Another day of interviews completed and the only thing James wanted more than to go home and rest, was to go out for a couple of drinks with Michael. Though he knew better, it was never just a couple of drinks when Michael was involved. The time spent with Michael joking and laughing was always worth the stumbled steps out of the bar or Michael's hotel room at ridiculous hours. James put his arm around Michael's waist and Michael had his arm around James' shoulders and somehow they were managing to stay upright as they stumble towards James' flat after another night of drinking.
They were laughing about something, a comment Michael had made only moments before, as James tried to pull his keys from his pocket as they near his flat. After another stumble up the stairs to the front door, James shushed Michael as he put the key in the knob. There a reason they needed to be quiet, neighbours and the late hour and something else that James couldn’t quite remember. He managed to open the door and standing near it was the other reason.
"Anne-Marie, darling, hello," he grinned, as he stepped into his flat, Michael close behind him.
"Hello," Anne-Marie smiled as James kissed her on the cheek, "Did you boys have fun?"
"Definitely," James smiled, glancing back at Michael who was nodding in agreement.
"Good. Hope you didn't forget you have a flight to LA in the morning," Anne-Marie said, glancing between the two men.
James' giggling gave away his guilt at having forgotten while Michael seemed more at ease to be reminded, taking a step closer to the front door.
"Then I should be getting home," he said, hand reaching back for the handle.
"Probably. Thank you for tonight," James said, walking over to give Michael a hug, "Much needed after today. Not sure what I'm supposed to say the next time I'm asked what super power I'd want."
"Anything you come up with is better than my answer," Michael chuckled, hugging James back.
"But I like your tail idea. Jealous that I didn't think of it first," James said, looking at Michael with a twinkle of amusement in blue eyes.
"Like you would have without me."
James laughed at that, making a shooing motion.
"True enough. Go on home. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, James."
Michael left, looking back at James and Anne-Marie before closing the door on James' nice, little life. He closed his eyes and took a deep breathe, before descending the stairs and hailing a cab to take him to his flat.
James locked the door and turned back to his wife.
"I thought you weren't going to be out late," Anne-Marie said, arms folded over her chest.
"Sorry. It was a long day and I lost track of time," James replied, stepping close to her.
He reached out, placing his hands on her upper arms and felt them tense slightly as though she'd thought to shrug him off or pull away. Instead, she held her ground and looked at him a calm confidence radiating off her.
"I know. You always do when you're with Michael. You always have. It's just more noticeable since you two have spent so much time together between filming and now this. I guess I miss my husband," she said.
"I'm here, I've been here, and I'm not going anywhere," James said, rubbing her arms trying to ease the tension in them.
"I want to believe that. I think I've even tried to, but while you've been here, you haven't been my James."
"But I am. I've always been your James."
He moved closer, wanting to hold her and prove to her that he was still the same James he'd always been.
"Have you? Do you even know yourself anymore? Do you know who you are?"
He wanted to answer yes, yes to all of it, tell her he was James, her James, husband and father and sometimes actor, but the words got stuck in his throat and he ended up biting his lip nervously and shrugging. Anne-Marie reached up, cupping his cheek and wiping at a tear, and James hadn't even realised he was crying.
"I love you, James. I will always love you. Sometimes there are glimpses of my James when I look at you and other times there's not. If you don’t know who you are, how am I supposed to know?"
James leaned into her touch, more tears falling when he had nothing to say.
Anne-Marie pulled him into a hug and he held onto her tightly, afraid if he let her go he'd lose everything.
"I think you should take the few days in LA and think about it, okay? We can talk, if you need to, but I think you need to figure it out on your own."
"I love you," he said, the only words he could find.
"I know," Anne-Marie replied, pulling back to look at him, "Let's go to bed. You still have an early flight to catch."
James nodded again and followed her down the hall towards their room. He paused at Brendan's room and after a nod from Anne-Marie stepped inside to check on his little boy. He smiled at his sleeping son, leaning in to brush a kiss against his forehead.
"I love you. Sleep tight," he whispered before leaving the boy to sleep.
Anne-Marie was already in bed when he entered their bedroom, so he took his time changing clothes and brushing his teeth. She was almost a sleep when he finally climbed into bed. He kissed her goodnight and listened as she fell asleep. He slept too, but it was uneasy.
He slept most of the flight between London and LA, Michael's warm and comforting presence next to him. He apologised each time he woke up and realised he’d been using Michael's shoulder as a pillow again. Even though Michael told him it was fine each time, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d done something wrong and couldn’t figure out why. They landed in LA and after grabbing their bags, headed straight for the hotel. James escaped to the quiet of his own room, leaving Michael to do the same. He sent a text to Anne-Marie letting her know he arrived safely, before flopping onto the bed. He briefly thought about going out for a walk, try to ease the tension and shake off the jetlag but sleep took him first.
He woke to his phone ringing, the joke ringtone he'd set for Michael after one of their drunk nights blaring from his pocket. He fumbled trying to retrieve it and almost missed the call.
"James? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Just woke up. Sorry."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's fine. Needed to wake up anyway."
"Well, I was wondering if you wanted to get drinks or just talk."
"Um… not tonight. Still feeling a bit jetlagged."
"Yeah, I understand. Rest up. First interview starts at 10am."
"Will do. See you later, Michael."
"See you, James."
James ended the call and dropped the phone onto the bed next to him. He only felt a bit guilty not meeting up with Michael, but he was still feeling exhausted and knew he just needed to rest. Especially in face of their gruelling interview schedule. He forced himself off the bed and changed into his sleepwear and unpacked some of his clothes and things to make them easier to find in the morning. He set the alarm and the coffee pot, he couldn’t function without coffee in the mornings though he would have preferred stopping at a café over hotel coffee. After brushing his teeth and washing his face, he stared at his reflection Anne-Marie's words circling in his mind. He saw himself, at least the him he’d usually seen when he’d looked in the mirror the last few months but he knew something was off. When his reflection provided no answers, he shrugged at it and headed back into the bedroom. He managed to will himself to fall asleep and slept through the night.
Michael was waiting for him when he left his room the next morning and they headed to their first interview. It was easy to smile at the fans waiting for them as they left especially with Michael next to him, putting an arm around him and helping him manoeuvre through the crowds. They climbed into the waiting car, still smiling and waving to their fans as they headed off.
"Not sure if I'm ready for today," James noted.
"You'll be fine," Michael smiled and James believed him.
The day went well enough, only a few odd questions that tried to trip James up. Most were fun and caused James and Michael to joke with the interviewers and to the cameras. They returned to the hotel and more waiting fans, so they took the time to sign a few autographs and take a few pictures, before ducking inside and heading to their rooms.
"Up for drinks tonight?" Michael asked as they neared his room.
James thought about it a moment before declining. He felt bad when Michael nodded and disappeared into his room, looking disappointed. He thought about knocking and accepting a drink, but headed to his own room instead. He changed into comfier clothes and went to hang out on the balcony. He waved to a few lingering fans, before plopping into one of the plastic seats and looking up at the darkening sky. He wished he had a cigarette, to at least give him something to do besides stare at the stars. He knew he could go ask Michael for one or even go buy a pack at the convenient store down the street, but both options involved leaving his room so he didn’t do either.
He tried to study the sky, see if it could tell him anything. All it did was remind him how small and unimportant he was in the universe. He noticed how deep and dark a blue the sky was, nearing black yet not quite reaching it. Stars appeared and added more colour to the sky and James found himself thinking of the painting by Van Gogh of the Starry Night and its vast array of colours. He laughed at himself, pondering the sky and art all while wondering who he was. The sky gave no answers and truthfully he hadn't figure it would. He continued to look at it, watching as more stars appear until his eyes close, sleep stealing him away.
He woke to the sound of his phone again, that oddly familiar tone telling him it was Michael as he pulled the phone from where he'd tucked it against his leg earlier that night.
"Are you okay?" Michael asked once James put the phone to his ear.
"You were asleep on your balcony. I was worried."
James looked around and saw that he was in fact still on his balcony.
"Where are you?"
James twisted in his seat and looked over to see Michael standing one balcony over. He waved at him, still holding the phone to his ear.
"Thank you," he said, smiling even though he wasn’t sure Michael could see it.
"You're welcome. Go to bed, James."
"See you tomorrow. 10am again?"
"Oh good. Good night, Michael."
Michael tucked his phone into his pocket and waved at James as he disappeared into his room. He sighed, relieved he didn't have to go break into James' room. He knew James tended to get cold easily and had panicked at the sight of him unconscious on his balcony in the chilly night air. He'd been worried about James anyway. He'd felt a bit better that day, James laughing and smiling next to him, but once the interviews were over and they were back at the hotel, he seemed to shrink a bit. Michael worried their last late night in London had caused a fight between him and Anne-Marie and that was why James kept turning down his offer for drinks and company. He hated the idea of being the cause of that and even more hated the idea that he was losing his best friend. He would have to apologise to James the next day and offer to apologise to Anne-Marie as well. He headed back into his room and toward the bed, feeling at least a bit better knowing that James was all right and still talking to him, at least for the time being.
He woke early the next morning and after showering and dressing, headed down the street to the first open coffee shop he found and ordered coffee for him and James. He'd made sure to remember to request raspberry flavouring for James. He found James' love of sweet flavoured coffee enduring and kind of cute. He preferred his coffee to taste like coffee, even if James complained that his choices always tasted bitter. He returned to the hotel and arrived at James' room just as the door opened.
"Morning," he smiled, holding out the coffee for James.
"Oh thank you," James smiled, taking the coffee from him and taking a sip, "Forgot to set the coffee pot last night and didn't have time to run it this morning."
Michael watched him take another sip, smiling at the realisation of raspberry flavouring. They headed out to the car, smiling and waving again for fans. Once they were driving off to their next set of interviews, Michael debated if he should go ahead and apologise or wait until later. He decided to wait, not wanting to possibly upset James and make their day more difficult.
He thought the day went well, James had been more energetic than the previous day and Michael had found James looking at him with a smile several times throughout the day. It gave him hope as they headed back to the hotel.
"I wanted to apologise for the other night. I knew it was probably a bad idea to go out, but I thought we needed it. I hope I didn't cause anything between you and Anne-Marie," he said, watching James as he spoke.
"Oh, no, it was fine. Really," James replied, smiling at Michael.
Michael nodded but still felt like something was off.
"Drinks tonight then?" he asked.
"I'd love to, but I'm still feeling a bit tired. I think sleeping on the plane messed me up more than usual. Soon though, I promise."
Michael nodded again, wanting to believe James despite the feeling in his gut. They reached the hotel and after another quick round of autographs and pictures, disappeared to their separate rooms.
James leaned against his door, feeling horrid for turning Michael down again but he knew he needed to be by himself tonight. His nap under the stars had snapped his attention to a realisation and one he didn't like. He changed into his sleepwear and after pacing for a few moments, sat down along the big window in the joint living room and kitchen area of his room.
James pulled out his phone and dialled an all too familiar number.
"Hey, it's James, I know it's late there or early, I'm bad with the time conversion. I'm sorry. You asked me the other day if I knew who I was and I've thought about that for the last two days. I don't know who I am anymore. And it terrifies me. I used to know. How do I find myself again?"
"I think you need to ask yourself some things. What do you want, James? What makes you happy? What's going to make you happy? If you figure those things out, I think you can figure out who you are. You know I'll always be here for you and that I'll always love you. No matter what."
"Thank you. You're wonderful and I don't think I deserve you."
"Yes, you do. Get some sleep, James. I know it's late there."
"Good night, Anne-Marie."
"Good night, James."
James ended the call, wiping a tear from his eye before taking Anne-Marie's advice and heading to bed.
He woke the next morning before his alarm, but didn't bother getting up yet. He knew he'd forgotten to set the coffee maker again out of some bizarre hope that Michael would surprise him with raspberry coffee again. When he finally forced himself out of bed, he took a longer shower than he'd normally let himself, letting the warm water wake him up and relax his muscles. He dried off and dressed comfortable in simple jeans and a grey V-neck shirt with sleeves he could push up if need be. Michael greeted him with a smile and another raspberry coffee.
"You're wonderful," he smiled, taking a sip of his coffee and falling into step with Michael.
"So are you," Michael replied.
James smiled more and stepped closer to Michael as they exited into the crowd of fans. He almost thought to stop for a few quick pictures before Michael ushered him into the car, reminding him that they were on a schedule.
They didn't have as many interviews together, the start of separate interviews beginning that day yet James found he couldn’t stop thinking about Michael and even occasionally talking about him unprompted.
It was after Michael was by his side again and they were heading back to the hotel that James thought he could get used to having Michael by his side every day.
"What's on your mind?" Michael asked.
"Just thinking," James replied, "Why?"
"You've been smiling almost the entire time since we left. Something good happen that I missed?"
"Nope. Just happy, I guess."
Michael nodded, smiling back at him. He let himself lean against Michael for the remaining duration of the drive back. He ended up chatting with a few fans while signing autographs and did more pictures than the previous nights. Michael waited for him and they headed up to their rooms.
"Drinks?" Michael asked, stopping at his room.
"In a bit, I think," James replied.
Michael nodded and disappeared into his room. James went into his and as soon as the door closed behind him, he started laughing. He laughed so much that he ended up kneeling on the floor, clutching his side until there were tears in his eyes. Then he cried, curled up on the floor wishing he wasn't alone but not wanting anyone to see him like that.
"Okay, pick yourself up. This isn't a bad thing. This is a good thing. It's okay. Things will be okay," he said.
He told himself these things a couple more times before he got himself off the floor. He went into the bathroom and washed his face. Once he thought he looked like he hadn’t spent the last twenty minutes in some strange hysterics, he pulled out his phone and called his wife.
"Hi," he said his voice still a bit hoarse.
"Are you alright, James?"
"No. Well, I don't know. I think I figured out the answers to those questions."
"That sounds like a good thing to me."
"I don’t know if it is."
"Tell me then."
James took a deep breathe. He chuckled a bit, knowing what he was about to say he’d only admitted in his headed and hearing it said out loud would make it real and he wouldn't be able to take it back or deny it then.
"James," Anne-Marie said, her tone laced with concern.
"Sorry, I just…" James said, taking another breathe, "I think I could be happy… with Michael."
He laughed, feeling a bit giddy and slightly dizzy at the words. He stopped abruptly and listened, waiting for Anne-Marie's reaction. He heard her laugh, a slightly sadder version compared to his own.
"I thought as much," she said.
James processed that, somehow knowing that she must have seen what he couldn't all those months he and Michael were practically glued at the hip while filming.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Well, what do you want, James? Do you… do you want to be with Michael?"
James forced himself not to answer right away, even though the answer was on the tip of his tongue.
"I, uh- Yes. But I don't even know if he… if he’d… what if he doesn't…?"
"Then maybe you should talk to him."
James laughed nervously.
"You should. You'll never know if you don't."
James knew she was right.
"How are you so calm about all this?" he asked, because he had to know since she was basically encouraging him to go talk to the man he'd be leaving her for.
"Because I love you and I said I'd love you no matter what and part of that is wanting you to be happy."
"So you're just accepting it?"
"No, but fighting it won't change anything. This is the hard part, on my end at least. I could yell at you and say that I hate you and remind you that we said 'until death do us part' but that's not who I am."
"No, it's not. You're wonderful and amazing and I love you."
"I love you, too, James. Now go talk to Michael."
"Okay. Thank you, again."
James tucked his phone away, still marvelling at the woman he’d married. He reminded himself that should things work out with Michael, Anne-Marie would still be a part of his life because of their son and he was grateful for that and maybe a little selfish, too.
He took a few deep breathes before heading to Michael's room. He smiled when Michael let him in and sat down on the couch to watch Michael start making drinks for them.
"I feel like I should apologise for the last few days," he said.
"It's fine. You were tired," Michael replied.
"It was more than that though. I had a few things to sort through."
James nodded, watching Michael pour their drinks.
James waited while Michael walked over to him and gladly accepted the drink he was handed, setting it on the little coffee table as Michael sat next to him.
"Something sort of happened that night, but it wasn't your fault. It was mine," he said.
Michael didn't reply.
"I'd lost myself a bit, the last few months and hadn't realised it at the time," James said, "But I think I found myself again."
James chuckled, still feeling nervous and a bit uncertain.
"I, um… I'm not sure how to say this, sorry."
"In finding who I am again, I figured out what I wanted. And what I want, is you."
"I mean… I want to be with you, Michael… if you'd want that, that is."
Michael set down his drink and began pacing the room.
"Will you please say something?" James asked.
"I… James, but you're married. You have a wife and a son. Even if I… I couldn't ruin your marriage, James."
"I have talked to Anne-Marie about this. It's because of her that I'm here."
"No. No, James. I won't be the reason you get a divorce. I can't."
James watched Michael walk back over to the kitchen area looking like he might pick up and drink the entire vodka bottle.
"Michael," James said, getting up to walk over to him, "Please."
"What?" Michael asked, knuckles turning white from the grip he had on the counter.
"Look at me. Please."
After a couple of minutes, Michael turned around. James hated himself a little bit seeing the look on Michael's face. It reminded James of a little kid who'd just been told their puppy was dead. James moved closer to him, which prompted Michael to cross his arms over his chest. James stopped walking but kept looking at him.
"If things were different, would you want to be with me?" he asked.
"I… I don't… Please don't make me answer that."
Michael sounded so broken and James wanted to hold him or do whatever would make things better, but he wasn’t sure if anything could. He stepped closer again and when Michael didn't move away, James stood right in front of him.
Michael shrugged, looked even more defeated. James reached up, barely touching Michael's cheek with his fingertips.
Michael nodded. James leaned in and kissed Michael's other cheek, surprised he didn't have to stand up on his tiptoes to reach. He smiled softly at Michael and left, quietly letting himself out without looking back.
Once the door closed, Michael sank to the floor and began to cry. He leaned against the lower cupboards and hit his head against a couple of them, muttering to himself.
"Stupid. So fucking stupid. Fuck."
James returned to his room and went to bed. He slept fitfully and woke before the alarm even though there wasn't a need for one. They had the day off, which James was partially grateful for. He spent the day giving Michael space, not texting or calling him and not going to his room. He entertained himself with hotel television. He wondered if there was anything he can do to make things up to Michael, to fix things between them. Eventually, he did call Michael who didn't answer. He left a message anyway.
"I didn't expect you to answer. I just… I wanted to say that I meant what I said the other night. I know what I want, Michael. I want you. If you don't want me, tell me and I'll fuck off or something. But if there's even a chance you could want me, too… I guess what I'm trying and failing to ask is: What do you want, Michael? Call me back, when you've figured it out."
He hoped it was enough. He knew there was more he could've said, would probably have to say later on, assuming Michael ever talked to him again. He ate a dinner of leftover pizza and watched a bit more telly before finally going to bed. He kept his phone close even though he didn't expect Michael to call him back yet.
Michael listened to the message before he went to bed, having spent the day sorting through his thoughts and what had happened the night before. He'd barely slept that night, emotions too on edge, even after he'd smoked a couple of cigarettes and sat camped out on his balcony. He wasn't sure if he was grateful to James not contacting him most of the day. Yet when his phone finally did ring, he couldn't bring himself to answer it. He waited a few hours before checking the message, knowing that if it were anything serious James would have kept trying to reach him. He didn't even have to think about James' question. He knew what he wanted, but he couldn't let himself have it. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
The next day they had more separate interviews and Michael didn't even see James until closer to lunch. James smiled at him briefly from across the room, but didn't do anything else. Michael knew it was because James had placed the ball in his court, he was the one who had to make the next move. He also knew he was terrified and gladly took advantage of the schedule for the day. A couple of interviewers ask about James and he answered them with barely any hesitation, keeping the same light tone he’d kept through all other questions during the day. He wondered if he'd be able to keep that same type of calm when finally facing James. And he knew he'd have to face James before the day was over because someone had mentioned to him that the car would be taking them back that night. He thought of saying something before they left, so the ride home wasn't awkward but when he found James, he was on the phone.
"I've been giving him space and I hope it's enough. I mean, I hope this isn't his way of telling me to fuck off… No, I know, you're right, he wouldn't but… he didn't even smile when he saw me earlier and, I guess I'm worried I messed things up between us, that we can't even be friends now… I know, I do… Thank you. I'll call you later."
Michael hid around a corner and waited until James was gone before heading down to wait for the car. James arrived shortly after the car did and climbed in next to Michael. He sat so he could look out the window and didn't say anything. The crowd outside the hotel was smaller that night, most likely the rain and wind scared most of them off and it was easier for them to duck inside. Michael briefly thought about taking the stairs or a different elevator, but didn't. He watched James, who kept his distance as much as he could inside the elevator. He didn't move to quickly exit the elevator and go to his room, but acted as though it was any other night. James reached his room before Michael reached his.
"James," he said, just as James went to unlock his door.
James turned to look at him and Michael moved to catch up with him.
"Can we talk?" he asked.
James opened his door and Michael followed him inside. He stood by the door for a moment, watching as James removed his coat and settled onto the couch. He waited patiently, letting Michael take his own time. Michael removed his own coat and moved closer to James, but kept standing.
"This is hard for me," he said.
"I've wanted you for so long, but I couldn't have you. You weren't mine to have. So I convinced myself that this was enough, that us being friends was better than not having you in my life at all. The idea that I could maybe have you… be with you finally terrifies me. Mostly because I'm afraid it'll be taken from me the minute I dare to even hope. And I can't face that, James. I can't let myself hope for that."
James took a breath and Michael realised he was shaking. James looked at him and Michael tried not to decipher what it was or what it meant. James stood up and walked over to him.
"Michael, I'm not cruel enough to dangle this in front of you. Even if I'd known to. I told you, I want to be with you. You can have me, Michael. And ya know what? It kind of terrifies me, too. But I know who I am and I know what I want."
Michael nodded, noticing that James was almost close enough to touch.
"Say it again. Please."
James smiled and nodded.
"I want to be with you, Michael."
Michael laughed and pulled James to him, holding him because he needed to, needed to feel James real and in his arms. James put his arms around Michael's neck and smiled up at him.
"I'm yours, Michael," James said, looking at him.
They smiled, holding onto each other tighter.
"Can I kiss you?" Michael asked.
"Yes," James replied before Michael had even finished asking.
Michael kissed him and James kissed him back and it was full of hope and joy and promises of more. It was the first of many for them and the first of many firsts to come. He'd barely let himself imagine what kissing James would be like and it was even better than that because it was real and James lips were warm against his and they tasted sweet, which wasn't all that surprising.
James laughed against his lips, excited so Michael laughed, too.
"Now what?" Michael asked.
"Well, I very much like this, but I think maybe we should move. Maybe to the couch or the bed," James replied, smiling at him.
"Okay, but what else? You're still married."
James sighed and only partially pulled out of Michael's arms.
"Come on, sit down with me," he said, pulling Michael towards the couch.
Michael went willingly and they sat down, James next to him again, leaning against him while still looking at him.
"Yes, I am, for now. In two days we go back to London. I wasn't lying when I said I've been talking to Anne-Marie about this. She knows. And yes, we'll be divorcing but I'll always still love her and we still have a son together. I'm not just going to abandon him and I would hope you wouldn't ask me to," James said.
"Never, of course not. You know I adore Brendan."
"I know. He adores you, too. Probably because you tend to spoil him."
Michael laughed at that causing James to smile at him more.
"We're going to be okay, better than okay actually. We'll be great together."
"You really think so?"
Michael kissed him again because he had to after hearing James say that. He believed him, too.
"So, what are we doing for the next two days?" he asked because there were still those days left.
"Well, tonight we can stay here on the couch and watch bad hotel telly and you can help me finish off the rest of the leftover pizza. And then later, we can cuddle in bed. Then tomorrow get up and go for coffee because I'm not drinking anymore of this bad hotel coffee and we'll do the rest of our interviews, before coming back here to watch more bad tell and eat more pizza. Unless you have a better idea," James replied.
"Nope. That sounds perfect."
James curled up against him, resting his headed against Michael's shoulder. Michael kept his arms around him and they finished the night just like James had said, bad telly and leftover pizza and cuddling in bed.
The next morning, James woke up with Michael and coffee and a chocolate éclair and James knew it was exactly how he wanted to spend every morning for the rest of his life.