"I miss you."

The call comes in at 4:24 a.m. New York time, the exact same time Vince has called him every night for the past two weeks. He had come to expect the call by now, waking a few minutes before Vince drunkenly dialed him just so that he could have his bearings when he finally heard his best friend's voice. A voice that he knew as well as his own, missed more than his beloved grandmother's that he had lost a few years ago, craved more than Sloan's even when he had been the most in love with her, needed more than the air he begrudgingly breathed every minute he was away from California, away from his job and away from Vince.

Eric doesn't say anything as his best friend sets into his usual emotional tirade, ranting endlessly until sleep consumes him and he hears Vince settle into his plush bed thousands of miles away from him. "I miss you so much, E," he babbles. "It's shit here without you. The other guys, fuck, they just don't get it. You get it. You always got it. You always got me. I miss that. When are you coming home, E?"

There used to be a time when they called New York, but those days were long gone. The only home Eric knew now was wherever Vince was. It might seem strange to those on the outside, but the people that knew them best understood that the only sense of normalcy either of them knew was each other. As long as E was near by, Vince found a way to be okay. He knew that his best friend of more than twenty years would find a way to fix everything and shield him as much as humanly possible just to keep anguish like this from every touching him. Eric could do that most of the time, but he couldn't do it this time. He couldn't keep Vince from missing him, especially when he missed him just as much.

"I don't know, Vin," he said finally, softly, his voice barely above a whisper. It was the same answer he gave every night when Vince would ask him. He could imagine his best friend curled up in his bed, clutching the phone under his chin, turned on his side, just like he used to sleep whenever he would sleep over at Eric's when they were kids. The bed had been too small then, but now, the bed was just too empty. "I don't know...look, you sound wrecked. I should go, just let you sleep."

"No, please, just stay with be a little longer," Vince implored, using the same whiny pout he had used to drag Eric out to LA in the first place all those years ago. "Just a little longer, stay with me, E."

"Always, Vin," he promised. "I'm always going to be here."

And so, Eric would stay on the other end of the line, waiting for Vince's breathing to even out before he would finally push the end button his beloved BlackBerry and reinforce the distance he had purposely put between Vince and himself. He would get up in the morning and kiss his mother on the cheek dutifully. He would read all the trade papers and check for pieces on Vince. He'd catch up on his emails and conduct the few meetings he couldn't get out of over the phone. He would do whatever he had to do to keep himself distracted until he could finally go to bed and wake up just in time to hear his best friend's voice. It was the only thing keeping him here. It was the only thing keeping him anywhere

However, a call didn't come that night, and Eric found himself nauseous when he realized that Vince hadn't called. Maybe he had finally found his way home with one of the random bar skanks he picked up on La Cienega or maybe Turtle had taken his phone away before tossing him into his bedroom or maybe he finally remembered why Eric left LA in the first place. Either way, when his phone hadn't rung by five that morning, Eric was starting to pace frantically in his small bedroom at his mother's house. He thought about calling Turtle, Drama, Shauna, even Ari – anyone who would know where Vince was. It was only one night, a half hour late, that he hadn't called, but Eric was suddenly terrified. Forgetting someone always started with one night, and what if this was the night Vince chose to forget him? He couldn't stand the thought.

Eric refused to turn himself inside out over one missed phone call. It's not like Vince had promised to call, and like he had said, this was why he left California in the first place. His entire life had become about Vince, so he had been determined to find something that was his own. He was failing royally at that back in Queens, so maybe it would do them both some good if he just went to sleep. Tossing his phone beneath a pile of dirty clothes in the corner, Eric fell backward into his bed and threw his arm over his pale blue eyes. If it had to start with one night, maybe this was it.

He wasn't sure how long he was out, but the next time Eric woke, he could sense someone was standing over him in the dark room. He looked up over his shoulder to see Vince hovering over him, concern painted in his otherwise handsome features as he gazed down at his best friend. Eric nodded slightly in the dark before moving over closer to the wall. Vince was silent as he peeled back the sheets and crawled beneath. Cool air surrounded E for a moment until he felt the familiar warmth of Vincent's hand on his shoulder.

"E..."

"I'm right here, Vince," he whispered into the darkness. "We'll talk about it in the morning."

Neither of them said a word as Vince settled against Eric's back and found his hands beneath the dark tangle of the sheets. Settling their entwined fingers on his hip, Eric finally allowed sleep to fully overtake him. It was the most fitful rest he had since leaving California and probably in the several weeks leading up to his departure. In the dark light just before morning, things weren't any less complicated but they were maybe a little clearer.

Eric knew that Vincent was awoke even before he turned over slightly to meet a pair of blue eyes filled with so much emotion that it made Eric's heart break at the mere sight of him. "Hey, asshole, you know you don't have to fly all the way to fucking Queens if you want to talk to me," Eric said soothingly as he reached up and tugged on one of Vince's curls absently. Only Eric could pull off soothingly cursing at him. "Why are you here?"

"I get it now, E."

"Get what?"

"Why you had to leave," Vince answered sadly. The most depressed Eric had ever seen him was after he broke up with Mandy, but that couldn't even begin to compare to how he was looking at him now. Gone was all the usual Hollywood bravado and actor confidence that rolled off Vince in wave. This version of his best friend was completely broken, open and vulnerable. He was offering Eric his heart on a platter. "I shouldn't...I was so...I can't even..."

With anyone else, Eric would have demanded an apology. He would have needed to hear the words to know that they were true. None of that was necessary with Vince, though, never had been. He just needed to look into those blue eyes, now so dark with heavy emotion, and he would know everything going on in that pretty little head of his. Without a word, Eric lifted Vince's hand and placed a soft kiss on the inside of his wrist. They could talk for hours and figure out what this all meant, but Eric knew they would reach the exact same conclusion if they took the short route.

"I miss you, Vin," he finally confessed, saying the words aloud for the first time since he had left him. "I missed you so fucking much, too fucking much. It's not right how much I missed you. Fuck, it almost killed me, you asshole."

"I shouldn't have let you go."

"I shouldn't have left."

"You needed to go."

"Maybe, but I shouldn't have left you."

Vincent studied his best friend's face for a moment. Eric knew that Vince would have left him every single time if the situation was reversed, but Eric wasn't Vince. They had always been different and that's what made them work. They balanced each other out. They had some similarities, the ones that were really important, like loyalty and honesty with each other. However, in a strange way, they completed each other, and losing the other half of his whole is what had made Vince come back to New York in the first place.

"You had to go for me to understand," Vince conceded softly. "For me to understand how important this is." He waved his hands between them for emphasis before resting his fingers on Eric's bare chest. He traced the lettering of the tattoo, his fingertips ghosting over the flushed skin. "I get it, E, I finally fucking get it."

"I won't leave you like this again, Vin," Eric said solemnly, and he wasn't sure if it was a threat or a promise. It could mean that he would never leave his best friend again, or it could be a warning that the next time he left, it would be for good. Vince prayed for the prior but couldn't discount the latter.

"Tell me," Vince pleaded then, his voice sounding weaker and more vulnerable than he would usually allow. "Just say it again, E, please. For me?"

Eric had said the words exactly once, the night that had brought him back to New York and them to this very dark place. It was after a drunken night at some club that E couldn't even remember the name of right now, when they ended up as a mess of tangled limbs in his bed. He'd accidentally let the words slip in the afterglow, with Vincent's head cradled on his chest and his heart so bursting with emotion that he feared he might explode. His admission had gone unacknowledged. Vince had simply tensed in his embrace and then pretended to be asleep until he finally was. Eric had woken up to an empty bed and taken the first flight out of LAX to La Guardia. He finally called Turtle a few hours later to let them know he was gone.

"I can't," Eric shook his head. "I won't."

"Just fucking say it!" Vince whispered harshly, his tone angry. He hadn't flown all this way to have E play coy with him now. He had said it once, and Vincent needed to hear those words again. He needed it more than he needed his next breath. "Say it, E, say it."

It was some weird form of peer pressure that would have gotten Vince's ass kicked back in the day but only made Eric's heart flutter now. "If I say it, there's no going back on it this time," he warned his best friend. "We can't make a comeback from it twice, Vin, I'm telling you now."

"I know, E," Vince sighed tiredly. "Just say it."

"I love you."

Lips finally found lips in the light of dawn as Vincent's heart finally jumped alive after years of being dormant after Mandy. Fingers were lost in reddish hair as he tugged Eric hungrily closer to him, letting his lean body cover E's more compact one as he rolled them over. "I love you, too," he managed between breathless kisses over Eric's lips, eyes, cheeks and nose. Every inch of his face was covered with kisses of worship, kisses of promise, kisses of bliss. "I love you so fucking much that it pretty much killed me when you left."

"Fuck you, it's your fault I left in the first place," Eric managed as Vince continued his affectionate assault down his chest. He kissed the place where his neck met his shoulders and then lapped his tongue over the clover on Eric's chest. "Christ, I love you."

"Yeah?" Vince murmured as he worked his way back up to Eric's lips. He covered E's mouth with his own, dragging his tongue painfully over his best friend's bottom lip as he begged for entrance. "Say it again."

"I love you, Vin," he moaned, writhing under Vincent's persistent touches and nibbles. "I love you."

"See, not so hard, was it?"

"Yeah, fuck you."

"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Vince teased him as Eric struggled to remain in control.

Eric shook his head. "Nope, just you," he promised with another kiss. "Always been just you."

It's a messy affair that started with three words and ended with three different ones entirely. It's not that hard to go from missing someone to loving someone, especially when they mean pretty much the same thing. Eric and Vincent would have a lot of things to figure out and people to tell and problems to overcome. It would invariably break their mother's hearts, freak out the guys, piss off Ari and give Shauna a migraine. But in that moment, it didn't matter because as long as they had this, they could deal with the rest. Their happiness began and ended with each other.

Eric rolled onto his side and glanced at the clock when it was over. It was exactly 4:24 in the morning in New York, but his phone wasn't going to ring tonight. Vince lay behind him like a spoon, his arms thrown over E both possessively and protectively in the small confines of his childhood bedroom. A body that he knew as well as his own, missed more than any of his former lovers, craved more than any woman he had ever seen, needed more than anything he had ever needed anything before in his life. This was it. This was love.

Fin.