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The first sign that something is wrong is that James knocks instead of letting himself in.

Well, it might not be James, but no one else comes over at 8:30 in the morning on a weekday, so Paul is expecting James.

It's—well, it's not James, or that's what Paul thinks until the leggy brunette with hair that desperately needs to be brushed says, with a cadence that's painfully familiar, "Uh, hi. It's me, um, I mean it's James."

“Uh,” Paul says. Frankly he’s impressed he managed that much, it’s hard to do anything but gape because—what. The woman standing at the door, well, she doesn’t really look like James, but maybe if James had a twin sister. A twin sister who didn’t like brushing her hair and is wearing a shirt he recognizes as James’s, even though it’s pulling across her—jesus christ, don’t look at her chest.

Paul fixes his eyes on the woman’s face. She has the same wryly apologetic look that James gets when he whiffs on a perfect shot.

“Shit. You don’t believe me, do you?” She sounds a little frantic. “Last weekend you threatened to never feed me again if I ever made you watch another Jonah Hill movie.”

Despite himself, Paul laughs. It’s a little hysterical, but it feels good to do something other than stare at this wo—at James. That’s James.

“Okay,” he says. “I believe you. You’re James. I’m impressed you put your shirt on without hurting yourself.”

“Fuck off,” James says, elbowing past him the way he would on any other day.

“I can’t make you breakfast if I fuck off,” Paul says, playfully congenial. He bites back any comments about how weird this is. There’s no need to bring it up, they both know, he can see it in the tension of James’s shoulders and the way he’s strangely silent.

Breakfast is the same as always, except for the aforementioned strange silences. He makes a few comments, and James makes a few as well, but it’s all very elephant-in-the-room.

Finally, when James asks Paul what his plans for the day are, they manage to talk about it. Paul says that he was planning to do a conditioning workout, and is about to ask if James wants to come along when James interrupts. “I probably ought to work out but I don’t know …”

He trails off and there’s uncomfortable silence again.

“Maybe you should just go for a run,” Paul says. “People might ask questions.”

James gives him an appraising look. “You should be freaking out more than you are.”

“What good would it do?” Paul says, taking the empty plates to put in the dishwasher.

“None,” James says fairly. “But I’m freaking out a bit. You should be too.”

Paul wants to reach across the counter and touch him, reassure him somehow. Telling him it’ll be okay feels empty, because he doesn’t know that. Thinking about it makes him freak out a bit.

“Do you know how to fix it?” he says instead.

“Maybe?” James frowns. “Stuff like this happens sometimes when I’m upset.”

This time, Paul does pat him on the shoulder. It’s a little weird, they don’t usually do things like that. “Then you focus on fixing it,” he says, trying to sound reassuring and confident, which are definitely not things he feels right now. “We have a few days before we play, that’s plenty of time to sort it out.”

James nods, looking a little pale, but when Paul gets back from his workout he’s sitting on the couch watching—

“Oh my God, James, is that Toddlers and Tiaras?”

“Shut up,” James says, pouting. When he pauses it, Paul glances at the screen and realizes it’s not even a live show.

“Why is Toddlers and Tiaras on my DVR?”

“You never use all the space anyway,” James says, which doesn’t answer the question at all.

“Why do I even like you?” Paul drops onto the couch next to him anyway, making a futile grab for the remote.

James gives him obnoxious puppy dog eyes. “I’m adorable. Duper told me yesterday.”

“I’m pretty sure Duper said you reminded him of his kids.”

“Same difference.”

Paul goes to wrestle James for the remote—he’s seriously not going to watch this crap, there’s probably a baseball game on somewhere—and then freezes. Because James isn’t really James, he’s all—curvy. And definitely not wearing a bra, which makes sense because he wouldn’t even have one but. Paul can’t just tackle him into the sofa.

“I’m still me,” James says. “But I’ve had a hard day, so you can’t have the remote. Turning into a girl is very stressful.”

Paul doesn’t argue that one, can’t bring himself to do it. He rolls his eyes but James doesn’t see, already transfixed by the TV again.

--

James takes a maintenance day the next day. He texts Paul that he’s going to, and then doesn’t show up for breakfast or to demand a ride to the rink. This is all perfectly normal, because a maintenance day for James usually involves sleeping until at least eleven.

What’s less normal is finding James sitting on the couch when he gets home in the early evening. “It’s really unpleasant to run,” James says without prompting. “I think I understand sports bras now.”

Paul forces himself to keep his eyes on James’s face. Just because he’s talking about his breasts doesn’t mean that Paul gets to stare at them. Even if they’re very nice. He nods, kind of by rote.

“I think we should have sex,” James says.

Paul trips on the shoe that’s halfway off his foot. He tries to say something but it turns out he’s too busy gaping like an idiot and trying to keep his balance.

“I think it might fix this,” he continues. Paul is still staring.

“Uh,” he manages eventually. But then he meets James’s eyes and, insane suggestions aside, he looks completely serious. “You’re serious,” Paul says stupidly.

“Yeah.” James looks nervous, the way he did that first year when he couldn’t buy a goal and was spending his nights curled up on Paul’s couch worrying about his play and whether he’d be traded again and what the team thought of him. It tugs at Paul’s heart, just like it did then.

“Okay,” he says. Anything to keep James from looking at him like that. Besides, it’s not like he doesn’t want to sleep with him. Maybe it’s a little terrible that he’s willing to take it like this but that’s apparently a level he’s comfortable sinking to.

“Yeah, uh, okay,” James mumbles, articulate as ever.

“How about we go upstairs?” Paul suggests, and James nods twice.

“That sounds good.”

The walk up the stairs is awkward. Paul’s not sure what to do with his hands, if he should touch James or if he should shove them into his pockets to resist the temptation.

James kisses him in the hall. He’s still taller than Paul but he feels different, lankier and softer and less muscular. Paul opens his mouth and lets James press him up against the wall, using a hand on the back of James’s neck to pull him in closer.

Paul’s made a point of not thinking too much about what kissing James would be like, because there are some lines you don’t cross with teammates even in your head, but somehow it’s still not a surprise that it’s messy and enthusiastic and right on the edge of being too much tongue. He could try to slow it down, turn it into something less desperate but it’s easier to just go with it and let himself be kissed.

He edges a leg in between James’s, lets him grind down on it. It’s momentarily jarring to realize that James doesn’t have a dick right now, because he feels so much like the James Paul is used to hugging. They smell the same. Paul doesn’t know what the skin of regular-James’s neck tastes like, but he’d be willing to bet it’s just like this James’s skin.

James is breathing heavily when he takes a step back. His mouth is red and there’s the beginning of a mark on his neck. Maybe Paul got a little overenthusiastic. “Bed,” James says, his voice rough.

It’s been a while since Paul’s had sex—it’s been a while since he’s wanted to have sex with anyone but James, and as a result his jerk-off fantasies have mainly been men—but something about the combination of an incredibly hot woman sprawled out on his bed stripping and the knowledge that it’s James is heady beyond belief.

He still has the dumb tattoo of his last name, though, and Paul snickers.

“Don’t laugh at me when I’m naked,” James says. “That’s mean.”

“You’re gorgeous,” Paul says, and he tries to make it sound teasing but it comes out sincere anyway. James preens, which shouldn’t be endearing.

It’s definitely endearing.

“Get your clothes off, loser,” James says.

Paul’s chiding “your seduction technique needs some work” would probably carry more weight if he weren’t reaching for his pants while he said it, but he’s got bigger concerns at the moment, like whether or not there are any condoms in the nightstand. As soon as he’s mostly undressed, James grabs him by the wrist and drags him onto the bed anyway. Then they’re kissing again, and everything kind of blurs for a while, James’s hands on his back, his neck, his ass, running his hands across as much of James’s skin as he can reach. James keens when Paul gets a hand on his breast and pinches the nipple softly.

From there, it’s easy to give in to the pull of getting his mouth on James and slip down his body. He mouths around his breasts, kisses across his stomach—still flat, less muscular than it usually is. James is still strong, though. Paul doesn’t really have a point of comparison because this is the first time he’s had James’s hands in his hair, tugging lightly and gripping. He can see the muscles working out of the corners of his eyes, but ignores them to focus on sucking on the spot where James’s thigh meets his hip.

The skin there is soft, and James whimpers when Paul bites down on it, even if it’s not hard enough to leave a mark. James yanks at his hair. “Get the fuck on with it,” he says, breathless.

Paul presses a few kisses to James’s thighs, listens to his whines and smirks a little, and then does as he’s told, licking gently at his folds. The noise James makes is spectacular, and his hips jerk up against Paul’s mouth as well.

The cognitive dissonance of this, of the experience of definitely having his mouth against a woman but knowing that it’s James, recognizing the distinct tone of his voice and even almost the lines of his body, is a lot. But Paul likes this body that isn’t James’s well enough, and he loves James, and it’s all workable.

Well, workable is an understatement. He’s definitely enjoying the way James is moving against him, thighs clenching around his head, the soft noises he’s making when Paul flicks his tongue across his clit.

When James’s noises turn into whines that might have started as Paul’s name, Paul slips a finger into him, working it slowly. Somehow, he’s not at all surprised by how vocal James is—vocal and demanding.

“Come on,” he says, working his hips to fuck himself harder onto Paul’s finger. “More, more would be good.” Paul does as he’s asked, because no one can say he’s not a nice person, and James comes when Paul’s got two fingers in him and a thumb rubbing at his clit. He bats Paul’s hand away after, but drags him up into a filthy kiss that leaves Paul rubbing against the bed.

It’s honestly difficult to remember how to form words at the moment, so Paul’s exceedingly grateful for James’s demanding ways; they make it much easier to figure out what he ought to do. At this moment, it’s James pulling away from his mouth and gasping “So are you going to fuck me?” into Paul’s ear like he thinks Paul needs the challenge.

He doesn’t, but apparently James doesn’t know that.

Paul’s been trying to ignore it, but he’s so hard that everything is going a little hazy and unfocused. All he’s thinking about is how much he wants to be fucking James, even the weirdness of the whole situation has faded a bit now, with James fumbling in the nightstand for a condom and helping to roll it on for Paul. His hands are so, so warm, and just as dexterous as Paul has imagined.

But he’s whining and grabbing at Paul’s hips as soon as the condom is on and muttering a litany of something that sounds like “fuck me,” which is exactly as obnoxious as Paul would have expected him to be. Still, he guides himself in and swallow James’s breathy moan with a kiss, because—because he fucking wants to, okay?

From there it’s all an overwhelming experience of sex, basically, with James hot and tight around him and their mouths pressed messily together. Paul’s pretty sure he’s making noise into the kiss but he really can’t tell what’s him and what’s James. He somehow works a hand between them, gets his thumb back on James’s clit and grins into the kiss when he convulses.

They don’t come together, but it’s about as close as Paul could have asked for—James comes and that’s what pushes Paul over, burying his face in James’s neck and groaning in a way that’s probably totally unattractive.

“Get off me, you’re heavy,” James says.

Paul grunts and rolls off him. “Have you never heard of afterglow?”

James grins. “Nah.”

They lie there until James’s stomach starts rumbling and he pokes Paul’s shoulder obnoxiously. Paul drags himself out of bed, making dinner in nothing but his boxers and an ancient Gophers shirt. James sits at the counter in a button-down that's showing more than it hides.

The weirdness of reconciling the body with the fact that it's still James really isn't making him look any less hot, especially since he knows exactly what he looks like naked. That all makes it easy for Paul to let himself be dragged back upstairs for another round after dinner; he's honestly forgotten that there was a purpose to the sex beyond, well, good sex.

Round two goes just as well as round one, but with the addition of a slightly sloppy blowjob and then James on top, fucking himself on Paul’s dick. It’s like a really, really weird wet dream.

In the morning, Paul sneaks out of bed. Well, sort of; he wakes up first and decides to let James sleep while he makes breakfast. It’s not like James won’t know where to find him when he finally wakes up.

He’s right—Paul has just put some bacon in a skillet when he hears James say “Good morning.” It’s still unfamiliar that it’s not the same pitch as his usual voice, but somehow it’s so clearly James that Paul can’t help the rush of fondness.

“Good morning,” he says. “There’s coffee—” he starts, but James is already headed toward the coffee maker like dying man toward an oasis. Of course.

“You’re still—” he says, and then cuts himself off. It’s not like James doesn’t know he’s in a woman’s body; sometimes he’s a bit of an idiot but Paul’s not going to insult his intelligence with that one.

“Yeah,” James says, shrugging. “Guess that wasn’t the problem.”

Paul frowns. Not that sex with James-as-a-woman wasn’t nice, but he was kind of hoping to get regular James back as a result. An added benefit, maybe. Not as a knock on woman-James or anything, because she’s stunning, but it’s going to interfere with hockey, and maybe Paul misses the stupid hair. Besides, this James has a subtle air of discomfort about him. His body is wrong and he doesn’t handle it with the same (lack of) grace.

It’s dumb. He loves regular James and he loves this James, and he just wants him to be happy and fixing the … weird body thing is part of that.

“Is there someone you could ask for help?” he asks cautiously, and James shrugs.

“I always handled it myself,” he says. “Besides, who would I ask, Geno?”

Paul snorts.

Exactly.” James looks like he’s trying to smile but it’s not quite working. “I’ll figure it out. Go to practice, I’ll take another maintenance day.”

“People are going to think you’ve died.” It comes out more worried than he intends.

“I’ll fix it,” James snaps, and Paul retreats. Hopefully it’ll be sorted when he gets back.

It isn’t; when he gets home from practice and a quick trip to the grocery story, James is sitting at the counter in the kitchen, and definitely doesn’t have his body back. Paul sets the bags down and starts putting the groceries up, waiting to see if James engages. He still looks pissy, it’s probably best not to push.

“Are you straight?” James says after a long silence, the words so rushed that Paul barely understands him.

“What?”

James swallows visibly—Paul’s eyes follow the movement of his throat—and then he squares his shoulders. “Would you ever have slept with me if I hadn’t—you know?” He gestures to his chest. Paul snorts, because it’s so crass and thus so predictably James.

“Does it matter?” He feels like a dick as soon as he said it, because James deserves an honest answer at this point, they’ve known each other long enough. He’s earned Paul’s trust. But Paul’s already said it.

“I—” James starts, and then it’s like he can’t quite get the rest of the words out. He looks furious, though, more than Paul expected from him. “Yeah, it fucking matters. My fucking brain or my body or whatever turned me into a girl because I thought that was the only way I’d ever get to sleep with you but it clearly wasn’t just a sex thing because, well, obviously.”

“Oh,” Paul says. He needs to say something, he can’t just leave James hanging like this, but it’s hard to articulate everything that’s running through his head, which is probably why he ends up saying “fuck, yes, I would have.”

James’s eyes go wide and he swallows again. Paul walks around to the other side of the counter, cups his chin, and kisses him. It’s short and firm, not nearly as desperate as their kisses last night. James kisses back, chasing him when he pulls away and scrabbling his fingers against Paul’s hip, tangling them in the hem of his shirt.

“Do you think we need to—you know, to fix it?” Paul manages to ask between kisses.

James pulls back enough to meet his eyes. “Does it matter?” There’s a kind of dryness to the question, but he follows it up with “I want to regardless,” and a grin that’s so filthy it makes Paul’s breath catch.

“Right, good point, let’s go,” Paul says, dragging James up by the wrists.

When they wake up from their post-coital nap for dinner, James has his dick back.

“Your hair looks terrible,” Paul says, because “that was anticlimatic” seems too mean. James tries to push him out of bed, which doesn’t work because his leverage is terrible, and Paul kisses him instead. There’s a hint of stubble this time, but he tastes the same and when he moans into the kiss, Paul just pulls him closer.

Eventually, James pulls away, his lips red. “So, this is, uh, a thing, right?” he asks. Paul can’t tell if he’s blushing or flushed from kissing.

“Yeah,” Paul says, and then—well, in for a penny, in for a pound. “I hope so, I’m a little in love with you.”

James doesn’t answer, but he pushes Paul into the mattress and kisses him hard, and that’s more than enough.