Michael had known something was wrong despite James' smile when picking him up from the airport. James was a damn good actor, but Michael knew him enough to know that the smile didn't quite reach his eyes and that sadness lay hidden in those blue depths. James had barely spoken to him the entire way back to their flat and even after Michael had unpacked a bit, giving James whatever space he seemed to want, they'd barely spoken more than two words to each other.
Michael had finally given up, plopping down onto the couch and flipping through a few channels before giving that up, letting the silence take over again. He could hear James fiddling in the kitchen, most likely putting away the dishes he'd been adamant to wash the minute they'd returned home. Eventually, those noises trailed off leaving their tiny flat in complete silence. Michael could imagine James leaning against one of the counters, his hands fidgeting with the sleeves of his shirt while he bit his lower lip, contemplating what to do next.
Michael had been waiting, hoping, that James would be the one to speak first, to open up and explain why he'd been acting distant, but waiting was hard and he knew how stubborn James could be.
Having decided to be the one to break the silence first, he'd barely stood up when James appeared at the kitchen entryway.
"I'm cruel," he said, eyes not quite looking at Michael.
"Since when?" Michael asked.
"Since…" James looked down at the floor, letting the word trail off.
Michael kept looking at him, watching as James seemed to struggle to answer, his mouth opening and closing several times.
"I've hated you… for weeks now, probably months," James said, barely looking at Michael as he spoke.
Michael sank back down onto the couch, looking away from James as his mind tried to wrap around the words spoken by the man he loved.
"I heard about the rumours about you and Nicole and I wanted them to be true so I could hate you for a real reason and not the reasons I'd come up with in my head. I've hated you for being gone so much and for being on so many magazines. I even hated you when I knew you were home when I was off filming Filth," James said, voice strained with unshed tears.
Michael nodded, unsure of what to say or what to do in response to James' confession.
"I wanted to blame you for why we've been drifting the last couple of months, to blame you for why our relationship has been failing, but I know it's me. I'm the reason it's failing."
Michael could hear the tears in those last words, but couldn't make himself look at James. He thought he should acknowledge or deny what James said, argue that it wasn't failing, that James was wrong. Instead, he stood up and began to head back towards their bedroom.
"Michael," James called out, rushing after him.
Michael ignored him, even when James grabbed his arm, he shook him off and kept walking.
"Michael, please," James pleaded, "Please don't leave."
Michael stopped and slowly turned to face James, who for the first time since Michael had known him looked so small and breakable, looking up at Michael with tears in his eyes.
"What? What am I supposed to say, James? 'I'm sorry'? I didn't do anything. We discussed this, several times in fact. We knew with our careers that this wouldn't be easy, but we would try. Obviously, I'm the only one who's been trying."
He turned and kept heading to the bedroom, even as he heard James following behind him. His mostly still packed suitcase was sitting on the bed. James had apparently noticed it as soon as they entered the room, as he rushed over to the bed to stand in front of it, blocking the suitcase and looking up at Michael.
"Don't leave," he said.
"Why should I stay?" Michael asked.
"I want to make this work, I want to be with you."
"I thought you hated me?"
"I did, but for stupid reasons so I pushed it away, I kept trying to push it away, and I kept reminding myself of all the reasons I want to be with you, why I love you."
"Then why tell me all this?"
"Because I'm tired of feeling like this. Of hating myself every day for not trying harder, for failing you."
Michael watched as James sank down onto the floor, leaning against the bed with his knees drawn up to his chest, sobbing. He kneeled down in front of James, resting his hand on James' knee. James kept his arms close to his chest, tugging on the sleeves of his shirt as he looked at Michael.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Michael started to reply, when familiar white material peeked out from one of James' sleeves.
"James," he said, carefully holding his arm and pulling down the sleeve a bit to reveal the white gauze crudely wrapped around the wrist.
When he looked up at James again, pleading blue eyes looked back at him. He sat next to James and put his arms around him, holding him close.
"I'm sorry," James whispered, leaning into Michael's arms.
"It's okay. I love you, all of you, and this is the kind of thing you're supposed to be able to come to me with, so I can help you and support you and tell you that I love you and I don't want to lose you."
"I love you, too, and I don't want to lose you either. And I'm still sorry."
"I know and I'm sorry, too. We'll both try harder now, okay?"
James nodded, one hand tentatively holding one of Michael's arms. Michael held him a little bit tighter and kissed the top of his head. They sat like that, holding onto each other, for a while. It wasn't the first time and Michael thought it probably wouldn't be the last. It hadn't been as bad the last time, James coming to Michael before it reached that point. Michael was mentally kicking himself for not realizing sooner what was going on, for being too busy.
"James, can I… can I see…?" Michael asked, unsure how to finish the question.
"Yeah," James nodded.
Michael kept one arm around James' shoulders, but moved the other one so James could move his arms.
"It's not as bad as you're probably thinking it is. I was able to patch myself up," James said, trying to sound hopefully as he held out his bandaged arm for Michael.
Michael carefully pulled the gauze off to see the single red line along pale skin. It wasn't as bad as he'd thought, but still bad enough just for being there in the first place.
"When?" Michael asked, looking at James.
"Yesterday, uh, afternoon."
"I know, I'm stupid. I realized that once I realized how much it actually hurt. And I knew I should tell you, but I didn't know how."
James started crying again so Michael pulled him closer and held him.
"I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid you'd leave," James said in between sobs, "I wanted to tell you everything, but I still screwed up cos you almost left."
"I'm not going anywhere," Michael replied, "and thank you for wanting to tell me."
"I do want this, us, to work."
"I know. Let's get you bandaged up again and maybe sit on the bed instead of against it, okay?"
James moved so Michael could stand up first and help him up, before they went into the bathroom where Michael put fresh gauze on James' wrist. Michael knew without looking that James was watching him, another apology on his lips. He finished securing the gauze, his fingers brushing over the spot hidden by white material.
“Michael,” James said.
“Shh,” Michael replied, looking at James and linking their fingers together.
He led James back into the bedroom and over to the bed. They sat among the blankets and pillows that were familiar and comforting, and something Michael had missed all those months of airports and hotels. James leaned against him, solid and warm and still there.
"I think, we should see someone, like couple's therapy or something," Michael said, "it's been a rough few months for both of us. I've been home maybe three weeks in the last five months and we've seen each other less. And we've obviously been bad with communication, so I think seeking help for that would be a good idea."
"I said I want us to work and I'll do whatever we need to, so yeah just okay."
Michael smiled, holding James' closer.
"I did miss you and I'm glad you're home," James said.
"Me, too. I missed you so much."
James sat up and looked at Michael with a proper smile, one that reached his eyes. Michael smiled back, seeing hope in those familiar blue eyes. He pulled James closer and kissed him. Despite the fact that they'd kissed so many times before, something felt different, a good different. They'd hit a rough patch and even with the bumps and dips, they'd made it through.
"I think we're going to be okay," Michael said, smiling at James again.
Michael kept smiling as he held James tightly and pulled him down, so they were lying on their bed. James curled up with him, resting his head on Michael's chest. James sighed contently and relaxed against him more.
"You're very comfy."
"Good to know. I love you."
"I love you, too."