I'm staring out into the night,
Trying to hide the pain.
I'm going to the place where love
And feeling good don't ever cost a thing.
And the pain you feel's a different kind of pain.
He begged hard; begged, pleaded, prostrated himself and one night whilst heavily drunk even wrapped his arms around the toned legs like every pathetic movie starlet trying to stop her on-screen sugar daddy from walking out the door. There had been public arguments and private wars of words, some so hurtful that they almost made the topic at hand irrelevant. What was the point of fighting for a love where insults flew and flowed so freely?
The difficulty was that neither of them truly believed a word of the bullshit harshness that poured from their lips in those late night near-brawls. It wasn't so much 'make-up sex' that they had because although their brains were registering the barbed words they both knew that the argument was a valid one. Their lovemaking became more aggressive as their days left together became numbered less and less, the wild clawing and resulting welts they left on each other's skin used as another sign of territory marked. If it was there for all to see it was undeniable and didn't have to end. Or so at least one of them thought.
He knew that there was a soul aching inevitability to it all. Nothing he said or did was going to change Shawn's mind about the plans he'd made. He was going home to Becca, to the kids, to Texas. His mind was made up about that more than anything in his life and nothing Hunter said, did or threatened to do made a damn bit of difference to that. The hardest day had been the day of the Slammy's as he'd realised then why Shawn had seemed so wound up and tense in the weeks beforehand. He'd been doing a lot of sneaking around but Hunter just assumed that he was having one of his frequent crises of faith where he'd spend a week praying only to come knocking on Hunter's hotel room door at four in the morning almost in tears and just wanting to curl up beside him.
This fight had been going on for almost nine years and they were both tired of it. However they were never tired of each other and that's what drove both of them on. Hunter had often offered to give up his relationship in the vain hope that it would drive Shawn to do the same. The main problem was that no matter how much he hated the corner they'd backed themselves into with their secret life it was the only way to be together. He was grateful that Steph stayed home and played Mom and didn't want to travel, not that she did much in the days after she stopped wrestling. What was his and Shawn's sneaking around always just looked like solid friendship and everyone accepted that, even Vince.
It was only in the last few weeks that eyebrows had been raised and the idle chatter about them had begun in earnest. A few of the vets shook their heads and told everyone how they'd been right all along. Some of the younger guys daren't say anything at all for fear of upsetting someone who might be in charge of their futures. The atmosphere on both sides of their closed bedroom door was getting charged up and Hunter knew if they weren't more careful it would be more than just Shawn's retirement that would be hitting the headlines.
The miles are getting longer, it seems,
The closer I get to you.
I've not always been the best man or friend for you.
But your love, remains true.
And I don't know why.
You always seem to give me another try.
It was a constant battle between keeping a straight face and the urge to smile, to have that moment of inappropriate laughter when he was on his knees apologising. He knew full well that whatever God was actually listening to his spilt secrets had a raised eyebrow and was probably checking his watch to see how much time he was going to waste listening to the well intentioned but ultimately insincere words. Shawn only ever kept one promise and that was the one he made to always be there for his kids, or at least as much as his career allowed him to. Nobody, not Hunter, not Becca and not God would ever keep him from being the dad he wanted to be. That's where the drive to go home had come from and it was something he found himself determined to go through with.
Inside his heart was shattered, torn in every direction by his emotions, his conscience and his faith. Often when he had those quiet moments alone he'd wonder just how things had gone so wrong. How did he love them all; Hunter, Becca and God? Where had the room in his heart for all of them come from after 20 years of loving nothing but his few family family members and his craft? He'd been spending more and more time alone just walking the nearest coast road, lake path or woodland trail to wherever they were wrestling. It was only when he was alone that his head was finally clear of the demands of all the people and vices in his life.
One morning he perched on the top railing of the beach wall before sunrise and soaked up the feeling of day breaking around him. Closing his eyes he thought of his kids who would be sleeping soundly in their beds, just like Becca and the bruised body he'd spent a fitful night huddled close to until finally giving in to consciousness. The soft sea breeze of the fading tide blew strands of hair around his face and he felt at peace just for a few precious seconds. In that moment he was free; free of responsibility to do nothing other than breathe, to be. It was as he opened his eyes again and watched the gulls swooping down to pick over natures bountiful buffet for them that he realised that life was more like their existence. All he was there to do was pick over whatever life had left for him and try to make a feast rather than a famine out of it. What he truly wanted was beneath the surface too and seemed to dangerous and out of reach to ever aim for.
When he'd got back to the hotel Hunter was in the shower and singing loudly. They'd not slept in separate rooms for a few years and their routines were so ingrained and familiar that he often wondered just how they'd kept it all hidden for so long. Whether he'd allowed himself to fall asleep in the strong and comfortable arms or if he'd slept in their convenient and always insisted upon twin bed, the mornings were always the same. He always made the coffee, packed the bags and checked the shower for their toiletries. Hunter would always straighten the bed, make sure they didn't leave their various chargers and gadgets and check them out. He'd grab the fruit at breakfast while Hunter ordered the egg white omelettes. It just clicked, just worked.
It was only when he was at home that he could at least try to find the division between their on the road life and the possibilities and appeal of being the happily married man he'd been so eager to play. Sat around his ranch's breakfast table he was a God-fearing family man with everything in the world he could wish for. Nobody challenged that in any seriousness, his ability to quote scripture and hang a beautiful woman from his arm silenced an army of critics and cynics he'd had around him for most of his performing life.
At home he was the Michael Hickenbottom he'd strived most of his life not to be. There was no trace left of the Heartbreak Kid when he was putting out the trash or washing the truck out back. When his kids ran rings around him with a basketball and fell asleep on his chest as he flaked out on the sofa he'd feel Becca pull a blanket over them and know that he was where he was meant to be. The only problem was that he wasn't necessarily in that place with who his heart told him should truly be around.
He'd tried to explain it all to Hunter but there had been little understanding from a man who was willing to give up all those same things for love. He couldn't claim that Hunter had no idea what he was going through because he did absolutely. The only thing that set them apart was religion. Hunter felt no obligation to his secular vows to Steph, no ties to a God that he couldn't rationalise had ultimately saved and preserved the man he loved.
In those moments on his knees he realised that there was no way to please everyone. Something had to give and in his heart he had a feeling he knew just what it was going to be.
So I'm going home,
Back to the place where I belong,
And where your love has always been enough for me.
I'm not running from.
No, I think you got me all wrong.
I don't regret this life I chose for me,
But these places and these faces are getting old
So I'm going home.
It hadn't been planned like this. The way fate had worked was either conspiring with them or against them depending on which way it was looked upon. Shawn had retired as planned and left the business, as far as he was concerned, for good. That same night Hunter picked up an injury which had put him out for the long term, only working one match and a couple of promos in the interim. In the eternal scheme of things both men privately saw it as a comment, a message about the manner in which they'd parted ways.
The night of Shawn's retirement speech had been a difficult one. Hunter had been about to break his heart on screen when from nowhere came Sheamus to effectively make the save. Hunter suspected Shawn had been behind it but it emerged that he'd just lucked out that Sheamus wanted his five minutes of unscripted fame which earned him a two week suspension without pay. Shawn had played hell with him backstage and they'd not spoken for the rest of the night. Hunter unashamedly wept in his dressing room through most of the early part of the speech and came out to say his goodbyes to the person, the man, who mattered most to him in the world.
Their embrace had been a genuine shock to Shawn. He thought Hunter had left the arena after their bust up and that he could spend that moment soaking up the feeling at the top of the ramp before turning on his heel to leave forever. Instead he found himself wrapped in the strong and familiar arms that felt like home. He couldn't fight his natural urge to turn and kiss Hunter, the angle saving the intended location from access. Their unheard words were apologies, "I love you"'s and most importantly from Hunter, an "I understand." which somehow made it all a little less painful.
Since that night they'd spoken every day on the phone, even if it was a short "Hey, how are you?" to one particularly difficult late night call that left both men empty as the receivers hit the docks at both ends of the line. Their separation was working and not working at the same time. Shawn was back with his family, dealing with offers for new projects and getting more involved with the church. Hunter was spending a lot of time in treatment and handling promotional business that Vince had set up to give him something to do. The problem came when Steph wouldn't let go of the idea of going down to see Shawn one weekend when they had nothing planned, thinking it would be a nice gesture for her husband having seen how badly his injury had affected him. Hunter had said he wasn't fit to travel but Steph went ahead and arranged it anyway, the date set and, when that date arrived, the car packed.
The journey was a reasonable one but it wasn't until they pulled up outside Shawn's ranch that Hunter realised the magnitude of what they'd had and just how much he'd missed it. He saw Shawn stood at the top of the short flight of steps holding his hat in one hand while he kissed a pregnant Steph on the cheek and dodged the whirlwind of Hunter's two daughters around his ankles. Hunter didn't want to get out of the car but Steph waved at him frantically. He feigned a stiffness in his neck and on locking the car stood at the bottom staring up at Shawn who was now alone, the convoy of wives and children having made its way indoors.
Shawn made his way slowly down the steps, never taking his eyes off Hunter for a moment. Once at the bottom he extended his hand for a handshake, determined to keep their contact platonic and safe for his own good. He'd played the moment over in his head every waking minute since he'd had it confirmed that they were coming down and now it was here his heart felt as if it were sat obstructively at the back of his throat, blocking his ability to breathe or speak. He could feel the shake in his entire body and his hand merely vibrated into the air until finally Hunter's own met it and grasped it firmly.
"Good to see you man. You're looking great, real rested."
"Thanks Hunt, and thanks for coming down here. How's the neck?"
"Not so good but they'll get me fixed up. Vince is paying so its a good doc they got on the case. You know how it is when you make the company money."
A slow nod from Shawn acknowledged both that and the fact that the grand hug he'd imagined being pulled into and the stolen kiss he craved had not happened. His disappointment grew even more when Hunter gestured up the steps and he felt obliged to head inside. This wasn't what he wanted and that phrase cycled over and over in his head as he showed everyone through into the sun room where the table was laid and the housekeeper was waiting to fix the drinks up before serving the meal.
The dinner went off fairly uneventfully with the exception of some dropped meatballs by some of the kids and Hunter knocking his beer all over the table, his nerves making his hands shake every bit as much as Shawn's had earlier. After a dessert he did little more than pick at he was grateful that Steph and Becca decided to take the kids to the local park to tire then out and leave 'the boys' to catch up. Both men stood on the porch as the car was loaded with squealing bundles of arms and legs, the dog and their housekeeper even tagging along for the ride. As the car disappeared out of sight they turned towards each other and the familiarity of their faces, lost in the intervening weeks, returned with a slow ushering in of its arrival, the first sign a tear welling heavily on the bottom lid of Shawn's eye.
"Hunt, lets go sit out back a while. Its real nice this time of evening. Peaceful."
Shawn led the way through the house and sent Hunter out onto the back porch while he grabbed two more cold beers from the kitchen. He spent a moment too long taking the caps off them, desperate to compose himself and try to get a better handle on what he hoped would happen. All through dinner his mind raced from them having a polite chat and catching up on gossip right through to him being taken hard over the railings as he moaned Hunter's name in his gruff tone one last time. The whole visit had turned into a grand torment and he felt like he was being tempted by the forbidden fruit, only this time with full knowledge of the havoc his guilty consumption would wreak.
Eventually he made his way outside and the evening sun was warm but strong, the sunset still a while off but the clouds killing the hope of the blood red skies he was used to seeing. He handed over the bottle and sat down beside Hunter on the large bench he'd chosen to perch on, sitting forward with his elbows on his knees.
"So, you wanna talk about...stuff?"
The word was a simple and short one but it implied more than it could ever really say or represent. 'Stuff' was sixteen years of being together, nine years of made love, indeed nine years of true love. 'Stuff' was sacrifices back then and present day, putting others first and shelving something that in different circumstances would have pride of place in both men's lives. 'Stuff' was the only word Shawn could find that was ambiguous enough to break the deadlock of their silence.
"Not really Shawn. Is there much left to say on all that? You made your choice and this is where we are. I'm with Steph, you're with Bec, the kids have their dads and we... well, we still have each other. Just maybe not in the same way, that's all. Ain't much changed really if you look at it that way. We always knew that retirement would come to this, we just put off talking about it way too long, that's all."
Hunter's casual tone irked himself as much as it seemed to irk Shawn. He didn't really mean to say that it was all okay because it wasn't. His heart was shredded but he didn't dare say any more than he had. If he carried on the charade that everything was ok then maybe in time it would feel as if it were. If Shawn's choice was to be with his family then Hunter looked forward to the day when the pain faded and he could go back to living his life again.
"Shawn, man, don't do this. You've gotta be finding this whole thing hard too? Then maybe we should leave it alone. I'm torn up and I can't do this. If you want all this so badly then we can't even think about...stuff, you understand me?"
Nodding slowly Shawn took a long drink from his beer then turned to look at Hunter, his smile small and sad looking. It had been so good to see his friend, his ex-lover but not quite everything he'd imagined. It was finally beginning to dawn on him that the reason for that was all of his own doing. He was the one that had pushed Hunter away, made the decision, gone home. He'd run away from the challenge of their being together and that had clearly stuck hard in Hunter's throat. With a raise of his eyebrow he accepted the blame entirely, knowing that he was lucky they were back together at all even as friends.
The minutes passed by and they sat in silence, both looking off somewhere into the distance at a point that didn't exist. Neither could think of the right words to say; Hunter scared that he had been too blunt and Shawn afraid that he may choke on the foot he seemed to have wedged sideways into his mouth.
"Shawn, when you made the call that you were coming home you never even asked me. Don't get me wrong, I know its nothing to do with me what happens with you and your family but what we had, what we've got... well you know how much I was willing to throw away for that. Now you're down here, soon enough I'll be back on the road and it'll all change again. You'll watch your kids grow up, be their dad and I'll do just about the same. Our 'stuff' can't be 'stuff' if that's the way things are.
The only way," Hunter paused and picked at a spot on the knee of his jeans to buy some time. "The only way is if we wait until the kids are grown and nothing we do will affect them then. You're already out of the business, I'll be backstage or out by that time and then maybe we can work something out. Man, I've loved you for enough of the years I've known you already that another ten or twelve won't make much difference."
With a wry smile Hunter swigged from the bottle and then rolled it back and forth between the palms of his hands. He couldn't really register what he'd just said as he never thought he'd have the courage or stupidity to say it out loud. Had he seriously just suggested that they wait for each other like a pair of star crossed young lovers? It wasn't the desperation speaking; he'd had the thoughts in the past when Shawn had headed for Texas and left him alone in a hotel room somewhere with little other than his confused emotions for company.
He knew it wasn't a half-assed attempt at love. It was that love that only comes along once in a lifetime and even then only if you're lucky. In his heart he knew all too well that nothing compared to it and nobody else's affections could sate his need for it. Maybe if that meant just putting a whole lot of things on hold for a while it was worth it. Worrying the now unthreading cotton of his jeans again he waited for some kind of response, all too aware that he'd told Shawn to leave it well alone and then dived in himself with both feet.
"I suppose we could... y'know in a few years... things... life might be different then..."
The reply was non committal but hopeful. It was the only real way Shawn could see to having the best of both the worlds he so desperately wanted to be part of. They could stay in touch, meet as families, keep their bonds secure and just wait until the time was right. His heart felt lighter but he knew it wouldn't last too long. Even if that was how they intended to live it would still be hard. He had no illusions about there being a magic solution to their dilemma.
They turned their heads to face one another and it was in that moment that they remembered how they'd succumbed to the risk of such heartache. Long hair shone bright with streaks of glowing gold, eyes sparkled as the slowly dipping sun began its long journey to allow the moon to reign. Lines and scars from years of hurt and toil were clearer than ever before, some so ingrained that they now seemed like birthmarks on the abused flesh. Gentle smiles split their faces and it took them on a flick book tour from the first time to the last in little more than the blink of an eye.
A hand reached across and placed itself softly over the fingers that twirled and tugged at a lonely string of light blue, stilling it immediately with its warm familiarity. The rush of adrenaline was followed by deep seated nausea. The high and the low, the climb and the fall. It felt good and it felt right, the way their bodies betrayed them all down to that set of sensations. Hearts pounded and Hunter was glad his hand was pressed face down as he could feel the slick of a thin layer of perspiration springing from his palm. Shawn just closed his eyes and banked his memory of the feeling, knowing he could keep it safe to draw on whenever times got lean.
As if the pull of the poles had been reversed they found themselves drawing closer, heads tilted and lips moistened. A natural feeling to both of them, unhurried and unforced. A large hand placed itself around a clean shaven jaw but as their lips came within millimetres of touching Hunter moved his head and planted his kiss on the soft skin at the side of Shawn's parted lips. He bent to bury his head in the safe haven at the side of Shawn's neck and could do nothing but mutter about being sorry.
"You're right Hunter, maybe we should leave it alone. For now anyways."
Shawn slid his hand off Hunter's knee and under the swathe of dirty-blonde hair and worked his fingers into the hard flesh at the back of Hunter's neck. He'd done it so often before and he knew just how to soothe the tense and damaged muscles. Small circles followed by long strokes at a steady pace. He knew that would touch deeper and mean more than any kiss. The tenderness they'd shown each other had never been driven by carnal hunger, only ever by the automatic need to care and maintain that only a deep love could demand.
It was in the quiet of the cooling evening that the deal was done. There was no further discussion or negotiation, no passionate kisses, no intimate contact other than the squeeze of a loosely held hand and one embrace as they headed back into the house to go and look over some paperwork for one of Shawn's planned new projects. The slaps on the back landed squarely and firmly, their intention to clean their gestures of any lovers overtones and go back to how it was before their relationship had changed. It had been a long time since then and it looked as if it would be a long time till it came again. Maybe the comfort was in the knowledge that if what they had was worth the risks they'd taken then it was also worth waiting for.
Another couple of beers in the study passed the time until the troupe arrived back from the park. They'd been able to stave off the reality of their imminent parting by burying themselves in business, gossip and reminiscing. Eventually the car rolled up onto the gravel drive and Becca came in to let Hunter know that Steph was waiting outside in the car, the kids already fast asleep on the back seat. He headed off with Becca, Shawn saying he'd be along as soon as he'd grabbed their coats from the cloakroom.
Outside he had a pleasant enough chat while waiting for Shawn. Under the false front though he just wanted to drive miles from there and never come back if it meant being faced time after time with what might have been. Hunter daren't look towards the car, unsure how he was going to cope with the drive home. He knew Steph would expect him to be somewhat sad but the dark clouds had started to shift in and he had to take a deep breath and swallow down the thoughts and emotions his heart was forcing him to endure.
Shawn retrieved everything from the cloakroom and listened to the tap of his boots on the wood flooring as he strolled back through the house. It reminded him of the ticking of a clock, a countdown to being without Hunter again and he felt he last of his deep breaths stick in his chest, the tension making it almost impossible to exhale. He looked through the open door and saw Hunter's hair glowing in the dying light, the wisps of it blowing in the breeze that swirled around the ranch. It didn't escape his attention that his wife looked pretty but she didn't look amazing. Not even the resolution to wait, to normalise what they had could change his body's reaction to seeing something, deep down, he knew he wanted unconditionally but couldn't handle conventionally.
His descent was careful and steady, firstly walking straight past the chatting pair to put all the coats into the trunk of the waiting car. Shawn went around to wish Steph a safe drive home and thank her for talking Hunter into making the trip. Telling her that it had done them both good might seem somewhat rich in the circumstances but he genuinely meant it and in a way that would most likely benefit both wives at least for some time to come.
After a brief but affectionate hug Becca switched places with Shawn and that left the two men stood staring at each other, their wives and families before them as a stark reminder of the potential collateral damage of what they'd been doing. The happy laughter and speedy chatter of their wives paled away into the background and the all absorbing nature of their connection took them to a place only they ever inhabited. Holding his hand out Hunter expected the manly handshake he was offering as he'd assented to earlier. Shawn however was playing a cagier game. He knew full well the wives would notice something wrong if they didn't act as normal and once he'd taken Hunter's hand pulled him close into a strong embrace. The tense muscles soon relaxed and they allowed themselves to spend just long enough that way for three words to be spoken.
As the car pulled off Shawn waved his goodbyes as Becca headed inside to make sure the kids had brushed their teeth as instructed. He noticed that Hunter didn't look back, hadn't made a big show of his leaving. He'd done as they'd agreed and kept it all on the level.
In the car Steph was happily talking away about the antics of the group of kids at the park, what a great time they'd had and what a grand idea of hers it was for them to make the trip. Hunter made all the required noises at the right times, told her she was nothing short of a genius and then asked if she minded if he put his choice of CD on having endured Cher all the way there. It was one he'd picked up in Europe on a previous tour and that he and Shawn had spent many afternoons idling to. She agreed and soon enough Chris Martin's voice filled the car at a low level. Hunter pretended to look out of the window and instead closed his eyes, reaching again for the thread hanging loose from his jeans that seemed to have achieved a new relevance.
Behind his eyelids a phrase accompanied by an imagined image of how they looked pressed together played on loop, like a video to accompany the music that flooded into his brain. He heard the words Shawn had said to him so clearly that he knew they'd never leave his mind or his heart.
"Wait for me."
A/N: This came about after a twitter chat with Sera in which we played around with the idea of the aftermath of *the* retirement. I'm still not 'down with that' so I took it one leap further and wrote this. Cathartic? I hoped so but in truth, not really but I do feel expunged of the guilt of considering the retirement as a plot bunny. S'done now.
Song lyrics are from the song Home by Daughtry which is the theme to an awesome DX tribute video on YT (just slap /watch?v=vbsCrJIdLjs after the web addy) and the title and some minor parts at the end were inspired by Coldplay – Til Kingdom Come.
All reads and reviews appreciated as ever!