Chapter 1: Who is That Masked Man?
“I couldn’t believe it!” the girl gasps into the reporter’s mike. “One second, I was thinking ‘I’m going to die!’, the next...there he was! Amore`! He just appeared out of nowhere. It was like something out of a movie! He snatched the knife right out of that robber’s hand, then WHAM!” she mimes a vicious punch, “Amore` laid that dude OUT! He totally saved my life!” Her eyes taking on a dreamy look, she sighs rapturously, “Then he kissed my hand and told me to call the police. Oh, my God! He was so sexy! And he had the softest lips...”
Turning to the camera, the reporter announces: “And there you have it, folks! Yet another of our citizens saved—and from the looks of it, another heart stolen—by the masked vigilante, Amore`. This is Brenda Smith, reporting live for WXYZ News. Now back to the studio. Bill...”
“Thank you for that report, Brenda.” Addressing the TV audience, the anchor continues the story: “Since Amore` first appeared on the scene earlier this month, he has been credited with preventing a number of robberies and acts of theft and vandalism—not to mention, saving a few lives. While, officially, the police have stated that they do not in any way support Amore`’s actions, our sources tell us that they are, in fact, indebted to Amore` for helping relieve the burden of an overworked, understaffed police forc—”
“Could someone please turn that ridiculous shite off?” James growls, interrupting the newscast.
"What’s crawled up your arse, James?” Michael asks, brows raised in surprise.
“Piss off, Fassbender!” James snaps, flushing when he realizes all of his co-stars are staring at him. Embarrassed, he mutters, “Sorry, Michael. It just irritates the fuck out of me to see people mooning, all cow-eyed over some wee bastard prancing about playing super-hero!”
Jennifer, Anna, and Ellen all speak up in protest:
“Amore` is a hero!” Jennifer huffs indignantly.
“That’s right!” Anna seconds. “He risked his life to save that girl!”
“And people moon at him because he’s sexy as hell!” Ellen interjects. Complete silence and confused blinking from the others. “What!?” she glares. “I still know a sexy man when I see one!”
More blinking, then everyone shrugs, seemingly satisfied with that answer.
“Well, I think Amore` is awesome!” Jennifer gushes. “I mean, think about it—a real-life super-hero! He’s so brave. And, God, he’s so hot! I would love to be rescued by him! And, oh baby, I would thank him so hard!” If her waggling eyebrows and lascivious grin, weren’t enough to relay her meaning, the ass-slapping motions and growled, “Who’s your daddy?” leave no questions.
Though everyone is laughing uproariously at Jennifer’s antics, Michael notices that James is unusually quiet. Strange, because when it comes to raunchy humor, James is usually laughing harder than anyone. This time, he just looks uncomfortable and mildly embarrassed. Michael knew that James hasn’t been quite himself lately, but it suddenly hits him just how truly tired the other man looks. He’s even paler than usual and has dark circles under his eyes.
In retrospect, Michael shouldn’t be surprised. “He looks fucking exhausted—no wonder he’s so irritable! The divorce must be even harder on him than I thought. It can't have helped that I’ve not been a very good friend,” Michael thinks, feeling guilty. He feels even guiltier when he thinks of why he hasn’t spent more time with James, as of late. He cringes inside, imagining that conversation:
"Terribly sorry to hear about your impending divorce, old buddy, old pal, old friend of mine! There, there, now—don’t you worry, Michael will shag it all better. Oh, dear me, I never mentioned that I’ve been dying to get in your pants for ages?! How thoughtless!” Even as he mentally cringes, he can’t help but snicker to himself, imagining the look of horror on James’s expressive face. “Oh, yes, James, been absolutely gagging for it, you delicious little bite of shortbread! Ooh, and then we’ll cuddle afterwards...and get married and adopt babies, and puppies, and kittens, and live happily ever after—and you’ll forget you ever loved anyone but me.” God, I’m pathetic. Michael manages to pull himself together and heads out with the others to begin the day’s filming.
As the day wears on, Michael gains a whole new appreciation for James’s acting abilities. For a split second, when he'd thought no one was looking, James had let the mask drop and Michael saw that James wasn’t merely tired—he was exhausted to the point of being ill. His complexion wasn’t just pale, it was ashen, and his hands were trembling. Before, Michael had just been a little concerned—now, he’s really worried because he can see how much effort James is putting into just getting through the day.
Finally, the last shot of the day is done, and everyone heads back to their hotel so they can rest up for the next day of filming. Michael follows after James, determined to find out what’s up with him.
“James! Wait up!”
“You want to get a drink before we turn in for the night? We’ve not gotten to hang out much lately and, well...don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like shit. You look like you could really use a drink.” Michael shuffles awkwardly at James’s look and rubs the back of his neck. “Erm, you know, to help you relax and get some sleep, mate. You look done in.”
“I’m fine, Michael.” James answers flatly.
“Don’t lie to me, mate. You look ready to keel over. When was the last time you slept?”
“I told you, I’m fine.” James turns his back on Michael and starts walking.
“You’ve been faking it pretty well, James, but I saw you earlier—how you looked when you thought no one was paying attention. It really scared me. You’re my friend and I’m worried about you.”
James’s shoulders slump and he turns around, this time not trying to hide his exhaustion. “You’re right, I am done in. I’m sorry I’ve been such an arse lately, Michael. I—I’ve just been having some trouble sleeping, is all, and it’s got me a bit off my game. I’d love to get a drink with you, but I need to crash and get a full night’s rest.” He gives Michael a tired, but genuine-looking smile.
Though still worried, Michael feels a bit of relief at seeing that smile. “Well, if you’re sure, then...?
“I’ve missed hanging out with you and all, Michael, but I’ve got to sleep—I don’t think my body’s going to give me a choice tonight. But I promise, we’ll get that drink tomorrow and catch up with each other.”
“Sounds good,” Michael grins at him. “I’ve missed hanging out with you, too, James. This shoot hasn’t been nearly as much fun without you. So...drinks tomorrow?"
“I promise. Drinks tomorrow. Now, I’m going to get that much needed rest.” They part ways at James’s room, with plans to meet up after the shoot tomorrow. Michael decides to get a head-start, and enjoy a drink tonight. He feels much better hearing James say that he is going to rest up proper the night. That’s why Michael is so surprised when a short time later, from his vantage point at the bar, he spots a black-clad James slip out of the hotel’s side entrance...
Michael’s dying to follow and find out why James isn’t getting that rest he so desperately needed. But at the same time, he’d be mortified to be caught in stalker-mode, only to discover that James had only run out for a pack of smokes or something silly like that. But really, James shouldn’t be out wandering around by himself at night, especially as tired as he is—whatever else is going on, Michael knew James hadn’t been faking that bone-deep exhaustion. What if someone attacked him? It’s not like he could count on Amore` to show up and save the day, Michael snorts to himself. Decision made, he pays for his drink and slips out into the falling twilight...
Chapter 2: The Greatest American (?) Hero
Michael decides to follow James, but ends up having an unexpected encounter and Amore` comes to Michael's aide. Michael, being Michael puts his foot in it. Then he gets the biggest shock of the night (maybe of his life).
Edited to add: Trigger Warning for a tiny bit of homophobic language in this chapter.
Outside, Michael quickly scans the darkened alley, but James is already gone.
“I didn’t think I’d taken that long to get out here,” Michael muses. “Hmmm...Perhaps he was going for smokes. I can’t think of much else that would motivate him to move that fast.”
And now that he’s thinking of it, a pack of smokes does sound just the thing. He could wait at the hotel for James to get back then borrow from him, but he doesn’t want to seem like a stalker (nor does he want to wait that long for a smoke). Remembering that there’s a market a just a few block from the hotel, Michael decides to walk on over. He’ll get his cigarettes and have the perfect excuse for when he ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ runs into James. Perfection!
Picking his way down the dark and smelly alley is seeming less and less like a good idea with every squishy step, but Michael has never been one to let a minor detail like a bad idea stop him. All the same, he’s glad when he finally makes it to the dubious safety of the lit, though empty street. Damn! Still no sign of James. “Where could he have gone!?” Oh, well. At least Michael will soon have some cigarettes to console him.
Continuing on, it turns out the store is further away than he’d remembered. Ready for that hit of nicotine, Michael is crushed when he arrives at the store to find the windows dark. “Dammit!” he snarls. The bloody store was closed! It’s all he can do to not stomp his foot like an overgrown child. He huffs and stalks back toward the hotel, incensed that he’d walked all that way in the almost-dark for nothing. No cigarettes. And worse, no James. Where the fuck could he have gone?!
In spite of how much ground his long legs can cover, it seems to Michael that it’s taking an awfully long time to get back to the hotel and he’s growing a bit uneasy now. He can’t see any other pedestrians about, and there is only the occasional passing car to give any illusion of life to the empty streets...oh, and the footsteps of the two guys who just stepped out of the alley behind him.
Hoping against hope that they’re not going to cause him trouble, Michael continues walking (“Don’t look like a victim. Don’t look like a victim...”). But, sure enough, just as they near the next alley, they start closing in on him, their clearly-scripted routine, so cliche` that Michael has to roll his eyes in disgust, even as he knows he’s about to be robbed.
“Hey, man. That dude’s wearing an bad-ass jacket. Bet that cost some change.”
“Yeah, looks that guy might have some money on him.”
“You think, so?”
“Oh, yeah. Why don’t we ask him?”
There is a slight pause in the conversation (Michael has brief image of their starving brain cells screaming out for oxygen), then: “Hey, buddy, nice jacket. How’d you afford something like that?”
Michael ignores him and keeps walking.
“Hey! You deaf, man!? My friend just asked you a question!” They’re getting closer now. “He wants to know if you got any money on you!”
Michael’s already pissed off and just wants to get back to the hotel and go to bed—he doesn’t have the patience for this juvenile shit. He whips around and snaps: “Piss off, you fucking arseholes! Get the fuck away from me!”
Jerk 1 turns to Jerk 2 and asks in outrage, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what this faggy-sounding foreigner just said to us?”
“Yeah, I heard it! I just don’t believe he was dumb enough to say it!” Jerk 2 answers.
Regretting the words even as they come out of his mouth, Michael snarks, “I have a hard time believing this whole conversation! The least you could do it try to be a little original.”
The two thugs exchange a vicious look, and the previously ridiculous situation becomes lot less funny when he sees that they’ve flanked him and are trying to corral him into the alley. Realizing that he’s made a huge mistake in confronting them, Michael tries to run for it, but stops short when Jerk 1 suddenly pulls out a knife.
“Not such a smart-ass little faggot now, are you?” he says, grinning along with Jerk 2 at the way Michael pales.
“You, know,” Jerk 2 says, giving Michael a wink and a sickening leer, “we were just gonna take your money. Maybe rough you up a little. But since you decided to give us lip, we’re gonna really make you pay now.”
The two men have forced him back into the alley. Now, they’ve got him trapped and he’s lost his chance to get away. Really, properly scared now, he’s starting to think that he’ll be lucky to come of this with only a serious beating. As he’s psyching himself up for what’s to come, he sees a figure suddenly appear at the entrance to the alley. With the moon behind the clouds, it’s too dark for Michael to see anything about the silently-approaching figure but a general outline. Is the person friend or foe? With his luck so far, Michael doesn’t bank on the odds being in his favor.
As the mysterious figure continues to sneak up on them, Michael tries to play it cool and not alert his would-be attackers to the other’s presence. But when the clouds break and a sliver of moonlight cuts across the figure, briefly illuminating the black mask covering most of the man’s face, Michael barely manages to stifle his gasp of shock. Amore`!
Catching Michael's eye, Amore` puts a finger to his lips in a shushing motion as he sneaks up behind Jerk 2 and taps him on the shoulder. Jerk 2 turns around in surprise, and Amore` opens his clenched fist, blowing some kind of powder (‘Glitter!?’, Pixie-dust?!’) into his eyes. When Jerk 2 clutches at his face, Amore` follows with a solid hook punch to the jaw and Jerk 2 sags to the ground, unconscious.
Occupied with Jerk 2, Amore` hasn’t noticed that Jerk 1 has circled around behind him, knife raised. Michael looks up just in time to see the knife ready to come down and shouts, “Behind you!”
In one smooth motion, Amore` spins and blocks Jerk 1's arm, grabbing his knife hand, twisting his wrist to make him drop the knife, then he drops to one knee, his free hand driving into Jerk 1's groin with an uppercut so vicious that Michael winces in sympathy. When Jerk 1 doubles over, gagging, Amore` smoothly dodges out of the way and stands, bringing his other fist down on the base of Jerk 1's neck, rendering him as unconscious as his buddy, Jerk 2.
Michael just stands there, gaping like a fish, unable to believe what he’d just witnessed. “Holy shit!” he breathes. “That was fucking incredible!”
Amore’ looks up at Michael, “Are you hurt?”
Still stunned, Michael repeats: “Holy shit! That was fucking incredible!”
Amore` asks again, sounding more concerned, “Are you alright? Did they hurt you?”
Michael finally manages to answer, “Er...yes, yes...I’m mean, no! Er, yes! I’m alright, that is—you stopped them before they could harm me. Thank you! You saved my life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you for that.”
“You’re welcome,” the masked vigilante replies. “But you saved mine, too, so I guess we’re even. Now you need to call the police and report this.” He gestures at the unconscious thugs.
Michael’s strangely disappointed that a hero with a name like Amore` doesn’t have some kind of sexy accent—anything but the flat American accent with which he was addressing Michael. He doesn’t realize that he’d said it out loud, until he hears an annoyed:
“Sorry to disappoint you. And for the record, the press came up with that stupid name, not me.”
“Sorry,” Michael says, embarrassed. “I think I might be in shock.” As if to prove his point, his mouth continues running, “I did think you’d be taller, though. But it’s ok,” he adds hurriedly, when Amore`s mouth drops open in offense. “Er...I mean, there’s nothing wrong with your height...er...Oh, Jesus Christ! I’m sorry...,” he trails off awkwardly.
Though the man’s face is mostly covered, Michael doesn’t have any trouble imagining the pissed off expression under the mask. But it was true–-actually, it was more than OK. Now that the moon was fully out, Michael was able to get a decent look at his rescuer, and in his opinion, the man was the perfect height, and build. Michael’s gay-dar was pinging hard. The tight black outfit (which Michael’s still-addled brain had already dubbed ‘Magneto Chic’) showed off Amore`s lean body perfectly. And though he knows it’s just his adrenalin-fueled imagination going into overdrive, Michael somehow knew that the man’s face would be gorgeous—even though the only bit of skin exposed was the lower third of his face and jaw and a small strip of pale skin at the back of his neck, where the edge of his black knit watch cap met the top of his turtleneck.
Michael only realizes that he’s been staring when he hears a put-upon sigh and a slightly exasperated, “Would you like a picture? It’ll last longer, and give you more time to figure out what else about me you can insult.”
“Oh, my God, I’m sorry. Really, I didn’t mean to insult you...you’re gorg...er...” thoroughly embarrassed, Michael runs his hands through his hair. “Look, this is a lot to take in. It’s not every day that a super-hero swoops in and rescues me from being robbed and possibly murdered.” He makes a weak attempt at a charming smile, “You’re not exactly catching me at my best.”
He glares at Amore`s snorted, “I should hope not.”
Looking serious now, Amore` tells him again, “Look, you need to call the police before those two idiots come-to. I recognize who you are and that you probably don’t want the press to get wind of this-–for that matter, neither do I—but those two need to be in jail where they can’t hurt anyone else.”
“I know, and I’m calling now,” Michael says, pulling out his mobile and dialing. He tells the police dispatcher what happened, and she assures him that the police are on their way. After, he tells Amore`, sincerely, “Thank you, again, for saving me.”
Amore` smiles at him (Michael’s knees go a little funny—there’s something about that smile...), “And, again, thank you for saving me. I’ve waited with you as long as I can, but I have to go now. I can’t be here when the police arrive.” He turns and walks toward the street.
Proving that he’s completely lost his mind, Michael calls after him, “What, no kiss?”
Amore` stops and turns back toward Michael, surprised. “Huh?”
“Everyone else gets their hand kissed, Amore`. I’m feeling kind of cheated out of the whole ‘super-hero experience’.”
Amore` smirks at him, “‘Everyone else’ somehow managed to not insult me multiple times within one sentence, either. But if it really means that much to you...”
He comes over, takes Michael’s hand, and bends his head to lay a soft kiss across his knuckles. Michael catches a glint of a strangely familiar blue through the eye slits of the mask, then looks down at Amore`s bent head and sees a lock of wavy chestnut hair which has escaped the confines of the watch cap. Suddenly, Michael can’t breathe. No...It can’t be...
Amore` looks up at him, mouth quirked up in a smile, “Satisfied now?”
Fortunately, the faint sound of sirens save Michael from having to speak.
Amore`s head whips around in panic. “I have to go!” he shouts.
And just like that he was gone, running into the night, leaving no trace of his presence but the echo of his rapidly fading boot falls.
As for Michael...If he hadn’t been sure before, he was now. Just as Amore` had turned to run, a breeze had kicked up and Michael had caught the unmistakable combination of gingerbread and apples. Only one person in the world smelled like that. Michael leans against the wall of the alley in shock: “ James!”
Chapter 3: He Who Controls the (Pumpkin) Spice
Picks up immediately after the last chapter: Amore` comes to Michael's aide. Michael puts his foot in it. Then he gets the biggest shock of the night (maybe of his life).
After talking with the police (who agree to keep the incident out of the press as long as they can), Michael finally makes it back to his hotel. It’s still fairly early (all things considered), but he doesn’t try to confront James—not yet, anyway. That will have to wait until he gets his head wrapped around it all. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to sleep, but to his surprise, by the time he gets to his suite, he can barely put one foot in front of the other and it’s all he can do to make it to the bed before collapsing into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning, his alarm goes off, and he wakes, groggy and confused. That was such a strange dream. Why am I still wearing my clothes? What did I...his inner dialogue trails off and he bolts upright. “Holy shit!” (his new catch-phrase, apparently). “Holy shit! That really happened! James is Amore`!”
Still trying to make sense of it, he takes a quick shower and dresses—he’s got an errand to run before he meets everyone (meaning James) for breakfast. That conversation with James is going to be difficult at best and Michael is going to have to play dirty to get James to talk.
An hour later...
Armed with his bribe, Michael walks into the lounge and spots his target: a rumpled, sleep-pink, utterly adorable-looking James slumped over on one of the tables. He’s, barely awake, blue eyes heavy-lidded and blinking sleepily. Michael has to fight not to vocalize his inner “Awww!!!”.
But at least he’s not the only one affected. All of the girls whispering, cooing, and giggling over how cute and adorable James looks. “Ohhh, I just wanna cuddle him so hard right now!” Jennifer moans, eye-fucking James–-completely missing Michael’s glare.
“Oh, I know what you mean!” Anna says. “He is just the sweetest-looking thing! I just wanna roll around on him!” She misses Michael’s glare, as well.
“I want to rub his belly and make him purr, so bad!” Ellen says. *crickets* “What!?” she snaps. “That,” she points at the now-sleeping James, “is a boatload of adorable sexiness, pure and simple—even if he is a man!”
Jennifer, Anna, and Michael all shrug and nod in agreement.
“Morning, everyone!” Hugh sing-songs, as he walks in, waving. He stops short when he sees James, and grins (‘One of these days, he thinks,his grin turning ever so slightly evil, ‘Michael will figure out that he’s not nearly so subtle as he likes to think’).
“Oh, look! Isn’t he precious!?” he coos, ruffling James’s hair. James makes a contented rumbling noise, then sighs happily. All of the girls coo and giggle some more.
Jennifer gives Michael a strange look. “Are you growling?”
“What!? No! Of course not!” Michael lies. “Why would I do that? Ha ha. Ha.” Please, kill me now...
Jennifer edges away from him. “Sure, Mickey Mouse. Whatever you say. ‘Ha ha. Ha’.” She shoots him a suspicious, narrow-eyed look over her shoulder as she heads back over to the girls.
‘Jesus, Michael! Could you be any more of an idiot?’ he thinks to himself. Then, remembering his plan, he checks the bribes. Yep, still hot. Good.
Michael stands across from the now-napping James and holds a steaming cup by his nose. James grumbles a bit, his nostrils quiver and then his nose begins to twitch as he breathes in the aroma wafting up from the streaming cup. He makes a soft whimpering noise, his lashes flutter, and one bleary blue eye slowly opens. “Mmmrrmmuuphhhh...” he mumbles, the hand not flung across the table unwinds itself from his jumper and snakes out, making grabby motions in the direction of the tantalizing aroma.
Hardening his heart against what he’s about to do, Michael holds the still-steaming cup of Pumpkin Spice Latte just out James’s reach. When Michael doesn’t hand it to him, James frowns. Then frown turns into a scowl, his eyes ferally tracking the movements of the cup. Suddenly, he growls low in his throat and lunges. "No!” Michael snaps, jerking cup out of reach. James growls in protest, but sinks back into his seat, slouching down, eyes never leaving the cup (‘If he had a tail it’d be lashing right now’).
Holding the cup close enough for James to smell, but not touch, Michael says, “Not until you agree to talk. Then you can have this...” he waves the cup at James. “Or...I can always drink it myself...”
James whimpers pitifully and makes grabby hands.
“So you agree to talk?” Michael asks. James nods. “About last night...?” Michael clarifies. James glares at him, but reluctantly nods. And still looking slightly feral, James snatches the cup out of Michael’s hand, rips off the lid, and guzzles down the contents in just a few swallows. Michael is both shocked and impressed. “Holy shit!” he says.
Sated, James rests his face on now-empty the cup and makes contented little noises as he breathes in the remnants of the redolent Pumpkin Spice scent.
“So,” Michael starts, “Last night. That was you...? Wasn’t it?”
James mumbles something unintelligible, nose still buried in his cup.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Michael rolls his eyes in disgust. “I see how it’s going to be: I didn’t specify that you had to talk so that I could understand you...” He can feel the waves of contented smugness coming from James. “Well, that’s alright, Smarty-pants, two can play at that game.”
With an evil grin, Michael pulls out the second Pumpkin Spice Latte from where he had it concealed under the table. “Such a shame, you don’t want to play nice, James.”
James makes kitten eyes and whimpers.
“Mmmm....” Michael makes a show of breathing in the fragrance, trying not to gag (he hates the stuff). "I was saving this for you, for later, but there’s no point in it now.” More whimpering from James. “Sorry, my friend," Michael says, "but I don’t reward bad behavior. Something you might want to keep in mind, James.” The look of interest he gets from James this time is one he’s only seen in his dreams and fantasies.
James mumbles something that sounds like, “Alright! I’ll talk, damn you!”
“That’s not a very nice way to speak to me, now, is it?” Michael pretends to take a sip of the disgusting drink, and listens as James makes a mournful, shattered whine of protest.
“No! Mine! I’ll talk!” James makes with the grabby hands again.
Michael slowly pushes the cup toward him. “NO!” he admonishes, when James grabs at the cup and attempts to rip off the lid again. “No, James! Use the sippy lid!”
Still looking very much like a pissed off cat, James growls a bit but complies reluctantly, taking an exaggeratedly polite sip of his latte–-his expression melting into one of intense pleasure at the taste. His hand stealthily creeps toward the lid...“No, James! Leave it on!” the hand creeps back down and wraps around the cup, cradling it.
A few sips later (and looking a bit more like himself now), James sets the mostly empty cup on the table, sighs deeply, and looks at Michael. “Yeah. Yeah, it was me.”
Even though Michael already knew the truth, hearing it come out of James’s own mouth was still a shock. “I promised that we would hang out tonight. And we will. I promise to explain everything.” James gives a tired smile, “I’ve been getting tired of keeping it all inside, anyway. But there’s no time right now. We have to get to the set.” James nods over toward the door. “Everyone’s waiting for us.”
“We’ll finish our talk tonight?”
Chapter 4: Can We Talk...?
After getting yelled at on set, James tries, yet again, to weasel out of his promise. It doesn't work.
On the set, Bryan throws his hands up in the air and shouts, “CUT!!! Fucking CUT!!!” He scrubs his hands over his face, then he glares at the offending parties. “Dammit, Michael! What is wrong with you today!? We’ve been filming since the crack of dawn and I’ve yet to get a usable shot out of you!”
As Michael squirms and hangs his head in shame, Bryan turns his ire upon James. “And you!” he points an accusing finger. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’ve been trying out a spot on The Walking Dead...as an EXTRA!!” He rakes his scornful, wrath-filled gaze over them both. “Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, BIFAs, fucking SHAKESPEARE for fuck’s sake and I can’t get a decent performance out of either of you!!” By now, a vein is throbbing in Bryan’s forehead, and he rubs wearily at his temples.
“Bry–” James begins, but is cut off.
“Get the fuck out of my sight! Both of you! Come back when you can remember how to ACT!” He turns his back on them to address everyone, “Go! All of you! Get out!! Comeback tomorrow and we’ll try to salvage something out of this disaster!” As everyone shuffles off the set, shooting glares at James and Michael for the added extra day of filming, Bryan turns back to them, growling out, “Whatever is going on with you two, use the time off to get it fixed. Understood?”
Michael doesn’t speak, just nods, but James still tries to placate Bryan. It doesn’t work. “James, you look like hell, and don’t give me some bullshit story about a sleepless night—you look on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A stiff breeze could blow you over.” Bryan's gaze softens a bit and he squeezes James’s shoulder, adding quietly, “You’re a good man, and I’m sorry as hell that your personal life is shit right now, but I have a movie to film and I need you to be a professional.”
James looks away, shamefaced, and nods.
Then Bryan turns to Michael, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but your concentration is completely shot—if I can’t get you to focus, I can’t the performance out of you that I need.” He looks at them both, “Now, while I’m getting my ass reamed by the studio for being behind a day of filming, go do whatever it is you need to do to get your heads straight. Get drunk, get laid, go to confession—all of the above...I don’t care, as long as it does the job and you’re back here in the morning, ready to work.”
On the ride back to their hotel, James doesn’t say a word, just stares blankly out of the window at the passing scenery. Michael can feel James withdrawing into himself, so he’s ready—and right on James’s heels—when James suddenly tries to slip in his suite and lock Michael out.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Michael growls, forcing his way inside while James attempts to shoulder him back out into the hall. “You made a promise and I’m not letting you sneak off again!”
James glares at him, cheeks red with anger. “I said that I would talk to you tonight. This ain’t tonight, so bugger off! You’re no’ me fuckin’ Mam, Fassy!”
Michael snorts derisively (noting the way James’s accent gets stronger when he’s mad), “Yeah, right! And the moment you’re alone, you’ll be out the door and gone for the night. Then tomorrow you’ll be all big eyes and apologies—and more false promises. That’s if you haven’t killed yourself from exhaustion.” Michael’s gaze sharpens and he asks, “Is that what you’re trying to do, James? Kill yourself? Run about playing super-hero, hoping that you’ll finally meet up with someone who’ll do to you what you can’t do yourself?”
“God, no!” James yells, horrified.
Michael is weak with relief at James’s instant and vehement response. “Thank God!” He’d been worried—no, terrified—that James would look up at him, those beautiful eyes full shame and self-hatred, and say that he wanted to die. It was going to be okay now, Michael knew. Whatever was driving James to do what he was doing, they could work through it.
He thinks that James can see some that in his face, because the other man’s whole body posture changes. James lets out a deep sigh, so deep it like it’s coming from his very soul, and some great tension that’s been squeezing the life out of him is suddenly gone. He sways on his feet a bit and flops down on the sofa, leaning forward and rests his elbows on his knees. James looks up at Michael and smiles, just a little—but the smile is James, not the stranger that he’s been the last couple of months.
“Order us some room service, laddie," James tells him. "Oh, and loads of booze. This story is gonna take a while.”
Chapter 5: A Little Liquid Courage Goes a Long Way
Michael gets James to talk, but it isn't quite what he was expecting. What he does find out, is that James is a horny, toppy drunk and a master of deflection.
But Michael is onto him now.
This chapter is a little more angsty and porny than the others, so forgive me as I can't write (good) porn. And even though in my story they are separated, James and Anne-Marie are an adorable couple and absolutely perfect for each other, and I wish them a long and happy life together.
“SO...where do I start?”
James is staring down into the shot-glass of whisky cradled in his hands, like the amber liquid is going to answer the question for him. Michael gnaws on his pizza crust and just waits, giving him time. Finally, James drinks his shot and sighs, slumping back against the sofa.
He looks at Michael for a second, then his eyes drift, taking on a far-away look. “It all came about because of the divorce,” James says, his voice quiet, more talking to himself than to Michael. Then he laughs bitterly, “It all came about because of the divorce. Well, that wasn't such a long story, after all, I suppose.” He holds his glass out to Michael. “How about another shot?”
Michael continues gnawing on his pizza crust and just looks at him. James snorts and grabs the whisky out of Michael’s hand and takes a swig from the bottle. “I suppose it’s the long, complicated version of the story you’ll be wanting, then?” He up-ends the bottle. “Well, that’s going to require more alcohol, you see? Much more alcohol.” He takes another long swallow and hands the bottle off to Michael. “Here. You’re gonna probably gonna need a drink yourself. After all, you figure into all of this, too.”
“Me?!” Michael says, surprised. “What are you on about, James?!”
James gives Michael a look he’s not sure how to interpret. “You really don’t know, do you?” Another of those bitter-sounding laughs. “Well. I’ve not been giving myself enough credit as an actor, it seems.”
“I don’t understand you, James! What are you talking about?”
James rolls his eyes in disgust, snatches the bottle back, and takes another gulp. “If you’re not gonna make use of this, then I fucking well am! Now, sit back and keep your mouth shut, Fassy. You want to hear the whole sordid, fucking story? Fine.” He waves the bottle whisky at Michael. “I’ll tell all. But I’m only telling once, so don’t interrupt me with any stupid questions. If you miss anything because you’re running your yap, too bad. I won’t go over it again. Are we clear?”
Michael nods in agreement and makes himself comfortable on the floor, pulling his legs up and resting his chin on his knees. James takes another drink of whisky, and curls up in the corner of the sofa, and begins. Well, first he takes another drink, sighs deeply, then he begins:
“Like I told you earlier, it all came about because of the divorce. More accurately, it call came to fruition because of the divorce, or the aftermath, rather. To say that it’s been difficult—on both of us–-would be a bit of an understatement.” James takes another drink. “You see, Anne has been my best friend since the moment we met. I’d never felt so comfortable with someone before, so in tune with another person. I knew that it had to be love. What else could it be? She’s kind and beautiful and I loved listening to her talk and I was truly was interested in everything she had to say. We meshed so well, it only seemed natural that we should make a life together. I was so happy when we got married. And when she told me she was pregnant with Brendan, I was absolutely thrilled, Michael. The day he was born, I don’t think I've ever been happier in my whole life.”
“There’s only ever been one problem in our marriage.” His face turning pink, James picks at the label on the whisky bottle as he continues, “And so what, if I wasn't quite as interested in sex as she, and preferred to just talk to her for hours, instead? It’s not that I didn't like having sex with her, I did.” He gives Michael a fierce look, as if daring the other man to deny it. “I did. It’s...it’s just...it’s just that she was always the one to initiate it. It just wasn't that big a priority to me—it’s never been, not with anyone. Why should sex matter so much? Passion and desire are over-rated! It doesn’t last anyway, does it?” He looks up at Michael, anguished. “Eventually you get old and sex doesn’t matter anymore, right? Being able to just be together is what’s important, isn't it? It’s having someone to talk to, to grow old with that matters! I love her so much, and everything else between us was perfect. Why couldn't that be enough for her?!” James hangs his head, and whispers, “Why couldn't it be enough for me? Why is it that I've never had the desire to just fuck her?”
The way he growls out ‘fuck’ makes Michael break out in shivers.
Then James gives him that anguished look again. “What’s wrong with me, Michael, that I don’t care to make love to my wife?” Michael is startled when James jumps to his feet, swaying a bit, and points at him, shouting, “This is all your fault! That’s right!” he slurs, sticking his finger in Michael’s shocked face. “Oh, don’t sit there an pretend like you don’t know what I’m on about! You’re not that good an actor!”
Michael is flabbergasted. “J-James!”
“Don’t interrupt me, I told you!” James falls to his knees (or collapses, it’s even odds at this point) in front of Michael. “I was perfectly fine to go along pretending that it didn't matter. I could have had a happy...a content...life with Anne and eventually everything would have evened out. But, noooo,” he places his hands on Michael’s knees and leans in, staring into his eyes. “Oh, no. You had to come along. You.” He creeps ever closer. “You, with your perfect jaw, and your eyes,” he’s practically in an astonished Michael’s lap now, slowly pushing him backwards, sliding his hand under Michael’s t-shirt, “and your perfect abs and that smile.” James groans and rolls hips against Michael. “Do you feel what you do to me?”
Oh, yeah. Michael can feel, alright. He feels like he just wandered onto the set of a cheesy, but really, really awesome porno. The part of Michael that is an utter bastard wants to fuck James right here on the floor of the hotel suite. The decent part of him...well, that part of him also wants to fuck James right here on the floor of the hotel suite, but thinks it would be more romantic to do it on the sofa. It doesn’t help that James still has a hand under his shirt and now is nuzzling and kissing his neck, too. He’s drunk. He’s drunk. Remember, Michael, he’s drunk.
“You make me feel like I’m burning up from the inside out,” James whispers. Then he does a slow grind against Michael’s hips, and growls, “I want you more than I ever wanted my wife. I never felt like this with her! With anyone! I want to fuck you. I want to know what it’s like to be inside you.” He kisses Michael’s neck again, and moans, “Suck my cock, Michael.”
'Oh my God! The shit he’s saying ! This is better than anything I've fantasized!’ Michael is rapidly losing his battle to not take advantage of James’s drunken state. ‘Holy fuck, he’s a bossy little thing! I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out,’ Michael thinks desperately. He’s already slid his arms around James’s waist without even thinking. “James—”
“That’s it!” James moans. “Say my name!” James is kissing his way along Michael’s jaw and his hips are rolling smoothly and steadily against Michael’s. "Say my fucking name again!” he growls. “I want to hear you say it!” James is still grinding on him breathing filthy words into his ear and Michael is close to the breaking point. If James had come onto him like this sober, it would all be over but the after-glow. It has to be obvious to James that, in addition to sporting a rock-hard erection of his own, Michael hasn't exactly been fighting him off. He’s wanted this for so long, it’s all he can do to keep from coming in his pants. The only thing keeping his clothes on is that James is so drunk. He doesn’t want to take advantage of his friend, then in the morning see those beautiful blue eyes looking at him with shame or hatred. He has no clue how to handle this.
“...so fucking sexy,” James is moaning softly into Michael’s neck. “So fucking...hot. So. Fuck...ing...ZZzzzzzz...” his body slumps against Michael’s. "ZZzzzzzzzzzzzz...ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz..."
“Well,” Michael huffs out a laugh, and let his head thumps back on the carpet, not sure whether to be pissed or grateful. “That’s one problem solved.”
"Alright, now James. Up you get. Let’s get you into bed, so you can sleep this off.” After indulging a moment of guilty pleasure at having James draped over him, Michael finally sets about heaving him off and maneuvering him into a sitting position. He's not having much luck.
“Jesus fucking Christ, James! How could you be so fucking heavy!?” Michael pants, as James slides out of his arms for the nth time. “Here I was thinking you were looking a bit thin, but now I do believe you could stand to lose a couple of stone! You’re like a boneless chicken!” Finally, he gets James propped up against the sofa and is able to get him over his shoulder in sort of a modified fireman’s carry and manages to stagger with him to the bedroom. Michael is very proud of himself for not copping a feel of James’s arse (which would have been perfectly justifiable, all things considered) as it was right there and looked just like it was made for Michael’s hands. He winces, feeling a little guilty when he drops James on the bed and sees how hard he bounces. ‘But he is much heavier than he looks,’ Michael placates himself, ‘It could have been worse.’
He shoves James over to the edge of the bed and rolls him onto his side, in case he gets sick. For some extra insurance, he grabs the rubbish-bin and places next to the bed by James’s head. Then Michael climbs in next to him and pulls him close to keep watch while he’s passed out.
"SSnnnZZZzzzzz...Snnnzzzz...ZZZzzzzz..." James snores.
Jesus. Stifling a laugh, Michael looks down at the top of James’s head where it’s resting against his chest, and drops a soft kiss on his hair, whispering, “You may be adorable as fuck, but don’t think for a second, you sneaky little bastard, that this is going to get you out of telling me how you became Amore`.”
Chapter 6: Another Step Closer to the Truth...
James is passed out. Michael engages him in a bit of light one-sided banter. Then he engages in some two-sided bantering.
Michael's conversation with the snoozing James is inspired by a scene in 'After the Thin Man', in which Nick Charles is having a similar conversation with his wife's elderly relatives. If you've not seen The Thin Man movies, I highly recommend them--they're awesome.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings James, but I think there might be more than one reason for your divorce." Michael has been listening to James snore for the last two hours and is, understandably, growing a bit weary of having his eardrums assaulted. "You know, you really should have those adenoids looked at, mate. I think you may have a medical condition.”
“Snnnzzzz...SSNNNzzZZzzz...zzzzzzzz...” James snuffles in response.
“I’m so glad you agree,” Michael says.
“You really think so? I never heard it put quite that way before.”
“That’s fascinating, James!”
“You know, I never knew you were such a stimulating conversationalist!” Michael says. “And here, I thought you were just another pretty face!”
“Hhhnnnggghhhh...” James groans, then croaks out, “I fucking hate you."
“Oh my! It lives!” Michael grins.
“Don’t fucking shout at me!”
“Poor baby! Does your head hurt?” Michael coos in mock-sympathy.
“Stop yelling at me, for God’s sake!” James whimpers, and tries to burrow into Michael’s armpit.
The one upside to having his eardrums battered by James’s snores was that James is apparently a cuddler and, in his sleep, had squirmed about until he was wrapped around Michael like an octopus with separation-anxiety. Michael had particularly enjoyed the squirming. He would have felt guilty for that, but after a few minutes of putting up that god-awful snoring, he’d decided to consider it justifiable compensation for his suffering.
“What fucking happened?” James moans. Cautiously cracking open a bleary, bloodshot blue eye, he looks around, then follows with a slightly panicked, “Er...Michael? Why are we in bed together?”
Michael’s grin is pure evil. Oh, this was going to be fun. Michael gives James a hurt look. “You don’t remember?” he whispers, sounding shattered. “You gave me the most beautiful experience of my life, and you don’t even have the decency to remember it?!”
James’s horrified eyes are nearly bulging out of his skull and he looks ready to have a stroke. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Michael, what did I do?!”
Michael somehow manages to disguise his laughter as sobbing. “You were so forceful, yet so tender. No one’s ever made love to me like that before. It was so beautiful, James.” The look of horror (mingled with pride) on James’s face is absolutely priceless. Michael can’t hold back his laughter any longer and he whacks James with a pillow. “James, I’m just fucking with you!”
“So I didn't...?” James looks both comically relieved and crushingly disappointed. Michael whacks him again with the pillow. “You're still dressed, you dumb twat! I assure you, my virtue is intact.” Only because you passed out, though. “You’d started telling me how you came to be Amore`, but you drank most of a fifth of whisky, got completely legless, then passed out drunk.” Giving James a sour look, he adds, “I nearly threw my back out, carrying your fat arse in here.”
“‘M not fat, you bastard!” James mumbles, having burrowed back into the pillows.
“Tell that to my back. Anyway, I dumped you on the bed and stayed to watch over you in case you got sick, so you wouldn't choke or anything.”
“Well, um, thank you for that, at least.”
“Though, if I’d known you snored like that,” Michael continues, “I’d have watched from the other room. As it is, I’m not sure my eardrums will ever recover.”
James raises his head long enough to roll his eyes at Michael. “What fuck did you expect to hear, Fassy? Pachabel’s Canon? I mean, you have seen my nose, right?”
Your adorable, freckled nose that just begs to be kissed? “Well, yes, but I wasn't quite expecting you to sound like a twin-engine jet!”
A pale, freckled arm emerges from the nest of pillows to give Michael the finger. “Piss off! Now go away and let me sleep!”
Michael has had enough. Ignoring James’s protests, he starts chucking pillows off the bed, digging James out from his little nest. “Oh no! Oh no, you don’t! I've let you get by long enough with evading my questions and trying to weasel out of your promise. You’re going to finish telling me about Amore`, whether you like it or not!” He meets James’s stony, mulish expression with one of his own. “You’re gonna talk, so deal with it. The sooner you ‘fess up, the sooner I’ll let you sleep.”
Looking sulky, James reluctantly nods. But when Michael helps him up, James leaps out of the bed and makes for the door, trying to escape. Michael had been expecting something like this. But even though he was ready for it, he barely manages to get his arms around James’s legs to tackle him to the ground. Michael is not a small man, but he has to literally sit on James’s back to keep him down. My God, he’s so fast and strong!
“Stop fighting me, James!”
“Let me go, you motherfucker! Get off me!!”
“Stop fighting me! You’re going to hurt yourself!” Michael pants. He’s shocked at how strong the other man is, especially knowing how exhausted and hung-over he is right now.
“No!!! Let me go, Michael! Please!”
“No! You’re going to tell me everything! Please, James, just talk to me,” Michael pleads. “You said yourself, that you were tired of keeping it all inside.”
“I was lying!” James yells. “I was lying, you dumb bastard! I never intended to tell you anything! I’d never have admitted to it at all, if I hadn't been so fucking tired! I don’t even know how you knew it was me!”
“Your scent.” James stills and turns his head to look back at Michael, blinking in confusion, like he was expecting to hear something else. Which is a reasonable assumption, Michael supposes. “No one else smells quite like you, James. Your mouth, the color of your eyes, that lock of your hair I saw, were all pretty good indicators of your identity, don’t get me wrong. But it was when you ran off into the night that I knew for sure." Michael smiles fondly at him, "The wind blew by and I could smell your shampoo and that cologne you like so much. Gingerbread and crisp apples.” Michael cards his fingers gently through James’s hair, “Nope, no one else in the world smells like you. I'd know your scent anywhere, anyplace, anytime.”
At Michael's admission that wasn't-but-was, all the fight goes out of James and he begins finally telling the sometimes-sad, sometimes-funny true story of how an mild-mannered actor came to be a super-hero...
Chapter 7: It Happened One Night...
James tells Michael about his first go at being a super-hero. Then he finally reveals to Michael his BIG secret.
“I don’t want this divorce, you see. I never wanted a divorce, because I do love Anne-Marie,” James tells Michael. “I just wanted her to know the truth. I knew that telling her wouldn’t be easy, no matter what happened, but I never thought she would react the way she did. I guess, I’d gone over it in my head so much, that I’d fooled myself into thinking that she already knew and was okay with it. You know, that we would still be friends after the dust settled, then everything would go back to normal.” James snorts, looking disgusted with himself, “Was I ever wrong! But still, I kept fooling myself—even after everything got so bad between us, I still held out hope that things would get better, that we could at least be civil to one another for Brendan’s sake. But it only got worse, when a couple of months ago, she finally figured out what I’d left unsaid...and we had the most terrible row.”
James looks utterly miserable, near the point of tears. Michael wants to hold him and he has a thousand questions, but doesn’t want James to stop talking, so he just listens.
Still sounding so very sad, James continues on, “She was just so hurt and bitter over everything—as far as she was concerned I had used and betrayed her all theses years. Not that I can really blame her for thinking that way. But during that last fight...she said some horrible things to me. She said that...”, here, James’s voice finally cracks, “...she said that once she tells the court about me, they’ll never let me see my son again. As it is, Anne’s not let me see him since I moved out. She said that I should be ashamed of myself and that I didn’t deserve to see him after what I’d done to our family. That when she tells the courts, when she tells everyone, about me, that my son will hate me.”
Michael can’t help himself, “Oh, James...”
“I miss him so much, both of them.” James finally looks at Michael and, his blue eyes determined even as they are shining with tears, says, “I can’t...I won’t let my son hate me, Michael. I knew, then and there, I had to do something to make this up to him, make him proud of me. I needed to be someone for him to look up to—a hero.”
“And Amore` was born?” Michael asks, softly. Good, Michael. Start with something simple. Save the hard questions for later.
James gives him a broken smile. “Yeah. You remember when we were doing all the press junkets for First Class, and we were always joking about becoming superheros? That’s where I got the inspiration for Amore`, but I swear it was the press that came up that stupid name!”
“What was your first act as a super-hero?” Michael asks, curious, but still trying to keep it simple.
James turns bright red. “Um, well...actually, it was kind of an accident,” he says, squirming a bit. “You remember the day it was so cold that we called off filming?” Michael nods and James continues, “I was having a horrible nicotine fit and was desperate for cigarettes, so I ran out to the store in spite of the cold. It was fucking freezing, so I had on one of those ski mask-looking things so that my face wouldn’t get frost-bitten or wind-burned.
"I couldn’t really see where I was going and I tripped over the curb and stumbled into a man running out of an alley. He fell, and I think hit his head on the dumpster or something and knocked himself out cold. I was panicking, thinking I’d killed the sorry bastard, when an old lady comes shuffling out of the alley, calling for help. Turns out the wee bastard had just stolen her purse.
“At first, she was frightened of me because I had that mask on---but I couldn’t take it off because I didn’t want her to see my face. I finally convinced her that I wasn’t going to hurt her, that I was only wearing the mask because it was just so cold.” Then he makes a sour look, “Though I probably shouldn’t have bothered. After all, this is America, so she probably wouldn’t have recognized me, regardless.
“Anyway...I made sure that she was okay, then I got her purse off the guy and I gave it back to her. I used her scarf to tie his hands and told her to call the police so they could arrest the man so that he couldn’t do that to anyone else. She was such a sweet old lady. Once she realized that I wasn’t going to kill her, she told me how grateful she was to have her purse back, because she had pictures of her grandchildren in her wallet and she hadn’t wanted to lose them. She didn’t care at all about the money, Michael, she just wanted the pictures. She just kept telling me how it was a miracle that I’d come along just in time to save her and how brave I was. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was all just dumb luck, that I hadn’t done anything but be my usual, clumsy self.
“I stayed with her as long as I could, until I could hear the police coming. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t stay. But as I was leaving, I guess my flair for the melodramatic got the better of me, and I kissed her hand.”
“The next day I saw the article in the paper about a woman being rescued by a masked man. I wouldn’t have known the story was about what had happened to me, if there hadn’t been a photo of the lady along with the article. Apparently, that sweet old lady had a flair for the dramatic, herself, because the story she told was that I had swooped in and bashed the robber myself, then gave him a stern talking-to, Dirty Harry-style. She called me a hero, Michael.” James looks up at him and smiles. “I knew then what I was meant to do. I mean, after all, if I can be a super-hero, getting my family back shouldn’t be so hard, right?”
Michael can’t stand it anymore. He’s got to ask. “James what did you do that was so bad? Did you cheat on Anne-Marie?”
“NO!!!” James shouts.
“Then what is it?!” The look on James’s face is one Michael can’t quite describe, sort of relief mingled with agony.
“I told her I thought I might be in love with you.”
Michael's glad he's already sitting down. Well, Michael, you did ask...
Chapter 8: You Don't Have to be All that Super to Be a Hero...
Michael puts on his own superhero act to try and save his friend's marriage.
Edited this chapter 09/25/19
“I told her I thought I might be in love with you...”
Michael feels like he’s been gut-punched, but he’s not yet sure whether it’s in a good way or a bad way. He’s too shocked at first to say anything. “You what...!?” he finally chokes out.
James looks shattered. “I knew you’d hate me for this, just as much as she does.” Tears well up in his eyes. “This!” he yells at Michael, “This is why I didn’t want to tell you, you stupid bastard! I’ve already lost her and Brendan—I didn’t want to lose you, too. Now I’ve lost everything!” he sobs, sinking to his knees.
“James, no! I don’t hate you,” Michael tells him, pulling James into his arms. “I could never hate you. You won’t lose me, I swear.” Michael wants to tell James that he’s definitely in love with him. But love means wanting the person you love to be happy, even if that happiness is with someone else. And he knows that James loves Anne-Marie and that he wants to be with his wife and son, how it’s killing the other man to be apart from them. Michael wishes they could stay like this, in each other’s arms, forever. Instead, he just holds James and waits him to start snoring, eases him to the floor and places a pillow under his head (there’s no way he’s hauling James’s fat arse to the bedroom again) and covers him with a blanket.
Then he creeps to the bedroom, shuts the door and makes a phone call.
“Anne-Marie...? It’s Michael...no, don’t hang up. We need to talk. Please.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. Especially with you,” She grits out.
James had been right—she was pissed off big-time, but Michael could hear the pain in her voice, too–knew she was hurting as much as James.
Sighing to himself in resignation at what he’s giving up, he tells her, “James finally broke down and told me everything. I didn’t know, Anne-Marie, I swear.”
“Suuuuure, you didn’t,” she snorts derisively. “Everyone sees the way you look at each other. Ironically, the only person who doesn’t seem to notice the way you look at him is him!”
“I’m not going to lie to you, Anne-Marie: I’m enough of a bastard that if I thought he really didn’t really love you anymore, I’d be with him now. But that’s not the case. Being apart from you and Brendan is killing him.”
“Oh, so that’s why he told me that he’s in love with someone else...” she hisses at him.
“He loves YOU! He’s just...confused about things right now.”
“He didn’t seem "confused about things" when he walked out on his family!”
“He says that he didn’t leave, that he didn’t want to leave, that you threw him out.”
“I love him so much, stood by him through thick and thin, then after 10 years together, he’d just told me that he was in love with someone else...a man! What was I supposed to do, Michael? Would you have handled it any better?”
“I don’t know,” Michael admits. “Probably not. All I do know is that he does love you, so much. He told me himself that he never wanted to split up with you. He needs you. He looks like hell, Anne. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep, he drinks too much. He’s wasting away. He misses you and he misses Brendan, and I can hear in your voice how much you miss him. Just give him a chance to fix things.”
“How is he going to fix this, Michael?” She asks. “He broke my heart in the worst way. I’m not sure I can forgive him for this.”
“Even if you can’t forgive him for being human, can’t you at least let him see his son? Sorry if this seems harsh, but it’s not fair to keep them apart just because you’re hurt. It may seem like a good idea to you now, but Brendan won’t thank you for it later.” Michael hears and Anne-Marie suck in a deep breath to fire back, so he just keeps talking, not giving her a chance to interrupt. “And if it makes you feel any better, James never cheated on you, at least physically,” he tells her (wisely keeping the drunken dry-humping incident to himself). “He told you the truth because he loves you and wanted everything to be out in the open. He knew you’d be hurt, but he didn’t want there to be any secrets between you. He was afraid, but he had faith that you loved each other enough to work it out.”
There’s silence on the other line long enough that Michael is ready hang the phone up, when Anne-Marie says, quietly, “You really love him, don’t you?”
Michael sighs deeply, and admits, “Yes, I do. But I know that James truly does love you and loves his son, and that is enough for me to keep my hands to myself where he is concerned, regardless of what my heart wants.”
Anne-Marie sighs deeply herself, then asks softly, “How is he doing now?”
“Right now, he’s sleeping. A long string of sleepless nights, a 1/5 of whisky, and confession conspired to finally get the better of him and he’s passed out on the floor.”
“You left him on the floor?!”
“Don’t worry. I covered him up and put a pillow under his head, but I’m not picking his fat arse up. He weighs a ton. If you’re so worried, come here and tend to him yourself.”
“Maybe I will.” she say, tartly. Then she says, seriously, “I won’t bring Brendan, though. Not out of malice, you know, but in case things don’t go well...I don’t want him to see or hear us fighting.”
“That’s probably wise,” Michael agrees. “Oh, and I won’t tell James you’re coming. I think you should surprise him. And when you see him, or when he sees you, rather...I think that you’ll quickly see that I’m telling you the truth...that he really does love you.”
“We’ll see,” she says. Though Michael is gratified to hear that she sounds cautiously hopeful.
“Well, goodbye, Anne...hope to see you soon.”
“‘Bye. And, Michael...?”
“Sure. And thank you.”
“For what?” she asks curiously.
“For believing me. For giving James another shot. For being you,” Michael says, smiling.
“Oh! Well...right back at you, love,” she says, sounding oddly pleased as she ends the call.
Michael is feeling pretty pleased himself. Turns out this super-hero business isn't all that hard...so far, anyway.