A/N: I don't consider this angsty, and it's pretty much to make up for the last angsty Bret thing I wrote. I want Bret to have peace…even if it's just in fic form. (He did come back to the 'E though, and make amends, so I'm being hopeful that he has found some. :) )

Healing A Hart

Some things changed, and some always stayed the same, no matter how many tumultuous years passed in between. He was laying in bed, in a hotel room on the road, the same as he used to when he was a younger and less wiser man. He the lone man in his bed, just like back then. Unlike many of the guys, he had never shared that particular space with anyone of the same sex, save Owen, on some of the nights when they stayed up late talking quietly about things only the two of them could understand. Usually though, it was just Bret, and the empty spot next to him in bed. It was almost a ritual that came back to him as easily as riding a bike: some things you never forget. His hand brushed over the pillow next to him, the cool fabric turning to silken threads of hair as he closed his eyes and imagined a less empty bed. The empty spot became a warm, beautiful body instead of crisp sheets. A slight smile curved his lips, but was a sad smile, because when he opened his eyes that man would not be there—that man had never been there.

He'd learned over the years, and mainly after the stroke, to stop torturing himself about a lot of things, but there were still a few things that he could not rid his conscience of. He was trying harder to do so, tired of living the life of a man exhausted and broken by too many burdens, the unforgiving weight of anger and bitterness sinking him into the ground with each laborious step. Just like he was doing now, after the stroke, he'd spent many nights lying awake in bed and staring at the ceiling. Memories cascaded through his mind, many of them unhappy, but they were seen then in a new light. He had made the decision to make amends with the past, and when Bret Hart set his mind to do something, he did it.

Since he'd managed to put some of the things behind him, he felt more at peace with his life. There was no burst of joyous song, no perfection from that day forth, no there were still bad days now and then, but he could sleep better most nights, and he found himself smiling much more than scowling. He didn't carry the same hate he once had, it had in fact been mostly replaced with understanding. He wanted the forgiveness so badly—not for anyone to forgive him, but for him to forgive others. He had made his amends with Shawn for Montreal, and he'd even been able to shake Hunters hand and smile at him—Hunters look of shock was one that would forever be ingrained into the Hitmans head, and as he recalled it in the darkness, it actually made him laugh.

Still, there were loose ends to be dealt with. There were still a few things that needed talked about, and straightened out. He knew it was foolish to think he could rid himself of all the burdens, there would be one he would carry with him to his grave, but there were many he could let go, and many that he had. It was a good feeling, to be able to breathe again, to be able to look in the mirror and feel a little better about it all, to be able to come back to the company ran by a man he had for a long time despised nearly above all others. Sometimes he didn't recognize the person he had became, the Bret Hart he knew would have never gone back to that man, and would have certainly never made amends with Shawn Michaels. It was only too bad, Bret thought, that it had taken him so long, that it had taken a stroke, to change his attitude and outlook on many things. But that saying is true, better late than never.

Bret thought about that, as his eyes moved over the empty spot in his bed. It felt good to finally be able to admit to himself who he wanted to fill it, and an even better feeling to be able to accept that. His mind turned to Shawn, to the times he had spouted off at him and dragged his name through shit, called him every horrible, derogatory name in the book, stared at him coldly as he watched the unstable man dissolve into tears, and he had actually been glad. He had actually wanted to see Shawn cry, to drive him away, to damn him to hell for being what he was. Bret just had to hear it, coming from his own mouth, to try and hold on to the idea that he wasn't the same thing.

That Bret was long gone, and it had felt good to meet with Shawn all those years later and talk with him civilly, and apologize for those cruel things. It had been wonderful when Shawn smiled, his lively blue eyes misted with happy tears. Shawn had forgiven him, and pulled Bret in for a hug. It was so much better to be close with Shawn, than to be the evil bully, the scared man in the closet, the jealous one.

Shawn had since given Bret his cell number, and likewise Bret had given Shawn his. They talked more in a few short weeks than they probably ever really had before. Both had changed so much, and had they been in the past the men they had become now, things would have turned out entirely different, no doubt. But at least there was this time given them now, and it was a gift, Bret knew that.

He crawled out of bed, and sat on the edge, stretching a little. A ripple of pins and needles tingled down his leg, a reminder of the stroke which still held on like a ghost. It was one ghost he was thankful for, because it reminded him to always see the world as a man given a second chance to make things right, a chance to finally accept himself, and pursue his own happiness. He glanced at the clock, it was midnight, not too late…but then again, he and Shawn were practically senior citizens now, and old men always go to bed early. Bret grinned in the darkness as he thought about that, and picked up the cell phone. Wonder of wonders, Shawn was on his speed dial. A man he hadn't spoken to in years and years, was suddenly the contact in his phone who he called the most.

His fingers slowly pushed out the short text message, it was something he was still getting used to doing. He closed the phone and laid it on his knee, waiting for the familiar tone of Shawn's music to alert him of an answer. Maybe Shawn was asleep, and if so, he could wait until morning. He had stared at the phone sitting precariously there for what seemed like many full minutes, and had decided that Shawn must be asleep. As he was reaching to lay it back on the nightstand, it rang in his hand.

Ah, ah, Shawn!

With a smile, Bret flipped the phone open and read the reply. Shawn had said that he was awake, and would come down to meet him.

Moments later, Bret was answering the door. He'd thrown his jeans on over his boxer shorts, and a t-shirt over his naked torso. His silver-brown hair hung loosely over his shoulders. Shawn stood at his door in a robe, the sash tied loosely, a patch of bare chest peeking from the V of the closed panels.

"Aw Shawn," Bret joked. "You didn't have to get all dressed up just to come see me."

Shawn grinned at him, and strutted into the room.

"Well, what can I say? Always gotta look my best." He flashed Bret a smile, and flipped his hair.

"And you always do Shawn." Bret said, as he closed the door. The comment seemed to take Shawn just a little off guard, and the look on his face made Bret laugh. Shawn grabbed Bret's shirt, and comically pleaded with him.

"Where's Bret? What have you done with Bret Hart!"

Now they both laughed, together. It was something so simple, and so beautiful to hear.

"So Bret, ya know this old man here needs his beauty sleep, what'd ya drag me down here for?" He was still playing a little, knowing that Bret knew there was no dragging involved. Shawn was as grateful as Bret was for the new bond they were building, for the forgiveness, for the refreshing friendship that had taken so long to finally form.

"I wanted to talk to you Sh-"

"Me?" Shawn asked, pointing to himself, as if he couldn't believe it. He was still keeping up the ruse, and loving the smile that his silly antics put on Bret's face. For so long he had seen that face dropped in a frown, or screwed up in rage, but very rarely had he seen it with that one perfect thing that really completed Bret's undeniable handsomeness.

"Yes you Shawn, now stop it!" Bret laughed again, the look on Shawn's face was priceless.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa…are you sure you're okay?" Shawn pressed the back of his hand to Bret's forehead, as if checking for a fever. "You must really be going senile Bret. I mean, you're making Vince look sane here!"

"I probably am Shawn, I probably am." Bret's sparkling dark eyes locked with Shawn's, and he brushed a stray strand of golden hair away from Shawn's face.

"So, what's going on?" Shawn asked, finally dropping the act. He smiled at Bret, the caring and warmth in his eyes such a wonderful thing to garner, rather than tears and hate.

"I know lately we've been talking a lot about Montreal, but there is something else I wanna talk to you about that was going on back then. It's been going on ever since I met you, really, and I need to tell you about. You need to know Shawn, the real reason I treated you that way, said those things, Shawn…I did hate you, before and after Montreal, but the reason itself was really bigger than Montreal could ever be now that I look at it from the distance of years. Montreal was a lot of things, but it isn't the only thing that's haunted me." Bret moved past Shawn, and sat down on the edge of the bed. He patted an empty place next to him, and Shawn sat too, both of them angled towards each other, watching the shadows on each others faces in the dim lamp light.

"Go ahead Bret, this is what this time is for, for us. It's our chance to be real with each other, to talk the way we should have talked back then, I'm all ears." Shawn's kind eyes captured Bret's again, and his hand brushed against Bret's fingers.

"Our problems started long before Montreal. I was always cruel to you, cold, hurtful. I meant to be Shawn, because…because I knew what you were when I first laid eyes on you. I knew what you were and that's why I hated you Shawn."

"I…don't really understand Bret. It didn't take me any number of years to know that you hated me for being gay, you were never shy about telling me so…"

Bret shook his head.

"No, wait Shawn, let me go on I'm trying to explain, it'll make sense here in a minute."

Shawn took Bret's hand, and gave it a small squeeze.

"God Shawn, I used to bitch and yell about how unstable you were, and don't take this the wrong way but I think we both know that you were. But see, you weren't the only one. I was unstable too, I just did a better job of hiding it…well, maybe. I wasn't so good at hiding the anger, and I know I used to hurt you a lot by calling you a cry baby, a whiner, and truth was I probably cried as much as you did, I just waited til no one was around." Bret dropped his gaze from Shawn's, and looked at their linked hands. "Shawn, you know how much you used to stir me up? You know in the beginning it was just you wanting me, and me constantly pushing you away, but I gotta give you one thing Shawn, you're persistent. The more ya pushed yourself on me, the worse things got because I…Shawn, I really wanted to say yes. I wanted you too." Bret sniffled a little. "I wanted to hold you, to take you out, have you by my side, kiss you, make love to you, I wanted all of that Shawn. I hated you because you made it so fucking hard for me. I know I didn't make it easy on you either, God Shawn, I wanted you to stop, I wanted you to leave me alone so I could go back to ignoring the truth about myself. I just…became so angry about it all…I let it get way out of hand. I hated myself just as much as I hated you, more really. I went to bed wanting you, I woke up wanting you, it was constant and you were there, so close, but I couldn't have you Shawn." Bret paused, and rubbed at his eye a little.

"My family, my brothers and I, we were born into wrestling. We were born to Stu Hart, one of the greatest names in the business. From a young age we were involved in all aspects of it, and when most of us got older we took various parts…you know the story. Anyway, when I started wrestling, Dad had this talk with me. He had the talk with all the boys, see. Even back then, I knew that I was different from my brothers. I honestly didn't want to be a wrestler, I wanted to be an actor, and that was only the beginning. There were a lot of other things I wanted that wouldn't fit into the family tradition. Dad had that talk with me, and he said all those horrible things that I used to say to you, Shawn. He didn't know the son he was talking to was one of those people he was warning me about. 'Don't let those kind of men get to you, Bret. They're nothing but dirty fags, and Hart's aren't fags. That isn't honorable, we're an honorable family, Bret. You remember that, you hear me? You remember your family name when you're out there. You remember who your father is.' That was just the tamer amount of things he said on the subject. And you know Shawn, I never…I never imagined I would be the one carrying his name on my shoulders like that. I had other brothers that wrestled but somehow it was me who ended up in the spot light with all his legacy on my shoulders. When he looked at me, he was so proud…I…I hated when he looked at me like that because if he knew, he…he'd hate me."

Bret was surprised that he really wasn't crying. He'd spent so much of his life with these things roiling around his head, no one to tell them to—not even Owen, his best friend, could he have told that to. But he wasn't crying, he was actually smiling a little, down at his hand which was locked into both of Shawn's now.

"Then, there was Owen."

Now I'm going to cry.

"My baby brother, I loved him so much. He was my best friend, he understood my like no one else ever has. He was always there, always doing something to make me smile, always ready to listen to my stupid ramblings. He looked up to me, he wanted to be like me, Shawn. I really don't think Owen would have ever turned his back on me if he knew, in fact I know he wouldn't have. I think my brother was the best person to ever walk on this planet, and I don't think he would have turned his back on me should I have murdered someone. But anyway, I couldn't even let him know. I didn't want him to see me the way my Dad would have, I didn't…I couldn't…I couldn't take that. I couldn't let my family down Shawn. I couldn't risk anything being found out publicly, God Shawn…it would have ended everything. It would have been worse than Montreal. I was just so scared Shawn, and here you were, everyone knew about you. You didn't hide who you were, and you know what Shawn? Yeah there were plenty of things that I really didn't like about you back then, and I know the feeling is more than mutual, but there was one thing that I was jealous about. I was jealous of you because you had courage, Shawn. I know you didn't feel like you did, I know you didn't like yourself a lot of times, we've talked about all that before, and really I could see it in you…but I never had that courage to be myself. I put on a façade in the ring, stepped out of it, and put on another. I felt like I had to defend myself constantly, about my preferences, because I was so afraid it was just written across my forehead. It was so horrible Shawn, so wrong, I waved those words around so people wouldn't use them on me."

Bret sighed, his eyes tearing a little. He wiped at them a little, and Shawn wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

"So anyway Shawn…we're not so different. Here I am an old man, finally admitting to a man I wanted from day one, that I'm gay too. I've never said that out loud…it sounds…it doesn't sound as bad as I often imagined it to, really."

Shawn held Bret's face, his palms gently caressing his cheeks. His dazzling blue eyes were joyous behind a thick slick of tears. He pulled Bret towards him, twining them both in a hug that felt so wonderful to share.

"Bret, I…God Bret, I'm so proud of you." Shawn sniffled, his voice a bit broken as he kept Bret tight in the embrace, and rubbed circles onto the cottony back of his t-shirt.

"Thank you, Shawn." Bret's hand cupped the back of Shawn's head, stroking the soft hair. "And I'm sorry, I really, really am." Now it was Bret's voice, who cracked up. Shawn pulled away from him, taking his eyes into a stern gaze, his hands once more cupping Bret's face.

"Bret, no. You've apologized once, I don't wanna hear you say sorry any more. You were right that I didn't hide who I was, but there were way too many times when I did feel sorry for what I was, and now I know that we both know how that feels. It's a horrible feeling Bret, and you don't have to be sorry about it anymore. Don't ever, ever be sorry for it."

Bret nodded his head, twin trickles of tears dripping down his cheeks. Shawn wiped them away with his thumbs.

"I gotta tell you though, Bret. You know that you're not the only changed man, I am too. I'm not the same Shawn I once was, praise God for that. I've gotten married, I have a wonderful wife, beautiful kids…I'm not going to lie Bret. I have never stopped wanting you, even when I hated you the most, even when I hurt so bad from the things you said, I still wanted you…that's really what made it hurt so bad." Shawn chewed at his lip, a little. "But I've made a commitment to my Savior. He was the only one to really pick me up when I was at my lowest point…" Shawn took a moment, the subject still obviously difficult for him to speak of. "He showed me that I was loved, that I was worth something, that I was worth saving Bret, when the only thing I felt I was worth, was headstone and a handful of dirt. He gave me love, hope, his strength to rely on instead of my own—which ain't much, we both know—and redemption. I do believe in second chances Bret, and I'm thankful when He sees fit to bless us with those." Shawn pressed his forehead to Bret's.

"But Bret, I have to tell you right now, I love you brother, more than I ever could have imagined. Our baby friendship is one of my greatest treasures, believe me, I mean that with all my heart. But I think that's what we best leave this as. Honestly Bret, I feel so close to you, I wouldn't want to do anything that might jeopardize this beautiful thing we have."

Bret nodded.

"I understand, and I really expected as much. Believe it or not, I kinda feel the same way. You're still beautiful Shawn, still handsome, hell I'd be a liar to say I wasn't still attracted to you, but your friendship means more to me than anything else. I just told you all that, because I thought you deserved an explanation, not that my explanation made any of it ok. I just wanted you to know Shawn, so we can both keep healing up from the wounds we inflicted on each other."

"Amen." Shawn said quietly, stroking a bit of Bret's silvery hair away from his face. "Amen, Bret."

Shawn moved away, their hands reluctantly slipped free of one another.

"Shawn…" Bret finally spoke, his voice soft in the darkness.

"Yeah Bret?"

"Will you sleep with me?" Bret quickly backtracked. "What I mean is, will you…lay down with me? I know this is gonna sound stupid Shawn, but I do have a habit of saying stupid things, as we both know." Bret laughed. "I just always wanted to go to sleep with you lying next to me, the last thing I remember before I close my eyes, and open my eyes to see you there in the morning."

Shawn crawled up onto the bed, and curled up into the spot in Bret's bed, which had been empty earlier. Bret lay down and rolled onto his side, facing Shawn.

"I'd love to sleep with you, Bret Hart." Shawn wrapped his arm around Bret, and nuzzled against his shoulder. Bret held him close, closing his eyes, breathing the scent of Shawn's hair. Both of them slowly drifted off, the ease of sleep washing over them. The night moved quietly on, leaving both men held in each others arms, wrapped in a still peace.