Calum’s sophomore homecoming was his first time dancing with another boy. Not just any boy -- Ashton Irwin, the hot junior that Calum had his eye on all year. The honey-haired boy swept him off his feet, twirling him and slow dancing with him and making out with him until they saw only stars. Their hearts called out to each other, and seven years later they were married, in love, and still dancing.
Calum’s heart sang all the while.
On their five year wedding anniversary, Ashton went to the doctor for a cough that he had been fighting for the past month. It wasn’t a big deal for either of them -- Calum went to work as usual that day, planning to take Ashton out to their favorite restaurant later that night. At the worst they were expecting some over-the-counter drugs.
They were wrong.
Ashton called Calum to come home early that day, distressed and out of breath. Calum assumed it was just because he missed the younger man -- it was their anniversary after all, and Calum was working (what kind of husband was he anyway, working on their five-year anniversary?). How he wished he was wrong.
Ashton was sitting at the kitchen table when he got home, papers stacked next to him. The words that he whispered into Calum’s ear while they were embracing nearly stopped the younger man’s heart heart.
“I have lung cancer.”
The words were immediately followed by a sob from Ashton, but Calum just stood there.
“What,” was all Calum could muster up the courage to say.
“Lung cancer. Stage four.” It was barely audible through his shaky voice. “They say I have two weeks left to live.”
Calums heart sank low,
“Baby,” he finally gasped, wrapping Ashton up in his arms. The two sat in silence for an eternity. The sound of Ashton’s sniffles were somehow quieter than Calum’s silence, but his embrace said everything that he couldn’t find the words to say.
I love you, and I’m so so sorry.
That night, Calum cancelled the dinner reservations. They ordered Chinese takeout instead and sat on the couch and watched cheesy chick-flicks (which both were a complete sucker for but would never admit), trying to forget the events of what had gone on earlier that day. After 50 First Dates ended, though, Calum cuddled Ashton closer and turned off the TV.
“Let’s dance, baby,” he murmured into Ashton’s ear. Ashton smiled and stood up, pulling Calum with him.
They turned on their playlist filled of sappy romantic songs and danced through the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom. Ashton quietly sang along to the lyrics, and Calum soaked up every second of it.
Looking at Ashton, he wasn’t Calum’s husband -- he was that nervous junior, asking Calum to dance at homecoming. He was Calum’s new fiancé, admiring his golden ring underneath a sparkling moon. He was everything Calum wished he’d savored more, because now his husband was dying and there was nothing he could do.
“Do you know my first thought when I was dancing with you that time at homecoming?” Ashton’s honey voice broke through Calum’s memories.
“No, what?” They were whispering, although Calum didn’t know exactly why. It was slightly more romantic that way, perhaps.
“I thought, this is the man I’m going to marry. The one I’m dancing with right now.” Tears were streaming down Ashton’s face now. He paused to cough -- an awful, dry cough. “I thought you were an amazing dancer. You still are.” He smiled a bittersweet smile. “I didn’t fall in love with you just for your dance moves, but I did ask you to dance because of them.”
Calum pulled Ashton into a long, wet kiss in the middle of the kitchen, Elvis Presley’s voice fading into the background as they only existed in each other’s world.
“This isn’t fair.” Calum was walking up and down the length of the hospital room, hands running through his hair. “I should be the one that’s sick, not you.”
“Don’t say that,” Ashton said firmly. The oxygen tubes on his face made Calum want to vomit every time he looked at them.
“Why the fuck not?” Calum questioned loudly, making Ashton flinch. “I’m the one who fucking smokes! You’ve smoked like what, twice?” He let out a short, mad laugh. “And yet you’re the one with lung cancer. What the fuck did you do to deserve this?” His paces were getting faster now, more frantic.
“Calm down, Calum.”
“No, I will no-”
“It’s not about deserving to be sick. Do you think that I think I deserve to be sick? God no. I don’t think you deserve to be sick either. It’s just fate, alright? It’s not like we can do anything about it.”
Calum suddenly stopped where he was standing.
“Calum? Are you o-”
“God fucking dammit, Ashton.” He made his way over to Ashton’s hospital bed, cupping his face in his hands. “I’m not-” His voice cracked. “I’m not ready to live without you.” He crawled onto Ashton’s bed and they fit together perfectly, forgetting the tubes and wires and the way that Ashton breathed, uneven and painful.
“You’re not going to live without me.” Ashton’s voice was firm and certain. “I’ll always be here, as long as you let me. I’ll be dancing in heaven with you.” He smiled. “I refuse to let you think you’re going to have to live without me, because you’re not. I’ll still be here every second of the way, okay?”
Calum nodded. “Okay.”
Three weeks since Ashton’s diagnosis and he was still alive, albeit weak and miserable. Calum practically lived at the hospital with him, not bearing to be a minute without his husband.
Ashton was sleeping while Calum sat next to him, holding his (cold, too cold) hand. “Ashy…” He paused to take a breath in, slowing his rapid heartbeat. “I don’t know what to do without you. I don’t know how I’m going to go to work again, or how to see your parents, or mine for that matter. I don’t know how to breathe in a world without you there. I don’t know how to open my eyes in the morning and not see you there. I don’t know how the fuck I’m going to do this, and it terrifies me.”
He squeezed Ashton’s hand tighter.
“I would do anything just to have you for one more week.” He sighed. “Why couldn’t it have been me?”
The next morning began painfully. Ashton’s breathing was slow and irregular, and doctors and nurses were constantly flitting in and out of the room. There was no doubt it was going to happen that day.
Ashton had been awake for around ten minutes when a nurse brought in his breakfast. He wasn’t hungry, but allowed Calum to feed him a few bites of oatmeal. “I love you,” he murmured quietly, not having the strength to say anything louder.
“I love you too,” Calum responded, stroking the older man’s hand with his thumb. “You’re so strong.”
“I can’t last much longer.”
Calum’s ears strained to hear his husband’s voice, but as soon as he could, he wished he didn’t. “It’s okay,” he said softly, “you can let go when you need to.”
A nurse took the bowl away from them, sensing what was happening.
“I don’t want to leave you.” Ashton’s voice was watery. A cough followed, long and painful. A few specks of blood flew into the air.
“You’re not going to, stupid. Remember?” Calum responded, joking despite the tears making their way down his face. “You’re going to dance with me in heaven. Just like you said. Don’t let me down.”
“I would never.” Ashton smiled -- just a slight upturn of the lips, but a smile nonetheless. His breathing slowed more and the heart monitor beeped, signalling a change. More doctors rushed in. “Dance for me, okay?”
Calum touched their foreheads together, pecking a small, gentle kiss on the elder man’s lips. “I will.”
The heart monitor slowed then let out a long, singular beep.
Calum’s heart screamed.
The apartment was too empty for Calum. It was quiet and grey, unlike the normal sun-filled apartment filled with Ashton’s singing.
He downed another shot of vodka.
Dance for me, okay?
Ashton’s words echoed in his head.
“I hate you, Ashton Fletcher Irwin,” Calum grumbled, slightly (very) drunk. He stood up, wobbling slightly, and put his arms out like Ashton was there, not buried six feet under the ground. One hand on the shoulder, one hand on the waist. He didn’t need music; it would’ve hurt too much anyway.
Calum waltzed through the living room, counting softly under his breath.
1, 2, 3
1, 2, 3
Suddenly Ashton was there, counting with him. His hands were on Calum’s hips, applying just enough pressure to make him moan. “Fuck, Ashton,” he groaned quietly.
“I love you.”
A tear rolled down his cheek.
“I miss you.” His eyes were closed so he didn’t have to see the empty space in front of him. “I don’t know how I’m going to manage without you here next to me.”
His feet, the ones that used to be so graceful, tripped over each other, landing Calum on the floor.
“Fuck,” he cried out, finally opening his eyes to an Ashton-less world.
A world he didn’t want to see.
The silence was overwhelming without Ashton’s touch to sooth him. His fist met the floor with a painful thud, but he didn’t feel anything -- the hurt in his heart was to much.
The coffee cup that Ashton had last used was still sitting on the table next to the couch. There was still liquid left in it, no doubt cold and undrinkable. Calum couldn’t bear to move it from its spot.
A ray of sunshine broke through the curtains and shined where Calum was sitting, as if Ashton was still there, making everything alright (even if it wasn’t). Get up, it seemed to say. I still want to dance with you.
So Calum stood up, rolled his eyes, and put his hands back in place. “Ready, Ashton?” His voice was scratchy. “You promised, you can’t bail on me now.”
He and Ashton waltzed through the apartment together one last time, a small smile set on the former’s lips. His feet kept tripping up, but he stayed steady with the rhythm that the other was humming.
1, 2, 3
1, 2, 3
His screaming heart quieted.