Rating: G - PG-13
Pairing/characters: Teddy/James, Dex
Warnings/content: Highlight to read *James bonding with a minor, beware!, Same sex wedding! *gasp*, Nakedness, but not explicit enough*
Notes: Sorry for the sketchyness~ That's James' hand in case you´re wondering~ I used no ref and rather regret it =/ This is after the end, what I imagine would happen <3
A Pensieve's No Excuse Not To Start Over @ googlesites
The young man woke slowly, hints of the waking world hitting him like the soft flutter of a caught Snitch's wings, insistent but not unpleasant. There were soft murmurs, shuffling noises of papers and feet, a rhythmic tone that was nearly annoying. He breathed in deeply, finding the air overly clean, overly fresh. It was not a natural smell, and that more than any noise pulled him from his sleep faster. He became aware of his dry mouth, a sore throat, a feeling that he hadn't spoken in more than just a night's sleep, and this realization distressed him. His eyes opened, and he breathed in again, this time a sharp gasp.
James blinked in the diffused light, moved his lips to try and answer the voice that had said his name.
"No, son, don't speak. You're all right, just hold on. Let me get the healer." There was the sound of a chair scraping over tiled floor, and then quiet as James was left alone. He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry and it was painful. Licking his lips brought no relief, but he found he could turn his head.
His vision adjusting to the light, he could now see that he was in hospital, what had to be a ward at St. Mungo's. Curtains served as a partition between his bed and the rest of the ward, but he could see two chairs at his bedside, and a blanket and book hastily tossed aside. It was his father who'd said his name, who'd gone to get the healer. James thought back, trying to remember what had happened to put him in here, but his mind was fuzzy, his memory blank.
Before that thought could scare him, a Healer pushed the curtains aside, Harry right behind him, and James opened his mouth again, trying to ask for a sip of water.
"Easy, lad," said the healer, reaching down for James's wrist. "Don't try to speak just yet, I know your throat must be raw." He shook his head, tutted. "Air quality charms have been failing lately, can't seem to sort out why. Can't keep any moisture in it."
"I had noticed," Harry said, though his eyes were fixed on James, and his arms crossed with tight worry.
The healer nodded to himself, then put James's wrist back down. "We're glad to see you awake, James. I've got Nadia coming with some water for you. Let me just ask you a few questions, you can just nod or shake your head, all right?" James nodded, and the healer smiled. "First off, I'm Healer Augustus Pye, and you're in ward forty-six. That's Spell Damage, short-term stay. You've been here for about two weeks."
James looked quickly to Harry, his eyes widening. Harry nodded back, just the slightest motion to agree to the surprising facts.
Pye shifted slightly, growing more serious. "James, do you remember what you were doing before you woke up just now?"
James thought about it carefully, but his mind didn't seem to want to venture back any further than the first sound that roused him from his fortnight of sleep. He shook his head.
"I thought as much. Keep thinking on it, son. It may take some time, but the moment you do remember something, let someone know." Pye turned to Harry. "As I had forewarned, the potential for memory loss is not insubstantial. What truly is in question is the severity and extent of the loss."
Harry kept looking at James. "At what point should we worry if he can't remember?"
Pye glanced at James, then stepped closer to Harry, lowering his voice. "Give it a day or two. We'll deal with the rest then."
The curtains pulled aside, and a young woman stepped forward with a pitcher of water and a glass. "Hullo, dear. We're glad you're awake." She excused herself softly, stepping between Harry and Pye to put the water on the bedside table, then poured half a glass. "Can you sit yourself up a bit?" James nodded, trying to shift himself, but his body was heavier than he expected, his muscles weaker. Harry moved quickly to help, pulling him upright and adjusting the pillow behind James.
A few minutes later, his lips and throat soothed by the cool water, James managed to speak roughly. "Two weeks?"
The healer and mediwitch looked to Harry, who nodded solemnly. "Yes." He reached over to grasp James's shoulder. "You've had us really worried, Jamie."
James shook his head, confusion and not a little fear filing his head. "I . . . I don't. . . ."
Harry's hand tightened. "No, son. Don't worry about what happened right now. You don't need to remember right away."
"Better not to try to force it," Pye agreed.
James took a deep breath, looking at everyone, then looked at his father. "Where's . . . ?"
Harry nodded. "He's been around. I made him go home, get some proper sleep. And a shower," he added, his lips quirking into a small smile. "Mostly he's been here with you, though."
James smiled softly as well, though his heart ached a bit at the thought of putting his boyfriend through the pain of having to sit at his bedside. "Owl him?"
"Of course. Just wanted to let him know you were okay, and not just awake." Harry hitched a thumb over his shoulder. "Want me to send for him now?"
"Please," James said, nodding harder. "And tell Liam I love him?"
Harry was starting to nod, but paused at that last, and he shared a glance with the healer. "O-of course. I'll tell, uh, Liam." He looked again at the healer, then stepped through the curtains.
Two weeks earlier—sixteen days, to be precise, and Teddy couldn't help but be precise about this—Teddy had been at work late, catching up on some paperwork that his boss was riding him about, when the small head-only Floo in his office had flared up and Harry Potter's grave-looking face had ordered Teddy home at once. Since that day, he'd spent most of his time at St. Mungo's, trying not to be obnoxious, knowing from his rotations in school how annoying the loved ones of the infirmed could be. Ward 46 was better than the Closed Ward when it came to the hope of its residents recovering and going home to lead full and happy lives, but at least the visitors to Ward 49 often were at peace with the fate of those who lived there.
He'd never been quite able to handle the feel of St. Mungo's, despite his love and talent with healing, which was why the offer from the Magpies to join their medical staff was most welcome. That and, of course, the opportunity to work with world-class Quidditch players on one of the best teams in the league, even if his own loyalties remained, quite hopelessly, with the ne'er-do-well Cannons down south.
Even with the convenience of Apparation and Floo, and how much he loved his job an Assistant Sport Healer, and how uncomfortable he was in St. Mungo's, he couldn't stand to be in Montrose while James was comatose in a bed in London.
Harry would occasionally get Teddy to at least go home, a few words to remind Teddy that the hospital wasn't the only place he was needed being enough to guilt Teddy into focusing on his other responsibilities . . . at least for a few hours. Ginny had ripped him a new one around the tenth day, quite deservedly so, but for all that he knew what he had to do, he couldn't manage to leave James for much more than a few hours at home and bad night's sleep.
He was in the kitchen, making up a small tea while he was gratefully home alone for a spell, when Demetrius flew in and pushed a letter in his face.
"Oi, this better be important," he grumbled to the owl, who merely hooted with some insistence and wiggled his talons again until Teddy took the parchment and opened it.
Ted, he's awake. Alert and talking, but he doesn't remember what's happened. You should come right away, but see me before you go see him. Harry
The first words coaxed a true smile from Teddy's lips, though the ones that followed dampened it. Still, an awake Jay was the best Jay. He whooped, laughing as Demitrius hooted loudly in agreement, and waved his wand to put out the heat on the kettle. He grabbed his cloak from the floor where he'd dropped it some hours ago, and in no time he was stumbling out of a fireplace in St. Mungo's.
"He's awake!" he called out to the receptionist, a sweet old lady who'd been there since before Teddy had started his schooling, and who clapped her hands with pleasure as Teddy ran past, dashing up the stairs to the fourth floor as quick as his legs would take him.
His godfather was waiting just outside the ward, his head down, wringing his hands slightly. He looked up as Teddy approached him, and Teddy was surprised by the tension on Harry's face. "He's awake." It was nearly a question; Teddy couldn't quite believe it to be true. Harry nodded.
"He's awake. But Teddy. . . ." Harry reached out, pulling Teddy close by his shoulder. "He doesn't remember what happened."
"Yeah, you said, but that's not surprising, is it?"
"No, Pye thought it might take a day or so. But it's not just. . . ." Harry took a deep breath. "He asked me to get Liam. And . . . to tell Liam that he loved him."
Teddy felt the bottom fall out of his stomach. "Wh-what?"
Harry shook his head. "I haven't pressed him. But . . . but Pye agrees, he may have more than just short-term memory loss."
"Oh, Jay. . . ." Teddy covered his mouth with his hand, his face filled with concern and worry.
"So, Pye wants to tell him, try to help him remember," Harry continued, his voice gentle. "He wants to be there, but he figures you should be the one to tell him."
Teddy nodded, his hand now rubbing over his chin, over the five days of stubble that were becoming a beard. "We still don't know what the curse was, do we?" He felt guilty to realize that even if Harry had heard, Teddy hadn't asked about it in days. The cause of James's state had ceased to matter when faced with Teddy's need for James to simply wake up.
"No. They're still working on it, though I fear we won't know for sure until we hear from Albus." Teddy looked up, took in the tense, drawn face of his godfather, and he was suddenly reminded that Harry had two sons in uncertain situations. A touch of shame found its way into Teddy's heart; he could only imagine how that would feel, and even with things far from okay with James, having him awake made it so much clearer to Teddy how single-minded he'd been over the last sixteen days.
"Can I see him? Is it . . . do you think it's safe?"
Harry looked at Teddy, and he pulled Teddy into his arms for a hug. "Of course you can see him, son. Maybe seeing you will be the key to straightening out his mind."
Teddy hugged back tightly, and let out a soft chuckle. "Hopefully not too straight. I'd be more worried about that than I am about him asking for Liam." Harry laughed quietly as well, and then they parted. "I don't want to freak him out, though. Telling him he's missing all those years is one thing, do you think I should . . . ?" He lifted his left hand, and with his right he touched the ring he hadn't taken off in nearly five years.
"Definitely not," Harry said, his old Auror command voice returning. "If he can't remember, then he needs you to remember for him."
"Oh Merlin." Teddy's eyes widened. "He won't remember. . . ." Harry's head shook before Teddy could bring himself to finish the sentence; instead he took a deep breath. "This is going to be hard."
"It is. But you're strong enough, and maybe this won't last long." Harry clapped Teddy's back. "Come on, let's get you in to see your husband."
James startled when the curtains moved aside. Expecting the healer, or his father, it took him a moment to recognize the man who stepped close. "Teddy!" His best friend looked exhausted, unexpectedly older and somewhat strange with an unshaven face. "What are you—oh, are you on shift today?"
There was something in Teddy's eyes that James couldn't quite decipher, but it was more than the concern that his father's and the healer's had. "No, Jamie. I came to see you." He sat down, leaned forward towards James, then stopped and looked down, before pulling back slightly. "You . . . Merlin, it's so good to see you awake, Jamie."
James noticed a quaver in Teddy's voice, so he gave his friend a smile. "Just needed a nap, I suppose. I'll be ready to hit the clubs with you all again really soon, I promise." Teddy didn't respond, so James asked another question: "Is Liam coming? I asked Dad to get him, but . . ."
Teddy rubbed his hands, clearly distressed about something, but then he gave a short nod, mostly to himself. "Do you mind if I have the healer join us, Jamie? I've something to talk to you about, and I think he should be here."
"What does that mean?" James asked, worried that Teddy wasn't answering his question about Liam. He still couldn't remember what had put him in hospital—had the same thing happened to Liam? Or something worse? Teddy's eyes were wide and pleading, so James nodded. "Yes, just . . . just tell me what everyone's afraid to talk to me about."
Teddy stood, reaching over to run his hand over James's hair. James's lips quirked, amused as always by his best friend's more tactile tendencies. "I promise you, I will." He poked his head out of the curtains; within moments the healer had joined them, standing silent and foreboding at the foot of James's bed.
"Jamie, your dad didn't call for Liam. You . . . you're having some . . . memory issues."
James was confused. "I know I can't remember what's happened, but why shouldn't Liam know—"
"You and Liam broke up," Teddy said, speaking over James in a rush. "You two broke up a long time ago."
"What? No we didn't."
Teddy nodded. "Yes, Jay, you did. It wasn't working, and you two broke up and we've all stayed friends since, and you . . . you both moved on. You fell in love with someone else." Stunned, James couldn't manage to say anything, and so Teddy took a deep breath and continued. "You fell in love with me, Jay. We fell in love seven years ago, and five . . . five years ago we got married." With his left hand, he pulled at chain that was hidden beneath his collar, revealing a ring dangling from it—a ring that matched the one he wore.
James stared at the ring for a moment, then looked up to meet Teddy's eyes, eyes which seemed to be pleading James to share his memory of this life of which he spoke. James shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, Ted. I . . . you're my best mate, of course, and I do love you, but . . . but I don't remember being in love with you." He glanced at the rings again. "Or marrying you." He shifted slightly in the bed, pulling a little away from Teddy. He could see his friend swallow hard at the move, and he felt awful, though at the same time, completely incapable of trying to make it better.
"It's okay," Teddy whispered, nodding slightly. "There's still a good chance that your memory will come back soon on its own." Teddy lifted the chain from around his neck, and he held it out to James. "Will you hang onto this? You don't have to put it on—" it was clear that was painful to say "—but you should have it. For . . . for when you do remember." Teddy smiled softly, and James nodded, closing his hand around the ring and chain. "Merlin," Teddy added, his voice dropping to a low whisper, "it's hard not to kiss you." James blushed, and Teddy ducked his head. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," James replied, smiling a bit. "I can't imagine how this must feel to you. To be in love with someone who used to love you?" He let out a dry chuckle, devoid of humor. "Though I suppose I'll find out soon enough if I do speak to Liam." He winced. "Now I'm sorry, that's. . . ."
"You can't help it," Teddy said, shaking his head. "I'm just grateful you're awake." He waggled his eyebrows. "Maybe I'll get to woo you all over again. It has been a while since we've been really romantic. . . ."
"Has it?" James touched the ring in his hand idly. "Were we having problems?" Though unable to remember his marriage, he found that he hoped very much that that wasn't the case.
Teddy's smile widened. "Oh, not at all. Some rows here and there, like anyone else, but we're solid, Jay. And disgustingly happy with our life."
There was a sound of a throat clearing, and both James and Teddy looked over in surprise at Pye, who had managed to fall into the background of their conversation. "Pardon me. I need to check on other patients now. James." Pye stepped forward and handed James a small book of parchment and a quill. "Use this to note down anything that comes to mind that may be a memory from your missing years. Any names, events, images if you want to draw them. If you wake up from a dream that seems surprisingly real, note it with as much detail as you can."
James took the book and quill, nodding. "I will." He wished he could have a canvas and his paints instead; he'd never been very good at sketching.
Teddy rose from his seat and stepped over to Pye. "Obviously telling him about some big things, giving him his ring, neither triggered his memory. Do you think I should . . . ?"
Pye glanced at James, then shook his head. "Not quite yet." He leaned in closer to Teddy, lowering his voice. "I'd not even mention it yet. He'll have enough on his mind trying to remember his relationship with you."
"I've got amnesia, I'm not deaf," James said, his voice casual. He was still fiddling with the ring, not even looking up at Teddy and the Healer. "You ought to step outside the curtain if you really want to talk about the life I can't remember behind my back."
"Sorry, Jamie." His voice was soft, and James could hear contrition and a strange tone of pride in it. "Suppose we got used to talking when you couldn't hear us."
James looked up, meeting Teddy's eyes. "If you're going to keep things from me for now, that's fine. It's really okay, because my head is barely handling the fact that I've been asleep for two weeks and I lost . . . how long, precisely?"
Teddy looked at his bare wrist, a wry grin touching his lips as he checked an invisible watch. "At least eight years. I could pinpoint it closer if we talked about what you do remember."
"Eight years, then. Gone in two weeks that feel like just a moment. And apparently the man I am in love with is long over me, and I'm supposed to be over him." James took a deep breath. "I hate to hurt you, Teddy, I truly do, but I still just want to see Liam right now. Is . . . can I? See him?" Please, he thought, please let him be available and willing to help me.
It was several moments before Teddy nodded and broke eye contact. "Of course, Jamie. Anything you need, always."
James remembered the Euro Cup final. He had amazing seats thanks to his various connections, had his best mates cheering at the top of their lungs with him, and to cap off an amazing summer holiday to Italy, he got to watch his boyfriend play a personal best match for the Magpies in their victory over Germany's QC Chemnitz. He remembered Cuán lifting him off the ground as he raised his arms and hollered in victory, remembered running down to the pitch and ducking past the security so he could tackle Liam to the ground and kiss him in the wet, muddy grass. He remembered being pulled off by that same guard and dragged away until Liam and Teddy convinced him to let James stay.
That night they all laughed together in Florence, drunk on wine from a local wizard's vineyard, acting like damned fools in the streets as they celebrated their victory. They scandalized a few old ladies who were unused to men snogging each other so indelicately while in public, and only a quick memory charm from Cian saved them from trouble with the Italian authorities after a Muggle spied them shooting off fireworks with their wands.
James could remember the rest of that night, after they all went their separate ways, and he snuck into Liam's room for a more private celebration. They had been enthusiastic, laughing as they sprawled on the floor after and wondered if the people staying in the room below them had enjoyed the performance. It was hours before they slept, happy and spent and curled up naked on the bed that was supposed to be only for Liam. James wasn't even staying in that hotel; Teddy was sharing a double room with Cian and Cuán across the city in far cheaper accommodations.
That had been the 2025 Euro Cup, and they had been solid and happy and not inclined to thinking too much about the future.
James found he couldn't remember New Year's 2026.
He explained all that to the Obliviation expert who came by to see him that afternoon. She nodded, taking notes with a charmed quill, making noises of understanding, comprehension, interest.
"We have been trying to determine the source of your comatose state," she said. "But unfortunately, no answers are forthcoming."
James sighed, not very encouraged by what he was hearing from the medical staff. "So you don't even know if my memories are completely removed or simply. . . ." He shook his head, not sure what to say. "Hiding?"
"It does seem as though we will simply have to wait and see how things progress, in absence of any real answers," she said, her voice as flat as her words; James found himself disliking her immensely.
"One option we do have, however, would be an attempt to trigger your memories via use of a Pensieve."
James frowned. "What, look at someone else's memories about me or something?"
She nodded. "Essentially. We'd take a particular tack of using your husband's memories of shared experiences, as Mr Lupin's would be the closest to matching your own."
His frown deepened, and not only because he wasn't used to hearing Teddy referred to as his husband. "But if that didn't work, then how could I be sure if I ever really remembered anything on my own? How could I be sure I wasn't just . . . subconsciously turning his memory into mine? And we're not the same person, we'd experience the same thing in different ways."
She shook her head. "You're correct, of course. It's simply an option, and fortunately, one that would not need immediate action." She attempted a smile, but it never reached her eyes and it left James feeling cold. "Perhaps it is one you can revisit down the road."
James breathed in deeply, and nodded. "Yes, perhaps." He faked a yawn, and while he was quite certain that she saw through him, she took the hint and left after wishing him luck. Finally, James was alone for the first time since waking up.
He curled onto his side in the bed, feeling uncomfortable in both his skin and his mind, but despite the fake yawn he really was tired, and within minutes he'd fallen back to sleep.
Teddy stood in front of the door to Liam's flat, taking a deep breath
before knocking. It had been a while since they'd seen each other, though not
due to any particular issues. Liam's life just didn't really mesh with theirs
Footsteps approached, and the door opened to a surly, rugged-looking man. Not Liam, and Teddy didn't have a name to put to the face. "Hallo, sorry, I'm looking for Liam, is he in?"
"Christ, Jake, I said I'd get it in a mo'." Liam stumbled over to the door, hands buckling his belt and his t-shirt clearly just pulled on. "Teddy? It's been ages." He stepped over to give Teddy a hug, which Teddy returned half-heartedly.
"Hi, Liam, I'm sorry for popping 'round without calling first." He glanced at the silent man—Jake, name must be Jake—and nodded in recognition of how his visit must be interrupting. "Unfortunately there's a bit of urgency here."
Liam stepped back and gestured for Teddy to follow him. "Sure, sure. Is everything okay?"
Teddy didn't walk too far into the flat; even if Liam wasn't going to come with him right away, Teddy didn't want to leave James alone for too long. "Actually, no. It's James. He's . . . well." Teddy rubbed his chin and quickly told Liam what had been going on—James's injuries, the coma, and the state of amnesia he was currently in. "I know this is so awkward, but he wants to see you," Teddy said, sighing a bit. "He doesn't remember that you two broke up, he's . . . he's still in love with you."
Those words were painful to say, even though Teddy understood the reasoning behind them.
"He is?" Liam shook his head. "Shit, that was, that happened forever ago." He glanced at Jake as he said it, as though he was reassuring him.
Teddy nodded. "You're telling me." He let out a mirthless laugh. "I'm still just his best mate. Looked at his wedding ring without any recognition in his eyes. Just a random piece of metal to him. I haven't even figured out how to tell him the rest."
Liam reached over and squeezed Teddy's shoulder. "Hopefully it's not permanent though, right?"
"We hope. Too early to say, though."
"Of course." Liam pulled his hand back, stroked his chin. "So what can I do to help?"
"Can you come by St. Mungo's? He's asked for you, and I suppose maybe I'm hoping that if you. . . ." Teddy shook his head. "I don't know, if you broke up with him again? Maybe that will set his head right."
Liam nodded slowly. "I can talk to him, sure." He gave Teddy a soft, sympathetic look. "I'm really sorry, Teddy. I can't imagine how difficult this is for you."
"Won't lie, it's been rough. Part of me wishes he were still in that coma. At least then he might have been, I don't know, dreaming about us, our life." Teddy shook his head. "But that's awful, and I'm glad to have him awake. We'll make it work, I'm sure."
"You two have always gravitated to each other," Liam agreed; Teddy was gratified to hear no trace of envy or bitterness in his voice. "I'm sure he'll come around and remember everything." There was some silence, and then Liam spoke again. "I can be over in about an hour, is that all right?"
Teddy nodded, and smiled gratefully. "Yes, that'll be fine. Thanks, Liam." He nodded again to the still-silent Jake, and headed out of the flat. He had one quick trip to make before going back to the hospital.
"Hi, baby." She leaned over and gave her son a tight hug, and James held onto her for a lingering moment. "I'm so glad to see you awake again." She kissed his temple, then pulled away carefully.
"It's nice to be awake. I guess. I don't really feel like I've been asleep for a couple weeks."
Ginny smiled. "I'm glad that you feel all right. Makes dealing with other issues easier, doesn't it?"
"I guess." James sighed. "Not by much, though."
She held out her hand. "Come on, Jamie, let's go for a walk. I imagine you'd like to be out of that bed, hm?" James laughed and took her hand, pulling himself out of the bed.
"Glad I have some bottoms on," he said with a chuckle. "Better than that time you and Dad popped by and found Liam and me lounging in our pants."
Ginny shook her head slightly. "Oh, I'd forgotten all about that." She closed her eyes. "I suppose that wasn't too long ago for you, was it?"
James felt his stomach drop a bit. "Yeah, you're right. And I guess it was ages ago for you." He swallowed. "This is hard, Mum."
She tugged on his arm. "Come on, let's walk and talk. Maybe I can help you fill in some gaps." They started slowly, as James got his feet back under him. It did seem that while his mind had forgotten two weeks and more, his muscles were well aware that they hadn't been used in a while.
Once they were out of the ward, in the corridor, James felt steadier and looked at his mother. "You don't look much different, you know."
Ginny smiled. "You were always very diplomatic, James Sirius, and I appreciate that very much right now."
James laughed. "I mean it! Neither you nor Dad seemed really changed. I didn't wake up and see Dad and realize it'd been . . . what, eight years? Wouldn't have guessed to look at you, either." He bumped his shoulder against hers. "Sort of wish you did look nearly a decade older, might make it easier to wrap my head around all this."
Ginny gave him a sidelong glance. "Have you looked at yourself, Jamie? Seen your face in a mirror?"
He shook his head. "I haven't. Sort of on purpose. I'm not sure if I could handle that, it'd be too weird."
"That's all right. You can take your time about some things."
"Just some things?"
She gave a shrug. "Probably should get used to the idea that you're not with Liam anymore pretty quickly, sweetie."
James covered his
face with a hand. "It would probably be easier if I'd had any indication
in my mind that we might be near breaking up. But I remember us just . . . we
were great." He scratched his chin, thinking he needed a shave soon.
"We'd been down in Italy not too long ago. Won the Euro Cup."
Ginny nodded slowly. "Yeah, you . . . were together about six more months, I guess." She looked at him as they walked. "I don't remember all the details about what finally brought things to an end, so you'll have to ask him, if he comes around."
As much as James wanted to see Liam, he found it disheartening to realize that when he did, Liam would effectively be breaking up with him. He frowned. "You know, it will probably be easy to get used to that. He'll tell me he's not in love with me anymore, that he's moved on, and then I probably won't see him again." He stopped walking, leaning against the wall, that thought hitting him harder than he expected.
He dropped his voice. "But . . . Mum, you know I love Teddy, he's my best mate." He looked at her with wide eyes. "What if I can't be the person he wants me to be anymore?"
Ginny took James's hand again, squeezed it. "Jamie, baby, I can say this much: you've always been the person Teddy wants you to be. You're you. You two took an excellent friendship and built a life together from it. I'm not saying it will be easy to get back there, and maybe you won't be able to go back the same way, if you can't ever remember that life. But you'll. . . ." Ginny leaned over to kiss her son's temple. "You'll do what you have to do."
James nodded, feeling like there was something his mother wasn't telling him, but happy enough to let it to be for now. There was plenty of time to find out everything.
There was a lounge at the end of the corridor that linked all the wards, decorated in calming tones and furnished with chairs and sofas and a few tables. There were a couple small groups there already, talking quietly. Liam was sitting there, alone, looking thoughtful; James couldn't keep himself from smiling widely when he saw the other man.
Liam looked up, startled. "James! I wasn't expecting to see you down here, I was. . . ." He shook his head, then looked to Ginny. "Hallo, Mrs Potter."
She smiled, nodded. "Hello, Liam. Glad to see you here for James." She rubbed James's back. "I'll give you two some time to talk, okay? I'll go up to the cafeteria, get some tea."
James nodded and hugged his mother. "Ta, Mum. Meet you back at my bed in a bit?" She nodded again, kissed his cheek, then headed out of the room, leaving James essentially alone with the ex-boyfriend he still loved. He hoped the few other people in the lounge wouldn't be disturbed by their conversation.
Liam gestured to a pair of stuffed chairs in the corner. "Let's talk over there."
They took a few minutes to get settled, and James found himself helpless to avoid just looking at Liam warmly. "I . . . I'm sorry. I don't remember exactly what 'last night' was for me, but I just know that I really want to kiss you."
"That'd probably be a bad idea," Liam replied, a sympathetic smile on his face. "But it's good to see you, James. It's actually been a while since we got together."
"Has it? Teddy said we were all still friendly. . . ."
Liam nodded, then sighed and sat back in his chair. "We are. But our lives . . . they've gone in different directions. It happens, you know?"
"In theory." James laughed at himself. "I'm sorry. Maybe this isn't fair of me, to ask to see you."
Liam waved his hand. "It's fine, really. For me, anyway. I mean." He shrugged. "I've long moved on from you, James. For all good reasons, and I think we're both happier now than we could have been if we stayed together."
James sighed. "So . . . why did we break up? What did it, in the end?"
"I'd been trying to figure out how to explain it, really." Liam ran a hand through his hair, a painfully familiar gesture, even if Liam's hair was a bit shorter than James had expected it to be. "It wasn't any one particular thing. More that our lives just, just changed, and we weren't as good a fit anymore." He shifted in his seat, and James tried not to be bothered by his fidgeting. "My career really took off after we won the Euro Cup. You were still. . . ." He sighed. "Struggling to find an audience. I didn't mind supporting you, but you weren't very comfortable being a kept man." He smiled wryly. "Or rather, maybe, you weren't comfortable being my kept man."
James shook his head. "So I just, what? Got jealous of you?"
"I don't know if it was really jealousy—you were still completely supportive of me, very understanding of the extra travel I started to do. I think it was more that it became obvious that we both had different plans in mind for our lives."
James took a deep breath. "How I always figured I'd get married."
Liam nodded. "And I didn't particularly want that." He shrugged again. "I think you always assumed that after enough time together, I'd change my mind about that. And my life started picking up, rather than settling down, and I was loving it."
"And apparently I wasn't open to try a life on the move."
"Not in the end. You needed . . . you needed a muse, too." Liam laughed softly. "And I was a terrible muse."
They were quiet, then, while James let all that settle in his mind, tried to find some memories to connect those words to. He couldn't, though, and eventually he found it easier to not try anymore. "So, when did we end it, finally?"
"A bit before Christmas, in twenty-five. We just had a talk. It wasn't dramatic or anything. We were just ready to move on."
James nodded; they had never been much for drama about anything, so that at least didn't come as a surprise. "Sort of like now, huh?"
Liam smiled. "I hope this will be that easy. Last time you at least were on the same page as me."
"I don't feel like I really have much choice, to be honest. You're not going to want to be with me, and even if you did, I don't think I'd want to do that to Teddy. . . ."
Liam's smile softened slightly. "I don't think you would, either." He ran a hand through his hair. "I really hope you can remember everything, because you loved your life, James. You were so happy in it."
"Yeah? Anything you can tell me about?"
Liam scrunched his face. "I . . . think that's probably best to leave to Teddy and your family." He winked. "I wouldn't want to spoil anything for them."
James let out a heavy sigh. "I don't know if I want them to just spill it all at once and trust me to handle it, or give me time to deal with little bits at a time." He smiled at Liam. "But anyway. Why don't you tell me about what's been going on in your life, then? If that's safe?"
"I think that'll be no problem." Liam considered things for a moment, then nodded. "I only had another season with Montrose after we split. They traded me to Kenmare after the twenty-six season." He chuckled at James's surprised face. "I was fine with it. It was brilliant to play for an Irish team, and some of the pressure was off me to win the league every year." He grinned widely. "Though we did it anyway in twenty-nine, shocking the entire Quidditch world."
James laughed. "Well, the Kestrels? I can see it happening once in a blue moon. At least you're not trying to tell me the Cannons are topping the league nowadays."
Liam's face was serious. "Actually? They are not half-bad these days."
"No." James shook his head. "That's it! Put me back in the coma! I can't live in this world!" They both laughed, and for a moment James felt like everything was normal between them, until he remembered that normal wasn't the truth anymore.
Apparently unaware of James's moment of awkwardness, Liam continued. "I played for Ireland in the 2030 World Cup, though we didn't win." He smiled warmly. "You came to all the matches that you could manage, including the final."
James smiled back. "Sounds like something I'd do. Even for an Irishman."
"I might be playing again this year." Liam scratched his chin. "Though I hadn't expected you to make it to as many matches this time."
"Why not? I like traveling a bit."
Liam shook his head. "Well, first it's being held in Japan this year. So that's a lot of traveling. And. . . ." He laughed again. "Look, you'll understand why soon enough."
James groaned. "I'm going to have to get my parents and Teddy together and force them to spill it all, aren't I?"
Liam grinned. "It might be the best idea."
"Right. Okay, well, more about you, then." He closed one eye, and found himself asking, "So . . . are you seeing anyone these days?" He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know, but if he was going to adjust, he had to do as much adjustment as he could under his own control.
"Sort of, I guess?" He began explaining his strange relationship with some Auror named Jake, and James felt his heart start to break and heal all at once.
"Oh, that's good." He shook his head. "I guess, anyway."
Ginny squeezed Teddy's arm. "I think it will be, sweetie."
"You switch off with Harry?"
"He had some work to do anyway, so he's catching up on paperwork at home." She nodded to a bag Teddy had put on James's bed. "What do you have, there?"
Teddy bit his lip. "I brought some photo albums. Thought, you know, maybe the pictures would help trigger the memories. And even if not, maybe . . . maybe he'll decide he really wants to have that life, if he sees how happy he was in it."
"That's a good idea. Which albums do you have?"
Teddy pulled one out, handed it to her. "I thought I'd start with our wedding. We can go back to stuff from when we were dating if he needs it, but. . . ."
She opened the album and started flipping through it, nodding. "No, this is a good place to start." She chuckled and pointed out one photo. "Oh Merlin, look at Al . . ." Her breath stuttered, and Teddy put an arm around her, kissing the top of her head.
"You'll hear from him soon. You know he just loses himself sometimes, forgets there's life outside whatever little hamlet he's in." He gave her shoulders a squeeze. "Maybe his owl got hacked off at him again?"
She nodded, then looked up and smiled at him. "I'm just worried about my baby boy."
Teddy smiled back. "I understand." He looked away and spied James's wedding ring, still on the chain, at James's bedside. He reached over and picked it up. "Do you think he'll want to wear this again?" The idea of not being married to James was a difficult one to consider, one that gripped his heart and squeezed painfully.
Ginny placed the photo album back on the bed. "You've been in love for so long now, it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't find his way back to you. Even if he can't remember everything. . . ."
"I'm afraid to think like that, honestly. I'm sure he'll do the right thing, but that doesn't mean he has to be with me." He tried to keep himself together for Ginny's sake, but he couldn't help the emotion that choked his voice at the thought.
"Then you focus on what needs to be done, what needs to be handled." Ginny rubbed Teddy's arm. "Give him the space to find his own way, and remember that he's always loved you in some way. That's not going away."
Teddy nodded, dropping to sit on James's bed. "That's true enough. I hope it will be enough to get me through this."
Ginny picked up her purse. "I'd said I'd wait for James here, but I think you may do better to talk to him alone." She hesitated, then asked, "Are you going to tell him?"
Teddy let out a breath. "Pye thinks James should be okay to leave after another night, to be safe. I think he should have some time to digest it all before deciding if he'll come back to our house or, or if he'd rather stay with you and Harry."
"All right." She smiled, encouraging him. "If you need one of us to come by afterwards, just send word."
He nodded. "Yeah, I will. Thanks, Ginny. For everything." She just smiled at him and nodded, before seeing her way out. Teddy tried not to think about his husband talking to his ex-boyfriend, and opened up another of the photo albums, letting himself be drawn into the memories of his time with James.
Teddy looked around, startled but smiling. "Hi." He closed the book and turned, his feet hanging off the side of the bed. "How'd things go with Liam?"
"Mm. Feels like I got broken up with." He sat next to Teddy, sighing a bit. "Toughest part is that my best mate probably isn't the best person to talk to about it right now, honestly."
"I'm sorry," Teddy said, sounding completely sincere. "If you need to talk, I am here for you, but I get that it might not be as easy for you as you want it to be."
James shook his head. "I'm okay. I'll figure something out." He looked down at the album. "What'cha got there?"
Teddy tapped the cover of the album, looking at James for a moment, as though he was trying to decide what he wanted to do. "I brought some photo albums. Thought maybe . . . maybe they could help you remember?" He raised a hand. "But only if you want to, uh, to do that, though. I know it might be too much for you right now."
"I think I can do it," James said, putting out his hand. "What do you have? Guessing it's stuff about . . . us?"
Teddy nodded. "This one is our wedding album. I brought another one from when we were dating, if you want to start with that instead?"
"No. Let's just, uh, dive in. If it's going to trigger memories, I'd rather get there sooner rather than later, you know?"
"I do know," Teddy said with a small smile. "Do you want to go through them on your own, or should I stay and . . . explain things?"
James reached over and took Teddy's hand, squeezing it. "Stay, please? I might want to look quietly at first, but you should stay anyway." Teddy squeezed his hand back, and James suddenly hoped he wasn't giving the wrong signal to Teddy. "You're my mate, still, and nothing's going to change that. I promise."
Teddy smiled. "Good. That's important to me." He chuckled a bit. "It's one of the reasons it took us as long as it did to get together at all; we were both worried we'd fuck up our friendship."
"I can imagine. I'm glad it didn't go that way."
"I . . ." Teddy ducked his head. "I admit, I hope for a similar result again, even if you don't get your memories back."
James took a deep breath. "I wish I could promise that to you, too. But I can't, not right now."
Teddy nodded quickly. "I know, I know. I wouldn't accept the promise even if you tried." He tapped the album again. "Let's just look at pictures."
Before James could respond he'd opened the album, and there on the first page was a large picture of James and Teddy dressed in very nice dress robes, their arms around each other's waist and gazing at each other with open adoration. James sucked in a breath, finding it more affecting than he'd expected to see proof of the life he'd lead.
"Is . . . is that my parents' house?" he asked, his voice quiet.
Teddy made a soft sound in the affirmative. "We had the ceremony and reception in their backyard. We were going to rent a place, but we couldn't find anywhere with an opening as soon as we wanted. So we badgered your parents into giving up their property to us for a few days."
James could imagine just how pleased his parents would be to do that for their son. He began to flip through the album, taking in all the pictures quietly, digesting the truth that he saw in them all. The album seemed to be put together chronologically after that initial picture, as the next few pages were clearly of both Teddy and James getting ready. He saw his mother helping him with his dress robes while Al stood in the background and tried not to look too awkward in his own robes. There was a nice picture of James kissing his mum's forehead, while she seemed to be momentarily overcome with emotion, and following that was one of the two of them laughing, proving the day was not all solemnity.
Next were a bunch of Teddy and his mates, most of whom James didn't recognize. They were all in a good mood, though none as happy as Teddy, whose hair was a different color in practically every picture, a sure sign of his extreme emotion. He kept paging through the book, finding it surprising to see that so much of what he apparently did for his wedding—though not ever consciously decided in the way that Lil had always had such grand plans for her own wedding—ended up being a reality.
He came to pictures of himself and Teddy standing before the officiant, seeing the look of pure happiness on his face, and he found himself feeling sad.
"I'm. . . ." He shook his head, not able to finish out the thought, unable to speak it aloud and risk hurting Teddy. But Teddy seemed to understand all the same.
"Not remembering, huh?" Teddy put his hand on James's shoulder and squeezed. "It's all right, Jay. It really is."
James shook his head again, his throat tight. "No, it's not all right. Because I was happy there." He pointed to the picture that looped their first official kiss as husbands. "I don't deserve losing that memory. It's . . . it's not fair."
"Oh, Jamie." Teddy slid his arm fully around James's shoulders, pulling him into a light embrace. "It's not fair, no. I wish I could fix this for you."
James let himself lean his head on Teddy's shoulder, glad for the support. "I'm sorry. It's not fair for you, either."
Teddy chuckled a little. "Not exactly, no." He took a deep breath. "Can I show you another album? Only this one will need a bit of, ah, background information first."
"Okay," said James, sitting up again, feeling slightly embarrassed for the mixed signals he kept sending. "Is this about whatever it is that everyone keeps talking around?"
Teddy looked at James, a little surprised. "You picked up on that, did you?" He laughed softly. "Clever bastard."
"I haven't wanted to push, since you didn't seem sure if I could handle it, but . . . it seems pretty important."
Teddy nodded. "It is. And I wouldn't have you leave here without knowing, because . . . well, it might factor into where you go." He shifted on the bed and looked James in the eye. "Pye told me he was thinking of keeping you on one more night, then having you leave tomorrow. You know you're welcome to stay with me—even if you're not up for being with me yet, our house is huge and there are plenty of rooms you can stay in. I also won't be hurt if you decide to stay with your parents or a mate or something right now. But I think you need to know this one thing before you decide."
James widened his eyes at Teddy, impatient with all of Teddy's hemming and hawing. "Oh for love of Merlin, Teddy, just tell me."
"Right." Teddy reached over to his bag and pulled out another photo album. "Thing is, Jamie. . . ." He sighed. "Bloody hell, there's no way to soften this." He handed the album to James. "We have a son. Dexter. He's 20-months-old now."
James stared at Teddy, his mouth agape just slightly and his eyes wide in surprise this time. "I, uh. A, a son?" He ran a hand through his hair, looking away and staring out into space. "I'm a dad?" he said, almost to himself.
Teddy smiled a little. "Yeah, you're a dad. A damn good one, too. You two adore each other."
James looked back at Teddy. "Dexter?"
"Yeah. Dexter Regulus Lupin."
Teddy chuckled a bit. "Yeah. You actually changed your name when we married." He shook his head. "But that's . . . maybe not what you were asking?"
James shook his head. "I . . . don't even know where to start."
Carefully, Teddy opened the album. "Maybe get to know him . . . a little?"
James looked down, and much like the wedding album, the first photo was the three of them, James and Teddy and a little baby swaddled in a blanket and held by his clearly proud parents. James recognized the setting as Teddy's home, the enormous 12 Grimmauld Place that Harry had given to Teddy as the next Black heir who wasn't a Malfoy.
"Oh, Merlin. He's tiny."
Teddy snickered. "Not so tiny anymore. Toddling around and starting to handle stairs."
James started flipping through the album, finding the first pictures being of a Muggle pregnancy test and sonogram, and the two of them each kissing a cheek of an unfamiliar woman.
"Our surrogate, Bonnie. We were very grateful to have found her."
"Is she Dexter's, uh, mum?"
"No, we used an anonymous donor." Teddy's voice softened. "I'm his biological father. You wanted there to be more Lupins in the world."
James looked over at Teddy and smiled. "Sounds like something I'd say, certainly." He looked back at the album, finding time moving forward quickly in pictures, and there was a newborn with wispy brown hair in a hospital bassinet, and then approximately a million pictures of said newborn being held by James and Teddy, Harry and Ginny and Al and Lily, Andromeda, and a large host of extended family and friends in turn. As the pages went along the baby grew before James's eyes, and he had to admit that the little family of three looked happy and content in a way that James knew he'd always hoped would be true for him.
James frowned slightly. "How's he been about all . . . this? Me not being at home?"
Teddy took a deep breath. "He's confused. He's been spending a lot of time with your parents, and he's always asking where you are." He looked at James sympathetically. "Honestly, that's why I wanted to tell you before you were released, because I didn't want you to find yourself suddenly having to be a father. I can wait for you to remember our marriage, or, or fall in love with me again, but Dexy's not going to understand."
"No, of course not." He flipped to other pages, almost idly, seeing the little boy growing up, smiling at the first picture where the brown hair was bright blue. "He's a metamorphmagus?"
"Yeah. He still can't control it yet, so we have quite a collection of hats for him to wear when we go into Muggle areas." Teddy chuckled. "But I was dead chuffed when he first changed his hair. It took him longer than it took me, so for a couple months I was getting used to the idea that he wouldn't share that with me, and then. . . ." He smiled. "Not that he needed to be, of course."
James flipped through a few more pages, then stopped on one and gaped. "He . . . he looks like me there. I mean, how I looked when I was a baby."
Teddy smiled. "Surprised you when he did it, too. We have no idea how he managed that, honestly. We sort of expected that at some point, when he was older, he might try to mimic your facial features a bit more, but this was a big surprise." Teddy's voice was soft, full of fondness. "You actually cried a bit about it. Cor, you love him so much, Jamie. You love being Daddy Jay."
James swallowed hard. "I want to remember, Teddy. This . . . this life looks everything I ever wanted." He covered his face, trying not to cry now. "I want it back."
Teddy hugged James again, a proper hug this time with both arms, and he rocked him softly; James found himself calming immediately, and he realized that Teddy knew just how to comfort him from all the years of being together.
"I want you to have it back, too." He sighed. "I want to take you home and spend a few days with you and our son and then have everything back to normal. But most of all, I want you to feel . . . okay with it all." He pulled back and looked in James's eyes. "I meant what I said about you going to stay somewhere else right now. If that's what you need. . . ."
James shook his head. "I, I don't know. I need to think about it." He sucked a breath, realizing something. "Wait, you've been here so much when I've been awake. You said he's been with my parents all this time?" He kept talking, not letting Teddy answer. "I'm okay, Teddy. You should go home and be with, with your—our—son. If he can't have both his parents, he should have at least one."
The look on Teddy's face was one of great conflict, and he shook his head. "Jay, I can't. . . ."
James put his hand on Teddy's arm. "Teddy, if I manage to remember things, I'm sure I'd want to thump you if you put me over Dexter. Go get him and go home. Give him some stability." He softened. "I'm leaving here tomorrow, like you said, so that will make it easier on you. But go home tonight, okay?" He patted the albums. "I could use some time alone to digest all this myself, anyway, I think."
Teddy nodded, smiling softly. "You are . . . I'm sorry, but this is just so why I fell in love with you, Jamie." He leaned in, slowly so that James could stop him if he wanted, but angled to the side and kissed James's cheek. "I'll go home now. I'll get Dex and we'll have a fun night together. Let me know if you want me to come by and help you check out of here, okay? And, um, where you decide to go."
"I will," James promised, feeling his face flush just a little at the kiss. "Thank you for giving me the time to decide what to do. I really appreciate that."
Teddy stood up quickly, looking a bit awkward; James imagined that Teddy wanted a more romantic sort of goodbye, and again he found himself wishing very badly that he could be the man Teddy had known so recently. "I'll do anything for you, James Potter. I'll even let you go, if that's what I have to do."
He nodded and then left quickly, which James understood was more out of self-preservation than any problem with James. For his own part, he found his heart aching far more than he would have thought at Teddy's departure.
I know it's late (maybe now it's early), but I wanted to get this to you as soon as I made my decision. I'll come home with you. I do want to be there for Dex, but I also think that immersing myself in the world I should remember may help to trigger those memories. I hope, at least, it won't hurt.
Maybe it'll be easier if I have Mum or Dad help me check out of here and then bring me to your place. Then you can stay home with Dex and prepare him for me coming back.
Thank you for the albums. They mean a lot to me. Good on us for thinking to do them in the first place, I guess.
See you tomorrow,
The owl woke Teddy from his light sleep, and he though he still had sleep in his eyes, the words on the parchment were enough to make him smile. He pulled a pillow from the other side of the bed closer, burying his nose in it to try to smell the last lingering hints of James within the threads. It was good that James was coming home, even if he wouldn't be returning to their bed right away.
Selfishly, Teddy hoped that coming home, that being back in the house itself, would be enough to help James's mind rebuild itself. As many people and pictures James had been exposed to in the last couple days, he'd still been confined to an unfamiliar, sterile environment, devoid of the touches of home that could so easily be touchstones to memory.
He slept deeper after that, finding some relief as well that for as little as James knew of the life he'd lead up to now, he did seem to want to lead it again. If James decided that trying to reclaim that life was too strange to him, that he couldn't return at all, Teddy didn't know how his heart could handle that. But wanting it meant that there was the potential for it all returning to normal, even if the memories never came back fully.
The morning found him with another owl, this one from Harry to let Teddy know what time to expect James to be there. Whistling, he went into Dex's bedroom with a spring in his step, picking the toddler up out of his crib and beginning to dance around the room.
"Your Daddy Jay is coming hoooome today!" he sang, smiling brightly as Dex squealed along with the tune. "He wants to see if Dexy can come ooooout to play!"
"Daddy Jay?" Dex asked, looking around the room. "Daaaa?" His hair turned a deep brown color, perfectly matching James's own hair.
Teddy smiled and softly kissed the boy's sleep pinked cheeks. "He'll be home soon, Baby Dee." Teddy moved over to the squashy chair on the other wall, their standard spot for a morning read and chat. "He's been sick, though, sweetie. So he might not be up for your hardcore playing quite yet." Dex stood on Teddy's legs, holding his father's hands as he stretched his long body. "Think you can be gentle with Daddy Jay? Gentle like with Addie?" Dex was quite fond of his big cat sister, but while she was patient and tolerated his infantly lack of boundaries, he was apt to get rough with her if he thought he could get away with it. They'd been working on gentleness for a few weeks before . . . well, before.
Dex's hair lightened, finding its natural brown shade that was nicely between Teddy and James's. "Nice," he said, nodding at Teddy.
"Yes, you will be very nice, I'm sure." Teddy lifted Dex high in the air, laughing as his son giggled, then put him on the floor by the bookshelf. "Why don't you pick a book to read with Daddy Jay when he's settled in. What's Daddy Jay's favorite?"
Without hesitating, Dex's little hands found the well-read copy of Little Wizard's Beedles: The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, which was by far James's favorite story to read with Dex. They both found it extremely enjoyable to make loud banging and clanging sounds, many of which Teddy was quite sure were not accurately timed with the story itself.
"An excellent choice, Baby Dee. I'm sure he's missed reading it with you." Dex was already flipping through it, talking quietly to himself as he recited the parts he knew, prompted by the vibrant pictures that accompanied the story. The book was actually James's old copy, and Teddy knew how much it meant to his husband to see their son enjoying it as much as he had as a wee tot.
That was just another part of daily life here at the Lupin home that Teddy hoped would be familiar to James again.
Teddy leaned over and scooped Dex up. "Come on, kiddo, let's have some pancakes and bananas, yeah?" Dex's shriek of "'Nanas!" served as his agreement, and Teddy put Dex over his shoulder, fireman style, and started singing a song about bananas along to Dex's laughter as they headed down into the kitchen.
James clutched at his bag, glad to be out of the hospital robes though feeling strange in clothes he didn't remember owning, and didn't hear his father at first. The touch to his shoulder brought him back. "Oh. Um. Floo, I think. Even with side-along, I don't really trust myself to Apparate there yet."
Harry nodded and pointed to a bank of burning Floo points. "Would you like me to go first?" Harry asked, his voice soft. "I might be able to distract Dexter. . . ."
"No, it's okay." James licked his lips, and nodded to himself. "I can go through first. I sort of want to be overwhelmed by it all."
"Up to you, then."
James stepped closer to one of the fires, reaching to the side of it to take a handful of powder. "Twelve Grimmauld Place, right?"
Harry smiled. "Yeah, that's the one."
"Don't get too excited," James muttered. "Ted already lived there when I was dating Liam." He glanced at Harry, grateful that his father didn't seem to be inclined to either excitement or disappointment, and then threw the powder into the flames, wincing as he always did when they flared up and turned green. He stepped into them, stated the address confidently, and within a few mind-twisting moments, he was hitting a stone floor, greeted by the sharp bark of a dog.
"Rom, hush!" Hands were on James, helping him to his feet. "Sorry, he doesn't like the Floo," Teddy said softly. "I should've put him outside. . . ."
James shook his head. "It's all right." He took a deep breath. "Took me a bit by surprise, the Floo." Behind him there was a loud sound of rushing air, and Teddy and James both stepped aside quickly as Harry came through, far more smoothly than James did.
James felt a warm body pressing against his legs, and he looked down to see the Floo-fearful dog looking up at him. "Romulus. Oh, you still have him?" James smiled, reaching down to give the dog a proper greeting.
"Aye, and I should've said, sorry. We've a cat, too, Adhara. Responds to Addie and Princess," Teddy said with a chuckle. "She tends to hide a bit more these days. Doesn't really know how to deal with Dex now that he's able to chase her."
James drew up straight again, quirking a smile at Teddy. "Dog, cat, baby? We are quite the household, aren't we?" He looked away, then, feeling odd about speaking words he didn't quite fully feel.
Harry handed a small folio of parchment to Teddy. "His check-out paperwork, along with a few orders for visits later in the week. And a script for some potion if he has trouble sleeping." Harry looked over to James. "Shit, sorry. Talking about you like you're not here. Terrible habit." James waved it off, and Harry tried to smile away his awkwardness. "You need me to do anything else? Take the dog out, run any errands?"
Teddy shook his head. "No, Ginny was a big help last night, and I went for a run with Rom and Dex already. We should be all right. Unless James needs anything?"
James let himself breathe deeply. The idea of his dad staying around was a particularly attractive one, but he knew that he had to face this as an adult, and that aside from any other complications, Teddy was his best friend at the least and was there to look out for him. "I'm okay. Just nervous, really."
Harry nodded. "Then I'm probably just in the way," he said, his smile more relaxed now. "I'll be home all day, so will Gin, so if either of you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask us." He hugged Teddy and James in turn, and after whispering, "Welcome home, Jamie," in his son's ear, he Apparated out of the kitchen, leaving James and Teddy alone with a curious Rom the dog, each looking unsure of what to do next.
"So." They looked at each other, then laughed when they realized they'd spoken at once. Teddy gestured to James, and while under other circumstances James would happily play the "no, you go first" game to the point of insanity, today he wanted to get his life back under his own control.
"You say there's a little man named Dexter around here?"
Teddy smiled. "He's up in his room; I figured I wouldn't have him here to pounce on you right away."
James nodded, straightened his back. "I think I'd like to meet him."
The little boy turned around and his face was one giant grin. "Daddy Jay!" He climbed to his feet and then ran over to James, his arms lifted into the air.
James couldn't help but smile in return, and he leaned over to pull the little guy into his arms. "It's me. I'm . . . I'm back."
He'd hoped, rather desperately, that when he felt the weight of his son in his arms that he would remember everything. He felt his heart sink, as Dex left a wet, messy kiss on his cheek, but he still couldn't remember feeling any paternal feelings for this admittedly adorable child. He hugged the boy closer, then pulled him back to rest him on his arm.
"Do you want to play a game, Dex? Yeah?" He took the boy's smile as agreement. "Let's pretend we've never met each other before. . . ."
"Yes." James sat on the couch heavily, taking the glass of firewhisky Teddy offered him. "That was so hard, Teddy."
Teddy regarded his husband with a close eye, somewhat pleased to find that despite whatever was in James's mind, outwardly he was still easy enough to read. His facial expressions, his small movements, gestures, they were all familiar to Teddy, and the only hard part right now was suppressing the desire to pull James into his arms.
"I'm guessing he wasn't exactly sensitive to this unique situation?" He hoped his voice was light, but he also felt a misplaced sense of defensiveness on behalf of his son, and he immediately felt guilty. This wasn't James's fault.
"Not as such," James replied, his words clipped and his eyes looking away. "I didn't upset him too much, though, I don't think."
"As long as you were kind and just let him be happy to have you back, I think he'll be fine."
There was a long moment before James spoke again, as he sipped his drink as though shoring up strength. "I thought I'd feel like a father. Just. Not that I'd remember, exactly, but that I'd feel it instinctively. Some subconscious connection." He shook his head, then gestured to Teddy. "With you . . . I knew you back in the time my mind's reverted to. We were mates, so it doesn't seem very strange that I feel that relationship between us. But with him? I may not remember him, but I should still feel like he's my son."
Teddy waited for James to continue, and when he didn't, asked, "Did you feel . . . anything?"
James licked his lips. "He's a sweet boy. I'd say his parents have done a fine job with him, and he's clever and chatty, and I imagine he'll be a hellion in another year or so." He sighed. "But while I found him a lovely little boy . . . I mean, he could've been anyone's kid. It's not even like he's my best mate's son and I'm a close family friend."
"You have to relax, Jamie. Give it time." Teddy hoped his voice didn't betray any of the disappointment he felt. "Maybe we should have given you more time to settle before having you see him. . . ."
"No!" said James, reaching out to Teddy as though he needed to be physically stopped from continuing the sentence. "No. I wanted to see him. Waiting would have just made it all worse if I felt like this." He sighed softly, closed his eyes. "You're right. I just need to give it time."
They were quiet again, each in his own thoughts, and Teddy wondered what else he could possibly do to help James right now. He stared out across the room, looking at one of James's paintings on the wall. He wondered if James had noticed it yet, if any part of him could recognize it as his creation. Perhaps not; he painted it after they got confirmation that they were having a son.
"We talked about kids on our first date," he said at long last, his voice soft with memory. "We laughed about it, because what a thing to talk about on our first proper date, when we were both so nervous anyway, you know? But you . . . you said one of the things that worried you most about being gay was the idea that you might not ever have a family." He smiled, sensing James's eyes on him. "And I told you that was one reason why I was a little scared of falling that hard for a bloke.
"We promised each other, that very first night, that if things worked out and we decided to spend our lives together, that we'd have a family. That there'd never be a question of if, just of when and how."
"Liam never wanted a family," James responded, in that same soft sort of voice. "I always thought I'd be able to change his mind. Apparently I wasn't." He chuckled, just under his breath. "I imagine that played a role in that conversation on our first date."
Teddy nodded. "Over the years we talked about it a lot. At one point we very seriously considered adoption. With me an orphan, your dad . . . we all understood how some children needed that extra love. We wondered if we'd feel like proper parents to a child who had no blood relation to either of us. Perhaps one who wasn't even a newborn, who might be a bit older by the time we got him in our home."
"I said I'd love him, because from that point he'd be ours," said James. "I don't remember, but I know things I've thought about before." His lips quirked up on one side. "And you are as subtle as a Howler, Ted."
Teddy smiled, reaching over to tug on James's arm, wanting a hug if he couldn't have a proper cuddle. "I'm a Gryffindor with blue hair. Subtlety has never been my strong suit." He propped his chin on James's shoulder, squeezing him around the chest. "But I seem to have made my point, anyway."
James sighed, returning the hug. "Just one flaw there, mate. If I was adopting a kid, at least I'd have more than a few hours to get used to the idea before he showed up."
"Mmm. True. But you're clever, and I have faith in you." Teddy sat back, and he brushed a bit of hair off James's forehead, a tender move by instinct. "Oh, oops." He curled his fingers into his palm, drawing his arm away.
"It's okay," James said, sitting back some. "I think we're both giving each other some leeway here on boundaries."
"Yeah." Teddy stood up suddenly and motioned for James to follow. "Come on, then. Let's get you set up in, ah, the guest room. Your room, I mean. For however long you want it." He hoped—he hoped very much—that it would not be as long as he feared.
There was a mirror hanging on the back of the guest bedroom's door, a full-length one with a simple frame. James remembered when this was in Teddy's bedroom back in Andromeda's house, but he doesn't think he ever knew where it had ended up here in Grimmauld Place.
James had been sitting on the bed for almost half an hour, resolutely ignoring the mirror. He knew he couldn't avoid it forever, though. He knew at some point he had to see his face, see the real evidence of eight years of forgotten life. . . .
But how much could have changed, really? He knew he hadn't really put on much weight, could tell he'd kept in shape in that time. Teddy sure seemed to like what he saw, as much as he tried to hide the fond smiles and flashes of desire. Teddy hadn't really changed very much, either. It seemed that James leaving St. Mungo's had been the encouragement he'd needed to finally shave, and aside from perhaps a few more laugh lines and tired eyes—the latter of which likely were more from the stress of the past few weeks, rather than the past eight years—he looked like normal ol' Teddy Lupin. As normal as anyone who could change everything about their face with a mere thought could be, anyway.
He stood up, then, suddenly determined to get past this silly fear that he wouldn't recognize himself. If anything huge had happened to him, someone would have warned him, he felt certain of that. With a deep breath, he stepped in front of the mirror, and took in the man reflected before him.
His hair was perhaps a bit short and unkempt, but he could get used to that (and how much was due to being bedridden for weeks?). He looked pale and tired, but again, that was certainly temporary as he recovered. James leaned closer, tracing a finger over his forehead, around his eyes, looking for new lines.
"Been a while since I've seen you here," the mirror-James said, startling James badly enough that he stumbled to the side and into the wall.
"Bloody hell," he said, covering his eyes for a moment, then peering through his fingers and dropping his hand completely. "I forgot you were a talker."
Mirror-James laughed. "Why d'you think I've been shut up in this room? Scare the guests and shut up about what a wanker you look like today."
James shook his head slightly. "Probably also so you don't teach the kid naughty words."
"You do look like a wanker, you know. Poking at yourself like you don't know what to expect."
"Now who's the wanker? I don't know what to expect. Not that you'd understand; you're just a charmed object."
"What I understand," said mirror-James, "is that no one ever changes as much as they think they will."
That was unexpectedly deep for a mirror. "You mean, how we can still recognize ourselves in photos from when we were young?" Or in our children, he thought, already having seen pieces of Teddy in his brief introduction to Dexter.
"Aye. And in everything else in your life. No one really changes. It's more about learning to see yourself in new ways."
The conversation was completely bizarre, and now James could see his confusion reflected back to him. The mirror was done doling out its advice, and James was quite grateful.
One last look over himself reassured him that truly, he wasn't all that different from how he last remembered. His shoulders relaxed, and he felt tension drain away at last. He gave himself a smile, then pulled the door open, hiding the mirror against the wall, and headed out to reacquaint himself with the rest of the house.
Even with his disconcerting disconnect with time as he knew it and time as the rest of the world knew it, once he was set up in the nicest of Teddy's guest bedrooms and settled in, James found that time was able to move forward at a rapid pace, so much so that he found himself honestly startled at the reminder owl from Healer Pye to stop in for a one-month check-up.
He elected to go alone, feeling that might help him remain honest about how he was adjusting. It wasn't that he ever lied to Teddy when the subject came up, but he found himself broaching it less and less, and keeping his answers to Teddy's questions as vague as possible while still being honest. The opportunity for an unbiased listener was not one he was going to give up.
He dropped Dex off with his mother before the appointment. James was getting on quite well with the tyke—by necessity as much as desire—since Teddy often could not work from home, and the standard arrangement had always been for James to look after Dex, save a few scheduled times for James to get a morning or afternoon alone to paint. Since waking up, he hadn't even picked up a paintbrush, and given his desire to come to love this boy as his son, he found he didn't mind spending all day with him.
It was nice, though, to go out for once and not have the stroller with him, or have to carry the healthy-sized child along on his errands.
The Healers at St. Mungo's all had their offices on the fifth floor, beyond the visitors' tea room and the little shop filled with trinkets to buy for patients. As he passed it, he nodded to a haggard-looking man who had a bunch of light pink balloons and a carton of self-lighting cigars.
"I've a daughter!" the man said, offering James a cigar. "We thought she'd be a boy, that's what the tea leaves said. Done up the whole nursery for a boy. Have all boy clothes."
James gave a little smile, taking the cigar politely. "Congratulations, then. I'm sure you'll sort it out. We're hoping for a girl next time ourselves."
The man just shook his head, clearly still stuck on the unexpected reality of his daughter's birth, and hurried back to the stairwell. It wasn't until he was knocking on Healer Pye's door that James realized exactly what he'd said.
"So, James. A month. Have you had any memories return?"
James shook his head quickly. "No, no memories, and I've got a lot of concerns I'd like to talk to you about, but . . . but I just told a stranger who's just had a baby girl that we were hoping for a daughter the next time."
Pye pursed his lips, looking over his clipboard and across his wide desk at his patient. "Did you? I take it that's not something you'd discussed with Teddy in the last month?"
"No, it's not." He scratched his head, feeling almost as confused as he had a month ago. "We actually don't talk about the future at all. Been more focused on getting me on board with the past. I didn't even realize I'd said it, Healer. Not until a minute or two later."
"Interesting," Pye murmured, jotting some notes. "Have you had any other incidents like that? Saying something automatically that you couldn't know in your memory's absence?"
James said, "No, I haven't. Well, I don't think I have. But I think I'd realize it if I had. What do you think it means?"
Pye put his clipboard down, folding his hands over it as he spoke. "I imagine it would be one of two things. Either you are picking up on more cues just from everyday life than you realize—perhaps you heard Teddy say it to someone else, or perhaps it was your parents?—or else your memories are not actually removed as we have suspected, but more simply repressed, which of course makes it far more likely that they can be recovered."
James felt his breath catch, his heart fill with hope. "Do you think one is more likely than the other?"
"I can't quite say, unfortunately. Without knowing everything you've talked about, read about, overheard? There's simply no way I can make this determination on this sole incident." Pye sat back in his chair. "If it happens again, you should immediately begin to investigate any source of that information. For this, too, of course. See what you can find out. Ask Teddy if there might have been any paperwork regarding your son's birth that would indicate any plans for a second child that you could have seen. Perhaps you could just be speaking from your own desire to have a daughter?"
James shook his head. "I'll ask, but . . . I don't think it was prompted or triggered by anything." He couldn't help the smile that was tugging at his lips. "I really hope that it's something Teddy and I have talked about before. I want to remember, so very badly."
Pye let out a sigh. "I was afraid you'd say that." He leaned forward again. "Look, James, we still aren't even sure about what cursed you. I understand you want to remember, and in a lot of ways that's good, because even if you don't, it will help you settle into your life as it was when you were cursed. But if you want it too badly, I'm afraid of how it might hurt you if you never can."
"I . . . I know," James said, his eyes dropping to his hands clasped in his lap. "I worry about hurting Teddy, too. About making him think that I'm remembering . . . or, or worse. . . ."
"What would be worse?"
James looked up at Pye, feeling a bit sad. "Worse would be that I accidentally lead him on, make him think that memories or not, I'm falling for him again."
Pye nodded a little. "You may want to talk to someone else about that. Really, a therapist is probably going to be useful to you no matter what." James made a face, and Pye smiled. "I think Teddy might know someone you can talk to. And I don't think he'll look down on you for it."
"No," James said, almost to himself. "I'm sure he wouldn't." He let out a sigh. "I may not be able to remember how he fell in love with me, but I can see so clearly that he does love me. He tries to hide it, but . . . it's so obvious."
They were silent for a moment, Pye looking distinctly out of his element. James gave a smile. "Sorry. You're right; that's less for you and more for . . . someone else to deal with. So. What should we focus on?"
"Of course. Have you had any headaches?"
James nodded, and began to describe the various headaches he'd felt the last few weeks, trying to put out of his mind the strange sensation of knowing something he couldn't possibly remember.
Ginny smiled and walked over to them. "How did the appointment go, Jamie?"
James put Dex back down, watching as he toddled off to continue playing with a little Quidditch set. "It went all right. Pye gave me some gross potion for my headaches; he thinks they're just a continued response to the curse."
"Still no idea what it was, then?"
"No. Pye said their technicians are mostly out of ideas now, though." After six weeks, starting immediately after James was found unconscious in the library at home, every possible cause of the curse had been considered. And while James still couldn't remember what had happened, he'd heard the narrative of events, as best as anyone could piece together, often enough to almost feel like he could remember it anyway.
Ginny rubbed James's back, pulling him from his thoughts. "Sorry, zoned out there." He moved to sit down on the sofa. "Weird thing happened today, though." He described the conversation with the new father, watching his mother's face carefully. "What do you think?"
"It's interesting," Ginny said, nodding along. "You both had always talked about having more than one baby, even before you started the process to have Dex." She cocked her head. "However, I think I always knew that you wanted a couple kids at least, so it makes sense that knowing you have a son now, you'd hope to have a daughter one day as well."
"Yeah." James nodded, sinking a little into the couch, feeling somewhat disappointed that he didn't immediately hear a confirmation that it had to be a suppressed memory trying to resurface. "I guess I'm trying a little hard to figure out how to feel at home here again." He looked at Dex as he heard the clatter of wooden toys against each other, chuckling when the boy grinned up at him proudly, smacking two small broomsticks together like a pair of drumsticks. "Rock it out, Dexy, attaboy!"
Ginny smiled. "You seem to do well with him, Jamie."
He glanced at his mother. "Surely not as good as I used to be, though."
Ginny shrugged. "Haven't had any complaints from my grandson." Her voice was gentle. "I think you should give yourself a little more credit. You've always been a natural father, so it's hardly surprising that you're figuring it out easily again."
"What's that, Dex?" James slid off the couch to get on the ground, helping Dex get the game set up properly before setting it to play out, watching with a small smile as Dex's eyes lit up at the sight of the little figures playing their flying game.
"You're responding to him calling you his father, Jamie," Ginny pointed out. "Trust me, you're fine."
James looked back up at his mother. "He's not the only one I need to feel at ease with, though." He reached over to run his hand over Dex's hand. "He deserves parents who love each other. Or . . . or else parents who accept that they will be parenting separately."
He couldn't stand to look at his mother again, but when she spoke again he could hear her surprise. "You don't think. . . ."
James shook his head. "I don't know. It's . . . it's so hard. I'm all right over Liam. But Teddy's still. . . ." James sighed. "He's just Teddy. I haven't had that . . . that moment where I know that there's something else between us yet. Or, I don't know. Again."
"No one thinks this is going to fix itself overnight, baby, not if you're not regaining your memory. Teddy's being patient, isn't he?"
"Yes, yes. He's being amazing, really." He ducked his head. "I can tell how much he loves me. I just wish I could. . . ." He trailed off, not quite sure how he wanted to end that sentence; thankfully, his mother made no attempt to prompt him or finish it for him.
In truth Teddy's kindness and understanding nature were almost annoying at this point. Teddy asked for nothing from James, though James had the sense that he was waiting for James to offer everything. The pressure was growing, and with every day that James stayed not in love with his friend he felt as though it was just all the more important for him to be in love the next day.
"What do you . . . want? As far as your relationship goes?"
"That's the big question, isn't it?" James said, leaning back against the couch, smiling a bit when Dex started pulling at his shoelaces. "I don't know what I want, and, and honestly I'm afraid to want anything in particular. Afraid that if I decide I want to be in love with Teddy and have us be the family we were before, that I'll . . . I'll trick myself into feeling it for now, but then it . . . won't be like that."
He craned his head to look back up at his mum, and saw that she was nodding. "I understand that. And you don't want to not want that, because. . . ."
"Because I've seen that I was really happy, and I don't want to break Teddy's heart."
Ginny's face was sympathetic, and James felt it squeeze his heart, because she was just one more person for whom he was making things difficult. "Maybe it'd be safest to just want to get your memory back?"
"Mmm. Maybe, yeah." He didn't feel it would be useful to point out that if he were going to regain his memory, it probably would have happened by now.
Dex crawled up into James's lap, reaching up to put his arms around James's neck, then settled into him. James smiled, his arms instinctively moving to support Dex. "You sleepy, baby boy?" He could feel Dex nod in reply against his shoulder, and he chuckled. "Guess that's my cue to take you home, then." He stood carefully, trying not to jostle the increasingly heavy boy in his arms. "Thanks for watching him, Mum."
Ginny stood as well, kissing James's cheek. "It's my pleasure, of course." She moved over to kiss Dex's head as well. "Bye bye, little one." They both chuckled softly as Dex gave her a sleepy wave with the fingers that weren't stuck in his mouth. James held Dex tighter, then Apparated them home.
"Oh, um. How is she?" He hadn't seen Andromeda in weeks, not since one of the first few days after he returned home from hospital. He'd had the distinct impression that she was displeased with him, and that it wasn't a new feeling. He hadn't found himself inclined to ask Teddy about it.
Teddy wasn't looking at James, focusing instead on cleaning Rom's ears. "She's well, she's well." Something in his voice suggested that he wasn't really making his point yet, so James sat back, breaking his focus from the Quidditch match on the wireless to look at Teddy, waiting. After a moment, Teddy looked up at him, and he looked a little sheepish. "Okay, I was going to make this big deal about how she misses Dexter and wants to see him, but. . . ." He shook his head. "I still can't ever lie to you, Jay."
James raised an eyebrow. "Ooookay. . . ."
Teddy let Rom run off, and he turned to face James more, looking up from his place on the floor to where James sat on the couch. "I got her to agree to take Dex for a night. It has been a while since she's seen him, even before—" he waved his hand "—everything. But really, I was thinking. . . ."
He was blushing now, and James couldn't help but smile a bit. "You were thinking?" he said, a bit of a tease in his voice. "That's got to be a new one for you."
"Oh, ha ha." Teddy rolled his eyes. "I was thinking we might do well to have just a night to ourselves. I thought I'd cook up a proper dinner, with courses and everything, and we'd . . . well, we'd stop being dads for a night. Be . . . well, mates?"
James pursed his lips, a bit torn between concern and amusement. "What kind of 'mates' are you talking about?"
Teddy shrugged a little. "Whatever kind you feel comfortable with?" He cocked an eyebrow. "I wasn't imagining dragging you off to bed after dessert, James."
"No, no, I know." James smiled. "A night to be just James and Teddy, then? I think that sounds good."
Teddy grinned brightly. "Great! Gran'll be here in about a half-hour, then, to pick up Dex."
James's jaw dropped. "Wait, tonight?" He shook his head a little. "I don't even have anything to wear," he said, joking to try and shake off some of his surprise.
"Sorry for the short notice." Teddy stood up and grinned a little. "I wasn't sure I'd have the nerve to go through with it, and I didn't want to have us both . . . nervous." He headed out of the room before James could reply, leaving James to wonder why Teddy would be nervous.
The reason became clear in another two hours, once Dex had been passed off to his great-grandmother's care for the evening, with promises to pick him up the next day before nine—Andromeda had a standing appointment with a gentleman, but Teddy had shooed her out before she could elaborate on the situation, much to James's relief. James, then, had been shooed out of the kitchen so that Teddy could prepare the meal in peace, and keep some mystery in the evening.
James retreated to his studio, thinking maybe he might give a serious try at painting for a little while without Dex underfoot. Teddy had been very encouraging of James picking up a brush again, but as much pressure as James felt to be the same father and husband he'd been before the accident, he felt even more pressure to be the same artist.
Eight years ago, James had been working in an art supply shop as he was struggling to produce works that would fetch more than a few days' food. He knew he had talent, knew that if he could find just the right voice within the paint he could make art a viable career for himself. Now, Teddy had told him, he had apparently found it in spades, consistently painting quality work on both inspiration and commission allowing him to contribute as much as Teddy to their family's income, and that much of the money for having Dex came from one particularly excellent piece James had sold at a gallery showing. James had been initially pleased to hear of his success, but as time went on it began to upset him. The idea that there were paintings in galleries, in private collections, in businesses, with his signature but without his memory was a disturbing one.
He picked up a brush, dragged it dry over a blank canvas, wanting to feel the movement in his arms again, see what his body remembered that his mind couldn't. He had always preferred the more abstract arts, though he was more than competent in realism. Framed in this studio was the first piece he considered a successful painting—a landscape of the Hogwarts grounds at night from Gryffindor tower. He'd painted it in secret, unsure how his dormmates would take it. They could handle him being gay, but a gay artist might have been a bit much. They always liked that he was a gay jock; James still remembered telling them off for their homophobia in tolerating a queer who didn't "act queer", and exacted his revenge by starting to criticize their hair and clothing in the bitchiest tone of voice he could manage.
He shook his head, not wanting to dwell on the past, not when so much was lost to him and the present required so much effort.
After some time he found his arm was aching, and he sighed, accepting that he was not yet ready to resume his painting. It was for the best, he supposed, as he didn't even know what he would paint anyway. Not long after, Teddy was knocking at his door.
"Oh, you've remembered I'm here," James said, a grin teasing on his face, as Teddy leaned against the door frame.
"Can hardly forget," Teddy said. His voice was undoubtedly more tender than he'd meant, and they both blushed and looked away for a moment. Teddy cleared his throat. "Well, dinner's all set. You hungry?"
James nodded. "Yeah, I could eat." He left the studio, starting to head down the main staircase, and felt Teddy follow close behind. "So, can I ask what's on the menu?"
"Mmm. I will give you general answers. We start with soup, then a small salad to, ah, cleanse the palate, as it were." James turned around a bend in the stairs and grinned at Teddy as they briefly faced each other. "Then there's the main course. And then dessert. And I have a nice wine, if . . . if that's okay?"
"Yeah, that's fine." James chuckled softly, but he was thinking to himself that it sounded like quite a to-do for a dinner for mates. When Teddy had said there were courses he'd imagined he was being overly posh for the sake of being silly.
When he got to the ground floor he started to head towards the back stairs to bring them down to the kitchen, but Teddy reached out and grabbed his wrist. "We're in here," he said, sounding actually bashful now as he pointed to the formal dining room that James could never remember using. James went over to it, and as he stepped inside the lights came up to reveal a table set not only for a four-course meal, but a . . . rather romantic one, at that. The lights were all candles, a few in the chandelier above the table and four tall ones on the table itself by their set places.
"Teddy. . . ." James turned, but Teddy was right behind him, having the grace to look a little sheepish even as he put one hand on James's hip.
"We used to do this, Jay. Pack Dex off with someone for the night, have a romantic dinner together. I . . . I hoped maybe you'd remember this." James felt his heart sink, knowing he'd have to disappoint Teddy again, but Teddy shook his head. "I can see that you don't, and that's . . . that's okay. Do you mind if we do it anyway? Not to remember, and not . . . not to make you do anything, but just because it can be nice to have a fancy dinner sometimes?"
James took a deep breath, and he could smell something delicious in the air. "Yeah, yeah we can." He smiled a bit. "Good thing I'm starving, eh?" He saw Teddy swallow and nod, and he knew that Teddy still held out some hope that James would find some memory during the meal.
"Normally I'd pull out your chair for you," Teddy said, giving James a bit of a shove into the room. "But tonight you'll get no such chivalry from me, Potter." He stepped past James, winking at him. "Don't want you getting the wrong idea now, do we?"
James tutted, tried to find a smile. "You know, the niceties should still be obeyed, even in situations as strange as these." Teddy, who'd gone to get the charmed plates at the credenza, stopped in his motions and looked at James, a fond little smile on his face. "What?" James asked, taking his seat.
Teddy shook his head. "No, it's . . . you've said that before. On one of our first dates, actually." He moved again, putting a bowl of soup in front of James before going to sit down with his own bowl.
"Did I?" He couldn't remember, of course, but he felt that funny tickle at his mind, not dissimilar to what he'd felt after the comment he'd made about wanting a daughter.
"Yeah. We. . . ." Teddy paused, looking over at James, and after a few moments James realized that Teddy was looking for permission to relate the story; he nodded eagerly, and Teddy smiled, relaxing a bit more. "We were still feeling a bit odd about going on, you know, proper dates. We'd spent plenty of time as mates going out and doing a lot of the same things, so we often tried to go out of our way to make them feel more, ah, date-y." He poured a glass of wine for James, then for himself. "Anyway, we were going out to dinner, and it was pissing down rain. Of course, we'd decided on a restaurant in an extremely Muggle part of the city. We Apparated as close as we could, then we had to cross a street, and there was a massive puddle just off the curb, and—" He chuckled to himself. "And you just stood there, looking at me, all expectant. So I said, 'What, do you want me to put down my jacket for you to walk on?' and you said . . . well, that the niceties must be obeyed." Teddy rubbed his hand over his mouth, poorly hiding a smile. "I responded by scooping you up in my arms and carrying you over the moat."
James smiled, finding it an amusing story, and one that he didn't find entirely surprising. He could imagine he'd been that sort of pillock, trying to fight the nerves of being out on a date with his best friend, and he could equally imagine Teddy reacting in an over-the-top manner. He felt sad as well, though he tried to push that feeling down for Teddy's sake. "Sounds like we had fun together."
"Yeah, we did."
They were quiet for a while, eating their soup as they consulted their thoughts. James noticed Teddy looking at him quite a lot—not simply quick glances, but particularly unabashed looking, just this side of staring. James shifted, feeling slightly uncomfortable and not inclined to return the look lest he find Teddy's eyes to be filled with desire or ache.
Finally, James could stand the quiet no longer, and he took up the first topic of conversation to cross his mind. "You'll never guess what Dex did yesterday."
"Oh? What'd he do, then, the little devil?" Teddy grinned, looking more relaxed again.
James quickly explained how Dex had managed to get into the master bath—not their bath, though surely Teddy still thought of it that way—and tried to give Addie a bath. The cat was somewhat patient with the little human who wasn't quite yet under her full feline control, even tolerating a bit of water when Dex had somehow gotten the tap to turn on.
"Of course, I don't find him until I hear him shriek and she yowls, and then she tears out of there, dripping everywhere, and he's laughing and chasing after her like a tetchy kitty is the greatest toy ever." James couldn't help but laugh, remembering how proud of himself Dex had been.
Teddy laughed as well. "Oh Merlin, that boy is going to be trouble, and soon."
James shook his head. "Thank Merlin she's part-kneazle, I don't know if a regular cat would've resisted showing him her claws."
Teddy murmured his agreement, then pointed his spoon at James. "Was talking to one of the trainers at work—her son's a little older than Dexy—she said he's started levitating himself, just a few inches off the ground, and he tries to use his little trick to navigate the stairs."
James's eyes widened. "Cor, that's no good! Full-grown wizards find it nearly impossible to use levitation as a method of transport, a toddler would—"
Teddy raised a hand. "I know; it's dangerous; she's trying to get him to stop. She was saying she's been to St. Mungo's three times already, not just to patch him up after he falls, but also to try to see if they can do any kind of spell to prevent him from making that magic happen at all."
James imagined their son falling down the stairs, and he closed his eyes, swallowing. "Has Dex ever . . . ?" He opened his eyes again to see Teddy's response.
"No. Not that we've ever seen. Just his metamorphmagus abilities, which are their own sort of trouble." Teddy smiled softly. "And we've had this discussion, too."
James ducked his head. "Have we? I'm sorry. . . ."
Teddy reached across the table, not quite looking to take James's hand, but close. "Don't be. I like having these conversations with you. Dad Discussions." He smiled more. "And I really like how you just, sort of, fell into this one. It felt like normal."
Nodding, James left it at that, not wanting to push himself further on the topic. "So . . . you said there's salad after the soup?"
The stack of papers on Teddy's desk never seemed to decrease, much to his endless frustration. He'd spent the last few nights working upwards of an hour and a half past his normal hours, and despite James assurances that he was okay handling Dex and the furry ones and everything for the extra time each night, Teddy felt horribly guilty all the same.
But on the other, even more horribly guilt-ridden hand, Teddy was grateful for the extra time he spent at work each day. The last two months had been difficult, far more difficult than he would have ever expected.
He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, which was so dark as to be nearly black. It wasn't easy, having James so close while being so far away at the same time. James was doing more than fine with being a father, but he was seemingly no closer to resuming his place in Teddy's life as a husband. Teddy didn't blame James for that—if James didn't remember the past, then of course it would take a while if he would ever re-discover his feelings for Teddy on his own. But that didn't make it any less difficult: constantly checking himself from touching James inappropriately. Constantly stopping himself from saying that he loved James. Constantly trying to stop wishing to hear that James loved him again.
Not being home gave him some space, and a safe place in which to imagine that things were the same as they'd always been. Working late afforded him the time to daydream that when he got home James would have the baby in bed and be waiting to surprise Teddy with a massage or a drawn bath (or sometimes both at once), to be followed by wine in bed and quiet reading before they fell asleep in each other's arms.
"Lupin? You're still here? Again?"
Teddy looked up to find Gene's head poking into his office, a look of concern on his face. He tapped the stack of papers with the feather of his quill. "Physicals, boss. They're a bitch."
Gene stepped inside fully, leaning against the bit of open wall next to the door. In the tiny office he was practically at the front of Teddy's desk. "You don't have to do all of them yourself, you know. Fairweather can handle some. In fact she probably should, make sure she's coming along all right."
"I . . . I know. I don't mind doing these, though. Most are prospects, anyway. Better for her to get familiar with the signed players' records, I think."
"That's codswallop. Might believe you if you'd actually given her those records." Gene shook his finger at Teddy, who cursed Fairweather for ratting him out. "You're using the job to avoid something. Things still rough at home?"
Teddy clenched his jaw. "James is doing well. I'm sure I can't imagine how it must be to be thrust into a world I can barely recognize. That he's done as well as he has is more than I could ever ask." That was the truth, of course, if it might also be a rather tightly-focused truth, anyway.
Now Gene stepped forward, leaning over Teddy's desk with his fists supporting him. "Lupin. Go. Home. And you're not to work any other overtime; you've long since made up for any time lost, as if I'd even asked you to. I don't want to see you here outside your scheduled hours." He narrowed his eyes. "Don't make me put you on leave, son."
Swallowing, Teddy nodded. He never did well having orders barked at him, but knew when to just take them and move on. "Yes, sir. I'll head home now. Be back in at eight, not a moment sooner."
Gene nodded, stepped back. "Good lad. Tomorrow you and Fairweather meet up and sort out what files she can work on. Then give them to her and move on." He nodded again, then left.
Teddy sighed, looking at the work that still called to him, then he shook his head. "Going home. Going home now." He smiled a bit to himself. "Maybe I can give Dex his bath."
Not fifteen minutes later he was home and sitting on the bathroom floor, drawing a small bath for the toddler, smiling as he listened to James trying to coax Dex out of his shirt. There was a whiny squeal, and then a Dex-shaped mass hit Teddy in the side. He put his arm around the little naked body. "Ready for your bath, Baby Dee?"
Dex made a snuffly sound and nodded, so Teddy lifted him into the tub, watching as his son began to play in the shallow water. Teddy sat back, looking over at James, who'd come in to sit on the toilet and watch.
"He's been a bear since I picked him up from my mum," James said softly, leaning forward with his arms on his thighs and looking frustrated. "Was asking for you all night."
Teddy swallowed against a wave of guilt. "Sorry. Work's been . . . mad." He settled against the wall, both Dex and James in his sight. "But, um. I should be home on time from now on. So that's . . . good?"
James smiled. "That'll be good, yeah." James looked down at the floor between his legs; Teddy could tell there was clearly something on James's mind.
"What's up, Jay? Is everything okay?" He reached into the tub casually, pushing a little toy boat around in the water.
For a few moments the only sounds in the room were those of Dex splashing around, before finally James cleared his throat. "I went to see Ambrose today."
Teddy raised his eyebrows, then closed his eyes. "That's right. I forgot." He opened his eyes again. "I'm so sorry, James, I should've remembered, I. . . ."
"It's okay. I didn't remind you on purpose," James admitted. "I wasn't sure what I'd get out of it, and I didn't want to disappoint you."
"You couldn't disappoint me, Jay," said Teddy, offering a soft smile. "I'm proud of you, really. It takes some guts to go see a therapist. Was she able to help at all?"
James took a deep breath. "We . . . talked about what happened. About what I was dealing with. About what I was able to remember." James snorted, a derisive laugh. "Not that there's much of that at all." He shook his head. "She wants me to consider undergoing some hypnosis. Thinks maybe that will help me to uncover buried memories."
Teddy nodded, taking it all in while trying not to pry for more information. "What do you think about it?"
"I . . . I don't know." His face was pained, clearly having some trouble with all this. "It's nice to think that my memories still exist, that I just need to access them again. But, but if this curse was at all based on Obliviation, then. . . ."
He trailed off, but Teddy knew what was left unsaid: his memories might well be permanently removed. The curse specialists at St. Mungo's didn't want to believe that such a thing was possible, didn't want to think that eight years of a life could be actually removed from a man's mind, but Teddy knew that two months back into this life, if James still wasn't able to remember anything, the chances of that being reality were growing greater every day.
"It's scary, having to consider facing up to the fact that it's gone," Teddy said, his voice a whisper, as though a soft-spoken word was less true than one spoken at normal volume.
"It's also scary thinking that the only reason I can't remember is that I'm just not trying hard enough." James looked at Teddy, head resting on one hand. "How will I ever know?"
Teddy took a deep breath. "I don't know, Jay. Unless they figure out the curse, or we figure out what caused it? You may just have to choose to accept that the memories aren't coming back." He felt bad speaking these next words, but he'd felt he should say them for a while now: "Maybe you're trying too hard and recover the memories."
James looked at Teddy a long moment. "And what do I do, then? Just . . . exist in this life I can't remember? Use a Pensieve and convince myself that everyone else's memories are my own?" His face was clear about his feelings on that idea; Teddy had mentioned it once or twice, as had Pye, but James always turned it down, determined not to make himself rely on the memories of others.
"I can't tell you what to do. I hope you'd find yourself comfortable enough to stay with us, here, though. And if you do, then . . . maybe you just focus on creating new memories?" Teddy shrugged a bit. "I know it's not the same, but. . . ." He looked over at Dex. "He's not going to remember much from these days. He won't know what you've forgotten, not until he's old enough to have it explained."
"But you'll know," James said, his voice soft, and if Teddy let himself imagine it, somewhat fond. "And it's not easy just . . . going back to how it was."
Teddy sighed. "It's not easy, no." He looked away from James. "I know it's hard, but I . . . I believe you'll find your way back. That we'll make it work." He sat forward, busying himself with Dex rather than have to look at James as he spoke. "I know you felt for me just as intensely as I felt for you. I . . . I have to believe that something like that isn't a fluke, that there's not just one chance for us to come together."
He played with Dex in the tub, starting to get ready to wash his hair when James stood and walked out of the room, not saying a word. Teddy sighed. "I think maybe I love Daddy Jay too much for him right now, kiddo."
"Bath," Dex said, pouring a cup of water over his own head. Teddy chuckled, and let himself focus on giving Dex his bath, not worrying about James right at that moment.
Two nights later, after Teddy finished putting Dex to bed, he noticed a light on in his bedroom. Curious, as he hadn't been in there yet that evening, he walked over to it, pushing the cracked door open, and he sucked in a soft breath of surprise.
The light came only from candles. James sat on the bed, still clad in his jeans and t-shirt, one knee bent up and his chin propped up on it. Teddy just stared, not quite sure what was going on.
"I . . . I was thinking about what you said the other night," said James, lowering his leg, his fingers gripping the denim of his trousers. "About, um, making new memories."
Teddy stepped forward, leaving the door open. "James?"
"Maybe . . . maybe I need to just dive in. Maybe I can't be afraid anymore." He reached one hand out to Teddy, and Teddy quickly moved forward to take it, sitting on the edge of the bed as well.
"Jay, what are you trying to do here?" He stroked James's hand. "You don't. . . ."
James shook his head. "I don't know. But I think I have to." He squeezed Teddy's hand, then leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. Teddy's eyes widened, and he pulled away.
"James." Teddy put his hands on James's shoulders, trying to look him in the eye. "James, I love you. And I want nothing more than to be with you again. But do you really want to be with me?"
"I want my life back," James said, his voice firm and surprisingly confident. "I want my life back and if I'm not going to remember, then I might as well just . . . just start living it." His voice softened, reaching up to wrap his hands around Teddy's wrists, pulling Teddy's hands off his shoulders. "I trust you, Teddy. I trust you with my life. Always have. That is something I remember."
Teddy closed his eyes and turned his face down, gathering his thoughts, his strength, knowing what he had to do. "No, James. If you're trusting me, then I can't let you—"
Teddy looked up again, hearing the plea not just in James's words but his voice as well. He remembered seven years ago, when James begged Teddy to let him move in, despite Teddy's concerns that they were moving too fast, that they'd only been together six months. The James in front of him now was so reminiscent of that James—and Teddy couldn't deny that James always knew his heart, could see things and make them work, even if Teddy was still unsure.
So, he nodded. "Okay," he whispered, and he lifted his hands to cup his husband's face, looking at him for one long moment, then moving in close to kiss him with the pent up passion of ten weeks, pushing James down onto the bed, determined to do this right now that he'd been convinced to do it.
They kissed, lips and tongues moving over each other's, and Teddy tried to push it out of mind how James seemed somewhat hesitant; after all, James wouldn't know what Teddy liked, and it might be surprising for him to find that Teddy knew every one of his buttons, like the way James writhed as Teddy's fingers softly stroked the shell of James's ear. Now James tensed, and Teddy pulled his hand away, not inclined to make James feel uncomfortable tonight. Teddy moved his hand down, let it slide up under James's shirt, pulling the fabric up with his arm and running his hand over James's skin. His fingers tingled, his delight at touching James again quickly overcoming any lingering concerns about whether or not James was truly ready for this step in reclaiming his life.
James pushed slightly at Teddy, not trying to get him to move off, but more to roll over. Teddy obliged so James could be on top, and couldn't help but smile into the kiss. This was so like James when they first were together, James's remaining habits from being with Liam leading him to take more aggressive roles. Over the years James had mellowed, and he and Teddy often moved together with a single purpose, knowing each other as well as they knew themselves, and while Teddy adored making love with his husband, the sudden realization that he might revisit those early days was far from unpleasant—indeed, it was incredibly arousing.
Teddy broke the kiss, smiling at James. "Merlin, I've missed you, Jay." He tugged at James's shirt again, and after a moment James lifted his arms, letting Teddy remove it and toss it aside. He ran his hands over James's chest and sides, around to feel the smooth skin over James's back. "You're gorgeous. I hope you haven't forgotten that."
"No, I know I'm fit." James smiled, but there was something in his eyes. Before Teddy could figure it out, though, James was kissing him again, rough and desperate, not quite the eager kisses of their first months together when everything was still new and exciting. He pulled back again, breathing hard. "So are you, mate."
"Do you want to take off my shirt, or should I do it?"
James bit his lip, looking Teddy over for a moment. "You do it," he finally answered, and as Teddy started to sit up, James put a hand to his chest. "Not yet. Let me. . . ." He flexed his fingers, and reached for Teddy's flies. "I want to, to see. . . ." He looked back up at Teddy, as though seeking permission, and Teddy nodded.
"Of course, Jay. Anything you want. You know I'm yours," Teddy added, his voice quiet and almost apologetic, though more for having to say the sentiment, rather than for feeling it at all.
James nodded, and he started to work at Teddy's belt, but Teddy could see that his fingers betrayed James's nerves; when James tried to open Teddy's jeans, he reached down and put his hand between James's and his flies. "Jamie. Are you sure you want to do this?"
Trembling fingers wrapped around Teddy's hand, moving it away. "I do. I, I have to do this," he said. "I need to be who I'm meant to be again." Without further hesitation, he opened Teddy's flies and reached into his jeans and boxers. Teddy sucked in a breath and his head dropped back against the bed, the first touch after their longest time apart since they got together like a spark to his nerves.
James began to stroke Teddy, and Teddy found various thoughts floating through his mind. Thank goodness James retained memories of being with a bloke, that this wasn't going to be essentially his first time all over again. Thank goodness that James was willing to come back to Teddy, that he wasn't asking to be on his own for a while. Thank goodness. . . .
But there was something not quite right in James's movements—more than simple unfamiliarity with Teddy's body, there was something mechanical to them, something not entirely dissimilar to porn flicks Teddy had seen. James was giving him a handjob by rote, as though reading an instruction manual, or like he was just following directions, giving a performance. Maybe James shouldn't be filled with loving passion at this stage, but he should be eager to have sex. But a glance at his disturbingly blank face made it clear that James saw this as an expectation and he was just trying to fill it.
Carefully, Teddy reached down and put his hand over James's, stopping the motions. He whispered James's name, pushing himself up on one elbow. "You shouldn't be doing this."
James frowned, pulling his hand out from under Teddy's. "Am I doing it wrong? Would you rather I blow you?"
Teddy shook his head, sitting up more, tucking himself away. "No, James. I want to make love to you again, of course, but I want you to want to make love with me. Not just . . . not just fuck me because you think you're supposed to."
"Fucking hell, Teddy, I don't think I'm just supposed to!" James snapped, his face flushing as he pushed himself away from Teddy. "I can't stand it, anymore. I can't stand being reminded every day that I'm not giving you what you want."
"What?" Teddy shook his head more, trying to understand what James was saying. "You being here, doing the best you can do? That's all I want, James."
James rolled his eyes and stood up, moving further away from Teddy. "That's such a lie, Teddy. I don't know if you're lying just to me or to yourself, too, but it's probably the biggest lie I've ever heard you say." James walked over to the side of the bed—James's side, once—and picked a picture frame from the side table. "You want this," he said, chucking the picture to the bed. It wasn't a formal photo, just a candid shot of the two of them kissing, from some night in a pub somewhere. "You want me to be that man again, and I don't blame you one bit."
Teddy swallowed; he couldn't deny that what James said was true. "I—"
"But it's going to take time, because I'm not going to remember how I got there." Teddy met James's eyes, and for the first time since he'd come home from St. Mungo's, Teddy could see fear in them. "The memories are gone. So I need to decide who I want to be, and then I need to be that man." He pointed to the picture. "I like what I've seen of him. I think his is a life worth living."
"You can't just, just pick up with a life you can't remember living, though." Teddy picked the picture up, watching as the image of them broke their kiss and laughed for a few moments before starting to kiss again. "I don't even remember what was happening in this picture, you know? The little moments from years ago are gone. But this picture, it makes me feel happy and warm because I can imagine what we might have been doing. And I can only imagine that because we've had seven years of a shared life, and the small moments are all part of the same story."
James ran his hand over his face. "Are you saying . . . are you saying I can't come back?"
Teddy closed his eyes, feeling his heart clench, nearly breaking from the pressure. "I'm saying . . . you'll never be him." He put the picture down again, face down on the bedclothes this time, then looked back up at James. "And maybe I need to accept that my . . . my first husband is gone." James's eyes widened, and Teddy took another breath for strength, lifting a hand to forestall any response. "But I think you're a good man." Teddy smiled softly, feeling tears burn at the back of his eyes. "And you're really good with my son. So . . . maybe we should . . . go out sometime?"
James sat on the edge of the bed, reaching for Teddy's hand. "Teddy. . . ."
Teddy took James's hand, squeezing it. "Think about it. You don't have to decide right now. But. . . ." Teddy nodded, making a decision. "I think it'll be better for both of us if you don't live here while we figure things out."
"But . . . Dex?" James looked pained, and Teddy felt relief at how much James had clearly come to love their son.
"We'll make that work easily enough," he said. "You won't have to stop being his Daddy Jay."
"Good," James said, his smile showing his relief. "I wouldn't ever have guessed how easily I'd take to that role, not without any warning, anyway."
Teddy nodded. "You're wonderful with him, and he adores you." He put James's hand down, patting it. "But he's not enough of a reason for us to do this wrong. So we'll get you somewhere else, so we can both feel less pressure to feel certain ways about each other, and when the time is right. . . ." He shrugged, willing to leave it open-ended right now.
There was a long moment while James considered what Teddy was saying, and then he finally nodded. "Okay." He stood up again, and smiled at Teddy. "You're still my best friend. Thanks . . . thanks for looking out for me."
Teddy smiled tightly, determined to hold it together. "You're my best friend, too. We promised we'd never ruin that. I'm still keeping that promise." James nodded again, then left the room without further comment, closing the door behind him. Teddy fell back on the bed, covering his face with his hands, and for the first time, he let himself cry for the end of his marriage.
Cuán nodded, picking up a soft, child-friendly Quaffle and tossing it to himself. "We love the little guy, and we're not around too much during the day. It'll be fine, I promise."
James smiled, leaning back on the couch. "All right. But when he escapes during a diaper change and pees on your favorite chair, I'm just going to say I told you so." They laughed, and Cuán whipped the ball at James, who caught it easily, sticking his tongue out. "Thanks, mate. I really appreciate you putting me up for a while." James threw the ball back to Cuán. "I just really didn't want to go back to live with my parents."
"Totally understandable," Cuán agreed, continuing the game of catch as they talked. "It's nice to have you around, too. Ted's kept Cian and me up to speed with how you've been doing, but we like seeing you in the flesh, too."
"You'll probably be sick of my flesh soon enough," James said, but he grinned, happy to be spending time with his old mate again. He'd met Cuán years back, before he'd even been with Liam. One date had been enough to tell them both they weren't romantically compatible, and they hadn't even been inclined to give sexual compatibility a go. It worked out well enough, though, once James had met Liam, and soon after Cuán met Cian. As far as James could remember, they had all been expecting to be a pair of old gay couples one day, and while things hadn't worked out with Liam, he was very happy to see that Cuán and Cian were still together.
Cuán nodded, snickering. "Probably true, but that goes for anyone if they stay long enough."
"Even Cian?" James asked, a teasing eyebrow raised.
"On occasion?" Cuán said, nodding a little. "It happens. Nearing our tenth anniversary." He reached up to fuss with his hair. "Rather hard to believe sometimes."
James smiled warmly, remembering how Cuán had always felt as though it would be inevitable that they'd split, though he was always happy to continue moving along with the current. "Can't tell you how glad I was to hear you blokes were still together. Was the first thing to make sense to me, after I woke up." He tipped an imaginary cap. "So cheers, mate."
"Not much has changed for us, no." Cuán caught the ball one last time, then put it down with a pile of toys James had brought with him. "We're the boring ones, not like you and Teddy are—were," he amended, giving James an apologetic look, which James waved off. "Not married, no kids. Just the pair of us. Could be flatmates, really."
"Except for all the sex, aye?" James waggled his eyebrows, and Cuán laughed.
"Obviously, yes. So much sex!"
"What about sex?" Cian popped his head into the room, pulling his Auror jacket on.
Cuán stood up, grinning. "We have lots of it." He went over to Cian, and as he gave his partner a kiss, James ducked his head, smiling a bit to see his friends still so in love. He tried not to think about how they were probably used to seeing the same from him and Teddy.
"I'll be in late, so have a good evening, James." James waved and said goodbye; there was the sound of the Floo behind him, and then Cuán came back to sit again.
"So." Cuán looked at James expectantly. "What do you want to do on this lovely Saturday?"
James thought for a moment, then grinned. "I want to go see a Quidditch match."
James found that being a part-time father and living in his friends' home wasn't as bad as he'd feared it would be. As upsetting as it might sound, he did find that being out of Teddy's presence made a lot of things easier. They still saw each other every day when Ted came by to drop Dex off or take him home, and they tried to do at least one day on the weekend as a family for Dex's sake. It was easier to see his friend again during those visits, and if Teddy ever wished he could see signs of changing feelings in James, he managed to keep that wish hidden.
Sometimes Cuán would ask if James had a mind to start dating Teddy again, but for the time being, James felt it was better to be on his own. He began painting again, and not being surrounded by work he couldn't remember helped him to follow his instincts. One piece in particular was growing on him, and he hoped to finish it soon and possibly try to sell it. For the most part his mind strayed from thoughts of sex and romance, but in the end he was still a young man, and he could claim no freedom from hormones.
Those hormones drove him to the city, finally, to his old favorite club. He almost invited Cuán and Cian along, but in the end their loyalty to Teddy kept James from even mentioning his plans. He didn't have any particular expectations that night, but he didn't want a pair of kind but judging eyes watching his every move.
The club was crowded, filled with Muggles from all over the city, the beat of the techno music spilling into the street along with the men who stumbled out. James took a deep breath as he walked closer, remembering his younger days, coming here alone or sometimes with Teddy, looking for a dance and a snog, or maybe a one night stand. Things were simpler then. He was just out of school, not at all inclined to making any kind of commitment. He wanted to feel bodies against his own, and that's what he got.
That's what he wanted tonight, too. A touch of someone different, a reminder that in everything else he'd lost, he could still have this. He wanted to feel attractive and desired, with no expectations other than to make another man feel the same way, if even for a few moments before they moved along to another body, start the cycle over again.
He picked up the beat easily, losing himself in the music. He remembered how he used to buy Muggle music to paint to, to try and find some inspiration. He felt nineteen again, even if his body was less lithe and he found his muscles burning faster. Clearly he was still attractive, though, given the men who quickly found him, pressed against him, grinding their hips against his, back to front, front to front, arms draping over his shoulders, eyes staring into his, searching for a willingness to go further. James would pull away before they could find it, letting them move on to try another bloke.
James left the floor after nearly half an hour, heading to the bar for a beer, glad for the chance to take a break, to breathe in the less crowded air. He squeezed in at the bar, but caught the bartender's attention quickly, passing over a few banknotes in exchange for the frosty brew. He stepped away from the bar, his eyes finding an attractive bloke by the corner. Without thinking much of it, he walked towards him, taking a long pull of his beer, and grinning when the man's eyes caught his.
"Hallo!" he said, shouting to be heard over the thumping bassline.
The other man, a blond with bright blue eyes, looked over and smiled at James. "Hiya."
James leaned against the wall, glancing back out at the mass of writhing bodies. "Taking a break from—" he gestured "—all that?"
The man looked back out, then side-eyed James. "For a bit. It's nice to watch."
"That it is," James agreed. He took another pull of his drink, considering getting back onto the floor. "You, uh, come here often?"
"Depends. You really just use that line on me?"
James chuckled, shrugging. "I wasn't really thinking of it as a line." He turned to the side, smiling at the bloke. "I'm not here often. If you were wondering."
The other man shook his head. "I wasn't wondering."
Now James pursed his lips, twisting them a bit to the side, finding himself determined to get this man to talk more. "Are you here with someone?" He held his breath slightly, unexpectedly hoping to hear a no from the gently curving lips.
The blond man slowly turned to look back at James, his eyes flicking over James as though sizing him up. "I'm not. I just came for a bit of . . . fun."
James smiled, and nodded. "As did I." It occurred to him that their definitions of fun might be different, but at the moment it wasn't a concern. "Care to exchange names?"
There was another moment of sizing-up, and then the man nodded. "All right, then. I'm . . . John."
"Nice to meet you, John." James inclined his head slightly, accepting the obviously fake name. "I'm Jim." It was a name he used to use in clubs, true enough but still foreign to his ears, not good for creating emotional bonds.
"Jim," said John, grinning slightly. "Nice to meet you as well."
James looked John over, very obviously and without any shame whatsoever; after another long pull on his beer, he wiped his mouth and put the drink down on a ledge in the wall, nodding towards the dance floor. "Come dance with me, John."
John raised an eyebrow. "You want me to dance with you?"
James turned his head, as though looking around. "Am I speaking Swedish?" He laughed, "Yes! You're hot, come dance with me."
John looked at him for a long moment, then put his drink next to James's, abandoned soldiers in the war on sobriety. "All right, I will." He reached out and tugged on James's arm, leading them into the throng. A new song was kicking off, and John found the beat as easily as if he were the one providing it. James gave a bit of space to dance at first, but before long the pair were pressing together, and James found himself surprised at how easily they moved against each other. They never moved to the same space at once; whether John was anticipating all of James's moves or else they were just lucky, he couldn't be sure, but as one song ran into another, a third, James found himself with no urge to move along, a rare feeling in a night at the club.
The fourth song was just a bit slower, its bassline harder and stronger, and around them the dancing bodies began to move even more sexually than before. James put his hands on John's hips, suggesting the more forward brand of dancing, and he smiled widely when one of John's arms settled around his shoulder, accepting the invitation. James found himself caught in John's stare, a steady, penetrating stare that should have been deeply uncomfortable, but instead, James couldn't look away, found his breath catching, the world fading away. Those eyes were darker now, perhaps a trick of the light or a hint of arousal, and again James felt his breath hitch. John seemed to recognize how James was reacting, and he leaned in slowly, giving James a chance to pull away, but James didn't, he stood still, keeping his eyes on John's until the other man veered to the side, and whispered in James's ear.
"James. It's me."
With a gasp and a startled step back, James looked back at his once blond-haired dance partner and instead saw Teddy, shifted out of his significantly disguised face and looking a strange combination of turned on and sheepish. The latter seemed to be quickly replacing the former.
"I . . . Teddy?"
Teddy pulled his hand back, holding it up to James to stop him. "I can explain. Will . . . will you let me explain?"
James stared at Teddy, completely gobsmacked and
motionless even as the men continued to move around them. He considered walking
away, just going home, but then again "home" these days was the home
of friends who'd probably been the ones to tip Teddy off—not that James quite
knew how they figured out his plans . Confused and not sure what options he
really had, James dropped his head, shaking it slightly.
"Not . . . not here," he said, his voice likely too quiet to hear over the music, but Teddy seemed to take his meaning anyway.
"Up the street, there's a chip shop. We'll talk there?" he asked, speaking into James's ear. James was unsuccessful at holding back a shiver that ran through him as Teddy's lips brushed against it.
"All right." He looked up at Teddy again, narrowing his eyes. "But I'm not happy right now. And you're buying."
Teddy nodded. "Understood. Let's go." He motioned for James to lead the way, and James did so gladly, enjoying the feel of walking away from Teddy, pretending that Teddy wasn't just a step behind him.
They settled in, each with chips and a soda. Teddy picked at his pile, knowing this conversation would be an uncomfortable one. He'd have to answer for himself, and he wasn't entirely sure he could come out of it looking better than he did now. James hadn't met his eyes since he turned away in the club, and Teddy wasn't sure if he could really blame James for that.
After nearly twenty minutes of extremely uncomfortable silence, James finally spoke. "I can't decide if I want to just . . . just shout at you for a bit, or let you try to explain."
Teddy swallowed his mouthful of potato, then licked the tips of his fingers. "I deserve the shouting," he allowed, rubbing his greasy fingers into the palm of his other hand. "Though I'd be grateful for the chance to explain."
James gave him a long look, then nodded. "All right, then. Explain."
"Okay." He picked up a napkin, considering his words carefully. "I know you're tired of hearing this, but . . . we used to do that. Even just as mates, when you were getting back on your feet after Liam. We'd go to a club, go in separately, and I'd change my face, and we'd see how long it took you to find me." Teddy tore off small bits of napkin, making a pile on the table. "It was a laugh. At the start, we'd say that once you found me, we'd seen all the decent blokes, so it was time to go home."
He chanced a glance up at James; not unexpectedly, James wasn't looking happy to hear Teddy's reminiscing. "Eventually we started . . . well, flirting. You'd let it go longer before telling me you knew it was me, and I'd let it go longer before I confessed." He sighed softly. "I wouldn't quite say that's how we got together, but it certainly played a role. And once we started dating, it became the dare to find me all the faster, so we could dance together."
Teddy paused, wanting to let James speak if he would. The silence went on long enough that Teddy almost started talking again, but then James whispered, "So you . . . you followed me to a club to find out if I would . . . what? Find you? Be inexplicably drawn to you?"
Teddy felt his face flush, but he shook his head. "I didn't follow you, not like how you're saying it! Cian Flooed me up and told me you were going out—"
"Oh, great, now my mates are telling on me when I want to go out for a night."
"It's not like that," Teddy insisted, though the small voice inside him (the voice that had been James's for so long now) expressed its own disbelief at that. "Cian just guessed, and he was worried. It's. . . ." He sighed, shook his head. "I missed you," he said, quiet and a little ashamed. "I wanted to see you having fun, to see you smiling. Even if you weren't smiling at me."
James was looking hard at Teddy now, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest. Teddy knew that posture, knew he was in trouble.
"Why did you tell me when you did?" James asked. "Why not sooner? Why . . . why not later?"
Teddy bit the inside of his cheek. "Honestly, I'd seen you move around so much, I didn't expect you to go more than a song or two with me. With that last song, I. . . ." He blushed again. "I was reacting to you, and I didn't know if you'd be interested in a stranger like that and to be honest? I didn't want to know." He looked into James's eyes. "I know right now you're not mine, but I can't quite handle seeing you as anyone else's, either. So I spoke up before anything would happen."
James rubbed his hand over his chin—he had some stubble, probably hadn't shaved for a couple days (Teddy tried to ignore how attractive it was)—and then leaned forward, his arms crossed and supporting him on the table. "Ted, you told me to leave so things would be easier on the both of us. You asked me out on a date, but didn't make me answer yet." His voice softened. "I'm not looking to start anything with anyone else, but you need to let me . . . let me remember how to be on my own again." He shook his head. "If you miss me, then ask me to hang out with you. Don't trail me to some club and hope that I'll just find you. Teddy, that's creepy."
"I didn't—" Teddy stopped himself; he was going to say he didn't expect James to find him, but that was a lie, because Teddy had picked his John persona on purpose. It was the face he'd used the first time they'd stayed and danced, the first time they acknowledged the growing attraction between them. And worst of all, his plan had worked.
"It's creepy," James said again, his voice firm. "And I'm going to tell Cian to stay out of it, too. He had no right to tell you what he thought I was up to."
Teddy nodded, looking down at the pile of now obliterated napkin scraps in front of him. "You're right," he said, his voice flat with a sigh. "You're right, of course." He looked back up at James and said, with all the sincerity he could muster, "I'm sorry, James. I'm sorry I betrayed your trust in me."
James sighed, and he reached over and put his hand over Teddy's wrist. "Apology accepted."
Relieved, Teddy chanced a smile. "You . . . you say I can ask you to hang out?"
James lifted an eyebrow, pulling his hand back. "I don't know about right now, Teddy. I'm still upset and hurt." He scratched his cheek. "But give me a little time, yeah? I'll Floo you, maybe plan something to do."
Teddy nodded, hoping he didn't look too eager. "I'd like that. A lot." He gave a quirked smile. "I miss my best mate, you know. I promise, if you want to hang out as best mates, I will stick to that."
James stood up. "Yeah, I know you will." He snorted. "Only 'cause I'd hex you if you tried any funny business."
That wasn't the only reason, but Teddy figured he'd let James have that little dig. "And you know all those wicked hexes from Al, so I'd be mental to tempt you."
"Exactly," James said, tapping his nose. "You're paying," he added, heading towards the door. Teddy watched James go, feeling sad once the door closed again.
"Yeah. I'm paying."
James held firm to his hurt for a couple weeks, but sooner than he'd imagined he found himself missing Teddy. He had left Cian and Cuán's house to stay with his parents instead, which certainly had kept Dex happier than playing in a stranger's home. James hadn't gone too into his reasons with his parents; he didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable about Teddy, and James was fairly certain that it was an uncharacteristic mistake on Teddy's part, one which would never be repeated.
The time spent apart, though, gave James plenty of time to think, and to his frequent frustration, he found himself repeatedly remembering the pull he felt to "John" before the truth came out. To his annoyance, he had to admit that Teddy's plan may have had some merit. He'd had a couple dreams about other ways the evening could have ended, all of them resulting in a slightly shameful date with his palm in the early morning light. After the third time, he wondered to himself what the point was of leaving his parents' house if he was just going to end up back there acting like a horny teenager again.
When the face in his dreams finished changing from something unfamiliar and had become undeniably Teddy, James knew that he was only hurting himself by being so stubborn.
Teddy had been stuck at work late, and he looked tired as he sat on the edge of one of the kitchen chairs, trying to clean Dex after dinner, and James hurried into the room to help.
"Here, Ted, I'll clean him up." James took the cloth from Teddy, smiling a bit. "You look wrecked."
"Cheers." Teddy sighed and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his hands together. "Jacobsen keeps pulling a muscle in his shoulder, and he's getting tiresome about it. Had to talk to the coach today, tell him that he might have to bench Jacobsen for a couple weeks."
James chased bits of mashed potato on Dex's cheeks as the little boy fidgeted and squirmed under his hand. "Ouch. I'm guessing Jacobsen won't be pleased by that."
"Not even a little," Teddy agreed. "But I can't treat him properly if he won't give himself time to heal."
James finally lifted Dex out of his chair and put him on the floor, shaking his head a little as Dex ran off back to his toys. He could hear his father start to laugh, and Dex's giggling quickly joined in, making James smile before he turned back to Teddy. "Hopefully he'll be good about it in the end." He pulled out a chair on the other side of Dex's, giving Teddy a long look.
Teddy seemed to take notice. "What?" he asked, his face and eyes tired.
"Oh." James looked away, down at the table, picking at a ding in the wood. "I was just. . . ." He took a steadying breath, and looked up again. "I've been thinking. I, um, I think I'd like to take you up on your . . . offer."
Teddy tilted his head, clearly confused. "My offer?"
James nodded and chuckled slightly. "To, um. Go on a date?" He smiled more as Teddy's eyes widened, his whole face seeming to find some renewed energy.
"Really? You mean a date-date? Not just . . . hanging out as mates?" Teddy's face was so earnest that James couldn't help but find it entirely adorable.
"I mean a date-date, yeah," he said, sitting up straighter. "I think it would be good."
Teddy grinned wider. "All right, then. I'd love to take you out on a date. Would. . . ." Teddy frowned, a finger moving in the air as he appeared to consider something in his mind. "Would Saturday be okay for you? I'd say tomorrow, but I'm not completely sure I'd get out of work on time."
James chuckled. "Yeah, Saturday's fine. Could even be next week if that's easier?"
"Oh, no!" Teddy laughed, wagging a finger playfully at James. "I'm not risking you changing your mind, Jay. I'll owl you Saturday morning, let you know what time I'll come pick you up, let you know how to dress."
"How to dress?" James ran his hand over his face. "Why did I forget that you're an unabashed romantic? That was hardly new information. . . ."
Teddy's grin was infectious, though, and James found that he was still smiling about it even after Teddy had taken Dex home, which earned him much teasing from his parents. James tried to put them off a bit, keep them from getting their hopes up too high, and for the most part they were good about giving James some space to prepare.
It was nerve-wracking, which wasn't a surprise—the surprise was which nerves were particularly jangling. He had expected to be nervous about the pressure he might feel to make the date successful enough to feel comfortable to go back to Teddy right away. He did feel it, to some extent, but far more were the nerves around simply going on a date with Teddy, without even considering the possible ends to the evening. This was both his first date since his relationship with Liam ended, as well as a bloody date with his best friend. The knowledge that he'd done it once before, despite not remembering it, didn't calm him.
As promised, Teddy sent an owl late Saturday morning, suggesting a dress code a step up from casual, but nothing fancy. James was relieved, glad that this first date didn't sound like it would be too intimidating. With his mother's help he picked out the perfect outfit, and before he was quite ready for it, the sound of the Floo in the kitchen announced Teddy's arrival.
"Perfect," was the first thing Teddy said as he looked over James with a pleased smile. "Not that I'm surprised. I usually feel like I just threw on some random clothes compared to you."
James grinned, nodding. "Yeah, you usually look like you did, too." He took in Teddy's pressed khakis and light jumper, his sleeves pushed up and perfectly showing off his forearms. "But not tonight. You look great, Teddy."
Teddy's smile grew wider, and James thought he detected a hint of a blush in his cheeks. "Then we should go before you come to your senses." He reached out one hand. "Going to a Muggle place, no Floo nearby. Side-along with me?" James took Teddy's hand, and for just a brief moment before they popped out of the kitchen, James had time to worry that his palm was sweaty.
The restaurant was bright and cheerful, just a step up from a pub in terms of fare and clientele. James had a vague memory of this place, thinking perhaps one time long ago they'd come here with mates.
"Is this where we came when you got assigned your residency?" he asked, looking around.
Teddy raised his eyebrows. "I think it is. Huh. I'd forgotten." He cocked his head at James. "Your memory is funny."
James rolled his eyes. "Maybe funny to you, but I'm not really amused by it lately."
"Oh." Teddy closed one eye. "Sorry. I wasn't thinking." He looked embarrassed as he picked up his menu and began to look it over.
Getting a funny feeling in the back of his mind, James leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Did you and I come here since then? Um. Alone?"
There was a moment of quiet before Teddy lowered his menu again and met James's eyes. "Does it really matter?"
James looked away. "No, no it doesn't." He chuckled a bit. "My curiosity gets the best of me, I'm sorry." He took a deep breath. "New start, here."
Teddy smiled. "Yeah."
The server arrived at their table then to take their drink orders, which gave a sense of direction back to the date, pushing it forward and making it easier for James to forget the mysterious past.
"How's your painting going?" Teddy asked, their food orders now placed and the menus taken away. "I know you were having some trouble back at ho—um, at my place."
James nodded, smiling a bit. "I don't think it was the location so much as the fact that I just felt completely lost in my life."
"And you don't feel as lost now?" Teddy's tone was controlled, but there was a hint of something deeper, and James considered his answer carefully, not wanting to hurt Teddy's feelings.
"I'm still a little lost, but it feels more like. . . ." James shook his head, picking at a cuticle absently, letting himself focus on his hands. "It feels like how I felt after Hogwarts. Free, with endless possibilities—and that's sort of dizzying, and you know that certain people have some expectations of you, even if they won't admit it."
Teddy sighed. "James, I don't—"
"I don't mean you," James said, then he allowed, "Well, not just you, anyway. My parents, you know?" James knew his parents were doing the best they could with James, and for the most part they left him to his own devices, trusting him to be able to handle everything and ask for help when he eventually needed it. But sometimes their questions were still a little pointed, and sometimes James felt like they were disappointed in him, in the fact that he hadn't gone back to the life they thought he was meant for.
"But whatever the reason, it's a 'good' kind of lost now, I think. Painting is feeling more natural, anyway, though I'm still not quite producing anything I want to share with the world."
Teddy nodded, pushing a piece of brown hair off his face. "I hope you find your zone again. You've always been happiest when your painting was going well."
"Thanks," James said, smiling warmly. "Helped when I was also selling my work, too, I'm sure."
Teddy chuckled. "That was definitely a help, you're right." His face softened. "I'm sure you'll get something finished soon. You're so talented."
James ducked his head. "Flatterer." He sipped his tea for a moment, trying to figure out what to talk about that fit into the feeling of being a first date; asking about their son seemed a bit inappropriate at the moment. "So. . . ."
They looked at each other, Teddy looking ready to answer James, and James feeling utterly unsure of himself. After a long moment of silence, they both started to laugh, and James felt the nervous tension slip away. He gave a bright grin. "So, Teddy. You're a Healer, you say? How's that going for you?"
"I am a Healer, James. I'm so glad you asked." With the awkward moment passed, everything began to flow a bit more easily, and James began to feel a less intense version of that pull he'd felt on the dance floor weeks ago. They talked for hours, their dinner picked at occasionally, and finally it was only the bitter glares of the servers and cook looking to close up for the night that made them accept it was time to go home.
"I should probably get right home," Teddy said as they strolled back to the Apparation access alley a few streets down from the restaurant. "Had to hire a sitter for Dex tonight. I'm probably already into double time now."
"Oh!" James reached for a small bag of coins in his pocket. "Here, I'll chip in. . . ."
Teddy put his hand out, stopping James. "You'll do no such thing. I took you out tonight, and the sitter's pay is part of that." He smiled. "It's all right, really."
James frowned. "But even if next time he's staying with me, my parents would likely end up watching him, so it's not like I would pay for a sitter then."
Teddy's smile grew. "Next time?"
Startled by the sudden shift in topics, it took James
a couple moments to gather himself. "Uh. Well . . . I mean, if you
Teddy didn't actually say "duh," but the look on his face communicated that feeling rather well anyway. "I definitely want to, Jamie."
James nodded a few times, pushing back a feeling of idiocy that he even asked. "Good. Great." He took a breath. "I'll owl you, then. Or Floo you. We'll make a plan."
They arrived in the alley, and Teddy took a little step towards James. "I won't try to steal a kiss off you yet," he said, "but do you think a hug's all right?"
James smiled, opening his arms and closing the distance between them. "Hugs are always all right." They embraced, giving each other a quick squeeze, then Teddy stepped back. "I'll talk to you soon," he said, and from the fondness in his voice James could tell he wasn't talking about the next day when James would take Dex while Teddy worked the match.
"I mean, I'm far from an expert on Muggle cinema," James was saying, his fork making his point all the pointier as he waved it about and aimed it at Teddy, "but it seems pretty obvious that that film was rushed at the end."
Teddy flinched, reaching up to wipe a bit of sauce from his cheek. "It wasn't, though! It wasn't drawn out ridiculously, like some endings are, but that doesn't make it rushed. It was just right."
James shook his head. "In my opinion, it was rushed."
"Well, your opinion is wrong," Teddy said, grinning as James rolled his eyes and laughed. As much as he tried to avoid remembering the first time they began to date, just as he always tried to avoid comparing new boyfriends or girlfriends to past ones, he found moments like this harder than most. They'd almost never agreed about movies, though that had never stopped them from seeing them together. The argument after was part of the fun, and it was a relief to Teddy to see that on many levels, James was exactly the same man he'd fallen in love with so many years ago.
The tricky part was, of course, that he was still in love with him now. While James was finding his way again, Teddy was waiting at the finish line, trying very hard not to pay attention to how fast James was going. They'd been dating for about a month, and keeping his mind open to the idea that James might take another path this time was one of the hardest things he'd ever done in his life.
On their second date, James had pointed to Teddy's left hand. "You're still wearing it," he'd said, stating a fact and keeping any accusation out of his voice. Teddy, though, had felt somewhat defensive.
"I am. It's a hard habit to break, and doing so would come with a lot of explanations to people." Teddy had frowned, twisted the wedding ring around his finger with his other hand. "Does it bother you?"
James shrugged. "Sometimes I wonder how it must look to people, us on a date, only one of us wearing a ring."
Teddy shook his head. "Didn't ask if it bothered other people." He'd tried to keep the frustration out of his voice, but James had always cared far too much about what strangers thought of him.
"What will you do if I find I can't . . . be that person in your life anymore?"
Teddy had swallowed. "Then we'll get a divorce, properly, and we'll sort out custody for Dexter, and I'll take off my wedding ring." He'd leaned forward slightly, and added in a soft voice, "But right now I'm having faith that none of that will be necessary."
James had absorbed that, nodded, and they'd moved on to other things. Teddy still wore his ring, and James seemed not to care about it anymore, though Teddy did sometimes wonder if James ever found it pressuring. He trusted James to say something if it was too much, and as the dates continued and James seemed more and more comfortable with him each time, Teddy's small concern faded into the back of his mind.
Two weeks ago they'd attended an art exhibit in wizarding Edinburgh, one in which James had arranged to show some artwork months before the accident. It had been a difficult night for James, having to speak to people he couldn't remember, accept praise for pieces for which he felt no ownership. Most people had no idea about what had happened, so Teddy had kept close to James, whispering names and small bits of information to bolster James's conversations. While he'd worried that James wouldn't be at ease with Teddy so close yet, Teddy was pleasantly surprised that James showed no sign of wishing for more space, and even when they had a moment or two for a breather, James would keep holding Teddy's hand, or stay leaned against Teddy's side.
That night had ended well, though—James had made arrangements to meet with someone to view two of his new pieces, the first ones he felt comfortable sharing, and just a few days ago, now, that meeting had ended with James accepting the woman's gold and finally feeling the thrill of having sold his art. Tonight's date was on James's Knut, by his own insistence, and there was a level of relaxation to James that Teddy was delighted to see in him again.
"We're pretty close to Grimmauld, aren't we?" James said as they headed out of the restaurant at the end of their meal. "You want to hoof it back?"
Teddy looked up at the sky, which was cloudless and a rich, dark blue. "That'd be nice. It's a beautiful evening for it."
James smiled and reached over, grabbing Teddy's hand, an action he'd begun to initiate lately, even just during the short times they saw each other over the week when Teddy was by with Dex. Teddy felt his heart flutter every time, and tonight he laced their fingers together, beaming as they headed towards Grimmauld Place.
For much of the walk they were companionably silent, speaking softly only to acknowledge others on the sidewalk, or to comment on shops or houses they were passing. Teddy was glad for the extra time to be together, glad to know that James had suggested this option to prolong their date, even if he might not yet be ready to spend time in Teddy's home afterwards. Still, it was all too soon that they found themselves in front of Number Twelve, and they faced each other, preparing to end the date reluctantly.
The moon was waxing, and despite the city lights, Teddy thought that James seemed to glow in the moonlight. He smiled to himself, amused at his soft thoughts, and James turned and caught him, lifting an eyebrow.
"What's so funny?"
Teddy shook his head. "Nothing." He stepped closer. "You look gorgeous tonight." James ducked his head, and Teddy reached over to cup his hand over James's cheek. "You do. You look. . . ." He swallowed hard. James wasn't pulling away, and Teddy was feeling overcome with adoration, so he leaned in and kissed James for the first time in months, a drought he thought would never end.
James sucked in a breath of surprise, but quickly kissed back, setting Teddy's heart alight. Gaining confidence, Teddy let the kiss linger, enjoying the feel of James's lips under his again, his fingers teasing at the hairline on James's neck. He could feel James's pulse quicken under his palm, and with a thrill he pressed closer, not deepening the kiss, but making it more deliberate.
Finally, he pulled away, slowly breaking the kiss, smiling when he felt James lean in to try to follow him. He licked his lips, looking into James eyes when they opened again.
"You kissed me," James said, his voice soft and bashful.
"I did," Teddy replied, smiling wider. "I very much enjoyed it. Did you?"
James bit his bottom lip, his eyes flicking down to look at Teddy's mouth for a moment before looking back in Teddy's eyes. "Yeah. I did. Quite a lot."
"Would you want to do it again, sometime?"
Now James began to smile, an impish grin that caught Teddy's breath in his throat. "Guess you'll have to find out," James murmured, and he stepped back, out of Teddy's touch, and headed out to the sidewalk, giving a little wave as he headed to the nearest alley. Teddy grinned, knowing he looked a bit goofy and lovestruck, and watched as James walked out of sight before he sighed and headed into his home.
Teddy rolled his eyes. "We're going through mostly Muggle areas, and the boy doesn't know how to control the color of his hair. No, a hat never occurred to me."
James stopped what he was doing and stared at Teddy, his eyes narrowing a bit. "Hey, I'm just checking, okay?"
Teddy sighed, ran a hand through his own hair, which was striped black and orange after promising Dexter some tigers. "Sorry, sorry. I get a little tense when we take Dex out with Muggles."
"It's okay," James said, pointing to the bag on the kitchen table. "I only asked because there's no—" A bark and a squeal interrupted James, and both he and Teddy turned to see Dex chasing after Rom, the dog wearing the hat that Teddy had packed earlier. "Ah. That'll explain it, then." He laughed to himself and went to scoop Dex up and snatch the hat off Rom's head. Teddy watched with a smile as James popped the hat on Dex's head and began to play a game of peek-a-boo.
"I think we're almost ready," Teddy said. "I just want to pack some snacks, get a self-refilling sippy cup ready."
James nodded, putting Dex back down. "How much of the time will we be in the Muggle section, do you think?"
"Not sure. The wizarding section is a decent size, but there's still a lot in the Muggle part, too." Teddy leaned against the kitchen table. "Victorie was just there with the twins, said they had to leave early because the pair of them couldn't stop talking about the clabberts. So I think maybe we ought to save them for last."
"Sounds like a good idea. He's pretty good about his hair until gets really excited. . . ."
Teddy chuckled; the respect he had for his grandmother in raising not one but two Metamorphmagi without being one herself was great, especially now that he had Dex to wrangle. About six months ago Teddy had begun trying to teach Dex to recognize what color his hair was. They started by sitting in front of a mirror, with Teddy asking Dex to make his hair like Daddy Tee's. Once Dex seemed to be able to handle that, Teddy continued without the mirror right away, using it only to show Dex when he got it right.
By now, Dex did have some measure over controlling his hair; Ted could change his, ask Dex to match it, and he'd do so right away. Dex also was able to change it to match James's when he wanted him particularly (Teddy had not yet admitted to James how many times Dex went to bed during the week with James's hair), or match the Weasley red of his extended family. However, that control was only as good as Dex's concentration, which was why a hat was a constant companion when they went out in the Muggle world.
"I think we're set, then, yeah?"
James had Dex in his arms, Dex trying to put the hat on James's head now. Teddy grinned, walking over and kissing both Dex and James on their cheeks. "Yep. All set now."
"Zoo!" Dex shouted, his hair matching the orange in Teddy's. Chuckling Teddy got Dex to get his hair back to his natural brown, and then they headed upstairs and outside, stroller and bag tucked away in the pockets of Teddy's hoodie for now, and they began the walk to the nearest bus stop.
The Scamander Zoo of London was technically part of the Muggle London Zoo. Wizards entered at the same place as Muggles, though they had a separate, cloaked line to pay an extra fee in gold. Teddy and James, though, had lifetime membership passes, courtesy of Aunt Luna and Uncle Ralf. While not a complete collection of magical creatures by any stretch of the imagination, the Scamander Zoo was still impressively filled with examples of Newt Scamander's famously studied fantastic beasts.
The location of the Scamander Zoo had been a controversy amongst wizards for decades. Those in favor of remaining as separate from Muggles as possible advocated moving it to a more remote location. Teddy liked having the wizarding zoo in the middle of the Muggle zoo. He liked having non-magical creatures nearby, there to remind him that you didn't need magic to be fearsome, intimidating, or comforting. Not that he forgot it too often, having a pair of non-magic pets of his own.
They stepped into a magically warded area to the left of the Muggle entrance, where Teddy pulled the miniaturized stroller from his pocket and returned it to its proper size.
"Wanna walk!" Dex insisted, stepping away from the stroller and clinging to James's leg.
Teddy smiled, reaching a hand out to Dex. "Later, bud. I promise. But for a little bit, you'll be in the stroller, okay?" He stroked back Dex's hair. "And we're going to stay brown and keep your hat on, right?" Teddy nodded a bit. "For the Muggles?"
Dex nodded, though his lower lip had some pout to it. Teddy kissed his son's head, lifted him into the stroller, then smiled at James.
"Lead us in, Jay?"
James, who seemed to be caught watching with a fond little smile on his face, shook himself just slightly and nodded. "Yeah. Got the passes and the Muggle money. We should be set."
And set they were as they headed into the zoo. Dex wasn't happy with the noise and the tangle of people milling around the entrance, and even before they hit the first animal enclosure they had to move to the side while Teddy knelt in front of the stroller, his hands on Dexter's legs while he told him to stop kicking and squealing, or else they'd have to go home. He had a staring match with his son—it wasn't the first time Dex had shown a stubborn streak, and Harry'd already expressed delight that they might discover just what it was like to raise James Potter as a toddler. Dex finally relented, slumping back into the stroller and sticking his thumb in his mouth. With the momentary tantrum over, they continued on their little safari. James took over pushing Dex, Teddy walking close by his side, hand occasionally brushing the small of James's back.
The crowd wasn't too bad, thanks to it being a weekday. Kids were still in school, and it seemed like most people here were tourists or parents with younger children. They worked around the outside of the zoo, pulling Dex out of his chariot when they started hitting the big animals. Teddy held him up to roar at the lions and tigers, swing his arm by his nose like an elephant, and scratch his armpits with the chimpanzees. James demonstrated his fish face in the aquarium, which set Dex off giggling loudly enough to echo through the enclosed area. A group of mothers looked over, smiling when they saw the dads and son having a good time.
Soon enough they entered the reptile house, which was darker and cooler, and as they approached one of the python habitats, James slipped his arm through Teddy's.
"My dad always got tense when we were in here," he said, his voice low as he watched Dex stare at the snake. "I never understood it when I was young, but by the time Dad would stare at Lil I got it."
Teddy nodded; he'd been with the Potters to the zoo, seen how quiet his godfather would get while his boys pretended to sniff the air with their tongues.
"Never had any idea what they might be thinking, though." James leaned slightly into Teddy. "Glad I don't have to wonder about Dex."
Teddy turned his head slightly, kissing the top of James's hair. "You wouldn't have to anyway, Jamie. You know that."
"Mmm." James nodded slightly, shifting his arm so he could take Teddy's hand. "My dad knew that, too. Didn't stop him from worrying." Despite the serious tone in James's voice, Teddy couldn't help but smile softly. James caught it. "What?"
Teddy shook his head, still smiling. "You're a great dad. And I've loved watching you fall in love with your son all over again."
James's lips quirked, a shy little smile, and Teddy knew to let it go, let the compliment and kindness stay in James's head and let him do his own processing.
They moved along, checking out the rest of the snakes and frogs and lizards, heading carefully towards a door at the back. To Muggles the door just looked like a normal Staff Only door, likely an entrance for zoo employees to tend to the animals. In truth, it was a magically cloaked entrance to the Scamander Zoo.
At first it didn't look too different—there were magical reptiles, too, and they needed a house of their own. The occamies and runespoors were interesting, though there was always a crowd around the salamander firepit. Teddy lead Dex over, crouching down so he could be at Dex's eye level, helping him to take one of the salamanders from an employee, feed it a pepper. Dex laughed as the little creature walked over his palm, onto Teddy's.
The kiddo got bored soon enough, and he started to whine, so James picked him up and they headed out of the reptile house and back into the sunlight.
The wizard side of the zoo was cheerfully designed, bright colors and live music bringing a light to Dex's eyes. Teddy laughed and pulled the hat off his son's head.
"Okay, Dee, you can have some fun with your hair now." He grinned, turning his hair bright pink, and Dex fairly quickly turned his own hair bright green, laughing and clapping his hands.
James smiled and kissed the side of Dex's head. "Look at you, cutie-pie. Happiest when you can be yourself, huh?" Dex smiled widely at James, puckering his lips for a moment, and Teddy felt his stomach twirl and flutter as James pressed a quick kiss to the little boy's lips, pulling back with a "Mwah!" and a grin.
"What?" James asked, smiling warmly at Teddy.
Teddy shook his head. "You two are sweet."
"Beaky!" Dex shouted, looking over to a nearby paddock of hippogriffs.
James followed their son's gaze. "Ooh. Those are biiiig Beakys, huh?"
Dex's mouth was an "o" of awe. "Big Beaky," he whispered. Teddy chuckled, thinking of Dexter's favorite stuffed animal at home. Dex tended to carry the hippogriff around most of the day, requiring frequent cleaning charms which always made Dex giggle.
"Wanna go see the big Beakys, baby boy?" Dex nodded quickly, and James hoisted him up, settling the toddler on his shoulders. Dex squealed again, and as James secured the pair of feet in his hand, he reached his free hand over to Teddy. "Let's go see the hippogriffs, Daddy Tee."
Teddy smiled widely, taking James's hand immediately and lacing their fingers together. The walk to the hippogriff paddock was further than he'd realized (and so the beasts even larger than expected as well), and as they went, other visitors would smile up at Dex when he waved, some pointing at his hair as it changed colors. Teddy had often feared that people would point at his son in a mocking sense, but the few times Dex had been in public where he could let his hair go wild, Dex seemed to love the attention he got.
The other kind of attention they got tended to be less pleasant, though equally less frequent. The occasions in which they received some negative reactions to their clear partnership almost exclusively came when they had Dex with them, which always set James on edge. But today, as they approached the fencing, a man turned, shifting to give them room, and he smiled.
"Cute little man you've got there," he said, his cheeks bunching in a smile on his bearded face. Teddy smiled back, surprised by the accent. It was North American, either the northern States or Canada.
"Thanks," Teddy said, looking back over to James and Dex, reaching up to rub Dex's back. "We like him."
The man pointed over his shoulder, to where a taller bloke—his head probably drew even with Dex's at his boosted height—was buying a couple frozen butterbeers from a cart. "My partner and I . . . we're considering adopting. Always like to see two-dad families around. Makes us feel a little less crazy," he said with a soft laugh.
Teddy smiled. "Don't know if you're less crazy, but at least you know you're less alone."
The bearded man smiled again, then his partner returned and his attention was drawn away, so Teddy let his focus switch back to his son and . . . and James. Today it was particularly hard to remember that, emotionally, James was still not his husband. But as often as that upsetting thought did come back to him, this time it felt . . . less.
Teddy stepped closer, putting his arm around James's waist, and he smiled as James leaned into him.
While there was still more to be done between them, at this point Teddy was finally feeling confident that things were well on their way to returning to a new version of the life they'd had to leave behind. And as long as he had James and they had Dex, Teddy was fine with whatever other changes had to be accepted.
Teddy smiled, looking proud and pleased with himself. "Thanks, Jamie. It's nice to cook something without having to worry about whether or not Dex can eat it, too." His eyes widened quickly. "Shit!"
James laughed, looking at an invisible watch on his wrist. "I think you went almost ten minutes that time! A new record, I think." He chuckled more as Teddy shrugged. "I'm not entirely bothered that you can't stop talking about the kid, though. My mum likes to point out how often I do, too."
The aforementioned kid was off with Andromeda tonight, since she hadn't seen him in a few weeks, and both James and Teddy agreed that if they tried to get him a room at the Potters' they'd both be subjected to far more teasing—and frankly, they were nervous enough without knowing glances and elbows to ribs.
Or, Merlin forbid, a jokey reminder on safe sex.
Truth was, they didn't know exactly what might happen tonight. Teddy had suggested a night in without Dex, and James had agreed, understanding even without it being stated that he should bring an overnight bag. He knew that the guest room he'd stayed in before was prepared for him, should he decide that's what he wanted, but James also knew that he would be welcome in Teddy's bed, and what they might do there . . . well.
"Do you need some tea?" Teddy asked, standing up to collect their plates. James stood quickly, reaching over to take the dishes away from him.
"Not right now. And oi, let me handle the dishes, Teddy." He look at Teddy, saw that he was biting his lip and had a look on him as though he were trying not to say something. "What?"
Teddy shook his head, letting James take the dishes from him. "Nothing. Just." He shrugged, and James smiled a little more.
"One cooks, the other cleans?" he asked, chuckling when Teddy nodded. "Pretty standard arrangement, you know," James said, stepping over to Teddy and kissing his cheek. "Relax, Tee." Teddy's hands went to James's hips as he stood there for a moment with his eyes closed, then nodded. "Okay. I'm going to take these downstairs, and I'm going to clean up. Why don't you go take care of the furry ones, get them settled for the night?"
"Yeah," Teddy said, his hands squeezing James's hips and then pulling away. "Come find me when you're done?" James agreed, and Teddy headed off, his hand running through his hair and mussing it. James stood still for another moment, smiling slightly and trying to hold the scent of Teddy in his nose for a few seconds more.
It didn't take too much more time for him to get the kitchen cleaned up. Teddy tended to clean as he cooked anyway, and so it only required a few waves of his wand to scrub the remainder of the dishes and pans and get them tucked away back in their cupboards. He could hear Teddy walking around upstairs, undoubtedly taking a few minutes to play with Rom. James found himself relieved that Teddy was nervous, too, and at the same time it made him feel more certain about the way he wanted this night to end.
The thought sent a thrill through him, a wave of want that had been building over the last few weeks and was near to impossible to ignore anymore. In the past week he painted a piece that still made him blush to think of, the movement and the colors seeming as obvious to his eye as a nude portrait would to anyone else.
He came up the back stairs and found Teddy sitting on the steps of the main staircase further down the corridor, Rom at his feet. James smiled and walked over, sitting down next to Teddy without a word, holding his gaze once Teddy looked up and caught it.
"Well, you found me," said Teddy, smiling nervously.
James nodded. "I did." He reached up and brushed his thumb over Teddy's jaw as his hand cupped his face. "I think I'd find you a million times over." Without elaborating, he leaned in and kissed Teddy, firm but not hard, and certainly not chaste. Teddy sighed into his mouth, kissing back as his arms wrapped around James's waist and pulled him close. The stairs were not a particularly comfortable place to make out, and it wasn't long before James pulled back, licking his lips.
"I think maybe that tea will have to wait for morning," he whispered, liking the way Teddy's eyes widened at the sound of his desire-wrapped voice.
"I, I think the tea would be nice in the morning," Teddy replied. Hope and lust were obvious on Teddy's face, and James couldn't help but smile.
"Let's go to bed, Tee." Teddy opened his mouth, and James put his fingers over it. "Don't ask what you're going to ask. Just trust me?" James knew that he possibly didn't deserve that trust, given the way things went the last time they went down this road, but he hoped that Teddy could at least be certain that the circumstances between then and now were drastically different.
Teddy pushed himself to standing, reaching for James's hand to help him up, an acceptance of James's trust that made James smile widely.
The flights of stairs between the ground floor and their destination had never seemed so long, but once they had finished the climb and were back in Teddy's bedroom, time seemed to stop mattering. With the door closed and the lights dimmed from their full brightness for a bit of mood-setting, they came together in another kiss, this one more purposeful and eager, hands roaming over each other, tugging clothing loose and finding bits of skin to touch and caress.
James let out a soft laugh and squirmed when Teddy's fingers traced along his ear, and he nipped at Teddy's lips in retaliation. He had reminded himself quite a lot lately that, when they got to this point, he had to accept that Teddy would know all the secret ways to drive James wild, and that James needed to be patient with himself to learn Teddy's. Though he supposed reaching down to cup Teddy through his jeans was a fairly good guess, and the reward of Teddy moaning again and rocking into his hand was just what James needed to gain confidence that this would go fine.
Soon enough they were stripping each other of their clothes, and James took the time to drink Teddy in, really look at his naked body.
"Last time I remember seeing you starkers," he murmured, reaching a hand out to trace the slight definition of Teddy's stomach, "was that time at the Burrow, when you fell into the marsh and Victoire said she saw a leech." Under his fingers he could feel Teddy's muscles tense with soft laughter.
"Some help you were," Teddy said, his hands running up and down James's sides. "How old were you, anyway?"
James shook his head. "I dunno. Fifteen?" He looked up at Teddy and grinned. "I was horribly embarrassed, because I'd never seen a fit bloke naked in person before. And you were fit."
Teddy raised an eyebrow. "I was? Past tense?"
"Pff. You're all old now, Teddy. . . ."
"Oi!" Teddy moved quickly, wrapping his arms around James and pulling him to fall onto the bed, Teddy landing on top of him. "I'm still perfectly fit, you bastard."
James sucked in a breath at the feel of Teddy covering him, their skin and other important organs pressing together. "Yes, you certainly fucking are."
Undoubtedly feeling James getting harder under him, Teddy grinned widely and dropped a quick kiss to James's lips. "So are you, Jay. You're beautiful and I want to do all sorts of things to you right now." He took a deep breath. "So you should probably tell me now if there's any limits tonight."
James licked his lips, trying to engage his proper brain. "Mmm. I think maybe I wouldn't be ready to have you in me tonight." He saw Teddy's face fall just the smallest bit, and he quickly added, "But that's just because it's been so long for me. Even if I could remember, it's been months."
"I know," Teddy said, nodding. "I'll just remind myself that we can have another first time with that. That'll make it worth the longer wait."
Glad that Teddy was continuing to be so patient, James rewarded Teddy with a rock of his hips and a hard, fast kiss. "Yes. But tonight. . . ." He grinned crookedly. "I want you. In my hands, on my lips, against my skin."
"Oh," Teddy said, his voice thick with passion, "that can be arranged, baby." He kissed James again, deeply, and from that point their talking was at a minimum, finding deliberate touches and soft noises to be more than adequate communication.
James woke up slowly, disoriented for a moment until he remembered he was at Teddy's again. It was the fourth time this week, and this time it hadn't even been specifically planned; it had just happened that after James brought Dex home, he didn't leave. He could hear the shower going in the bathroom, and realized that Teddy was getting ready for work. James turned over, taking a moment to enjoy the quiet sounds of morning in the house, the sounds of early traffic outside. He felt comfortable and peaceful.
It was nice, this life he was starting to live again. Nice enough that he wasn't so concerned anymore about the time he still couldn't remember, the events he was accepting he could never recover. Perhaps, even, it was time to reconsider using a Pensieve, experience those lost things through Teddy's eyes so that he could, at least, form a narrative about them to recall to others.
To his son. Maybe, someday, his daughter.
Over the sound of the shower, James could hear Teddy singing. The water masked the song itself, but he could hear pieces of a tune, and it filled him with a warmth he couldn't remember feeling but thought he must have felt in those pictures of him in Teddy's photo albums. He was content.
James pushed the blankets away and sat up, turning to put his feet on the ground as he wiped the remnants of sleep from his eyes. A glint of light caught his eye; it was coming from a slightly-opened drawer in the bedside table. Dex must have pulled on it, he thought. Curious, he pulled it open further, not sure what would be reflecting light. His heart beat faster when he saw it.
Still on the chain that Teddy had worn around his neck, James's wedding ring sat there, patiently waiting for its owner to reclaim it.
He reached in and pulled it out by the chain, staring at the ring as it caught the morning light. Platinum, with two thin grooves etched along the edges, it was simple and elegant, just the kind of ring James would expect himself to choose to wear. He'd never paid its mate much mind, though it still encircled Teddy's finger without fail, a testament to Teddy's faith in James to find his way home.
The light hit against an engraving on the inside of the ring; James took the ring itself in his fingers, turning it to read the words written: Tee Ad Infinitum. He smiled softly, imagining the certainty he must have felt when picking this ring, having it slid onto his finger that first time. While not a spell exactly, there was a hint of magical weight in those words, ad infinitum, and he knew he would never have chosen them if he didn't believe to his very core that they would be true.
He turned, looking at the messy bed, the way Teddy's pillow encroached upon James's, a sign of how closely Teddy must stay throughout the night. It made James happy to think that Teddy was always there. He looked again towards the bathroom, listening for more singing, and he smiled when he heard it.
He sat the ring in the palm of his hand, three fingers closing around it, and he moved the chain with his other hand, finding the clasp and using his index fingers and thumbs to undo it. He opened his hand again, pulling the chain out of the ring and setting it back on the night table. He turned the ring in his fingers again, looking at it, making sure he felt no trace of hesitance or discomfort, and when he felt only light and warmth, he carefully slid the ring onto his left ring finger, sighing softly as the weight of the metal and the promise settled comfortably over him.
James Lupin rose from the bed and walked towards the bathroom, starting to pull off his shorts as he thought that a shared shower would an excellent way to start the day.