on Wilson’s lap, and he didn’t want to feel uncomfortable. He didn’t like this at all. “Not really.” He sat up and sighed. “It’s just - well, I’m an action guy, you know? I’m not into all this touchy-feely stuff. And yeah, I get it’s something I have to do until I’m not risking the baby, but it still kind of makes my hair stand on end.”
Wilson raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh really? Because I seem to remember a guy driving around with a whole bunch of hygiene packets and blankets in his squad car. That’s kind of touchy-feely - just in a perfectly manly way, of course.”
Tom stuck his tongue out. “Don’t placate me,” he laughed. “Okay, so that was a little touchy-feely. And I do like helping people. It’s just… I don’t know. Some folks, you want to help, and you just don’t know how. Like, you know they’re not going to get clean. Everything is just so much for them, and when they tell you what’s going on, you have to come up with something to say, and all you can think of is, Well, you know what? If I had all this going on, and someone offered me something that would give me a break even for a little while, hell yeah I’d take it.”
“Oh yeah. Definitely.” Wilson nodded. Tom could see why. He probably heard that kind of stuff every day. “I met a woman who couldn’t get a doctor to listen to her about her psych meds. They weren’t working for her. She wound up turning to street drugs because they were the only thing that kept her even remotely steady. I was able to get her into a pilot program to look at genetic testing for medication effects in certain populations, but only because I heard about it through the military.”
“Huh. Do you think they’d still take candidates? Because we’ve got a guy who might be in the same boat.” Tom sat up a little straighter. “I know there are HIPAA concerns with the referral, but we’ll straighten that all out.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course. Plus, it gives me a chance to talk to you during work hours and not get yelled at for it.” Wilson smiled and squeezed Tom’s hand. “So, what’s really got you worked up? It sounds like you’ve got a great mindset for this sort of work.”
Tom deflated. “We got a referral about a cop today. And he was a cop I know.”
Wilson stiffened, but he loosened up right away. “I’m sorry. Is he a friend of yours?”
“No, actually, I kind of hope the guy ODs” Tom hid his face for a second. “I’m sorry. I know that’s awful of me. It’s just - this guy, Montero. Me and Max have been over to his house a bunch of times, and not for social calls. He’s on the Vice squad.”
Wilson curled his lip. “I met a couple of the guys from Vice. Max said there were some issues…”
“Yeah. Well, they’ve been getting away with a bunch of stuff for a long time. Then they brought in someone from outside to run the joint, and now a bunch of them are getting caught doing things they shouldn’t. Montero got referred to us for drug use, but that’s not how I know him. Part of what we do in the program is try to figure out why someone’s using in the first place. Emilie says it helps to reduce relapse.”
“Well, if you look at the data, it’s true. Not necessarily for everyone, but folks usually start using for a specific reason. I’m not an addiction specialist.” Wilson furrowed his brow. “What’s the issue here?”
“Montero beats the crap out of his wife and kids on a regular basis. It’s like the guy’s got a schedule.” Tom knew he shouldn’t be sharing this information with a civilian, but Wilson was his partner and he was a doctor. He had to consult with someone, right?
He assumed Wilson’s sudden stiffening came from the same source as Tom’s own revulsion. After all, Wilson had grown up in a cop family. He came from a long line of cops, in fact.
“It’s just - Montero’s a cop. And I get that cops are just people, you know? We put our pants on one leg at a time just like anyone else. We live our lives, we have good days and bad days. But because we have that gun and that badge, because we have the public trust, we’re supposed to be held to a higher standard. We’re not supposed to show up and bust someone for beating up their wife and kid, or a prostitute, or whatever, and then go home and give a graphic demonstration of the crime at home.
“Yeah, the job is hard sometimes. It gets to you. But damn it, we’re supposed to be the good guys. And every time I see one of these guys, it just infuriates me. I know I’ve been out to Montero’s place, me and Max. I know other guys I’ve worked with have been out there. Do you think anything ever gets done? No. And Sheila, Mrs. Montero, every time she says yes, I want to press charges, and then literally a day later she miraculously changes her mind. Do you really think someone isn’t showing up and scaring the crap out of her?”
Wilson let out a bitter little laugh. Tom had never heard a sound like that from his beloved before. “Oh, they definitely showed up to intimidate her. Maybe not all of them, but enough.” He sighed and wiped his hand over his face. When he took it away, he looked like his normal, sensitive, loving self. All of the bitterness was gone, or at least hidden.
“The thing is, the job is hard, Tom. And some guys find it harder than others. If you look at the statistics, cops have higher rates of domestic violence and child abuse than any other population. It’s the same thing with substance abuse disorders. And intellectually, at least, you can see why. No one ever calls the cops on a good day, you know? Even when you show up and do the right thing, catch the bad guy - your whole interaction with a person usually begins with trauma. It wears on people, some more than others, and you can’t tell beforehand who’s going to turn to booze or drugs or taking it out on the missus.”
Tom curled up and rested his head on Wilson’s chest. “I know. I mean we hear it all the time. It just - we’re there to protect, not to hurt.”
“I know.” Wilson stroked his hair. “And because of that, a lot of what goes on in police families never goes public. The higher-ups aren’t just afraid of not supporting their individual officers. They’re afraid of eroding public trust.”
Tom realized Wilson’s hand was shaking as it combed through his hair. “Hey, are you okay?”
Wilson’s smile was tight. “Never better. Why don’t we have dessert?”
Wilson had to bite his tongue whenever Tom talked about the Montero case. Pretty soon his tongue was going to get a callus, because Tom had an awful lot to say about the guy from his rival department. He seemed to think Montero was an aberration, that people weren’t willing to send him to jail because he performed well on the job.
Wilson wanted to scream. Tom was a bright guy who noticed things most other people would never pick up on. How the hell could he honestly believe people were just that enamored of one guy’s performance? Did he not watch the news? Tom knew, he freaking knew, about the issues around violence and alcoholism in cop families. He still insisted Montero was “different.”
He’d spent years around the Lauritz family. He’d been at their house every day. How could he not have seen, not have known? No one in their right mind could have said Anselm Lauritz’ job performance should get him a free pass for anything, but everyone had looked the other way back then. Including Tom.
He took a deep breath and tried to steady himself. He was free now. He’d been free for years. It had been hard to leave, and his siblings still hated him for it, but he was free.
He was putting a cat tree together for the cats - more of a cat forest, if he took a step back and thought about it honestly. He’d gone a little overboard, but the little beasts seemed to like it. He liked to make them happy. They didn’t ask a lot of him. All he had to do was feed them and clean the litter box, and in return they gave him affection and endless hours of entertainment.
This thing with Tom, though. He knew he shouldn’t take it personally. Tom wasn’t living it, hadn’t lived it, so he couldn’t really know. If Tom hadn’t noticed back when they’d been younger, it was because Wilson had done his job (or what he’d believed his job had been at the time) and covered things up. He’d been so desperate to keep the family together, so fearful of Anselm and his dire threats. And he’d loved his parents.
Now he knew better. He hadn’t helped them. He’d enabled them. He didn’t blame himself for it, because he’d just been a kid doing the best he could. The fact remained, he was still part of the reason no one had done anything about the abuse in their family.
And he knew there were plenty of others, just like his.
Tom walked in the door and found him just as he was, putting the tree together. “Look at you,” he laughed. “You’re just doting on those cats. And who knew you were so handy with a drill?”
Wilson blushed in spite of himself. “You know how it is. You pick up all sorts of skills in the Army.” He kicked himself as soon as he said it. Why couldn’t he just come out and tell Tom, I did most of the home repairs you saw around the house because Dad was too drunk to trust with power tools?
He knew the answer, of course. It wasn’t rocket science. He couldn’t say anything because Anselm was still Tom’s hero.
As if the thought had summoned him, Tom sat down on the couch. He jiggled his left leg, clearly nervous. “So, ah, I saw your dad today. He stopped by the office.”
Wilson bolted for the bathroom. He barely made it in time to lose his lunch. Christ. After all this time, the old man still has the power to do this to me? He picked himself up off the floor, flushed the evidence, and rinsed his mouth.
Tom was there in the doorway. Wilson hadn’t heard him approach. “Are you okay, babe?” He put the back of his hand to Wilson’s forehead, a completely unscientific way of checking for fever. “Is it something you ate?”
No, just flashing back to that time dear old Dad punched me in the stomach until I puked. “I’m fine. Just - how was he?” He painted a bland smile onto his face.
“About the same. You know. He was there to talk about another referral we had, a cop referred for alcoholism. I guess he got pulled over for a DUI and they referred him to our program instead of actually arresting him.”
“It happens a lot.” Wilson’s voice sounded like it came from far away. “They don’t want the general public to think there’s an issue with cops drinking, even if there is.”
“It’s not that bad.” Tom shook his head and headed back out into the living room. “Sure, some cops wind up trying to numb the pain, just like guys in any other profession. But a lot of the time it’s just guys out for a good time, who have a few too many. Just like any other time, you know? It’s not a big deal. Most of them don’t have a whole string of DUIs on their record. I wouldn’t say they’re drunks. It’s like your dad said, they make a mistake and it shouldn’t ruin their lives.”
“He said that, huh?” Wilson had been about to sit next to Tom, but he got back down on the floor to finish the cat tree instead.
“Yeah.” Tom was apparently oblivious to Wilson’s discomfort. “He asked about you, too.”
“Did he, now?” Wilson didn’t look up from his work. One of the cats came and rubbed up against him for a second, and that took a little bit of Wilson’s tension away. “Huh.”
“He was surprised you took a job back here, but he was glad to hear we’d gotten together. Glad to hear about the baby.” Wilson could hear the smile and blush in Tom’s voice. “It’s funny, you know? I never thought I’d be talking about something like that with him, but he seemed pretty excited to be a grandfather. Said he couldn’t wait to see our kid graduate from the Academy.” He chuckled.
“Did he tell you what a disappointment I was, since I didn’t even apply?” He stood up and stepped back from the tree. He couldn’t justify fussing with it anymore. It was finished, which the cats confirmed by finding places in the tree from which they could watch the world go by.
“Um, no, that didn’t come up.” Tom walked up and put his hands-on Wilson’s shoulders. “Is something wrong? He seemed genuinely happy, Wilson. Is that really so much of a surprise? He always seemed to care for you when you were a kid.”
“Appearances can be deceiving.” Wilson swallowed hard. “But I know how much you always enjoyed his company. Which is great, you know? It’s awesome. I just - let’s just hang out and watch something on Netflix, okay?”
“Got it.” Tom fell back a little.
Wilson kicked himself. He didn’t want to make Tom feel bad, especially when he’d been just about on top of the world before. He’d been so excited to talk to Wilson about an encounter with his hero, and Wilson had to go stomp all over it like the selfish little prick he was.
He pushed the thoughts away. It wasn’t selfishness, it was self-preservation, and everyone had the right to do it.
They settled in under a blanket, and Wilson started to relax as they browsed through different options for their evening’s entertainment. They finally settled on a comedy, an old Mel Brooks movie that everyone could enjoy. They’d been watching it for half an hour when the doorbell rang.
One of the cats hissed at the visitor, through the window. That wasn’t a good sign.
Wilson opened the door, only to find his brother Ben standing there. Ben was bracing himself against the door frame, which gave him an intimidating posture. He might not have meant to look intimidating, though. He reeked of cheap whiskey and probably only meant to hold himself up.
“Ben.” Wilson couldn’t make himself sound enthusiastic. “What brings you by? I’m pretty sure you were nowhere near the neighborhood.”
Ben stumbled into the house. “What, you don’t think I come to chi-chi neighborhoods like this all the time?” He threw himself down onto the couch beside Tom, into the seat Wilson had just vacated. “As it happens, I got a job.”
Tom inched away from Ben. Ben was sitting far too close to be comfortable as it was, and of course Tom’s nose had gotten so sensitive with his pregnancy. Wilson scowled. “You got a job? That’s great. Doing what?”
“Security.” Ben slung his arms over the back of the couch and sprawled out, claiming the couch for his own. Tom looked a little green around the gills. “It’s not exactly the Academy, but it’s kind of like law enforcement. Dad’s real proud.”
“I’ll bet.” Wilson carefully searched Tom’s face for any indication that he needed rescue. “So, are you on duty right now, or are you going in to work tomorrow, or what?”
“Oh, I’ll be going into work later on tonight. It’s a pretty sweet gig, you know? Just nighttime security at an old folks’ home. I literally just sit there and wait for something to happen and if it does, I call 911. Thassit.” He chortled and reached into his jacket for a flask.
He took a long pull from his flask, wiped his mouth, and offered it to Tom. “You want some? It’s not half bad. I splurged.”
Tom got up and headed for the kitchen. “No, thanks. I’m not drinking right now. Not with the baby. Here, let me get you something to eat with that.”
“No thanks, I’m good.” Ben waved him off and wound up hitting himself in the head. “He lets you into his kitchen? Huh. He might actually love you. Not that it matters.”
Wilson pinched the bridge of his nose. He and Tom hadn’t gotten around to saying those three words to each other. Wilson knew how he felt. He hadn’t said anything yet, because he didn’t want to hear that Tom didn’t feel the same.
None of which was Ben’s business. “Ben, why are you actually here?”
“I just wanted to see your house, bro. Since you hadn’t invited anyone from the family over to see it. We’re hurt, you know. You should’ve had a housewarming party. We’d have all shown up. Mom bought a fresh pack of cigarettes but her invite never came in the mail. Oh wait, she saves those for me.”
Wilson set his jaw. “My advice would be to move out. You’re twenty-five. You don’t need to live with your parents anymore. There’s no need for you to put up with that.” He didn’t bring up everything he’d put up with. He knew Ben wouldn’t care, and he didn’t want Tom to know.
“Oh, move out, he says. Because it’s easy for him. He had somewhere to go. Maryland. The hell is in Maryland anyway? Mr. I’m Too Good To Be A Cop had to go all the way to Maryland because he didn’t want to stay at home and help his family out.” He belched, loud and foul. “Give me a break.”
Wilson stiffened his back. “The door’s right there.”
Tom gasped. “My God, Wilson, you can’t send him out in his condition. He’ll pass out and choke on his own puke.”
Wilson snorted. “Nah. Ben here’s an old pro. Aren’t you.” Wilson narrowed his eyes at his younger brother. “And I certainly don’t need to sit in my own home and listen to someone talk to me like that.”
“Yeah, fuck you too. Never would help your family out.” Ben made no move to get up. “You see that? He’ll cut you loose once you’re not convenient anymore, just like the rest of us. Don’t you go thinking you or that brat in your belly are any different from me, or my brothers, or my sisters. You ain’t. The only person Wils here has ever given a crap about is himself.”
“You go right on thinking that, Ben. Just think it outside.” Wilson helped Ben to his feet.
“I wouldn’t have to go to work if you sent some of that doctor paycheck my way. I’m just saying. Dad worked hard all his life to keep a roof over your head and the least you could do is spend a little to help us out now.” Ben stumbled on his way to the door. Wilson had to more or less hold him up.
“Crap. Tom, what do you think? Should we call him an ambulance?” Wilson knew what he wanted to do, and he knew what he should do. He couldn’t be trusted to make the right choice on his own right now.
Ben tried to push him away. “I don’t need no stupid ambulance, Wils. Like you said, I’m an old pro.” Ben didn’t have the coordination to push Wilson, or the strength right now. He wound up falling face first into Wilson’s chest and drooling.
Wilson manhandled Ben back onto the couch. “Grab a bucket from under the sink,” he told Tom. “I give it three minutes before he blows.”
Tom raced into the kitchen. Wilson turned back to Ben. He’d never wanted to deck someone so badly in his life, at least not since leaving his parents’ home. He couldn’t make himself do it, though. Ben was clammy and cool to the touch. He was drooling and incoherent. He was —
“Damn it, he peed on my couch.” He yanked Ben down onto the floor, as gently as he could, before Ben could stain the upholstery.
Tom reappeared from the kitchen. “They do that sometimes.” He blushed and looked away. “I mean, drunks.”
“I know. I’ve dealt with a few.” Wilson tried to keep his tone light as he took the bucket from Tom. It wasn’t easy. “Can you do me a favor and call 9-1-1? There’s no way I can send him out tonight and I’m not putting him in the car like this. Not mine, and not yours.” He maneuvered his brother into a crouching position, so he could puke into the bucket. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to see this.”
Right on cue, Ben heaved. Wilson stroked his hair, more out of habit than anything else.
“How long has he been like this?” Tom asked in a gentle voice. “I mean, was he already drinking when you moved away?”
Wilson huffed a little. “He was eleven when I left. If I’d caught him drinking there would’ve been hell to pay. No, he wasn’t drinking then. But I guess there wasn’t anyone around to keep him out of the booze cabinet after I went to Maryland.” He sucked in his cheeks. “So much for that job he was so excited about.”
“Fuck you,” Ben slurred, and heaved again. “I can still make it.”
Tom was already dialing for the ambulance. “What do you think he’s trying to hide from?” He broke off to speak to the dispatcher.
Wilson turned back to Ben. He’d performed this same service for both of his parents a hundred times, maybe more. Now he was doing it for Ben. He’d probably do it for Ben’s kids, if he ever got around to having them. Hopefully he wouldn’t.
But what about Wilson’s kid, already in route? There was obviously something deeply wrong with Wilson’s genes, if there were so many issues burrowing deep in the family psyche. He understood it wasn’t all down to nature, but there had to be something in the coding to keep them so screwed up. What if Wilson’s kid was just inherently inclined to reach for the bottle and throw their weight around?
The ambulance showed up and carted Ben away. Tom left not long afterward. Wilson didn’t blame him. Somehow, watching a drunk twenty-five-year-old puke his guts out in Wilson’s living room sounded like a mood killer to him too.
Tom knew he was missing something, when it came to Wilson’s family. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like missing whatever it was because he’d been around the family for twenty years and he couldn’t understand how he could have not seen it, and he didn’t like missing whatever it was because it meant Wilson was hiding something from him.
That day a couple of weeks ago, when Ben had staggered into Wilson’s house and made such a mess - that had thrown Tom for a loop, and in more ways than one. He couldn’t understand why Wilson would be so hostile toward his parents. Ben had implied some awful things, but even if they were true, they wouldn’t be anything that Wilson knew about. Would they?
And as a doctor, shouldn’t Wilson want to help Ben get out of that situation?
He couldn’t let it eat at him. He had too much to do today to worry about Lauritz family drama. Today, he had a meeting with a couple of investigators from Internal Affairs as well as a representative from the Patrolman’s Union, and Tom was going to need all of his wits about him if he wanted to make it through with his skin and his pension intact.
Not that Tom thought he had anything to worry about. No, of course he didn’t. Tom was a good guy. He didn’t hurt people, he avoided using his firearm if he could, and he’d never been accused of anything inappropriate. His palms still got a little sweaty just hearing the words Internal Affairs. He didn’t know any cops who didn’t.
His calendar chimed with an alert. It was time to go face the music.
He grabbed his things and headed into the meeting. He was probably far enough along into the pregnancy that he should go and find an obstetrician, but he didn’t want to do that just yet. He wasn’t up for it. He didn’t like going to the doctor in the first place and dealing with the whole pregnancy issue while he was dealing with whatever was going on in Lauritz-land just wasn’t his idea of a good time.
Yeah, putting it off was a bad idea. Right now, he was going to chalk it up to self-care and call it a day.
The two guys from Internal Affairs were already there. They were middle-aged guys, built like tanks, both of them. Tom had met them both under other circumstances, none of them great. Today they treated him like an old colleague. Blackwood, the taller of the two, shook his hand. Maly, the one with the shock of bright white hair, grinned and offered him a coffee.
The union guy, Acardi, looked like he’d swallowed a tack. Tom could sympathize. He wasn’t exactly feeling great about this himself. Not only was he sitting here looking at accusations of child abuse against a fellow cop, but Internal Affairs was treating him like one of the guys. The rest of the force would start treating him that way soon, too - like part of Internal Affairs, the enemy.
Tom made sure he shook Acardi’s hand and smiled. “Hi, everyone. Thanks for coming in, I’m glad we could all get together. I know we all want to do what’s right by Detective Moreno, his family, and the Denver PD.”
Acardi made a face. “Frankly, if even half of those accusations are true, Moreno can go suck rocks.”
Even Tom did a double take at that. Blackwood and Maly both spat out their coffees at the same time. “Wait, what?” Maly choked.
Acardi tilted his head to the side. “Oh, come on. Are you kidding me? Did you see the file before you came in here? One of his kids broke his arm ten times, in the same place, over the course of two years. Even I know that’s not normal and I follow a K9 unit around, okay?”
“Where’s your partner today?” Tom asked.
“Patches doesn’t go anywhere near Internal Affairs,” Acardi told them with a baleful glare. “Listen. I totally get that Moreno’s got a right to defend himself. And as his union representative, part of my job is to make sure his interests are represented. But be real, people. The way Moreno treats his kid isn’t a secret around here and he’s not the only one.” He waved his hands in disgust. “I’ve tried to talk to his supervisors, their supervisors, but nothing came of it.”
“Why did something come of it this time?” Blackwood leaned forward. “Don’t get me wrong. We don’t object to being here, although we’d rather see him in cuffs than in ‘diversionary services.’” He scoffed. “Sorry, Cattaneo, but it’s a joke.”
Tom shrugged. He figured he should probably be offended. Maybe when the program had some successes, he’d get on that. For now, he was too busy trying to make it work. “I don’t mind seeing non-violent offenders diverted, but child abuse is pretty violent.”
“Right?” Acardi tugged at his own hair. “I think something finally came of it because the doctor at the hospital where the wife got treated this time around made enough of a stink.”
“Yeah, funny thing. That doctor? It’s Lauritz’ kid.” Maly chuckled and flipped through the paperwork in front of him. “Can you believe it? He told us the kid ran off to become a gay porn star and the kid was off at Johns Hopkins, becoming a doctor. Who knew?”
Now it was Tom’s turn to choke on his coffee. “Wait, Lauritz said what about Wilson?”
Blackwood eyed Tom. “Oh, you were too young, you weren’t on the force back then. Lauritz was pissed as hell that his kid didn’t come to the Academy and join the force. The way those two used to go at it, I didn’t think the kid would make it that far. I figured he’d off the old man and wind up in jail.”
“Truth,” Maly said, nodding soberly. “I’d have testified on his behalf, though.”
Acardi scoffed. “No, you wouldn’t have. No one would have. That’s the problem. That’s the whole reason Montero’s gotten away with it for so long. It’s always been something people just kind of did. No one thought twice about cops getting rough with their kids or their wives. Everyone just said oh, the job is rough, people need to be more forgiving and more lenient. What can you expect with everything they see on the job all day? That kind of attitude still holds on these days, and if it wasn’t a guy from the Vice squad getting called out on it while the squads under the microscope none of us would be here today.”
Both of the Internal Affairs guys stayed absolutely still, and then Blackwood nodded. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I used to do it myself. I’d go and help a social worker pull a kid, but when I’d see Lauritz’ kid come in with those big bruises —”
“Or that one time with that broken leg, said he fell down stairs we all knew he didn’t have in that house.” Maly rubbed at his face. “Yeah, we cut a lot of guys a lot of slack. Because of the job. Or because the higher-ups wanted to cut them slack because of the job. It all works out to the same thing, doesn’t it?”
Tom found himself gaping. He had to manually close his own mouth. Were they implying what he thought they were? “But we’re not going to do that anymore. We are going to try to try to help the family now, and we’re going to help Montero kick this habit. So. How do you propose we proceed from here? Mrs. Montero is willing to press charges, but his rehab counselor is concerned about a court case setting his rehabilitation back.”
Blackwood scoffed. “Who gives a shit?”
Tom cleared his throat. “I’m not exactly his biggest fan, but it’s kind of my job to give a shit, now that we’re on the subject. They’re paying me for it.”
“The union is willing to cover an extended stay in rehab, but only if the department is willing to put him back on the job. We’ve been through this with the chief. He doesn’t get to come back at the same rank he was when he went in, and he’s not coming back in Vice. But he’s paid his dues, and this is what he paid for.” Acardi made a face. “I don’t like it any more than you guys do.”
“I don’t have a problem with it.” Maly shrugged. “If he’s clean, he might make better choices.”
Tom looked down at his tablet. “We’re not a hundred percent sure about when he started using, but we know he’s had a few suspensions for brutality. That means he got caught twice, so he’s done it more than that.” He shook his head. “He might make better choices, but I’m not sure doing it from behind the shield is a great idea.”
“It’s too much of a temptation for some guys. And then we have to go out there and stand by them, or else it’s chaos.” Acardi shuddered.
Blackwood nodded slowly. “I almost think it would be a better idea to let him deal with the case, and the divorce, while he’s an inpatient somewhere and he can get the help he needs coping with it.”
“You’re probably not wrong.” Acardi pulled out a sheaf of papers. “The union asked me to formally request diversion for these cases from disciplinary action. It’s up to you, but it keeps them out of the media, and some of them are hard to prove. If we wind up dealing with these cases in court, it might not go our way, and then the whole department winds up looking bad.”
The two guys from Internal Affairs took the cases and leafed through them. They sorted through them quickly. Tom watched, feeling more like a spectator than an active participant. He was too low in the pecking order to have any say in the matter, after all.
Blackwood and Maly divided the cases into two piles - one for “diversion” and one for “hell no.” Most of the “hell no” cases were pretty egregious and wouldn’t have even been considered for diversionary justice if they weren’t cops.
Other cases weren’t so cut and dried. Maly tapped his finger on the stack Tom was keeping. “Ten or fifteen years ago, we’d probably have just turned a blind eye to these cases, you know? We’d have had a hard time proving them in court. If we couldn’t prove it, we couldn’t do anything about it, and so our hands were tied.
“But since we have this program, we can make these people get the help they need. Here’s a case - oh. You already know these folks, you’re listed as having been present for part of it.”
A pit formed in the middle of Tom’s stomach. “I was?”
“Sure. It says here you were a witness when one of the players was brought into the hospital for a broken wrist. Says she refused care from the first doctor, or it was refused on her behalf, so a second doctor was brought in. The second doctor suspected abuse. No one could say for sure who did the abusing.” Acardi scanned through the summary. “You were there when the person involved kicked the first doctor out - Dr. Lauritz. I guess he’s related to the family.”
Tom covered his mouth in an attempt to collect himself. “Is this Olivia Lauritz?”
“Yeah.” Maly took the file and curled his lip. “Apparently, she was so drunk when she was brought in, she was almost flammable. It was hard to tell until they got the x-rays back if the break was because of a fall or violence, and of course even a fall could have happened because she was pushed or whatever. Well, the break was violent. So, then we had to figure out who roughed her up. Turns out, no one in that house could remember what had happened. I don’t usually buy those excuses, but in this case, it was completely plausible.”
Tom thought he might be sick. “Do you think someone might be covering for someone else?”
“No. You should have seen that house. Bottles everywhere - pill bottles, booze bottles, you name it. The place should be condemned. Anyway, the son lives there with him, along with his wife. Turns out the son has some cigarette burn scars on his arms.”
“Turns out she saves those for me,” Tom quoted. “Jesus Christ.”
“You’re still close with the family?” Blackwood raised his eyebrows. “I mean I know you and the kid are buddies and everything, partners, right?”
“Yeah. And I’m dating Wilson.” He swallowed. “I’m probably not the best person to handle this case, to be honest.”
“Well, you’re the only cop in the Diversionary Justice Program right now. So, you’ll have to do.” Acardi winked at him. “I’m sure you’ll do right by everyone involved, Cattaneo. You’re a good guy. You’ve never wanted to be anything but a good cop, and a hero. You’ll do the right thing. The Lauritz family has been pretty screwed up for a long time. Maybe this is a chance for someone - for you - to help put them back together again.”
Tom nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak right now. He took careful notes as they went through the rest of the cases Tom would be bringing to the rest of the team, and then he shook their hands and went back to his desk. The office was spinning, but what did that matter? The whole world was askew anyway.
Tom had known the Lauritzes as the quintessential American family. They were practically Mayberry. There were a lot of them, but so what? Their house was always spotless, and it wasn’t like Max complained about too many chores. Mrs. Lauritz always had a smile on her face, and she was always impeccably dressed and perfectly made up. All of the kids did well in school, even Ben, and none of them had any problems that got back to Tom.
He remembered the time Wilson broke his leg. Tom had been maybe eleven, so Wilson had been about fifteen. Max had said Wilson broke it up in the mountains. It had never occurred to Tom to question it.
What had he missed? Had he missed anything, or had things deteriorated after Wilson left? Ben seemed to think the latter was the case. It would explain the animosity after he left, if his departure had paved the way for parental abuse. Or, possibly, if the parents had turned to booze and drugs to cope with their grief over Wilson’s absence.
Olivia hadn’t seemed to be grieving when she saw Wilson again.
He picked up his phone and ran out into the parking lot. He would get some privacy there. “Max, hey, are you someplace you can talk?”
“I’m sitting in the world’s most boring speed trap, watching traffic crawl by at twenty miles per hour. I can talk all day.” Max yawned.
“Look, I know this isn’t any of my business, but it’s kind of is now. I, ah, I got a referral.” He explained to Max what he’d just heard. “What’s going on?”
Max fell silent for a moment. Then Tom heard the sirens go off. “Don’t move an inch. I’ll be here in, like, three seconds.”
Max took a little longer than three seconds, but he must have done some pretty fancy driving to get to the office as fast as he did. He hugged Tom, which was so out of character for him Tom wondered if he was possessed and sat down on the hood of Tom’s car. “Look. I know it’s all official and stuff, other people have seen it, so you can’t… you can’t bury it. But this is important. You can’t tell Wilson, okay?”
Tom frowned. “Why not? I mean he’s a witness, I’m going to have to talk to him.”
Max cringed, going so far as to protect his head. “You don’t know, okay? You don’t know, and even I don’t know all of it. Wilson made damn sure no one knew. And if you tell him, he’s going to lose his mind.”
“That’s ridiculous. Why would it be his fault?”
“Because they always told him it would be.” Max rubbed at his face. “Look. I’ll go talk to him. Just remember, if he gets kind of weird, it’s not your fault either.”
Wilson knew something was wrong when Tom walked into the house. Tom wasn’t loose, happy and relaxed. Tom’s shoulders were tight. His jaw was clenched, although he might not realize just how bad it was. He wiped his hands on his jeans over and over, even though the weather was downright cold, and he should have been freezing. Something was eating at Tom, and it was probably something Wilson had done.
He knew he shouldn’t think like that. He’d gotten plenty of counseling when he’d gotten to Johns Hopkins, because he knew it wasn’t right to think like that. Nevertheless, when he saw someone, he loved with that pinched look on his face, he knew exactly who to blame.
He got dinner on the table and made small talk, looking to see if Tom loosened up at all. He didn’t. Whatever had happened must have been really bad.
He made them both some tea - decaffeinated, of course - and brought some cookies out into the living room. The cats sniffed at both offerings, decided cats consumed neither, and retreated to their tree. “So, what’s going on with you?”
“Nothing’s going on with me.” Tom looked away. “It was just a long day. You know, job stuff.”
Wilson sat back and sipped his tea. “I’m sorry. I should never have encouraged you to take that transfer.”
Tom blinked at him. “Wait, what?”
“You hate the job. You were on the fence about taking it or doing desk work at partial pay until the baby was born.” Wilson toyed with a cookie but didn’t eat it. “I’m sorry for encouraging you to take a job you loathe.”
Tom tilted his head for a second, and then he awkwardly put his hand on Wilson’s shoulder. “That’s not it. I’m getting used to the job. It’s different, and that’s weird and everything, but it is what it is. The thing is, well, it’s kind of… um. It’s awkward, you know? I had a meeting with Internal Affairs and the Patrolman’s Union rep. Apparently, they’ve come to some kind of agreement and decided that what they’re going to do, instead of tossing out cops who screw up and drug themselves to hell and back, is dump them into the diversionary program. Which means making them my problem, since I’m the only cop in there right now.”
Wilson winced. “Isn’t like half of Vice in trouble for drugging themselves to hell and back?”
“Try eighty percent. And that’s just Vice. Why do you know that?” Tom furrowed his brow at Wilson.
“I had a colorful encounter with Max in that bar you all like so much. He broke a guy’s leg. It looked painful. Anyway, it’s not fair for the department to dump all of their disciplinary problems onto you. Can you file a grievance?” Wilson knew what the answer would be as soon as the words left his mouth, but he had to get them out there.
“I can file whatever I want, but it’s not going to go anywhere. Hopefully I can transfer back out onto patrol as soon as I come back from parental leave.” He rubbed his belly. Most people wouldn’t notice the beginnings of a baby bump, but Tom knew it was there. And because Tom knew it was there, Wilson knew it was there. “Anyway, they were apparently pretty pleased with the way we handled the Montero case and figured we could handle a couple hundred more screwed up cops.”
Wilson sighed. “Yeah, well. I guess the job will do that.”
Tom shook his head. “No. Please. Don’t blame it on the job. Montero would’ve been a piece of shit whether he worked for us or became a postal worker, an airline pilot, or a banker. You should see what he’s done to his kids, his wife.” Tom lifted his head. “Oh wait, you did see what he did to his wife. And his kids.”
Wilson scanned through his memories. “I’ve probably seen a thousand patients or more, Tom. I’d have to see a chart, I can’t remember names.”
“Well according to Internal Affairs, you’re the one who convinced her it would be worthwhile to press charges, and to file for divorce.” Tom met his eyes. “Is that ringing any bells?”
Wilson swallowed. He remembered Sheila Montero now. She’d been in rough shape when her kid drove her in - illegally, too, since the kid was too young to have a permit never mind a license. “I can’t talk about specific cases,” he said quickly. “It’s illegal. You might have to arrest me.”
“Cute.” Tom rolled his eyes, but a couple of spots of pink did show up in his cheeks. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I did. I’m a mandated reporter.” He saw the look on Tom’s face and held up a hand. “If other people didn’t, that’s not on me. I know what the law is, okay? And I really, absolutely, cannot talk about it outside of a professional setting - specifically the hospital, or your office, with someone from the hospital’s legal department standing by.” Wilson pulled that one out of his ass, but his pulse was racing now. He didn’t want to talk about this with Tom.
Tom couldn’t feel the way Wilson’s heart raced at three times its normal speed. He evidently couldn’t pick up on the way Wilson’s breathing sped up, either, because he closed his eyes and leaned back. “Yeah, okay. I get it. The thing is, now they’re dumping a bunch of drug and booze cases on me, and a lot of them seem to go hand in hand with abuse.”
Wilson licked his lips. “It’s not a secret, hon. Police have a pretty high rate of domestic violence. I think it’s officially something like twenty-four percent, and that’s probably a lowball number.” His hands trembled, so he put them on his legs to hide his weakness. “You already know all this. It was in your training manual.”
“It was.” Tom squirmed in his seat. “It was. But I didn’t think about it, you know? I didn’t think about basically turning into the Employee Assistance Program for people I knew. Seeing names, I recognized coming across my desk.” He ran a hand through his brown hair. “Um. Your family - your mom, your dad, Ben, and Ben’s wife - all got referred to me. They dropped the file on me today.”
Bile rose in Wilson’s throat. He swallowed it back. “Was it about that broken wrist Mom came in with?”
Tom stared at him. “Just like that?”
“Well, I was suspicious about it. I couldn’t treat her or even really examine her, though, so I called someone else in. I figured he’d make the call to social services.” He bit down on the inside of his cheek. “I’m sure they’re thrilled about it, by the way.”
“I’d be pissed too if I wound up getting a referral to Social Services. I mean yeah, I know Ben’s… well, he’s got his issues, frankly. And I guess anyone who married Ben, in his current state, would probably have a problem or two herself, right?” Tom turned to face Wilson head on. “But your dad - your mom. They were never like that. They never had issues like that.”
Wilson wanted to reply. His voice froze in place until a convenient misdirection could be found to take truth’s place. “I couldn’t say. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any contact with them at all. I’m really pretty far out of the loop on this one, you know? You should probably talk to Max or one of the others about this. I’m willing to listen, and to be a sounding board, but I can’t give you information I don’t have.”
Tom nodded slowly. “Max seemed to think I shouldn’t say anything to you.”
Wilson inhaled sharply. What the hell would Max say something like that to Tom for? “That’s interesting. He probably just didn’t want me getting involved. You know, since I’m disowned and all, it’s really none of my business.” Maybe that would be enough to get Tom off this topic and onto something better. Wilson was getting lightheaded by now. He didn’t want to embarrass himself by making Tom call an ambulance for him.
“I don’t think that was it. He seemed to think it would upset you, the whole idea of your family being involved with an investigation like this.”
“We’re out of each other’s lives, by mutual choice, and it’s best that way.” Wilson spoke before Tom had even closed his mouth. It was too soon to be casual, and he knew it. “Listen, is this really something we need to go on about?”
Tom frowned. It wasn’t a hostile frown, but the furrows in his brow made it clear that Tom was concerned. “Wilson, look, it’s just - I want to help, okay? I mean it’s my job to help, but we’re also starting a family here. I want to do everything that’s in my power to give our baby, and our family a good start in life. That means dealing with our problems head-on, don’t you think?”
Wilson saw an opening. “Here’s the thing, though.” He leaned in and kissed Tom, slow and deep the way Tom liked it. Tom found himself helpless in the face of his own pleasure. He grabbed on, weaving his fingers into Wilson’s hair. “This thing, with my parents and my brother? It’s not our problem. It’s a job, something you get paid to deal with from nine to five. Any more time they spend living in your head is like any time someone else spends living in your head, right? They’d better be paying rent.” Wilson pitched his voice low, almost a whisper.
Tom bit his lip. “I know, but this isn’t just anyone. This is your family.”
Wilson pushed back at the anger rearing up at the back of his mind. If he let it out, he’d wind up having to get into what had really happened with Tom, and he was trying his best to avoid that. Besides, he’d arranged his life in such a way that anything his parents had done was strictly in the past. Arguing with Tom about it would give his parents more power over him than he cared to offer them.
And Tom didn’t want to spend his time arguing about Anselm and Olivia. At least, most of him didn’t want to spend time arguing about Anselm and Olivia. Wilson could see his eyes darkening, feel his body getting warmer. Tom could be distracted.
“No, Tom.” He made himself smile and trace a line down Tom’s cheek. “You’re my family. The baby is my family. Anselm and Olivia aren’t part of this.” He forced himself to chuckle. “That would be creepy right about now, wouldn’t it?”
Tom blushed and ducked his head, and Wilson knew he had him. He took Tom’s hand and brought him back to the bedroom. Tom all but ran behind him, eager to come along and experience whatever pleasures Wilson could offer.
There was just one problem. Talking about his parents, and about the past, had killed any hint of libido Wilson might have had for tonight. Wilson had a plan, though. He was going to make Tom so deliriously happy he forgot all about questions, all about Wilson’s parents, and all about his job. Tonight, the only thing on Tom’s mind would be how hard Wilson could make him come.
He carefully stripped Tom of his clothes. He acted like he was unwrapping a present, and in a way he was. He wasn’t just trying to distract Tom. He loved him. He wanted to make him feel good, and he loved to look at him and to feel his skin against his own. He kissed his collarbone and traced his tongue down his sternum. There, under those ribs, he could feel Tom’s heart, beating just a little bit faster with lust and anticipation.
“Beautiful,” he murmured, looking up into Tom’s eyes.
It was easier for him to see the baby bump like this, Soon enough everyone would be able to see it. Wilson could stand there next to Tom and be proud. That’s my baby. This man loves me enough to let me be the father of his child. They hadn’t exactly gone about it the usual way, but that wouldn’t exactly be an impediment to pride. Right now, only people who knew him well would notice the slight rise in his abdomen.
Wilson kissed it. The baby inside wasn’t developed enough to feel it, or anything else, right now. The kiss was for Tom, so Tom would know how loved he was. Plenty of guys got insecure as their pregnancies progressed. Wilson wanted Tom to understand he had his support, every step of the way. Tom would always be beautiful to Wilson.
Wilson sat down on the bed, and Tom got down on his knees between Tom’s spread legs. He took Tom’s hot, heavy cock into his hand and gave it a few gentle, experimental jerks. Then, keeping eye contact with Tom the entire time, he licked a stripe up the underside and took Tom into his mouth.
Tom let out a groan as Wilson swallowed him down. Wilson had to take a second to adjust, but only a second or two. Then he could set up an earnest rhythm. He let himself get into it, too. Maybe he’d started this little blow job session as a way to distract Tom, but he didn’t mind a little distraction of his own. He lapped up every sigh and gasp that came from Tom, savored every time Tom bucked his hips with pleasure.
He loved making Tom feel this good. He loved making Tom throw his head back and cry out. He loved the way Tom grabbed on for dear life, like Wilson was the only thing keeping him from floating away. And when Tom’s orgasm exploded out of him, flooding Wilson with tangible proof of his pleasure, Wilson loved that too. He loved that he’d been the one to make Tom lose it like that.
He kept working Tom until he was completely soft. Only then did he rise to his feet and tuck Tom into the bed, bringing the comforter up to his chest.
“Hey,” Tom said, as Wilson changed into pajama bottoms in a dark corner. “Don’t I get to take care of you?”
Wilson smiled at him. Right now, Tom’s limbs were basically Jell-O. “I’m good,” he said. It wasn’t exactly a lie. “I got all I needed from you.”
Tom’s whole face softened. “Seriously?”
“Absolutely.” Wilson crawled into bed beside Tom. He wrapped his arm around his lover and pulled him close. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Tom was already half asleep. He wouldn’t remember what he’d said. Chances where he wouldn’t remember what Wilson had said either. That was okay. Wilson didn’t need him to remember. And he knew Tom didn’t mean it.
It was a nice fantasy, or at least it had been. Once Tom started asking questions about the bad old days, and everything that had gone on before Wilson left for college, Wilson had known what the end result would be.
He hadn’t been willing to accept it or admit it. And as he lay in the dark beside the man he loved, he had to admit he still wasn’t.
Tom couldn’t bring himself to believe the problems in the Lauritz family went back as far as they did. Wilson got that. No one had believed it when it was happening. Why would they believe it now? And Tom especially, who’d built Anselm up into such a heroic figure from such a young age - he’d never be willing to see the truth. The most he’d ever be willing to do would be what every other cop who’d figured anything out had done - told Wilson he’d done something to provoke it.
Would there be much harm in pretending, though? For a little while longer, at least?
Tom glanced at his calendar and rubbed at his baby bump, now visible if not prominent. He needed to get around to making a doctor’s appointment. He needed to get around to buying some new pants, too, but he wasn’t ready. Part of the reason he wasn’t ready yet was right there on his calendar for the day. Sandy Lauritz, twelve o’clock.
He sighed and grabbed for his cup of half-caf coffee. He was being ridiculous. He should just go and make the appointment already. He should bring Wilson. It would be a beautiful moment, a bonding moment. At least that was what the pregnancy websites kept telling him. Of course, the pregnancy websites were mostly geared toward married women and not toward unmarried men, but it wasn’t like he was keeping score or anything. He should be able to sort through the valuable scientific information and keep it separate from the flowery, goofy stuff.
It would all be so much easier if Wilson would just talk about whatever he was hiding. Max wasn’t exactly helping matters at all. He was keeping everything locked up tighter than a drum, for reasons Tom could only guess at. And it wouldn’t be any of Tom’s business at all, if he hadn’t gone and gotten pregnant and had to take a job that dealt with soft things like feelings instead of real things like saving lives.
He looked over at the clock. Eleven fifty-five. He might as well go into the conference room and get ready.
He made his way into the room he’d reserved, along with Amit and Zita from Probation. Because of course a cop’s daughter in law was out on probation. It made perfect sense.
They made small talk for the next five minutes, and then for twenty minutes after that. According to Zita, who had the dubious pleasure of being Sandy’s probation officer, Sandy wasn’t capable of showing up on time to anything. “She made it on time to her wedding,” Tom recalled. “It was a while ago, but I do remember her making it when she needed to be there.”
Zita rolled her big brown eyes. “That’s because her bridesmaids told her the wedding had been moved up by three hours. It hadn’t. It was just the only way they could get her there.”
“Lovely.” Tom closed his eyes and slumped in his seat.
Sandy strolled in at twelve twenty, without any explanation, chewing on a wad of gum half the size of Tom’s fist. Tom marveled that she could fit it into her mouth. “So, what, Olivia breaks her arm and we’re all stuck in this program now?” She blew a massive pink bubble. “Give me a break.”
“The problem, Sandy, is that there are signs of abuse to both Olivia and Ben. And you’ve shown up with a shiner or two, when you’ve bothered to show up to your probation meetings. So maybe you could stow the attitude and participate in what’s probably your last chance to get your life together, huh?” Zita gave her a pissy look and glanced over her file. “So. I don’t suppose you feel like submitting to a random drug test?”
“Not really.” Sandy yawned. “So, what is it you really want to know here? I already told the cops when they showed up about Olivia’s stupid wrist, no one was paying attention. She was drunk as hell. Everyone was drunk as hell. So, what? We drink. It’s a thing.”
“Are you drunk right now?” Tom leaned forward and sniffed. “You are, aren’t you? Cheap vodka.” He shook his head. “Well, you and Ben have that in common, at least.”
She curled her lip at him. “What are you, McGruff the Crime Dog? I’m over twenty-one. I can drink if I want to.” The anger melted from her face. “Hey, wait a minute. You’re that friend of Max’s, the one Ben’s stupid brother knocked up, aren’t you?”
Amit and Zita turned to look at him. “Oh?”
Tom looked up at the ceiling. “Yeah, Sandy. I was at your wedding. Remember that?”
She waved a hand. “It was all kind of a blur. Anyway, that makes us family, kind of. How’s the pregnancy going? Do you know if you’re having a boy or a girl yet? Are you going to let Wils see the baby? I wouldn’t if I were you.”
Amit frowned and leaned forward. “What, exactly, does this have to do with creating a safe environment in the home you currently live in?” She wrinkled her nose. “Or day drinking, which violates your probation?”
“Nothin’. But I mean we’re family. He should know these things. He probably doesn’t, though.” Sandy burped. “You think our house has gone downhill, but I mean it’s all Wils’ fault. You get that, right?”
Zita banged her hand on the table, trying to get Zita’s attention. “No, Sandy. It’s not this older brother’s fault that the house is a disaster now. The place is on the verge of being condemned, and you know the insurance won’t pay out if it gets condemned because none of you would do the maintenance on it, right? Stop trying to play the victim here. It doesn’t matter what this guy did or didn’t do more than ten years ago. What matters are the choices you make now, today. Try again.”
“It is his fault, though.” Sandy turned to face Tom with a look of smug superiority. “Tom. Back me up here. You remember what it was like when we were kids, right?”
“You’re a few years behind me, but yeah.” Tom scratched at his stubble. He’d forgotten to shave again today. He kept forgetting, when he slept at home. “That’s what bugs me about the place now. That place was spotless. Nothing was out of place. It wasn’t a big house, but it was a showpiece.”
“Right? And it’s like, he knew what his leaving would do to his parents. He knew they couldn’t take care of the kids, and the house, and everything else, without him. He left anyway. You still trying to tell me none of this is his fault?” Sandy tossed her head, swinging her topknot ponytail around. “Please, give me a break. If you’re smart, you won’t depend on him for anything. All he does is abandon his family. He doesn’t give a crap - not about his parents, not about his brothers, not about his sisters, and not about you.”
Zita slammed her hand on the table. “Sandy! Wilson Lauritz had no responsibility for you. He didn’t hold you down and force you to become an alcoholic. He didn’t drag you into Misha’s Jewelry and force you to pocket a five-thousand-dollar diamond ring. He didn’t force you to miscarry during an overdose, and he didn’t force you to overdose either. All of those things were your choices, alone. Stop blaming other people for your problems.”
Tom couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t let the others see he couldn’t breathe, but the room just didn’t have enough air in it. Wilson had always said his parents kicked him out when he wouldn’t go to the Academy. Could Sandy be telling the truth? She didn’t seem to be sober enough to lie.
“It is his fault, though. Like, I don’t know the guy. I didn’t even know he was a doctor until Ben told me a couple of months ago. But it doesn’t matter why he walked off, does it.” Sandy crossed her arms over her chest. “I never saw Anselm drunk until after Wilson left, and I’ve known the family since first grade. I never saw Olivia more than a little buzzed until Wilson ran away. He had a responsibility, damn it. When he left, everything fell apart. And he knew exactly what would happen.”
Amit peled. Zita was unimpressed. “You can sit there and blame him for your problems all day long, but until you sit down and change yourself, nothing is going to get better for you. Those cigarette burns on your arms. Who put them there?”
Tom recoiled. “Wait, what?”
Zita glowered at him. “Excuse me, I’m working here. Sandy, who put those burns on your arms?”
“I don’t know. I was drunk. It might’ve been me, or Olivia. Could’ve been Ben, who knows?” She slid down in her seat, pouting.
“Right. That wasn’t Wilson. He wasn’t even there when it happened. Take responsibility for your own life and stop using this guy who isn’t even here to defend himself as a scapegoat. You want to talk about him walking away from his responsibilities? You’re ignoring yours. Take a shower. Stop the drinking. Go to rehab. Get a job. Get out of that house, because it is doing nothing for you at all. And maybe, just maybe, your life will start to look a little bit better.”
“I can’t leave.” Sandy scoffed at Zita. “Who would take care of Ben? It’s not like anyone else is going to do it. And what about Olivia, huh? The last time I wound up in jail Olivia forgot to eat for days. It wasn’t until Max stopped in for a visit that anyone bothered to feed her —”
“Olivia can be responsible for herself, just like you.” Amit set her jaw. “She’s got a meeting too. And it’s none of your business, just like we’re not going to talk to her about any of what goes on in here. You’re all adults. You’re all responsible for yourselves. The issue is, at this point you need to step up and act like adults. You’ve created this boogeyman out of the Lauritz’ oldest son, and it’s too convenient for you. You need to let go of that idea. Now. I’m going to give you a list of action items for you to do this week. And I’m going to check in with you to make sure you do them.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” Sandy seethed.
“Actually, we are.” Tom found his voice again. “I’m not here to say what happened or didn’t happen with Wilson and his parents. Not my circus, not my monkeys and all that. When you signed onto the diversion plan, you agreed to close supervision by this program and its administrators. I know it’s going to be a challenge, Sandy, but this should help all of you to get better - as a family.”
“The Lauritzes stopped being a family when Wilson walked away.” Sandy sniffed and turned away.
“That’s as may be, but here are your action items for the week.” Zita passed Sandy a piece of paper. “I’m going to check on you tomorrow, and I’d better see you showered and every single dish in that kitchen washed. No, I don’t care who dirtied it. Are we clear?”
“Ugh!” Sandy stomped her feet and pouted, but she stopped resisting. Zita left with her to go perform the drug test Sandy had declined, but had no real say about, and that was all there was to it.
Amit looked over at Tom with concern. “Are you going to be okay? I’m sure some of that stuff was hard to hear.”
“Oh, it was hard to hear all right. It was… I’m not sure what to think. Wilson’s a good guy, a steady guy, right? He was in the Army. He’s a doctor, he treats his patients and everything. She has to be making stuff up.” Tom massaged his own temples.
“I don’t know. Wilson’s the one you should be talking to about this.” She sighed and put a hand on his shoulder. “I do know that in some families with a history of troubles, substance abuse or other kinds of abuse, sometimes older children will step in to fill in the role of the parent. It’s not ideal, or good, but it is what it is. It’s common - especially if they’re worried about something, like the family being broken up.”
“He hasn’t said anything about any of that.” Tom licked his lips. He shouldn’t be talking about this with Amit. He barely knew her. He didn’t have anyone else to talk about this with, though. His father was still in India, this time in South India for the winter, and his mother just wouldn’t understand.
“He hasn’t said anything, but he always tries to avoid the subject. He’ll do anything to avoid talking about it. And I do mean anything.” Tom pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh my God, I’m an idiot.” His cheeks burned as he remembered the night Wilson had blown his mind. He’d even admitted he was trying to distract Tom, and Tom had still let it happen. “I can’t believe it.”
Amit pulled back a little. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Nothing, he just - I shouldn’t be mad he’s keeping this stuff a secret. I shouldn’t be, but I am. He knows I’ve got this case, he knows I’m trying to help make things better, and he’s sitting around stonewalling me. Why would he do that?”
Amit gave him a little mile. “It’s probably habit. Remember, I don’t know him. In a lot of cases, the fear of someone finding out what’s really going on is palpable. And then there’s the shame factor, especially if people have been letting him know they feel the way Sandy does about his departure.”
“I’m not sure. I know Ben feels that way. I don’t know what the truth is. If his parents really did depend on him that much, was it right for him to think so much about himself?” He rubbed at his face. “It wasn’t right for his parents to stick him with so much of the responsibility, but at the same time, if it was his responsibility, maybe we do have to look at whether or not he caused some of what’s going on.”
Amit wrinkled her nose. “Sometimes I forget you’re a cop. He is not responsible for the choices the rest of his family makes. If he won’t talk to you about it, talk to his other brother. See what he has to say. I know it’s hard - “
“Hard? I’m having a baby with this guy. How do I know he’s not going to get frustrated and walk away from us, too?” He wrapped his arms around his baby bump.
Amit’s look grew cool. “I don’t know, maybe don’t drink yourself into liver failure? I’ve seen the files. Everyone living in that house has a very long history of substance abuse, and of problems stemming from substance abuse. Maybe the only thing he did wrong was keep his parents from suffering the consequences of their actions. Or maybe he really is that unfeeling and callow, I don’t know. I don’t really know the guy. I haven’t met him, I’ve only seen him mentioned.”
Tom took a deep breath. Amit sounded like she didn’t think he was being fair to Wilson, and maybe he wasn’t. “I’ve known that family for twenty years. They were always in great shape. They were never like this. You can’t tell me Wilson was pulling the wool over our eyes the entire time.”
Amit got up to leave. “Believe what you want. Maybe we should bring Wilson in, just to get his side of the story. It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind.” She left the room.
Tom hung his head. Had he made up his mind? He didn’t want to think he had. At the same time, innocent people didn’t go out of their way to hide things from the cops. Wilson wasn’t the shirker Ben and Sandy insisted he was, but he definitely played some role in the family’s demise.
Wilson remembered what it had felt like to walk through life holding his breath all the time. He’d spent most of the first eighteen years of his life watching every word, every movement, and paying close attention to each and every scent in the house to figure out which way the wind was blowing. Sometimes it helped, at least on a temporary basis. In the long term, though, it hadn’t done him a bit of good.
He’d sworn when he left Denver, all of eighteen years old with a scholarship and ten bucks in his pocket, that he wouldn’t go back to living that way. Evidently a leopard couldn’t change its spots, because here he was, watching every move, every sigh, every twitch from Tom, watching for the inevitable.
In a way, it was even worse. When Wilson had been a kid, he’d been able to blame things on booze, or drugs, or the job. It wasn’t his dad’s fault. The job was hard, and he saw things he couldn’t unsee. So, he drank a little too much, and then he unleashed at home in ways he couldn’t at work. It was the job, and all the bad guys out there in the scary wide world.
Maybe it was Wilson’s fault, and if he could just keep the house in better shape, help Mom to hold it together a little bit better, keep the younger kids together a little bit more, Dad wouldn’t want to let loose the way he did.
With Tom, the situation was different. Tom wasn’t hurting Wilson, not physically. He was shredding Wilson’s mind and soul, but he probably didn’t even mean to do that. He wasn’t doing it because of drugs, or because of booze, or because he couldn’t lash out at work and he was bringing his frustrations home.
The one thing Tom and Anselm had in common, when it came to their effect on Wilson? It was the job.
Tom had come over tonight to try to spend a little quiet, bonding time together. At least, he called it bonding time. Wilson hadn’t ever heard him use the term “bonding” without it being derisive before, so he had to suspect something was wrong. Still, he got the house ready and tried to carry on like nothing was wrong. If he could just show a nice and clean house and present a calm and serene front to his partner, maybe he could stave off the inevitable a little while longer.
Christ, this was untenable.
Tom didn’t seem to be in the mood do much eating. He hadn’t been in the mental space to do much talking, either. He’d spent a lot of time giving Wilson measuring, speculative looks, with his eyes narrowed. Everything in Wilson rebelled. Sometimes Anselm used to look at him like that, and it never ended well.
You’re getting too big for your britches, boy. Looks like someone needs to be taken down a peg.
Tom wasn’t like that, though. Tom was a good guy. He was sweet. He was thoughtful. All he wanted to do in life was help people.
“So.” Tom pushed his food away, united. “You already know your parents, your brother, and your sister in law were referred to my unit. As a diversionary thing.” He tugged at his collar and looked down at the table.
“I remember.” Wilson swallowed. “We talked about that. It’s got nothing to do with us, or with me. I haven’t seen them, except for when Ben dropped in, in over a decade.”
“Well, here’s the thing. You might not think it’s anything to do with you, but they’re all saying something else.” Tom pressed his lips together, like he was trying to hold something back. “And it’s like… you know, on the one hand, you don’t want to give them a whole lot of credence, because they’re kind of sad cases. They’re a mess. Your sister in law —”
“Don’t call her that.” Wilson spat the words out before he could stop himself. “They’re nothing to me, okay? I walked away. And I walked away for a damn good reason. I don’t owe them shit. You want me to look at her as my sister in law, but was I invited to the wedding? Was I informed of the wedding? No. The last time I saw Sandy Hickock she was all of ten years old and reported Ben to me for having cooties. I am not responsible for whatever state she’s in now.”
Tom raised his head slowly. “Are you sure about that? All four of them are saying you had responsibilities back here, and you walked away from them. Don’t you think that was a little selfish of you?”
Wilson stood up. He wasn’t going to be able to distract Tom with sex. He didn’t even want to. “Selfish, huh? Which part was selfish? Tell me, exactly which part of what I did was selfish, hm? Was it the part where I sat there for years and took care of each and every kid my mom popped out? Yeah, I changed Max’s diapers. I was barely toilet trained myself, but Mom couldn’t be expected to do it. I did Ben’s too, and Chris’s, and Nadine’s, and Lizzie’s. I kept the house clean. I kept the house up, too. I did the yard work. I did the maintenance. It ain’t like Anselm was about to get up off his ass and do it. Oh, I work hard all week-long putting food on this table, boy. You get up there and fix that window. You go up on that roof and fix it. Of course, he had an opinion about how I did it too, and if he didn’t like it, or couldn’t see straight enough to tell if he liked it or not, you think he was just going to sit back and say, well, you could have done a better job? You’re high.”
Tom paled, but he didn’t back down. “Look. I’m not saying what he did was right, but that doesn’t mean it was right to just walk away and abandon the rest of them.”
“Oh, so I should have stuck around and been my dad’s punching bag for the rest of my life because somehow it was my responsibility? I knew I shouldn’t have gotten involved —”
“Wilson, that’s not what I’m saying.” Tom stood up now. “I’m just saying, it’s not like they could have suddenly stepped up and taken care of everything themselves once you left. I know it probably felt like you were doing everything —”
“That’s because I was. Ask Max. He’s the only one who was old enough to know even half of what was going on. He had to help me put Olivia to bed a few times.” Wilson shook his head. “I shouldn’t have to tell you to go get verification, but we all know about the blue wall, right?”
Tom frowned. “Wilson, that’s not fair. I’m trying to get to the bottom of what happened, which is what I’m actually being paid to do. On a job I took for your sake, by the way, so you can take that attitude of yours and shove it up your —” He stopped himself by covering his mouth with his hand. “I’m sorry. I should be more professional than that.”
“Or, you know, not bring the job into our relationship.” Wilson walked over to the fireplace and leaned his forehead against the mantle.
“I’d love to, but some brain trust decided there should only be one cop in the diversionary program. It’s got to be me.” Tom walked up behind him. “And honestly, I’m starting to get worried. You want to tell me you didn’t know how much the family depended on you?”
Wilson spun on his heel. “Excuse me? Anselm and Olivia made their own choices. They’re the ones who decided to get drunk. They’re the ones who decided abusing painkillers was the way to go. And they’re the ones who decided to —” He saw the look on Tom’s face. “It doesn’t matter what I say, does it? You’ve already formed an opinion. It doesn’t matter what they did. It doesn’t matter that by the time I was ten I was going to school full time, keeping up a straight A average, and running a household with five other kids, one incompetent parent, and one psychotic parent.”
Tom clenched his jaw. “Your dad’s not psychotic. He’s got his issues, but a lot of guys on the force drink more than they probably should.”
“Do they break their kid’s leg for kissing a guy?” Wilson shot back.
The guilt was like a physical thing. None of the other kids were still minors, no one could get taken away or anything, and if they could it would probably be the best thing for them. Wilson knew all of those things, but some old habits die hard.
Not that it mattered. Tom pulled his head back, eyes mere slits in his face. “You said you fell during a hike.”
“When the hell was, I supposed to find time for a hike, Tom?” Wilson threw his hands into the air. “Anselm caught me kissing a guy behind the bleachers after school let out for the year. He was on the job, and it was late, and we shouldn’t have been on school property. When he got home that night, he actually broke my leg, so I couldn’t get out to go make out with ‘that dirtbag’ anymore.”
“It’s kind of convenient to say that now.” Tom blinked. “I’m not saying I don’t believe you. I’m just saying you certainly lied about it then, so what’s to stop you from lying about it now? You don’t want me to see you as selfish for leaving -”
“Right now, Tom I don’t give a shit if you think I’m selfish for leaving.” Wilson stood up straight. “Am I sad about the way Ben turned out? Sure. Am I sad the rest of my siblings cut me out? Yup. Does that make it my fault my parents refused to get their shit together and be there for their own children, when their eighteen-year-old kid did something perfectly normal and stopped enabling their god damned addictions and abuse? No. Hell no, not even close, and God damn you for implying it.” Wilson’s chest heaved with the effort of getting all that out in one breath.
“I think you’re a little upset.” Tom tried to put a hand on Wilson’s arm.
Wilson dodged. “Yeah. I am. Maybe the only thing I’m actually guilty of is shielding the rest of them for eighteen years, so they weren’t prepared when I wasn’t there, and he turned his hate around on them. Is that enough ‘taking responsibility’ for you? You know, sometimes he’d get lit and forget where he was. He’d think I was a suspect. He’d rough me up and leave me in cuffs in the car until morning, when he’d slept it off. Does that make you feel any better about me leaving or am I responsible for that too?”
Tom gasped. “Jesus, Wilson, I didn’t say that.”
“You did. You said it wasn’t right for me to just walk away. What did you think I was just walking away for, just because I didn’t want to go to the Academy? I just wasn’t okay with letting him do that anymore. And I don’t… I don’t care how you feel about that, Tom. No one is obligated to let someone treat them that way. That’s what I told Sheila Montero, and that’s what I’m telling you.”
Tom took a deep breath. He put one hand on his barely-there baby bump, the tangible evidence that Wilson had at least tried to be part of a family. “Okay. Again, I’m not passing judgment. Wouldn’t you have told someone before you were eighteen if it was really that bad? I mean you got the leg set and cast up, right? Why wouldn’t you have said something to the doctor?”
“Right. With the old man standing right there breathing down my neck.” Wilson scoffed. It was just like being fifteen again, or ten, or seventeen. “As it happens, I did tell people, I told people a few times. You can have your fun and, since you don’t believe me, do whatever poking around you need to do. I don’t know if anyone ever made a record of it. Maybe the school did, I don’t know. I do remember getting punched until I puked the one time anyone called him to talk about it though. Jesus Christ, did they give you no training about this kind of crap or was it just throw the baby in the water and see if he can swim?”
Tom bit his lip. “If you’d told someone, they’d have helped.”
“No, Tom. They really wouldn’t. I’m telling you now and you don’t care, why do you think anyone back in the day when I was around to keep the old man at least halfway presentable would take the word of a young kid over a respected officer of the law? Especially not cops. You all stick together, just like you’re doing now.”
Tom stepped forward again. “That’s not what I’m doing right now, Wilson. I’m trying to heal a family. I’m trying to make things better. I’m looking at four people who were so blackout drunk they can’t even say why one of them broke her wrist, who’s responsible, and it happens so often they don’t know what day it happened. Yeah, they should probably go to jail and stuff, but that’s not going to fix anything. I have to fix it and the one thing everyone can agree on is that none of this was happening before you left.”
“That’s because none of them gave a crap when it wasn’t happening to them.” Wilson curled his lip. “When it was me, it was, Oh, Wils, you have to stop provoking them. Keep the house cleaner, where’s my lunch, why are we having fried rice again? When it was them, suddenly, Oh my God, how could Wilson just leave us, everything just fell apart and it’s his fault, Mom and Dad just couldn’t live without him. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, I’m still the bad guy. If I’m going to be the bad guy, I’m going to do it without broken bones, thank you very much.”
Tom considered his words. Then he looked down. “Listen. I’d like for you to come to a family meeting, at my office. We’ll schedule it during your off week. Just - I don’t think we can fix anything without your allegations being heard, you know? You’re angry, they’re angry.
“And I’m bringing a baby into the middle of this mess. These are the kid’s uncles, aunts, grandparents. Just speaking as myself now, and not as the guy trying to keep your relatives out of jail, I’m kind of worried about bringing a kid into a family where drunken relatives show up on the doorstep shouting things and where each side is accusing the other of some pretty awful things. Can you understand that?”
Wilson counted to five. “I understand. I understood it was probably futile to expect this to last.”
Tom grabbed at his hand. “Don’t give up, Wilson. Don’t give up on us. Just… trust me. Come and meet with everyone next week. We’ll all sit down together and work on clearing the air, getting a lot of these issues out into the open. Things will get better. You’ll see.”
“Fine.” Wilson took his hand back. “It’s your funeral.”
Tom had to wait a week before he could get the meeting set up. He had to find a day when they had a conference room free, and when Wilson wasn’t working, and when the rest of the family was available, and when Anselm Lauritz was willing to come in. Tom had expected Anselm to be the most willing of anyone to come in. As a police officer, Anselm should have known exactly what was at stake for all of them.
Anselm proved to be the most difficult to pin down. He flat out refused to meet at first. Then he changed the meeting date three times, citing “court appearances.” The first and second times, Tom believed him. After the third, Tom spoke with the program director, who spoke with Internal Affairs, who happily brought all of their weight to bear on Anselm Lauritz.
It was like they’d been waiting to do that for a long time. Funny, that.
The end result was that Anselm wound up taking a half day of personal time and agreeing to meet up on Wednesday. Tom booked the biggest conference room in the building, requested extra chairs, and prepared for a productive meeting.
Wilson was the first one to show up. Tom had never seen him so tense. He walked up to his partner and tried to kiss his cheek, which might soothe at least a little bit of the tension away. Tom wasn’t sure what he believed in terms of Wilson’s tales of abuse, but he believed Wilson believed it. The men from Internal Affairs had hinted at some of it, too. Tom knew Wilson didn’t want to be here.
Wilson stepped away from Tom. “Is everything okay?” Tom asked him.
“Everything is not okay.” Wilson met his eyes, cold and quietly furious. “But we can talk about it later. This isn’t the place.”
Tom sighed. He’d have thought Wilson would be a little bit more on board, but he’d go along with things once he heard everyone else out. Once he knew how much people had missed him, how much they’d needed him, he’d understand why this meeting and reunion were necessary.
Max came next. He looked about as comfortable as Wilson, but he at least hugged Tom. “This might be the worst idea you’ve ever had,” he murmured into Tom’s ear. Then he went to sit beside Wilson, possibly in an attempt to keep the peace.
Other Lauritzes filled in as the minutes ticked by. Zita, the probation officer, dragged Sandy and Ben in on time. Chris, the last brother, shuffled in fresh from his patrol. He curled his lip and turned his back on Wilson. Tom started to feel uneasy. Maybe this wouldn’t go as easily as he’d hoped.
Nadine and Lizzie were the last to arrive. They showed up arm in arm, long hair windblown and eyes sparkling. Any happiness that might have appeared on their faces evaporated when they saw Wilson. “Oh my God. What is that maggot doing in Denver? I thought he was in Silicon Valley making bad porno movies.” Nadine scoffed.
Max rolled his eyes. “I told you a thousand times, all of you, he’s a goddamn doctor. He’s been in the Army for years and now he’s here. Did you just erase that brain cell?”
Tom cleared his throat. “I’m not sure hostility is the way to go here Max.”
Amit shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe papering over things won’t be helpful either.”
Emilie winced, but didn’t gainsay her colleague. “We don’t want to censor anyone, but we don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable either. Remember, everyone’s experience is valid.”
The door slammed open then, and Anselm Lauritz walked in. He had his arm around his wife’s waist, supporting her as she swayed a little bit. Olivia looked terrible, just as bad as she had in the exam room when Tom had seen her last. Tom suspected she was high as a kite.
“Good afternoon, everyone.” Anselm smiled at the room and moved to take the last two seats, not far from Max and Wilson. “Sorry we’re late. We hit a bit of traffic. I hope no one minds.”
It all sounded perfectly reasonable until Tom saw Wilson’s reaction. His face had drained of all color as soon as Anselm walked into the room, and he stared straight ahead of him. He was terrified. Tom had seen that reaction more than once, usually from hostages.
But this was Anselm. This was the guy who’d gotten Tom into the police academy. He wasn’t anyone to be afraid of.
Tom took a deep breath. He realized, with sorrow, he could pick up the scent of cheap vodka from his hero.
“So, thank you all for joining us today. We’re all here because - well, it’s not a secret. When your mom wound up with a broken wrist, it was hard to figure out exactly what happened. That, and her condition at the time, raised some red flags. That in turn raised some other red flags, which would ordinarily trigger an abuse investigation. Given your father’s position, the powers that be decided it would be best to handle this through a diversionary program rather than through the courts.” Amit glanced over at Tom.
His palms ran with sweat as the eyes of every Lauritz swiveled to focus on him. He felt like a bug. “Right. Well, we’re looking at trying to help the nuclear family - Anselm, Olivia, Ben, and Sandy - address some of their core issues, substance abuse in particular.” He cleared his throat. When the younger kids nodded, he relaxed a little. They were all in agreement about the drinking and substance abuse.
Anselm turned to face Tom. “Come on, Tommy. Let’s be real. There’s a little bit of drinking that goes on in the house, sure, but you know it’s never wild or crazy. You’ve been in our house a thousand times. It’s always been just fine. I’m a responsible cop, I uphold law and order, and I expect my family to do the same. For the most part, they’ve always made me proud. There’s one notable exception, of course, but we cut that one loose what, fourteen years ago? Fifteen?”
Chris nodded, supporting his father. “Yeah. If Dickhead there wants to go off and make pornos, that’s his own business. Should have sued to make him change his name.”
Sandy chuckled, joined by her sisters in law.
Tom looked down. How was he supposed to fight on Wilson’s behalf? He cleared his throat. “Can you name any of the titles in which Wilson was supposedly an actor?”
“Excuse me?” Lizzie pulled her head back. She clearly wasn’t used to being challenged.
Amit took up the fight. “These pornographic films. Name them. Now I’ve seen Dr. Lauritz’ medical license, I’ve seen his decorations for valor during his overseas deployments, but if you can prove he was in pornographic films I’m curious to know which ones. Not that it would change anything. We’re not here to shame people about lawful, gainful employment.” She folded her hands on her folder and gave a sweet smile.
“I just told you he was in porn.” Anselm frowned at her. Someone who didn’t know him would see it as mild disapproval. “My word is good enough, sister.”
“I’m not your sister, Sergeant Lauritz. You’re here because of multiple allegations of police brutality, inebriation while on the job, past allegations of child abuse, and now this current allegation of abuse involving your wife.” Amit raised her eyebrow. “If you’re going to accuse someone of something, you need to be able to back it up. I believe they taught you this at the Academy?”
Max’s eyes bulged. Everyone looked away, except for Wilson. Wilson swallowed hard, but he kept his head high. Tom’s vision swam for a second. He’d been so wrong.
“Right.” Zita shuffled some papers. “So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ve asked you all to come in here today for a specific reason. We’ve had occasion to speak with all of you about the issues in your family home. All of you have identified one reason for the trouble.”
“Duh. It’s Wils. He took off and everything went to shit.” Chris scoffed at her. “It’s not rocket science. Mom and Dad stopped taking care of things, Dad started hitting the bottle more, Mom took so many pills she couldn’t function —”
“Your mother takes medicine prescribed by her doctor for pain.” Anselm pointed at Chris. “Don’t you ever accuse her of being an addict again. Badge or not I will pop you in your mouth, you hear me?”
Tom gasped. He covered it quickly. “Okay, there’s no need for threats. We know Olivia has a problem, Anselm. We’re not trying to shame her for it.”
“Fucking should be,” muttered Nadine with a sniff. “Should be shaming all of them. It’s not like they’re going to get over it without a little good old-fashioned shame. But they wouldn’t have gotten so bad if Wils hadn’t walked out on all of us. I mean Dad was never any kind of prize —”
Anselm pointed at her. “I’m tough but I’m fair. I never disciplined anyone who didn’t deserve it.”
“You hacked off my hair with a kitchen knife because I spent two minutes on the phone past when you wanted me to be in my room.” Nadine rolled her eyes. “I won’t be surprised if you don’t remember. You were so drunk you cut your hand open.”
Anselm gaped. “I never —”
“You did, Dad.” Max sucked in his cheeks. “I cleaned up all the hair after you stumbled off to bed. When Wils was around, he got you to focus on him. Most of us didn’t see it. When he was gone, though, you spread it around. You’re a harsh man sober, but you’re one mean drunk.” He put his hand on Wilson’s back.
“No. If I disciplined Wilson, if I had to raise my voice a few times, it’s because he deserved it. He wouldn’t do what he was told, he was always letting you kids get away with murder. He thought he was too good to chip in with the housework, thought he was too good to go to the Academy like a man, thought he —”
“You did it. You did it all. You sat there, and you broke my leg because you caught me making out with a guy.” Wilson spoke for the first time.
“That’s not true.” Chris wouldn’t even look at him. “You fell down the stairs.”
“The house doesn’t have stairs, dumbass. It’s a ranch with no basement.” Max looked over at Tom. “See? I told you this wasn’t going to go anywhere.”
“He fell hiking,” Lizzie said. “That’s what he told me.”
“He never did much hiking that I can remember.” Ben squirmed a little. “Doesn’t change the fact that he still went off and left us with him.” He stuck his thumb out toward Anselm.
“Great news, sparky!” Anselm grinned wickedly at his son. “You can go live wherever you want! You and that skank you married are out on the curb, effective immediately! Get a job, get your own house, have a bunch of ungrateful children and see how you like it.”
“Uh huh. Who’s going to take care of your wife, then? Who’s going to keep her from puking when she tries to eat?” Sandy crossed her arms over her chest. “And who’s going to clean you up when you pass out on the floor and piss yourself, huh?”
Tom looked over at Max and Wilson, but Max just shrugged. Wilson didn’t show any sign he’d heard anything. Neither, for that matter, did Olivia, who looked like she might pass out right there on the table.
Anselm held his head higher, like he could look through his nostrils. “That’s a good question - I certainly don’t pass out, I’ve got dignity, but which one of you ungrateful little shits are going to come home and help your mother, huh? Lizzie, move your stuff back in. Your mom needs help.”
Lizzie scoffed. “I needed help when you set fire to my school things in a fit of rage, but could she be bothered? Nah. Neither could Wilson. Both of you can go to Hell.” She picked up her phone and checked it.
Nadine also declined, with a story of alcohol-fueled terror. Each of the Lauritz children refused to move back in, even Max, although Max said he’d drop by once a week with groceries and organize a collection with the others for a home health aide. “If, and this is a mighty big if, she goes into rehab. She needs more than she can get at home, and I’m not going to sit there and watch her rot away.”
Tom took a deep breath. “Wilson?”
Wilson looked Tom over. “Yeah?”
“Do you think you can find it in your heart to forgive your parents and maybe help out a little?”
Wilson widened his eyes, like he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. Then he laughed. He laughed so hard he doubled over. Then he got up from the table and, still laughing, walked out the door.
The remaining meeting attendees exchanged glances. Then Chris leaned back. “I don’t see what the hell he’s laughing about. We should be the ones forgiving him.”
Tom shook his head and bolted after Wilson. He found him wiping his eyes and leaning against the sickly yellow wall outside. “Wilson, come on, what the hell was that?”
“I should have figured you’d ask me that.” Wilson straightened up. He wasn’t laughing anymore, but his eyes were still red. “How the hell can you ask me that? How the hell can you ask me any of that? You sat there and asked me to forgive two people who made my life hell for years. You wanted me to forgive the same siblings who are only mad that Dad turned it around on them. They don’t give a crap what happened to me. They only care what Dad did to them. He spread it around when it came to them.”
Tom put his hands on Wilson’s shoulders. “Okay. I believe you. I do. But Wilson, your dad doesn’t remember any of it. The whole family is broken without you, don’t you see that? They need your forgiveness. It’s not your fault, but they need you to come in and help them get back on track and make things better.”
Wilson looked away for a second. “You know what?”
Tom let himself hope. “What?”
“Every once in a while, someone would try to intervene. A doctor here, another cop there. It would all be under the table, you understand. All because of who my dad was. But every time, they’d tell me the same thing. Don’t you want to be the bigger person, your parents have problems, and you have to forgive them and help them get better, it’ll get better if you just forgive them and help them. It was all bullshit. The people babbling about forgiveness and all that shit were just trying to smooth things over, make it not their problem anymore.
“And I believed them at the time. Every single time, I’d think Oh, they’re right. All this anger isn’t going to help me in the long run, I’ll forgive them and maybe this time I’ll get the magic combination of things right and it’ll all come together for me. But no. All this ‘forgiveness’ did was give Anselm free reign to do whatever he wanted. It didn’t help them to get better, it enabled them. They could do their own thing, because I was there to take care of everything, they let slide. I’d cover for them.
“It’s not happening. They can go to hell. And I should have known, or guessed, that once you found out about what was going on, you’d be one of those people. You’d nod and smile and natter about the importance of forgiveness, because at the end of the day it’s not about me or my safety. It’s about everyone else, and whatever the hell they can get out of me. I knew this was how it would turn out.”
Wilson ducked away from Tom and walked out of the building. Tom watched him go. He didn’t know what had just happened, but he knew it wasn’t anything good.
Wilson sat on his couch, under a blanket. Both cats sat on his lap, purring away. They weren’t particularly happy at the moment. Wilson would go so far as to say they were worried about him. He didn’t know what to tell them, but it told him a lot that they weren’t kicking him to the curb just yet. They’d get there soon enough, he guessed.
Then again, maybe not. They were cats. Wilson was the guy with the food. He’d been the favorite with his younger brothers and sisters, too. Then he wasn’t the guy with the food anymore and no one gave a crap.
He scratched each cat behind the ears. Was there something to what Tom had said? Had he owed it to his family to stay behind, to give up on med school, to absorb everything from his parents so the younger kids didn’t have to deal with it? A big part of him said yes. He should have stayed. He should have protected them, made sure they were fed if only because he knew no one else was going to do it.
And then another part of him rejected Tom’s whole argument. If a patient came to him with the same issue, the same question, he’d throw up. No patient of his should have to essentially sacrifice themselves on the altar of familial neglect and abuse to make a life for their siblings, especially when it wasn’t a choice. Anyone of them could have stepped into his role, especially if it didn’t involve Anselm’s drunken assaults.
And most of all, it wasn’t any of their place to take over for their parents. Sure, letting kids learn responsibility was good. Forcing them to assume all responsibility when they were too young to do it was something else. When Wilson left, his parents should have picked up their own slack, and tried to be parents to their remaining children.
It didn’t matter that everyone else, from freaking Lizzie all the way up to Tom, wanted Wilson to be the bad guy here. He knew the truth. He knew he’d done the right thing in leaving. The only mistake he’d made had been taking the job in Denver and coming back.
His doorbell rang. The cats made discontented noises, and one of them hissed at the door. “You and me both, baby,” Wilson said as he got up to answer it. He supposed he didn’t have to answer the door. He could always stay on the couch, under a blanket, and let the world go screw itself until he had to be back at work. It was a nice fantasy, at least.
When he opened the door, he found Tom there, shivering. “Can I come in?” he asked. He didn’t wait to be invited. He just slid past Wilson and into the living room.
Wilson looked out at the street outside. “Make yourself at home.” He closed the door and turned around. “Where’s your coat?”
“It’s in the car. I was hoping you’d cooled down a little and had a chance to think about what we were talking about the other day.” Tom sat down in the spot Wilson had vacated.
Wilson gaped at him. “Did you think I was just… what, flying off the handle? Spouting the first things that came into my mind? Making it up because you dragged me into a meeting, I told you would be a waste of time and energy?”
Tom cleared his throat. “Maybe?”
Wilson shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. “Unbelievable.”
“Wilson, look. I understand you’re upset.” Tom looked up at him. “But you’re really being kind of… I don’t know what the right word is here. You’re not being very cooperative or reasonable about this.”
Wilson sat in one of the chairs perpendicular to the couch. He couldn’t make himself sit beside Tom right now. He bounced his knee up and down for a second. “Okay. Let’s play a little game. Let’s let me break our kid’s leg, in a drunken rage, and see how you think our kid should feel about it twenty years later. Then you can come back here and tell me I’m not feeling the way I ought to feel about it.”
Tom sighed and looked away. “Don’t you think this is a little bit bigger than you right now?”
“What isn’t?” Wilson looked up at the ceiling. “Let me guess. It’s more important that someone is messing around over there and taking care of Anselm and Olivia than that I should be safe and comfortable wherever it is I’m living.”
“That’s not what I’m asking you to do, Wilson. I’m asking you to chip in, along with everyone else, for a home health aide to take care of your mom. Help find a good rehab center to wean her off the medicine she’s on and get her back to health. Stop by two or three times a week to make sure everything’s on the up and up, maybe help with maintaining the house.” Tom ticked things off on his fingers. “No more than any other son would be asked to do.”
“Really. No more than any other son who’d been used as a punching bag by his own dad.”
“He doesn’t remember it, Wilson. He seriously doesn’t remember doing any of those things.” Tom’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “Come on, Wilson. Isn’t holding onto this grudge, this resentment, just hurting you?”
“The grudge and resentment aren’t what’s hurting me right now. What hurts me in this moment is that the guy I was looking forward to starting a family with feels it’s more important to take care of the people who spent my entire life hurting me than it is to support me.” Wilson’s whole body felt numb. He wasn’t surprised it had come to this, but it still hurt. It hurt enough he had to step back from it.
“That’s not what’s going on here. You told me yourself there’s more than one way to save a life. I’m trying to save your parents’ lives. Don’t you get that?” Tom stood up and stepped closer. “We’re not just having a baby in a vacuum. We’re part of a community, a family. We need that family and community if we want to raise this baby right.”
“Okay.” Wilson bit down on his tongue. He didn’t want to start shouting. “You’ve got their records sitting there and you want to allow my parents access to the baby.”
“Once they’ve gotten sober, I can’t think why we shouldn’t let the baby know their family. And you’ve got five siblings. That’s five people - okay, four, maybe not so much with Ben - we could call on for help with babysitting and stuff. Why would you just turn your back on that? Because of pride? Really?”
Wilson tried to pull back on his temper. “Maybe, I don’t know, because in addition to the fact that all of them are very much on Anselm and Olivia’s side of things, they also didn’t have a whole lot of interest in reconnecting at that meeting. That thing was a farce.” He held up his hand. “I know you meant well.” He was having trouble finding good intentions right now, but he’d fake it until he found his own better nature again. “The thing is, they didn’t have any need to reconnect with me. They were willing to see me once, to vent their spleen about having to take just a small share of Dad’s shit. They didn’t need me anymore, so they don’t have any interest in seeing my face. And if I’d been blown up overseas, or died at some point between Johns Hopkins and here, the only one who would have cared would have been Max.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?” Tom tried to take Wilson’s hand.
Wilson wouldn’t allow it. He was done. “If you think my family and I want anything to do with each other, ever again, then I’m not being dramatic enough. I shouldn’t have taken this job. I should have gone somewhere else. I can’t even remember the other offers, but I should have taken one of them or reenlisted rather than come back here.”
Tom stood up straighter. He wasn’t reaching out for Wilson anymore. Wilson had to think that was good, but it still made him want to cry. “If you hadn’t come back here, we wouldn’t be having a baby together. We wouldn’t be starting a family together.”
“And you’d still be out on the beat, working a job you loved. And I wouldn’t be sitting here banging my head against the wall trying to convince the man I love that I’m a person who deserves to be safe just like anyone else.” Wilson snorted and stormed into the kitchen.
“Wilson, I’m trying to help you. You need your family.” Tom grabbed Wilson’s shoulder, trying to turn him around.
“I don’t need anyone.” Wilson spat out the words. “What, you thought fourteen years in exile meant I must be pining away to start scrubbing someone else’s puke off the bathroom walls? Is that it? Did you think me spending more than a decade cut off from the people who were supposed to love me and care for me beyond anyone else was going to somehow make me a weak mark?”
Tom staggered back, as if Wilson had hit him. “Wait, Wilson, what’s going on?”
“Listen to yourself. Just shut up and listen to yourself, would you? You’re sitting here talking to me like somehow, even though I’ve done just fine without those people in my life, I’m just going to starve to death or something if I don’t have someone punching me in the stomach to remind me exactly how worthless I am? Nope. I do have value over and above what I can give to someone else, what I can do for someone else. And I am worth so much more than sitting around and letting the Lauritz family use me as their personal whipping boy. You’re awesome, and I love you, but the fact that you desperately want to get closer to Anselm doesn’t change that. Find some other way. Marry Max. Hell, marry Anselm, but don’t let him push you around. Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.”
Tom stepped back. “Wilson, what are you saying? I don’t understand.”
Wilson met his eyes. His insides rebelled, screaming at him not to say this, but he had to. “It’s over, Tom. I can’t do this with you.”
Tom doubled over. “Are you insane? Did you get into Sandy’s stash? You realize it’s about four and a half months too late for it to be ‘over.’ This baby is a lifetime bond, whether we want that or not.”
“Yeah. I’m aware. And I’ll make sure you’re taken care of. I’ll make sure the baby’s taken care of. I’ll take whatever custody arrangement you’re willing to allow, but you’ve got to let Max do the handoffs.”
Tom’s face drained of all color. “You can’t even stand to see me again? You just said you loved me.”
“I do love you. And I’ll always love you. I’ll probably hate myself for it, but there’s not a lot I can do about that. Loving you, and wanting you, doesn’t change the fact that I cannot be with someone who doesn’t value me as much as he values the rest of my family. I need to be with someone who listens to me, who trusts me, and who thinks I’m at least as important as the people who did their best to ruin my life. I need to be with someone who isn’t doing their damnedest to try to force me to be with people who emphatically do not want what’s best for me.”
Tom’s whole stance and posture changed. He stiffened and turned on his heel. He marched for the door, but he turned to look at Wilson before he left. “I’m really sorry it had to end like this. I was doing what I thought best for all of you - your parents, the baby, and for you.” And then he walked out the door.
Wilson locked it behind him. He turned around to look at the couch. He should get back to his previously scheduled hanging out with the cats time, but he couldn’t bring himself to sit in the seat Tom had just occupied.
He retreated to his bedroom. Even up here, the memories threatened to overwhelm him. At least it had been a couple of weeks since Tom had stayed the night. Tom hadn’t felt comfortable since getting the assignment, since getting the story about what an awful son Wilson was. What an awful father Wilson would have been.
What was Wilson thinking? He would have to take Tom to court to be allowed to see the baby at all. He didn’t want to think of Tom as malicious, but they hadn’t been together all that long. How was Wilson supposed to be sure how Tom would react to being called out for this nonsense with his family? All Wilson’s experience with cops told him they got vindictive when things didn’t go their way, especially if they could identify the reason things had gone wrong in the first place.
He rubbed at his face, changed into his pajamas and crawled into bed. He didn’t care what time it was. At least he wasn’t going out to buy ice cream or anything like that. He figured he was entitled. He just didn’t want to see anyone he knew at the supermarket.
Wilson had been an idiot. He’d broken his first rule. Now he found himself skating dangerously close to breaking his second rule. He didn’t want to become a cynical, bitter old man. He just didn’t see a lot of options coming his way. What were the odds of anyone ever wanting him for himself, instead of what he could do for them? With the exception of Max, his brothers and sisters had only wanted him around as long as he could keep Anselm off their backs and do the things their mother wouldn’t. His lover had only wanted him as a route into the Lauritz family.
Maybe Wilson just didn’t have that much to offer.
The cats came and joined him, curling up in the bed to try to bring him some comfort.
Wilson would have to figure out a way to ship all of the baby stuff over to Tom’s place. They hadn’t actually agreed Tom would move in with Wilson. They hadn’t even talked about it. They’d just bought a bunch of baby stuff and set it up at Wilson’s place. It was farther away from the Lauritz family manor.
Now Wilson understood it was probably a drawback for Tom.
Maybe Tom already had a crib and bedroom set picked out. Maybe he’d had a nursery set up at his place this whole time. They spent most of their time at Wilson’s house, so Wilson would never have known.
Stop it. You’re getting paranoid. Paranoid and bitter old men make lousy doctors.
He would close that room off, until he knew what the custody arrangements would be. He made a mental note to ask McNabb, the lawyer, to help iron out fair arrangements and fell back onto his pillows.
He didn’t want this. He wanted to be with Tom. He didn’t want to be with Tom so badly he was willing to let his family back into his life or take over caring for the people who’d hurt him. He wished he could find a way to make Tom understand that, but he knew he couldn’t. Just as had been the case when he’d been a kid, he knew he’d never get a cop to turn against one of their own.
Two weeks after Wilson kicked Tom out of his house, Tom finally made an appointment with an obstetrician. He picked one at Mercy, just on the off chance of catching a glimpse of Wilson. Maybe it was pathetic, and he didn’t know what he’d do if he saw him, but he still hoped he could see Wilson just one more time.
He didn’t catch so much as a glimpse. Wilson’s office was near the emergency department, and the obstetrics department wasn’t in the same wing.
His doctor, Dr. Gallo, was a pretty woman with light brown skin and hair. She shook his hand and asked a few questions about timing, and then she knit her eyebrows together. “So, the other father of the baby. Is he…”
“He’s… um, we broke up two weeks ago.” Tom’s face burned scarlet.
Dr. Gallo shook her head. “I’m so sorry. Sometimes starting a family can be stressful on a couple.”
Tom wasn’t really in the habit of sharing his life’s story with other people, but he felt different tonight. Tonight, he wanted to open up a little. He felt like he needed to get some things off of his chest. “I’m assigned to a special task force at work - and I got assigned a case involving his family. He wasn’t willing to listen to me. In fact, he got very angry with me. Said he didn’t need me, or anyone else. So, I guess it’s for the best.”
She raised an eyebrow. She probably got sob stories all day long. “Hm. Well, I suppose it’s his loss. Be sure to get any custody agreements or anything like that in writing, though. You don’t want to create problems for yourself later on - that is, if you don’t think you’ll give it another try.”
Tom scowled. “No. No way. You know, everyone in his family warned me he’d leave me high and dry. Said he just couldn’t do responsibility, but I didn’t listen. Now here I am, with a kid on the way and no help at all.” Tom took a deep breath. Sorry. I don’t mean to unload on you. I just - it’s a lot. I’m having trouble dealing, I guess.”
“It’s understandable. I can see why you might be upset. I’d ask about him and what set him off, but he’s not my patient. Should we get that first ultrasound in there? I usually like to get it at three months, not five, but better late than never, right?”
Tom looked down and nodded. He’d been looking forward to having this moment together, sitting there and looking at their baby on the monitor together, but that couldn’t happen now. He still had a little thrill at seeing the little, almost baby-shaped thing moving around on the screen, but he had no one’s hand to hold, no one to be excited with. He had to keep all that excitement and joy to himself.
He had to make the call himself, when the technician asked if he wanted to know if the baby would be male or female. He decided he wanted to know, if only because he knew Wilson wanted to be surprised. Screw Wilson anyway. Wilson couldn’t be bothered to be here, couldn’t be bothered to stand by him, why would Tom follow his desires when it came to the baby?
They were having a boy. No, Tom was having a boy. Wilson didn’t want to be part of any family.
As he took his copies of the sonograms, he asked for a second set of printouts. He knew he was being unfair to Wilson. He was angry, and his anger was justified. That didn’t mean Wilson should miss out on things like the baby’s first sonogram. They might not be a couple anymore, but it wasn’t because Wilson was rejecting the baby. It wasn’t even because Wilson was rejecting Tom. It was because Wilson couldn’t accept his own family, and Tom needed him to…
Oh. Maybe Tom had gone too far.
He brought the film down to the Urgent Care offices and asked the receptionist if he could see Wilson. He gave his name and everything. He sat down to wait for fifteen minutes, which he thought was remarkably patient of him, but when the door finally opened it wasn’t Wilson who came out.
His boss was a petite woman, with a wild mass of curly hair. She introduced herself as Gina and brought Tom back to her office. “So, Tom. I’m going to be kind of blunt, not because I don’t like you but because we’re a little pressed for time around here today. This is Dr. Lauritz’s workplace. Can you maybe share why you decided to come here with a personal issue?”
Tom blushed. “Look, I know it’s a little unusual, but couples stop by each other’s offices all the time.”
Gina raised one eyebrow. “You broke up weeks ago, when you tried to force him to deal with his abusive family. Try again.”
“It wasn’t like that…” Tom looked into her stone face and sighed. “Okay. I can see where it might look like that from certain perspectives. But it wasn’t… I mean there were other factors to consider. Anyway, I was here to get the first sonogram for our baby. And since I was here, I figured I’d drop off a copy of the pictures. Since, you know, he wasn’t at the appointment.”
“I can’t blame him.” Gina snorted. “Here, pass them along and I’ll give them to him.”
Tom drew himself up to his full height. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you seriously trying to keep me from interacting with the father of my child?”
“Yes, at his request.” Gina was apparently not the type to be intimidated. “You’ll need a court order to force yourself into his presence. In the form of a warrant. Now go away and come back with a warrant, or just go away. Either way, you’re not going to see Dr. Lauritz face to face.”
“This is bullshit.” Tom handed her the envelope with the pictures inside and left.
He tried to settle his nerves when he got out, but all he wanted to do was scream. He might have been willing to change it up here and there with a little bit of crying, but he attributed that to hormones. Pregnancy apparently took a shredder to things like keeping a stiff upper lip.
He pulled out his phone. Maybe Wilson didn’t need anyone, but Tom did. And he knew exactly who to reach out to.
Max, you busy tonight? Want to meet up at Shields?
Max replied in two minutes. Should you be drinking?
I’ll drink soda water. I just want to talk.
Sure. Meet me at six.
Tom could do that. He could hold on a lot better if he had something to look forward to. Maybe it was pathetic of him, but he needed contact. He needed input. And he needed his friend.
When six o’clock rolled around, Tom walked into Shields. Most people didn’t give him a second glance, but Miro shook his head. “I don’t serve pregnant people, man.”
Tom sat down at the bar. “Just give me soda water. You can charge me for gin and tonic, I don’t care. But why is it every time I come in here, you’re always the one behind the bar?”
Miro grinned, wide and proud. “I’m the owner. I should be the one behind the bar, don’t you think?” He looked up and plopped a soda water in front of Tom. “I see your buddy.”
Max slid into the seat beside Tom and gave him a dirty look. “You know what? I’m going to go out and get pregnant. That way I can get the cushy indoor office job and not freeze my balls off outside.”
“Excellent. I’ll be happy to sit back and watch you try to navigate a world filled with social workers while I get back in my squad car and get back to doing my actual job.” Tom sipped from his glass. “How’s it going out there, besides cold?”
Max made a face. “Well it kind of sucks, now that you mention it. It’s boring to be running around out there without my partner in crime. Oh, and I got to be first to respond to a bank robbery the other day. That was fun.”
“Look, the robber got to keep most of his teeth, okay?” Max grinned. “Wasn’t even me who decked him, either. One of the hostages was a Green Beret. I walked in and distracted him, and it was all the guy needed. I probably shouldn’t be so happy about it, but well - sometimes it’s the little things.” He sipped from his beer. “So. How are you holding up? You know, without him?”
Tom laughed into his drink. “That obvious, huh?”
“Well, it was kind of a momentous occasion. And you haven’t wanted to talk about it since then. So, I figured.” Max shrugged. “Seriously, though. How are you doing with all that… stuff, going on?”
Tom pondered. “It’s rough. I still… I mean I don’t regret trying to get him involved with your family’s thing. Things were going well for your family when he was part of it, they went downhill when he left, and frankly it’s not good for him to be isolated either.”
Max winced. “I don’t know, man. I love you, you’re my best friend, but I know he did a lot back in the day to make things look a lot smoother than they were. It was a survival thing, you know? He was terrified of the family getting pulled apart in DSS custody. He was convinced we’d all be abused worse there than we were at home, that the littlest kids would be murdered, or we’d all be sold off into weird cults - I don’t know, I’m sure Dad was feeding some of this stuff to him to keep him buying into it. I don’t blame him for wanting nothing to do with the rest of ‘em, and I never did.”
Tom nodded slowly. “But it’s not just about him, is it? It’s about the whole family. Who does he have to bounce things off of? Who does he have to talk to? Like right now, who’s supporting him? I can call you, I can call my dad if I want, or my mom. I can call some of my other buddies on the force. Who’s supporting him?”
Max squirmed. “He’s supporting himself, I guess. I haven’t talked to him since that meeting. I don’t want him to feel like he’s being pushed.” He drained half of his glass.
“I should never have taken the job.” Tom shook his head. “I guess I should feel better about Wilson dropping me than I do, but right now I’m just - ugh. I’m sick about it. I’m mad at him, but I’m also just sad about it.”
“You pushed him too far. Some of it is stuff you couldn’t have known, but Tom, I know I told you to leave it alone. And he told you not to push. But you kept doing it. Why?” Max turned to face him.
“Some of it was the job. Involving him seemed like the best way to make sure your parents got the care they needed. And they’re my clients, right? And like I said to him, forgiveness is more for the person doing the forgiving than the person being forgiven.” Tom pursed his lips. “Would you believe he accused me of only wanting to get closer to his dad, and wanting to be part of the Lauritz family?”
Max chuckled. “He said that? I guess I can see where it looked that way to him. He probably shouldn’t have said it. Of course, you think maybe you could have not made him think that either?”
Tom gasped. “Seriously?”
“Look, I don’t pretend to know what’s been going on with the two of you. I know my dad’s always been your idol. And when you started pressuring him to give the old man a pass, it probably looked an awful lot like you were just using him to get to Anselm.” Max shrugged. “I’m not judging. I think he went a little off the deep end, but I think you shouldn’t have pushed him. What’s done is done, it can’t be changed, and now you’ve got to move forward. Besides, what exactly would you do differently?”
Tom bit his lip. “If I say, ‘helped him to see better why I was right,’ are you going to deck me?”
Max laughed. “No. I will call you a nincompoop, though. Come on, Tom. You should’ve backed off when he told you to. He knows, better than you or my sisters or even me, what he had to deal with from my dad. And to just dismiss it in favor of some stuff about forgiveness —”
Tom bit back a growl of frustration. “It’s not nonsense.”
“Okay. Say it’s some kid you were dealing with in a domestic. You going to sit there and tell him to forgive?” Max raised an eyebrow. “I love my dad. I love my mom. I can still acknowledge what they did to my brother. He doesn’t have to feel any one way about them. And my brothers and sisters - they’re pretty awful, when it comes to him. A lot of it is stuff Dad told them, you know, lines about obligations and how Wilson just hung them out to dry and whatever.
“And a lot of it is because they never knew just how much Wilson protected them. I don’t think they ever will. They’re not objectively bad people. They’re just looking at life through a different lens, and it’s cloudy.”
Tom sighed. He still didn’t see it quite the same way, but he wasn’t going to convince Max. “I miss him,” he said after a minute. “He had a lawyer call. He wanted to know my plans for custody and visitation.”
Max let out a low whistle. “Wow. He does not waste any time, does he?”
“How am I supposed to have plans for that stuff? We were planning to be together. We had baby stuff picked out already. There are a crib and a whole bunch of furniture sitting there at his house, waiting for our son, and he’s never going to see it.” Tom had to fight back tears.
Max put an arm around Tom’s shoulders. “Have you reached out to him at all?”
“I stopped by today to drop off pictures from the first sonogram. His boss wouldn’t let me see him. Told me to come back with a warrant. I had to leave the pictures with her. I couldn’t…” Sadness overwhelmed him, and he had to stop himself. “I couldn’t talk to Wilson about any of it. I couldn’t ask what any of the things on the sonogram meant. And we were supposed to do that together, and I didn’t ask, and he didn’t ask, and we never got around to talking about moving in together or any of that because I thought we had time.”
“And he thought you didn’t like the cats.” Max patted his shoulder.
“I don’t. I don’t like the cats. I’d personally feed them and clean their litter box every day if it meant we could have another shot at fixing everything.” Tom wiped at his eyes. “But he —” He took a deep breath. “He can’t see reason. He can’t see why he needs to forgive and reconcile.”
Max grimaced and finished his beer. “Well, I can see why it won’t work. That’s for sure.”
When Wilson got the sonogram printouts, he cried. He cried alone in his office, quietly, with no one else to see him, but he still cried. That image on the printouts, the baby he saw on the page, that was his child. That was his son. It was the only child he would ever have. He wanted, so very badly, to call Tom and talk about it.
He didn’t call. He couldn’t make himself do it. He wanted to be part of this baby’s life, but he knew Tom would never allow it. Rather, Tom would allow it if Wilson abdicated all control over his own life. Wilson loved his unborn son, but he wasn’t prepared to allow his parents or siblings access in order to be a parent.
He pulled himself back together, hid the sonograms in a drawer, and went about his day. He dragged himself around for the next couple of weeks, too. He volunteered to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, since he had no place to go and nothing to do.
He didn’t know why he’d expected it to be any different, but he’d obviously been wrong. He could see that now. At least this way, other people would be able to enjoy the holiday with their families. Wilson stayed at work, picking up a few hours in the ER on the side, because he could. If he worked, he wouldn’t think, and thought was exactly the sort of thing he needed to avoid right now.
He did wonder, during the occasional lull in the action, what everyone else was doing with their lives. Were his parents having a decent Christmas, or had they forgotten again? Either way, they’d left Wilson off of their Christmas card list. Max called him in the morning, but he headed over to see their parents not long afterward. Wilson didn’t hear from him after that.
And Tom? Wilson had no idea what Tom might be doing for Christmas. He hoped Tom was with family. He couldn’t be sure, though. He wanted to reach out and check, but he didn’t dare. He didn’t want to send out the wrong signals, and he didn’t want to be the pathetic guy who didn’t know when it was over.
Ben showed up at the office the day after Christmas. “You know, your little boyfriend spent Christmas with us. I just thought you might want to know.”
“I’m not at all surprised. Why are you here, Ben? Do you have a medical issue you want to be treated for?”
“I’ve got a hangover.” Ben smirked. “Which I got from celebrating Christmas with my family. It’s been a while since you had anyone who wanted to celebrate anything with you, hasn’t it?”
Wilson bit his tongue and called the nurses. He left the exam room and made a note in Ben’s file. Ben wasn’t to be allowed to see him, under any circumstances. He was a harasser. They happened from time to time, and the fact that they had the same last name wouldn’t ring any alarm bells with the higher-ups. After all, the only ones who might have something to say about it knew the situation already.
Wilson hadn’t heard anything from McNabb yet. He’d asked the guy to reach out to Tom about custody arrangements two weeks after they broke up, but Tom hadn’t had any suggestions. Wilson didn’t want to be an asshole and pester his ex, but he also didn’t want the issue hanging over him. He just wanted everything settled.
Either way, Wilson was going to be the bad guy in Tom’s version of the story. He’d probably be the villain in everyone else’s version too. He might as well get used to it. He called his lawyer and asked him to reach out to Tom again. “I know he wants to drag his heels about it. I’m sure it’s hard for him,” he said, trying not to look at the closed door to the nursery. “I just need to know what’s going on. He went and left the sonogram pictures with me, but he’s not communicating about custody - I’m confused, and it’s causing me a certain amount of anxiety. I need to have this settled.”
McNabb sighed. “I’m sure it’s hard on both of you. And I’ll try to get him to say something, or at least move toward nailing something down, soon. Are you sure you don’t want to consider reconciling?”
“I’m sure.” Wilson swallowed. “Why would that even come up?”
“Because it seems like he’s avoiding having to make it legal, if that makes any sense. Are you sure he wants to be apart?”
Wilson bit his lip. He could go into everything that went into the decision, but the lawyer didn’t care. No one cared. “I’m sure. He made a choice, and it wasn’t one that involved me. And it’s okay. It’s the way things are, and I have to live with it. It’s not like we went into it expecting true love forever. It was an accidental pregnancy and we tried to make it work. It didn’t. There’s no need to bring anything weird into the mix. Let’s just move forward, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Okay. I’ll try to nail him down with something. Maybe he’ll at least engage an attorney. I don’t know.”
Wilson didn’t go out much, not during the holidays and not once the dreadful season was over. His heart just wasn’t in it. He wanted to be excited for the baby, and getting ready for it, but he couldn’t be. The more time that passed without word from the lawyer or Tom, the more convinced he became that he wouldn’t even get to see the kid. If Tom really was spending more time with the Lauritzes, it would make sense for Wilson to be cut out.
He refused to get angry about it. Tom wanted what he wanted. Wilson had surrendered his position within the family years ago. He didn’t get to get mad that someone else was willing to take it now.
He grieved for the loss of his child, though. He’d let himself get his hopes up, but yet again his affair had been all about what he could give to Tom. It had nothing to do with Wilson. He’d rather not let his kid spend time with his parents, or around Ben and Sandy, but the choice was out of his hands. He knew if he tried to sue a cop for custody, or for anything else, he’d lose. And badly.
He kept up his position at work, but he couldn’t say he took much pleasure in it. He saw patients and treated them, the usual round of ailments day in and day out. The days blended together, more or less, and he showed up more than once on his days off. Without Tom, and the time they spent together, everything seemed gray and monotonous.
And he had no one he could reach out to about it.
He did think about calling Max, but he didn’t want to put Max in that position. Max was still part of their family, even if he didn’t take any of their father’s crap anymore. Max was Tom’s best friend, too. Wilson wasn’t about to call up the only relative - the only person, really - who still cared about him even a little bit and whine about how much he missed Tom.
He knew what Max would say. He’d tell Wilson to suck it up, give Tom whatever the hell he wanted, and move on.
Besides, it wasn’t like Max cared. Max hadn’t reached out either. Max was content to leave him out here alone. If Max wanted to offer some comfort, Max would. The fact that he wasn’t choosing to do so was a statement, and it was a damning statement of his feelings about the situation.
Or maybe Max just had his own stuff going on, and Wilson was reading too much into things. Or maybe Max just didn’t want to get involved with the split between his older brother and his best friend.
Whatever. Wilson didn’t need to sit around and parse out the different reasons why Max might not be reaching out. The end result was the same. One of Tom’s stated reasons why Wilson should forgive his family was that Wilson didn’t have anyone else, and he wasn’t kidding.
Nadine stopped by the house one day in early January. She looked nervous, and still angry. “Can I come in?”
“I guess.” Wilson let his sister into the house. “What’s going on?”
Nadine carefully hung her coat on one of the pegs on the wall. “I guess I just wanted to stop by. I mean, Max told us one thing, Dad told us something else. I did a little digging around and it turns out Max was right. You really did go on to become a doctor.”
Wilson nodded. “Yeah. I did. I got a scholarship and everything.” They sat in silence for a few minutes. “So, what did you wind up doing?”
“I’m a teacher, actually. I teach fourth grade, right there in the same grade school we all went to.” She swallowed. “I’ve been thinking, you know. About all the stuff you said in that meeting. And I was so mad at you. I was so mad, for so long. It was just… I didn’t understand what was going on.”
“It wasn’t your fault. Hell, I tried to keep you from seeing any of it.” Wilson chuckled ruefully to himself. “I guess I did a good enough job, because it blindsided you to hear about it. But you know - I wanted you guys to have as normal a life as you could, right? And Dad had me convinced that if DSS got involved, we’d all wind up sold into circuses in Russia or worse and I believed him. By the time I figured out he was full of crap, I’d already gotten my scholarship.”
She nodded. “I see that a lot. Well, you know. You’re a mandated reporter too. It’s not unusual in families like that - like ours, I guess. Better the devil you know.”
“Yeah.” Wilson swallowed hard.
“So, knowing that, why did you still leave us with him?” She pushed her dark hair out of her face. “I’m not - I’m not saying you should have sacrificed yourself for us. You probably should have reported everything to DSS. If nothing else, at least Ben would have been better off. Why did you just take off?”
Wilson sat down in his chair. One of the cats came to sit on him, and he scratched her behind her ears. “Honestly, I’d tried to tell people a few times. It never went anywhere. You see what’s happening now. Dad’s drunk on duty, everyone knows it, and they still put him in this diversionary thing instead of prosecuting him for abusing Mom and Ben.” He shrugged. “I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I convinced myself Mom and Dad would have to get their shit together once they didn’t have me to rely on anymore.”
“I guess I can see that.” Nadine looked down. Her hair fell into her face. “I’m sorry. I was a jerk. I was so angry when you left. I was hungry, I was at a complete loss for how to deal with any of the stuff around the house, Dad said - well, you know.”
Wilson could laugh at it now. “Yeah. Porn? Really?”
“Hey, you were eighteen and good looking. At least it was a plausible lie.” Nadine laughed too. “It’s not like he said you ran off to play hockey professionally or something. Wilson, I’ve missed you. I know I can’t give you all these years back, when you should have had family and didn’t. I can just reach out and say I’m sorry, and I’d like to be your sister again now, if you’ll let me.”
Part of Wilson wondered exactly what Nadine would get out of having him for a brother again. She’d done just fine without him so far, so why would she make these kinds of overtures toward him now? This was what he’d been afraid of, turning into a cynical old man and becoming suspicious of everyone.
Just because he was worried about it didn’t mean he had to let it happen. He made himself smile as if he meant it. “Nadine, I’m thrilled to reconnect. Are you free for dinner? We can run out and grab something together.”
She relaxed, with a smile as wide as her whole face. “I’d love that.”
They headed out to a little place nearby. Wilson used to go there with Tom, and he hesitated going there now, but he decided to go anyway. He needed to move on with his life. It still hurt to sit in the same place he used to sit with Tom, and to have the waiter ask about him, but he papered over it. He’d have to get used to seeing these places again eventually.
Nadine looked down when the waiter mentioned Tom’s name. As soon as he left with their orders, she looked back up at Wilson. “How are you doing? Since the breakup, I mean.”
Wilson’s stomach clenched, but he kept his tone neutral. “I’m surviving, I guess. It’s hard. I’m waiting to hear about custody and visitation and everything. I don’t want to pressure him or anything but not knowing, not having everything settled, is killing me.”
She grimaced. “I can’t even begin to imagine. I’ll bet it’s hard on him too.”
Wilson frowned. “Didn’t he see you at Christmas?”
Nadine scoffed. “Christmas? Wilson, we only ever had Christmas when we were kids because you busted your ass making it happen. Without you, no one else was going to pull it off. I spent the holiday with my boyfriend in Boulder. I think Max went to Tom’s place to celebrate with his mom. Why?”
Wilson gaped. “Ben came over to the office. He’s been doing that whenever he feels he needs to get something off of his chest. Anyway, he said Tom spent Christmas with you all.”
“Ben’s full of crap. Ben spent Christmas in jail on a DUI charge.” She sniffed. “Again, I should add. It’s hardly the first time.”
“I see.” Wilson smirked and scratched at his thin little beard. “You know, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he made something up. He came in specifically to be hurtful, so he went for the jugular.”
Nadine looked down. “Ben’s hurting. He’s been hurting for a long time. And I get you’re hurting too, and you haven’t let your hurt turn you into the kind of man who lashes out at other people. Ben is different. Ben’s taking his pain out on everyone else around him, so he doesn’t have to suffer alone.”
“It’s my fault.” Wilson bowed his head. “If I’d stayed -”
“He’d probably still have his issues.” Nadine put her hand over his. “You were never under any obligation to suffer on our behalf, okay? Ben makes his choices. He could have walked away too. He’s had plenty of chances to get sober, plenty of chances to get away from Mom and Dad. He’s a grown ass man and he can do a lot better.” She gave him a squeeze.
Wilson took a breath to steady himself. “Right.”
“I mean hey - I got out. I’m living on my own. I’m not hanging around making myself and everyone around me miserable. I think maybe three of my students might disagree, but maybe they should do their homework.” Nadine grinned. “I can understand where his behavior comes from. I don’t have to tolerate it. Now come on. Let’s eat our dinner. It smells delicious.”
Tom put a hand on his belly as the baby went on another rampage. Amit peeked around the wall separating their desks. “He’s moving around an awful lot, isn’t he?”
Tom groaned. “Yeah, I think he’s going to play basketball or something with the way he moves around in there. It’s like he’s in training for the Olympics or something.” He rubbed his baby bump. “I’m telling you, it’s just bizarre. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
“Huh. Everyone says it’s supposed to be this miraculous thing. My mother says it’s like tiny bubbles or something.” Amit looked at Tom’s bump.
“Your mother wants grandchildren. She’s not going to tell you it was like you were doing a whole parallel bars routine on her ribs or tap dancing on her bladder. She still thinks there’s a chance she can get some grandkids out of you.” Tom gave her a knowing look. “It’s not the worst part of the pregnancy, but it’s definitely the most surreal.”
“What is the worst part of the pregnancy?” Amit pulled her chair into Tom’s cube.
“Honestly?” tom sighed. “Going it alone. That’s the worst part of everything. I hate it. It’s like, I’d love to already have a name for the baby, but I’m paralyzed. I was thinking of naming him after Wilson’s father, because he was kind of my idol growing up.”
Amit recoiled. “Okay, I can understand wanting to name him after your hero, but knowing what you know…”
“Right. And I could name him Wilson, but that just makes me sad.” Tom slumped in his seat. “At least we’ve gotten Ben off of our caseload.”
Amit shook her head. “We shouldn’t look at that as a win, Tom. Yes, he’s a mess, and he’s not someone I’d choose to spend time with, but he’s got a problem and we should be focusing on being a solution for him, not on putting him in prison.”
“I don’t know. I’ve mostly drunk the Kool-Aid around here. I’m on board with keeping most people out of jail for non-violent offenses, but there comes a point when they’re not even trying. How many DUIs does Ben have? The only reason he hasn’t killed anyone is sheer luck. Even his father can’t keep him out of jail anymore. Maybe some jail time will knock some sense into him. It’s not like we haven’t tried everything else.” Tom toyed with a pencil.
“The rest of the folks in that household seem to be keeping up with the program. Olivia is in a rehab facility. This one is a longer-term place, for people with multiple problems who need treatment for more than just substance abuse. I think she’ll do well there.” Amit gave him a tenuous smile. “She asked about Wilson.”
“Did she?” Tom looked up. “I guess it’s a start. What did she say?”
“Not a lot. She just asked where he was. She said she didn’t think she could get better without him. But I haven’t reached out to him to tell him that. He’s indicated he doesn’t want to receive updates, so he won’t.” Amit bit her lip. “Have you heard from him at all?”
Tom ran his tongue along his teeth. “I screwed up. I screwed up so bad. It’s not even funny. I tried to push him into forgiving his family - his parents and his siblings. And he wanted no part of that. I kept pushing, to the point where he didn’t feel safe or comfortable with me anymore. And it’s just… now I’m just by myself, trying to have this baby.”
“He wouldn’t leave you high and dry.” Amit sat up as straight as she could. “You get yourself a good lawyer and you make sure you get every penny of child support. It doesn’t matter how badly you screwed up, you need to do what you need to do for your baby.”
Tom chuckled sadly. “Would you believe he’s the one trying to set up child support?”
Amit’s gaze turned suspicious. “What, is he trying to lowball you?”
“No. The lawyer calls every once in a while. He tells me I can name my price, just tell him what I want in terms of child support, visitation or custody. He wants to put it all in writing so if anything happens the baby and I are taken care of. I just… every time I try to think about it, I freeze up. I don’t want child support. I don’t want alimony, or palimony, or whatever. I don’t want to have a calendar of days when he’s allowed to visit the child, he was so damned excited about in the first place.”
Amit narrowed her eyes. “Tom, this is important stuff, okay? You have to do it. It’s for your own protection. I have to give him a lot of credit for putting you and the baby first here.”
“He’s a great guy. He’s the best. And I told him he was selfish for leaving. I told him he was selfish for not forgiving his family, for not helping to support them even after what they did to him. I just want Wilson back. I can’t think about the rest of it.” Tom tossed his pen toward his pen holder. It didn’t land but bounced into a corner of the cubicle he couldn’t reach.
“Well, the way I see it you have two options. You can either suck it up and call him, or you can just go ahead and make the arrangements and move on.” Amit spread her hands wide. “Have you tried to call him?”
“I showed up at his office when I got the sonograms done. His boss came out to talk to me and wouldn’t let me see him. She said it was at his request.” Tom looked away. “I was hurt. I’m still hurt. But honestly, he was probably pretty hurt when I seemed to side with his parents. He’s probably still pretty pissed off. I don’t think he’s going to get over that.”
“I wouldn’t.” Amit winced. “But then again, maybe you should keep trying.”
Their supervisor left his office, and they both got back to work. Tom had plenty of work to do. Montero had flunked out of rehab, which was something Tom had previously thought impossible. Evidently punching the counselor in the face more than three times was enough to do the job, though.
Now Montero was trying to get his job back. Even the union didn’t want to stand by him on this one, given that the counselor was pressing charges. Tom had to testify in the trial for the lawsuit, and he had to testify in the Montero divorce as well. He had to write up why the diversionary program had failed in that particular case, and he had to make a case for it not being a failure on the part of the diversionary program but on the part of Montero.
At least that part shouldn’t be hard. Montero was a garbage human being, and all the diversionary programs in the world wouldn’t change that.
Max picked him up at the end of the day. They were going to Shields, because it was Tom’s favorite place to go. He couldn’t drink, but he could be out and around cops instead of social workers for a few hours. He could enjoy himself and relax a bit.
The only problem was with the idea of relaxing. He was surrounded by people he knew, at least peripherally. His best friend was by his side, but he still felt an ache in his core only one companion would ever fix. Too bad he hadn’t figured that out early enough to do something about it. He sighed into his ginger ale, and Max gave him a sympathetic look.
“Still having a hard time getting over Wils?”
“Sorry.” Tom straightened up. “I’m trying not to drag you into the middle of it. That’s not fair to either of you.”
Max shrugged. “I haven’t seen him since the split myself. I’ve been running around a bit, and he’s kind of withdrawn into this weird hermit state. He’s never been the kind of guy to ask for help.”
“Oh God. Did he spend Christmas by himself?” Tom cringed. He should have invited Wilson over with Max. Even if they weren’t a couple, they were still co-parenting. They could still try to spend some time in each other’s company.
“I’m sure he’s okay with it, Tom. If he’d wanted company, he’d have found some.” Max looked at him for a long moment. “Nadine actually went over to his house. She made the overture, and he was receptive. So, there’s that.”
“Huh. Well, at least he’s got someone to talk to.” Tom tried to pretend he wasn’t jealous. He wanted Wilson to talk to him, damn it.
“She said it’s like pulling teeth to get him to open up at all, but I guess that’s to be expected. I don’t know. She said he was looking into getting a vasectomy last time they talked.”
“Wait, what?” Tom wrapped his arms protectively around his baby bump. “I guess he’s not as into the baby as he said he was.” He looked down. This whole thing was such a mess. He loved the baby, but maybe adoption would be the best choice for it.
“Dude, no. He’s upset because he can’t get you to agree to visitation or child support, so he can’t set up payments or whatever. He’s upset because he wanted that baby, he wanted to start a family, and he’s feeling betrayed.”
“Okay, but he could still meet someone else. He could start a family with him. The fact that it didn’t work out - the fact that I screwed up - doesn’t need to mean he should cut himself off forever from something he’s always wanted.” Tom buried his face in his hands.
“He doesn’t want someone else, Tom.” Max’s voice was gentle. “In his view, him getting you pregnant made you take a job you didn’t want and screwed up your life beyond belief. He doesn’t want to do that to someone else.”
“He told you all this?”
“Not all at once.” Max took a gulp from his beer. “And to be fair, some of it is stuff he said to Nadine. But yeah. If you think he’s all moving on and stuff, forget about it. He’s pretty miserable from what I hear.”
Tom groaned. “God. I’ve screwed everything up, and now he’s going to go off and mutilate himself to permanently end his dream of starting a family of his own.” He wished he could take a drink without hurting the baby. “This is a disaster. This whole thing is a disaster.”
“Yeah, well, it all comes back to Anselm, doesn’t it? Everything he touches tends to fall apart.” Max glared at the door. “Sorry. Anyway, you might be able to stop him.”
“Max, he’s not willing to see me.” Tom rubbed his belly. “He sends a lawyer to do the talking. I’m not going to be able to stop him from doing anything.”
“Maybe, maybe not. You don’t know until you try.” Max grinned. “Seriously, though. What is it that you want here? I’m talking pie in the sky, no holds barred. What do you want from my brother?”
“I don’t know.” Tom looked down. “I want him to forgive me, I guess. I know I screwed up. And I want him to love me again. But it’s not going to happen. I broke his trust. I let my admiration for Anselm, and my faith in the job, come first. I guess I just want to see him happy.”
“Well he ain’t happy now. So, let’s fix it. Let’s make him happy.”
“How? He sends a lawyer, Max. A lawyer. People don’t send lawyers when they’re secretly pining to see you again. They send lawyers when they want to sue you into next week and steal your shirt when you get there.”
Max smirked. “Okay. Yeah, he’s mad. The lawyer thing is bad. I’m not pretending it isn’t. But you’re not going to be able to fix it if you don’t try.”
“I don’t know how.” Tom whispered the words toward the table. He lifted his head and looked up at his friend. “I don’t know how. I screwed up so badly I don’t blame him for not wanting to see me. If I were him, I wouldn’t take me back.”
“Fortunately, you’re not him. And you’ve got something I know he wants.” Max held out a hand.
“The baby?” Tom recoiled from the idea. He didn’t intend to use his baby as a bargaining chip.
“Well yeah, but that’s not what I meant. You’ve got yourself. And I know he loves you. He’s got the most forgiving heart on the planet. It has its limits, but you’d have to push him pretty far. All you have to do is tell him you know what you did wrong. Tell him how you’re fixing it. Then actually do those things. Trust me, he’ll be all over that stuff.” Max continued to hold his hand out.
Tom finally took Max’s hand, but he still didn’t share Max’s easy confidence. “He’s never going to say yes. He’s going to run so far so fast it’ll make your head spin.”
“Nah.” Max grinned. “I’ll trip him first. Then you’ll sit on him and state your case. See, I’ve always got a backup plan.”
Tom laughed, and they changed the subject. Deep down, though, he knew it would never work. Tom would have to be okay with that. As long as Wilson heard him out and processed the fact that he was sorry for what he’d said and asked of Wilson, Tom would have to be satisfied.
Wilson slumped in his seat, gripping the phone so tight he thought he might break it. “He still won’t answer you?” he asked the lawyer.
“What can I say?” McNabb sounded almost as frustrated as Wilson. “He keeps on saying he needs time. I don’t know what he needs time for. You’re letting him drive the bus completely here. I mean you’re even willing to have no contact, if that’s what he wants.”
“I’d rather avoid not seeing my only kid, but yeah. If that’s what he wants, that’s what I’ll do.” Wilson wondered if a human heart could shatter. They’d done experiments once involving liquid nitrogen, back in med school, but that was different.
“Look. Maybe we should try a different tactic. If he’s not willing to make a choice, maybe we should make one for him. I think if we go in with an offer - say shared legal custody, with maybe trading off by week, then he could maybe have something to push back against or not.” The lawyer sighed. “I don’t know why he’s dragging his heels, but sometimes people just need to have that little push.”
“Yeah, try that.” Wilson blinked back a few tears. “We’ll see how that works. Thanks - I appreciate your patience with all of this.”
“No problem. It’ll all get taken care of, okay? Don’t worry too much about it. It’s a scary time for everyone involved. That’s probably nine-tenths of the issue. I’ll get these papers drawn up and sent over.”
Wilson hung up and headed into the kitchen. He’d have thought Tom would want all of this straightened out as soon as possible. He knew Tom wasn’t holding out for more money. Was he thinking about surrendering the baby for adoption? Wilson shuddered away from the thought. He had to admit that it might be something to consider, even if the idea made him sick. He didn’t want to sacrifice parenthood, but if he and Tom couldn’t put their heads together even through a lawyer and come up with a plan for custody and stability then the baby should go to someone who could offer what was right for the kid.
He looked at the pamphlets on the coffee table. He had options. His vasectomy was scheduled for a month from now. Intellectually, he knew it wasn’t a big deal. It was an outpatient procedure. He’d be taking a taxi home, for crying out loud. The procedure itself gave him some pause, as it would any man, but he knew the risk of complications was minimal.
What he’d be giving up…
He pushed the thought out of his mind. Yeah, okay, he’d never be able to father another child. He knew he wasn’t a carrier, so he couldn’t have one the other way either. This would be it and shutting himself off from family life was a harrowing prospect. At the same time, Wilson just wasn’t cut out for a family. Sure, he had Max and Nadine from his old life, more or less. He hadn’t heard from Max in weeks. His parents hated him, and always had. The only guy who’d even pretended to want to start a family with him had really been trying to get closer to Anselm.
He’d ruined Tom’s life, for crying out loud. Tom had a job he loved, and because Wilson came along and got him pregnant, now Tom had to do a job he hated.
After the operation and everything, who knew what he’d do with himself? If he got shared custody, he’d stay in Denver. He wanted to be a father to his child, without question. If Tom wouldn’t allow him into the baby’s life, he didn’t want to stay in Denver anymore. It was nice to see Nadine every once in a while, and there was always the hope of getting together with Max now and again, but there wasn’t anything for him here. He was friendly enough with some people at work, but he wouldn’t say he was close with any of them. And to be honest, he missed Tom.
He leafed through some of the pamphlets. Maybe he’d take a leave of absence and go volunteer at the border or for MSF or something. He didn’t need to quit the job at the hospital, necessarily. He could just take a leave of absence and go somewhere to get a little bit of perspective, get some fresh eyes or something.
His doorbell rang. The sound alone made him jump. Nadine usually warned him before she stopped by, and no one else really came over. He went to answer it, only to find Max on his doorstep.
“Dude! I thought you’d skipped town!” He let Max into the house right away, closing and locking the door to keep the heat in. “How’ve you been?”
“Ah, busy. You know how it is. Stuff gets away from you, and I got suckered into helping to fix up the old place. Holy crap, what a dump. I think I just refused to see it before.” Max took off his coat and hung it up. “How did we let it get this bad? I get that it’s their responsibility to take care of it, but how did we just not say or do anything to make them do something before now? Like an intervention or something?”
Wilson scoffed. “What, sitting down and having a big confrontation with Dad wasn’t your idea of a great way to spend a day? Can’t imagine why.” He chuckled and gestured to the couch. “What can I get you? Coffee, beer, water?”
“I’m good for right now.” He patted the seat next to him, which was promptly occupied by a cat. “Not you, fuzzball.” The cat head-butted him and started purring. “Damn it.” He petted the cat. “I guess I can kind of see why you like the little things. They are kind of cute, I guess.”
“They’re good company.” Wilson grinned and sat on the other end of the couch, where he had a good view of the front door. “It’s been good to have them around, especially lately.” The other cat hopped up into his lap. “They take good care of me, I guess. So, what’s the situation with the old house? Is it salvageable?”
“No. We’re moving Anselm and Olivia into an apartment where they’ll have some kind of supervision, more for Olivia’s sake than anything else. Between the five - well, four - of us we can manage that. And then we’re turning the old place over to the fire department to use for training. They’re going to torch it, and then we’re going to sell the land to a developer, so they can rebuild something on the site that doesn’t look like it’s held together with roach corpses.” Max shook his head. “You know, I go into houses every day that look like that. And I always looked down on people who lived like that, or who let their families live like that. I never thought I’d be one of them, you know? I guess I learned my lesson.”
Wilson smiled, just a little bit. “Yeah, well, we all do eventually. So what else is going on? Any word on Ben?”
“Didn’t you have Ben banned from the hospital?” Max teased. “No, I get it. He’s still your brother, even if he is a raving jackass. Yeah, he’s not having an easy time of it in lockup, but what can you do? He just wouldn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop drinking, wouldn’t stop using, and he wouldn’t stop lashing out. Of course, none of this is his fault. It’s yours, for leaving and going to college. Or it’s mine, for not getting him out of jail time even though he’s got more DUIs than the entire state of Massachusetts. Or it’s Tom’s, for not keeping the diversion program from kicking him out. Or it’s Sandy’s, for not making him get clean. You know how it is with him.”
“Yeah. I know. It’s a shame. He always had a lot of potential.” Wilson sighed and looked toward the window. “I guess there’s nothing we can do, though.”
“Nope. You can’t force people to get help. You can’t force them to change.” He licked his lips and looked down at the coffee table. “Wait a minute, what’s all this? I know Nadine said something about the vasectomy, which is nuts.”
“Pun intended?” Wilson smirked.
“Absolutely pun intended.” Max chuckled. “I mean think about this for a second. All your life you’ve wanted a decent, functioning family and now you’re going to run off and cut off your chance to build that? Because something didn’t work out?”
Wilson looked away. “If that’s how you want to see it.”
Max swatted at Wilson’s arm. “Hey - no. Talk to me here, man. I’m here. I’m listening.”
Wilson hesitated. No one was ever really listening. No one wanted to know, especially not the police. Max wasn’t the police, though. He might be a cop, but he was also Max. He was the only one who’d stood by Wilson. “Look. Yeah, I wanted to start a family. I was looking forward to starting a family. I was so freaking happy to be starting a family with Tom, even though I’d promised myself I’d never date a cop.”
“Right. So… you went from ‘yay love’ to ‘snip snip’ and - wait, Doctors Without Borders? You want to wander off to treat Ebola or something? Dude. No.”
“It’s an option. It all depends on whether or not Tom will even let me see the baby. I don’t even know what he wants to name the baby. I don’t know if he’ll let me see him, or how often, or any of it. He won’t talk to the lawyer.” He massaged his temples. Even thinking about it was giving him a headache, and a lump in his throat, and a pain in his chest that just wouldn’t quit. “And I basically ruined his career and life. I wasn’t trying to, not at all, but he loved being a beat cop and now because I got him pregnant, he’s stuck doing this new job he can’t stand. So, nothing good has come out of me wanting to start a family. He was right. I am selfish.”
Max rolled his eyes. “My God you’re an idiot. Can you hear yourself? First of all, and please don’t give me any more details than short and simple answers to the questions I’m about to ask you, were you using protection?”
“Yeah, of course.” Wilson recoiled. “We’re adults. We don’t take stupid chances.”
“Excellent. And he was a willing participant.”
“Jesus, Max! Yeah, he was willing, enthusiastic and consenting.”
“Okay. So, you didn’t ruin his life. And he had other options. He didn’t have to take the diversionary program job. He could have taken any one of a number of other jobs that weren’t out on the street. So, stop thinking you’re the cause of everyone’s problems, okay?” Max softened, just a little. “I know that’s what our folks told you, a lot of the time. I get that. But you don’t have to believe it, big brother. It’s okay to acknowledge that most of the time, our parents were full of shit. And vodka.”
Wilson shook his head. “No. I hear what you’re saying, but it’s not - it doesn’t apply here, okay? He had his goals, his dreams, and he’d be able to achieve them if it weren’t for me. And because of me, because of the things I told him, he lost his hero. He thought Anselm was the ultimate policeman, and now he knows what Anselm really is.”
Max grimaced. “Yeah, it does suck when you lose your heroes. Everyone has to grow up at some point, though. In his case, that just means he’s had to do some re-evaluating. He’s had a chance to do some thinking, Wils. You need to sit down and talk to him about some of this stuff. You need to work out what each of you actually wants. You can’t just sit around and hope you don’t run into him on the street or something stupid. You want a family, he wants a family, you’re having a baby together, and you love each other.”
Wilson rolled his eyes and turned his head away. “Tom doesn’t love me. He loves being closer to Anselm.”
“I’m so sorry I made you think that.” Tom’s voice was so soft Wilson almost thought he was a ghost. He stepped in silently from the kitchen, moving slowly and carefully. His baby bump was pronounced now, although he hadn’t reached the “big as a house” stage yet. “I understand why you do. Don’t get me wrong. But I do know Anselm for what he is now. I believe you, about everything. And Wilson, once we were together, I always loved you more. I hero-worshipped Anselm like the child I was when I met him. I loved you, and I still love you, like a man.”
Wilson couldn’t breathe. He covered his mouth with his hands to hide his weakness. “How are you here?” He had to croak the words out. “How did you get in?”
“We’re cops, bro.” Max gave him a big cheesy grin. “We’ve got our ways.”
Wilson glared. “Isn’t that illegal?”
“Very. If you want to call the ACLU, go for it. I think in this case, they’ll be sympathetic. All right you two. You need medication. I need a beer.” Max headed into the kitchen.
Wilson stared at Tom. “Why did you come here?” The cat jumped off his lap, and Wilson stood up. “I don’t - I can’t - I don’t understand what’s going on. It’s making my brain hurt. I’m not letting them back into my life, Tom. I love you, but I’m not doing it.”
“No. You shouldn’t. It’s entirely your choice - about your parents, and your siblings. I had convinced myself that you needed them. I was so sure I was helping you, and of course there was the job aspect of it. It was still wrong, but my job at that point was worrying about what would help them. I should have put you first. And I will. You and this baby will always come first.” Tears dripped down Tom’s cheek, a little at a time. “I know you’re not used to people thinking about your needs. That ends. I want to be here, I want to be with you, and I want to spend the rest of my life building a family with you.”
Wilson narrowed his eyes. “Why? I’m offering you everything, even without that. You don’t have to be with me to have everything.”
Tom wiped at his eyes. “Because I don’t want custody arrangements. I don’t want support arrangements. I want you. I want you at my side. I want you when I come home, or I want you to come home to me. I want both of us to be there when our son takes his first steps, together. I want you there with me when our son is born, not off waiting for an email from Max. I love you, Wilson.”
Max reappeared, beer in hand. “Big bro, this is probably a good point for intervention. You’re feeling suspicious, and that’s… understandable, I guess. Don’t push Tom away. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
Wilson closed his eyes. Could he trust Tom again? Could he afford not to? “I told you before I’d never stop loving you,” he said to Tom. “I’m nervous. I hope that fades.” His hands shook, so he hid them in his pockets. “I want us to build a family together too.”
Tom stepped closer and wrapped his arms around Wilson.
“The cats stay, though,” Wilson said into his ear.
Tom just laughed.
Tom didn’t want to let another opportunity go by. He moved in with Wilson the next weekend. “I think we were both waiting for the ‘right’ time to talk about it. Like there was ever going to be the right time, you know? We both love each other. We’ve known each other for twenty years, we might as well just go for it.”
Wilson didn’t object. He just blushed. He also quietly made room for Tom’s things in the master bedroom. Wilson didn’t have a whole lot of “stuff,” anyway. He’d been in school for a long time, and then he’d been in the Army. He hadn’t had a chance to accumulate much.
Tom liked his small house back in the old neighborhood, but Wilson’s place was bigger. They decided to rent the house out, so Tom would still own the place he’d worked so hard to achieve but it wouldn’t sit vacantly. They rented it to a small immigrant family, at just enough to pay the mortgage and taxes. Tom felt good about it. He knew they’d take good care of the place, and he didn’t feel like some kind of weird slumlord.
Things were a little tense around the house at first. Tom guilty about the way things had gone with his disastrous attempt to repair the Lauritz family, and Wilson seemed hesitant to talk about much of anything. Tom couldn’t let that state of affairs last for very long. He refused to let his son grow up in an environment where every subject was forbidden. So, one night, about a week after he moved in, he sat down and turned to Wilson. “So. What do you think we should name the baby?”
Wilson gave a little jolt, like he hadn’t expected to be spoken to. “I haven’t given it much thought. I was trying to leave it up to you, you know? I figured it was more your decision than anything else.” He tangled a cat toy for one of the cats. “I wasn’t even sure if you’d let me see the baby for a long time, so I was actively avoiding thinking about it.”
Tom bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Wilson dropped the toy and dashed over to Tom’s side. “Tom, you have every right to express yourself, even if it’s in a way I might not like or agree with. Okay? You’ve been closer to my family than I have. It’s normal for you to have feelings about them.”
Tom took his hand. “But it’s not okay for me to push an issue that’s hurtful to you. And you have just as much of a say in what we name our son as I do. What do you think about calling the baby Max?”
Wilson smiled. His smile had gone from wicked to shy since they’d been apart, and Tom had to do something about that. It would take time, he knew, but he was prepared for it. “Max. It’s probably the best choice. He’s done an awful lot for both of us. It might go to my brother’s head, though. You know how he is.”
Tom laughed. “I do know how he is. But honestly, I want our kid to have that level of confidence. Don’t you?”
“Hell yes.” Wilson didn’t hesitate. “I want him to have all of Max’s confidence, and your looks. And your concern for other people. You’ve always had that, for as long as I’ve known you. That’s even why you wanted to go into police work - you wanted to help people. It’s one of the things I love about you.”
Tom rested his head on Wilson’s shoulder. “Do you think we’ll ever get back to where we were?”
“I think we’ll wind up better.” Wilson wrapped an arm around Tom’s waist. “I think it’ll take some time to get there, but it’ll be worth it. We’ll both learn to communicate better. We’re doing it already. And we’ll learn to keep things in better perspective, right? You’ve got to remember, we were only together for a few months. We’ve known each other for a long time, but we weren’t together very long at all. We can’t just expect to fall together into perfect bliss with no problems whatsoever.”
Tom sighed. “I hated being apart.”
“Me too. I was ready to run off and join MSF.”
“I heard.” Tom glared. “I don’t know if I’d have gotten over it. What if you’d been killed overseas or something? You hear about it happening all the time.”
Wilson looked away. “You’d have been fine.”
“I would not have been fine. The baby would not have been fine.” Tom gaped in outrage. “You’d have been dead, we’re not married —”
“Doesn’t matter. I’d already changed my will. I did that not long after you told me you were pregnant.” He rubbed at his neck, face scarlet. “Max - big Max - was the witness, so no one from my family could challenge the will. You and the baby get everything, no matter what.”
Tom covered his mouth while he searched for words. “Wilson, that’s - I don’t know what to say. You did that when you found out I was pregnant?”
“It was important to me. I wanted to make sure you were both taken care of, even if something happened to me.” Wilson shrugged. “I know the haircut might fool you, but I haven’t been out of the Army all that long, Tom. It’s normal to check your arrangements and make sure everything’s in order before a deployment.”
Tom rubbed at his cheeks. “Okay. But hear me out here, we still wouldn’t be okay. You might have taken care of us, materially. But you’d still be gone. You wouldn’t be there. If you went off to Syria to take care of refugees or whatever and got bombed, you’d be dead. We wouldn’t have you in our lives. Baby Max wouldn’t have a dad. Do you get that?”
Wilson bit his lip. “But you wouldn’t eve set up a custody arrangement with me.”
“It hurt.” Tom tried not to shout. He didn’t want to be the guy who shouted when he was upset, especially knowing what he knew about Wilson’s history. “It hurt to think about, so I kept putting it off. I didn’t want to have to think of a custody arrangement, I just wanted you to come back to me.” He wrapped an arm around Wilson’s shoulders. “Can we maybe not… you know, not do this? Can we not get mad about who should have done what anymore?”
Wilson nodded quickly. “Please? We’ve both admitted we could have done some things differently. We both want to do better. I don’t want to slink around with hurt feelings for the next twenty years. I don’t think that would be good for any of us.” He grimaced. “It’s easier to say than to do, though. I’ll make an effort but I’m sure I’ll backslide.”
“I’ll be here to remind you. And to set an example. I’ll be honest about what I’m thinking and feeling at all times. For example, I’m going to share a secret about pregnancy.” Tom took Wilson’s hand.
Wilson raised an eyebrow. “You do know I’m a doctor, right? You got the memo and everything?”
“Hush.” Tom laid a finger on Wilson’s lips. “All these hormones kicking around in here? They make me wicked horny.”
Wilson grinned. “They do, do they?” He took Tom into his arms. “Well, why don’t we go and do something about that?”
Wilson stood up and lifted Tom into his arms. It was a rare feat of physical strength, and Tom found himself clutching around Wilson’s neck to try to steady himself. He yelped, but Wilson just smirked and carried him off to bed like some kind of blushing bride. Tom buried his face in Wilson’s neck, because he felt ridiculous, but he loved it.
Wilson set Tom on the bed so gently Tom thought he might be practicing for when their baby got there. He very carefully removed Tom’s clothes and set them aside, so Tom was completely naked. They hadn’t had sex in a good while, several weeks or maybe even a couple of months. Tom suddenly found himself shy. Wilson still looked like Wilson. Tom was round in ways he’d never been round before. How could Wilson even want to look at him?
Wilson got rid of his own clothes, just as naked as he’d been before. “Hey. I see you trying to hide from me.” He loomed over Tom, a little smile playing over his handsome face. “Please don’t do that. I get your body is changing —”
Tom pulled the sheet over himself. “Are you reading my mind now?”
“No, but it’s normal. I see a lot of patients, Tom, and most of them say the same things. The thing is, I’m not here to make love to your body. I’m here to make love to you. As long as you’re still Tom, the guy I fell in love with, then I will always love and be excited by your body.”
Wilson gently pulled the sheet down and planted a kiss, right on the baby bump. “And this right here? This is there because you and I are building something. That’s beautiful to me too. I’d take it off your hands and make it less uncomfortable for you if I could, but none of that changes how beautiful you look to me.” He put his hands on Tom’s hips. “Now, I won’t touch you if you don’t want me to —”
Tom grabbed at Wilson’s hands. “Hey now, no fair.”
“Okay then.” Wilson laughed and stroked himself gently. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m kind of excited. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to be with you. Are you sure it’s what you want?”
Tom looked down at Wilson’s massive, engorged cock. The tip glistened in the half-light. Wilson wanted him all right. And Tom wanted Wilson. He still felt weirdly self-conscious about it, but he knew he was safe in Wilson’s hands.
Wilson took his time getting Tom ready. Tom didn’t necessarily need this much attention, but he wasn’t going to say no. It felt good to have someone touching him like this, kissing him, stroking his skin and nibbling along his jawline. He didn’t need his ego puffed up like some people did, but damn it felt good to have Wilson treating him like a treasure. And his touch, the slide of his fingers along his cock? It said, better than words, just how much love Wilson had for Tom, even after everything.
Wilson slid into Tom with one slow, careful thrust. Tom had always preferred it that way, and Wilson was careful to give him exactly what he needed. He cried out as Wilson took him, not from pain but with joy. He wouldn’t have said he was pining away for this, but now he could see what he’d been physically missing, and he was complete.
Wilson gave him time to adjust. Then he snapped his hips back and rocked forward, again and then again. Tom moaned. He was so full. How could he feel any better than he did right now? Wilson filled him up again and again, grazing against his prostate just enough to make him see stars.
This was everything. The rest of the world fell away, and there was nothing else but the two of them. Tom gave in to the demands of his body and stopped trying to pay attention to anything else.
He usually knew he was close before he came, but today was different. Today his orgasm burst messily out of him without warning, heat and pleasure and relief and joy exploding from somewhere in his core all at once. Wilson hadn’t even gotten to touch him yet. Tom supposed he should probably be embarrassed, but he couldn’t be. He was too happy.
Wilson lost the rhythm soon after, and Tom had the pleasure of feeling Wilson come inside of him. They lay together for a few moments, still joined, and then Wilson pulled out of him. He staggered into the bathroom to get a washcloth and cleaned them both up, and then he fell naked into the bed beside Tom.
“Thank you,” he said, and kissed Tom. “I needed that.”
“So did I.” Tom snuggled up beside him. He no longer felt shy about his body. This was their baby, part of their family that they were building together. “Can we stay here just like this?”
“Absolutely.” Wilson wrapped his arms around Tom. “Forever.”
Protect And Serve
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This book contains sexually explicit content that is intended for ADULTS ONLY (+18).
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