Bloodstream

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As days pass, they begin to stretch, more in Michael’s head than in reality, but the other boys feel it too. Things don’t register as sharply as usual. Everything’s wrong, swimming in and out of focus, like trying to see through someone else’s glasses.

Michael knows this is the way it’s meant to be, because he hasn’t blown up at anyone for a long time now. He just wishes things weren’t so hazy, wishes he could think clearly. He’s not sure how much is actually happening around him the way he thinks it is, and how much is just seeing through a filter.

He’s kind of lagging during the gig today, like his fingers are bigger than he can handle, string crossings and chord changes all sloppy. His finger picking and regular picking is slow. He’s glad most of the harmony work is Calum’s job, because he can’t find the energy to speak. All of them keep sending him significant looks during the gig, but Michael’s not bothered. It’s better this way. Chemicals are supposed to burn, make you feel alive, but Michael knows that it’s taken a reverse.

When they’re done with the gig, and packing up, Luke frowns at him, coming over. He reaches over and latches Michael’s guitar case closed for him. Michael wonders vaguely why he can’t figure it out himself. The latches are supposed to be easy. Funny how Michael used to be the one teaching Luke about electrics, and now Luke’s having to return the favor.

“Thanks,” Michael mumbles. Luke just gives him a strange look and finishes packing up for him, since Michael looks ready to fall apart and the night’s just started.

On the way home, Michael slumps against the window of the taxi. “Dude, you okay?” Ashton asks, looking back at him from the shotgun seat he claimed. “You look...um, a little...sick.”

“‘M fine,” Michael says, the words getting mushy in his mouth.

“Looking a little dazed,” Calum says, reaching over Luke and slapping a hand abruptly to Michael’s forehead. His hand is cold. Michael’s cold all over. He shrinks away. “Nope, no fever.”

“Quit it,” Michael says, slapping at his hand.

“Just checking,” Calum says with a shrug.

“You sick?” Luke asks softly. Michael shakes his head, trying to snap out of the stupor. “Maybe get some sleep when we get home.”

“It’s been a long night,” Ashton agrees. “Think we’re all kind of tired.”

Michael detects the extra sympathy, knowing they’ve all been watching him more closely since they found out about his mother. It feels like a pity party, a miracle in itself, seeing as Michael hasn’t been feeling much lately. And the way Michael’s leaning against the window, nobody really wants to deal with him.

“Just rest up, Michael,” Ashton says with a sigh. Michael’s sure he’s tired of having to parent Michael around.

Michael doesn’t bother talking after that.

---

As Michael crawls into bed that night, Luke sits at the foot of the bed, fingers moving over the plain comforter. Michael notices that when Luke wants to talk about something, he likes to fidget, so he can see what’s coming next.

“Michael,” Luke says, chin dropped to his chest. His eyes are shadowed.

“Yeah?” Michael says, leaning against the pillows.

“Are you okay?” he asks, looking genuinely concerned, even if concern seems mostly directed the covers. “Like, really okay?”

“I’m okay,” Michael says, as strongly as he can force it to sound. He wants to cringe, because it doesn’t sound nearly as convincing as he’d like.

“You just seem so out of it lately,” Luke says apprehensively, like he’s afraid Michael will lash out. Michael’s far too tired to lash out. “Like you’re sick or something.”

Sick, maybe, in his head and his chest, because everything weighs so heavily on him. But not in a sense he can explain to Luke. Not without screwing things up.

“Everyone keeps saying that,” Michael says. He slides down until he’s lying fully horizontal, and curls slightly. “Come on, get in bed.”

At this point, it’s just a given that Luke sleeps on the other side of the bed. Luke hasn’t slept in his own bed practically since Michael came back from Perth. Michael thinks he’s probably as reliant on Luke as he is on his meds.

“Just, promise me you’re okay,” Luke mumbles as wanders over to his side of the bed, flipping the lights off as he goes. He climbs in, pulling the covers up under his chin.

“I promise,” Michael says, and he’s pretty sure it isn’t a lie. He is fine. “Leave it be, Luke.” He sounds tired, breaking.

“Just worried,” Luke says with a sad little yawn. He scoots a little closer to Michael. “Cuddle me.”

Michael likes when Luke demands cuddles. Makes him feel needed. Reassures him that Luke really does want it.

“Needy,” Michael teases half-heartedly, but wraps an arm around him anyway. Luke buries his head somewhere in Michael’s neck. He doesn’t mind at all. “I’m okay. Don’t worry about me.” His voice cracks.

“Can’t help it.” Luke sighs. He detaches himself and scoots up. “Would you tell me if something was bad?”

Luke knows the answer is no, Michael knows it’s no, but Michael says yes, says it like letting go of a cliff, says it like it’s battled its way out of his body.

“Yeah,” Michael says. “Of course.”

Luke grasps at the front of Michael’s black t-shirt, glad he’s wearing one. He’s awfully close and Michael’s awfully nervous.

“You’ll be okay,” Luke says, nose touching Michael’s. Luke smells like fresh linen and the nice-smelling blue soap he keeps on the bathroom ledge. “Everything’s alright.”

“Everything’s not alright,” Michael whispers back. “It’s okay, I’ll be okay. I promise.”

Michael hates how his promises sound so convictionless and crumbling.

And he’s not sure who moves first, but when the tears fall, he feels Luke’s soft lips press against his briefly and his soft hand come up to wipe away one of the tears and his soft voice whispering, “I love you.”

Michael lets out a sob; he wasn’t meant to, was supposed to be suppressing this sort of thing for the very person who just kissed him, but here he is, crying in his arms.

“I love you too,” Michael says, agonizingly desperate, and this time he means it.

---

(A/N) tiny drugged out midweek update for y'all for being so freaking awesome for me. didn't mean to have them kiss so soon but that's the way the cookie crumbles and things are gonna start snowballing really fast now prepare yourselves

ed sheeran's pretty gr8 if you ask me ;) you guys have found so many references in other chapters but you had no idea what I had planned ha joke's on you

you guys got this story ranked 21 in fanfiction and 55 in teen fiction and that is crazy balls right there thanks, that totally made my day. I'll try to update again this weekend.

aaaand yeah, thanks for being a constant in my life, I need that and I can always count on you. keep on trucking.

bye xx

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