Disclaimer: Not my property, sadly.
Note: This is gen, but could potentially be read as all sorts of preslash, if that's what floats your boat. But if you're not into slash, rest assured, there's nothing strong in here at all.
Filthy and exhausted, they trail onto the plane at San Salvador in the dusty evening light. Penhall carries Clavo in his arms, the child's head laid, quiescent, on his shoulder. The tears were short-lived, and though he has spoken little since they left Marta's grave, confining himself to brief, practical remarks, still, he is more gentle now than Tom has seen him in quite a while, since that night after he got out, that night that he doesn't think about, ever. Tom curls up, awkwardly, in the uncomfortable plane seat; it's a set of three, and Doug puts Clavo between them. Tom's by the window and he's glad – not because he wants to see any more of El Salvador, no way, no how – but he feels, somehow, safer.
Cruising at thirty thousand feet. Tom sips his cup of milk and tries to concentrate on the movie. Clavo is sleeping restlessly, shifting and murmuring – he doesn't exactly sound distressed, but neither is he peaceful. Tom was never relaxed enough to sleep in public, and that goes double now. He jumps when Doug leans over and puts a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
"Sure." He suspects his smile may be glassy, may be less than convincing. Doug won't say anything, though – he's kind of got bigger issues, right now, than a partner who may or may not be cracking up on him. He's coming back to America with a kid in tow, for God's sake. A kid who doesn't even speak English. They've already been away four days longer than they said, and Tom thinks Fuller won't be real thrilled if Doug's thoughts are more focused on finding a decent kindergarten than busting high school pushers.
Doug squeezes his shoulder. "Because if you aren't okay – you'd tell me, right? If anything… happened. I mean, it's okay if you don't wanna talk about it – this is probably sounding kind of girly, anyway, right? But if you did – that would be okay, too."
"I'm okay. I'm fine. Yeah, it was real weird out there for a while, but we're going back now, everything's gonna be normal again." And he feels his cheeks get hot, because "normal" is different than it was, and Marta's lying under the dirt, cold and silent, and there's no way Doug himself is "okay" with that, so he, Tom, has to be. He has to be. Doug quits talking at last and fixes his eyes on the little screen, where the girl's just been made-over and come out looking pretty hot, and everyone's learnt your basic salient lesson. "In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions…" He feels a little shudder starting up inside, and stamps down on the thoughts and the fear as hard as he can. He gulps at the milk and kicks the back of the chair in front, not hard, just swinging his foot backwards and forwards. There isn't even anyone sitting there, it's two in the morning, the last flight, half empty. He doesn't even like milk, but they'd run out of apple juice.
It's a smooth landing, in the end. They don't have any baggage to claim, but it takes a while for Penhall to explain his situation to the satisfaction of the immigration officers. Tom listens as if from a great distance, holding Clavo's hand in his larger, colder one. He feels, suddenly, quite dizzy with tiredness, and wonders exactly how long it is since he slept. He is counting up hours in his head when Doug appears in front of them again, his face lit up with the first smile since they found out what had happened. For the moment, things have been sorted out, and they walk out, the three of them together, at the pace of the slowest, only Tom isn't sure who that is.
And in arrivals, they are waiting. Harry smiles as they come through the gate, a sad smile, because, like all of them, he knows about losing people. Captain Fuller shakes Doug's hand. Clavo is introduced, but after a particularly wide yawn Doug decides that carrying him again would probably be a good idea.
"Judy was sorry she couldn't make it," Harry says. "She had a meeting this evening and I think she was feeling pretty wiped out afterwards."
"It's okay," says Doug. "We didn't expect anyone to be here."
"We thought maybe I could take you and Clavo back to my place," says Harry. "I know what your apartment's like, and I've got food and stuff. You look like you could use a break."
"Ah, Harry – thanks man. You don't have to–"
"Doug, I want to. Anything I can do."
Tom is walking a step or two behind, and Fuller falls back beside him. "I'm going to drive you home, Hanson," he says.
"Coach–" Tom begins, but his voice strangles into silence. So he swallows hard and says "Thanks" as steadily as he can. He wasn't quite expecting that "normal" would be this hard.
In the parking-lot, just as he and Fuller separate from the others – they came separately, so the cars are at opposite ends – Doug says, "Tom," very quietly. Then he puts Clavo down very gently, covers the distance between them in five loping steps, and pulls Tom into his arms. It's awkward, deliberate like that, in front of two other cops, and Tom feels jerky panic rising again at the closeness, at the sudden sense of smallness that he's been fighting with everything he's got for, well, quite a while, really. But it's also right, because they've played at brothers dozens of times but they've never felt it more than right now, right here. When Doug lets go and they walk away from each other, Tom feels all at once relieved and strangely insubstantial. He doesn't talk to Fuller in the car, and when they get to his apartment – the Captain seems to know the way alright, without directions – he's even less sure what to say, because he really doesn't want to ask him in, but he doesn't want to be rude either, and he really, really doesn't want to talk or anything, but equally he's not quite sure, suddenly, that being alone will be quite as good as he'd been imagining during all that communal living.
"Hanson – what happened out there?" Fuller's voice sounds too loud, in the night.
"I – there's nothing more than I told you over the phone. Marta's dead. That's all," Tom says. Marta's dead. "Thanks for the ride, Captain. I gotta go," he forces out, struggles wildly with the handle of the car door for a moment and then he's safe in the elevator, leaning against the wall, exhausted.
In his apartment, at last, he is too tired to eat or shower or watch TV, so he curls up under the quilt in his bed, all the filth still on him, and all the lights on. But now that he is alone, and it's okay for the tears to come, and no one will think he's pathetic or will ask questions he doesn't want to answer – now, his eyes are dry as old earth, and he watches the pale, blank ceiling for an hour and another hour and another hour, and it doesn't change, but after a long enough time, sleep comes.
Please review! It would make me very happy!