Author: Relentless Bibliophile PM
[One–shot: COMPLETE] Why do couples choke when it comes to those three words? We know that Paul says 'I love you' first. We know that Michael, struggling with hidden fears and doubts, is too scared to say it back. We don't know how it happened. [slash]Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst/Romance - Words: 2,263 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 5 - Published: 07-17-05 - Status: Complete - id: 1964913
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: These characters are mine. Please don't use or take or otherwise abuse them.
A/N: My boys and I were talking with piig and her Kin and Micah, and Ash and her Brad and Sky, swapping 'The first time I said I love you' stories. I was curious as to what happened with Paul and Michael - I knew it didn't go well, but wasn't aware of the specifics. So asked, and I found out. This is, essentially, an insert for More Than Anything, occuring before the events of chapters 5 and 6. Warnings for bad mood!Michael, which can be quite dangerous when he wants it to be. Also, bonus sibling bonding, as well.
Don't worry, though - we all know what happens between 6 and 7 of MTA, and Michael apologizes profusely. But this Paul POV is what happens before all that. (May or may not have a companion piece from Michael's POV later. This may turn into a mini-series ... eesh ...)
Michael sniffles. "He loves me," he whispers, "He told me so yesterday."
He should be happy, I think to myself. Michael should be ecstatic that his boyfriend feels so strongly about him. "I don't —"
"Just like me and Brian," Michael says.
If he would just tell me what the matter is, I wouldn't have to lie here in the dark, staring at his face in profile and wondering what's going through his mind. "Michael . . ."
"There is nothing wrong."
There are two possibilities for that answer. Either he really doesn't want to talk about it and hopes that being deliberately vague will throw me off, or he actually believes I'll fall for that obvious nonsense. I'm not sure which one is worse.
I resist the urge to get visibly upset. I don't know why it is, but I can't get angry with him and let it show. He's seen so much hate, heard so much yelling, that I can't bear him to hear it from me. I know it's probably egotistical to think of myself as a safe place, but after everything Michael's gone through, I'd like to think I am. Or, at least, I should be.
"You can't honestly think —"
He cuts me off; something he never used to do, but an occurrence that's become more and more common these days. "No, I don't. But I did think you'd take the hint."
I clamp down on my tongue to hold back a sigh. I want to hold him, but he's been oddly cold to any sort of physical advances — that alone would have been enough to convince me that something was wrong, if I didn't know already. "Don't do this."
"Do what?" Michael doesn't look at me, but I see him roll his eyes anyway. Or maybe I just see the motion in his body movement, I don't know. "I'm not 'doing' anything. Isn't that what you're complaining about?"
Calm, calm . . . I close my eyes for a moment, so I won't snap at him. "I'm just worried."
"Then stop. I'm tired and I don't want to talk."
I narrow my eyes, not liking the hostile edge to his voice; my Michael is supposed to be hesitant and sweet, not bitter like this. "You don't ever want to talk about it."
Michael turns onto his side, chin propped on his hand. The sleeve of his pajamas — I'll never understand how he can wear long sleeves and long pants in June — slips down his arm, and he tugs it back up. His eyes are hard; if I were standing up, I would step back a pace. "Don't you respect me enough to let things go?"
"This isn't about respect," I flop onto my back and cover my eyes with my arm so Michael can't see the tears; in this mood, my getting upset only makes it worse. Not, of course, that he's looking. "It's about . . . it's about us meeting in the hospital because you tried to kill yourself, and me never wanting that to happen again."
I don't hear Michael's reply, which is sharp and defensive-sounding, because I'm picturing him lying on the hospital bed, IVs and various monitors attached to his arms and chest. Or him in the boy's washroom at school, back before we ever spoke, sitting on the toilet lid and crying as though no one could hear him.
Michael says I don't know when to drop things; that I push and push even when people don't want to think about it. But how can I leave this? How can I just write this off and go back to sleep, pretending that the one I —
I cut the thought off before it has time to form. It's something that's been rolling around in my mind for a while now, bubbling up whenever I see Michael's hurt face or his smile, hear his laughter or muffled sobs. He always turns his face to the pillow when he cries; I've learned to fake sleep when I overheard this, because when I do, he'll snuggle up next to me and bury his face in my neck. If he's distressed enough I can wrap my arms around him and pretend it's a reflex.
But even though I try to push it back, it doesn't go away. It's something I've known for a while now — something I wish I could have announced the moment it crept into my mind, but I can't. Not when Michael's like this.
"I'm not going to try again," Michael's voice hitches, and for a second I'm hopeful — but then I realize it's anger, not vulnerability. "Try to have faith in me for once, will you?"
"You stop that!" I snap, unable to help myself. "I do have faith in you! You have to know that!" he shrugs, a tiny rise and fall of the shoulders. The sheets twist in my grasp. "You're . . . you're taking what I say and distorting it."
Michael sighs. "I just don't see why we have to share everything that goes through our heads," he says, voice moderately calmer but still in that scary, flat zone. "I think we both deserve a level of privacy."
"There's a difference between privacy and shutting someone else out," I reach out to him, and though he doesn't jerk away, he stays still, impassive. I withdraw my hand, feeling stung. "You can't shut me out like this. Because . . . because I love you, and I can't . . . Michael?"
He has an unreadable expression on his face, one that frightens me with its carefully modulated flatness. I rewind the tape of my last few sentences and play it over in my mind, at which point I freeze. I'd said it. I hadn't meant to — hadn't even wanted to admit it yet — but I'd said it.
"Oh," I breathe, and the urge to take it all back surges through me. I fight it. "Oh, oh, I didn't mean to say . . . I mean, not —" I stop, look at him. He's shifted his gaze away from mine, staring instead at the poster of a fluffy kitten I have tacked to the ceiling. I bristle; I can't help it. "But it's true, though."
Without a word, Michael slides down to a horizontal position and rolls over, facing away from me. I feel sick; broken; shattered and smashed to pieces. "Mi —"
"I'm sleeping," he says, and his voice isn't hard or malicious, nor irritated or upset. It just is, and somehow that's even worse.
"Fine," I whisper.
I try to lie down and go to sleep, but I can't. Not when there's such a huge space between us, filled with the things I want to say and things he won't say, with hostility and . . . and just everything.
I sit up again, throwing my legs over the side of the bed and standing up. "I'm going to go sleep . . . somewhere else," I say, and the silly part of me — the same little inner voice that used to suggest that maybe this time the boys would let me play with them instead of kicking me down and laughing — hopes that maybe he'll stop me. Maybe he'll turn over, hold out his hand, and take me in his arms. He doesn't even have to say he loves me back — I'd know.
He doesn't give a verbal answer. What he does is far, far crueller; he pushes my pillow out of the way, and shifts over so he lies in the middle of the bed, arms and legs akimbo.
I won't cry. It won't help, and I'll just get a headache and puffy eyes tomorrow for my trouble. "Goodnight," I whisper, not surprised when he doesn't answer. My throat aches with the force of keeping back the tears, and I leave the room.
I really didn't have a plan when I told him I was leaving — I half thought he wouldn't let me go. Now, standing in the dark hallway, shivering in my nightgown, I have no idea where to go. I don't like sleeping on the couches because I don't have enough room, and because ours are so old that the cushions slide off whenever I move.
I could crawl in with Mom, I suppose, but I don't want to worry her, and I know she'd ask what's wrong. I can't have her thinking anything bad about Michael, as her love and approval is something I desperately want. I scrunch my fingers into my hair and stand there, eyes screwed shut, for a few moments before I come to a decision.
My feet take me to a room that would give any interior decorator a coronary, divided in half between cutesy girlishness and pseudo-Goth angst. I lean against the doorjamb, hesitating. Tiffany and I don't talk anymore; not since the man Mom married left us, and Tiffany decided she hated the world, including me.
But before that, Tiffany was my protector. When the boys ganged up on me at the playground, she was the one who beat them up. When I had nightmares, she always seemed to know and was there to crawl in bed with me. And even when that distant figure called 'Daddy' lambasted me for refusing to try out for sports, or for having caught me rooting through Bethy's closet, Tiffany used her influence and got him to lighten punishments.
Now, of course, Tiffany can barely look at me without her gaze seeping venom — I think she blames me for our father leaving, as he always disliked me — but for some reason, I'm still drawn here. I call her name, barely breaking a whisper. It's a test, you see; she always was able to hear me no matter how softly I spoke, and if she doesn't wake up now, it means whatever's left of our bond is gone.
A few seconds pass, and my heart feels heavy. I'm about to turn when her sleeping figure stirs, and she sits up. "Paul?"
"I had a bad dream," I choke out, the tears really threatening now.
"Was it him?" she asks, an edge to her voice. She's never liked Michael, right from the first time I came home talking about him. I can see her now, hair tied back in a messy braid for the night, makeup washed off. She knuckles her eyes.
I don't answer her, because it's too much — too complicated to explain, and my brain reminds me that she's only twelve. It's not fair to lay anything on her. Tiffany sighs, scoots closer to the wall, and flips the covers back. "Big baby," she says, curling up on her side.
I gasp to hold back a sob and all but run into the room, climbing into bed next to her. I can't stand it any longer; Michael's words and looks and the coldness of his demeanour crash down around me, and I burst into tears — though I keep it quiet so I don't wake Jolene.
"Idiot," Tiffany says quietly, and if it isn't affection in her voice then it's at least devoid of its normal resentment. She strokes my hair gently, something that goes back to when I was six years old and she not even a year, curling her tiny fists into the hair at the nape of my neck.
I just cry, letting her pet my hair and allowing myself to forget that there are five and a half years between us; that by all rights I should be taking care of her, not the other way around.
I try not to think of Michael, try not to wonder if his mind has drifted to me and if he feels sorry, or anything at all, but of course it's no use. His face is behind my eyes when Tiffany's low voice and her fingers combing through the short hairs at the base of my skull lull me, finally, to sleep.