These Chucks Don't Burn Like They Used To @ googlesites
Sweat beaded along James's brow as he finished his solo, fingers flying along the strings, the light on the far side of the stage hitting him in a way that made his face glisten. Teddy totally understood why Witch Weekly had named James the Hogwarts Heartbreaker, even though James had been wide-eyed at the prospect himself. Had Teddy still been at Hogwarts and not the bassist of Hex Deflection, he'd have had a poster of James in his dormitory, too.
Liam belted out the opening lines of the bridge, walking dangerously close to the edge of the stage, hands from the crowd snaking up and curling around his boots, threatening to pull him over. The first time he'd done it, Teddy had eyed him nervously and James flicked his head at one of the security wizards, but Liam had held his control, balanced on the knife edge, high from the threat of being carried away.
He held his hands over the crowd and they screamed the lyrics louder. "Drink me up! I'd drink you up!" And as Teddy sang, "Swallow you down," Liam was already strutting over, smirking. He pulled Teddy's head back by his turquoise hair, licking from his jaw to his hairline. Teddy's fingers stuttered over the strings, his neck sore, but it was worth it for the scream from the crowd. Liam always knew the right moment to grope Teddy—he played the crowd better than Teddy played bass.
Liam left Teddy to press back to back with James, their dark hair making them look like brothers more than mates. For the last chorus he climbed on Farryn's riser to jump off with the final chords from James and Teddy. The screams grew louder when the fans stopped singing Teddy's lyrics back at them.
James wiped his brow on his arm, grinning over at Teddy, making Teddy's heart soar. The adrenaline rush from playing a show, from being on stage with the kick of the drum right in his rib cage was one thing, but having that grin pointed in his direction was something entirely else.
Liam threw his arm around Teddy's shoulders and kissed his sweat-slicked cheek. "Time to say good night, Ted!" Liam unplugged Teddy, pulling him offstage behind Farryn and James. He dropped his hand and pinched Teddy's arse just before they hit the side stage, a chorus of shrieks following them backstage when he covered his open mouth, pretending to have been caught.
Teddy swatted away Liam's hand still resting on his arse, and laughed, clapping James on the shoulders. "Do you hear them, Jamie?"
The crowd was screaming and yelling still, even after the encore, the sound dampening only when they moved farther backstage towards the green room.
"Oh, I hear them." James turned, grinning ear to ear and then hugged Teddy impulsively. "Such a rush," James murmured, just barely audible over the din.
Teddy's eyes fluttered shut for a moment, a thrill racing down his spine from James's breath in his ear. James pulled away roughly, coming back to slap a bottle of water in Teddy's hand, jarring Teddy out of his fantasy in which his crush was requited.
Farryn poured a whole bottle of water over his head, the droplets clinging to the ends of his spikey hair, and then pulled his drenched shirt off, quietly thanking the assistant who handed him a dry shirt. They were all still getting used to the attention, the assistants and publicists; it hadn't been long ago they'd been playing shite clubs for tens of bored teenagers fresh out of Hogwarts.
"Yeah, yeah, we're all terribly famous." Liam waved it off, leaning against an empty crate of wet-start fireworks. He swept his hand wide, sloshing water from his bottle. "Where are the groupies, mates? Fame is nothing without a few dozen birds hanging from your arms." He knocked back his bottle, grinning around the mouth of it; he waggled his eyebrows when Teddy caught his eye. "Sorry, of course, blokes for you, Lupin." He bowed, mimicking taking off a hat.
"Ta." Teddy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, focusing on keeping his eyes away from James.
"What about blokes for you?" Farryn teased. He brushed his hair forward with his hand, trying to get it to lie flat again. "Merlin's nuts, you were all over him tonight."
Liam slid his arm around Teddy's shoulders. "Jealous, Farre? You know I can't help myself; he's just so cute." He pinched Teddy's chin and pressed another loud smack to Teddy's cheek.
Teddy rolled his eyes and shoved Liam off him. "Wanker," he good-naturedly muttered, though Teddy couldn't deny that he enjoyed the attention. Sometimes a good snog on stage with Liam could take some of the tension out of pining after James all the time.
"I suspect you'll be the one wanking tonight." Liam gestured crudely with a wink.
"Oi," Farryn snapped. "Our public. Witches," he directed specifically at Liam. "Breasts." He pointed towards the door with his empty bottle. "You know they're waiting for us." Even he couldn't hide his grin.
"After party?" Liam looked around, getting confirming nods from everyone. "I'll see what I can do about enticing a few witches then. Heartbreaker, you'll help, right?" He tugged the hem of James's shirt but winked at Teddy.
James groaned. "I wish you lot would forget that unfortunate nickname."
"Only after you stop breaking my heart, Jay-bird." Liam clapped his hands, fishing a clean shirt off the garment rack, not noticing when James rolled his eyes at that nickname, too.
Teddy squeezed James's arm in solidarity and then looked away as they both changed into their street wear.
Once outside it was easy to get lost in the process of signing autographs and trying to focus on individual fans. It was difficult to remember faces—harder to remember names—but there were some kids he'd seen before. Most looked like they were Hogwarts age, and Teddy was glad once again that James had convinced them to tour during July; it was hot as bollocks, but Teddy couldn't have imagined half their audience getting out of Hogwarts in the middle of the school year to attend a rock concert.
"Oi, Teddy, you coming?" Liam had his arm around a bird and she was fiddling with the top button of his shirt, her fingers sliding under the fabric. James stood on her other side, two birds hovering near, one finally stepping closer and looking like she might be brave enough to touch his arm.
Teddy shook off the vague feeling of disappointment, wrapped up the last few autographs and waved to the rest of the teens in the alley before joining his bandmates. He cast around for a moment, looking for a stray bloke, but Teddy's luck was rarely as good as James's was.
"Maybe there'll be someone at the party," Farryn offered before climbing into the back of the car.
"Maybe," Teddy sighed, though he doubted he'd find someone more appealing than the aptly named Heartbreaker.
* * *
James dropped on to the hotel lobby couch, practically on Teddy, tossing a folded letter in his lap. "Came with the morning post, just after you left the room. Dad says hullo and to wrap it up before you get off with any more blokes."
"What?!" Teddy scrambled to get into the letter, surprised that Harry would comment so bluntly on his sex life.
James laughed at Teddy's reaction. "Okay, he basically told me that, only not so colorfully. He did say hullo, though. Passed on some stuff about your gran?" James pulled the letter from Teddy's hands and unfolded it, showing Teddy where his name appeared.
Teddy skimmed the rest of the letter as James looked over his shoulder, a warm presence against Teddy's arm. James absently chewed his lip, worrying at the bit of dry skin near the corner. His hair was still damp, but curling at the ends where it was drying, the mint smell of his shampoo strong under Teddy's nose.
Farryn shuffled in, making them lift their feet from the coffee table so he could take the chair on the far side of the room. He had a plate from the breakfast buffet and a coffee balanced in his hands. When they resettled James wasn't quite so much in Teddy's space, which made it easier to concentrate on the letter, but Teddy wasn't sure it was an improvement.
Teddy arched an eyebrow, murmuring, "Some bloke was caught shoplifting as you?"
"Potter caught shoplifting? Perish the thought!" Liam dropped over the arm of the couch next to Teddy, sprawling over Teddy's lap. He poked James's nose, looking at him upside-down. "I mean, the last bloke to polyjuice himself as you at least had the decency to try on dresses at Madam Malkin's."
"The pictures were smashing," Farryn agreed around a mouthful of pancakes.
"Legs that go on for days, our Jamie." Liam kicked up his own leg, running his hands down it.
"Oi. I'm not your Jamie."
"Oh? Is that a special name between you and Lupin?" Liam fluttered his eyelashes and then reached up to push Teddy's hair behind his ear. Teddy batted his hand away, flicking the displaced strands back into place.
James straightened, leaning away from Teddy now, crossing his arms. "Keep it up and you'll be calling me Mr. Potter the rest of this tour."
"How about Heartbreaker?" Liam sing-songed. He avoided the swat from James with a laugh and rolled up off of Teddy, dancing over to steal a sausage from Farryn's plate.
James slumped back on to the couch with a huff. Teddy nudged him, getting a sour half-smile for his efforts.
"No one ever polyjuices to look like me," Farryn commented dryly. He speared his last sausage before Liam could claim it, spinning it on his fork before stuffing it in his mouth. "It's always James and Liam."
"Actually, mostly it's James." They all knew it was partially related to his dad, but it was no lie that James Potter had something special about him all on his own. Teddy didn't wonder why there had been six James-impostors spotted in the seven months since Hex Deflection had broken into the mainstream.
"I'm surprised there aren't more Lupins out there." Liam bit his lip, giving Teddy a coy once over. Then he laughed, leaning over the back of Farryn's chair and kissing his cheek.
Teddy shifted, ducking his head and glancing over to James who looked oddly pinched.
Liam clapped his hands together. "C'mon, lads. One quick floo and we're out of Arrows territory." Liam shuddered dramatically; he was a devoted Wasps fan who'd complained loudly about playing a show in Appleby. Farryn cuffed him, leading Liam off to collect their things, but Teddy stayed on the couch while James refolded his letter, tucking it into his jacket.
"You're not bothered about the polyjuicing are you?"
James shrugged. "Annoyed my family has to deal with it, really. You'd think people'd have better things to do than try to look like me."
Teddy nodded. "Maybe we should be a bit more careful about when we go out." They'd been warned as they rode the charts that fans might vie for locks of hair or other things to use in potions, and had a pretty strict regiment of countercharms to cast and potions to take every few days.
James ran his hands through his hair, flattening out some of the curls. "I'm not so worried about it." James shrugged again and this time whatever was bothering him was finally shrugged away. "Grab your bass before Liam offers to carry it." He grinned, picking up his own guitar.
Teddy blanched. "Liam is not allowed near my bass. Only other person who touches my bass is you." Teddy grinned at James, lighting up when he received a broad smile in return.
"I'll hold you to that," James promised, and when he winked, Teddy's stomach flipped over, everything back to normal.
* * *
"Teddy taught me some basics," James explained to the reporter from Sonorous Punk, the last one to explain how he got into music. "My Christmas present that year, along with the guitar. Wasn't so long before I got kind of obsessed." James smiled bashfully. "Mum banned the guitar from the house, so it lived at Teddy's flat, and so did I most of the holidays."
Cadi chuckled warmly, the feather from her long quill darting back and forth as she wrote. It was weird being in a nearly empty Three Broomsticks, but Teddy figured it'd be packed soon enough once people started arriving for the show. The stage was set up at the edge of the village, closer to The Hog's Head, but they weren't the ones sponsoring this show.
James shifted, elbowing Teddy, though it could have been an accident considering how squished together the band was on the transfigured couch. Liam had insisted they'd all fit, so Teddy ended up squashed into the corner with James half in his lap; he didn't mind it at all.
"For a long time we were just goofing off on summer hols." James turned to Teddy, tilting his head and giving a long look that drew out the silence in the room. "I don't really know when we got serious. . . ."
"Clearly that was after you met me," Liam piped up from the other end of the couch, breaking the spell of James's gaze. He had his head propped on his hand, his little finger wrapped in a dark tress.
James turned, rolling his eyes. "Had to get serious in a hurry, considering that Liam's first action as a band member was to wander into a club, book a gig—and get paid in advance—before we'd practiced a single song."
Liam shrugged, putting on innocent airs for Cadi. "I got us paid, didn't I?"
"Yes, and you spent half of the money on firewhiskey before you even told us." Farryn laughed as he recounted the story, only slightly embellishing the path Liam took from the club to a bar to Teddy's flat where they had regularly practiced in those days. Sometimes it was hard to believe that had been just over a year ago.
Cadi crossed her legs, the leather of her boots squeaking as she shifted. "And that's why you covered Celestina Warbeck?"
James chuckled, a glint in his eye. "Actually, 'Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love' is my gran's favorite song. Teddy and I rearranged it as a punk song just to have a go at her. Teddy sang it back in those days."
Teddy shook his head, not quite believing James was bringing up his brief stint as lead singer.
Cadi turned to Teddy, her smile wide. "I didn't know you sang."
"Aye, most people don't." Teddy glared at James. "Farryn was jamming with us long before he'd joined the band, and James wasn't confident enough to sing, so I did." Teddy shrugged. "We still needed Liam, though."
"Ha!" Liam pointed down the couch at Teddy and then to James. "'Needed me,' see?"
James rolled his eyes, and Teddy could practically read his thoughts, Needed you like a hole in a cauldron.
"So, why don't you perform the Warbeck song any more?"
James laughed this time. "We've got our own album now, don't we?"
Cadi smiled, moving smoothly with the transition. "You and Teddy wrote all of the songs on the album, is that right?"
"The music is mine, the words are Teddy's. His words inspired our first songs; after that we've shared the inspiration a bit more, but whenever I'm stuck—" James pushed his hair back, turning to grin at Teddy. "—he feeds me a line and I know what I'm doing again."
Teddy blushed properly, ducking his head.
"The lyrics can be quite . . . vivid." Teddy coughed at Cadi's choice of words. They'd taken some heat for the sexual lyrics in "Fire on My Cauldron." "Most of the songs are about wanting or watching or fantasy. . . ." Teddy looked up at Cadi's words, his stomach sinking at the question he felt coming about appropriateness—it was a topic both Gran and Harry had mentioned once or twice. "It's hard to say anyone has missed the on-stage snogs. Any chance I can scoop Witch Weekly on some gossip?"
"Uh . . . what?" Not the question Teddy was prepared to answer.
Cadi smirked, leaning forward slightly. "Are you and Liam an item?" She batted her eyelashes, giving a look that probably charmed most straight men.
Teddy's eyes slid to James when he felt him stiffen. Teddy opened his mouth, stunned that Sonorous Punk cared who he screwed.
Liam scoffed, drawing her piercing eyes from Teddy. "Have you looked at him? Who wouldn't want to crawl into Teddy Lupin's pants and stick it to him? That arse—that arse is the one I'd go gay for," Liam announced plainly. Teddy could feel his hair slowly matching the flush of his cheeks. "But sadly, my dear Cadi, it is all just part of the act."
"But you'd stick it to him if you could," she deadpanned.
Liam opened his hands wide. "Would you believe that he keeps turning me down?"
Teddy covered his face; he could not believe Liam was saying that to Sonorous Punk.
Cadi smirked, one eyebrow going up. "Maybe you're just not his type." She held her gaze on Liam for a moment before he broke into a huge grin.
"Aye, maybe not. But maybe I'm your type?" Her eyes widened under his gaze, and when his grin shifted to a smirk she sat back in her chair, shuffling her notes. Usually Teddy disapproved of the way Liam hit on every bird he saw, but he was willing to check the judgment this once.
"I, uh, I think I have what I need." She locked eyes on James, staring at him hard. "I assume I can reach you for follow up if needed?"
"Right," James said, the relief seeping into his voice. He sprang to his feet, helping her gather her purse and jacket and ushered her to the door, rushing through the pleasantries and contact information, getting her out of The Three Broomsticks as quickly as possible. "Thanks again," he called before shutting the door and rounding on Liam. Farryn jumped off the couch, busying himself with digging through his backpack.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" James scrubbed his face. "'You'd go gay for him?!" James's voice squeaked and he seemed to be trying not to look at Teddy.
Liam shrugged. "I was charming."
"You were horrifying," James snapped. "Think about how Teddy feels with you talking about 'sticking it to him'."
"He doesn't seem to mind when I snog him every night, does he?" Liam narrowed his eyes slightly, squaring his shoulders. "I hear I'm good material for a wank."
Teddy blanched, this conversation seeming less and less about him.
"I'm going to have a smoke," Farryn said loudly. "Teddy, you should join me." Farryn wrapped his hand around Teddy's wrist and pulled him off the couch before James laid into Liam again, the two of them hardly noticing as Farryn and Teddy escaped out of the door.
"Thanks," Teddy murmured after they were outside. He dropped down on the stoop next to Farryn. "They're like hippogriffs. You can't get near either of them unless you look 'em in the eye first."
Farryn snorted, a trail of smoke already curling out of his nose. "I don't know how you stand being in the middle of that."
"I'm not in the middle of them."
Farryn arched an eyebrow but offered no other comment.
Teddy pushed his hair off his face, holding it up before letting it all fall forward again. "I've no idea. They drive me batty, for sure. They've always clashed a bit, but this. . . ."
"Tour's too long or something." Farryn nodded, ashing his cigarette on the ground. "Maybe we're just more in each other's faces these days?" He rubbed his palms down the stripes of his pants.
Teddy shrugged. "Possibly? I know I've never had Liam so much in my face before." The interview only served to highlight just how often Liam had been snogging him on stage. It had started out as a lark when Liam was particularly excited, but some time in the past month the fans really cottoned on to it and Liam had done it every night, getting more and more suggestive as the crowd encouraged it.
"He did say he wants to stick it to you."
Teddy's gut twisted when he felt a pang of arousal at the reminder of how long it'd been since he'd had any sort of shag. "Charming way of telling me."
"Aye. And James seemed particularly annoyed by it." Farryn arched his eyebrow again, taking a long draw on his cigarette that Teddy assumed was an excuse to not elaborate.
"I doubt it's just that." Teddy kicked out his legs. His Chucks were spellotaped at the toes—he should see if James would hit the shops with him on their next day off.
"Whatever it is—we need to keep the peace or James is going to knock Liam off the stage one night. Not that Liam wouldn't deserve it. . . ." He grinned at Teddy and they both chuckled.
"It's our week to room together, right? That means they're together." Teddy rubbed his finger over his lip. "Maybe we should avoid that this week; see if taking a break will ease things a bit." Teddy liked rooming with Farryn; if they didn't head out after a show, they'd read for a few hours, and if Farryn pulled—which he did half the time—he'd spend the night elsewhere, leaving Teddy with more than enough time to take care of his solitary needs, as they were. But an extra week rooming with James . . . that wouldn't be too shabby.
"I'll try anything at this point." Smoke leaked out of his mouth as he spoke. "You take Liam," he quickly added.
Teddy groaned. "Why don't you take Liam?"
Farryn chuckled. "You know Liam's more likely to agree to it if he gets to spend more time with you."
"You mean more time molesting me." Teddy picked at the jelly bracelets around his wrist.
Farryn chuckled again, and then took a drag on his fag. "Either way. He'll be more amenable to it if he gets something out of it. Probably the only reason he hasn't suggested a change himself is because he's looking forward to being a pain in James's arse twenty-four hours a day."
Teddy sighed, scrubbing his face again, annoyed because it was true. "Can't we split time? You take Liam on even days or something?"
"No," Farryn dragged out the word as he exhaled smoke. "What is it they say? Take one for the team!" He pointed at Teddy, his cigarette squeezed between his knuckles. "You're stuck with him, mate. Until we can get them to settle things peacefully, that is."
"So for the rest of tour and possibly into eternity." Teddy picked up Farryn's pack of fags, shaking one out into his hand and twirling it between his fingers.
"I promise to revisit the problem if it lasts after this tour."
"Thanks," Teddy said dryly. He slid the fag back into the nearly empty pack. "You smell like arse. You'll need to spell that out if you're going to sleep in the same room as Jamie tonight."
"Yeah, yeah, I remember." Farryn swatted Teddy away. "Now bugger off while I finish this pack. I've a bet with Liam that I can smoke half a pack a day without pissing off James."
"I thought our goal was to keep James happy?"
"Our goal is to prevent James and Liam from killing each other. If I have to deflect some of James's ire on to myself to achieve that goal, then I'll do it."
Teddy shook his head and then passed back the smokes, standing up and taking the last step down the back stoop. "You're a brave and foolish man."
"I'm a man," Farryn replied. "I don't know what you see in us."
Teddy shrugged and then looked Farryn over. "Well, I don't see it in you." He grinned and then ruffled Farryn's hair, ruining the careful, yet careless spikes. "Remember: shield charm is just a quick flick of the wrist, and you can always try to disarm him first."
"Righto," Farryn said, stubbing out his fag and lighting another in the same motion.
Teddy coughed at the smoke that drifted off Farryn, not so sure that rooming with Liam wouldn't be better than Farryn this week.
* * *
The warm water soothed his muscles, easing the thrum from the roar of the crowd to a dull hum, relaxing Teddy until even the hum had faded from his skin. As much as he loved being on stage in the middle of Hogsmeade, there was something pretty wonderful about feeling normal again. The lock turned over in the bedroom—he hadn't been in the shower that long, had he? Liam was rarely back this early after a show, so maybe Farryn was checking in before he swapped the keys around. Teddy pulled on his shorts, throwing the towel around his neck.
"You need something?" He rubbed the towel through his hair as he bumped the bathroom door open wider with his hip.
"Just a bed for the night, maybe a shower in the morning." James's soft voice surprised Teddy and he turned quickly, smacking his arm against the wall as he pulled the towel off his face. "Sorry." James winced. "Farre and I switched rooms—he said something about giving you one last night? Is that related to him smelling like a floo?"
Teddy laughed, rubbing his elbow and silently thanking Farryn for his generosity. "I have no idea. So, I get you another night?"
"And I avoid Liam! Win-win." James smiled broadly and Teddy couldn't help but smile back. "You mind if I get in there for a mo'?" James mimed brushing his teeth.
"Oh, yeah." Teddy tossed his towel into the bath and squeezed past James in the narrow cubicle between the loo and bedroom. He nearly tripped over James's duffel as he came around the corner and realized all his things were spread out over the bed closest to the window—the one James usually preferred. "I can move my stuff if you want. I'm not picky about the bed."
"Yes, you are," James called around a mouthful of toothpaste. He spat in the sink, and Teddy imagined the froth that was surely around Jamie's mouth—he was one of the messiest people with a toothbrush. "Don't move on my account, Lupin."
Teddy refolded some of his t-shirts, rearranging everything in the extended space of his bag. He turned to the mirror, parting his brown hair to one side, so it'd dry in place. James dropped onto the opposite bed a moment later, flopping back and stretching out his arms, a sliver of skin peeking out from beneath his shirttail.
"Pretty sure I'll be fine over here. Are these beds charmed or am I just extra exhausted?" The bed creaked as James sat up quickly and tugged his shirt over his head, sending up a heady whiff of smoke.
Teddy wrinkled his nose, grateful that the smell turned him off and counteracted against his reaction to all that skin. "You want a shower before bed?"
"You saying I stink?" James tossed his shirt at Teddy's face, chuckling as Teddy unwound himself. "I'm too tired for it. Sure I'll regret it in the morning, but. . . ." He shrugged, head bowed as he unbuttoned his fly. "Not like I'm planning on snuggling anyone."
There was a sadness in the words that seemed to go beyond failing to pull.
"'Sides," James said, sitting on the bed in nothing but a pair of green y-fronts, "you'd be asleep by the time I got out, and, well. . . ." James frowned, which Teddy translated easily—there was something on his mind.
"Just say it." Teddy dropped to his bed, his knees nearly touching James's mattress.
James slid over, planting his feet on the floor, their knees aligning like some kind of human zipper. He worked his mouth for a moment, took a deep breath like he found some resolve, and finally met Teddy's gaze before bluntly saying, "Liam's kind of an arse to you."
Teddy blinked hard, not having expected it to be about Liam, but retroactively realizing that of course it'd be about him. "Liam's kind of an arse to everyone. It's part of the whole he's-Liam thing."
James scoffed. "Oh, come on, Tee. You know what I mean, and you know it's different." He leaned forward and touched Teddy's knee, his hand warm and his brown eyes wide. "He said he'd go gay for you," James continued in a quieter voice. "You snog on stage every night. He's been increasing the PDA—continuing it in the side stage as well; I've noticed."
Teddy shifted, not meeting James's gaze. "Yeah . . . I know." Teddy rubbed the back of his neck, wishing James hadn't noticed, especially since Teddy hadn't exactly been rebuking the advances.
"Oh," James said flatly. "Oh!" Realization seemed to dawn on his face and he pulled his hand away. "Shite. I'm an arse. Forget what I was saying."
Teddy shook his head. "What?"
"You and Liam. You fancy him."
"What?!" Teddy grabbed James's hands. "Jamie. I assure you I am not at all romantically interested in Liam McFadden. The snogging is an act—and, okay, yeah, it's sometimes really nice since it's been a long, long time since I've gotten off with someone—but honestly, Jamie. Me and Liam? No."
"Really? I mean I'd get it—kind of, I guess." He shrugged, his hands clammy in Teddy's grip. "His hair is nice."
"His hair is hair. Besides, he's straight—y'know, mostly—and after every skirt he can see," Teddy continued quickly. "I'm not interested in that."
James's eyes were narrowed, but a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Really?"
James suddenly laughed, as though finally hearing what he was asking. "Okay, okay." He squeezed Teddy's hands and then let go, shielding his eyes with one hand. "You can stop looking at me with those intense eyes. Of course you're not shagging Liam. Merlin, I don't know why I was so worked up about that." He pointed to Teddy. "You have higher standards than that."
Teddy covered his face, snickering at what James might say if he realized he was Teddy's definition of high standards. "Higher than Liam, at least."
James shook his head, sobering a bit more. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be such a berk about it. Even if there was something between you and Liam, I just. . . ." James leaned his head on his hand, looking relaxed finally. "You're my best mate. I'd want to know, I guess."
Teddy smirked. "Know so you could talk me out of it?"
Jamie chuckled warmly. "I have always let you make your own bad decisions. Remember Will?"
Teddy groaned, covering his face and flopping back on the bed. "I keep almost forgetting about Will."
"No, you don't." James crossed the beds, curling on his side next to Teddy, propping up his head on his hand. "You got caught—by my dad at Christmas—with some bloke's face on your knob. I hardly think you'll forget that."
Teddy turned, mirroring James's position. "I'll also not forget that you were the one saying, 'use my room, no one will come up looking for you'." Teddy stuck his tongue out at James.
James leaned forward, laughing into the bed. "I was eighteen and a blighter! I didn't think you'd actually go up to my room to shag."
"Yeah, well. . . . We both learned something that day, eh?"
"Mmm, I guess." James leaned forward and tucked Teddy's hair behind his ear; Teddy held his breath when James's fingers went into his hair, the strands slipping through his fingers. "I hardly ever see you with brown hair any more." James's voice was softer, the laughter faded away. "I miss you looking like yourself."
"I, I guess it just doesn't seem very punk."
"I do like the turquoise." James's eyes met Teddy's, warm and soft, reminding Teddy of the picture from Witch Weekly he was certain thousands of girls now had plastered to their walls. "It's just nice to see you sometimes, too." James's fingers traced the shell of Teddy's ear, raising goosebumps along his arm. Teddy was frozen, reminding himself that the gesture was hardly sexual and friends could be this intimate.
James dropped his hand and rolled to his back, sighing heavily. Teddy rolled to his front, pillowed his head on his hands, and watched James breathe. Even though they'd roomed together the week before, they'd crashed as soon as they hit the room, hardly passing a word between them. It was nice to have a chance to be best mates instead of band mates.
"If you're not for Liam," James started slowly, his profile unreadable. "Who are you for these days?"
Teddy bit his lip, not liking the idea of lying to James, but his friendship was more important than his crush, no matter how long he'd had it.
"Lance Folston's biceps are rather nice."
James laughed, cupping his hand behind his head. "His shoulders aren't bad either; beaters tend to be well-built. Prust has nice eyes, too. Actually most of the Falcons are fairly nice to look at."
Teddy arched an eyebrow. "The Falmouth team's all blokes."
James shrugged. "Like you never comment on birds."
Teddy hummed assent; beauty was beauty, he supposed, no matter what parts a person had.
"So, what are we doing after this tour?"
Teddy shrugged, his shoulder bumping into his chin. "I guess finish recording the second album. Maybe finish writing it first, since we've only gotten through two songs since we hit the road."
James frowned. "I meant about the flat."
"Well, I . . . I wasn't planning on moving?" Teddy'd been in the same flat since he'd left Hogwarts. When he came of age, Harry had given him a pile of gold he'd said had come from the Black family, and suggested Teddy set himself up proper. The flat was a little big for Teddy on his own, but perfect once James had moved in six years later. It was made for them to live together, though Teddy felt like he couldn't say that without his emotions showing through.
"No, I know that," James said, rolling to his side again. "But I've got Galleons now. I could afford my own place."
"Oh. Uh, I suppose? I hadn't really considered it."
James hummed softly. "It's just a thought mostly. I mean, I'm glad you took me in when you did so I didn't have to live with my parents." He made a face, pretending to be the rebellious wizard Teddy knew he wasn't. "But maybe it'd be good for us to have our own space."
Teddy shrugged again, feeling a tightening in his chest. "I really hadn't thought about it." Though any thoughts he did have about their living arrangements usually featured them sharing a room in the future. "Who thought the band would change so much, huh?"
James was quiet for a long moment before finally saying, "Mmm, yeah." He pushed half-way up, wavered for a moment, and then rolled away from Teddy, kicking out his legs to land in a standing position, taking the long way back to his bed. "Good night, Ted," he said, crawling under the covers.
"Night." Teddy flicked off the lamp so the only light coming in was from the slit between the curtains where Teddy couldn't quite get them closed.
"Sleep tight," James whispered, his voice lingering in the dark.
Teddy slipped under his covers and rolled to his back, trying not to worry about the possibility of James moving out after tour, and just focus on the fact that he knew he and James would always be all right.
* * *
Teddy met James in front of the Floo with a coffee fixed exactly the way James liked it. He held it out in front of him, turquoise head bowed. "Caffeine for the sleepless."
James took the cup, slugging back nearly half of it before grunting. "I hate Liam." The night before Liam stumbled in from partying with half the Wigtown Wanderers, mixed up their rooms, and pounded on James and Farryn's door, calling for Teddy. Liam, at his best, would forget social morays and personal space, and when he was completely pissed there was no chance of him remembering that most people were asleep at three in the morning.
Teddy chuckled. "I know what you mean."
James rolled his eyes and then leaned against the mantle, his arms crossed, the coffee dangling from his loose grip. "No, I mean, why does he have to get pissed every night. And who's to say I wasn't having a very lovely sleep without his fucking loud presence?" James sighed, pushing back his hair. "It's been a long tour."
Teddy shrugged. "And Liam's been much more . . . Liam."
James huffed in agreement. "Just keep up the room swap, yeah? I've been enjoying the break."
Teddy winced, he and Farryn hadn't explained it quite like that, and James and Liam hadn't asked about it. "Don't feel manipulated?"
"Hell, I could kiss you."
Teddy laughed nervously, covering up what felt like awkward silence. James shoved the half empty coffee at Teddy. "Ted. Liam's driving me barmy and you've been stepping in to give me a break. Don't start apologizing, eh?" The left corner of his mouth twitched up slightly. "You were going to start apologizing, weren't you?"
Teddy narrowed his eyes and shoved at James, glad he'd provided a reason for Teddy's nervousness. "Shut it."
"Morning, ladies!" Liam vaulted the couch, beelining for the coffee cup in Teddy's hand, drinking down the rest of it in one gulp. "Excellent, mate, exactly the way I like it."
"Pinched?" James quipped, one hip cocked to the side.
Liam shook his finger at James. "Well spotted, Potter."
James rolled his eyes and pushed away from the Floo, walking to the extreme opposite of the sitting area.
Liam clapped his hands together. "Where's Farre? It's almost time to hit the road." Liam slapped his hands on the mantle, drumming out something suspiciously close to their current number 1 hit, "Fire on My Cauldron." He turned, shaking his hips and putting on the pouty lip, dancing towards Teddy. He threw a look over his shoulder at James and even though James snorted, he uncrossed his arms, a smile teasing his lips. Teddy chuckled softly, humming the bridge of the song just before Liam swung his arm to strum his air guitar, breaking into the chorus.
"You're the fire on my cauldron—searing to the core. Potion boiling, bubbling, brewing, boy, what else can I give you?"
"What more can you take?" Teddy chimed in with the backing vocals, laughing when he saw James tapping his fingers like they were frets.
"Oi!" Farryn held up his hands, hoodie swinging. "None of these people paid for tickets." He gestured to the scant people milling about the breakfast area so early in the morning. A pair of teen witches were on their toes, autograph pads in hands, parents at their heels.
"Time to go anyway," James reasoned. "We were waiting on you, berk." He cuffed Farryn's shoulder and then flashed a smile over at the girls, nodding politely to their parents. The girls pointed over James's shoulder, and James turned, grinning now at Teddy. "They want you." He arched an eyebrow at Teddy.
"Me?" Teddy mouthed. He walked over, shifting his hair from turquoise to royal blue and getting a giggle from the girls. "Wotcher." He ducked his head, smiling at their parents.
"Did you really write that song about a boy?" one of the girls asked. She nodded her head towards the rest of the band, Teddy guessed she specifically meant "Fire on My Cauldron."
He grinned. "Aye, I did."
The other girl elbowed her sister. "I told you," she whispered.
Teddy chuckled. "Are you sure you don't want me to call over Liam or James?"
They both shook their heads. "I play bass," the one who asked the question blurted.
"Do you now?" Teddy flushed slightly, totally taken in by these girls. It'd been too long since he'd interacted with fans who weren't shoving their breasts at Liam and James.
"Ted! Time to say goodbye to Wigtown." James waved, pointing to the portkey board behind him which showed it was time for their departure.
"Quick portkey to Ballycastle for the 'international' leg of the tour." Farryn chuckled at Liam's joke before following him to the portkey.
"Keep playing," Teddy said softly. He quickly scribbled off autographs to them both, and then waved to their parents as well, ducking his head again, and heading back to his band, feeling very overwhelmed by their appreciation.
"Have a nice chat?" James teased.
"Shut it." Teddy pushed his shoulder, ducking his head to pick up his bass and his rucksack.
James tilted his head, assessing Teddy for a moment. "Your smile's adorable," he finally said. Thankfully he stepped up to the portkey after that and was too busy securing his gear to notice Teddy's blush.
* * *
James plopped down next to Teddy on the bench, handing him another box of shoes. "I know, I know, they're not Chucks, but you've got to trust me, Teddy, there are more to shoes than just canvas and rubber." James lifted the lid off the over-sized box carefully, folding back the paper slowly, the smell of leather wafting up. He closed his eyes as he inhaled and even Teddy could understand the appeal.
"Those are some shoes." Liam leaned over the shelf behind Teddy. "Nice find, Potter."
James lifted one studded dragon-leather boot from the box. "One thing we agree on," he murmured. "Just the one thing."
Teddy chuckled as he dutifully put the boot on over his well-worn sock. "You're both in the band," he pointed out. "And you both wanted to take me shoe shopping."
"That was because your shoes were being held together with spellotape and hope, Lupin. Plus the holes are letting the stink out." James grinned when Teddy shoved him half off the bench.
"I still don't see why I can't just get a new pair of Chucks."
James narrowed his eyes, flicking his hand to urge Teddy to zip up the boot faster.
The boots were clunkier than Teddy expected even as the charms made them perfectly fit his feet. The suction reminded him unequivocally of sinking his feet into a pair of wellies for a Care of Magical Creatures lesson devoted to the mating habits of the giant squid. The spongey give when he put his weight down made him grasp for James's shoulder, and Teddy didn't imagine he'd have enjoyed tromping around Ballycastle for the last two days with them sucking his feet every step.
"You don't think they're a bit . . . much?" Teddy put his feet side by side and then flinched, drawing them apart; the studs were sharper than they looked.
"Maybe these are more your speed, Ted?" Liam dropped a pair of sequined high heels on to the bench, laughing as he ducked behind the shoe shelves again.
Teddy picked them up, regarding them a moment. "What do you think, Jamie?" He grew his hair longer and into more of a girl's cut, making it as red as the heels.
James smirked. "Well now I think you should try on the heels."
Teddy laughed, letting his hair go back to turquoise and his usual length. "I'm not really sure either of these are me." He undid the zipper along the boots and tried to toe them off to no avail, finally needing James to ease his foot out while he stripped the leather from his calf like a banana peel. He set the boots to the side with the heels.
"I like the idea of boots, but maybe something a little less so. . . . "
James got up, rummaging through the shelves again, talking over his shoulder. "Maybe something a little simpler? Fewer bells and whistles?"
"And studs," Teddy mumbled.
Liam popped around the corner a moment after James disappeared down the opposite end and dropped a pair of fairly plain boots in Teddy's lap. They weren't quite as tall and had big silver buckles over the laces. "A bit more your speed?"
"A bit, yeah. Ta." Teddy started to pull the boots from the box, but Liam flourished his hand, pulling the box out of Teddy's reach.
"Allow me." Liam dropped to the ground in front of Teddy, pulled the paper stuffing out of the boots, and put them on Teddy's feet one at a time, lacing them up just right. "How's that?"
Teddy wiggled his toes in the boots, the fitting charms weren't quite as spongey or aggressive. They were a little more his style as well. Not that Teddy didn't love the meticulousness James paid to his own outfits, but a worn t-shirt and faded jeans were Teddy's favorite things to wear.
"It's a step up from the Chucks, Ted. Which, by the by, I will be incinerating as soon as you purchase something else. They need to be put out of their misery. And we need to be put out of our misery." He wrinkled his nose and waved his hand in front of his face.
"What is with all the comments about my feet?"
"It's not your feet, it's the smell of your feet. Your feet themselves are rather cute." Liam's mouth curved in a little smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling ever so slightly. He grabbed the toe of Teddy's boot and shook it. "Take 'em for a test drive, Lupin!"
Teddy rolled his eyes, ignoring the comment about his cute feet, and got up, heading in the direction James had wandered. He turned the corner, finding James an aisle over with a mass of half-open boxes around him, holding a pair of dark brown boots that looked like they belonged on a pirate in one hand and a pair of slip-ons that were the same royal blue Teddy used for his hair in the other.
"Find anything interesting?"
James held up the slip-ons and then looked straight down at Teddy's feet. "Well, fuck. Those are perfect for you, aren't they?"
Teddy chuckled, rocking forward on his toes. They fit perfectly and were dead comfortable—more so than his Chucks, but he'd only admit that under veritaserum. "I like them. You approve?"
James tossed the pirate boots back in the box and pushed a hand through his hair, leaning his elbow on the open shelf. "Yeah, I approve. Where'd you get them?"
"Liam, if you'd believe it." Teddy knocked his foot to the side, the buckle flashing in the light.
"Yeah, but he's just going by 'Liam' these days."
James scoffed, narrowing his eyes, and turned to shove the slip-ons back on their shelf. "Head up to the till. I'm just going to clean up a bit."
Teddy touched his shoulder. "Jamie?"
James waved him off. "I'll be right there."
Teddy shrugged, trying not to take James's moodiness personally, and then headed back to Liam. Liam had a flame coming out of his wand, Teddy's Chucks dangling over it.
"Wait until we're out of the store, you sod!" Teddy thwacked Liam over the head, snatching away his old shoes. If he was lucky, he could hide them in the bottom of his rucksack and no one would know he'd kept them. He stuffed them in the boot box and headed up to the front, still wearing the new purchase. The clerk behind the counter gaped when she looked up.
"Wotcher! You're Hex Deflection!" Her faded t-shirt bore the band logo of Red Cap Courtship, Farryn's former band; Teddy would have to remember to tell him.
Liam arched an eyebrow at Teddy and leaned on the counter top. "So we are, love. All right, then?"
"Brill." She started ringing up Teddy's boots. "My mates are not going to believe you were here. They're all going to see you tomorrow."
"Yeah?" Liam played with the display of quills sitting next to the till, running his hands over the feathers. "Wait, they are, but you're not?" He pointed towards her shirt, clearly noticing the same thing Teddy had.
She shrugged, a tight smile on her face as she pushed her unruly curls behind her ear. "Would, but I didn't have the Sickles to spring for a ticket."
Liam plucked one of the quills from the display and reached forward to grab a piece of paper from her note pad. "What's your name?"
She blinked, her mouth moving silently for a moment. "Evie Wood."
Liam spelled it out as he wrote it, getting her to confirm it, and then tucked the note in his shirt pocket, patting it. "You're on the guest list, love. Make sure you rub it in to your friends." He winked at her.
Teddy slipped the notes across the counter to Evie, prompting her out of her shock. She made the change, still gaping a bit at Liam.
"You mean it, really?"
Liam shrugged. "If I can't decide who's on the guest list, I think there's some sort of problem."
"He means it," Teddy said, taking the bag with his box of old shoes. "I'll make sure he gives your name to the right people."
Her eyes grew wider as she looked up at Teddy.
Teddy held up the bag. "Thanks for the shoes!" He smiled, then grabbed Liam's arm and pulled him out of the store. When they were outside he looked back; James was just getting up to the counter with a purchase of his own and looked to be getting similar treatment as Evie excitedly waved her hands.
"Did you see her shirt?" Liam grinned ear to ear. "Farre's gonna be so bummed he missed that. You know how he thinks he doesn't have any fans."
"Oh, I know." Teddy laughed. "When we tell this story, we should give her a tattoo of his face."
Liam laughed louder.
"That was a nice thing, McFadden," James said as he stepped on to the sidewalk.
"Teddy's the one who gave her the tattoo."
James's eyebrows scrunched in confusion. "I meant agreeing to add her to the guest list. That was nice."
Liam shrugged and then snatched Teddy's bag from his hand, running down the street. "As soon as I find a bin, I'm chucking these in and burning them!" He skipped and then laughed, running on ahead.
James covered his face. "Just when I thought he was being a decent human being. . . . How well do you remember fire suppression spells?"
Teddy laughed loudly. "I brushed up when Farryn started smoking again. C'mon, we'd better catch him up."
"Wait," James said, holding out his bag to Teddy. "I grabbed these for you, too. I know I said . . . well, I know what I said, but. . . ."
Teddy opened the bag and the box, finding a pair of turquoise Chucks. He grinned. "That mean you approve of Chucks?"
James rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't go that far."
Teddy laughed again, closing up the shoes.
"I just know you love them, and I want you to have what makes you happy."
Teddy ducked his head, hiding his goofy grin. "Thanks."
James nudged Teddy's shoulder. "C'mon, McFadden's likely to get arrested without us."
Teddy chuckled, covering his face. "Merlin's nuts, remember Ilkey?"
"We do not need another Ilkey." James linked his arm around Teddy's and pulled him down the street, the bag with the Chucks banging between them.
* * *
The lyrics to "Fire On My Cauldron" rocked through Teddy's sternum louder than usual. The crowd in Dublin was even bigger than the one in Ballycastle, more frantic as they thrashed against each other. It felt different standing in front of the screaming crowd—he felt laid bare, like his carefully crafted lyrics about the ways in which he wanted James were obvious to anyone who was listening. It was certainly obvious from his footwear; Teddy hadn't worn his extremely comfortable boots since leaving Ballycastle, preferring the turquoise Chucks James had bought him.
James seemed oblivious at least, head down as he powered through his solo, sweat flying from the tips of his hair. His skinny jeans clung to his long legs, tucked into the high black boots he usually only wore when he was looking to pull after a show. At least Teddy wouldn't have any delusions about cuddling up with James back at the hotel once James took off for the night.
Liam strutted over to Teddy for the third time that night. It was part of their usual choreography, but Liam had toned it down this evening. The snogs he'd given earlier were chaste, primarily on Teddy's lips, and involved very little touching. Maybe Liam finally realized he'd been pushing things too far.
James finished his guitar solo, holding out the last note, and for a second it sounded like the whole club was holding its breath before they all broke into the chorus together. While the kids sang the words, Liam licked Teddy's throat, from his collar bone to his ear, and then whispered into the mic, "I've a potion just for you," before Teddy replied back, "Need you, need you, need you," and slammed back in with the bass line.
James smiled softly at Teddy when he glanced over, earning a double take to confirm that James had ducked his head like he was embarrassed. Once again Teddy felt naked under his lyrics, a flush rising on his own face and tinting his hair, and he had to wonder if maybe James had finally figured it out. Maybe he was even flattered?
Teddy shook it off, shaking his hair out from pink to its usual turquoise, and he kicked out at the end of the song, ending pointing at Farryn who returned the point with a playful grin.
They started into "Stranger in the Shadow" with barely a pause, Liam staying to the front of the stage and basking in the spotlight for the unusually tender song. James caught Teddy's eye and nodded, calling him over at the end of the song, and they met at center stage, Liam shielding them from the audience as he wound the crowd up about what an excellent night it was to dance.
James picked at his guitar, grinning as Teddy shifted his stance and repeated James's part in the bass line. James picked again, another entirely playful riff that was well outside their normal punk fare. Liam eyed them over his shoulder, still going on about whatever, but Teddy's eyes were on James's fingers, caught in their familiar game of picking out songs together, challenging each other, and finding their music.
Finally the tune James was picking morphed into the opening notes of one of their new songs, one of the first in which Teddy had written the music and James had written the lyrics. Teddy'd been uncomfortable with it at first, but James had reassured him time and again that it was his favorite of their new songs.
"Oh," Liam said, the light catching his eyes as he turned from his band back to the crowd. "Apparently someone's in a sharing mood."
James nodded eagerly, continuing to play the opening riff while Liam did his job of building it up. Farryn's drum pounded in Teddy's chest like a second heart.
"You know Teddy and James never stop writing music, don't you? They write it while they eat, in the shower, while they wank—" Liam paused to let the noise die down. "They even write music while they sleep, which is how we've been working on our second album during this tour." The crowd went wild and James grinned, clearly pleased to be making this announcement to four hundred rowdy kids rather than as part of a press junket.
"This one's one of our favorites and I hope you like it, too. It's called 'The Stars For You.'"
James wailed into the first lines as Liam screamed into the mic and even though they hadn't practiced it for playing it live yet, for the first time Teddy heard the music in the song and couldn't believe he'd written it.
The crowd went wild, some of the kids signing along with the chorus the last time through. James's lyrics were beautiful, different to Teddy's but no less powerful or devoid of meaning. True to their arrangement, Teddy hadn't asked what had inspired the words, but it was clear that they were about someone very special to James, and Teddy harbored a suspicion they were about him, though he'd never ask James if that was so.
When they finished the song Liam looked over to James, saying into the mic, "Are we okay to go on with the set list, then, or do you have any other additions you'd like to make?"
James laughed, leaned into his mic, and replied, "Nah, Liam, just wanted to see if you'd fuck up my lyrics or not." He winked at Teddy and took a step back, getting into his usual place for ripping out solos.
"Fuck up lyrics? Oi, you are so asking for it, Potter." Liam flipped James two fingers and James returned it.
"Oi!" Farryn shouted from the risers. "Let's play some shite!"
"Oi!" Liam called back. "How about 'Sweet Cheeks'?"
The crowd went crazy and Farryn started them off, the concert back on track within moments. There'd been magic on the stage when they'd gone off script, but now that they were back to the usual routine, there was something that felt a little off, an uncomfortableness that settled into Teddy's chest as they reached the scripted kiss in the song. Liam strutted towards Teddy, just as he had every other time, except this time he turned back at the last second, like he'd decided he was too good to kiss Teddy. A witch in the front row dropped her jaw and turned to her friend as though she'd known what to expect and was surprised and disappointed. Teddy himself felt a bit hollow over it—not that he wanted Liam to snog him, but he felt oddly rejected. James was smiling, though, so Teddy tried to explain to himself that it was a good thing.
There were two songs after that, and then they left the stage. The crowd shouted for an encore, but the extra song in their set had put them over their time limit. Liam strutted out to center stage, sang "God Save the Queen" a cappella and then shunted them all home, posing for a few two fingered salutes. He finally ripped off his shirt, chucked it into the crowd, and came backstage, nearly leap-frogging over Farryn's head.
"That was excellent!" he crowed. He ruffled James's head. "You are beautiful when you are feisty and I love it when you're spontaneous." He grabbed James's cheeks and started to come in for a kiss, but James ducked away from it.
"No cheating on Teddy," Farryn joked, shaking a stern finger at Liam.
Teddy covered his face. "Oh God, don't encourage it."
Liam laughed, bouncing on his feet. "C'mon, lads. I need some birds and some booze. Can't let this buzz end!" He grabbed a shirt from the garment rack and headed out the door with barely a backward glance to make sure someone was following him.
James nudged Teddy's shoulder once it was just the two of them. "Seems McFadden is over you."
Teddy arched his eyebrow. "Don't think he was ever actually into me."
James snorted. "Whatever. Just . . . seemed like he was a mate again." James looked Teddy over, oddly appreciative.
Teddy shrugged, trying to control the butterflies in his stomach. "I think you gave him other things to get excited about. Probably made it easier for him to keep his hands to himself." Though Teddy wouldn't admit that he actually missed those hands.
"That was okay, wasn't it?" James ducked his head. "I know you still felt like we weren't quite finished with the bridge."
Teddy shook his head. "No, it was brilliant. You were brilliant." He smiled. "I haven't seen you that invested on stage in awhile."
James tugged at his ear. "Yeah, I. . . ." He scrubbed a hand up the back of his head, causing the front of his fringe to flip into his face. "I think I've just been exhausted. It's so hard to get proper sleep, you know? And Liam's been. . . ."
"Liam," Teddy agreed, remembering their conversation from a few days ago. "It seemed like something more than just being tired, though."
James shrugged, turning away from Teddy. "Some stuff is just . . . clicking for me. I'm feeling more at ease, I guess?" He shrugged and then turned back to Teddy, taking a step forward. "Your song's awesome, you know."
Teddy grinned. "Your lyrics are amazing. Better than mine," he confessed.
James's grin softened considerably and he reached a hand up, pushing Teddy's hair back behind his ear. His skin was hot where James was touching him, and he leaned in slightly when James whispered, "Not better, Tee."
Farryn slapped the door frame with both hands, leaning into the room. James's hand startled away from Teddy's face, his mouth snapping closed.
"Oi, you lads coming? Ted, Liam actually found a bloke for you."
"R-really?" Teddy glanced back to James, but James's eyes were trained on Farryn and then he laughed sharply and punched Teddy's shoulder.
"Looks like your chances of pulling tonight just went up, eh?" He pulled the hem of his stripped shirt. Teddy narrowed his eyes, feeling like something was off. "Suppose he's grabbed some birds as well?"
"All your type." Farryn grabbed his hoodie off the back of the couch and strolled out the door, whooping.
"Well then." James shifted from one boot to the other, and glanced up at Teddy one more time, his black hair falling into his eyes. "Guess we should join the party."
"Yeah." Teddy had never in his life wanted to join a party less; James looked as reluctant as Teddy felt. "I guess we should?"
James suddenly squared his shoulders. "Yeah, we should." He grabbed Teddy's arm and pulled him out the door, keeping his hand in the crook of Teddy's arm until they spotted the girls, and even though James drifted away then, he looked back at Teddy, his eyes unusually soft. Liam's bloke, Sean, distracted Teddy then, and for once Teddy appreciated that for being straight, Liam had surprisingly good taste in men, which made it easier to ignore the fact that James was surrounded by girls who were all his type.
* * *
The club was crowded, magically expanded to its limits and cracking at the edges of the walls. The lights flashed over the cracks, giving the illusion of safety every time the room was thrown into the dark. The bass beat pounded in Teddy's ribs, though it wasn't like the kick of the bass drum on stage. Clubs always made him antsy—there was something unnatural about the magically produced drumbeats wizard djs crafted together from spells and charms, and the press of bodies and lack of personal boundaries kept his nerves jangling, constantly aware that at any moment someone could cross a line. Teddy stayed closer to his date than he would have liked, but at least he knew Sean's name and that despite how close they'd been dancing, he'd kept his hands above Teddy's waist.
"You want to take a break?" Sean shouted over the music. He wiped his forehead with the back of his arm, and Teddy nodded, taking his hand and dragging them off the floor, more than relieved to escape the crush.
"Drinks?" Sean said loudly near Teddy's ear. He smiled as he mimed and Teddy nodded again, glad to let Sean take charge. Teddy pointed to the couches that were set in an alcove near the door, a magical bubble that had the sound filtered for more private conversations. Sean peeled off to get the drinks, leaving Teddy to snag some seats. Most of the couches were occupied by couples testing the limits of what was permissible in public, but there were a few holes where small groups were quietly talking. Liam and Farryn were among them, squeezed into a corner. Farryn waved Teddy over when he came closer.
"Ted-o!" Farryn greeted. He was loose, his arms across the back of the couch, a girl on either side. "Come meet our friends."
Liam reached forward and pulled Teddy to the couch, pointing to their three new friends. "There's Tove and Astrid." The girls giggled and waved; Tove leaned against Liam, her hand disappearing under his shirt. "And Brand's in a Swedish metal band, but I doubt you've heard of them, I know you don't really like metal or Sweden, but Brand's okay and he's not blond," Liam whispered loudly. Farryn giggled into his hand.
Teddy widened his eyes; a sloshed Liam could be more of an arse, but this seemed like something different. "Nice to meet you." He waved, hoping that Sean was bringing over a water so he could foist it on Liam.
"It is nice to meet," Brand said, his accent thick though his English was good. "You are in band with Liam and Farryn, yah?" He pronounced a short a in Farryn's name, which had Liam slapping Teddy's leg and eagerly hissing, "See? See?"
Teddy tangled his fingers with Liam's, just to stop the hitting. "Yah, I mean, yeah. I play bass."
"He say you write words?"
"Uh . . . Yeah." Teddy glanced at Liam who had stopped bouncing and was now twisted around and snogging Tove's face. Teddy wasn't certain he should let go of Liam's hands for fear of what he might try. Teddy leaned towards Brand. "Did he take something?"
"He take happy potion. Perhaps too much." Brand smiled warmly. "Very safe, though, I promise."
Teddy was never really sure what was safe the way Farryn and Liam threw themselves into the rockstar lifestyle, but he wasn't their mum, so he just shrugged.
"No thanks." Teddy squeezed Liam's hand tighter to keep him from pulling away.
Brand tilted his head. "You seem like you need happy."
Teddy smiled a bit sadly. "I make do." He perked up when he saw Sean picking his way through the couches and he nodded him over. "Sorry," he said, holding up his Liam'd hands. "Someone was getting handsy."
Sean grinned, setting down two bottles of water. "So that's how I get you to hold my hand? Noted." He slipped into the small space next to Teddy, leaning over to shake hands and introduce himself to Brand and Astrid, nodding to Farryn. Teddy smiled at Sean's back, surprised that he'd been someone Liam had picked up. He was surprisingly charming and thoughtful, and not at all like the birds who threw themselves at Liam, begging to share his bed for the night.
Liam finally shook off Teddy's grip and he wound one hand into Tove's hair as he deepened the kiss. Teddy rolled his eyes and let go of Liam's other hand, reaching over to take his water.
Sean pressed into Teddy's shoulder and turned to whisper in his ear. "When you came this way, this isn't exactly what I'd been thinking of." He chuckled softly. "But I like that you're taking care of your friend. Makes you into the sensitive guy I thought you were." Sean touched high on Teddy's thigh, not over the line, but making his intentions clear.
Teddy turned towards Sean, their faces extremely close. "Sean, I . . ." His eyes flicked down to Sean's full mouth. The only bloke he'd kissed in months had been Liam, and Sean was . . . not James. He licked his lips, trying for the middle ground. "I'm not really into pulling like this."
Sean smiled warmly. "Not really into it, but you can't deny there's something more here?"
Teddy didn't move closer or farther away, but movement caught his eye on the opposite side of the room—James being pushed on to the couch by a girl with a short skirt and stiletto heels. She climbed on to his lap, the fabric of her skirt stretching tight, and she put James's hands on her back; his face disappearing as she raised herself up and sank down on him again in an unmistakable fashion.
Teddy sank back on the couch, the music from the club sounding even more muffled than just the dampening spell.
He shook his head, barely recognizing the voice as Sean's, realizing now that the recent touches, the quiet conversations, that whatever it'd been in the green room—Teddy'd held some hope that James was changing his mind about his sexuality, about Teddy. Having evidence to the contrary in front of him left him numb.
"Teddy?" Sean's hand moved higher on Teddy's leg like a splash of cold water in Teddy's face. He jerked back, pressing against Liam.
"I-I'm sorry, no." Teddy glanced at Liam and then past to Farryn, not entirely sure that he should leave them, but certain that he couldn't stay and watch James have sex across from him. He pressed the bottle of water into Brand's hand. "Make him drink this and don't let him—either of them—take anything else." Teddy stood and walked away, feeling bad when Sean shouted his name again, but Teddy was barely holding it together to walk out the door. The hotel had never seemed so far away.
* * *
Teddy barely registered the door unlocking, but the hand that slid over his arm startled him to full wakefulness. He rolled to his back, blinking up at the dark shape above him.
"Oh, sorry." James pulled back the covers and slid into the bed next to Teddy. "Didn't mean to startle you."
"Jay?" Teddy was still trying to wrap his brain around why James was climbing into bed with him when James closed the space between them and kissed him, his mouth warm. Teddy, too stunned to do more than not push James away, took the kiss, letting his mouth be pried open by James's tongue, utterly passive and stupid about the whole thing; it was hardly the first soul-searing kiss he'd dreamed about giving James.
James pulled back after a moment, licking his lips. Teddy couldn't guess what he tasted, but from the slight smile he could discern in the barely there light, Teddy guessed James was happy with it. "Mmm . . . been thinking about that for days."
Teddy blinked, not having expected this in the slightest and again he wondered if maybe he wasn't properly awake.
It was then that his nose registered that James didn't smell entirely right. There was too much alcohol seeped underneath a fragrance that was more perfume than soap.
The laugh that came out of James's mouth was entirely not his, deeper and more manic. "Oi, I can't keep this up, mate. He's far too serious for my tastes and I'm a shite actor."
Teddy pushed back, sitting up properly and swatting for the curtains next to the bed. A shaft of light fell across the pillows, illuminating James's sharp cheekbones and brown eyes. Teddy got up on his knees, turning to face his bed partner. "Liam?!" He bit out the word, eyes casting over James's body in the dim light. The sheet didn't hide that he was completely stripped out of his pants, which Teddy now spied nearer the door along with the ripped apart jeans Liam'd been wearing earlier. Liam folded his arms behind his head as he let Teddy take him in.
"You do like what you see, don't you, Ted?" The smirk on his face was all wrong, and Teddy felt his stomach flip over because he did like what he saw, even though he knew the brain inside the package was Liam.
"Where the hell did you get polyjuice?"
Liam shrugged. "It's not like I don't know people." He sat up, slid his hands up Teddy's arms and pushed gently, lying Teddy on his back again. "Come on, Ted. I figured it out, so why don't you just let me give this to you?"
Teddy swallowed as Liam pinned his shoulders down, hovering over him. James's eyes bore down on him, the soft brown intensifying and darkening in the low light and under Liam's control.
"I don't know—"
"Yes, you do." Liam dipped down, licking Teddy's chest. Teddy closed his eyes—James's tongue on his skin. . . .
"You want James; I get it," Liam whispered as he continued to work his way across Teddy's chest. "But your best friend is straight, and well . . . I'm feeling experimental." Liam grinned, tossing in a wink. "Besides, it'll be James you're fucking."
"What—?" Teddy's head was in a fog and he was finding it was harder and harder to think with Liam coming on to him while wearing James's body. "No." Teddy pushed up, nearly unseating Liam, but it turned out that even though he had Jamie's thinner physique, he still had his normal strength.
"Come on, Ted. I've seen the way you look at him; I sing our fucking songs. You don't stand a chance with him, but just. . . . " He leaned closer and licked Teddy's neck, his tongue trailing up behind Teddy's ear and sending shivers down Teddy's spine that ended low in Teddy's center. It was more intimate than Liam had ever been before—and it was doing something to Teddy—something he only ever felt when James touched him. "Let me, Teddy. Let me give you James."
Teddy closed his eyes, wishing he had the strength to say no, but he was so weak for James; he wanted him so much, and Liam was right . . . James didn't want him back; he'd made that clear enough at the club. His hand drifted up Liam's back, the skin smooth and warm and if he could ignore the smell, it was James; he was with James.
Liam kissed his jaw as a reward. "Call me Jamie if that helps," Liam whispered. "Tell him all the things you've wanted to say."
There was so much for him to say—confessions, apologizes, pleas. Cor, there'd be so much more to say if he did this, though, and he might not be able to look James in the face if he felt much more of his skin pressed against his own.
Liam cupped him through his pants, and Teddy's strangled moan covered the sound of the door opening.
They both froze, Teddy immediately recognizing the voice of the real James even through his lust-addled haze.
"Shit!" James repeated. Teddy's eye was drawn by the movement of James pushing his hand through his hair. "Teddy."
Teddy scrambled at the anguish in his name, pushing Liam back like he was something dangerous. "No. No." Liam rolled and leaned back on his elbows, sucking on his lower lip. "James, it's not what it looks like." Teddy lunged for the lamp on the table, getting caught in the mess of sheets and blankets bunched at the end of the bed. He knocked over the lamp, setting the light askew when it powered on, illuminating mostly the back wall. Teddy blinked against the light, and then looked between the two Jameses, realizing that he'd probably made things even worse.
James's mouth parted and he looked at Teddy, something unreadable in his eyes. "You used polyjuice," he whispered.
Liam turned his head slightly, flicking his eyes over James. "Hullo, Potter. Way to ruin the moment." His voice was rougher, closer to Liam's actual voice than James's softer one.
"Shut up, Liam," Teddy muttered from his knees. "James, say something. Please. Jamie." Teddy wasn't sure he should move or could move. James still hadn't at all.
"It was Liam's idea, he was just trying to, to. . . ." He'd spent so long keeping his feelings for James a secret that even now it was difficult to say it. He could feel the blood draining from his face as he pictured this through James's eyes—all the ways Teddy had betrayed his trust.
"You're not interested in that, huh, Teddy?" James whispered. Teddy kept his eyes locked with James's, feeling he deserved to see every bit of that smoldering anger. "You could have told me."
"This was . . . the first. . . ." He looked away, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't realize it was Liam at first."
Liam snorted. "Didn't stop you from saying 'yes' once you did, mate."
"Shut up while you're wearing my face," James snapped.
Liam shrugged on the bed. "Not just your face, love. Did you know you're developing a bit of a love handle here?" Liam pinched his side, showing only the barest bit of fat.
James moved fast, stepping towards the bed and punching Liam square in the face. Liam recoiled, clutching at his nose.
"James!" Teddy jumped to his feet, intending to pull James back, but there was no need; James stepped away as quickly as he'd stepped forward, shaking his hand.
"The both of you. What's wrong with you?" When James turned to Teddy his eyes shone wetly, freezing Teddy yet again. "Am I just a game? Don't you care how I feel?"
Liam laughed, the sound nasally and pinched. "That's rich, coming from you. Like you've ever noticed Teddy's feelings."
"He's my best friend," James shot back.
Teddy's breath caught, eyes flicking between them, ready to interfere if James decided to take another swing at Liam.
Liam rolled his eyes. "Best friend, yeah. That's what's got your knickers in a twist." Liam pulled his hand away from his face, blood pooled in his palm. "Someone get us a towel? Or maybe a wand?"
Teddy took a step towards James, ignoring Liam's request, but stopped when James held up a hand. "Don't," he whispered. James's eyes were wide, touched by disappointment—it was enough to keep Teddy away.
"James. Let me explain, please." Teddy could hardly recognize his own desperate voice.
James swallowed, his adam's apple moving slowly like each second was measured to draw out the most humiliating moment of Teddy's life. His eyes flicked to the bed and then back to Teddy. "I can't—" He shut his mouth tightly and then ran from the room.
"Teddy!" He heard Liam calling his name, but he was chasing after James, yelling for him just as loudly. He caught James's eye when he turned at the elevators, but before Teddy had time to say anything, James vanished with the pop of Disapparation.
"Fuck!" Teddy punched the nearest wall, his thoughts not on the romantic interest he'd just soiled but on the fact that he'd probably lost his best friend over Liam fucking McFadden. Teddy marched back to his room, picked the pants and jeans off the floor and threw them in Liam's face.
"Get the fuck out of here and if I find out you hit on a bird or got drunk or did anything other than go back to your room and shower, I will end you."
Liam caught his shorts, clutching his nose. "Teddy, come on, he'll get over."
"Maybe, but I won't. Out, Liam. I am done with this shite."
Liam sighed heavily and pushed himself up one handed. "You're both making a bigger deal out of this than you need to."
Liam was almost to the door when Teddy finally softly replied. "I love him, Liam. No matter if he loves me back. I hurt him and I love him. You don't know anything about how big this is."
It was another moment before Liam opened the door, but thankfully he didn't say anything else. Teddy fell on to the unused bed and closed his eyes tightly, curling up on his side and feeling so empty he couldn't cry.
* * *
Farryn thrust a coffee under Teddy's nose and dropped a magazine on the table among the detritus of Teddy's room service. "Drink this and pretend to be happy while you read that." A glossy picture of the four of them moved under the title Sonorous Punk. In the picture, James hitched up on his toes to swing his arm around Teddy's shoulder; Teddy remembered feeling flushed when that happened, but it didn't show on the magazine cover.
Teddy downed most of the coffee, barely tasting it, feeling the burn all the way. As he set the paper cup on the table, he coughed, his voice rough, "Pretend to be happy?" He flipped the magazine open, paging through it slowly but not paying attention to the articles and photos he passed.
"Yeah, I saw Liam, that sodding arse. Wanker can't leave well enough alone." Farryn dropped into the chair across from Teddy. "He told me what happened."
Teddy scrubbed his face, still feeling the soreness under his eyes. "I take it Jamie didn't stay in your room last night."
"I wasn't in my room." Farryn's grin faded quickly. "But uh, not the point. No, he wasn't there this morning. Figured I'd let you sleep for a bit before coming in with a flimsy excuse." He gestured toward the magazine. "Came with the morning post. You did sleep, didn't you?"
"Some." Teddy rubbed his brow, trying to keep up as Farryn nervously switched between topics as though he was afraid to push too far forward at once. "Didn't realize Cadi'd already filed it."
"Been a month." Farryn finally leaned over and flipped the pages a few ahead to a photo of the band in concert, Weasley Wizarding Wheezes wet-start fireworks exploding behind them while Liam leaned into the mic and the lights played over James's face. It was difficult to spot more than Farryn's brown hair behind the high hats, but on the far side of the stage Teddy pulled back on the head of his guitar in a move that was clearly from "Fire on My Cauldron." The title of the article stretched above their heads, "Uncorking Success: Hex Deflection's Cauldron Still Brewing."
"Liam seen this yet?"
"That would imply he'd had good behavior." Farryn shrugged. "He knows I have it and that he'll get it once he's less of an arse."
Teddy raised an eyebrow. "So why do I get to see it?"
"Because despite your stupid decisions, you feel like shite for them. Plus, it's not all that surprising that you'd do something stupid like this."
Farryn waved his hands, leaning forward over the table. "That's not what I meant! I just. . . ." Farryn sighed heavily and his mouth tugged towards one side of his face. "James didn't really direct you any other way."
Teddy furrowed his brow.
"I mean, he didn't let you know that . . . well, that you had other options." Farryn shrugged one shoulder and sat back.
"Other . . . ?" Teddy's mind raced through everything he thought he'd been putting his own hopeful spin on. "I had a chance with James?!"
Farryn rolled his eyes. "Stop being so thick, would you?"
"But he's straight. He was with that bird just last night. She was all over him!"
"And after you left, he wrestled her off and spent half the night talking to that Brand bloke about guitars and amps. He's been doing that all tour—pulling birds and then when he's about to be getting off, he tells 'em to clear off." Farryn shifted, digging in his pocket and pulling out his smokes. "Haven't you noticed?"
Teddy slowly dropped his head to the table, his forehead sticking to the magazine. "How did I not notice? I watch him—hold on a tick." He sat up, the magazine page lifting up with him. "How did you know I fancy him?"
Farryn just gave Teddy a look—apparently Teddy's pining had gotten painfully obvious.
Farryn finally held up his hands. "Maybe I'm wrong, maybe he's not into you—but he's been paying you more mind and he's not acting like he did during that two-week tour through south England last winter."
Teddy hummed—that tour they'd all been excessive; it had been just after their cover of "Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love" had hit the wireless and James slept with half the birds he pulled. Even Teddy shagged a bloke on that leg.
"Doesn't matter though, does it?" Farryn snapped mockingly. "You bollocksed it all up, didn't you, Ted?" He lit up a fag before Teddy could make even a symbolic protest on behalf of James's clothes still sitting in the room. "Can't fix it either, can you? Because James would never forgive you."
Teddy glared at Farryn, getting his point. "I'm not in a strop."
"You're the stroppiest." Farryn blew out a thin trail of smoke. "Hold that, James is the stroppiest, but you're vying for the title." Farryn leaned over and cracked the window, still speaking. "You can try, though, you know? Liam's a wanker, and we all accept that. But you thought it was James climbing into bed at first, and even if he's not into you, he can't be mad at you for liking him. It's not like he doesn't know you're a poof."
"This is about a bit more than me fancying him."
Farryn waved it off, the smoke trailing from his fag in a zig-zag. "All I mean is that you and James will sort this." Farryn stabbed a finger at the glossy photo in front of Teddy. It was a picture of James and Teddy elbowing each other; the column spotlight beneath it was about his friendship with James. "The two of you are bigger than this, right? And we're not just some band. You're my brothers . . . and Liam's some idiot cousin we're all stuck with." He chuckled and got a smile out of Teddy.
"There you are." Farryn leaned forward and ruffled Teddy's hair.
"Oi!" Teddy swatted him away and then set about rearranging his locks. "Jamie probably needs time?"
"Aye." Farryn took a long drag on his cigarette.
"You haven't seen him?"
"Not at all."
"I thought he'd at least come back for his duffle. The portkey to Holyhead—"
"Isn't until tomorrow," Farryn finished. "He's got loads of time. And even if he doesn't show for that; he's a big boy and knows the schedule, he'll catch up."
"Maybe." Teddy twirled a lock of hair, turning it black. "Maybe I should owl his folks. You don't think he headed home, do you?"
Farryn lit one cigarette off the other, tsking. "He's James; he won't miss a concert."
Teddy arched an eyebrow. "You didn't see him last night."
"He's James." Farryn leaned back in the chair, ashing his cigarette out the open window. "Don't worry about it and read your prize out loud to me, eh?"
Teddy snorted. "Are you suddenly illiterate?"
"Maybe I just like the sound of your voice, Ted-o." Farryn grinned and put his feet up on the table, closing his eyes. He rolled his hand, gesturing for Teddy to start reading.
Teddy smoothed down the page, tapping at the picture of him and James, watching as James elbowed Teddy and then glanced up at him with a bright smile. They both laughed, James collapsing into a helpless giggle. Teddy swallowed his wistful sigh, turning back to the main article and he began reading it aloud.
* * *
Teddy stood in the side stage next to Farryn, shifting foot to foot. "He's still not here," Teddy hissed. After James missed the portkey to Holyhead that morning, he hadn't been surprised when James had skipped sound check, too, but he hadn't expected to be watching the opening act short one Potter. James had played sick on their first tour, slipping off stage between songs to vomit in a rubbish bin—he never cancelled. Teddy pushed his hand through his hair, turning it pitch black. "Do we cancel now? I'm not as good as James, I can't just take over his part."
Farryn held up his hands. "Liam did fine during sound check. I know he's usually pretty useless—" Liam snapped an ineffectual "hey." "—But he knows his way around most of our songs."
"Will either have to suck up his feelings and get here in the next fifteen minutes, or laugh his arse off when he reads a paper tomorrow that shows Liam bollocksing all his music." Farryn turned to Liam, saying rather harshly. "And you will play to the best of your ability, no matter what happens."
Liam rolled his eyes. "Yes, mum." He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, looking forlornly at James's guitar propped in the side stage next to Teddy's bass. The colors were inverted between the two of them, Teddy's turquoise with black trim, and James's black with turquoise trim. James had charmed his to look like that, wanting it to look like Teddy's. That of course had been before—maybe when James fancied Teddy, if he could believe Farryn, but definitely before Teddy almost slept with a polyjuiced Liam.
Teddy stepped closer to Liam, keeping his voice soft and feeling like he could fix at least one of his friendships. "I'm sorry about the other night. I know you were just trying to—"
Liam held up a hand, cutting him off. "Don't apologize for that, Lupin. I'm not stupid or heartless, okay? I fucked that whole thing up." Liam crossed his arms. "I shouldn't have used the polyjuice; I shouldn't have done it like that. There's a lot I shouldn't've done, okay?" He bit off the words angrily, though Teddy thought it was anger he was directing at himself. "I'm sorry, all right?"
Teddy blinked. "You're apologizing?"
Liam pointed to his face. "Not a total arse, here. Despite contrary evidence." He sighed and shifted his weight. "I do actually like James. I didn't think he'd get so upset over it; he never cared about being 'juiced before and it was just going to be between us. It wasn't like we'd tell him."
"That doesn't make it right," Teddy said softly.
"Cor, I know," Liam bit off. "I just mean, I didn't think it'd hurt anyone." He shook his head, sighed. "I shouldn't—fuck, I'm just sorry, all right?"
"Yeah," Teddy said softly, shifting side to side. "Me too. For, for . . . I'm also sorry, Liam, okay?"
Liam nodded, his arms crossed tightly, and then he turned away. "Look, I need to practice some, just because I didn't completely cock up sound check doesn't mean I really know the songs. It's been a long time since I played some of them." He picked up James's guitar and fished a pick out of his pocket, bowing his head with his back to Teddy.
"You want any help?"
Liam shook his head and didn't turn around, his fingers finding the chords by dusty memory. Teddy took a step back, not wanting to make Liam any more nervous than he surely was already. Fumbling through sound check was one thing, but playing in front of a paying audience was another. Teddy couldn't help wondering if maybe he should sing so Liam just had one thing to concentrate on.
"Oi, what the fuck is McFadden doing touching my axe."
Liam nearly dropped the guitar, and Teddy felt just as startled, his mouth dropping open when he turned to see James standing a step behind him, looking like he'd maybe been there for awhile.
"You weren't actually thinking of letting Liam play lead, were you?" James had an eyebrow arched. "I mean, there are bad ideas in this world, but then there's that one."
"We, uh, we didn't know if you'd show," Farryn finally supplied. He glanced between James and Teddy, clearly he hadn't expected James to arrive despite how confident he'd seemed.
"It's a gig," James said simply, holding out his hand to take the guitar from Liam. "Teddy knew I'd come, right?" He nodded to Teddy, grinning, and Teddy couldn't help but wonder if James had been gone for so long because he'd found someone to Obliviate him.
"Uh, yeah, but I would've understood if you'd changed your mind this once."
James strapped his guitar on, quickly running through the opening of "Sweet Cheeks." "Couldn't do it," he quietly said, looking intently at his fingering. "Band's more than my wounded ego."
Teddy held his breath, and James looked up at him, the sadness creeping into his eyes.
"We have to go on," he said softly. He nodded towards the dark stage.
Teddy nodded, his stomach entirely numb, and when a guitar tech put his bass in his hands, he stared at it for a moment, not sure he'd remember what to do. Liam was the one who pushed him on stage, and once the bass drum beat started, Teddy's hands moved. He kept his head bowed through most of the show, stealing looks at James during his solos. James was as magnificent as ever, bathed in the stage lights, the fireworks twinkling around him. Liam kissed Teddy's cheek during "Sweet Cheeks," but kept his distance during "Fire on My Cauldron," leaving Teddy to only stare at James as Liam sang the lyrics that were about his desire for the Heartbreaker.
They met eyes once, and James smiled sadly, the only time he acknowledged Teddy the entire show.
* * *
"It's about me, isn't it?"
Teddy craned his neck, looking up at James, standing behind the love seat. The night staff at the hotel were huddled behind the front desk, and had barely noticed when Teddy came down an hour ago with a blanket and a book. "What?"
"'Fire On My Cauldron.' 'Sweet Cheeks.' Fuck, 'Stranger in the Shadow'? All of them? They're about me." James sat down heavily on the love seat next to Teddy, their legs brushing together. He was closer than he needed to be, and Teddy couldn't help remembering Farryn's guess about who James fancied. "I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out."
"Farryn and Liam both claim I've been painfully obvious." Teddy shrugged. His leg felt hot where it was touching James, and he wondered if the touch was as potent to James. "Maybe you're just really thick?"
James snorted and then kicked his shoes off, tucking his feet under himself. "I'm not mad, you know."
"You're not?" Teddy arched an eyebrow; he'd seemed pretty angry the night before.
"Well, I'm mad at Liam for being a prick and I'm a little annoyed at you for falling for Liam."
"I didn't fall for Liam," Teddy cut in, wanting to be very, very clear about that. "McFadden isn't my type."
"What was so appealing about him in Dublin, then?"
Teddy arched an eyebrow. "Do you really need to ask?" He carefully took James's hand, lacing their fingers together. He swallowed, not sure if James would allow hand-holding that wasn't strictly platonic.
His nerves tingled when James ran his thumb over Teddy's forefinger. "So you're . . . you're not for Liam?"
Teddy licked his lips, feeling more confident that Farryn was right. "Still for you, Potter. But I can rein it in if it makes you uncomfortable. You're more important than this crush. I, I mean, your friendship." Teddy fought the red that was creeping up the roots of his hair.
James leaned his head on the back of the couch and laughed. "I should have just talked to you." James took a deep breath, still stroking Teddy's finger. "I've been . . . going through something," he confessed. "I should have just talked to you about it. Merlin, you're the perfect person to talk to about it, except well . . . it's kind of about you, too, and I didn't think I'd be able to avoid the specifics."
"James," Teddy cut in, his heart pounding. "It's me."
James turned his head, finally looking at Teddy again, his hair falling into his face. "Ted." He licked his lips, pushed forward, stopped himself, and then leaned in again, this time making it all the way to Teddy's lips. It was the briefest of kisses, but it was a kiss initiated by James and it was so much better than the first aggressive kiss Liam had laid on him two nights ago.
"That had better not be a sympathy kiss," Teddy whispered. He was still sharing breath with James; James hadn't pulled away, and he laughed softly, his slightly sweet breath catching in Teddy's nose.
"Why do you think I've been so fucking jealous of Liam?"
Teddy sat back. "Jealous of Liam? You asked me if I was actually dating him! And you were—" Everything from the past few weeks suddenly started slotting into place in Teddy's mind—things James had said, looks he'd given Teddy, the way Liam had been getting on his nerves in ways that seemed completely unusual for the typically unflappable Potter. "Merlin's bollocks! You've been jealous of Liam!" he accused, pointing at James.
James laughed. "Yes! I have! And apparently for no good reason!" He chuckled again and then slipped under the blanket, refinding Teddy's hand and squeezing it more confidently. "My feelings for you have been . . . complicated," he said softly.
"Especially since you're straight?" Teddy asked pointedly.
"Not so straight, I guess. I, I think I'm gay. Or, or bi?" He pulled a face after testing the word. "Queer? Something."
"Probably not gay considering the way you pull birds."
James shrugged. "I don't know. Recently every time I have, I just keep thinking about you." He pushed his face into Teddy's shoulder, covering the exposed side with his hand. "Cor, I sound like such a girl!"
Teddy chuckled and tilted his head to peek at James between his fingers. "I promise not to tell anyone."
James smiled slowly, uncovering his face. "You know, you look dead sexy when you're being earnest."
Teddy's hair pinkened with his face. "That will take some getting used to." He bit his lip, getting control of his hair color. "Look, I . . . I have to ask: Are you sure I'm not just . . . safe?" Teddy winced. He wanted to believe James; he really, really did, but he'd done this before. He'd gotten involved with a guy who wasn't ready and he'd had his heart broken just because he'd been ready to fall in love.
"Tee, nothing about this is safe. I don't have it all figured out, but—" He shrugged. "I like you. I . . . I'm attracted to you." His eyes flicked away, his face flushed. "That's what I know."
Teddy let the silence stretch a moment, getting used to the feeling of sharing a blanket with James and having that simple action be loaded with so much potential. "That kiss was nice, huh?"
James chuckled softly. "If you want to kiss me again, you can just do it." He meet Teddy's gaze, the expression on his face as serious as it'd been when he finally asked Teddy about forming a band. It'd been something he'd been weighing for months, privately going over the pros and cons before acting on it. James didn't do whims.
Teddy leaned their foreheads together. "There's still more to say, you know?"
"Tomorrow," James whispered. He kissed Teddy again, this time touching his cheek tenderly. Teddy parted his lips, and when he felt the hesitant touch of James's tongue, he finally let himself relax, and concentrated on learning his new boyfriend.
* * *
A draft between the sheets woke Teddy and he shifted towards the warm body that curled against him. James kissed him, warm and sleepy, and Teddy pulled back a fraction, whispering with a smile, "Jamie, right?"
James chuckled softly. "Yes. And shush. Liam's still asleep."
"What time is it?"
"Almost eight. Farryn came in, like, an hour ago."
"Merlin's fuzzy nuts, I love days off." Teddy kissed James again, smiling against his lips. They'd snogged on the couch in Holyhead for a bit but between traveling to Barnton and getting ready for the concert there, they hadn't had time to be together for the last day. Teddy had been half afraid that James might change his mind, but having James in his arms now was giving him back the confidence he'd had the day before.
"Mmm, in the morning is Nottingham."
"Then Chudley, Caerphilly, Falmouth—"
James cheered softly for his Quidditch team and probably also for Lance Folston's shoulders.
"What, five more cities until we're home?"
James nodded. "Six days. And then . . . home." He said that with a note of finality. "I was thinking: we live together."
"What? So soon?" Teddy shifted, stuffing the pillow behind his head.
James rolled his eyes at Teddy's bad joke. "I just mean, well, do we keep staying in separate rooms? Should I move out? Cor, when do we tell my parents—what do we tell them? And what about the band? Sonorous Punk was already asking about your 'inspirations'."
Teddy grinned, kind of loving watching James work himself into a tizzy over their relationship. "First." He touched James's nose to stop him. "We should probably each keep our own rooms for now, but since you're bringing it up again, I won't fuss if you do want your own space—"
"Tee, I only said that because I was scared you didn't fancy me. I want to stay."
Teddy bit back his grin. "Sorted then. Second: your parents. We should, uh. . . ." Harry and Ginny had been supportive when Teddy came out, but they'd be dealing both with the news that James wasn't straight and that he was dating Teddy; figuring that out could wait. "We should tell them, uh, in person."
James narrowed his eyes. "You're putting it off."
Teddy chuckled softly and brushed back James's sleep-mussed hair. "Third."
"You can ignore me all you like, but that doesn't mean I don't know you're putting it off."
Teddy rolled on top of James, muffling his laugh with another kiss. "Third," he repeated. "We should make sure Liam and Farryn know, but I don't mind keeping this private while we get used to it, or while you sort yourself. I don't want to rush you out of the closet."
James threaded his fingers in Teddy's hair and leaned up to kiss him. "You're kind of a perfect boyfriend."
Teddy smiled warmly, loving the way that sounded coming from James.
"So when are we telling Liam and Farryn?" James whispered.
"Liam and Farryn already know," Liam croaked from his bed. "You're kind of loud and obvious, making cow eyes at each other across the stage. I'd be surprised if it wasn't already all over the wireless." He pitched a pillow at Teddy's back. "Now go shower together or be couple-y elsewhere so I can get some sleep."
"Sorry!" Teddy sniggered into James's neck, not feeling the least bit apologetic about snuggling with his boyfriend.
"We should go," James whispered.
"Mmm, yeah. Maybe we can get breakfast somewhere."
James smiled, his eyes twinkling. "I kind of liked Liam's idea about a shower."
Teddy's eyes widen as he felt that suggestion in his bollocks. "Y-yeah?"
James didn't say anything, he just nibbled on Teddy's ear lobe, licking up around the shell of his ear.
"Oh, now who's the perfect boyfriend?"
James chuckled softly. "Race you?"
"I hope you just mean to the shower, because I'm planning to take quite a long time when we get there." Teddy kissed James deeply, taking in the flush on his cheeks, and slipped out of bed, offering him a hand. Four weeks ago James had seemed untouchable, nothing more than a fantasy. Who'd have thought the band—one measly tour—would change so much?
* * *
James turned his face up into the lights, his eyes closed as he went somewhere else in his head. His fingers moved flawlessly over the strings, sliding easily through his solo in "Fire on My Cauldron." The Falmouth crowd was eating it up, the kids in front mouthing the part of the refrain that echoed in James's solo. Liam turned from James, taking one long stride towards Teddy—the lick to Teddy's neck a piece of choreography his week-long relationship with James hadn't erased. But Liam suddenly stopped and it was James strutting forward as he finished out his solo, eyes fixed on Teddy.
Teddy shifted foot to foot, licking his lips, not entirely sure what James was on about.
Liam sang the refrain, glancing between them and Farryn, looking just as curious and confused as Teddy felt.
James grabbed Teddy's cheeks, his pick still between his fingers, and snogged him. His guitar knocked against Teddy's bass, and Teddy grabbed for the neck, barely hearing Liam whisper into the mic, "I've a potion just for you," over the screams from the crowd.
"I thought we were waiting," Teddy said when James stepped back.
"Too hard to keep my hands off you!" He grinned widely, saluted the crowd and headed back towards his mark, stopping to dance with Liam at center stage.
Farryn waggled his eyebrows at Teddy over his snare drum, who could only shrug and keep playing the song. James rocked through the last chorus, belting out the backing vocals, a smile on his face like he'd finally tasted freedom. A girl in the front row screamed that she loved James, but Teddy was fairly certain that no one loved James as much as he did.