James smiled as he felt Henry’s lips on his bare shoulder.
“Stay, it’s a Saturday,” Henry murmured.
Henry’s voice was low and coaxing, and James couldn’t help but be taken in by it. He turned around to face Henry and put his hand on his face before he kissed him. Henry reciprocated, the pressure soft and familiar.
He let Henry maneuver him so that James was below him on the bed. He kissed Henry again, his lips feeling a bit wet as he’d just licked them. James tasted a little cinnamon too as his tongue slipped inside Henry’s mouth.
After a few minutes, they parted, both breathing hard but James felt as blissfully happy as Henry looked.
James settled back beside Henry, Henry grasped his hand in his own.
“It’s my birthday today.” James announced.
He smiled, unable not to as he saw how relaxed Henry was, genuinely smiling back at James. They’d been together four months following their first meeting.
James tried his best to forget about the incident with his abductor, but some days it was hard not to let the fear sneak in. Being with Henry helped, and not seeing the man these last few months was a great relief.
“Even better reason to stay,” said Henry. “In this life?” Though he asked, James could tell it was a perfunctory question.
James knew that Henry knew. After all, it was hard to forget that he’d died only a week before his birthday in his past life.
“I’m sorry, James,” Henry said quickly.
“Can’t change the past. At least in this life I have a second chance.”
“Yes, you’re right. And I’ll make sure you don’t miss anything.”
“I’ve been curious about seeing Antarctica.”
“Is that so?”
“I don’t know. Are you interested?” His green eyes twinkled as he looked at him mischievously.
“We’ll see. One day at a time. How old are you now?”
“I’ll be 36.”
“We’ll have to celebrate tonight.”
“My sister wants to see me this afternoon for my birthday. Avery is helping to make the birthday cake. Apparently. It’d be nice if you and Abe could come.”
“I’d love to. I’m sure Abe would too.”
“I think we should get up. No matter how tempting it is to stay here with you.”
“Yes, of course,” Henry said though it was reluctant. “We can always return here later, to celebrate further.”
James smiled. “Skip dinner, and just come back here. That would be a perfect end to the day,” he suggested. He kissed Henry briefly on the lips before climbing out of bed.
James could feel Henry’s eyes on him, most likely admiring the view. He was intentionally slow to put his clothes on to let Henry have his fill.
“Liking what you see?” James teased.
“Hmm, that light blue shirt looks good on you,” Henry said distractedly.
James’s mind returned to the past, recalling his childhood friend, Ollie, from his past life. It was his 19th birthday and the year was 1889.
Ollie’s family was well off and they had free reign over his house, castle – James remembered thinking of it that way - while his friend's parents were away.
Drunk and feeling invincible they explored the house and thought up as many lewd jokes as they could.
“You know, that damnable shirt looks better off you,” Ollie said as he lay flat on the floor of the drawing room, pillows cushioning their heads.
“I like this shirt.” James retorted.
“You don’t. Fool,” he remarked, grinning at him. Ollie reached over and patted James’ head. Ollie laughed. “Why are there horses galloping in here? They’re blue too.”
“Maybe you’re having a waking dream?”
“No, they’re really here. And they’re staring at us.”
“Then close your eyes.” James said. “How many drinks did you have?”
“Why are snakes attacking your head?” Ollie only said, still with his hand on James’s head despite his belief.
“I guess the answer to that is too much.”
“Off, please,” Ollie persisted, moving to unbutton James’ dress shirt.
“I’m going to hit you over the head soon if you don’t behave.”
“Please do,” he said, not looking to take James seriously. “I got to tell you something good, Jamesy—I got two tickets…for your special birthday. You get to see where I look…at books? And the girls…they all love me.”
“Doubt that,” James shot back before fully realizing what he was saying. “What? No! Oliver, no. I don’t want to see Oxford. I get terrible seasickness. This is an awful idea.”
“No, Oxford’s brilliant. You’ll love it. You’re my best friend. I want you to come,” Ollie insisted.
“Then if it’s awful, I can blame you,” James decided, feeling sleepy as alcohol always seemed to do to him.
“It won’t be awful. I know some fun endeavors we can partake in…”
James couldn’t stop from yawning as he watched Ollie’s hand slip underneath his shirt.
“You’re ridiculous,” James murmured, shifting his gaze to stare up at the ceiling.
The grandfather clock outside the room rang loud then, and Ollie cried out in surprise, nearly jumping to his feet.
James smiled, amused, and laughed into his pillow. His friend swore that he would get his revenge on that clock one day.
“James? Are you okay?” Henry asked him. “You looked like you were somewhere else.”
James smiled. “I was only remembering an old friend of mine, from my past life. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that people I used to know are long dead now.” He looked down, sadness coming over him.
“I’ve felt the same way many times,” Henry sympathized. He squeezed James’ shoulder to show his understanding. “What was your friend’s name?”
“Oliver, but most everyone else just called him Ollie.”
“I don’t recall you talking about him back then.”
James shrugged. “He went to Oxford, and found his soulmate there. It was hard for us to keep in touch after that. He had his own life, I had mine.”
“James, I’m sorry to hear that.” Henry said.
James turned around to see that Henry had gotten dressed. Well, mostly, as only the bottom half of his shirt was buttoned, the rest undone. Probably had noticed James quiet and stopped midway in concern. He sighed, putting his hand on Henry’s chest, still deep in his thoughts as he buttoned up the rest of Henry’s dress shirt.
“Not much could be done about it. I never even…,” James stopped, then took a deep breath, exhaling, and he said, “I never told him I was ill, and that I was dying. I could have sent him a letter, but I didn’t want to trouble him. I’m not sure someone from my family let Ollie know.”
“I wish I could tell you if they did,” Henry told him, sounding apologetic.
He reached out to him, placing a hand on James’ face. He kissed him softly on the lips.
Henry proceeded to press kisses along his neck and collar bone. James moaned.
“We’re going to have trouble leaving this room, aren’t we?” James decided.
Henry smiled, and led them to the wall, positioning James against it. James, though, made a quick move and put Henry in his previous position.
“Need only ask,” Henry said.
“Sort of loses the spontaneity,” James countered, grinning at him.
He kissed Henry deeply, a little rough as he accidentally bit Henry’s bottom lip. “Sorry,” James breathed out in a whisper.
“Don’t apologize,” Henry said back, smiling. He lifted his hand to James’ hair, fingers coursing through the curls, urging James even closer to him.
Henry began to unbutton James’ shirt. “Just five minutes?” He was able to say, his voice low and husky, when James took a moment to breathe.
“Can’t say no to that.”
“Happy Birthday, James,” Henry said as he laid James back down on to the bed.
~ * ~
The effort had been slow, but they did climb out of bed however reluctantly. James’s cell was ringing with birthday messages.
“You take a shower. My mother will want me to call her.”
“Of course,” said Henry with a smile.
Still he pulled James in for a kiss. Henry’s hand was on the back on his head, and James felt his fingers gripping his curled hair.
James stepped back, heels hitting the doorjamb to the bathroom. He couldn’t stop from gasping at the suddenness of the action. Henry’s lips were on his mouth, and then went down to his neck. James could feel the heat coming off of Henry.
“Henry, you’re --making – this --harder,” he managed to get out as he tried to get his breath back.
“For before,” Henry said, referring to James’s previous act of spontaneity.
He grinned at him, the smile lighting up his eyes. It was an expression James loved to see on him.
“You make me happy,” Henry told him before he retreated to the bathroom.
James touched his neck, feeling a small break there. Looking at the mirror, James saw that Henry had left him a hickey.
He shook his head, chuckling.
Taking his cellphone with him, James went to the kitchen.
He saw something on the kitchen table that wasn’t there the night before.
It was a photo of his past life’s gravesite. James had been there in February. He hadn’t taken it, feeling odd about doing that. Like he would be encroaching on the dead man’s peace by flashing a camera at the site.
But he knew who had left this picture. It was something he hadn’t told Henry about. He knew he would have to eventually, but James had to find the right time.
He turned over the photo to find a note saying:
I think I found a cure. I’ll see you at the usual time.
James smiled. Well, at least there was acknowledgement of the irony of a grave photo with wishes for a happy birthday. James was used to it after all these years.
He sighed, recalling that cold day in February when he decided to visit James Carter’s grave. It had been a year since he’d remembered his past life. And it’d been before he’d reunited with Henry.
“I couldn’t have picked a better day to come,” he said, smiling a little, feeling somewhat foolish for choosing such a cold day. But he was here, and that’s what mattered. The chill didn’t bother him as much as it should have. He was intent on getting out what he wanted to say to this long dead man, a man who he once was.
“I found out I had latent tuberculosis a few months ago. I’m taking medication for it. Just for nine months. I wish you had had the same opportunity. But we can’t choose what time we’re born into. I’m sorry.”
He took a deep breath, his breath visible as a puff of white smoke in the near freezing winter air.
“I don’t know how you did it. Knowing what you knew about Henry and still making the best of it, acting like everything was all right. But it wasn’t, not completely.”
He stood there in silence for a few long moments. His hands despite being covered in gloves were beginning to feel numb.
“I don’t know if I could be as courageous as you, but I can try. I haven’t seen Henry yet. I don’t know how he’ll react, or if it’s really Henry…”
His phone started ringing, startling James out of his thoughts.
As he answered the call from his mother, James went into his living room.
He settled on a photo album on the bookcase. He slipped the photo behind an old picture of Charlotte holding Avery as a baby. James had taken the photo. It wasn’t the best solution as Henry was very observant. He’d always known that all the way back to his past life. That certainly hadn’t changed. Henry could easily take the opportunity to look through the small photo album.
But for now, it would have to do. Besides, if Henry found the photo, it would be the push James needed to tell him about who’d given it to him and written that note.
~ * ~
At Charlotte’s apartment, Henry smiled as he watched James with his sister and nephew. Avery hugged his uncle, wishing him a Happy Birthday.
When he’d known James the first time around, he never had the chance to meet James’s family, not like this.
Of course there had been the occasional family gathering. James, undoubtedly feeling sorry for Henry leading a solitary and seemingly lonely life, extended an invitation for him to come.
But it wasn’t the same simply being a work colleague, even if they had been good friends.
Now they were together, and able to show it. Henry had never been romantically involved with James over a century ago, and he was grateful for that. After all, the social norms of the early 20th century would have put an unpleasant strain on their relationship as they tried to keep it a secret.
That made seeing James again in this day and age all the more sweeter. Because they had their chance now in a time where two men being together wouldn’t leave them shunned by everyone they knew. They could be happier now, more optimistic about their future together.
And James was his soulmate. If this was the ending to his story, Henry thought, he couldn’t have written a better one.
Henry was startled when Charlotte introduced him to Avery.
“This is Uncle Stephen’s significant other. He’s his soulmate.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Avery.”
“Hi,” said Avery, looking uncertain. “You sound British.”
Henry bent down so he was eye level with the boy. “That I do. I’ve lived here for years, but the accent remains.”
He smiled at him.
Avery returned the smile though it was a shy one. “That’s cool. No wizarding world there, right?”
He sounded disappointed about the prospect of that world not existing.
“No, I’m afraid not. Rather unfortunate, I’d have to say.” Henry told him, trying to appeal to him.
It worked as Avery grinned, appearing happy that someone else agreed with him.
He noticed James bite his lip. He looked to his sister.
“Charlotte,” James said with a long sigh.
While Charlotte knew about them being soulmates, Henry was aware that James hadn’t told his parents yet. Besides that he’d become friends with Henry and now they spent time together. Henry figured if James’s parents were perceptive enough, they would realize what was really going on.
James’s mother and father were presently on a Mediterranean cruise and wouldn’t be back until next week. Henry knew he would be meeting them eventually, and he was admittedly anxious to do so. But he had faith that it would go smoothly.
And Avery…after four months, this was the first time Henry had met James’s young nephew.
“Yes, Stephen?” She said. Her look was one of practiced innocence.
“Nothing,” he relented.
If Avery knew, then Henry could foresee him telling James’s parents. Children weren’t the best secret keepers. No wonder James was not too happy with Charlotte’s introduction.
Henry patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Stephen. Sometimes it’s better for the truth to come out sooner. I will be seeing a lot of your family after all.”
“Thanks,” he said, smiling a little, looking reassured. “Well after your mom’s big introduction, I’m not sure what else can beat that. Do you, Avery?”
“I think we should eat cake first,” Avery decided.
“I’m not sure we can get away with it.”
“But it’s your birthday. You should if you want to.”
Avery pulled him by the hand. “You have to see the cake.”
“I hope Abe comes soon. I doubt the cake will still be here in a few minutes.” Charlotte joked with Henry.
Henry assured her. “He should be here momentarily. The cake will survive.”
~ * ~
Abe came a few moments later. For Avery’s sake, he introduced himself as Henry’s roommate, and business partner with Henry’s father. Avery took to him easily, probably seeing him as a grandfather-figure Henry imagined.
As they settled down to eat, Charlotte spoke up, “Henry, did James tell you about the day he was born?”
“Grandma tells the story all the time,” Avery put in matter-of-factly.
Henry shook his head. “No, he did not.”
He turned to James who shrugged. “There’s not much to say.”
Though Henry could tell from his voice that he was downplaying the tale.
“It sounds like a good story,” said Abe. “I’d love to hear it.”
“Oh it’s definitely one that has to be told. There’s no better time than now to fill you two in,” Charlotte said.
Henry was intrigued. “What’s the story?”
“My great-grandmother Mary, the one who was on the Titanic, passed away the day I was born,” James began.
His sister continued, “Our mom decided to give birth at home. Mary was bed-bound, and things were looking very bleak. Mom wanted to make sure her grandmother got the chance to see her great-grandson.”
“How thoughtful of her,” Abe said.
“And her plan worked out?” Henry asked.
Charlotte nodded. “I think we have a photo too of Mary holding James. It’s at mom and dad’s though.”
“Of course my mom went to the hospital afterwards to get me checked out. But I’ll always have the story that I was born at home. That made me feel, you know, a little unique. Just after hearing all my friends say they were born in the hospital.”
“Meanwhile, I was born in a boring hospital,” Charlotte said with a long sigh.
“Curse of the second child.” James shot back, lips twisting into a smile.
James’s nephew giggled.
~ * ~
Henry waited outside as Charlotte had wanted to speak to James privately.
“Do you want a ride back, Henry?” Abe asked.
“No, I could wait for James. You can go, Abraham. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” Abe patted him on the shoulder. “I’m glad I was invited to come.”
“Of course you would be invited. James knows you’re my son, how important you are to me. He wants you to be a part of his life too.”
“I’m glad you found him, Henry. You’re happier than you’ve been in a while. The change suits you.”
Henry nodded and smiled. “Thank you. I would have to agree.”
After watching his son drive off, Henry walked to James’s car, sitting in the front passenger seat.
Less than ten minutes later, James came, climbing inside his car. He appeared tense and a little peaky too.
“James, are you all right? You look a bit unwell. What did you speak to Charlotte about?”
James gave him a quick smile. “It was nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
He started up the engine, lips pressed thin, and looking to be defiant of whatever was coming over him.
“James, something is wrong. You’re stressed, aren’t you? You’re exhibiting symptoms. The echo from the past, I remember. Don’t pretend with me. You know I’ve seen you like this before.”
He hadn’t shifted to gear into drive. Henry was glad as James shouldn’t be driving in this state.
He was growing pale now.
Then James coughed loudly. It sounded painful to Henry.
He quickly gave him a tissue from the box in the compartment below the gears.
James took it gratefully. He coughed into the tissue. Henry didn’t miss the specks of blood on the tissue that James tried to hide from him by balling it up in his hand.
“I’m fine. It’ll pass. It always passes.” James said, sounding determined.
“Perhaps I should drive?”
James turned off the ignition, the car quieter now. He gave Henry an incredulous look.
“Abe made the point very clear to me that you shouldn’t drive. Something about a car accident a few decades ago that even Abe wasn’t willing to rehash to me. Care to tell me?”
Henry frowned. “Not particularly, no. My driver’s license is expired, I believe. So yes, it may be best I not drive.”
James chuckled, a crackly-sounding cough coming afterwards.
Henry leaned toward James. “I could help your symptoms end quicker. At least try.”
James looked at him with interest. “How’s that?”
Without another word, Henry kissed him on the mouth, feeling the fever, the heat of it permeating from James. He put his hand on his cheek and kissed him down his neck.
James sighed, a small guttural sound came as Henry went past the sensitive area where he’d left the hickey earlier. James had covered it up with makeup his sister had gifted him as a joke the previous Christmas.
“I think you’ve found a worthy remedy.”
“Glad to be of service,” Henry said, smiling.
He was pleased when he felt James’s skin cool, returning to a more acceptable body temperature. The color returned to his face, and the coughing ceased.
“What did your sister tell you, James? It looks to have unsettled you.”
“I’m sorry, Henry. Charlotte told me something that caught me off-guard. I don’t want to talk about it now. I will tell you one day I promise.”
Henry decided to let the matter go for now. After all, if he wasn’t ready to tell James about the car accident, then he shouldn’t force James to confide in him.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~