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Telltale

Chapter Text

And I love the way you hurt me,

It's irresistible.

- Irresistible, Fall Out Boy

 

Luke wasn't scared of Calum - not the dictionary definition of the word at least - but he was always wary of him.

It was because the older man was so turbulent. His mood changes were as sudden and violent as a storm and, sometimes, he took out how he felt on Luke.

The blond man understood - of course he did.

He'd helped Calum quit drinking all those years ago. He'd stood up to him and told him that all of the clubbing and smoking and fucking was killing him - and, uncharacteristically, Calum had listened to Luke.

That didn't mean Calum wasn't bitter about it though.

That didn't mean he didn't knot his fingers too-hard into Luke's blond hair and force him into biting kisses that sometimes drew blood.

That didn't mean Luke didn't love it.

Their relationship was fucked up at best - Luke didn't want to know what it might be at worst - and it might have been detrimental and screwed up and downright dangerous at times but, lethal or not, it was theirs.

(Sometimes Luke wondered if that was enough because he might have saved Calum all those years ago but it felt like it was Luke who needed saving now, and Calum certainly wasn't going to be the one to do it.)

Calum never hit Luke outside of their bedroom but sometimes Luke thought he was going to, and maybe that was worse.

Luke didn't know how things were supposed to be anymore. The lines were smeared into the dirt, trampled on so many times by Calum's stamping feet that Luke didn't know what they'd agreed on when they'd set out together in the first place.

Calum was still Luke's best friend though, probably - his only friend nowadays if the blond man was being totally honest with himself.

Calum still took him to the cinema. He still bought Luke dinner out sometimes and held his hand tightly when they walked back to the apartment Calum owned in the evenings.

Calum still fucked him until Luke was a sobbing incoherent mess, bent over the bed with flaming skin and tear-wet cheeks, and handprint-shaped bruises forming on his trembling thighs and arse.

That wasn't something best friends did.

Luke had wanted it once though and Calum still did.

Luke should still like it.

That didn't change the fact that he didn't though. Not anymore.

Calum hit too hard and he fucked even harder, and after-care wasn't something he bothered with.

Calum flung Luke unceremoniously into a dark twisted headspace that was about as far from a safe subspace as it was possible to get, and Calum left Luke up there to come down on his own.

It was the loneliest feeling in the world, when Luke blinked his gritty eyes open and felt Calum's come drying inside of him as his whole body ached.

When that happened - and it was becoming more and more frequent these days - the blond man would drag himself up and limp into the brightly-lit bathroom.

Luke would pointedly ignore the telltale sounds of Calum off in another room watching football with a beer and a bowl of crisps.

Luke would focus all of his energy on scrubbing himself clean in a too-hot shower until his skin was red and raw.

He would try his hardest to ignore the empty ache inside his chest that hurt even worse than the one between his legs.

Luke would sob.

He was crying now but he wasn't in the shower. He was putting away clean crockery from the steaming dishwasher and a boiling hot plate had tumbled from his fingers to shatter on the floor.

None of the shards of broken china had cut him and Calum probably wouldn't even hit him.

Luke didn't know why he was crying.

It was happening more and more lately though.

He wanted it to stop.

Chapter Text

And I'm dying here,

And I'm crying for the you that I remember,

But now you make me shiver.

- Cold, The Veronicas

 

The bruise marring the pale skin beneath Luke's eye was the colour of lavender. It stretched across the top of his cheekbone and it made his eyelid swell up so that Luke could only open one eye halfway.

His golden eyelashes were spiky with tears and his lip was split.

Calum had called into work for him and told them that Luke was too sick to come in.

The rationality behind that action was like pouring gasoline onto a fire, and the wariness Luke felt for Calum that had been festering inside him for years grew into full-blown fear.

It sickened Luke in the worst possible way because Calum's knuckles cracking into the younger man's face so hard that his head snapped back with the force of it was going to be etched into his mind forever.

The part that made Luke feel more terrible than anything else though was the fact that his desperate love for Calum hadn't faded.

Luke still kissed the older man back when Calum demanded it, fought to ignore the pain in his lip and the throbbing of his swollen eye when Calum knotted his fingers into Luke's soft blond hair, fucking his tongue into Luke's mouth and swallowing the blond man's moans.

Luke still let Calum bend him roughly over pretty much any flat surface in the apartment with a warm hand pressed heavily across the blond man's bare back.

Luke still bit his tongue and didn't say anything when Calum didn't even take his clothes off. The older man just pulled his cock out through the hole in his jeans but that was it, and it was just humiliating because neither of them even got off on that - it was just to make a damn point.

Luke still let Calum stretch him open without nearly enough lube, burning and painful, even as the blond man's mind started to grow murky, clouding his thoughts and making him feel even more vulnerable.

Luke still fucked himself back onto Calum's fingers, crying and whimpering into the pale skin at the crook of his elbow when it burnt, even as the pain of it made his toes curl.

Luke still let Calum whisper filthy things to him, his full lips barely brushing the soft shell of Luke's ear, even as the older man left Luke's cock neglected, flushed an angry red as it leaked pre-come.

Luke still bit his bottom lip when Calum fucked into him so that he could stay silent like the older man had told him to.

Luke still gazed at Calum pleadingly through glassy eyes and felt his cock kick against his stomach when Calum's fingers tightened around the younger man's throat, choking him just like Luke wanted.

"I know what you need," Calum said lowly, his voice rough with arousal as he fucked into Luke mercilessly, his fingertips bruising the porcelain skin of the younger man's hips.

Calum's hand dragged down to Luke's arse instead and he gripped the pale flesh roughly before he brought his hand down across it hard, his palm stinging and no doubt bruising the skin.

Luke's eyes prickled with tears and the revulsion he could feel was making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end but his thoughts were muddled with his need to come, and Luke hated this.

He hated it but he took it all like Calum wanted because Luke craved it too, craved the fingers squeezing around his throat and the head of Calum's cock just barely scraping across his prostate and Calum's fingernails biting into the pale flesh of his arse, even though it hurt.

Luke took it all because, sometimes if he was very lucky, Calum would stroke Luke's aching cock gently until the younger man came, instead of just fucking his orgasm out of him.

Very occasionally, Calum would brush Luke's sweaty hair away from his forehead and dry the tears that were flowing relentlessly down Luke's blotchy cheeks.

Luke craved those rare gentle touches and tiny traces of comfort Calum rewarded him more than he did anything else, because Luke was almost starved of affection now, and it was killing him.

Luke just missed how they used to be, before everything got dark and painful and scary... like the bruise on Luke's face...

And he might have let Calum do all that to him... but that didn't mean Luke loved it.

Chapter Text

If you think it's over,

If you think we're nowhere, just let me out.

I'm making it easy,

For you to go leave me, just let me out.

- Let Me Out, The Veronicas

 

The months dragged slowly and Luke's heart was ice in his chest, so frozen that it felt like it wasn't beating anymore.

The bruises on Luke's pale skin bloomed like midnight roses and he took a lot more time off work until, finally, Calum "suggested" that maybe it was time Luke quit.

When the blond man had sent the email and clicked the laptop shut gently as Calum stood behind him with his hand heavy on Luke's broad trembling shoulder, the comfortable living room full of Calum's possessions had never felt more like a prison than it did then.

Calum went out for a drink with a friend that night, leaving Luke to lie awake in bed waiting for him, because the blond man knew what Calum would want to do when he came home.

It wasn't worth pretending to be asleep.

Luke had tried that before but, if Calum wanted to fuck, that was what happened.

That felt lonelier than anything, staring helplessly at the wall, half-blind with tears and feeling like there was no way out of the situation as Calum grunted over him, grinding in so hard that the pain burning through Luke overwhelmed everything else.

He didn't want that to happen again, tried to convince himself that maybe this time he'd say no. Maybe he'd finally tell Calum that he didn't fucking want this.

It only took one look into Calum's dark, drunken eyes as they gleamed with intent late that evening though and Luke realised he was lying to himself.

Luke bit his tongue when Calum was fucking him into the mattress but the blood trickling down Luke's throat only partly contributed to his nausea once Calum had staggered away to sleep in the living room instead.

Luke thought maybe this time was the worst yet because it had never been clearer that Calum didn't give a damn about Luke.

He opened the blond man up without lube and he didn't lay even a finger on Luke's cock, and the blond man's head stayed clear this time as the tears trickled down his flushed cheeks and his nails bit into the mattress when Calum held Luke down with a hand pressed to the back of his head, filling the younger man with his come.

Luke's sobs were muffled in the sheets and the blood was hot as it trickled sluggishly down his chin.

Luke's stomach was churning violently and he was curled up as sob wracked his thin frame. Luke's narrow arms were wrapped around his knees as he lay in the middle of the bed that had once been his safe haven.

Now it felt like a nightmare and the worst part was that Luke couldn't wake up from this.

That thought haunted Luke all night long and every bruise or cut Calum had ever inflicted on the blond man's body gave a phantom throb.

Luke didn't sleep at all that night but he stayed lying curled up on the sheets, numb now as exhaustion and anguish radiated through him.

Luke winced when he finally sat up because the pain he could feel deep inside him was as unexpected as it was intense.

He padded down the hallway on bare feet, cringing at the sunlight as he caught a glimpse of himself in the window.

There was dried blood streaked on his chin and his empty blue eyes were sunken in his pale face.

He looked like death warmed up and his mouth tasted like dirt.

Luke wanted to drown himself in the fucking shower but he couldn't dwell on thoughts like that or he wouldn't be able to behave normally, wouldn't be able to make Calum his breakfast like he was supposed to before Luke had to clean the house, like a fucking servant almost... like some warped, twisted version of Cinderella... only this wasn't a fairy story and Luke wasn't going to get a happy ending if he lived like this.

Calum was awake when Luke stumbled into the living room, sitting on the sofa looking tired and hungover with a lighter in his hand.

Luke limped into the kitchen without looking at Calum but, out of the corner of one bloodshot eye, Luke saw the faintest smirk twisting Calum's lips, and he looked manic almost, like he wasn't totally there anymore.

Luke couldn't say he was surprised.

He took a pack of bacon from the fridge and busied himself searching for a pan and some oil so that he could fry it.

Calum called Luke's name from the living room but the blond man bit his already-sore tongue as he fought not to answer.

Luke straightened up, suppressing a sob at the burning pain that shot through him as he turned on the tap so that he could wash up their crockery from the night before.

His brow creased as the lukewarm water began to spill into the sink though because there was already something in there but... but it wasn't water.

It actually looked a lot like ash and, abruptly, Luke remembered the lighter he had spotted in Calum's hand.

Fear filled Luke like a balloon and panic made his chest feel tight as he gripped onto the edge of the sink hard, his knuckles white with how tightly he was holding on.

In amongst the ash, Luke's tired eyes picked something out and his heart rose in his throat until the blond man couldn't breathe around it.

"Calum, what have you done?" Luke choked out but there were shudders tearing through his narrow frame as he shakily lifted the burnt corner of a Polaroid from the sink.

The hot water was still running and the oil was spitting in the frying pan. There were tears running down Luke's cheeks when Calum appeared behind him, still clicking the lighter idly as he leant against the doorframe.

Terror clutched at Luke's heart when he saw the fire burning in Calum's dark eyes again, mad and wild and untameable.

Luke had been stupid to try all those years ago and the proof was cradled in his trembling hands now.

He knew what the ruined Polaroid in his hands had once shown: a picture of him with his older brothers and parents on the beach when Luke was seventeen.

It was the last picture of them ever taken before the car crash. Luke had kept it safe in an album on their bookshelf and... and Calum had destroyed it.

Luke had nothing left anymore - nothing to hold onto when it felt like his heart was breaking... nothing to stay for.

"Why are you crying, babe?" Calum asked and Luke's wide blue eyes were terrified as he lurched away from Calum.

The blond man's back slammed into the counter and the cutlery rattled in the drying rack. Luke's breath escaped him in a ragged gasp.

"Oh, you're upset because I burnt the picture," Calum realised and his eyes were just glazed enough that Luke wondered if maybe the older man was still drunk from the night before.

"It's okay, Luke," Calum said and he tried to smile but it came out wrong, twisted almost.

"You don't need this. You've got me," Calum said and his lips tugging up made him look half-mad in the early morning light. "You don't need them, babe. I'm right here."

"I..." Luke was shivering although it wasn't remotely cold in the kitchen. Calum's eyes were dancing with light but his thin fingers were shaking too, like a spiderweb almost, weighed down with dewdrops as the sun slowly rose in the sky and the strands of gossamer were torn gently apart by the wind.

"Calum," Luke breathed and the corner of the Polaroid fluttered down onto the kitchen floor through his numb fingers. "I... I think I need to leave."

Calum looked dazed, like there were thousands of ways he had expected this conversation to pan out but this outcome definitely wasn't one he'd considered.

"Luke, babe, please," Calum breathed and his eyes were a little clearer as the sun rose in the sky outside, burning the alcohol from Calum's veins almost. His tone was manipulative. "Don't do this. You need me. You need me."

Luke could taste bile in his throat but he shook his head to clear it.

"I've had enough," Luke said and his voice rasped. More than anything, he craved the physical contact that Calum's outstretched hand offered but something in the blond man kept him away.

He couldn't do that to himself. Not again.

And sure, maybe Luke did still love Calum - maybe he always would - but sometimes it was important to know when you couldn't fix something.

And besides, Luke had been waiting for things to change for long enough - it was clear they weren't going to - and maybe Luke didn't need someone to rescue him anyway.

Maybe he could be his own hero.

Maybe.

"I can change," Calum said suddenly and Luke couldn't breathe with how much he wanted to scream and cry and smash something to pieces.

"No, you can't," the blond man said brokenly.

He tried to remind himself that just because someone loved you did not make them right for you, and the searing pain in Luke's heart at Calum's next words only confirmed this.

"I really did love you, Luke."

Did.

Luke felt something welling up in his chest, halfway between a sob and a scream, but it couldn't escape past the lump in the blond man's throat so Luke did instead, running from the apartment with a feeling of urgency, like if he didn't get out now then he never would.

Luke hoped the bacon frying set the house aflame. He hoped the water filling the sink destroyed the whole building.

He wished that he'd picked up that little corner of Polaroid from the kitchen floor.

"Lukey!" Calum cried desperately as the blond man half-ran from the apartment, and that old pet name was a low blow, salt rubbed gently into the wound in the guise of medicine.

Luke fought not to react and Calum's fist punching the wall made a sickening crunching sound.

Luke left his prison without looking back.

Chapter Text

The tears you hide,

Behind your eyes,

Cry ‘em out until they’re gone. 

- Host Of Angels, Taylor Henderson

 

Ashton didn’t really have any plans today.

He knew he needed to go food shopping at some point this weekend and he wanted to meet up with his friend Michael for a beer or two at some point but that was about it.

Ashton was just thinking about making himself some breakfast when the doorbell rang.

He frowned at that because, really, it was nine o’clock on a Saturday morning and it didn’t exactly seem like prime visiting time.

He padded out into the hallway, stretching his arms out and running a hand ruefully through his messy caramel-coloured curls in the moments before he opened the door and -

Ashton froze.

Luke?!” the twenty four year old gasped, staring in shock at the younger blond man as he stood shivering on Ashton’s doorstep.

Luke’s feet were bare and his mouth was bloody. He was dressed in pyjamas and his hair was a mess as it fell limply into glassy eyes that were red from crying.

Ashton’s heart gave a little jolt in his chest as Luke stared at him, biting down hard on his bottom lip when it started to wobble. Ashton’s heart broke for him.

“Luke, what happened?” he breathed and all of the fight seemed to leave the blond man as he slumped forwards, ending up on his knees with Ashton’s arms wrapped hesitantly around him as they sat crumpled in the open doorway.

There were cars passing by outside and a light rain was falling but Ashton’s attention was focused solely on the man who had once been his best friend.

They’d been completely inseparable once but that had ended in college - around the time Luke had started going out with another student named Calum actually.

Ashton rubbed Luke’s back gently, fighting to ignore the fear in his heart as this man who was almost a stranger now fell apart in front of him, but when Luke flinched away from the contact, Ashton quickly brought his hand back to Luke’s shoulder.

Lukey?” Ashton whispered and it felt weird to use that nickname after so long, felt weird to see the kid he’d played out with as a child when he was an adult.

Luke looked up at Ashton and it was clear in his blue eyes that he was tearing himself apart, and Ashton tried to remember if it was the anniversary of the car crash that had taken Luke’s family away, tried to remember if it was one of his late relatives’ birthdays because maybe that would explain the anguish he could see on Luke’s face now but… but it wasn’t

“Luke, what happened?” Ashton repeated, inspecting Luke’s face and hating what he saw there because there might have been fresh bruises and bloodied cuts there but there were older injuries as well, and Ashton had an inkling that maybe he knew what had happened now, because Luke had stopped speaking to Ashton abruptly - like someone had told him to almost - and Ashton remembered, suddenly, how cold Calum had been at college when Luke had introduced him to his best friend, remembered the dark-haired man’s jealousy and poorly-concealed anger and…

“Did Calum do this to you?” Ashton whispered and Luke’s breath caught in his throat, like he was so close to having a panic attack, and Ashton could recognise all of the warning signs even now, seven years later when they’d had no contact at all up until this point.

Yes,” Luke breathed and his little hands knotted tightly into the back of Ashton’s pyjama shirt, anchoring the older man there like Luke was terrified of being left alone.

Ashton could see words bubbling up inside of the blond man and, although Luke seemed to want to say a lot more, he settled for sobbing out a desperate: “He burnt my picture.”

The older man realised what Luke meant at once and, although Ashton knew Calum must have done a lot more than that, his heart sank because he knew how much that Polaroid had meant to Luke.

Ashton felt cold anger in his heart directed at Calum, but the older man struggled to keep it off his face when Luke let out a heartbroken sob as Ashton gently stroked his blond hair away from his sweaty forehead.

“It’s gonna be okay, Lukey,” Ashton whispered, his lips barely brushing Luke’s forehead, and the blond man was properly sobbing now, clinging to Ashton with his face tucked into the older man’s neck, hiding the shame and pain that was colouring his expression. “We can fix this. We will fix this.”

Ashton rocked Luke slowly, still sitting in the doorway as the pair gradually got soaked by the rain.

“It’s been so long,” the curly-haired man whispered and Luke’s sobs became choked, like the pain in his chest hurt too much to cry out. “I missed you so much. But… but don’t you need to go to a hospital? I - I don’t know what to -”

“I’m so sorry, Ash,” Luke breathed and his voice was hoarse from crying. The tears that had been swimming in Ashton’s worried hazel eyes boiled over. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

Chapter Text

Grit your teeth, pull your hair,

Paint the walls black and scream: "Fuck the world,

'Cause it's my life, I'm gonna take it back",

And never for a second blame yourself.

- Missing You, All Time Low

 

Luke thought it was both better and worse that Ashton knew so much about his past.

It was worse because Ashton trod so carefully around Luke, like he was standing on broken glass almost, but it was better because Ashton turned the TV over without mentioning it when a programme involving a car crash came on, and he made Luke butterscotch pudding to eat while they watched old Fringe episodes because that had been their favourite thing to do together during high school.

Luke woke up crying a lot, felt his chest tighten with anger and fear as the bitter tears welled up in his eyes when the realisation of just how fucking poorly he had been treated sank in, but Ashton was always there when the blond man jerked upright, brushing Luke’s tears away and towing him back to the older man’s double bed by the hand so that they could snuggle up together and watch Disney films until Luke passed out.

Maybe Ashton knowing all of the things that made Luke tick was better after all.

It certainly felt it, especially when Ashton threw his old rugby sweatshirt at Luke so that he could huddle up in it in the older man's arms. Then maybe Luke could kid himself that his brothers were still there - that maybe he hadn’t lost everyone he cared about - but before the tears could start again, Ashton would drop a gentle kiss onto the top of Luke’s head and the blond man would realise that maybe he did have one good person left behind after all.

Ashton shining so brightly made it easier to forget what Calum had put Luke through.

It helped that Ashton was still as much of a complete idiot now as he had been during college, with his surprisingly high-pitched giggles and soft curly hair that he tied back with bandanas.

What didn’t help were those times when Ashton had to leave Luke alone, because those were the times when the blond man had to think, and thinking was something that Luke was doing his best to avoid nowadays.

Thinking meant remembering, and remembering meant curling up into a little ball and shuddering with heaving sobs until Luke was sick or Ashton came home and hugged him tight, keeping him from falling apart all over again.

The weeks after Luke left Calum were hard but, as they gradually bled into months, things became a little easier.

Luke got a new job at the office downtown where Ashton worked so that he could help pay the bills, and growing closer to his old best friend made the ache in the blond man’s chest feel a lot less raw.

He met Ashton’s family too, got to hug Anne and high-five Lauren and joke around with Harry again, and he met Ashton’s new best friend Michael - a sweet guy with dyed blue hair and gleaming, slightly mischievous emerald-coloured eyes that were mostly just soft, but Luke tried not to dwell on him too much - and being greeted with all of these friendly faces made Luke feel more whole sort of, reminded him of a time when he hadn’t been a broken shadow of his former self.

Thoughts like that weren’t helpful though and Luke did his best not to dwell on them because Ashton had promised him ten million times that this wasn’t Luke’s fault, that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but sometimes it didn’t feel like the truth and thinking badly of himself only made the blond man feel worse.

It’s gonna be okay. We can fix this. We will fix this.”

Those were the words Ashton had said when Luke had staggered to his old house - praying that he still lived there - and collapsed on the doorstep, sobbing into his old best friend’s neck because his whole life was falling in tatters around him, and for the first time since Luke had arrived all those months ago, he knew Ashton was telling the truth.

That was the only option worth considering.

Chapter Text

I thought I could resist you.

I thought that I was strong.

Somehow you were different from what I've known.

I didn't see you coming.

You took me by surprise and,

You stole my heart before I could say no.

- Speechless, The Veronicas

 

Luke moved out of Ashton’s place after maybe ten months of staying with his best friend but he didn’t go far. Luke found a flat nearby, near enough to the office where he worked that he could walk to work in fifteen minutes and close enough to Ashton that Luke didn’t feel isolated.

An unexpected bonus was that Ashton’s other best friend Michael lived in the same building as Luke. The now-black-haired man was only a few doors down and it wasn’t unheard of for him to come round to Luke’s house with takeaway pizza and a DVD Luke hadn’t seen before.

Very quickly those unofficial Movie Nights became Luke’s favourite parts of the week and he found that he liked Michael for Michael’s sake, rather than because he was Ashton’s best friend.

Luke liked Michael’s dyed hair and his eyebrow piercing, and the way Michael seemed to have memorised every line from every Simon Pegg film ever made.

Luke liked how Michael tried to act all tough with his Slipknot music and leather jacket, and Luke loved how that all went out the window the very moment Michael saw a kitten because then he had to stop and squat down beside it so he could pet it, cooing softly because kittens made his heart melt.

Luke liked how, sometimes, Michael found a joke Ashton told so funny that he made a little squeaking sound and had to cover his red, red mouth with his tiny hands.

Luke liked the way Michael’s smile was contagious and he spent a lot of time wrapped in a duvet as he stumbled around his flat in it like a giant worm.

Luke liked when Michael stayed over at his, sleeping on the sofa beneath a knitted blanket that Luke’s mum had made for him once, back when he was still in primary school and afraid of the dark.

Luke liked the wide-eyed look of awe on Michael's face - tinged with sadness but mostly just fondness - when Luke told him the origins of the blanket that had been lying on Ashton's sofa for the last seven years. He liked how Michael stroked it gently with the pad of his thumb - like the blanket was something precious to him too - and Luke loved how Michael pulled him into a gentle hug because Luke was fighting not to cry.

Luke fell for Michael so slowly that he didn’t even realise it was happening at first and, by the time he did, it was far too late to do anything about it.

Luke told Ashton how he felt one day when he’d gone round to visit his best friend.

Michael was on his phone in the other room as a movie played on the television, while Luke helped Ashton wash up in the kitchen.

Luke had been tormenting himself on how to tell Ashton that he’d maybe kind of possibly fallen in love with their best friend but in the end he just kind of blurted it out, just dropped the spatula he’d been drying back into the sink and said: “Ashton. I think I might be in love with Michael.”

Ashton didn’t actually look surprised but his hazel eyes were soft as he brushed Luke’s cheekbone with his fingertips.

“How did that happen?” he asked sympathetically, his tone a little teasing but mostly just calming. Luke leant into Ashton’s hand, sighing a little bit because he kind of wished he didn’t feel like this. He didn’t think his heart was strong enough.

“It was Mikey’s fault,” Luke snapped but his tone was defensive and Ashton’s eyes were like melted caramel, soothing Luke’s frayed nerves as the blond man’s heart raced in his chest. “His hair’s all fluffy and he stretches so much that his shirt rides up and he calls me petal a lot and sometimes he pets kittens.”

“He’s a dork,” Ashton agreed fondly and Luke’s heart gave a funny little thump when he realised that he wanted Michael to be his dork.

“Are you going to tell Mike?” Ashton continued and Luke froze, staring at Ashton with wide blue eyes as fear trickled through him like icy water.

Lukey,” Ashton said softly and he was cupping Luke’s face with both hands now, soothing and safe. “I don’t think your feelings are unreciprocated.”

“I can indeed confirm that they are not,” a voice piped up from the doorway and Luke’s knees actually weakened so much that he had to grip onto the edge of the kitchen counter to stay upright.

Ashton’s hazel eyes widened but he dropped a kiss onto the top of Luke’s head and disappeared from the room with a mumbled: “I’ll give you two some space.”

The silence grew until Luke was trembling from it, shuddering as he wrapped his arms tightly around himself and panicked when he realised that the fear wasn’t fading...

“Luke,” Michael said softly, his voice as rough as always. His cheeks were flushed red beneath his midnight hair. “I wasn’t kidding. You’re like the best person I’ve ever met but I promise this doesn’t have to go anywhere, okay? We don’t have to -”

“I didn’t say that,” Luke breathed and the shivers running through him were almost violent now.

“Then…” Michael looked dazed, shaking his head slowly like he was trying to clear it. His emerald green eyes were soft though, locked on Luke’s pale face like he was drinking it in. “Then there’s no rush or… I... I wasn’t even going to say anything because I didn’t want to hurt you… or… or make you feel like you had to… y’know…”

“I know,” Luke whispered, and his eyes were swimming with tears now as he pushed away from the counter and into Michael’s arms. The force of it knocked the older man back against the fridge but he wrapped his arms gently around Luke anyway, holding him close like he could tell he was the only thing keeping Luke from crumpling.

“Michael, I didn’t mean to -” Luke broke off, choking on a sob as he tucked his face away into Michael’s neck and clung on for dear life.

'I didn't mean to love you. I didn't mean to love at all'.

Michael exhaled shakily, stroking the back of Luke’s neck gently with his fingertips like he could tell what the younger man was thinking. It felt good but Luke still flinched away instinctively and the pain on the older man’s face cut Luke to the core.

“I’m not like him, petal,” Michael breathed and Luke was crying harder, holding on like Michael was the only thing keeping him afloat anymore.

“I know you’re not,” Luke choked out and his tears were blinding him but Michael smelled comforting - like sherbet lime shower gel and coffee on a cold day - and his dark hair was soft as Luke carded his fingers through it before he dropped his hand to curl it gently around Michael’s jaw instead.

The older man’s cherry red lips were so soft against Luke’s when he kissed Michael, slow and hesitant, like he was afraid, and Michael was cradling Luke’s face like he was made of glass, like he was frightened of breaking the younger man or something.

The part Luke couldn’t get over was how gentle Michael was when he kissed him. His tongue stayed in his mouth and his lips stayed shut, and it was a butterfly kiss really - nothing more and nothing less - but, somehow, it was the closest thing to perfect that Luke had ever experienced.

Their foreheads fell to rest together when Michael broke away and Luke's tears were still drying on his cheeks when the blond man spoke next.

“I’m a mess,” he breathed and Michael’s eyes were gleaming with unshed tears now but his lips were tugging up into the faintest, wateriest smile Luke had ever seen.

“Yeah, you are,” Michael breathed, catching Luke’s lips in another gentle kiss again before he drew back slowly, like his head was spinning too.

“But you’re my mess,” Michael said softly, and that made all the difference in the world to Luke.

"I love you," Luke whispered and his tears were blinding him.

Michael's breath caught in his throat but he was gazing at the blond man like he'd hung the stars in the night sky.

"I know," Michael said and his lips against Luke's were so, so soft. "I love you too, petal."

Chapter Text

All I knew this morning when I woke,

Is I know something now, know something now I didn't before,

And all I've seen since eighteen hours ago,

Is green eyes and freckles and your smile,

In the back of my mind making me feel like,

I just wanna know you better, know you better, know you better now.

- Everything Has Changed, Taylor Swift (feat. Ed Sheeran)

 

Although it took Michael almost eight months to sell his flat, he’d unofficially moved in with Luke after around the two month mark in their relationship.

They still had Movie Nights with terrible films and greasy takeaway pizza, except those didn’t end with Michael stumbling home sleepily at one in the morning anymore – now they cuddled up together under Liz’s blanket and fed each other ice-cream before they fell asleep tangled in each other’s arms.

Luke got his lip pierced with a shiny black ring and Michael got To The Moon tattooed on his left arm, because that was how much he loved Luke.

Michael leant Luke his leather jacket when they went out sometimes and it came down well past Luke’s hands, felt comforting almost, like Michael was cuddling him even when he wasn’t actually there.

They went on trips to fairgrounds and marketplaces, and sometimes they collected little shells during long walks on the beach and Luke threaded them into bracelets that Michael insisted he was too tough to wear (but secretly never removed anyway).

Luke’s love for Michael was so bright in his chest that it was blinding him, eclipsing everything else until all Luke could see were green eyes and faint freckles and Michael’s beautiful, beautiful smile.

Dimly, Luke had misguidedly assumed that his love for Michael would fade the longer they were together, like it had done with Calum, with his gleaming eyes dark with intent as his fists cracked against Luke’s face.

That hadn’t happened though.

Michael gazed at Luke with so much admiration that Ashton made vomiting noises sometimes – before smiling happily like this was all he’d ever wanted - but it made Luke’s heart feel lighter in his chest, like maybe all of the terrible things Calum had dumped on him over the years hadn’t completely destroyed Luke’s light after all.

Luke was still shining.

So was Michael.

His midnight black hair was a flyaway mess around his head, like a halo almost, and his emerald eyes glittered with so much fondness that it stole the breath from Luke’s lungs.

Perhaps the best part of all though was that Michael never pushed Luke to do anything he wasn’t wholly comfortable with.

They’d been together for almost a year now but the physical side of their relationship was still limited to holding hands, cuddling and kissing. It was perfect for Luke because that was just what he needed right now, physical comfort without someone else’s lust driving him to do something that might hurt him.

Luke treasured every gentle touch Michael bestowed upon him because they weren’t something Calum had ever freely given.

Michael stroked Luke’s thick blond hair away from his forehead with the soft pads of his fingertips. He brushed Luke’s cheek so lightly with his knuckle that it felt like the brush of a butterfly’s wing. He stroked Luke’s shoulders and rubbed his thumb gently on the back of Luke’s hand when they tangled their fingers together.

Luke liked it best when Michael was lounging on the sofa playing video games while Luke read a book or worked on his laptop because, even when Michael was busy murdering zombies and swearing at the television screen, he still tangled their legs together and rubbed gentle circles into Luke’s thigh with his toes.

Ashton had said something once that Luke definitely agreed with – Michael was sweet and cuddly when he was surrounded by the right people but he would definitely punch someone in the face for Luke, and while that thought might have scared the blond man once, it no longer did.

Luke trusted Michael more than he trusted anyone - and Luke trusted Ashton too because the older man was his best friend in the world but it wasn’t the same.

Luke thought maybe that was why Michael’s love hurt him so much because sometimes the blond man’s insecurities overwhelmed him and he remembered Calum’s punches and kicks and bites, remembered flinching with pain and the way the panic had choked him as he’d watched the burnt corner of a Polaroid tumble down onto the kitchen floor.

Luke knew Michael could see the sudden agony in his gaze because the older man’s eyes always softened with pain and concern and love, and maybe that hurt Luke even more.

Maybe.

“Petal, please,” Michael murmured when he saw Luke’s face become tight and sad. They were walking home from a trip to the cinema and they’d stopped by the pier to watch the sun set. The waves were crashing against the pebbly beach and Luke’s heart was heavy in his chest. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Luke’s voice was soft and weak but he melted back into the older man’s grip when Michael’s arms came to rest lightly around his waist.

“You can do better than me.”

Michael made a small hurt noise, ducking his head and pressing a gentle kiss to Luke’s neck. There was a cool breeze despite the evening sun warming their skin and Michael held Luke tighter because of it.

“That’s not true, petal,” he promised, sighing sadly because he just wanted Luke to see how beautiful he was, inside and out. “You’re the best thing that has and will ever happen to me.”

Luke swallowed past the lump in his throat, letting his head loll back to rest on Michael’s broad shoulder. The black-haired man was gazing down at him with so much love in his gaze that Luke’s heart thumped unevenly in his chest as the realisation that Michael really, truly meant those words began to sink in.

“You would have liked me a lot more when I wasn’t broken,” Luke whispered, sniffing pathetically and turning to hide his face in the warm, comforting-smelling skin of Michael’s neck. Their chests were pressed together and Michael’s hands were safe on Luke’s back as he cuddled him close.

“I like you now, you soppy thing,” Michael promised, his voice little more than a murmur as his tears built in his chest, lodging themselves in his throat and threatening to make his voice wobble.

Luke looked up, biting down too hard on his bottom lip as his eyes swam with sadness, and Michael’s heart broke as he cupped the younger man’s face gently, thumbing the tears away as he fought to keep his own inside.

“And besides,” Michael breathed, catching Luke’s lips in a gentle kiss before he drew back, taking in the quiet beauty of Luke’s upturned face with his pulse thundering in his veins. “You’re not broken, Luke,” Michael promised. “You’re just hurting.”

Things were a little easier after that night, although Luke’s insecurities never entirely faded away – sometimes it felt like they never would but Michael was always there – or Ashton - squeezing Luke’s hand and promising that everything was going to be alright.

Luke realised that was the truth on a Sunday morning after he and Michael had been in a relationship for almost a year and a half.

Luke nestled down in the soft white sheets covering their double bed and took in Michael’s sleeping face as it rested on the pillows beside him, illuminated as it was by early morning sunlight filtering in through the lacy curtains Luke had picked out a few weeks ago when they’d restyled their bedroom.

He took in Michael’s long eyelashes – still golden no matter how many times he stubbornly dyed the rest of his hair – and the slight redness around his left eye that came from burning his face when he was younger. Luke took in Michael’s slightly parted cherry-red lips and the flickering of his sparkling eyes beneath their lavender-coloured lids, like maybe he was dreaming.

Luke realised then that he never wanted this to change.

When Michael’s emerald eyes fluttered open and he gazed right back at Luke, the blond man realised that maybe his boyfriend felt the same way too.

(When Michael closed the gap between them and pressed his lips gently to Luke's, he was sure of it.)

Chapter Text

Get me with those green eyes, baby, as the lights go down.

Give me something that'll haunt me when you're not around,

'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile.

- Sparks Fly, Taylor Swift

 

It was two years before Luke felt comfortable enough around Michael to allow himself to be fully vulnerable again, and even then it was sometimes still an uphill battle, although Michael definitely didn't like using that word because their relationship couldn't have been further from that.

Their love was soft and warm and safe. There was nothing dangerous about it.

Luke still got frightened sometimes, like if Michael made a sudden movement or raised his voice without thinking but, for the most part, things were easier.

Luke relaxed completely when Michael carded his fingers through the blond man's soft hair, knotting his little hands into the soft material of the tracksuit bottoms that Michael wore as pyjamas like a kitten when the pair snuggled close. The black-haired man dropped kisses onto the top of Luke's head, smiling so wide that the crinkles around his eyes hid the burn marring his pale skin. Luke stroked it with his thumbs sometimes, cradling Michael's face gently in his hands and scattering butterfly kisses across the older man's cheeks.

"I love you," Luke whispered.

His voice was soft and gentle, his fingertips cool as they fluttered across Michael's cheekbones in the moments before he settled back down again, resting his cheek on Michael's thigh as they watched the television together.

There was a black and white movie playing across the screen. It was called Sunset Boulevard and, while Ashton had assured Luke and Michael that it was very famous, the black-haired man had never heard of it before. He briefly considered trying to focus on what the characters onscreen were doing but he soon found himself distracted when Luke turned his head to sleepily mouth at the inside of Michael's thigh through his pyjamas.

The black-haired man shifted, his emerald eyes widening a little as he willed himself not to get hard because he did not want to make Luke feel guilty about anything.

"What are you doing, Lukey?" Michael asked weakly, letting the hand that had been carding through Luke's hair fall to settle on his broad shoulder. The blond man glanced up at Michael through his eyelashes, smiling shyly before he tucked his face away again, pressing his cold little nose into the warm material and nuzzling.

"I wanna make you feel good, Mikey," Luke breathed, his bottom lip catching on Michael's pyjama trousers. The black-haired man's breath escaped him in a little gasp as Luke watched him because - god, they'd never done anything like this before but... but now...

Luke's pretty blue eyes were dark and Michael was suddenly struck with the knowledge of just how gone he was for Luke. The blond man was trembling a little though and that meant that they needed to go even more slowly.

"I'd feel better if you let me make you feel good first," Michael mumbled but there was something hesitant buried in his expression as he gave Luke's shoulder a gentle squeeze through the navy blue t-shirt he was wearing. "But only if you absolutely one hundred percent want to, petal." Michael's voice was almost as soft as his eyes. "I just want you to be happy."

"I am happy," Luke promised, his blond hair flat on his forehead, his blue eyes sparkling. Michael loved him so fucking much that it hurt sometimes. "I'm with you."

Luke settled back down on the blanket covering the sofa, resting his head on the cushions piled against the armrest as he fixed Michael with a small, hesitant little smile. He coaxed Michael over with his hands resting lightly on the older man's shoulders and with anyone else that would have been invitation enough but not with the blond man.

Luke was precious and Michael wanted him to be safe.

"Are you sure you're okay with this, petal?" he breathed and Luke's sapphire eyes were glitter-soft with so much love that the beauty of him took Michael's breath away.

"Yes," Luke whispered and his eyes fluttered shut as a small gasp left him when Michael ducked his head to kiss the smooth white skin of Luke's throat. The blond man rubbed Michael's stubble beneath the soft pads of his fingertips, smiled softly when Michael hummed approvingly and it vibrated against Luke's palm.

"We won't go far," Michael promised, his soft words almost lost beneath the chatter of the television, but it must have been the right thing to say because Luke visibly relaxed, melting down onto the sofa and letting his head fall back against the cushions as Michael sucked a small purple mark into Luke's throat. It bloomed on the skin slowly, like a tiny flower, and Luke whined, clutching at his boyfriend's shoulders as he began to harden between the warm press of their bodies.

Michael stroked Luke's hair again, watched with slightly pained fascination as Luke responded to every small touch, like he was still starved of affection even now, and Michael wondered how anyone could want to hurt the magnificent creature lying beneath him.

"I love you, Lukey," Michael whispered, kissing across the blond man's jaw as his hand fell to rub Luke's side comfortingly through his t-shirt.

"I love you too," Luke breathed, and then: "Mikey, please. I need you to touch me. Please."

A shocked moan tore out of Luke when Michael did as he asked, like Luke had been praying for it but hadn't actually expected his wishes to be granted, and that hurt Michael too, made him feel even more determined to make Luke feel good.

"Mike," Luke groaned, squeezing his darkened blue eyes shut tightly as Michael palmed him gently through his pyjamas. The thin cotton trousers were fastened with a drawstring and Michael undid them easily, taking in the blond man's flushed cheeks and parted lips as he slipped his hand hesitantly into the heat of Luke's boxers.

"Fuck," Luke groaned as his hips rocked against Michael's palm. The pressure must have felt good because there were two points of colour high in Luke's usually-pale cheeks now and his breath was escaping him in little pants.

Michael caught his boyfriend's lips in a soft kiss as he wrapped his fingers gently around Luke's cock. The blond man whined against Michael's mouth, sucking the older man's bottom lip into his mouth and making Michael moan too.

The black-haired man pulled away to kiss Luke's neck again instead, even as he started to fist Luke's cock at a slow steady pace. Luke's toes curled and his arms were wrapped around Michael's shoulders like his head was starting to swim with how hard he was now.

"God, you're so beautiful," Michael murmured, stroking Luke's soft hair with his free hand before he glanced down between them, taking in the rose-pink head of Luke's cock as it glided smoothly through Michael's pale fist. Luke's hips were starting to fuck up into it now and Michael briefly let his imagination wander as he rubbed lazily against Luke's thigh, wondered how it would feel if Luke was fucking him instead and was startled when another moan escaped him.

The blond man was stroking Michael's back comfortingly, even as he began to fall apart himself, like he wanted the older man to know that Luke cared and it was so fucking sweet - and better than it had any right to be.

When Michael dragged his emerald gaze back up to his boyfriend's again, he saw that Luke was biting down on his lip hard, presumably trying to keep quiet. Michael tightened his grip, twisting his wrist a little at the end, and Luke looked almost frightened when a moan escaped him, like he didn't think he was supposed to make noise. Michael fought down against the sadness rising inside of him.

"Petal, it's okay," he breathed, kissing Luke's chest and shoulders as he tucked his face out of sight, hiding the tears that threatened. "I absolutely promise it's okay. You don't have to be frightened of me. Just... let go."

Michael's voice was shaking but it was worth it because Luke's pale pink lips fell open around a soft moan, like he was testing the waters. Michael sucked a gentle mark into Luke's chest and the blond man moaned louder.

Michael's free hand slipped down from the back of Luke's neck slowly as an idea formed in his hazy mind and, when Luke let out a little whine as Michael began to roll his nipples gently between his thumb and forefinger, the black-haired man knew it had been a good one.

“Can’t get over how beautiful you are,” Michael murmured to Luke but his breath caught when one of Luke’s soft, pale hands slipped down to stroke him through his trousers. Michael whined, ducking his head to smother the noise in the warm skin of Luke's neck.

It was because of this that Michael felt Luke's fingers fluttering against his cheek as they tightened around his own throat almost unconsciously. Michael jerked his head up in shock, momentarily forgetting to keep up the pace on Luke's cock, and the blond man whimpered, pressing his head back into the cushions as his desperate, darkened eyes focused on Michael's face.

"Please," Luke breathed and his free arm slid around Michael's shoulders as he clung to him like Michael was the only thing keeping him afloat anymore. The fingers around Luke's throat tightened reflexively. "I'm sorry. I need..."

Michael thought he understood.

"It's okay, petal," Michael promised, brushing his lips against Luke's cheek gently. The blond man's hand fell away from his neck and Michael started to stroke Luke's cock again gently, rubbing his thumb over the slit and taking in the way Luke's soft lips parted around a broken moan.

Luke's eyes were still desperate though and Michael knew how to help.

He let the palm of his free hand fall to rest against Luke's throat without exerting any pressure, and for now it was enough. They could talk about this later, when both of them were thinking more clearly, when their heads weren't clouded with lust.

Luke's moans were strangled but there was pure love blazing on his face when Michael - now achingly hard against his boyfriend's thigh - pressed a hot open-mouthed kiss to Luke's broad shoulder before he sucked the blond man's nipple, grazing his teeth so gently as he twisted his fist on the head of Luke's cock.

Michael might have been so hard that it almost hurt now but it was worth it when the blond man fell apart beneath him, crying out as he came and looking stunned when Michael's hand drifted up from his throat to stroke his blond hair softly, reverently almost.

"You didn't get to... to..." Luke shook his head slowly, looking awed as Michael wiped his hand clean on his tracksuit bottoms and attempted to mop Luke up with tissues before cupping the blond man's cheek gently. Luke grimaced a little - maybe Michael hadn't cleaned up that well - but his beautiful blue eyes filled with tears when the black-haired man murmured: "I don't care. You're worth it."

It upset Michael a little, how obvious Calum's neglect was in moments like this, when Luke was dazed over something that Michael would have maybe taken for granted before, but now never would again.

"How do you feel, petal?" Michael whispered, scattering kisses across his boyfriend's jaw and kindly pretending not to notice when Luke had to dry his tears with the blanket.

"Tired," Luke replied after a moment of thought. His eyes were sleepy now and his hair was sticking to his sweaty forehead. "A bit damp." Luke's pale lips twitched into a weak smile and he cuddled Michael close, kissing his forehead. "Like I love you so, so much that my heart's going to explode."

Michael smiled and kissed Luke's nose before resting their foreheads together gently.

"That sounds a bit painful though," Michael said hesitantly and Luke giggled as his little pink tongue darted out to wet his lips. Michael couldn't resist kissing him softly. He was so fucking beautiful.

"I love you even more than that, petal," Michael promised after a moment and Luke's eyes were sparkling like diamonds, strong enough that they could withstand anything.

"That's not possible," Luke said softly and he was smiling as he kissed Michael again, and it was as close to perfect as anything could get.

The older man groaned when he shifted because the friction was getting to be too much now and he couldn't concentrate on talking anymore. Luke had stopped trembling.

"I've got you," Luke whispered, kissing Michael's neck as he reached down between them to take care of Michael with clumsy enthusiastic jerks of his fist, and it was perfect.

Luke was perfect.

Michael adored him and he was so lucky to have him.

The black-haired man fell apart with a soft moan as Luke sucked a mark into the pale skin of his shoulder. Michael's head was spinning and Luke's eyes were starry as he gazed down at his boyfriend lovingly.

"Never want to leave you," Luke breathed and Michael relaxed as a piece that he hadn't even realised was missing fell into place.

"I love you, Lukey," Michael murmured against Luke's skin as the blond man settled down over him once he'd finished doing a much better job of cleaning Michael up. Luke's palms were warm and soft as they settled on Michael's chest.

The movie was over now and the television screen was black but the curtains of the living room were mostly open, letting the starlight filter in from the strip of sky visible outside.

"I love you too," Luke whispered and the gentle kiss he pressed to the corner of his boyfriend's mouth felt like a promise.

Michael and Luke stayed lying tangled together in each other's arms all night long.

Chapter Text

You make me breakfast in bed,

When I’m mixed up in my head.

You wake me with a kiss.

I could get used to this.

- I Could Get Used To This, The Veronicas

 

It was surprisingly warm for the middle of winter. The sun was a small white orb hanging high in the sky behind a thick blanket of clouds and the frost on the ground sparkled like diamonds. The waves rolling onto the pebbly beach were grey as Michael and Luke stood on the end of the pier, more interested in holding each other close and losing themselves in their kisses than they were in watching the ocean.

There were gulls circling overhead, crying out as they painted pictures on the blank canvas of the sky with their pale feathers. Luke cringed away when one swooped down so low that it almost brushed his hair and Michael was laughing as Luke tucked his face away safely into his boyfriend’s neck.

Michael’s arms wrapped around Luke gently, the hold just as warm and comforting as it had been several hours earlier when Luke had jerked awake from another nightmare with tears trickling down his pale cheeks. The blond man had calmed much quicker than he had once upon a time though and Michael counted that as a win.

They were getting there. It just might take a little while.

“I can’t believe we’ve been together for three years,” Luke murmured, his words a little muffled by Michael’s scarf and the warm skin of his boyfriend's throat. The black-haired man smiled, carding his fingers gently through Luke’s blond hair and dropping a kiss onto his forehead.

“It’s been the best three years of my life,” Michael promised and Luke’s teary eyes looked like stars glittering when the older man cupped his face gently. “And I love you, petal. So, so much. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Luke whispered and his lips twitched as his hand fluttered down to touch Michael’s newest tattoo, covered as it was by his coat. “To the moon.”

Michael’s smile lit his whole face up and it didn’t fade as he dropped his hands, lacing his fingers with Luke’s and leading the blond man gently down the pier towards their destination.

“Do you think Ashton will be annoyed that we’re late?” Luke asked hesitantly and Michael’s smile became crooked, twisting into a slight smirk.

“We aren’t late, Lukey,” he grinned, giving Luke’s hand a comforting squeeze as they headed towards their favourite café. “We just got… somewhat waylaid.” Michael laughed, repeating the word ‘laid’ just because.

“But we’re finally meeting his girlfriend. We should have made a better first impression, Mikey,” Luke said, frowning as he chewed on his bottom lip anxiously. Michael freed it gently with his thumb, dropping a kiss onto the corner of Luke’s mouth before he let their foreheads fall to rest lightly together.

“Luke, petal, it’s going to be just fine,” Michael promised, rubbing Luke’s jaw gently with the soft pads of his fingertips. “And besides, like Ash expected us to do anything but turn up fashionably late.”

"I thought we weren't late," Luke pointed out and Michael grinned, hiding his face in Luke's broad shoulder instead.

"Stop being combative," the black-haired man mumbled and Luke lips curled into a gentle smile.

Michael smiled too, looking up at Luke and feeling his breath catch because his boyfriend was so fucking beautiful, and Michael was so lucky to have him.

Michael was just about to lead Luke across the road when the blond man stiffened, his bright blue eyes widening with something akin to fear as he gripped Michael’s hand far too tightly.

“Petal?” Michael asked softly, gripping Luke’s hand in both of his own and raising it to press a gentle kiss to the knuckles. “Lukey, what is it?”

“I don’t want to go over there,” the blond man breathed, his frightened eyes flickering across the road and back again but, just as Michael was about to ask what was wrong, he noticed an unfamiliar dark-haired man jogging across the road towards them.

The stranger’s tanned face was gaunt and pinched with alcohol, prematurely lined and sick-looking almost, like the years had been tough.

Michael didn’t need to hear Luke’s horrified whisper to deduce who the man was but it certainly confirmed the black-haired man’s suspicions.

Calum.”

Luke’s soft strained voice was equal parts frightened and pitying. Michael wrapped his arm around his boyfriend’s waist and the blond man clung to him, fisting his pale trembling hand tightly into the dark blue material of Michael’s flannel shirt where his coat hung open.

“Luke,” the dark-haired man breathed and his chocolate brown eyes were pained. “You look well.”

Michael’s grip tightened infinitesimally and Luke laid one of his cold hands soothingly on the back of Michael’s neck, stroking the skin where the older man’s scarf had slipped aside as he took in Calum with an unmoved look on his face.

“You don’t,” the blond man said and there was just a hint of ice in his voice, like he was fighting to mask the pain that Michael could see blazing in his eyes. “Calum, please leave. I have nothing to say to you.”

“Luke?” Michael asked uncertainly, his voice little more than a murmur, but Luke simply shook his head at his boyfriend, his blue eyes sparkling with pain and tears and love.

“Let’s not leave Ash waiting,” Luke said softly and they turned away, starting down the road towards the café Ashton had first met his girlfriend in a month or two previously.

The pair were already halfway there when Calum called out brokenly from behind them: “Please, Luke! I… I need to –”

What, Calum?!” Luke snapped, spinning round to face him. The dark-haired man flinched away and Michael looked between them in shock. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough?!”

Lukey,” Calum said imploringly and Michael actually had to tighten his grip around the blond man’s waist to stop him flying at Calum. “I – I need to tell you –”

“Just leave us alone! We’re fine – happy! Just –”

“I think you should listen to him, Luke,” Michael murmured and the pair of them fell silent, exhaling shakily as their breath rose in the air in front of them in little clouds of fog. “You don’t owe that bastard anything but… but I think you’ll kick yourself if you don’t.”

Michael flinched at his choice of words, turned his downcast face to the floor and fought to swallow past the lump in his throat in the moments before Luke cupped Michael’s cheeks gently, gazing at his boyfriend as the icy fire in his eyes slowly sputtered out. Michael kissed him briefly and Luke’s eyes grew wet with tears.

“Calum, what do you want?” Luke mumbled without turning to look at the dark-haired man who had made his life an absolute misery for so long.

“I… I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry…” Calum breathed, his words so soft in the quiet morning that they were almost lost. “And… and that I’m happy for you.”

Calum’s voice was shaking but his tear-wet eyes were sincere. It looked like he meant it and Michael marvelled at the difference those years had made.

“I…” Luke’s voice trailed away but he was watching Calum now, shaking his head slowly as the tears in his bright blue eyes overflowed, rolling down his pale cheeks. Luke looked numb and Michael squeezed his boyfriend’s hand gently, praying that this wouldn’t set Luke back again. “I think you need to… to go…”

Luke’s voice was softer now, shaken up.

Calum looked dazed.

“I have something for you,” the dark-haired man murmured suddenly, extracting his battered wallet from the pocket of his torn jeans and searching through it for whatever he was talking about.

From the way they were standing, Michael couldn’t see what Calum withdrew but Luke must have been able to because his breath caught in his throat and his eyes seemed to burn brighter with fresh tears.

Cal,” Luke gasped, his voice choked. The dark-haired man was shaking when he drifted a little closer, eyeing Michael warily before his dark eyes settled on Luke again. There was a bird circling overhead now, dark against the bright white of the sky, a stain on the landscape.

Calum pressed the slightly-singed corner of an old Polaroid into the blond man’s hand and Michael felt his heart rising into his throat when he correctly identified what it was: the last physical remnant Luke had of his family.

“I’m sorry,” Calum whispered again, his voice thick and choked with tears now. Luke’s trembling fingers closed around the Polaroid and Michael patted Luke’s shoulder gently.

No one spoke and, after what seemed like an age, Calum nodded to himself. He turned away, ducking his head as he buried his shaking hands in the pockets of his ripped jeans. He was wearing no jacket and his shoulders were slumped.

It was the most pitiful thing Michael had ever seen but he felt unease bubbling in his veins and, before Michael had even opened his mouth, Luke took a hesitant step away from Michael, towards Calum.

Cal,” Luke croaked and the dark-haired man stiffened, freezing without turning around. Luke’s grip on Michael’s hand tightened and the wind seemed to drop until the only sounds were the crashing of the waves and the bird cawing overhead and Calum’s ragged breathing.

”I forgive you,” Luke said quietly.

Calum didn’t turn but his shoulders seemed to rise a little, like a great weight had been lifted from them.

Thank you,” Calum whispered.

He turned, darting across the road and hurrying down an alleyway between the café and a charity shop, disappearing from sight as a car and a van trundled down the quiet road in quick succession.

Michael and Luke never saw Calum again, and maybe that was for the best.

“How do you feel, petal?” the black-haired man asked his boyfriend softly, raising Luke’s knuckles to press a gentle kiss to them again. The blond man remained silent, clearly considering his answer before a dazzling smile played across his pale lips, tugging them up at the corners.

“I feel better,” Luke said, mild surprise colouring his tone as the breeze tousled his blond hair playfully. He brought the corner of Polaroid up to his lips, letting his eyes flutter closed for a moment before he stowed it safely in his coat pocket. “I feel lighter.”

“Good,” Michael breathed as Luke’s arms wound gently around his shoulders, anchoring him there. “That’s good.”

They kissed gently, their lips soft and warm and comforting as the bird overhead circled once more before flying away with a soft cry.

The pair parted and Michael’s emerald green eyes were glitter-soft as his boyfriend closed the gap between them once more to place a loving kiss on Michael’s lips.

Luke was finally safe.