You'll see I am no criminal
I'm down on both bad ends
I'm just too much a coward
To admit when I'm in need.
- Take A Walk, Passion Pit
James walks across the stones, warm beneath his feet, both of his arms held out to balance himself. He squints behind his sunglasses, over at Michael, who is playing at the water's edge, kicking and splashing like a small child. He doesn't seem to notice that James is watching him, but as soon as James looks away, Michael lunges, grabbing one of James' arms, pulling him off balance and attempting to drag him to the sea. James stumbles and falls into the gentle waves, but not before he's wrapped both arms tight around Michael's chest, pulling him down with him, soaking them both. Michael laughs, then spouts his mouthful of seawater into James' face, who retaliates by flipping him and starting a wrestling match in the damp sand. They're in County Kerry, on Waterville beach, and it's just past seven in the morning, so the beach is deserted. They've been staying in a holiday cottage near the beach, to get away from how busy their lives have both been in London, and the two of them just want everything to be perfect.
James is now sitting astride Michael, having won the play fight. He pins his arms and leans down to kiss him, his wet hair falling into his eyes. Michael giggles (chuckles, in a manly way, he'd claim) and kisses back effusively, cupping James' face in his hands. It's warm for the time of day, the height of summer, but the water is cold, and they know they'll pay for it if they lie in the way for too long. So Michael pushes James off, then gets up and sprints down the beach, pulling off his dripping shirt as he goes, James fast on his heels. Michael tosses the shirt behind him, and it flies on the warm breeze for a second, before James jumps up from the balls of his feet to catch it. He grabs hold of Michael's waist with one hand, spinning him around and kissing him again. Michael puts his arms around James' neck and leans into the kiss, smiling against his boyfriend's lips, and loving this moment.
Bu the moment doesn't last. Michael feels James' body language growing awkward, and suddenly he's broken away, and is walking up the beach, putting a few metres between the two of them. Michael holds out his arms in question, exasperated that James is being like this once again.
"James? James, come on. Come back."
"No," James replies, twisting Michael's t-shirt, ringing it out, then tossing it back to him without looking in his direction, "Someone might see us."
"James, it's not even eight yet. No one's here, and the press don't even know we're in the country."
"Someone might see us," James repeats firmly, his jaw set, "Let's go back up to the cottage."
"But it's such a nice day," Michael tries, but as soon as he's said it, he knows that he shouldn't have tried to bargain. James' eyes flash, just for a second, and when he speaks, his voice is scathing, and his accent has thickened, as it does when he's upset.
"Okay, fine, whatever," James says, "I thought you'd like to spend time with me whether we're indoors or outdoors, but clearly you've just missed Ireland. You can just stay on the beach if that's where you really wanna be."
"James, don't," Michael sighs, "I just wanna share this beautiful place with you. But it's your call, of course it is."
"Is it?" James raises his eyebrows, "Thought everything was your call. Your call we come to Ireland. Your call we cavort around on the beach not paying any attention to who sees us."
Michael frowns, growing angry now, catching up.
"Oh, give it a rest, James. You wanted to come to fucking Ireland. And why do you care who sees us?"
James actually laughs out loud, turning around to look at Michael.
"Why do I care? Why do I not want someone to get a photo of me kissing a man? Why do I not want a story saying that I'm gay? Hmm, why indeed. I thought you were meant to be clever, Fassbender."
"What is this, Brokeback Mountain?" Michael scoffs, "It's 2012."
"Yeah, it is 2012. Meaning my divorce isn't even finalised yet. And I have a two year old who I have to look after every other week. And jobs aren't coming as easy as they used to. Do you really think I can deal with someone running a story about our affair?"
There's a pause, too long for either of them to be comfortable with.
"Affair?" Michael repeats stonily.
"What do you want me to say? I'm not ready for this." James groans, "I'm going back to the house."
"I suppose you want me out of the way."
"Take a walk, Michael, just take a walk." James tells him, turning and walking up the hill.
Michael half-walks, half-jogs along the beach, unsure if he's trying to think, or trying to avoid thinking. He holds his wet shirt in his hand, knowing that there's no way it'll dry: it's getting hotter, but he's grounded in the fact that they are in Ireland, not America, or anywhere else where a day in late May can dry a sodden shirt on his back. He stretches, deciding he's going to sprint down the beach, to try and clear some of the bad energy he can feel causing tension in his shoulder. He limbers up, screws his shirt up in his fist, and then runs. He kicks up sand behind him until he reaches another patch of pebbles, when he grits his teeth and runs over them, barely registering the pain it puts the soles of his feet in. He runs until he's short of breath, then stretches out his limbs again to cool down. He lays the t-shirt on the ground, figuring that it's already ruined, then sits down on it, looking out at the Irish sea.
Part of him knew that it wasn't a good idea to bring James here. Whilst he has nothing against Ireland in general, the idea of Michael taking him to his home is something a bit too close for comfort for James, a bit too like taking him to meet the parents, despite the fact that Michael didn't even tell his mum he was in Ireland, and that his dad is currently in Germany. Michael is out as bisexual to his family, has been since he was nineteen, and would answer truthfully if asked in an interview, which just hasn't happened yet. James is not out as anything, to anyone, not even Michael: Michael doesn't know if James is gay, or bisexual, or anything else, but he knows he shouldn't push him if he's not ready.
It's just getting a bit too much for Michael to carry, these days. Sometimes it seems as though not only is James insecure in his own sexuality, but seems to think that Michael should be insecure in his, too. Michael wants to tell his family that he's in a relationship, because he's happy, and wants to share his happiness with them. But James asks him not to. He seems embarrassed, looks uncomfortable when Michael refers to the two of them as a couple or anything similar. Sometimes, Michael thinks James was happier when he was Michael's fuck-buddy: when he could pass this off as some kind of phase, something he was flushing out of his system before he returned, faithfully, to his wife. That isn't what happened, and Michael thinks that James is floundering now he's a "boyfriend" to another man. Michael had his first crush on a member of the same gender when he was seventeen. His first boyfriend was when he was twenty-three. And he has had sex with men more times than he thinks worth mentioning. Michael is James' first everything. And he is trying his hardest to understand, but sometimes James doesn't make it easy.
Michael stands up tries to skim some pebbles across the water, but his aim is off, so they keep sinking. He sighs, shakes some of the sand off his shirt, and takes a walk back in the direction of the cottage.
He gets inside without seeing or hearing James, and goes straight to the bathroom to shower, feeling the dirty water in his hair and the little crystals of salt on his skin. His skin smarts as the hot water rains down upon it, and realises with annoyance that he's managed to get sunburn. He sighs, and turns down the temperature on the shower a little. His mind wanders to the shower he shared with James just the morning before, but then feels bad that he is thinking about James' body like this when they're in the middle of an argument. He twists the dial so that the water blasts freezing cold for ten seconds, then steps out, wrapping a towel around his waist.
Dressed and walking down into the small sitting room, Michael sees James is sitting in an armchair, his legs dangling over the arm, his pen hovering over the sudoku book he holds in his hand. Michael says nothing, and James only looks at him for a second, taking in the angry sunburn on the back of his neck and the tips of his ears. He stayed out for too long, and James feels guilty about this for a second, but then shakes it off, looking back down at the puzzle. Michael goes into the kitchen and gets a drink of water, then comes back into the sitting room, and sits down warily opposite James, who doesn't look up until Michael speaks.
"You okay?" Michael asks.
"Yeah," James replies shortly.
"You're mad at me," Michael says evenly, "Which isn't really fair, because I should be the one who's mad at you."
"Aren't you?" James demands, looking straight at him.
"Not particularly. I was, but I walked it off. Now I'm just sad." James doesn't want to hear this: he can deal with Michael being cross, because then all James has to do is shout louder. Michael being unhappy he isn't sure how he would handle. "You know I love you?" Michael says, almost hesitantly, "Like, we passed the saying "I love you" milestone, didn't we? Tell me if I'm misremembering but I'm pretty sure that happened."
"Of course it happened," James replies, putting his book down and tilting his head to look at Michael.
"Well, doesn't that mean something? Don't tell me you love me if you're ashamed of me. Don't tell me you love me if you think all we have is… an affair." James just looks at him, unblinking. Michael laughs, and shrugs, and there are tears in his eyes. "James, I don't know what to do. It seems like all we've done whilst we've been here is argue. Maybe we should… go back to England-" James is about to agree, but then Michael continues, "And spend some time apart."
"Michael," James says, startled, rising up so he is sitting on his knees, alarm in his eyes.
"Well, what's the point? If all we have is just an affair to you, I might as well leave right now, mightn't I? I love you, but if you can't admit that you're with me because of the stupid opinions of society, then how can you claim you love me back?"
"Michael, we just had a little fight-"
"No, it's not that, and you know it. We've been doing this more and more. We just go to sleep on the bad feelings and pretend in the morning that everything's fine, when it's not."
James turns his head away, biting the skin around his thumbnail.
"I don't know what you want." Michael admits, "I'm just exhausted of being your secret, James. Your guilty pleasure."
"It's not that!" James exclaims suddenly, his head snapping back to face Michael, his blue eyes shining.
"What is it, then?!"
"I'm just-- it's really difficult, Michael. When you live a certain way for long enough, you don't… you can't…"
"James, are you gay?" Michael asks abruptly. James seems stunned. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to ask, but I think it's getting to the point where you really need to think about it yourself. I need to know what I am to you, and if you don't really identity as being under a certain label, that's fine, but if you do identify that way and you're denying it, that's when it's a problem."
There's a beat, in which James takes a shuddering breath and shuts his eyes.
"Yes, I think I'm gay." he says slowly, "And I think I've known for a very long time."
"It's okay, it's okay," Michael murmurs, through lips pursed in a soothing hush. James is silent for the next few minutes, rubbing his eyebrow nervously, a number of times trying to start a sentence but losing his thread. Michael wants patiently, making sure he doesn't stare but at the same time letting his expression show he cares and understands. James feels like his head is just overcrowded, filled with too many thought that will never make their way to his mouth, so he chooses the most important and runs with it.
"I loved Anne Marie, I still do," James says, "But… it's not in the way that I you. In the way I love men."
Michael suddenly moves forward, kneels in front of James and hugs him around the waist. James hugs back, resting his face against Michael's shoulder.
"You needed to say that," Michael says.
"I needed to say that," James echoes.
"That was all I wanted from you," Michael tells him, putting his thumb underneath James' chin to lift his head and look into his eyes, "I just needed you to know yourself. And other people can come to know this in time: your own time. Yes?"
"Yes," James says, and Michael kisses his reply.
"C'mon," Michael says when the kiss ends, standing and taking hold of James' hand, "Let's take a walk."
There are more people on the beach by now, but James keeps a tight hold upon Michael's hand, and doesn't seem to mind at the few heads that are turned, although most of the beach-goers don't even register them, or recognise who they are. James rests his head against Michael's shoulder, making Michael look down at him and smile.
"Do you remember the first time I kissed you?" Michael asks.
"You kissed me? Excuse me, I seem to remember I was the one who initiated that."
"If "initiated" is Scottish slang for "drunkenly bumped your jaw against my nose until I grabbed your face and showed you where my mouth actually was" then I suppose you did."
James shoves Michael gently, and Michael pretends to be overpowered by it, running a little to the left, away from James, making him jog a few paces to catch hold of his hand again.
"I do remember. I definitely kissed you. Or at least, I meant to."
"We got there in the end, eh?"
"Yeah," James agrees, grinning. Michael turns to face him, taking hold of his other hand.
"I'm proud of you," he says softly, "Of us. We are capable of so much. I'm glad that you're giving us that chance to be."
"Yeah, I'm glad I am too," James agrees, and leans up to kiss him, not caring who sees.
When James and Michael walk across the sun-soaked rocks by the shore, it's still the same stones and the same pads of bare feet, but somehow, there is more freedom in the walk.
+ End. +