Chapters: 1: Call on Me | 2: In the Dark | 3: Can’t Get Enough | 4: You’re Not Sorry | 5: Battlefield | 6: Eye of the Hurricane | 7: Ruin
Pairing: James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender
Series: Poor Impulse Control
Warning: This is real person slash fiction. If you don’t like that, don’t read it. Should be obvious.
Author note: End of an era, guys :( Can’t believe it’s really over. I love you all!
Seven years old, James sits on the brick wall at the border of the school playground. He’s waiting for his sister, kicking his feet against the brand new brick work, clouds of unwashed cement dust bursting into the air every time his heels hit the wall. He is waiting for his sister, and her school day doesn’t finish for twenty minutes after his. The walk over from his own school only took up four minutes so it’s a long wait, and his father is late to pick them up, so he’s got to wait alone.
Blue eyes dart across concrete playground, scanning the faces of the people slowly spilling out of the school gates towards home, the other children smiling and waving to one another as they part in the street, looking forward to the weekend. He kicks the wall a little harder. He’s not looking forward to the weekend, but he puts on a brave face for Joy, because she’s smaller than him and she doesn’t understand. It means nothing to her that when their dad takes them home on the weekend it’s not really home because it’s not where their mum is. It’s not the house they live at.
He doesn’t think she’ll understand until she’s at least six, because she was too small when it happened to remember what it was like to have a mum and a dad all under one roof. When James is all on his own, he thinks about it. He likes to pretend they’re still a happy family, like they were in the picture on his mum’s mantelpiece. He thinks he’d like to have that picture on his own mantelpiece one day so his dad can see it and realize he still loves their mum. James knows it’s a grown up decision to want that, but their mum says he’s the man of the house now, even if he is seven.
Joy comes running up the road, her dirty blonde curls bouncing around her grinning face, one of her long white socks rolling down passed her knee. “Jimmy!” She laughs, almost sliding to a halt besides the wall.
James smiles broadly at his sister; the expression is littered with a little sadness and subconscious concern but they’re both too young to notice it. He laughs playfully as she tries to climb up onto the wall beside him. It’s only a couple of feet off the ground but it’s still too far for her. He leans down, holding out one hand to her and gripping the wall tightly with the other. He scrapes his wrist on the brick as he pulls her up, and she scrapes her knees, but the genuine satisfaction on her face to be high up beside him makes it worth it, and Joy doesn’t complain. She’s a little trooper, just as rough and ready as he is, even if she is more fragile.
“Where’s daddy?” Joy asks as she wriggles in her seat to get comfortable, leaning her head on James’ shoulder. He doesn’t answer straight away, scanning the playground again just in case there’s a chance the man is waiting somewhere secret he hasn’t looked yet. He isn’t.
“I don’t know,” James answers honestly, shrugging his shoulders slightly. There’s a sour taste in his mouth. He doesn’t like it. James feels very grown up as he realizes the taste is bitterness. There’s a spite in his voice as he speaks again that is almost alien coming out of a child’s lips, but James has always been different. “I don’t think he’s coming to get us. He’s not going to show up.”
Joy looks at him, her innocent face spoilt with hurt confusion. James inhales sharply, nodding to himself as he slides off the wall. “Come on,” he says as he turns back to Joy, holding out both arms to her. Her face lights up again as she jumps down off the wall, not questioning her brother. James catches her, a small “oof!” spilling from his lips as he does so. He’ll always catch her.
“We’re going home,” James says decisively, and he places her small hand in his own, gripping it tightly. He doesn’t know how far it is to walk from St. Clare’s to his mother’s house but he knows the way, and he’ll carry Joy if she gets tired. He doesn’t dare look at her face. He knows she’ll be shocked; they’re not allowed to walk that far alone, but it’s better than waiting until it’s dark for someone who’ll never show up.
Joy doesn’t even argue, although she drags her feet a little as the cross the playground and climb the steps, leaving through the main gate. It’s like crossing a threshold into a new, scary world because they’re breaking rules and a lot of the time James wishes he was older so that he doesn’t have to. He wants to protect them both but he’s hindered by the fact they have to rely on someone else to hold their hands when they cross the street.
“Come on,” James encourages again, tugging lightly at her hand. The wind is icy and it blows Joy’s hair around her face as they walk; he hopes she doesn’t catch a chill on the walk, or he’ll be in even bigger trouble.
“But Jimmy…” She whines as they turn up the street, but her voice is drowned out by another behind them.
“Jimmy,” The heavy Scottish accent belongs to their father. James doesn’t stop walking, but his sister does, jerking his arm backwards as he tries to drag her away. “Joy! Where dya think you’re going?”
He’s forced to turn around and that’s when it happens. He sees her. For the first time in James’ life, time slows down; the whole world is moving like the dragged out frames of a movie, dancing around him like a dream. Everything is slow and blurred, and yet he is static, unable to do a thing but watch like an audience as his whole world is thrown into disarray in a single moment. He sees Joy’s face split into a grin befitting of her name, her hand breaking away from his, finger by finger, as she bounces back into motion, her feet pounding on the gravel as she skips towards their father. James’ face drops.
“Daddy!” Joy cries out happily, her arms raising before her, reaching out for him like James had reached out for her on the wall, tiny hands grabbing at the tall man’s long legs, engulfing them in a tight hug. James hears it like an echo, vibrating through his mind as he stands there staring at his father and at the vilest woman he’s ever seen standing beside him, clutching at his arm. He knows, he just knows, that she is there to replace his mother. He doesn’t know if its the long, wavy blonde hair or the way that she tenderly touches his father’s arm that gives it way, nor does he know if it’s the bright red lipstick, or the way she smiles with too much gum or the playful cackling sound she makes as his dad introduces her to his little sister that makes him hate her on the spot, but he knows. His world has been turned on it’s head. He will never have his family back, and James knows he won’t see his mother smile for a long time. He’s frozen to the spot. Even his young mind tells him he has to do something but instead he does nothing because he can’t move his feet, or his mouth, or tear his eyes away.
“Jimmy? Are you coming?” His father beckons gently, a hand out to him, but James feels like the distance is being stretched as he stands there, like his father and his sister are being torn away from him at great speed, millions of miles away even though it’s only a few feet. He doesn’t move. And then, he does. The slow motion stops, and everything is thrown back into real time, and he turns, and he runs as fast as his little feet can carry him.
It’s not the only other time James has ever felt the strange, slow motion feeling washing over him as something crashes down around him but it’s the only one that even comes close to the dread that burns through him like a wildfire as he stares at Anne staring at him and Michael. He’s frozen on the spot again, and he can’t thank Michael enough in his mind for stepping away from James, because he’s like a statue, unable to even remove his hands from the other man’s face because he’s so choked up. As Michael moves they drop slowly, hanging awkwardly at his sides.
Anne’s hand is over her mouth and he intensely observes the slow shuddering of her shoulders as she lets out a dry, silent sob, just one, and sucks in a long, deep breath, composing herself. She’s in shock more than anything, it’s evident in her expression, but James doesn’t see that, almost staring through her, his mind haywiring in panic. He’s holding in a sharp breath, still as the dead as he finally pries his eyes from Anne to look to Michael. Michael’s looking at her too.
“Umm…” He hears the echo of Michael’s voice as the other man clears his throat, blue eyes wide with the tense, awkwardness of not knowing what to do or say. Michael glances past Anne and the thought strikes James that Michael try to make an excuse and get away from this situation. The man is on edge, like an animal that’s heard the approach of a predator. James won’t forgive him – never, ever will he forgive him – if Michael runs right now. He can’t stop him; he’s still rooted to the spot.
He has a vague fear in the back of his mind that he is one of those people who, in times of desperation, would react just the same as he is now. Rabbit in headlights. Too frightened to move until it’s too late to save anyone.
It doesn’t really matter. What matters is what Michael does now, and at the front of James’ mind is the fact that he wishes the world would move a little faster and save him the trauma of watching every second of this.
Anne drops the bag he hadn’t realized she was holding, her now free arm wrapping around her stomach to comfort herself, her shoulders trembling a little as she keeps her fingers clamped over her mouth. Her eyes drop to the floor, and the feel of her attention dropping off of him frees James from his panicked stupor. He still doesn’t know what to say, but suddenly the other two fill in the silence for him.
“James… I.. is this…?” Anne stutters through her fingers, as if she’s only just found her voice. He knows the feeling. He studies her briefly, the shaking of her delicate, gentle fingers where she holds herself, the redness in her eyes – soreness from recent tears, but there’s not a glimmer of dampness, Anne is the strongest woman he’s ever met – the way her hair is tied messily up behind her like she does when she’s in a rush. He glances down at the bag and realizes it’s his bag, the one that he’d left at home, and it hits him that she’s bringing it to him because he’d rushed out of the house. Not out of spite, not because she’s making him leave, but out of kindness, because she knows he won’t have anything with him at the hotel. James realizes he knows the beautiful woman before him inside out, every thought process, the intentions behind every gesture, what makes her heart flutter, every curve of her body and the way she smiles when she’s trying to hide how happy something has made her… the way her lips draw into a thin line when she’s trying not to cry. They’re not, not now. James might know her inside out, but he doesn’t have the first idea how she’s about to react.
“Michael,” Michael introduces himself bluntly, awkwardly, stuffing his hands in his pockets and watching Anne’s reaction. It distracts James, his head jerking around to stare slightly wide-eyed at the other man, something in his gut clenching because he doesn’t think it’s what Anne wants to hear right now. She doesn’t want to know who he is. Oh God, James thinks. She doesn’t even know who he is. She’s never met Michael before right now.
Anne swallows visibly and looks between them. “Right,” she says dryly, staring at James, because he’s said nothing yet. James wants to be screamed at, or slapped, or someone to storm away, because it’s easier than having to say something honest and explanatory, especially to such expectancy.
“Anne,” James finally breathes, his face riddled with fear, eyes deeply apologetic, although he’s not quite sure what for. He’s assured himself of his feelings for Michael. He’s sorry, perhaps, because she caught them… not for what he’s done. He refuses to regret this any more.
“Don’t -” Anne snaps, her hand flying from her mouth to point a warning, accusing finger out towards him. “Don’t feed me any bullshit, James.”
He runs a shaky hand through his hair, glancing to Michael, who’s still stood with his hands in his pockets, occupying himself staring at the floor. He knows that there is fight in Michael Fassbender, and certainly defensiveness, and he’s grateful the other man hasn’t tried to offer any explanation of his own. It would be a recipe for disaster, he’s sure.
“I wasn’t going to,” James’ voice is almost a whisper and a grimace reaches the corners of his lips, his own eyes dropping to the floor. “I guess this means we need to talk.”
His throat is dry, his fingers balling into his hands, nails digging into his palms. He’s kicking himself because he can’t come up with anything better to say.
Michael clears his throat again, looking from James to the exit at the end of the corridor. James swallows and nods slightly to him because he knows Michael wants to walk away and is trying his hardest not to.
“You should go and find Matthew,” He shrugs slightly. Michael nods, shooting Anne a sheepish, pained smile as he shuffles on his feet a little.
“I’ll leave you two to, uh…” Michael grumbles, staring at the door again. “Sort this out…”
“That would be a good idea,” Anne murmurs, her tone almost belittling. She doesn’t look at him. Michael nods, not really towards anyone, and exchanges one last glance with James before he begins down the hallway. James and Anne stand in silence until he’s almost gone. James feels the deepest sense of dread burning in his chest – he can’t even look at her.
“Inside,” He finally brings himself to say, motioning with his head towards the hotel room behind him. Anne nods, letting out a long sigh. She’s stopped trembling, which James fears will mean she’s pushing down an even worse reaction.
He bends to grab the bag from where she dropped it and steps back inside, turning around to see the mess the room is in and cringing slightly. It’s not ridiculous, but it’s obvious. There’s a smell in the air too, a smell he should be revelling in, thinking about Michael, but it leaves a foul taste in his mouth and he closes his eyes, inhaling deeply to keep himself from panicking again.
The soft thud of the door closing behind her makes him jump slightly, his nerves shot. James turns painstakingly slowly around to look at her, putting the bag down beside the wardrobe. He cringes as she cracks, both her hands coming up to cover her mouth and try to hold off the sobs. She’s shaking, and James crumples too, opening his arms as she flies into them, collapsing against him.
“I’m sorry, god, I’m so sorry,” James whispers again and again into her hair, his arms wrapping as tightly around her as he possibly can without hurting her. She hangs limply there against him,trembling and crying loudly into his shirt, arms trapped between them covering her face and for a few minutes, they don’t need to say anything. They need each other, they always have done, above everything else. James feels a tiny spark of hope at the back of his mind that they can pull through this, but at the forefront of his thoughts is Michael,and everything he’s realized in the last few hours and everything in his life that has become obsolete since the older man walked into it. “I love you,” He whispers to Anne, pressing his lips against her head and letting himself cry with her, his silent tears dripping from his chin.
At his words Anne shifts her shaky hands, struggling a little to slide them out from between their bodies, and wraps her arms around him too, holding him to her as if he may disappear if she ever lets go. She cranes her head back to look at him, her own feet supporting her weight again and a tiny, damaged smile on her lips. “I know,” She murmurs, kissing him so gently and briefly on the lips that it almost feels to James as if she hasn’t. “I never doubted that baby, not for one second…”
James nods once and rests his forehead against hers, a quiet gasp escaping his lips as he breathes a sigh of relief, letting out a breath he had been holding too long. “Do you still love me?” He dares to ask, closing his eyes, and feels Anne nod against him.
“Stupid question,” She chuckles slightly, but the sound is humourless. “Of course I do… as much as I ever did.”
He sighs, just holding her as they fall back into silence. He can hear their heavy breathing, almost matching, as they both contemplate the impossible situation at hand. There’s something she wants to say, but it’s not coming, he can tell. James can’t find the words either. It’s too scary, and he feels like a child again. He feels like he did at St. Clare’s, seven years old; he wants to run away, far, far away. James doesn’t want to face the music, not yet, he wants more time to clear his head but there’s nowhere to run. It’s time to grow up, and he tells reminds himself that he is a grown man, with a wife and child, whose made his own bed here – it’s time to lay in it. James swallows down the gut-wrenching fear of facing something he knows will cause him pain. Be a man, he tells himself. If he loves her, she deserves the whole truth, and nothing else.
He still can’t muster anything helpful. “I don’t know what to say,” James admits, and he’s aware that he uses this line too often. Anne is too; she laughs slightly and pulls away from him, taking his hands.
“I know,” She nods, lips drawing together in a sad smile, a few stray tears still slipping down her cheeks. He’s as bad. “It’s okay. Let me do the difficult bit.”
She’s so selfless even now, James thinks, as he lets her guide him towards the messy bed to sit down. He gulps at the sight of the sheets, letting go of Anne’s hand to grab at them. James tosses them from the bed, frustrated with their taunting presence. They are a symbol of his trials, a torment that reminds him what he’s faced with. It all feels a little safer when they’re on the ground. Anne waits patiently, holding her tongue as he reacts and gently squeezing his fingers again, pulling them both onto the bed. James sits, leaning against the headboard and closing his eyes. He wipes his cheeks with the back of his hand, glancing to the window.
“James,” Anne calls tenderly, her voice still shaking and two warm, pale fingers slipping under his chin to guide his gaze back to her. “What’s going on with you? Talk to me.”
Her voice is sad, but James doesn’t understand her gentleness. He gives her a questioning look, more tears in her eyes because it would be easier to throw insults and fists than to sit here and talk about this like he’s not betrayed her.
“I thought you said you were doing the difficult bit?” He tries to joke, but it comes out strangled and upset. Anne shifts to kneel beside him, shaking her head.
“Being calm is difficult,” She says honestly. “I can’t do all the talking, you’re the only one who knows what’s going on.”
James looks up at her with damp eyes, lips twitching in an attempt to hold back more unwarranted emotions. “Don’t be calm them,” he says, his frustration coming out a little like bitterness. “Act however you want. Fucking scream at me, hit me, anything but this. This is horrible.”
Anne shakes her head, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear and dropping her eyes to the floor. “I want to,” She shrugs a little, pushing an unamused smile onto her face. “But you’re never going to be honest with me if we both get angry. You’re not going to be honest with yourself either.”
“I’m not -”
“James,” She cuts him off, dropping her hand from his face. “You’ve not lied to me in all the years that I’ve known you. Not even when it was easy… not even when I really could have used it. You’re the most honest man I’ve ever met, baby… don’t pretend I don’t know there’s something up. I know you, James. Almost better than I know myself. So come on. Tell me everything.”
He listens intently, but it’s not enough. His mouth hangs open with unspoken words that are caught in his throat. He still needs a push, and as Anne forces him to look into her eyes again, he knows whatever comes next is going to be it.
“Baby,” She murmurs, her voice soft and understanding. He still has no idea how she’s holding herself together. He takes a sharp breath as the question comes. “Are you… gay?”
“No,” James almost snaps in defence. “No, god no, I mean… I’ve never even looked at a man like… I’m not. I’m not.”
“Shh,” Anne closes her eyes for a moment, sniffling and reaching for his hand. She relaxes into a more comfortable position, taking a few long breaths before she continues. “It’s okay. I just needed to know.”
James nods, squeezing her fingers a little and looking down at his knees uncomfortably. “I don’t know. Maybe. I haven’t thought about it,” he breathes after a moment, glancing back at her. “That’s the honest truth. I promise.”
Anne takes another shaky breath and a tear slips down her cheek unnoticed. James’ heart clenches. He’s got no idea how hard this has to be for her, but he doesn’t want to push it and make her cry again. He’ll let her be strong, for now. Later he’ll hold her, but she’s right, he needs this. “Why -” She begins to speak, but her voice trembles. “Why did you let this happen? Is there something wrong with us? Is it… me?”
“No,” he says again, eyes widening slightly. Although it’s a reasonable doubt, he’s shocked that she thinks that. “God, no, you’re beautiful, Anne. You’re perfect. There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s… it’s him, it’s Michael…”
“T-tell me what happened,” Anne shakes, and one loud sob wrack’s her body, and for a moment James is frightened that she’s going to fall apart again, but she holds it together, breathing deeply. “From the beginning. It wasn’t a drunken thing, was it? Tell me everything.”
James lets out a long, nervous sigh, because he doesn’t know how to begin. Anne curls up against him, leaning on his shoulder and he rests his head against her. James stares across the room at the mirror, looking at the two of them. They’re a mess, just like his life is a mess. Just like his mind, and his heart. “Michael… I don’t know. He wanted me. He made it obvious.” His voice is barely even a murmur as he speaks. It’s hard to get his head around the truth, and telling anyone, telling Anne is even harder. “I resisted him. But then I guess.. I just gave up. Gave in to him. I couldn’t stop myself, I don’t understand it.”
He glances to Anne, but she’s silent, her lips firmly shut as she waits for more of an explanation. James rolls his shoulders back uncomfortably and continues. “I tried to end it there but it happened again, and it hurt but it… I don’t know. It was like I was out of my mind. I can’t explain myself better than that.”
James shifts slightly, his explanation done; he can’t muster another word and he prays it’s enough. He can’t look at her, so he stares out of the window instead, leaning his head back against the headboard.
“Because you were trying to figure yourself out,” Anne says with a shaky, humourless laugh, sniffling again. “You couldn’t leave it alone until you had. You’ve always been the same. I get it, even if you don’t.”
“Why are you asking me then? You seem to have it all figured out nicely,” James whips his head around, a playful glint suddenly sparking into life in his eyes, one brow raised in accusation, but the expression drops stone cold when he sees Anne is crying again. She’s trying to muffle it, into her sleeve, but the fabric’s damp and her breathing is sharp and unsteady. James softens, his eyes pleading as he scoops her up into his arms. “I’m sorry, so sorry… don’t cry again,” He murmurs, drawing her into her chest and rubbing her back.
Anne drapes herself across him, hugging him tightly and letting the tears slip openly down her cheeks. “Sorry,” she whimpers, the sound choked as she cries. “I know this is hard for you, I just-”
James cuts her off with a finger to her lips, pressing a kiss to her forehead. Despite the way he knows her inside out, he suddenly feels a little lost – he doesn’t understand her at all. Not today. “Don’t, Anne. Don’t try and be strong for me, I’m a dirty lying bastard. This shouldn’t be about me feeling all right. I don’t understand how you’re holding together at all.”
Anne sobs louder at his words, but she draws away from him quickly and tries to compose herself. Sniffling and rubbing furiously at her eyes, she looks to him, face torn with a sad kindness that says more in one glance than anything James thinks he could ever put in words. “Because,” Anne begins slowly, taking James’ face in her hands and rubbing her thumbs across his cheeks. “You’re my world, baby. You’re more than just a lover to me, you’re my best friend, James. I would do anything for you. Nothing can change that, no matter what you do.”
His heart wrenches at her words. He’s never even thought of it like that. He’s worried himself dumb over how much this is destroying what they have, and hadn’t even stopped to think what it is he’s worried about destroying. They have more than that, he realizes. Anne is right, like she always is, and for once it sends a burning jolt of relief shooting through him like electricity. James blinks away a tear, an overwhelmed smile twitching onto his face. He doesn’t know what to say, again.
“Stupid,” Anne mutters, squeezing her arms around him. “I’m not going to love you less because you don’t know what you want. If anything, I love you more, because I know you need it until you figure out who you are.”
“I get it,” he says, and it’s a near whisper, like he’s testing the words to see if they’re true. He does understand, he understands that she’s got reasons for holding herself together, he just doesn’t understand how she’s so strong. He tells her this, and she laughs quietly, shaking her head.
“Do you remember 2007, when your father gave that interview to the Sunday Mirror?” Anne says tenderly, stroking James’ cheek and shifting closer to him. They lay together for a moment, James thinking back to the year, head reeling slightly with the surreality of their current situation. All things given, they should not be laying side by side, holding each other, speaking so softly. It’s thrown everything James thinks he knows about human nature into question. But then, he thinks, Anne always does. It’s one of the many things that makes her so wonderful.
“Yeah…” He replies eventually, head dipping in a short nod. He’s not sure where she’s going with her question but he’s listening. That interview made him very bitter. It spoilt all the pleasure he got from the publicity of Atonement – one of many reasons he avoided the media as a rule. He doesn’t know why she’d want to bring it up. He knows that Anne knows how uncomfortable the subject makes him, but he doesn’t expect her intentions to be cruel.
“I don’t know if you remember how upset you were,” She says, uneasily. He keeps calm; it’s been a good few years and there’s no point letting the subject get to him again. James nods for her to continue. “You drank a lot at that première. You were in tears when you got home,” Anne sighs, playing with his hair mindlessly. “You were such a mess. You tried to make me promise to leave if it ever got too much, if you ever frustrated me or hurt me.”
“I don’t remember that,” James blurts out in surprise, glancing at her wide-eyed. She’d never told him how awful he’d been that night. He knows he’s an emotional drunk – it always comes back to abandonment. He doesn’t want to be walked away from but James always pushes, pushes to make people leave him. It’s very masochistic, and deeply rooted in who he is.
Anne smiles and shakes her head a little. “You wouldn’t. You barely remembered getting home from the after party…” She pauses for a moment, letting out a sad sigh. James looks to the mirror again, watching the two of them in the reflection. They’re looking more and more of a mess with every minute, but it doesn’t matter. They’re two people who know each other well enough not to care. ‘Best friends’ Anne said, and it’s true. James doesn’t know any one else he’d be comfortable like this around.
“Did you promise me that?” James butts in, because he can’t leave that story there. “Is that what you’re saying? This is too much? I understand if it-”
James falls silent again, sighing, almost in relief. He relaxes a little, although he knows that’s not it. It’s not the conclusion to this conversation, because they’ve been skirting the subject since they began talking. Michael. He’s bracing for it to come up, but it hasn’t yet, as if it never happened. Part of James wants to keep it that way, just to make it easier. Brush it under the rug.
“I wouldn’t ever promise you something like that, James,” Anne continues, running her fingers lightly through his hair and cradling his head. “I promised you something else. I promised you that I would always stick by you, no matter how bad things got, no matter how much it hurt. You needed me to be strong and I swore I would be, always. I didn’t marry you just for the easy bits. I’m here as long as you’ll have me, I just need you to decide what you want, baby.”
James takes a sharp breath, sitting up and away from Anne slightly. He tries to bite his tongue, but his mouth moves without the consultation of his mind. “Does that mean you forgive me?” He says before he can stop himself. “We’re okay?” Michael, James’ mind screams, but the idea of reconciliation without any more trouble makes him hold his tongue. There’s a clenching in his chest; he tells himself it’s the anxiety over the idea of him and Anne being okay, but he knows he’s lying to himself. It’s his heart cracking as he opts to run away again. It’s breaking straight down the middle, because half belongs to Anne, but the other huge, throbbing, aching half belongs to Michael and he knows that and he can’t stop himself saying what he’s saying. “I love you, Anne,” James says. I love Michael more. He bites his tongue. “Please say we’re all right. I promise I’ll make it up to you, baby.”
Michael’s in the lobby. He’s got a strong, black, sugarless coffee in one hand and an unlit cigarette in the other. He’s tapping it against his knee, because he doesn’t really know what to do. He said he’d speak to Matthew, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to go and lie to the man considering the situation, and he’s got no idea what state James is going to be in next time he sees him.
They’ve been playing this dangerous game far too long, he knows that. There’s nothing on Michael’s mind these days except for James, and where he is, and what he’s thinking. He can’t figure the other man out. He knows he’s the cause of all of this, but he couldn’t help it. Thoughts of James were consuming his life – he’s become like a shadow of everything James is, copying everything he does and standing behind him, laughing with him, watching him. Michael feels crazy, consumed by feelings he’s not used to having for anyone.
Although he’s an emotional man, he’s not the emotionally involved type when it comes to relationships. Not usually. He’s had one too many relationships that have ended very badly, where he’s been lucky if he gets away with just a few insults thrown in his direction and nothing worse.
Michael has to admit that he’s sexually driven. He likes physical contact, almost craves it and when he met James again at the first casting, he was hooked on the idea of having him. No one else would do. But now he’s in trouble, now he’s attached, and his hands are shaking, and he has to put his coffee down beside him lest he spill it, because he’s terrified of James walking away from him, or blaming him and not wanting to speak again. He’s scared that he won’t get to touch him again, feel James’ breath on his skin, hear the tiny sounds of pleasure that escape from James’ lips as he tastes him… but although James as a whole is irreplaceable, Michael can live without all that. He can’t live to let James walk away without hearing how he really feels. He sees it on his lips, he knows James wants to say more than he lets himself, and something in Michael knows – or perhaps just really, really hopes he knows – what he wants to say.
He wishes he could be James’ shadow right now, upstairs, and hear what he and Anne are talking about. He was happy with their messed up, rough romance but Michael knows everything changes today.
Matthew spots him across the lobby and he groans to himself, tucking his cigarette behind his ear and balling his shaking hands up to still them. He figures he has no choice but to make something up if Matthew asks.
“Is everything alright?” Matthew questions, worrying his hands together. Michael raises his eyebrows and smiles, as if oblivious to why Matthew might be asking that, and stands up, a fake smile gracing his concerned face. It’s a honed art, something he’s learned for public appearances.
“Hmm? Oh, earlier. No worries, James and I-”
“It’s just,” Matthew cuts him off before Michael gets a chance to lie. “Anne was here. She was looking for him, didn’t seem too happy…”
Michael pales. He has no idea what to tell him. It would feel like a betrayal of James’ trust to tell Matthew what’s going on in his private life. He shrugs awkwardly, laughing again so he doesn’t have to stand there silently. “I dunno. I try not pry, but James has been in a funny mood…”
“Surely he’s told you something? The two of you are so close… close enough to be screaming at each other. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Michael knows Matthews question is innocent; he’s offering a kind ear if he needs one, but Michael can’t shake the feeling of being scolded, like a child. He wants to flinch away from Matthew, but he holds his ground, chewing his bottom lip and glancing anywhere but at the other man, hoping an excuse might appear in thin air.
“Really, Matt. It’s nothing. Difference of opinion,” Michael falters, eyes darting around the lobby. “We sorted it out, won’t happen again…”
Finally, he makes eye contact. Matthews expression isn’t disbelieving as such, but pretty blank, save for the smallest quirk in his brow and this look in his eyes that strikes Michael, strikes him down until he’s hit with a realization that Matthew knows. He knows. It’s written all over his face, his tone of voice, in his eyes, and it’s why he feels like Vaughn is telling him off. Michael forces down the huge lump in his throat that makes him feel choked and drops his gaze to the floor, cringing.
“I’m not judging you,” Matthew sighs, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I’m not even going to comment. I just want to make sure you’re both alright.”
The words he didn’t say made all the difference. It was ‘I’m on your side’, and ‘I just don’t want a scandal’; Michael should have known to put his faith in Matthew. The man had never been anything but a hundred percent behind everything they did, always there to defend them, right from day one. It only left Michael with a couple of questions, what did Matthew want to know, and most importantly;
“How did you…” Michael clears his throat, staring off at the glass front of the hotel, out to the road beyond it. “Find out?”
Matthews chuckle kills the awkwardness creeping up Michael’s neck, and he finally relaxes his hands, wincing slightly at the indents his nails have made in his palm. “You’re both stupid. Oblivious. I could see this coming months ago.” He pauses to laugh at the look of disbelief on Michael’s face, shaking his head. “I can’t be the only one whose noticed something funny going on. James does a terrible job covering up the marks you leave on him, not to mention the way the two of you stare at each other on set. I knew there was chemistry between you the first time I ever saw you together, but I didn’t expect, you know… actual chemistry. I thought it’s be more of a brotherly thing…”
“Okay!” Michael snaps, and it’s because he’s embarrassed, and unable to hide it. Matthew laughs loudly, shaking his head again and patting Michael on the shoulder.
“I don’t think anyone else knows. Everyone’s too interested in themselves to notice what’s going on around them. Just promise me everything is alright? When I saw Anne storming in like that…”
Matthew trails off and studies the look on Michael’s face. It’s reading like an open book. No, everything’s not okay. Matthews not stupid; he finds the connection in an instant and lets out a long, slow, worried sigh. He closes his eyes for a moment and breathes deeply, before looking up at Michael with an encouraging smile. “Come on,” He says, turning Michael by his shoulder and pushing him across the lobby gently. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to buy you a drink, and you’re going to tell me everything.”
“James,” Anne sighs deeply, shaking her head, a tiny smile curling at the corners of her lips as she looks at him. “You’re an idiot. I love you too, but that’s not how this works.”
James frowns, his heart beating so loudly in his ears that he’s sure she can hear it too. “I don’t understand.”
Anne brushes her fingers through her hair, sighing and letting her head hang back against the headboard of the bed. “We’re alright. But that doesn’t mean I forgive you,” She glances at him, meeting his eyes, face serious again. She looks composed, but her bottom lip trembles a little. It hurts to watch, but it’s not as bad as it could be. “If that’s what you want, then you’re going to have to work for it. It’s not going to be easy. You’ve really, seriously hurt me.”
The words cut James like a knife. It’s the first time she’s put it so bluntly. Of course he’s hurt her. He begins to think that he’s a little crazy, crazy or perhaps blind, as he stares into her eyes and realizes how stupid he must have sounded, fumbling around for some sort of reconciliation without consequences. “I’m sorry,” James whispers, and he squeezes his eyes closed, trying to shut out the world.
“Shh, shh. It’s alright,” Anne runs a hand over his hair, and rest its comfortingly on the back of his neck. “We’ll come to that. I need to know what you want. If you want to try and fix us, I’m willing to try and forgive you. But…” James tenses slightly, because there’s always a ‘but’. Anne rubs the back of his neck, sighing. “But I don’t think that’s what you want. Is it?”
James opens his eyes again, studying her for a long moment. Her honey coloured hair is a mess, hanging around her pale face, her cheeks rosy as ever, like a porcelain doll, but her eyes are red and puffy from crying, shattering the illusion. There’s a look on her face, of hope and anticipation, but still riddled with worry, and James can tell she’s resigned herself to the worst. She’s a perfect specimen of a human being, he realizes. It’s not the first time he’s noticed this, but every time he does, it surprises him. It’s killing him to know he’s injured her kind, fragile heart, but it would worse to lie to her now. No more false pretences, no more running away. She’s perfect, but James isn’t, and the analogy eases his mind a little. She deserves so much more, he realizes, than the confused, complicated little man before her.
“No,” James’ voice cracks, the words barely audible, his mouth too dry to speak properly and he has to cough loudly to clear his throat. “No,” he repeats, taking in a long, slow breath. “It’s not. I don’t… don’t know what I want.”
“You do,” Anne’s face twists into a quaking mask, lips trembling as she tries to contain her tears, because it’s hard to hear the truth, even when she is expecting it. “I can tell. I know you, James.”
James sighs, pulling right away from her and sinking his head into his hands. His fingers clench in his hair, and he says nothing, rubbing the heel of his palms across his forehead. He can feel a headache coming on.
Anne taps his wrist gingerly, pulling it back down to his side. James looks at her, desperation gripping his features. She runs her fingers over his cheeks and up to his temples, rubbing his head slightly, before pulling him forwards into a deep kiss. James responds instantly, his arms coming around her and pulling her closer, kissing her deeper, desperately. Neither breaks away out of fear, not until Anne pulls back to breathe, because the atmosphere has an air of finality they’re both scared of. “Anne,” he murmurs sadly, searching her wet eyes.
“Go,” Anne tells him, for the second time that day. The first couple of tears slip down her cheeks. “Please, go and do whatever you need to do. I’ll be here when you need to find me. Please.”
The pleading in her voice cuts James again, but he understands. She doesn’t want him to see her fall apart and he doesn’t want to stay, because he’s still weak enough to change his mind. James kisses her again, just briefly, and gets up off the bed. He fumbles around straightening himself out, all the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. He’s nervous, anxious, terrified and completely lost for words, so he just goes, like she asked. He leaves the room in a hurry, looking up and down the corridor. He’s stumped, because nothing in his mind is holding him back any more, and he doesn’t know which way to turn. Swallowing hard, James steps up to the elevator, jabbing the down button. He’s trembling, but he hasn’t noticed. His marriage has just ended, he realizes, and he’s staring blindly at the elevator doors, trying to get his head around it. It doesn’t hurt as much as he expected; in fact, he almost feels drunk, on the nerves and the feeling of a new hope.
The doors open, and he almost doesn’t see him. He steps forward, straight into Michael, who catches their shoulders before they collide. “James?”
The familiar Irish tone washes over him, bringing James back to reality. He looks up at Michael, eyes wide in shock and loss for words. The elevator doors close behind him, trapping them in the small box again, and there’s barely a breath between them.
“Are you alright?” Michael asks, his voice laced with concern. James keeps staring.
“Yeah,” he breathes shakily, a smile breaking across his shaking lips. “I think so. Michael…”
James inhales sharply, his arms coming up to Michael’s shoulders, draping around them and yanking him down until their lips meet. Michael gasps against his mouth, freezing for just a second before he growls into the kiss, responding with fervour. His arms drop to James’ waist, drawing him closer until their bodies are pressed closely together.
Michael kisses James like they’re never going to see each other again, just in case James is about to tell him it’s over. He feels dampness against his cheeks, and draws away slowly, expression softening at the sight of James’ tears. “Come on,” he says softly. “Don’t cry. Tell me what got said, what happened? Where’s Anne?”
“Your room,” James croaks slightly, not loosening his grip around Michael’s shoulders. “I mean, I want to go to your room… talk about it…”
“Shh, okay,” Michael nods softly and hits the button to open the doors again. He pauses for a moment, before lifting James off the ground. James tightens his grip, and he feels like an idiot, like a child, but he lets Michael carry him anyway.
Michael opens his hotel room door and carries James inside, setting him down on his feet again inside. “I’m not a baby,” James laughs dryly, wiping his eyes. “I’m 31 for crying out loud.”
“It was a nice gesture!” Michael scowls, shoving him lightly. James’ headache begins to ease and he takes Michael’s hand, revelling in how easy being around him in. He never noticed before.
“Don’t do it again,” He orders, leading Michael to the bed and flopping down on it. Michael lays beside him and falls silent, and James feels a weird sense of deja vu, having been laying like this with Anne just a few minutes before. This is definitely more comfortable, he decides, and the thought sets him off again. James is crying like he’s not cried in years, but he figures it’s acceptable. “I think I’m getting a divorce.”
James cringes at how blunt his explanation is as soon as the words leave his mouth, and Michael’s eyes widen, before his shock twists into an apologetic frown. “God James, I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say…”
“It’s alright,” James interjects. “It’s not that bad, she… she’s more shocked than anything…”
He launches into an explanation, recounting the conversation, the argument and the tears, laughing and sobbing intermittently as he speaks. Michael slings an arm around him, pulling him in closer whilst his speaks. He kisses him gently on the lips as James finishes explaining, resting his forehead against the smaller man’s because he knows what’s coming.
He’s right. Michael just holds him as James freaks out, sobbing and curling up against Michael until he’s all out of tears. “Shhh,” Michael coos, running a hand up and down James’ back. Despite how upset the other man is, Michael feels a swell of hope inside his chest. He tries not to smile; despite how relieved he is, he knows it really wouldn’t be appropriate. “I’m here. Whatever you want, I’m here.”
He keeps the conversation with Matthew to himself. James doesn’t need to know just yet; he’ll tell him, in time. Right now, Michael is completely at ease where he is, holding James, and nothing in the world can get at them.
Then James is kissing him again, desperately, clutching at his clothes, and it takes Michael aback, like James always does. He tangles his fingers in James’ dark, soft hair and pulls him closer, his eyes closing, with only the man before him pictured in his mind. He’s hopeless, he thinks.
Michael’s hands slip from James’ hair, slowly wandering down his back to the hem of his shirt. His fingers slide underneath, trailing across his pale skin, eliciting a tiny gasp from the other man’s lips. “Michael,” James chuckles against his lips. “Your timing is terrible.”
“What?” Michael says with false offence. James laughs again, pulling away to look at Michael. He wipes his face with the back of his hand and frowns at the dampness.
“It’s not exactly an appropriate time. And look at me, I’m a state!”
“You’re always a state,” Michael smirks, and kisses him on the nose. His hands continue their escapade up under James’ shirt. “And it’s always an appropriate time. I would have you any time of day, always.”
James frowns a little, but it’s wiped from his face as Michael scrapes his nails lightly down his back. He gasps loudly, his eyes fluttering shut. “Michael,” James warns, scowling slightly. “I said no! Please, not now. In a bit.”
Michael chuckles and rubs James’ back gently, shaking his head. “Sorry. I’m just happy,” He shrugs slightly, letting James catch his lips again. James pushes him gently onto his back and lays beside him, head rested on his shoulder. Michael stares up at the ceiling, sighing quietly. “So, what happens now?”
“Depends what you want,” James shrugs a little. “I know this isn’t over yet, but at least I’m at a point where I can finally ask you that.”
“No,” Michael shakes his head, craning his neck to look James in the eyes. “It depends what you want. You know what I want, James. You know how I feel.”
James stares back at him for a few long moments, letting the best moments they’ve shared in the last few weeks play back in his mind. A small smile graces his lips, and his eyes close. He takes a deep breath. Three weeks ago, if someone had told him what he was about to say, James would have told them they were insane. He feels crazy, he really does. But, when it comes down to it, he knows he’s making the right choice.
“I love you, Michael.”
James’ eyes snap open again once he’s said it, because he’s desperate to see the other man’s reaction. Michael’s grinning when they lock eyes, his whole face beaming.
“God, you have no idea how desperate I’ve been to hear you say that,” Michael breathes, leaning forward to kiss him. “I love you too. So much. It’s crazy how much I love you.”
“Funny, I was just thinking the same,” James laughs shakily, resting his head against Michael’s. “What does this mean?”
Michael swallows hard, opening his mouth to speak, but the words won’t come. He’s nervous. “I… want this to be the start of something,” He manages, pulling back to look at James properly. “If you want that…”
James snorts with laughter. Michael’s face twists in confusion, staring at him like he’d just grown a third arm; James composes himself quickly, a big grin across his closed lips. “Obviously not. I just split up with my wife because I’m desperate to play the field again. That sound about right?”
“You’re a dick,” Michael scowls, but as he closes his eyes and draws James closer to his chest, he’s smiling broadly. “I love you James. Even if you are a bastard.”
“I love you too,” James mumbles, running a hand over Michael’s cheek. “Michael?”
“Yeah?” He breathes in response.
“This isn’t going to be easy. You know that right?”
“Just thought I’d say it out loud. So we both know.”
Michael draws back again, rolling onto his side and staring James straight in the eyes. “It’s not gonna be easy. Fuck, this is gonna be the hardest thing either of us has ever done,” He shrugs, stroking James’ hair and trying not to think about what’s going to happen when they leave his room and face reality again. There’s still Anne to deal with, and there’s still Matthew. And then there’s the rest of the world, but they’ll cross those bridges when they come to them. Michael can’t think of anywhere else he’d rather be. “But I know exactly what I want, and fuck baby, if I haven’t proved I’m willing to fight for it by now then I give up. Seriously, I’m not going anywhere. I’m with you through everything, as long as you need me to be.”
“Why does everyone keep telling me that today?” James muses, blinking his eyes sleepily. The sex and the fighting and the crying has tired him out.
Michael shrugs again, laughing quietly. “Would you rather I say I’m not letting you go anywhere? That you belong to me and I’m never letting you walk away again?”
James’ breath hitches in throat. He swallows, and then nods slowly, staring right at Michael. “Yes,” he murmurs, a satisfied, honest smile in his eyes. He falls silent, because there’s nothing else he can say that’s not already written on his face, and he knows Michael can read him. Michael smiles back gently, pressing their lips together and rubbing James’ back comfortingly.
“Then I will. I’ll never let you leave, and no matter what, I’ll never give up on you.”
James’ heart clenches. He doesn’t know how long he’s waited to hear those words; longer than he’s known Michael, surely, but there’s no one else he’d rather hear it from. Michael’s not perfect, he realizes, but he’s perfect for him. They just fit, and no one can take that away from them. He breathes deeply, letting the warmth of Michael’s embrace lull him closer towards sleep, a whisper of ‘I love you’ on his lips. He doesn’t care what happens when he wakes up. He’ll deal with it then. James can’t think of anywhere else he’d rather be, and it’d take the end of days to move him now. The thought crosses his mind as he’s about to drop off, that if Michael had a little more self control, none of this might have happened. He’s grateful it did. He smiles to himself, half-lidded eyes looking up at the other man.
“Michael,” He calls quietly, too close to sleep to really hear himself.
“Don’t know what I’d be without you. Thank you for turning my life upside down.”
“You too, baby. You too.”