A/N: Sorry for the delay in posting this. It would have been posted much sooner but deadlines and the flu got in the way. Anyway, thank you for being so patient, especially since this is the last chapter! There'll be a more detailed author's note at the end of this chapter about that, but for now thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoy and I hope that this last installment is satisfying and what you wonderful readers deserve!
The day after his trip to the supermarket, Eric found himself driving down the winding mountain roads again, still in a haze of disbelief. When he had dropped Kyle off at his apartment over a month ago, he had returned to the cabin exhausted. But these past twenty four hours he had been restless, battling with excitement, curiosity and giddy nerves whilst fending off the perhaps too optimistic thoughts of reconciliation. Because despite the much needed dose of elation and trust Kyle had instilled in him during their time together, Eric's childhood fraught with opaqueness and disappointment had made him cynical.
But Eric was not so quick to dismiss the positives. Kyle no longer appeared to be wary or frightened of him, and he obviously wanted to spend time with him. If Eric needed to earn his trust again, if Kyle could never love him in the way he had, if their meeting didn't result in them getting back together then that was fine. Kyle obviously wanted Eric in his life and Eric wouldn't refuse that invitation, even if he couldn't have Kyle in the way that he wanted him. Eric would keep repeating that to himself until it were true, because he wouldn't lose Kyle again.
The closer Eric was to the supermarket, the more that haze of disbelief dispersed and reality was a loud drumming in his ears. His grip grew damp on the steering wheel and he shifted in his seat. Pulling into the parking lot he was reminded of when he had met Kyle here the first time, to take him to the cabin and teach him how to shoot. He had been so naïve then, so unaware of how miraculous and perilous that storm would be.
He shoved his hands into his pockets as he walked across the parking lot but he wasn't cold. In fact, the rush of warm air that hit him when he entered the store was unwelcome for once. Especially when Kyle was standing not so far away, waiting for him, smiling shyly at him but his eyes glimmered expectantly.
Eric's face flushed and he fought the urge to duck his head. Was this how people felt on first dates? But this wasn't a first date, this was… Eric was unsure. He had spent hours trying to define what they were about to do, but he had no idea.
"Hey," Kyle said when Eric was close enough. God, he was wearing that hat… Eric's throat clenched and his eyes stung.
"Hey…" Eric replied. A smile spilled onto his face.
They were standing at some distance from each other. Eric remembered that Kyle had wanted space. But was that true now? He would wait and give Kyle what he assumed he needed until he was told otherwise.
Kyle sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Eric, come on, let's not pretend we…"
Eric's brow furrowed. "What?"
Kyle huffed before tentatively stepping forward and wrapping his arms around Eric. Kyle's body was stiff against his, and this was a looser clasp than Eric was used to from him, but he didn't care. It was a closeness that he had previously thought would be forever trapped in his memory. He returned the hug, and couldn't believe he was holding Kyle again.
"Thanks for meeting me," Kyle murmured.
"No problem," Eric said. Kyle's curls brushed against his cheek. "It's great to see you."
A beat passed. Anxiety clutched at Eric's heart, worried he had said the wrong thing.
"You too," Kyle whispered, before pulling away.
They met each other's eyes, both their faces had pinked.
"Should we go?" Kyle asked, gesturing to the sliding doors.
Eric turned his head to look at them, before returning to Kyle and nodding.
They smiled tightly at each other as they left the supermarket. Walking to the car Eric asked;
"Where are we going, anyway?"
"Oh, um, there's this coffee shop on the Main Street I thought we could go," Kyle replied. "Tweak's?"
Eric furrowed his eyebrows and turned to Kyle, they both chuckled.
"I've never heard of it," Eric shook his head.
"I'll show you where it is."
Their conversation halted when they got in the car, but as always Kyle resumed it when they pulled out of the parking lot.
"So how have things been up there?" He asked.
Eric glanced at Kyle and nodded.
"You've been keeping yourself busy?"
Eric fidgeted, keeping his eyes on the road.
"Yeah, I guess…" he replied, hoping it would be enough to drop the subject. He wasn't ready to admit how he coped (or rather, how he hadn't coped) in Kyle's absence.
Kyle didn't say anymore, although Eric was waiting for a response, another question. He glanced at Kyle and noticed he was clean-shaven.
"Huh?" Kyle said, before smiling and stroking his jaw. "Oh, yeah, I did… do you like it?"
Eric blinked, wondering why his opinion mattered.
"Uh… actually I preferred it when you had some stubble," he admitted sheepishly.
Eric remembered how rugged Kyle looked with his beard, its handsome copper colour, and how Kyle's bristly jaw felt against his neck, his chest, his thighs… and nodded, a half-smirk on his face.
"Hmm…" Kyle pursed his lips, then smiled and said, "Noted…"
Eric's shoulders had been raised and his head bowed warily when he had entered the coffee shop with Kyle. This was an unfamiliar setting, a part of town he had never been before and he had feared all curious gazes would be drawn to his hulking form, cramped in the quaint little coffee shop.
But Kyle had softened any piercing, intent stare, just by being beside him. With Kyle, Eric felt there was a space in this world he could slot himself into, he felt like he belonged. The steady, sure thump of his heart elicited just from knowing Kyle was close again drowned out his discomfort, any hostility that could be read on the patrons' faces. He had ordered his coffee without mumbling or avoiding eye contact, and sitting at a small table by the window with Kyle it made him fantasise of a life where this was a little ritual of theirs; away from the cabin, away from necessity.
But reality was just as scalding as the coffee on the tip of his tongue, reminding him that this was all too good to be true. Perhaps things really were too awkward, uncomfortable, and difficult? Maybe this was just Kyle being civil and Eric was still too socially inept to realise it? Maybe Kyle hadn't forgiven Eric at all and was just sitting here drinking coffee with him out of politeness? The questions weighed down on him, crushing any possibility of Eric initiating conversation himself.
"Are you enjoying your coffee?" Kyle asked.
Eric blinked, swallowing a mouthful of coffee and nodding quickly, as if he had a limited amount of time to answer Kyle's question.
"Yeah, it's great…" he replied. "Are you enjoying yours?"
Kyle nodded, before taking a sip.
"Can you believe only a month has gone by since we've seen each other?" He asked. A disbelieving smile made its way quietly across his face. "It seems longer…"
"It seems forever ago," Eric agreed, he thought their time spent apart would never end.
Kyle sighed, fingers wrapped loosely around his cooling drink.
"When I saw you yesterday I realised how much I needed to talk to you, that I was ready to have a calmer discussion about what happened between us," he admitted. "I think before we were so passionate and upset and too close to the situation to really make sense of it all. Do you think so?"
Eric's eyebrows lifted, a justification for both of their behaviour had seemed so out of reach when the consequences had been so disastrous.
"I… I guess-"
"Eric, I don't want vague, short answers from you, okay?" Kyle cut in. There was a hint of imploration in his voice. "I want you to be honest."
"Alright," Eric nodded, realising that perhaps what Kyle hadn't really needed was distance or separation but just the truth. That's all he had been waiting for.
He took a deep breath and tried to gather all the things he had wanted to say to Kyle over that lonely Christmas in the cabin, if he were ever given the chance.
"I still love you, Kyle," he confessed. "I'll always love you. I know what I did was wrong, I've never regretted anything more. But at the time I was so afraid of losing you and a part of me is terrified that I already have, that I've ruined this. I just hope that if you don't feel the same way about me, if you don't love me like you used to, then you have at least forgiven me and want me in your life. And I don't care if that means I can only be your friend, because… I thought I had mastered being lonely and independent, I thought I didn't need anyone. But that's only because I had never met you. Nobody had ever loved me the way you did. I've missed you so much and now I can't imagine my life without you."
Eric had struggled to meet Kyle's eyes as he spoke, and Kyle had been so silent Eric could have kidded himself that it was New Year's Eve again and he was half-asleep on the couch, or that this had been another exhausted day where the line between sleep and waking was muddled. But when he finally looked at Kyle his eyes were gleaming, his lips were parted but no sound. Then, a shaky exhale and a flush crawled up Kyle's throat. Eric wanted to reach out and touch him, his fingertips smoothing his rough, emotional words so Kyle would find them easier to process.
"I've missed you too," Kyle whispered. He shook his head but his smile was trembling with recollection. "I've missed your laugh, your smile, the way you look at me. I miss sleeping under your pelt, the strawberry jam you make, lying on your couch and talking to you for hours… I miss goofing around in the snow with you, the way you hold me, the sex…" A small smirk crept on Kyle's face and he dodged Eric's eyes that had flashed with surprise at that admission. It felt strange to be so coy. "Mostly I miss you seeing you every day. And I know I'm the one who suggested we keep our distance, and I genuinely believe it did us good. It may have been painful but it gave us time to think and appreciate all the good we had. Because we did, Eric, there was so much that was great about us, and after the weeks I spent being angry at you for what you did, and after all my rationalising I realised that I still love you so much and I want this to work. I want to give us another chance, to learn from our mistakes and make this better."
If Eric wanted to touch Kyle before then he wanted to leap across the table and scoop Kyle up in his arms now. He would thank him and decorate his face with kisses and promise that he would do anything to be with Kyle, that he would be a better, kinder, more fearless man because of him. But he refrained from doing that, it seemed now there were plenty of time for such promises… in quiet, private, earnest moments.
"Really?" he whispered, though he felt the space in his throat shrinking.
"Yes," Kyle grinned. "Do you?"
There was only the smallest hint of doubt, a tiny scar that would never completely go away. But it would fade, the more they proved themselves.
"Of course," he beamed in return.
Kyle's smile creased under the weight of his gratitude, and his fingers left his cup and reached out for Eric's own. They were warm, but Eric's hand was cool.
"Good," Kyle said softly, his thumb stroking the top of Eric's hand. "We have all the time in the world, Eric, we don't need to rush. There are obviously some issues with trust that we have to work on-"
"I'm so sorry for what I did, Kyle."
"I know," Kyle cut him off, squeezing Eric's hand gently, making it clear he was done with apologies. "I know you are. But everything was so isolated up there and it moved so fast between us that I think we both got carried away. At least now that I'm back in my apartment and you're in the cabin we can have our own separate lives, do our own thing and still be together. It's the best of both worlds."
It was a notion Eric had never considered; that he could have both, that he wanted both. His life had been about extremes, never a balance. But when you're alone, you never have to compromise. And that had been fine before, but Kyle had made him greedy, opened him up to a world that he had blind to. His stubborn eyes were finally prised open to a world he had never seen before and it was beautiful.
"I like the sound of that," Eric smiled.
"You know, I never wanted to live in this town… or any town. After all that had happened with my dad I never wanted people to get too close, because I could never trust them and all they would do is leave me one day. I thought the world had wronged me somehow and I only wanted the smallest possible part in it. But you're different, Kyle, in the best way anybody can be different and loving you and trusting you just came so easily that I know now that any world that has you in it must be a great one. And I want to be a part of it."
"I want you to be a part of it too," Kyle replied, shining brighter than ever in Eric's eyes. "We'll do whatever it takes to make this work, okay?"
"Okay," Eric whispered, his voice was raspy and his eyes were stinging. "I don't want to lose you ever again."
Eric felt the anxiety constrict is heart, but Kyle's reassuring squeeze of his hand let him know that he wasn't going anywhere.
"So…" Kyle's voice trailed off shyly, and it made Eric chuckle. "You're not busy tomorrow are you?"
Eric shook his head with a puzzled snicker. "No, why?"
Kyle had been looking at their hands before he slowly lifted his gaze to Eric, reminding him just how irresistible Kyle was.
"I was wondering if you wanted to stay at my place tonight?"
Eric's eyes widened at such a tempting invitation, he nodded swiftly and didn't even care how eager he must have looked.
"I'd love to," he replied, savouring the glimmer in Kyle's eyes.
It would be his first night away from the cabin in twelve years. Only a few months ago he would have been terrified by the prospect, admittedly a part of him was still reluctant to be away from his home even for a night. But Kyle's company, his heart had become a home to Eric too, and he was finally going back.
A/N: Okay, so now that we're actually at the end I just want to say thank you to everybody who has read, followed, favourited and reviewed this story! It's an idea I've wanted to do for a while so I'm glad that you guys got on board with the concept of loner, mountain man Eric and made writing and completing this story possible! I would never have done it without you. So again, thank you so much!
As for other fics, this will be my last multi-chapter fic for a while. I'm graduating university this year so all that work will keep me pretty busy until the summer. However, I have a ton of oneshot ideas that I'm dying to write, so expect to see those soon!