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"I'm not trying to take his place," the kid says, watching him nervously. Quade doesn't care. As a senior member of the team, Quade knows he's probably being incredibly irresponsible and selfish right now. But he can't get used to it. Someone else wearing James's number. Someone else sharing the room with him.
He hates it. He jumps off the bed, grabs his wallet and phone, and heads out the door without one look at the kid. He'll make up for it when he gets back. Probably.

-

It must be some sort of strange fate that has the Wallabies playing in London the same week that James moves there to play for the London Irish. Quade has no time to go see him before the game against the Lions because the coach is dead set on beating the Lions this tour. James texts him on game day.

Kill 'em. It says. Quade smiles. He wonders if James will be watching. Maybe. Maybe not. James always tended to stay away from the things that hurt him.

I'll see you tonight. The next one says and Quade grins, slipping the phone back into his pocket.

His heart is lighter when he steps out on to the ground to resounding boos of the crowd. It's nice that it's directed at the whole team this time and not just him, which tends to happen surprisingly often. The light heartedness lasts until half time after which the Lions decide they’ve had enough of lagging behind. No matter what they try, they can't hold back the tide and the Lions run over them.

By the end of the night, Quade is frozen down to his marrow and miserable. All he wants is a hot shower and a bed and maybe an amnesia pill which will make him forget this night ever happened.

But he goes to meet James instead. He slumps against the back of the elevator as it climbs up to the fifth floor and puts one foot infront of the other until he is standing at James's door. James opens the hotel door on the second knock.

"Hey," James says. Quade hasn't seen James for three weeks. Not since Perth.

"Hey, James." James's smile fades slightly and he pulls Quade into the room by gentle fingers wrapped around his wrist.

"Are you hungry?" James asks, closing the door behind him. "I ordered some room service."

Quade takes in the untouched plates of whatever James had ordered and feels his stomach roll unpleasantly.

"Can't eat," he says.

"I saw the game," James tells him quietly and Quade is surprised.

"Why?" he asks. James looks at him like he's an idiot. If Quade had the strength, he'd smile.

"Because you were playing." James punctuates his answer with a soft "idiot."

Because James had promised. Because James loves him and suddenly Quade really hates everything. But mostly the ARU. And maybe himself a little for not fighting harder for James.

"I miss you," he whispers, leaning his head on James's shoulder and closing his eyes. "I'm going to miss you so much."

He feels James's arms wrap around him, feels his hands rubbing warm circles on to his back and sighs.

"It's not forever." James kisses the side of his head gently. "I'll be back home in no time."

"Forever," Quade mumbles into James's shoulder sleepily and feels James's laughter resounding through him.

"You're falling asleep on your feet, how do you always do that?" James's voice is fond as he steers Quade in some direction. "Let’s get you to bed."

-

Quade wakes up slowly. He's warm, and happy and entirely unwilling to open his eyes. Something tickles against his face, making Quade draw back slightly and finally open his eyes.

James is asleep beside him. James doesn't look old enough to be out of school when he's awake, and here, asleep like this, he looks even younger. But the dark circles under his eyes from weeks and weeks of stress are still there. Quade watches him sleep. This boy he's loved for so long. With whom he's been through so much and with whom he will continue to wade through life, if the matching rings around both their necks are any indication.

"You're thinking far too hard for so early in the morning." James's voice startles him back and he finds James's blue eyes fixed on him. Quade leans over and kisses him in response. James laughs into the kiss and curls a hand at the back of Quade's neck to pull him closer.

-

They have breakfast in the room, windows open and the curtains swirling around them on a morning that is surprisingly sunny. Quade intertwines their feet under the table and doesn't think about how he'd have to within the hour if he's going to make it back for the team bus to the airport. James smiles at him between mouthfuls of toast. Quade doesn't know how he can smile like that. Like nothing is worrying him, like there's nothing on his shoulders weighing him down.

"Stop," James says quietly and Quade looks up at him. "I can hear you thinking."

Quade laughs. "Moved to London and became psychic did you?"

James grins. "Yep. So stop worrying." James leans over the table and takes Quade's hand. "Everything will work out."

Quade grips his hand and nods. "Okay." James smiles. "Okay."

Later, James presses him against the door and kisses him before he leaves.

"Say hello to everyone for me," James says, drawing back slightly. "And be nice to Matt."

Quade blinks and James makes his 'I'm all knowing' face at him. "I will," Quade promises him finally and runs his hands down James's sides. He doesn't know when they'll see each other again.

"Come visit when you're on the island again," James whispers against his lips. In two weeks, when they play Ireland.

Quade leans their foreheads together. "I will." James touches his face with warm hands. Quade closes his eyes and doesn't say it this time. He's going to miss James more than he can bear.

-

He sits next to the kid on the flight to Italy, who only looks a little apprehensive.

"You did well against the Lions," Quade says, startling the kid, who stares at him for a moment to make sure that Quade is indeed talking to him.

"Not really," the kid, Quade should really start calling him by his name soon, says finally.

"You kicked well and scored a try, I'd say that was a good game."

The kid, Matt, blinks. "We lost."

"Doesn't mean you didn't do well." Quade wonders why he's pushing this and not watching movies on his iPad like rest of the team.

"Okay," the kid says, and there's an expression on his face that Quade thinks might be hope.

"Listen. I know you're not," Quade takes a breath, "trying to take his place. I know you're just doing your best for the team." He wonders if James would be proud of him for being so mature. "I'm sorry I was an asshole."

Matt stares and then breaks into a smile. "No. It's okay. I understand. I'd hate me too if…" he trails off. Quade smiles. James and Quade are the biggest non-secret in the team.

"Well. I don't hate you," Quade tells him and doesn't add the 'anymore', knowing the kid would probably hear it anyway.

"Thank you," Mat tells him, smiling.

Quade nods, and turns his attention to the list of movies available for him to watch. The next time he looks up Matt had fallen asleep, head tilted slightly towards the window.

I think I'm growing up. He texts James when they land.

James sends him a smily face. And then, I'm proud of you.

Quade smiles to himself and follows after the rest of the team for the bus waiting outside.

 

***