The smell of Paul's hazelnut latte was warm and welcome. A huge biscotti balanced on the side of the plate that the steaming mug stood on and the spoon clanged the sides of the cup as the two sugar lumps that had been dropped in like sweet depth charges were encouraged to dissolve.
"How's the coffee?"
"Good. Hot. Just fine."
Glenn felt his cheeks flush up when he was pressed for answers by the bigger man. He'd gotten what he wanted; a chance to get to know Paul better over the last couple of months. His shoulder had been cried on to the point of saturation but his interests beyond friendship weren't all that had driven him to do it. He'd seen the fade in Paul's personality since the lengthy suspension had begun and even now he'd been reinstated there wasn't that much change. He did however catch sight of a spark in the wide eyes every now and again. It was all he could hope for that it was something to do with him.
"So, you and Chris... its definitely..."
"Yeah. Turns out that even being the size of two guys wasn't enough for him. He's back in Canada trying to butter his wife up, or at least was, the last I heard. I'm sure he'll get his third lot of marching orders in as many months."
The rueful tone of Paul's voice was something he'd spent a while working on toning down. He'd begun to channel his anger and upset into slimming down and toughening up, no longer being the soft touch that everyone saw him as. In doing that he was trying not to shut off the few friends he had left, Glenn being one of the only ones who gave him a fair hearing when Shawn got hurt and all hell had broken loose.
"Well, if you ever fancy catching a movie or grabbing some dinner, something to get you back out there in the real world then I'd be glad to help you rack up some deductables."
Unable to stifle his lop sided grin Glenn looked across the table and was pleased to see Paul looking back and nodding slowly.
"Sure. Why not. Guy's gotta eat, right? Wednesday, we got a day off after the tapings."
Returning the nod Glenn took a deep drink of his cooling Americano and then raised his trace of an eyebrow.
"One thing I wondered, and I might be overstepping the mark in asking, but did they ever find out who jumped Chris that night?"
Deliberately contorting his face into the shape of an unreadable reaction Paul shrugged before he spoke.
"Nope. They reckon it was a one off. Just someone trying their luck..."
For Hunter the weeks were dragging by. His recent drunken sabbatical over he was back on the road, not seeing the sense in kicking around alone at home. His energy seemed re-focused as if he'd not been giving himself a chance to even so much as think about Shawn when he didn't have to. Every night ended the same, alone in his hotel room with some bad flick playing away in the background. The early hours found him pounding a treadmill as fast as his legs would go until he hit the stop button and leaned retching over the side safety bar. Then he'd move onto the weights where he'd only load two thirds of his usual stack, knowing full well he hadn't got the self control to lift or rep properly. His temper shortened with each passing day and seemed to be taking his patience with it.
All that kept him from meltdown were the occasional phone calls from Shawn, short snippets with a few details of how his rehab was going, always dodging the topic of when he'd be coming home, never revealing the full truth of how he was or how bad his health was likely to be in the future. It had gotten to the point where Hunter had stopped trying to drag the conversation round to the questions he really wanted to ask, Shawn having become almost too adept at heading him off at the pass.
His in ring work however was the only thing that had benefited. It was all he ate, slept, breathed and craved. From the moment he picked up the bottle of water till the kick in of his music or his opponent's, it was all about business. Orton commented on his intensity, asked if he'd got a new trainer. Cena joked around and asked if he could get some lessons on how to be a heel someday. None of them knew that Shawn wasn't around by choice. Their comments didn't cut Hunter deep, more left him with the kind of stinging paper cuts that even the passing breeze makes more sore and angry. He stopped going to the bar with them all after the shows, ate room service and travelled alone, driving to all places bar the latest one, Canada, and that was only because it was just too damn far.
Stepping out of the tunnel Hunter headed towards the baggage carousel, hair tied back and stuffed under his beanie hat, a second sweater stuffed under the first to form a makeshift gut. The last thing he wanted was to get recognised. Having deliberately caught the redeye he knew he was around 8hrs in front of the rest of the roster and hoped that the professional autograph hunters would still be in their bedrooms readying their Ebay merch when he'd be hopping into a cab outside the main entrance.
Reaching into his pocket he plucked out his cellphone and turned it back on; not wanting to draw any attention to himself he'd switched it off whilst delayed in the departures lounge in Calgary. A couple of messages came through asking where he was or if he wanted a ride to the airport followed by an email about the new video game cover shoot and a voicemail. Looking around he figured that he'd slipped sufficiently under the radar and decided to listen to the message, the likelihood being that it was Vince wanting to see what time he would be landing into Boston on Thursday for the quarterly Creative throwdown.
After the usual 'press one, press two' nonsense he finally got to the message and as he listened his heart pounded. It was Shawn asking him to go up to the rehab facility so they could talk properly. It was the call he'd been waiting for. The emotions within him were as clear as they were confused, his happiness tainted with a fear that he might be building himself up for good news that would never come.
Within minutes he'd called Vince and arranged some time off, cancelling appearances and house shows for the next week at least. Vince had already made it clear to both of them that he'd open all the doors he could to give them the best shot at getting back to normal and Hunter found himself glad that his boss was a man of his word. At first he'd resented that Shawn had felt able to go to Vince for advice and that all their dirty laundry had been washed in front of someone outside the four of them involved. Then he realised that he'd burdened Adam with all of that a long time before Shawn ever got to know what was going on and it seemed all square.
As he stood at the ticket desk whilst the attendant checked the scheduling of the next flights out, Hunter couldn't stop himself from running scenarios through his mind as to what might happen between them. Considering how stilted and awkward their conversations had been he wasn't sure that their reunion would be as Hallmark as most of their friends kept assuring him it would. None of them knew the truth so he'd had no choice but to laugh along and hope they might be right. All he really cared about was boarding a flight and getting to Shawn to hear whatever the real news was, good or bad.
Hunter had done his best to sleep through the short flight to make it pass quicker but it had been pointless. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Shawn back in the hospital bed, just how it was the last time they saw one another. When he opened them again all he could do was check his watch and phone endlessly, ignoring the in flight meal and politely dealing with the enquiries of a concerned air hostess that he recognised from numerous flights before.
Another needless trip to the bathroom was followed by a large bourbon, the only thing to pass his lips during the entire flight. It helped to take the edge off the jitters and felt warm in his otherwise empty belly. He fixed his eyes on a point on the cabin ceiling and held them there, letting his head rock back into the comfortable head cushion of his seat. One and a half more hours to go, a short rental ride to the facility and then it would be time. In the back of his mind he heard a distant 'Are you ready?' but the rest of the hackneyed catchphrase didn't come because he wasn't. He'd never be ready for the possibility of losing Shawn.
A friendly therapist had let him leave his bags at the front desk, recognising him immediately from TV which thankfully avoided the rigmarole he'd been expecting. She was petite, blonde and starstruck and, after ringing his suite and finding out he wasn't there, more than willing to provide the details of Shawn's likely whereabouts in exchange for an autograph and a shakily taken picture.
In the extensive grounds there was a pathway out onto a beachfront area, access enabled for all manner of mobility aids that might be used by the clientèle. It was secluded, private to the residents only and, Hunter surmised, one of the reasons the place cost so much to stay at. He hadn't envisioned anything basic but it appeared to be a lot more plush than he thought such places would be. He often wished they lived on the coast rather than on some inland ranch that was often like a dustbowl but the wannabe cowboy would hear none of it. Anything less than scorching and he had two sweaters on and the air conditioning flipped to warm.
The walk out was brief but Hunter wasn't quite sure what he was looking for other than a familiar face. After crossing through the landscaped gardens he found himself on a broad concrete path and there, some fifty metres away from him, was a wheelchair positioned up against the railings. In that chair was a familiar figure and Hunter paused to register fully that it was who he thought it was. It was only when he saw the man curl his arms around the railings and hoist himself to his feet that he became certain. Carefully the figure descended back into the chair, paused for a moment and then repeated the action, the second time a little slower than the first and then the third slower still.
A fourth repetition looked significantly more strained than any of the others and Hunter felt the lump in his throat appear and make itself known. It had been a shock to see Shawn on his feet at all but an even bigger one to see how quick he'd tired as a result of doing it. His instincts told him to run, to go and put his arms around Shawn and congratulate him for doing so well, for working so hard to achieve so much but he knew it wouldn't be for the best. Instead he put his head down and resumed walking at a normal pace, all the while trying to find the right words to say. Once he had passed the halfway mark he could see the outline of the familiar tattoo and kept his eyes fixed on it for the rest of the short distance. The closer he got he could see that Shawn had closed his eyes and seemed to be facing the sky. It was probably a moment of prayer but by the time he was at the side of the chair he had no option but to speak and interrupt whatever was going on, not wanting his presence to provide a fright when Shawn opened his eyes again.
The word was little more than a whisper but between the calm waters and lack of people it was loud enough to get Shawn's attention. He opened his eyes cautiously and looked up to see Hunter stood above him. "Hunt, you're here already!" Shawn's voice did little to mask how surprised he was. "When d'ya get here?"
"I came as soon as I got your call. You did say to come here? If I heard you wrong I guess I got it a lot wrong."
Hunter's short burst of uncomfortable laughter went unaccompanied.
"Yeah. No. Yes... what I mean is yes, I wanted to you to come here but I didn't mean for you to drop everything to do that. Not so suddenly."
"I just missed you man and it feels like forever since we last spoke, since I last saw you."
An awkward moment of silence fell upon them, no kisses or touches were exchanged and hardly seemed appropriate anyway. Instead it seemed more apt for them both to remain as they were, Shawn turning again to face out to sea and Hunter beside him, surreptitiously running his eyes over the wheelchair and it's occupant.
Their reunion hadn't gone quite as either of them truly imagined it. The lack of physicality was a given, neither man feeling that the boundaries of personal space was theirs to invade any longer. There were no positive or negative signs to be read, no markers that laid down the rules. Hunter was still convinced he'd been called down for one last fond farewell and to divvy up their possessions. Shawn on the other hand was getting to grips with the decision his brain was making with not inconsiderable assistance from his heart.
It appeared that time hadn't dulled or damaged what Hunter truly felt for Shawn. Hunter's heart still thundered in his chest at the sight of the strong arms that looked more tanned and muscular than at any point since the accident. Dark blonde hair still sat in a neat ponytail and looked invitingly touchable. This was a man he'd always loved and still did. Nothing, not even the pain of their lengthy separation, had changed that.
Shawn gestured to a bench a little further down the pathway and Hunter walked alongside as he wheeled himself towards it, knowing better than to try and push the chair or offer to help in any way. Things were precariously balanced enough without him worsening the situation by making such an error. Dropping his travel-tired bones onto the sun warmed wood he slipped his jacket off and tossed it over the back of the bench. He stared ahead into the evening sunset, the last of the bright light just above the horizon and the sky burned a dark salmon pink with swathes of orange. It was that dying sun that was keeping the air temperature bearable as the breeze blew around his bare arms
"So, you gotta be wondering why I called you here Hunter."
"You could say that. I've been waiting for this call since the day you came out here."
"I know and I gotta thank you for doing what I asked and leaving me be a while. I got my self back together a whole lot since then. You know Hunter, I've worked harder than I ever did in my whole damn life since I've been here. They, uh, they make sure you're giving it your all. They sure got more outta me than Vince ever did."
The attempt at lightening the mood fell flat on it's face, much to Shawn's surprise and disappointment. The tension between them was already making it hard for him to get out the words he wanted to say and they'd barely been together five minutes. Their easy ways with each other of old seemed to have faded.
"Shawn, you asked for time, for space. After all we've been through how could I not let you go do what you thought was for the best? It was pretty clear I didn't know what was the right thing to do."
Hunter couldn't sop the sigh that followed, wishing he could so he didn't sound so weary of the whole situation. He wanted to be able to offer Shawn encouragement and support no matter what was going to happen, knowing that the bleeding heart routine was hardly his to perform given the circumstances.
"Even so, I know how tough I've found it being here without you so I kinda have some idea. Well, depending on how you feel maybe I don't but Hunt, if you thought of me even half as much as I thought about you then you're probably more than halfway to crazy right now."
Shawn's words made Hunter look away and at the birds that soared above the waves waiting to dive. His eyes sought a distraction so that he didn't have to think about how it had been. It had been harder than he ever thought, incredibly so. Friends had rallied round for both of them, thankfully he'd found that some of their colleagues were more in touch emotionally than others.
"You don't need to ask me how I feel Shawn. I got the first flight here. I don't even have a place to stay and probably won't get one at this time of night but it doesn't matter. Not to me. I had to be here," Hunter paused for a moment to find the right words, knowing they were all important. "Whatever you've got to say to me."
Shawn twisted his hands in his lap, the feeling of apprehension getting to him quicker than he thought it would. There was so much he wanted to say but didn't know where, or if, to start. His idea had been to force his own hand. Once Hunter was on the way there would be no turning back. The decisions and questions that churned around inside his head would stop. Only when Hunter was in front of him would things become clearer, at least that's what he'd hoped would happen. The only flaw in his grand plan was that he'd expected it to take a couple of days before Hunter would be able to get out of his commitments and a grace period of mental preparation was a luxury he no longer had.
Shawn knew it was ungrateful to think of things that way but six months alone had changed how he felt and thought about a lot of the things that had gone on, that much he did know. Gone was the anger and the bitterness, all channelled away into his innumerate sessions of physical therapy and prayer. Hours by the sea, hours in church alone; all spent in a silence he craved but that extended no further than the outer shell of his ears.
Inside he still sought the quiet of soul that it had taken him years to achieve. The safe security of being loved and comfortable in his own skin had faded after the revelations in the recent past and hadn't reappeared in the time he'd been away. He was desperate to get back to that. It was only earlier in the week that it had struck Shawn that, love him or hate him, stay with him or leave him, Hunter was the key to that peace.
On the down days when the counsellors couldn't persuade him out of his room all he'd wanted was the warm and familiar touches; an arm around his shoulder as they drove, a hand weighing heavy on his hip as he slept. He'd been too scared of himself and the possible rejection to ask Hunter to come to him until the need for comfort and familiarity had gotten to be too much.
"All I've got to say is, well..."
The long wait that followed was only punctuated by the distant birdsong and a few small mutters from Shawn as he got the words in his head in an order somewhere close to a sentence. Hunter wanted to tell him to spit it out, to get it over and done with, to break the bad news already. Inside his head spun a string of colourful curse words that, of course, he would never say out loud. Same as it was months ago, all he wanted was to know.
"Hunt, I want us to give it another try. Y'know, you and me, how we were before."
Almost as quickly as he'd started talking Shawn had stopped again leaving Hunter reeling and wondering if he'd heard the brief statement correctly. Despite his sensible side telling his brain to answer carefully in case he'd heard wrongly he refused to ask Shawn to say the words over again. All he found himself saying was "Me too."
"You sure? I mean this hasn't been easy for either of us. I know that if you can't trust me, well, I'd kinda understand and that's fine but I won't expect Rome to get rebuilt in a day if you do want to give it a shot."
Shawn's tone wasn't deliberately meant to be making Hunter's heart ache but it was. He found himself excited that Shawn was offering him a way back, a way that gave them the chance he'd been holding out for. At the same time he had to be cautious about it all too. He didn't want to be 'taken back' out of pity or obligation but he accepted that it wouldn't be possible to know for sure that they weren't the reasons, same as they couldn't just hit the play button and carry on like nothing had ever happened.
"You know me Shawn and I don't have the words you do. I'm not a book reading guy. I'm pretty simple and it's best for me to stay that way. Before you say anything else I just want you to know that I'd never pass up a chance to try to get back to what we had. I waited years to get to that point and you should know how much I loved you then and love you now. Always have man, always will."
Hunter looked at Shawn and smiled, the sun framing his lover against the flame coloured sky. All he could hope was that the strength and enduring nature of that once shared emotion could one day give him and give them back what they'd come so very close to losing altogether.
Wheeling himself up close to the bench Shawn leaned over and took Hunter's hand in his, squeezing it tightly. He wasn't expecting there to be a significant reaction but wanted to make the gesture. Almost selfishly he wanted feel something familiar that would start to convince him that he was right to think that there was a future for them. When Hunter leaned over and planted a chaste kiss on his temple he closed his eyes and just let the moment happen. It was only seconds long but felt like it started the demolition of the Hoover dam he'd found constructed around his heart. For those seconds back was the still and the sense of calm that came with the rush of love their bond still gave him.
"You think you can deal with a wrecked old man like me around the place Hunt? I can stand a little bit but walking is looking well, unaided walking, is looking like a bridge too far for me. "
Shawn's smile dipped to a frown briefly until Hunter squeezed his free hand around their interlocked fingers and nodded.
"I think I can cope. I meant what I said before you came down here, that I'd take care of you no matter what. I don't care if I gotta follow you around picking the crockery up when you're slamming through the kitchen on a golf cart. And besides, I already took Cena on as a houseboy and …."
Hunter stopped himself as he realised just how inappropriate the joke on the tip of his tongue was. His smile weakened and he shook his head, realising what an idiot of he was about to make of himself.
"Man, I'm sorry. I didn't think. It just came out."
There was no disapproving scowl or snide words; no hurt feelings or harking back to the past. If anything it proved to Shawn that despite things being so different on the surface that deep down maybe so little of them and between them had really changed.
"Don't apologise to me Hunter. I just hope the kid does a mean bed bath."
"You've got a way to keep me on your side,
You give me cause for love that I can't hide,
For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide."
A/N: So, that's it. Finally done! I never thought this whole WIP thing would take so long but I'm glad I finished it and that it's something I'm pleased with rather than just being over!
I just want to thank everyone that's stuck with this story despite the long gaps between updates (which we can thank the retired Shawn for XD). Thank you for your kind words, lovely reviews and just for reading what I've written. I sincerely appreciate every single person that's followed this story *hearts*
Most of all I hope you enjoyed the story, I think I did but I'll read it again in six months and know more then :)
And one more thing. Lyrics at the end borrowed from 'Walk The Line' by Johnny Cash which I genuinely did not know contained relevant words until I heard it on a Youtube video a few months ago. Kinda fitting I suppose!