Return to Me
It wasn't such a difficult thing; making a cell phone call.
Unless it was this cell phone call.
Twenty…no, more like twenty-three tries in the last half hour. He'd had the entire number punched in once, but instead of hitting call, his thumbnail had instead chosen to back out of the screen.
Brian stuffed another forkful of lettuce in his mouth and tried again as he chewed. Open phone. Start typing the number. He didn't even have to check it against the number written on a worn rolodex card, he had the damn thing memorized. He checked it anyway; it kept his mind busy.
Three, six, zero, three, two…
And that was the end of that. A burgeoning anxiety attack stopped him from going further. He closed the phone, set it down roughly, and resumed eating and ignoring the glances of the other restaurant patrons.
It was pathetic in the worst of ways, even more pathetic than the months – years, if he was to be honest with himself – he'd spent pining. At least he'd been able to huddle in the privacy of his own home then. Now every table nearby was staring curiously at him, witnesses to the battle of the Cell Phone Call Which Refused To Be Made.
He finished his lunch, paid the bill, and ambled out to the sidewalk. It was quite a nice day out, warm enough that he didn't need his jacket, which he'd brought anyway for the childish comfort of having something to hold onto.
With a sigh, Brian looked down at his cell phone. If the last forty minutes had been any indication, this wasn't going to get any easier. Either bite the bullet or give up.
Do you want the chance to see Hugo or not?' He asked himself.
That left only one choice. He flipped it open again and focused on the numbers.
Three, six, zero, three, two, eight, five, two, five, six…call.
Maybe it would just keep ringing. Maybe he could leave a message. That way, it handed the control over to Hugo as to whether or not he wanted to call back. Maybe–
He must have caller ID, his tone was too incredulous to be his usual phone voice. He sounded older. A little tired. And yet still familiar, so goddamned familiar.
"Hi," Brian said, forcing the words out around his heart, which had lodged itself in his throat.
The quiet intake of air on the other end of the line didn't go unnoticed. Brian hurried to add, "I'm sorry for calling like this."
"It's all right," Hugo said.
Brian couldn't be sure if the words had been said in reflex or if Hugo had meant them, but they helped. It was all right.
"I just…see, I'm in town, and I thought…I might stop by to say hello if you didn't mind," he said.
"I don't mind."
That hadn't been reflex.
"Joan's here," Hugo added, snapping the ridiculous grin from Brian's face.
"Joan's here, she lives with me now. She's not home right now, but…if it matters."
If it matters.
Guilt replaced his happiness and all the horrible things that his jealousy over a harmless child had caused him to say rose up in his mind.
"You like her more than me, don't you? You only think about her now. You don't have room in your life for me. You don't love me anymore."
No matter how many times Hugo said it wasn't true, he hadn't listened.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
"It doesn't matter," he said aloud. It never really mattered.
"All right. It's the same address."
"Okay. See you in a few."
Brian hung up. The world suddenly felt surreal around him. He turned and saw some of the diners in the restaurant still keeping an eye on him. He nodded a greeting at them and set off at a walk.
What the hell. Maybe they'd been cheering him on.
- - -
The house didn't look much different. An unfamiliar truck sat in the driveway, but there was no doubting whom it belonged to; it was just a newer version of the trusty old model Hugo had owned back then.
Brian ran his hands through his blond hair yet again. The stupid truck alone had brought back memories, and it wasn't even the same truck.
Seeing an ex wasn't supposed to be easy. Seeing an ex after thirteen years probably shouldn't be so difficult, though.
Of course, when your last memory of the person was of them crying, not even fighting anymore, just broken and asking you not to leave, that made it tougher.
It hurt now, but back then he'd been a stupid kid, too unaware to realize what he was doing to them both. Part of him was surprised Hugo was willing to see him again at all.
He walked to the door and knocked before he could lose his nerve. It swung open a few seconds later, and Brian found himself staring into a face he'd tried to forget, only to fail every time.
Hugo looked older. Tired. His laugh lines weren't as noticeable, but his eyes hadn't lost their clever glint.
Smithy, he felt the old urge to whisper. He stuck with a painfully polite, "Hello Hugo."
"Hello Brian. Do you want to come in?"
"Sure." He walked inside, glancing around against his will. It looked surprisingly similar, right down to the model sailboats and fish trophies in their same old places.
You never did like change, he thought with sad fondness.
They were both standing awkwardly. Brian made the first move. "Where's Joan?" he asked, sitting down.
"At her boyfriend's house."
Brian noted his tone. "You hate him."
"You hate her boyfriend."
"No!" Hugo protested, breaking out of his stiff, formal air at last. "No, I don't."
Brian raised his eyebrows and Hugo sighed.
"Is it that obvious?"
Hugo sat down too, on the couch beside him, much to Brian's surprise and consternation. "I just don't think he's good for her, but she won't listen to reason. She's already talking about moving in with him and she hasn't known the boy more than two months. I don't know what to do with her."
Brian shifted his weight. "Could uh…her mother maybe help?"
"No, Louisa got a job overseas this summer. That's why Joan's here."
"So this is a new development, her living here."
"Yes." Hugo shook his head, his fine brown hair falling into his eyes when he stopped and looked at Brian. "Enough of my bitching, you didn't come here to hear about my parental woes. What have you been up to?"
"Oh…not much. I um…joined the FBI."
"Really? That's great! You were always brilliant, they're lucky to have you."
The heartiness in Hugo's tone, along with his mere proximity, was making Brian's heart pound painfully. Here they were, talking like two old classmates, but they weren't just old classmates. They were more, shouldn't they be talking like they had been more?
"No wonder you picked up on how I felt about Edward. You're probably an expert at reading people now," Hugo was saying.
"Hopefully I'm better than I was," Brian mumbled.
"Nothing." He straightened up. "What have you been doing? Do you still have a million hobbies?"
"Only half a million now," Hugo said ruefully. "I've been working multiple jobs for awhile. Plus, Joan's here, that's a job in itself."
"I see you've still got your boats. You still fish?"
"Yeah, yeah I do. Not much these days. Joan doesn't like fish, and it seems like a waste to catch one just for me."
He couldn't help noticing how Hugo kept bringing the topic back to recent months, as if neither of them wanted to mention the years between the last time they had seen each other. Knowing that this awkwardness was his fault, Brian decided to take a leap.
"Are you nervous?" he asked. "About seeing me?"
Hugo grimaced. "Kind of," he admitted.
"Me too," Brian said.
"It's…been a long time." Hugo said quietly. "When I saw your name on the phone, I thought I was dreaming."
"You're lucky I managed to make the call at all," Brian said. "I was so afraid you wouldn't want to hear from me."
"I'd never not want to hear from you," Hugo said, and Brian's mouth went dry.
"Really? Even after all the things I said?"
"I don't blame you for those," Hugo said, looking down at his hands. "I was…neglecting you. Us. I never loved her more than you, you know. I just didn't want to be a dead-beat father. It wasn't Joan's fault that she was an accident, and I didn't want her growing up feeling like one."
"I know that. You were trying to do the right thing–"
"But at the cost of…" He sighed, not finishing. "I thought about calling you, especially after Louisa took her and moved away."
"Why didn't you?"
"I was afraid. I didn't think I could handle being rejected by you twice."
Brian felt his heart shatter.
And here he had spent these years telling himself Hugo probably hated him anyway. Convinced that after how he had acted, his partner was probably glad he was gone for good. When all along, the person he'd always professed to love most had been in pain, wanting to see him and yet scared. Scared. Hugo wasn't supposed to be scared of anything, he had always been the fearless one.
"Smi– Hugo, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"It's all right, Brian." He smiled at him, sadly. "It's nobody's fault. Besides…after all this time, there's no point in dwelling. Maybe it was all for the best. We've been able to do other things…you're in the FBI for heaven's sake, your life must have been so much more fascinating for leaving me."
Brian wanted to agree, for the sake of leaving Hugo with the comfortable idea that everything had happened for a reason, but he couldn't.
It wasn't like he hadn't tried to move on. But no matter how many brown-haired, brown-eyed men he met or dated or slept with, none of them could burn away the memory of the only person to make it into his heart.
The hell was the title of FBI agent worth if, in the end, he'd only worked toward it to fill his empty days and nights? All the ranks and titles in the world wouldn't turn his pathetic life into a fascinating one.
Hugo stood up. "I'm sorry. Here you are being kind, and I'm bringing up all these things."
"No, no." Brian stood up too, anxiously. "It's all right. It makes sense to start thinking about the past now. I'm sorry I just showed up out of the blue like this."
"No, I mean…I should have stopped and thought about what it meant for you. What if you had a…you know, a family here now, and then I just walked in? I should have at least considered that I might cause trouble showing back up."
Hugo met his eyes. "I'd still have wanted you to visit," he said. "And anyway, it's just me and Joan, and she doesn't even know about you…or me, for that matter." When Brian blinked questioningly, he elaborated, "She's one of those born-again people."
"Yeah. I can't even have a beer without her getting on my case. Figured it was best not to tell her."
"So what do you do, sneak out on dates when she's with her boyfriend?" He asked, in an effort to act like he was fine with their lives having taken entirely separate paths.
"I…I don't date," Hugo said, ruining his effort.
"Oh." Brian bit his lip, acutely aware of how quiet the room was. "Um, so…I should probably go before I find a way to make this even more uncomfortable."
"Don't take all the credit, I've made it pretty awkward too," Hugo said.
"That's our MO, I guess."
"No fair using your fancy FBI lingo," said Hugo, and Brian laughed nervously.
"Sorry. I'll stick to uh…civilian terms," he said.
"Well, take care of yourself. Don't go getting shot by a perp. Or whatever you call the bad guys."
"Nah, they don't shoot agents. Not worth the time in jail." Why the hell was this so hard? It felt like a caricature of a conversation, and the room suddenly felt stiflingly small. "Maybe I'll call you again sometime?" He ventured.
"Sure. I'll be here. It really was good to see you again, Brian. You know…you look just the same."
Brian felt a lump rise in his throat. "Yeah," he managed. "You do, too." Closing his eyes, he turned blindly for the door, his chest aching. And some part of him wanted to do something crazy, but the other part, the carefully honed, carefully controlled part, forced one foot in front of the other, until something caught his sleeve.
Hugo's quiet voice drifted from behind him. "Brian, don't–"
He remembered the last time he'd heard those words. He remembered pulling away and storming out and not looking back. And spending thirteen years wishing he had.
This time he did. He turned and held out his arms and grabbed onto the hands that were waiting for him.
"Smithy," he whispered, before their lips met, and clutched at Hugo's hands as he fell into the kiss. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, unnoticed.
"You remembered my old name," Hugo said as they broke apart and he wrapped his arms around Brian's back.
"Like I could ever forget?" Brian said, burying his face into the crook of his neck. His fingers tangled in the soft, feathery hair of Hugo's nape as he clung to him. Like I could ever forget any of this?
Then, in a flash, the reality of the situation returned to him. Reluctantly he began to pull away, but Hugo didn't let him go.
"You turned around this time," he said, sounding somewhat choked. "I'm not letting you go now."
"But…" Brian shook his head, hope warring with cynicism inside him. "But I've already caused you so many problems. I hurt you and I yelled at you before and I…come back here and stir all that up and you have Joan to take care of and your jobs–"
Hugo ran his hand through his hair. "You came back. All I care about is that you came back. I can make everything else work."
Brian leaned into his hand. Hope was winning, for the first time. "You really want me back? After I left, after all this time, I just walk in here and you…know without even having to think about it that this is it?"
"If there's anything I can know without having to think about it, it's that I love you."
"You always were better with words than I was," Brian murmured, no longer trying to fight it. His eyes were stinging again, with happy tears now.
"What does that mean?"
"It means I love you, too. I always…" He reached up to kiss him again, wanting simultaneously just to be near him and yet also to pour out all the apologies and pleas and promises he felt he owed him, if only the words existed.
"I understand," Hugo said, and he almost wanted to laugh, to say that Hugo always had been able to read him like a book, but decided not to. Not at this moment. There was time.
He entwined their hands and leaned into his shoulder, smiling.
-- End --