Disclaimer: No one is mine, darn it. But I'd happily buy HBK if they were selling him.
Distribution: Kliq's Camelot, Shadows, anyone else please ask first
Characters: Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Jay Reso, Tyson Tomko, Eric Bischoff, Chris Jericho
Content: ANGST, language, m/m relations
Author's Notes: Please forgive any factual faults or time line inconsistencies; I've researched as much as possible, but I wasn't watching wrestling during the 1990s, so I'm sure mistakes will creep in.
The title comes from one of the major arcana of the tarot. Each tarot card has two meanings, depending on whether it's dealt head-up or reversed, head-down. Strength represents not just physical strength but the ability to cope with extreme pressure and win through in the end. It signifies triumph over most things; challenges in your relationships or careers, even defending oneself against jealousy, ignorance and oppression, and warns of missed opportunities and not to give up when you could be so close to the finish line. Meaning taken from http://www.free-tarot-reading.net/meanings/index.php.)
~ Backstage, 2004 ~
"Hey, where's Shawn?"
It wasn't a hard question. Really. It should be incredibly easy to answer. The man stood out in a crowd at a thousand paces, after all.
So why couldn't anyone tell him?
"Dunno, H, but we need to talk about our match Friday night."
"Shawn? Haven't seen him since lunchtime."
"If you find him, let him know I need him to come in and try on his new ring gear, would you?"
"Why? You gonna beat him up again?"
It was like a damned conspiracy, Hunter mused as he stood in the doorway of Shawn's locker room. Shawn's empty locker room. CJ finally kicked some courage into him, and now the man he was almost desperate to find was hiding, as far as he could tell. But why would Shawn be hiding from him? It'd be more in character for him to be sitting defiantly in the middle of the hallway glaring at Hunter... and why would he be avoiding him now, of all times? How the hell would he know that Hunter wanted to talk to him? Jericho wouldn't have told him; he'd been too busy running off to find Benoit. Not that Hunter could really blame him; the draw of being reunited with someone you loved after years apart was something that he understood all too well.
Not that he was that optimistic; hoping for a reunion was beyond him, at this point. He and Shawn had just done too much to each other for too long for it to be that easy, after all. Regardless of what CJ said, Hunter just couldn't believe that his feelings were returned. There had never been any sign of it, no hint... just a friendship that meant more to him than life itself and a friend that was closer to him than any brother ever could be. His mouth twisted a little at that; every time he heard J.R. say that, he couldn't help but wonder just how close "closer than brothers" really was. The only thing that came to mind had never applied to him and Shawn, no matter how often he'd wished otherwise.
"God damn it!" he snarled as he turned away, kicking the door shut behind him. If he couldn't find Shawn now, he didn't know if he'd have the courage to try this later. Confronting Shawn with his feelings, finally telling the man that he loved him after nearly a decade... Hunt just wasn't sure if he could go through with it. Every other time he'd tried to say those words, he'd choked. That phone call still haunted him. He wondered if Shawn had ever realised who it was that had called him at that indecent hour. He almost hoped not. It was just inconceivable that Jericho was right... but if he was...
Lost in the confused jumble of reluctant hope and fearful disbelief, he didn't realise that he'd stopped in the middle of the hall and was staring blankly at a crate against the wall until a voice near his ear nearly made him jump.
"Lookin' for Shawn?"
He spun around, his eyes narrow as he glared at Jay, Ty lurking behind the smaller man. Reso and he had never really gotten along. The younger man's sense of humour had always rubbed Hunt the wrong way, and the oddly arrogant stance that he had just didn't sit right with him. The frown on Tyson's face didn't escape him, but he could care less at the moment. If Jay was just going to fuck with him, he wasn't going to take it. The little smirk on the little bastard's face didn't help his mood, and his fingers clenched at his sides.
"Why do you care?" It came out as a growl, and Reso's smirk only widened. Damn him.
"Well... if you're not just looking for him to beat the shit out of him again... I saw him heading down that side hallway by the office about half an hour ago. Looked kinda upset, too."
Hunter's heart clenched a little as he fought back his initial reaction to Jay's words. Shawn was upset? What the hell was going on around here today? Nodding his thanks even as he wondered why in the hell Reso had told him, he pushed his way past the two and headed in the direction Jay had indicated, not noticing the looks he was getting from the other guys at his unusually quick pace. He had to find Shawn, and he had to find him before he lost his nerve. There was just too much between them for this to be as easy as Jericho had suggested it would be, and laying himself open to the man who'd ripped his heart out and stomped on it more than once over the last decade wasn't something he was particularly looking forward to.
"Hunter! Hey! Hunter, dammit, wait!"
Not now, he groaned to himself, halting reluctantly as he turned to look at Bischoff. The man looked apologetic, but that obviously wasn't going to keep him from demanding his time right now.
"Sorry, Hunter, but we don't have much time before we hit the air, and I need to talk to you about your spot tonight."
Taking a deep breath, Hunter's eyes flickered closed for an instant, his hopes of tracking Shawn down now fading away. Fate was obviously against him tonight. Cursing silently, he just hoped that he'd be able to find his one-time friend after the show. And that he'd have the balls to say what he needed to say. His eyes opening again, he met Eric's gaze, outwardly calmer, and nodded.
"Fine. Let's get this done." With one last glance down the hallway in front of him, he followed Eric into his office and shut the door behind them.
Sitting cross-legged on top of the crate, Shawn tilted his head back against the wall, letting his eyes close. Dressed in his ring gear, he was ready for his spot later tonight, but he'd sought the silence and solitude of this almost-hidden spot backstage rather than stay in the locker room and possibly face Hunter. He knew that if Ric knew what he was doing---or rather, what he wasn't doing---Naitch would kill him. He'd promised, after all. But... he just couldn't.
How was he supposed to go hunt down his once-upon-a-time best friend and explain to him that all the nastiness and curses and anger had really been aimed at himself, and oh, by the way, I love you?
No. If Ric had been right, then he was scared to death for nothing. But if he was wrong... and that was the heart of his problem. Hunter had never given him a sign that he cared for him as anything but a friend, albeit an exceptionally close friend.
A soft sigh escaped him even as his lips curled as he remembered some of the times they'd spent together. He'd never been that close to anyone else, not even Kevin... not even Bret. No one else had been able to send that shivering spark through him with a simple look; no one else had supported him through his weak moments; no one else had known him so damned well. That was probably why it had been so easy for him to lash out and rip Hunter apart during his lowest moment. That phone call still haunted him. If he could turn back time and take every single one of those words back, it still wouldn't be enough to make up for what he'd done. All Hunter had done was be there for him, after all.
Except when you needed him the most, a snide little voice in the back of his mind reminded him sharply. He shook his head, his eyes still closed. No, he wasn't... but then, Shawn hadn't told him that he needed him, either, let alone how much or how desperately. His own pain and despair had choked back the plea that he'd wanted so desperately to make, had ultimately kept those strong arms that had held him through some of his worst times from wrapping around and supporting him at his darkest moment.
Shivering slightly in the chill from the air conditioning, Shawn wrapped his arms around himself in a vain attempt at comfort. He didn't deserve those arms... didn't deserve that support. He'd broken his own heart when he'd stomped on Hunter's and there couldn't be any coming back from that.
Ric's words came back to him, his mind almost taunting him with the simplicity of the answer.
"Then quit tearing the man's heart out every night and tell him how long he's had yours!"
It couldn't be that easy.
If Ric was right about how Hunter felt... then maybe it could be. Biting his lip, Shawn opened his eyes and took a deep breath, his resolve firming. Telling Hunter how he felt and being rejected couldn't possibly be any worse than this agonising self-hatred he'd been living with for the last six years.
Shawn slid off the crate and stretched carefully, the stiffness in his lower back a bitter reminder not only of the most painful time in his life, but of his own age. He was approaching forty, and was more aware of that fact every week as he watched the faces in the back grow younger, the hero worship in their eyes a bittersweet compliment when they so earnestly told him that he was their inspiration, that they'd grown up watching him. It wouldn't be too long before Hunter started getting the same thing, he thought wryly.
If nothing else, maybe clearing the air between them would allow them to recover their friendship, or at least begin a new one. Being able to tease Hunt about growing older the way that he'd teased him about being the young guy years before would be worth it. He missed the teasing and the shared laughter. He missed just spending time with Hunt.
Maybe it was time to try to get that back.
"Mr. Michaels! You're on in ten!" The voice carried down the hall, snapping Shawn out of his thoughts. With a glance, he saw the intern at the corner and nodded at him, starting toward the gorilla position. He pushed his brooding thoughts away, gearing himself up for the match coming up shortly. First his match. Then maybe he'd see about dealing with his worst enemy.
Hunter cursed under his breath as he slammed the dressing room door shut behind him before leaning against it. He'd been defeated in the only important thing he had to do tonight---finding Shawn. After getting out of that damned meeting with Eric, he'd done his spot and done it damned well if he did say so himself, only to realise that Shawn's spot had gotten over before Bischoff had been done with him and that the man had apparently left the building immediately afterward. The half-taunting, half-sympathetic expression on Reso's face as he'd told Hunter that he'd seen Shawn driving away only made it worse, really. Somehow, he suspected that Jay knew why he was looking for Shawn, which made him suspect that everyone knew... except Shawn. Unless he did know... and that was why he was avoiding him...
Raising his head, he met Ric's gaze, not entirely surprised by the concern that he saw there. Pushing himself up and away from the door, he headed for his locker. If Ric wanted to know what was wrong, Hunter might tell him, but for the moment, he was done with talking. Practically begging with half the roster to tell him where Shawn was and getting met with everything from shocked surprise to angry glares had been wearing, to say the least.
"Hey, champ... if you need to talk..."
Hunter's lips turned upward briefly. He'd known Ric wouldn't be able to leave him alone. Much to his own surprise, after getting put together for Evolution, they'd developed a strong friendship... once Ric had given him hell about the retirement comments he'd made years earlier, anyway. Sinking down onto the bench, his towel in his hand, Hunter was silent for a long moment.
"I... I've been looking for Shawn." With his back to Flair, he missed any reaction Ric might have had to that surprising statement. Another pause, and then the words came tumbling out as he told Ric everything. Everything from that first meeting with Shawn when he'd realised that the man of his dreams was already taken, to the phone call that had destroyed their friendship, to the call that he'd made, to his conversation with Jericho a few hours earlier. When he was done, there was another moment of silence, and then Flair sighed.
"Y'know, champ, you and Shawn have gotta be the most stubborn S.O.B.s I've ever known, and I've known a lot of 'em. If I were you, I'd go after him." That startled a look out of Hunter and he twisted around, his surprise clear on his face. Ric smiled at him. "When it was me, I almost didn't go. I've often wondered how things would've gone if I hadn't... and I've always thanked God that I did. Going home to an empty house, knowing that I let someone I love more than life itself walk away from me without a fight... that would've killed me."
Hunter blinked at him, taken aback by the frank words. As long as they'd been friends now, he'd never known anything like that about the man in front of him. Now that he did... He could feel his resolve returning. He'd let Shawn control their relationship for almost a decade, and it was time to make a change. If he hunted the man down and told him everything he'd been hiding for that time, the worst thing that could happen was rejection---and that was where he was at now. The best thing... the best thing, he refused to think about. Blind optimism wasn't something he believed in.
"Thanks, Ric." Standing up, he clapped Ric on the shoulder before giving him an awkward hug. Random touches were something he'd never been too good at---he'd always left that up to Shawn. Another thing to change, no matter what happened tonight. "You're absolutely right. I've never been good at giving up."
Still nervous, still scared, but filled with renewed determination, Hunter rushed through his shower, thoughts of what he would say rushing through his head. Just knocking on the door and blurting out, "I love you!" was pretty much out of the question. Even if he could bring himself to do it, he was pretty sure that Shawn's response would be short, nasty, and end with the door slamming shut in his face. Recapping the last decade would take too damned long, and would probably bore Shawn to death.
Grabbing his gear bag and heading out the door with an absent wave at Ric, Hunter ignored everyone else who was still backstage on his way to the limo, still turning over options in his mind. Whatever he did, it would have to get Shawn's attention right away without being too unbelievable. If he had to explain a black eye to Vince tomorrow, things would be just a little awkward.
The ride to the hotel seemed unbearably long, but at the same time, Hunter was thankful for the time. Trying to figure out how to handle this was bringing up all of his memories of the past, and along with them, all of the tangled emotions that he'd spent so long suppressing. Looking back, he couldn't believe that it had taken him so long to realise how he felt about Shawn. No one else had ever known him so well or been able to send sparks through him with just a touch... he'd never wanted to know anyone so well as he knew Shawn.
Hopefully that knowledge would help tonight. He and Shawn had both changed over the years since his retirement, and Hunter had been surprised more than once by his one-time friend since that incredible return.
The opening of the door brought him back to the moment, and he got out of the limo with a nod and a tip to the driver, slinging his bag over his shoulder as he walked through the doors. Thankfully, the fans waiting for him were few, and although he chafed at the delay as he smiled and signed autographs and posed for pictures, he'd learned long ago not to blow these moments off as unimportant. His popularity might come from being the biggest asshole anyone had ever seen in the ring, but it was sustained by things like this. And honestly, the normally mind-numbing mundanity of autographs and photos helped calm him down, the growing tension he'd felt at the upcoming confrontation draining away until it only left his shoulders tense.
Finally escaping to the debatable privacy of the elevator, Hunt punched in the floor number and then watched the numbers change as the car rose. He'd have to remember to thank Jay later for Shawn's room number, although he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to think about why Jay would have it. Shawn's choice of friends had always been interesting---his lips twisted as he included himself in that group---but imagining those two getting up to trouble together was almost frightening.
His momentary amusement was replaced by a vague sadness as he remembered the trouble that he and Shawn had gotten into together, Vince's frown as he reprimanded them a familiar sight during those few short years. God, those had been good times. Maybe they could have them again. If they could at least work through things enough to recover that friendship...
The chiming of the door as it slid open broke into his thoughts, and he took a deep breath as he walked out into the hallway. Whatever the possibilities were, he was about to find out. Turning to his right, he kept an eye out for the number... There. Stopping in front of the door, he stared at it for a long moment, fighting back the nearly overwhelming fears and regrets that threatened to choke him and send him running for the safety of his own room.
Taking a deep breath, he lifted his hand and knocked.
The greeting took him by surprise, since he hadn't heard the locker room door open, and even as he turned Shawn wondered what Jay wanted. Hopefully not to go out clubbing---after his little discussion with Ric, he just wasn't in the mood to go out tonight. He had too much to think about... and if he ran into Ric, the man would undoubtedly bite his head off for not talking to Hunter.
Dammit. More guilt to add to his self-imposed burden, but it was nothing more than what he deserved. Smoothing away the too-revealing expression that he knew had slipped over his face, Shawn refused to dwell on the subject. Not now, anyway.
Fortunately, Jay was too caught up in his news to notice the expression on his face. From the frown that Ty gave him, Shawn knew that he'd seen it, but with the man's usual quiet diplomacy, Shawn also knew that he wouldn't comment on it. Not for the first time, he was glad for the impulse that had moved him to approach Jay after his return; he'd needed a friend after Scott was fired and Kev was injured, and he'd been surprised to discover that the normally ebullient younger man was desperately lonely. Shawn had been able to empathize over the reason---the only difference between the stories they'd shared had been the level of intimacy they'd had with their best friends. That, and the fact that Jay hadn't been the one to stab his best friend in the back. No, Adam had done that quite nicely by taking up with Matt behind Jay's back.
"That was a great match, as always," Jay grinned at him. Shrugging, since he'd gone through the motions in the ring but couldn't even name his opponent that night if he were asked, Shawn finished pulling on his clothes before sitting on the bench and smiling wryly up at Jay, seeing his friend practically vibrating. Apparently, whatever he had to tell him was important... at least in Jay's mind.
"Go on, Jay... spill," he ordered, resting his hands on his knees as he waited, amusement momentarily chasing away the tangle of emotions that he'd been dragging behind him since Ric had cornered him before the show. Last time Jay had been this excited, it had been because he'd seen the Chrises kissing in a corner. That had been a week ago, and Shawn had been biding his time to talk to CJ about it... until Jericho took it out of his hands tonight.
Jay had been Shawn's ally over the last few months, trying to prod CJ and Benoit back together. Maybe an odd hobby for him, as Jericho's sometime lover, but they'd drifted into a close friendship over the last few years that took precedence for both of them, all appearances to the contrary, and one of Shawn's favourite pastimes had become working on getting those two back together. They belonged together, after all---everyone but those two could see it.
"Well... I ran into Hunter before your match." The badly-suppressed grin told Shawn that there was more to this, but the mere mention of Hunter's name brought back all the memories that he'd been trying to suppress all evening. Again. Feeling his body tense, Shawn could only hope that his reaction wasn't as obvious to Jay as it was to Ty, whose gaze had softened a little. For some reason, Ty seemed to think that Shawn was all wrong about Hunter and their past. Jay, on the other hand, was often close to the airhead that he played on t.v., and this seemed to be one of those moments. Thank God.
"And?" He knew his tone was brusque at best, but he couldn't stop himself from snapping as he finished packing his bag, using it as an excuse to turn away from his friends before he inadvertently revealed anything else. The hurt expression on Jay's face pulled at him, though, and he knew that he'd be apologizing later for having caused it.
"And... he was looking for you." The triumphant note in Jay's voice was almost hidden by the bewilderment in his next words. "Looked in here, as a matter of fact, and he looked pretty upset that he couldn't find you."
That explained it, then. Hunt had been pissed off at something he'd done, that was all. Shawn pushed away the nagging thought that Hunter had never been angry with him, no matter what he did... and God knew he'd done things in the past that Hunter should've wanted to kill him for, so why would he be mad now? Unthinkingly, he looked at Ty, his confusion clear.
"He wasn't angry." There went the easy explanation. "He was upset because he needed to talk to you, I think," the big man offered in his surprisingly quiet voice. As disquieting as Ty's statement was, Shawn knew that his opinions had an unnerving habit of turning out to be true. That didn't settle the growing unease that he felt---it only heightened it.
Why in the hell would Hunt be looking for him? Slamming his bag down on the bench, Shawn rose to his feet, cutting off anything Jay was going to add. Whatever the reason was, something told him that it was a discussion they shouldn't have in public... maybe it was one that they shouldn't have at all. Or maybe it was one that they should've had years ago...
"Well, if he wants to talk to me so damned badly, he can find me at the hotel. Room 317." Lifting his bag, Shawn walked out, his boots tapping out a quick beat on the cheap linoleum of the hallway floor. What the hell was going on around here today? First Ric, now Jay... why was everyone throwing his past mistakes in his face? He knew well enough what he'd done. He went through each and every one of them in his dreams, after all. But as much as he mourned the loss of his closest friend, Shawn knew that he never could've had what he really wanted. Hunt didn't love him.
An unamused smile curving his lips, he reflected that his biggest mistake was never learning how to fall out of love with Hunter.
The trip to the hotel was quick, but Shawn barely noticed it, too caught up in the round of self-recriminations and guilt that was eating at him. Setting his bag down in his room, he stared around it for a minute before sinking down into the uncomfortable straight-backed chair at the table near the door. All he could think of was the years of misunderstandings; each of his cruelties toward his supposed best friend flashed before his eyes as he sat, lost in his memories.
The sound of a knock on his door brought him out of the daze and he started, standing up quickly enough to make his vision swim. Pausing to let the brief head rush pass, all he could hear was silence. Who...?
No. It wouldn't be Hunter. They hadn't spoken in private since that damned phone call. Moving to the door, his fingers touched the knob just as another knock sounded. Without looking away, Shawn opened the door.
And found himself face-to-face with his former best friend.
"Hunter...?" Half-question, half-disbelieving plea. Shawn had dreamt of Hunt showing up like this---too many times to believe it would happen now. The quiet word fell into the yawning gulf of silence that stretched between them as amber locked with dusky blue, unreadable emotion passing between them.
A familiar tilt of the head and now-reddish locks fell across a face that Shawn knew better than his own. Responding instinctively to the unspoken question, Shawn stepped aside to let Hunter pass, watching almost numbly as Hunt stepped into the room before turning and reaching out. A slight flinch betrayed Shawn's nervousness at the movement, drawing an odd frown from Hunt as the door shut behind them with a loud click at the firm push. All he could focus on was Hunter, his vision narrowing to the familiar, unexpected figure as warm, rough words fell into the silence, washing it away.
"We need to talk."
He hadn't expected fear. Frowning as he came to a stop a few feet away from Shawn, Hunter wondered at that. Nervousness was written clearly on the sculptured face, which was strange enough---what did Shawn have to be nervous about, after all?---but the fear in the blue eyes was... disquieting. Pushing away the immediate impulse to wrap Shawn in his arms and drive away that fear, Hunter drew in a breath. His own uneasiness was fading, he realised, replaced by determination. If nothing else came of this, he wanted to be able to offer that comfort again.
Aware of the tense silence filling the space between them, Hunter tried to come at the issue sideways. He just wasn't quite ready to lay it all on the line yet.
"Why'd you leave, Shawn?" Shit. But getting through this without leaving himself wide open for HBK's infamous nasty comments would be nice... not that there was a chance of that. Not with what he had to say. Hopefully Shawn wouldn't take the huge opening he'd just given him. He hadn't meant to phrase the question that way, after all. He'd been asking about the arena...
"I didn't feel like staying."
Although Shawn's answer could certainly be taken just as many ways as his question could have been. The tone was sharp, short, and as Hunter looked into the mask that he could see covering his favourite blue eyes, he wondered. Could they ever just be themselves with each other again? A breath, and a half-step closer, and as soon as he opened his mouth he knew that his own eyes were revealing more than he wanted them to.
"I was looking for you." It was almost a plea for understanding, and Hunter had to force himself not to close his eyes as Shawn's leapt up to meet them. The contact was brief, less than a second before his former best friend turned away from him with a nearly angry motion, taking two steps away as he stared at the wall. Hunt didn't move, as much as he desperately wanted to, but he couldn't take his eyes off the other man.
"I know." More sharp words. "Jay told me." Hunter could hear the slight softening of tone at the name and fought off the surge of jealousy. He didn't have the right, no matter how often he'd wished he did. His eyes were glued to Shawn's back, watching the blond hair bounce as Shawn took another step away before whipping around again, anger written on his face. "Why?"
Not understanding, Hunt could only shake his head. He wasn't sure what Shawn meant, and there were too many answers to that question for him to just blurt something out. Seeing Shawn's eyes narrow, he realised that his heart was racing as Shawn slowly paced back toward him, his body stiff.
"Why now, Hunt? What do you want from me? Why can't you just leave me alone?" The words were fast, almost desperate-sounding, and the tone made Hunter's eyes widen at the unexpected vulnerability. Not quite realising what he was doing, he closed the gap between them, his fingers tightening on Shawn's shoulders to hold him there as he felt the other man try to move away. Words tumbled from his lips, almost desperate themselves, and this time he didn't care. If Shawn would just listen, would hear what he was trying to say...
"Because I can't. God knows I've tried, Shawn---I've tried for years." His voice dropping slightly, his eyes bored into shocked blue as he continued intently, "But I can't. I can't." Shawn shook his head and tried to jerk away again, but Hunter refused to let him go. "Don't you see, Shawn?"
"See what?" Shawn snarled back. "That I hurt you? I've known that for years, Hunter." His voice stopped in a quiet sob for breath, and it was Hunter's turn for shock. "I've fucking hated myself for the last seven years, Hunter. Because of you. Because of my temper. Because of that goddamned phone call... I ruined everything. Everything!" Another sobbing breath, but the eyes that met Hunter's were dry, clear. Hunter's fingers loosened their grip. As if in a dream, he carefully slid one hand up to tangle in Shawn's hair, bringing them even closer, making him tremble with want for more.
"I've never hated you, Shawn." The words were almost a whisper. "Hating myself was easy---but hating you? Impossible. God knows there have been times I've wished I could. But I can't."
"Why not?" The pain in the two rough words was raw, bleeding into the air around them, and Hunter itched with the need to fix that hurt. As he looked into shaken blue eyes that he realised he could read clearly for the first time in years, he wondered how they had let this happen, why it had been so easy for them to push each other away...
And then he knew. Hidden beneath the pain, the anger, the years of resentment, he saw it. Why hadn't they been able to see it before? The curl of fear that chilled his heart momentarily caught him by surprise, and only when Shawn tensed under his hands at the long silence was he able to chase it away. They'd lived in fear for too long. However this ended, he could at least make sure that that emotion was no longer a wall between them.
"Because I love you."
He was surprised by how easily he said it. After being afraid of the emotion for so long, it should have been more difficult. It probably would have been, if he hadn't seen the answer he needed in Shawn's eyes. Smiling slightly at the stunned expression on Shawn's face, he disregarded the urge beating at him to taste those lips, to lay claim to the man in front of him. If that happened now, it would take away any chance of an honest answer and he desperately needed to know what Shawn was going to say. Even with the nervous anticipation filling him, his heart was lighter than it had been in years, finally relieved of the burden of hiding how he felt. His biggest mistake had been in never facing how he really felt, never telling Shawn... and now that mistake, at least, had been fixed.
All Shawn could do was stare. The eyes that he knew so well drew him in with their uncharacteristic openness, and he was lost. Closer to Hunter than he had been in years outside the ring, their breaths mingling, Shawn's scalp tingling at the feeling of fingers threaded through his hair, he tried to fight down the panicked shock that rose up at Hunter's words.
Love. Hunter... loved him.
There was no way that this moment was real, no way that Hunter had just told him what he'd wanted---what he'd needed---to hear for the last ten years. After everything he'd done, Hunter couldn't possibly mean it. That would mean... that would mean that his mistakes had been forgiven, and he'd done unforgivable things. That would mean that he could reach out and take what was being offered... just like in his dreams. But his dreams always crumbled into dust. Always. Not even able to shake his head, Shawn growled as he tried to back away, to gain some breathing space, but Hunter's implacable grip on his shoulder prevented him.
"You can't." Fighting just to get the words out, he knew that his voice gave away his shock, his disbelief... his insecurity. Hunter shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving Shawn's, the grip on his shoulder gentling. All of his past experiences screaming in the back of his mind, Shawn looked away, his eyes settling on the neutrality of the pale beige wall as he spoke, the words choppy, forced out of him. "After everything I've done... I hurt you. Drove you away. Even when I needed you... and I needed you so much, Hunter." The last words almost a whisper, and then his head was tilted and he was looking back at amber eyes, filled with so much emotion that it nearly hurt to see them.
"Why?" One rough word, but Shawn could hear all the unspoken questions behind it, Hunter's need for answers clear. He just wasn't sure he could offer any. Searching for words, he finally offered up what was to him obvious.
"Because... no one else knew me like you do. No one else made me feel those sparks." Pausing, he remembered the day they'd met and the kiss he'd stolen. "It... scared me." He'd never admitted that before, not even to himself.
"Shawn..." The pained fondness in the voice nearly undid him. Finally giving in to a craving that he hadn't realised was there, Shawn reached up, sliding a hand around the back of Hunter's shoulder, and felt himself relax at the touch. Hunter was smiling a little, and Shawn found his own lips curving a little at the sight. Hunter's voice was quiet. "I needed you, too. I still need you, Shawn. I always will."
The honesty in the soft words stripped away the last of his denial. Hunter was here, offering him everything he'd ever wished for, everything he'd ever dreamt of during those long, lonely nights... Maybe he should stop fighting it. Stop denying it. Stop letting his past mistakes haunt him, and reach out now... before he made another mistake, the biggest one he could ever make.
"Hunt..." The emotion clogging his throat made him pause, clear his throat. Finally allowing himself to lean into the man, to accept the support that was still being offered, he said hoarsely, "I still need you, too." His other arm crept around Hunter's waist and he closed the bare inch that was separating them, and the words that had fought for so long to be spoken slipped out in an easy breath. "I love you."
The indrawn breath warned him. Tilting his head, Shawn met Hunter's sweetly hesitant kiss with all of the emotion he'd carried bottled inside him for the last decade, offering himself up in a way he'd never done before. If he was going to leap off the cliff he'd agonized over for so long, he was going to do it without looking back. There would always be regrets, but at least now there would be good memories alongside them. The biggest mistake of his life had been giving in to his fear, but as he stood there, wrapped in the arms he'd craved for so long, he smiled. Together, they'd banish that fear for good.
Meeting warm whiskey eyes again, he asked softly, "Stay with me?"
And Hunter answered, "Always."
~ finis ~
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