James McAvoy grew up in an estate called Glenmore, about a mile from Roxbury, where a family dear to his own lived. The Fassbender’s were a loud bunch, but the McAvoy’s liked them and always had. Miss Fassbender was a particular friend of Miss McAvoy, and Michael was James’s closest ally against giggling girls and mothers who always seemed to want you in the bath just when things started to get fun.
There were inseparable, James and Michael, as they grew. Friends since their infancy, they had never known a obstacle they could not face together. They had never kept secrets from one another; they had never had too.
It wasn’t until James’s seventeenth year that things became different. Michael’s body had long since changed, limbs elongating, shoulders filling out. Being that he was two years older than James, he had matured while James was stuck in pubescence, waiting impatiently for the hair on his lip. In that year, however, Michael saw that James had caught up. He was still small, but his slight frame held muscle it ever had before, and Michael noticed it. He noticed every line of his friend’s body. The slope of his shoulder, and the length of his legs.
Michael did not examine to aggressively the thoughts he’d had of his friend. He was going to University, leaving James behind, and he didn’t want to waste their time together before he left. He began to hold his tongue around James, ignoring all attempts at serious conversation and speaking only of the ladies out in society.
James, having never had the displeasure of not knowing what was on his friends mind, was at a loss. For the first time in their long history, there was a divide between them - an uneasiness that Michael caused with his uncertainty, and James had perpetuated with his discomfort. When Michael left for University, relief flooded through James, followed by guilt for wishing his friend gone.
It was a number of years before Michael and James saw each other again under the open skies between their childhood homes. They had certainly seen each other at this event or that one, and they had written each other constantly, but after James had also left for school there just was not time to converse in depth.
They spent that first afternoon lounging in the grass, catching up on topics that were impolite in company and inappropriate on paper. Mainly, their thoughts and feelings on any subject that was not the subject of others. They spoke for hours, the sun sinking slowly into the Earth.
Occasionally, James’s eyes would wander to Michael’s lips, or Michael would lose his train of thought because of the way the light colored James’s hair. At one point, when the sun was high in the sky, Michael fashioned for his friend a crown made of wild flowers. For the rest of the day, after he had returned home to his parents and his sister, every time he thought of it sitting atop James’s head, he smiled.
Michael’s father died the same year James was set to graduate from University. It was the first time he’d cried in years, and the first time he had seen Michael with wet eyes since they were young and he’d fallen out of a tree. Coincidentally, the tree Michael had dropped from as a child was the same tree he gripped to stay up right after his father’s funeral. He and James had gone for a walk, still in their best dark clothes, when their families had returned to Roxbury from the graveyard where they had laid Mr. Fassbender to rest. Michael managed to keep his composure until they came by that particular tree. His knees buckled and he fell into the tree, his fingers digging into the bark like it held the secrets of life.
James pulled his friend into an embrace, something they had not done since James was sixteen. He wobbled under Michael’s impressive height and superior weight.
“Shhhh,” he murmured, running his hands up and down Michael’s back. James could feel the wet of Michael’s tears on his skin, and the ache of his heart deeply in his own. Mr. Fassbender had been like family to him. They cried together until the sun was gone. On the return trip to Roxbury, James tripped on a root, falling face first into the dirt. The abrupt laugh his fall pulled from Michael made the embarrassment worthwhile.
Michael stayed home to manage the estate while James finished the remainder of his schooling. Once his education was complete, James returned to Glenmore and began working with his father and grandfather in the business of trade.
It was not the same as when they were young; since Mr. Fassbender’s unfortunate passing, they did not go into the woods together. It became something unsaid between them. James, his sisters, and parents joined the Fassbender’s frequently for meals, and the McAvoy’s returned their hospitality when the Fassbender’s were the ones to make the trip, but the pair were rarely alone together.
James felt the divide between them shift and expand until their bond was something completely different than it had been when they were boys. He wanted to chalk it up to growing old, maturing, but he could not. He knew it began that year Michael left for University. He found himself wondering if his friend had grown tired of him all those years ago, and was to polite to say anything. He wondered if it was proper to continue to push at their friendship as he had.
He made no conclusions, and forced himself to believe that everything was perfect just the way it was.
Miss Joy McAvoy became married to Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch that following spring. When James watched his younger sister float down the aisle, he was delighted. His smile was full of pride.
“Brother,” Joy laughed while James spun her around. They were dancing together at the reception. Michael was to his left, dancing with his own sister. He was unusually quiet that evening, and James desperately wanted to know what could have him so troubled on such a happy day. “When will it be your turn?”
“Only time can tell!” James laughed distractedly. He briefly glanced towards his friend of so many years. He was frowning. The action made him look pinched and unpleasant. James darted his eyes away, and then back again. Their gazes met, and James was taken aback by the intensity rolling off of Michael in waves.
The song ended, and James was forced to relinquish his dance partner back to her husband.
“James, a word?” Michael asked, the tone of his voice implying that it is nothing short of a demand. He turned to leave the garden, confident that James would follow. Michael took them out into the woods behind Glenmore, where the wedding had taken place.
James could hear the party outside of the house, the music and the laughter. A rather large part of him wished he had stayed there amongst the people and the flowers. There was a tight knot in his stomach that got tighter and tighter every time Michael had looked at him since his sister had become engaged to Mr. Cumberbatch weeks ago. It seemed to be coming to a head. Michael started pacing. James simply watched, waiting for him to say, or do, anything.
It was the first time they had been alone together in months.
Michael opened his mouth, looking for all the world like he was about to give a grand declarative statement. Instead he dropped his hands to his side and appeared to deflate completely. It was like all of passion he’d had just flew away. He stood there looking like he did when they were boys and Michael had lost his father’s favorite watch. In a word: desperate.
Taking pity on his friend, James reached out a hand to place comfortingly on his shoulder. Michael met his hand halfway there, grasped it, and used it to pull him in closer. With one sharp yank, James was plastered up against Michael’s chest.
Michael made a frantic noise in the back of his throat. James watched him nervously. They were frozen in place. Time had stopped, and anything that wasn’t them had faded away. Even the leaves on the trees dared not rustle in the wind.
Minutes passed in that fashion, with Michael staring into James’s eyes. The stillness disappeared when James pushed forward and sealed his lips against his friends. A flood erupted in Michael, and he lunged forward, his hands roaming everywhere James’s clothes would allow. They fell painfully to the ground.
“I love you,” Michael said into James’s mouth, his words curling and settling between their lips. James grinned and kissed his happiness into Michael’s cheeks and mouth and chin and neck.
“I have loved you for longer than you can possibly imagine.” James replied. He slid his hands down Michael’s body, lifting and pulling at his companion’s jackets. James was rushing, trying to doff Michael’s clothes as quickly as possibly. The other man was doing his best to return the favor.
“I am sure that I have loved you for at least that long.” Michael’s breath was labored. “Maybe longer.”
“We can,” James kissed behind Michael’s ear, “argue about who has loved whom the longest another time.”
Michael laughed. He sounded desperate and unsure and disbelieving. He couldn’t believe that James was under him, that he had his hands under the other man’s shirt, and that James’s hands were creeping under his waistband. They descended into silence, the only noises being their breathy moans and grunts.
It was a hour before they rejoined the wedding reception. If anyone had noticed that their clothes were dirty, or wrinkled, they didn’t mention it. They were too focused on the joyous occasion. Throughout the remainder of the evening James and Michael traded a number of fond looks, and before leaving with his family, Michael hugged him with an affection they had not shared since before their days at University. James could feel the smile on his face and the flush on the tips of his ears.
Things began to shift after that night in the woods. No longer were Michael and James’s conversations restricted to mere gossip and business. Once again they spoke of their hope and dreams, personal thoughts on books and politics. Anything and everything. It was like stepping back into the past, except vastly better in every possible way. There were no more secrets kept from each other; no contemplation left unexamined, no idea left unsaid. All of that and their recently cultivated physical relationship brought them onto a new level of intimacy that even their boyhood selves never could have imagined.
James visited Roxbury often to see Michael, and after every visit he left satisfied, with a bright smile threatening to split his face in two. When James could not make it across the wood to see his friend, Michael would simply visit James himself at Glenmore.
Loving Michael was this easiest thing James had ever done. Similar to how one did not remember when one learned to breath, he did not remember when he had learned to love Michael. It was always there, lurking under the surface of his subconscious.
“You are, by far, the worse thing that has ever happened to me.” James told him, teasing, one evening, a few years later. They were sitting in James’s study, reading quietly to themselves, when James happened to look up from his book at the precise moment Michael moved an elegant hand to turn the page of his tome. He was struck by how much he loved him. James always knew, of course., that he loved Michael. That fact was as sure as ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘birds fly, but pigs do not,’ but sometimes James became simply overwhelmed with fondness for the man.
Michael looked over the top of his book, his eyes sparkling with humor. “Yes, well. We all have our delusions.” James snickered, covering his mouth with his hand. He looked up, over Michael’s shoulder, and saw, hanging on the wall next to the mantle, a chain of dried flowers that had once been a crown.
James smiled, softly, before returning to his reading.