Booker stared at the badge in Penhall’s hand. “Why are you giving me this?”
In Penhall’s mind, that was the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. He had no idea why Tom felt compelled to give his badge to Booker for safekeeping, and he couldn’t help but wonder if his friend’s concussion was having more of an impact than first thought. Tom had never been close to Dennis, and it made no sense for him to hand over one of his most valued possessions to a man he barely communicated with. Except Doug had noticed a subtle shift in Tom’s demeanor, and he’d pinpointed the start of his strange behavior as the day after his birthday. Something had changed that night, something pivotal, but try as he might, he couldn’t remember anything unusual happening during the celebrations. His recollection was a fun night filled with laughter, dancing, and plenty of drinking, none of which were out of the ordinary when the team got together to party and unwind. Theirs was a unique camaraderie, built on friendship and trust, and they all respected each other equally. Only Booker was on the outer, due partly to his shaky start at Jump Street. But while Penhall, Hoffs, and Ioki had learned to accept him as part of their team, Hanson still held a grudge. And so, the more Doug thought about it, the crazier the whole situation seemed. However, despite his misgivings—and the teensy bit of jealousy stabbing at his heart—he would do as Tom asked. If Hanson wanted Booker to have his badge, then he would hand it over. Maybe not with a smile, but with a clear conscience that he’d at least honored his friend’s wish.
Shoving the badge closer to Booker, Penhall huffed out a sigh. “How should I know? I thought you could tell me what’s going on. All he said was he wanted you to hold onto it, and for you to give it back to him when he gets home. I’m starting to think the bang to his head scrambled his brain.”
But while Penhall’s observation seemed the logical answer, Booker knew better. Tom was giving him a sign, a somewhat cryptic sign, but a sign nonetheless. Communication had been re-established through the small, yet significant gesture and the ball was now in his court. He could tell Doug to keep the badge, or he could take it and give it back to Tom the following day. The choice was his to make.
Indecision furrowed his brow. He wasn’t sure he was ready to see the man who had broken his heart, especially without the buffer of other people in the room. However, he also wasn’t sure he was ready to give up his dream of having a relationship with the one person who had infected his soul to the point of obsession. He’d hankered after Tom for months, and to throw away what they had because of an argument—or a misunderstanding, depending on who you believed—seemed the perfect example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Was he allowing his ego to get in the way of the relationship he’d coveted since first laying eyes on Tom, and if so, to what purpose? What had begun as a mere should I?/shouldn’t I? scenario, was fast becoming a personal conundrum of epic proportions, and the more he analyzed his feelings, the more confused he became. He loved Tom, he knew he did, but was he prepared to give his heart and soul to a relationship that had blossomed from a drunken night out? Before the night of June 9th, the answer was a definitive no. But that wasn’t the only problem. There was also the small yet oh so important matter of Tom’s sexuality. The object of his affection was straight… except, despite his inflated ego, Booker did not believe he had the seductive power to change someone’s sexual preference, so by that logic, Tom wasn’t straight. It was a confusing predicament to find himself in, and so his mind went around in circles, each new thought driving him crazy until a stress headache began to pulse behind his eyes. He was running out of time. Penhall expected an answer, but even as he opened his mouth to speak, he still had no idea what he would say. “Um—”
“What are you doing with Hanson’s badge?”
Both officers turned to face their captain, but it was Penhall who spoke first. “Tom gave it to me yesterday. He asked me to give it to Booker.”
Dennis shot the officer a look of annoyance. The last thing he wanted was Fuller getting involved in what was proving to be an awkward conversation. But when his captain took the police identification out of Penhall’s hand, he knew he had no choice but to speak up. “Tom wants me to keep it safe until he’s released from the hospital. You know, for security reasons.”
Captain Fuller studied the photo in the battered wallet for several moments before handing the I.D. over to Booker. “Then you’d better hold onto it.”
“Yes, Coach,” Booker muttered, and taking the proffered credentials, he shoved them in the back pocket of his jeans.
With a nod of his head, Fuller turned and walked away, leaving Penhall to ponder the reasoning behind Tom’s request, and Booker wondering what he would say to the man who had turned his world upside down. The two officers exchanged a look, but neither knew what to say, and so, without uttering a word, they each returned to their desks to contemplate Tom’s decision in silence.
The following evening
Booker stood outside Tom’s apartment, the stiffness of his stance a postural indicator of his nervous apprehension. The prickly heat of uncertainty tingled from his scalp to the soles of his feet. He still wasn’t convinced he’d made the right decision, but having spent the previous night tossing and turning, the little voice inside his head had finally convinced him Tom was worthy of a second chance. He was prepared to put his heart on the line one last time, and whether or not it paid off, was now up to Tom.
And so, without giving himself time to overthink his actions, he lifted his hand and rapped his knuckles on the door. A long, agonizing countdown began… one second… two seconds… three seconds… four seconds… the painful silence that followed so intense, he could hear his own blood roaring in his ears.
But just as he was about to leave, the sound of a chain pulling back caught his attention, and his heart skipped a beat. He waited… alert… anxious… and moments later, the door swung slowly open, revealing Tom’s ashen face.
The sound of his name sent a flutter through Booker’s heart, and it was then he knew he’d made the right choice. A slow smile formed on his lips, but it quickly vanished as he took in his lover’s appearance. Wrapped in a blanket, Tom looked weak and drawn. A curtain of hair concealed his bandaged temple, but his pained expression and the deathly pallor of his skin all pointed toward physical suffering and stepping forward, the dark-haired officer placed his palm against his friend’s cheek. “Jesus, Hanson. Didn’t they give you any pain meds?”
Mustering all his inner fortitude, Tom put on a brave face, his strained smile making a mockery of his usual cheeky grin. “They did, but I’m not taking them.”
Booker’s brows arched in surprise. “For God’s sake, Tom. You’re in pain. Why do you have to always play the hero?”
“Don’t,” Tom pleaded, his dark, expressive eyes begging for understanding. “I know what I’m… do you wanna come in?”
There was a hint of optimism in Tom’s hastily delivered invitation, a hope that Booker would drop the matter of his pain management so they could begin the process of rekindling their relationship. Time stood still, a near feverish anticipation undulating from the injured officer in heavy waves. The moment of truth had arrived, and the next words out of Booker’s mouth would seal both their fates forever.
Several long seconds stretched out in silence before Booker finally spoke. “Okay,” he acquiesced, his lips twitching into a half smile. “I could use a drink.”
Relief temporarily masked the pain in Tom’s eyes, and stepping back from the door, he motioned his friend inside.
Stepping into the dimly lit living area, the familiarity of the apartment immediately brought a barrage of memories to the forefront of Booker’s conscious thought. Tom’s tentative fingers stroking his erection through his jeans… the thickness of his lover’s penis gliding through his hand… the low moans of arousal ringing in his ears… the scent of sex permeating the air... heat… want… lust… need… growing… throbbing… aching... the perpetual cycle of retrospection flashed through Booker’s mind, the vivid imagery twitching his cock to life. Just thinking about their past dalliances made him horny, and for the second time in less than a few minutes, he was glad he’d trusted his gut. Tom ignited a fire inside him unlike anything he’d ever experienced before, and that type of sensory stimulation was a rarity. Not that it was all about the sex, it wasn’t. The man standing before him ticked all the boxes when it came to the perfect partner. But he wasn’t that naive that he didn’t understand the importance of sexual chemistry. There was no doubt Tom revved his engine, and when the desire was that strong, the sex was always earth-shattering. And although many would deny its importance, Booker was man enough to admit that sex did matter. He was a passionate, charismatic lover, and he couldn’t imagine spending his life with someone who didn’t evoke the deepest of his primal emotions. Tom really was his ideal mate, except for the one persistent problem that continued to rear its ugly head… was he really bisexual or was his foray into homosexual sex just a case of curiosity and experimentation?
Aware of his growing arousal, Booker’s cheeks flushed red. “S-Sure,” he stammered awkwardly. “Whatever’s open.”
Observing the noticeable bulge in his friend’s jeans, Tom couldn’t help but have some fun. “Is that my badge in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?”
Booker let out a shaky laugh. “Geez, Hanson. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
Tom grinned, and with the ice now broken, he hobbled over to the kitchen and poured his friend a drink. As he carried it back, the blanket around his shoulders slipped to the floor, revealing his naked torso. Booker’s gaze honed in on Tom’s bruised rib cage, and ignoring the young officers attempt to hand him the glass, he stepped forward and placed a tender hand on his side.
Drawing in a sharp intake of breath, Tom visibly winced. But the soothing heat radiating from the warm flesh of Booker’s hand instantly dulled his pain, and closing his eyes, he drew strength from the tender touch.
“Did you miss me?” Booker whispered, the warm tendrils of his breath wafting over the shell-like indentation of his lover’s ear.
The tumbler of bourbon slipped from between Tom’s fingers, shattering on impact, the force exploding shards of glass and Jack Daniel’s across the floor. Both men jumped, the sound bursting the bubble of intimacy shrouding them. Pain flared in Tom’s ribs, and doubling over, he clutched his side, a loud moan trembling from between his lips. Immediately, two strong arms enveloped him, steadying his shaking body. “Here, let me help you,” Booker murmured, mindful the splinters of glass littering the floor, he helped Tom over to the sofa.
“Thanks,” Tom gasped, tears of pain glistening in his eyes, and settling back against the cushions, he exhaled a weighty sigh.
“Much,” Tom breathed, and closing his eyes, he focused on not passing out.
Taking a seat beside the injured officer, Booker cast a worried eye over his pale complexion. Several minutes passed, and noticing Tom’s breathing had eased, he laid a hand on his friend’s thigh. “Tommy?”
A tender smile played over Booker’s lips. “Do you want to rest, baby?”
“Mmm,” Tom murmured without opening his eyes.
“Okay,” Booker whispered, and getting to his feet, he picked up the discarded blanket and gently placed it over his friend’s lap.
“Don’t go,” Tom mumbled. “I want you t’stay with me.”
Booker’s heart dipped, and returning to the sofa, he sat down. He gazed down at Tom before carefully pulling him into his arms, his nose nuzzling into his lover’s hair. “I’m not going anywhere. Now, go to sleep. We can talk when you wake up.”
“M’kay,” Tom breathed, and snuggling against the warmth of Booker’s body, he fell into a restful slumber.