After Tim has stowed their suitcases in the bedroom, he makes his way down the wooden stairs to the kitchen on the ground floor. The cottage has high ceilings and one of the walls of the living room is entirely glass, looking out on the lake, the shore lined with blazing autumn trees in the soft afternoon light. For a minute, he just stands at the windows, watches the breeze create ripples in the deep blue waters, reflecting the cloudless sky above. He is usually in too much of a hurry, too busy to just stop and breathe, take in the world outside, and this seems such a luxury. His back is sore and tight from the flight and the two hour drive to the cabin, but his heart is absolutely content. In this moment, right here, now - he wants nothing, there are no complaints he has against the world.
The sounds in the kitchen draw his attention, and he makes his way slowly over there. It is tiny, painted white with blue tiling, but efficiently organized. The woods outside provide an impenetrable green wall and promise absolute privacy. The coffee-maker is dripping steadily, and Buster stands at the window, with his forehead against the glass, broad shoulders slumped. Every line of his body speaks of exhaustion. He couldn’t sleep on the plane, and then drove the car, since Tim’s hips were giving him trouble. The very long season and post-season has taken its toll on both of them, Buster even more so. The Mariners lost, but the Giants took home their 5th World Series, and Tim was so happy for Buster, he almost didn’t care about the elimination of his new team and his own retirement.
Buster doesn’t turn around even when Tim’s footsteps echo on the bare wooden floor, but some of the tension leaves him. Tim steps close, puts his arms around Buster’s waist, rumpling up his plaid shirt, the soft cotton black t-shirt he is wearing underneath, until his hands touch the silken skin of Buster’s stomach, concave now after the gruelling months of playing ball. His fingers smooth over the soft trail of hair that arrows down from Buster's belly-button. Buster’s hands come up and cover Tim’s, long brown fingers on Tim’s wrists, as he leans back into Tim’s embrace. Tim rests his cheek on the hollow of Buster’s back, on the body-warm material, tightening his hold on him, and a sigh gusts out of Buster.
“Do you know”, he says, quiet, “I used to dream about this?” Tim just shakes his head, evening stubble catching on Buster’s shirt as Buster shivers. He will often go off on a non-sequitur, and Tim has learnt to wait him out, until he can find words for what it is that he really wants to say to Tim. When nothing else is forthcoming for long moments, he presses his forehead on Buster’s shoulder blade, rubs his fingers on the skin of Buster's hipbones, and says, “Go on. What do you mean - you dreamt of the cabin?” Buster laughs, a quiet huff of sound, “Sure. But also of you.” Tim smiles, knows Buster can feel the quirk of his lips. Sometimes it’s easier for them to talk when they don’t have to look at each other, and when Buster is exhausted, he loses some of the rigid control he has over his words and emotions. Tim loves him helplessly, endlessly in moments like this, when they are close and warm and together. Sometimes, it’s good to know that Buster needs Tim too, misses him, as much as Tim does. Especially after...but that’s in the past and Buster is here now, and Tim is happy.
He rubs his face against Buster’s back again, and Buster’s hands tighten on Tim’s forearms and wrists. “You sap”, Tim murmurs, teasing him, “You missed me, go on, admit that you did”. Buster is smiling, Tim can hear it in his voice, “I always miss you. Even if you’re in the next room, playing World of Warcraft and rousing the entire neighborhood with your curses, I miss you”. Tim feels the laughter bubble out of him like effervescent champagne, and Buster starts laughing too at the sound of his mirth. He slowly turns around in Tim’s embrace, until one of his arms can go around Tim’s waist, and he can slide the other in Tim’s hair. Tim buries his face in Buster’s shoulders, where he smells of sandalwood and travel and a little bit like the laundry detergent they use, a little bit of coffee. There's comfort in this embrace, and after spending so many years wanting it and not having, he doesn't deny himself these small moments of peace.
Buster pulls Tim even closer, buries his face in Tim’s hair, and says, “But you know, I used to dream of this before.” Before is a no-man’s land for them, so filled with pain and anger and frustration Tim does not think about it if he can. His heart bears so many scars from before that he used to think he’d never recover from the trauma . He makes a sound, protesting, but Buster whispers, like confessing a secret, “Hush, listen. I’d be in Leesburg, you know, and I’d be out walking with Lee and Addison and the dogs, and I’d dream you were there with me. I’d think, if Tim was here - he’d whistle at the dogs. He’d give my shy daughter a piggy-back ride, teach my son to pitch and I'd correct his mechanics and he'd mock me." Buster's voice drops even lower,"I’d imagine walking with you to church, holding your hand before God and everybody, and I’d suddenly come back to myself and find everyone praying but me.”
Tim feels his heart twist with agony. What Buster put him through for all those years, it took him a long time to forgive Buster for it, loving him and hating him and yet - always, always yearning, aching for him. He sometimes forgets that Buster bore his own share of pain and loneliness. The desolation in Buster's voice, as he talks of those daydreams, tears through Tim. How alone must he have been, how much must he have had to bear while wearing the mask of normalcy? Tim rises on tiptoes, hands on the thick muscle of Buster’s shoulders, and traces small kisses on Buster’s forehead, the corner of his eyes, the dip beneath his lower lip, his jaws, the pulse at his throat. Buster curves towards him, breathing rough, big hands clutching at the shirt on the small of Tim’s back. He folds himself, presses his body into Tim's, as if he can disappear inside Tim if he tries hard enough. Tim's mouth is at the base of Buster's throat, at the mole that's his favorite place to kiss on Buster, and he shuts his eyes against the pain in Buster's voice, who is still talking, voice sounding as if he’s swallowed shards of glass.“You - you were there always in my thoughts, and I missed you and missed you. After a while, when I kissed Kristen, took her in my arms, she fit wrong. I loved her so much and tried so hard, and yet, it was no longer enough. I’d be at the supermarket, and someone would call out “Tim”, and my heart would beat so hard and my hands would get clammy, because even though it was not you, I’d think, what if it was? What if you had come to me?”
Tim’s eyes have welled up, but Buster’s are still dry, though he sounds wrecked. He turns his head, nuzzles against Tim and touches his lips to Tim’s, a chaste, tender caress. Tim's arms go round Buster's neck, hugging him close and Buster pulls Tim in, so that all of his weight now rests on Buster, as the sunshine slants across them both, dust motes dancing in the streams of light. Their faces are pressed together, Tim's tears on Buster's cheeks, as he says, “And always, this dream - you and I in a cabin, near a lake, nothing and no one between us, a kitchen where I could hold you and kiss you and make you coffee. It was my fairy-tale, you know.” Tim can feel Buster shaking, can't take it any more, these broken words, jagged memories that hurt Buster so much. “Stop, please Buster!” His hands are in Buster’s hair, long and curling, and he notices with with a sudden pang of astonishment that Buster has gone completely gray at the temples, that he has crow's feet at the corner of his blue eyes, bright with unshed tears, lines on his forehead. How long has it taken them to get here, Tim wonders - and did the path have to be this difficult? He is still trying to soothe Buster, whose expression is bleak. “Stop, please,", Tim says again, trying to draw him out from his memories into the present, into Tim's arms - "Here we are, and your fairy-tale came true! I love you, please stop!” kissing his beloved face, stopping Buster's word with his lips, because he can’t ever bear Buster’s grief. Buster gasps into Tim's kisses, but then he wrenches his mouth away, and says, “I don’t know how you can even forgive me, Tim! But please, please, don’t stop loving me. I don’t know who I am without you, so don’t let go of me, please.” Tim nods, chest tight, eyes blurry, and then, they crash into each other with desperate kisses, as if they’re young again, a rookie catcher and his ace, and not grown, tired men in their mid-thirties, who’ve been through hell and back to be in each other’s arms, in this tranquil refuge, the sound of water and trees and their own ragged breathing around them.
Buster tips his forehead onto Tim’s after a long while, just looks at him, while Tim cups his face in both his hands and traces the thin skin under his eyes, dark with tiredness and remembered pain. “I’m announcing my retirement after next season”, Buster murmurs, and Tim draws in a quick surprised breath. “I’ll go back to school, maybe Harvard, for a business degree or sports management. And I’ll decide if I want to take up the offer from the Giants about a coaching position, but only if you want to go back to Frisco.”
Tim feels himself smiling then, slow and sweet, and says - “Well, I have some plans too. I want to marry you, so I can hold your hand in front of God and everybody”. Buster is caught off-guard, just for a moment, then an answering smile breaks out on him that makes Tim catch his breath, because it lights up his face and Tim’s entire world. “Yes, please", he breathes. "Yes - let’s do that.”