Andrew knows he’s not subtle.
(The entire planet knows that Andrew is not subtle.)
He knows he’s hopelessly entangled his own feelings with Prior’s to the point he has no idea who loved who first, whether Prior loved Louis before Andrew loved James, or whether he felt this way about James from the moment they met. Increasingly, the latter seems likely, because James is, well, James, and Andrew has always been inclined to love his co-stars.
He also knows that James knows, and that James knows that he knows that James knows, and that they’re both going to continue operating on the assumption that neither of them knows anything, even though they both know everything.
In this case, “everything” includes the unavoidable truth that James is straight.
He also knows that James is nowhere near as bound up in Louis — and really, thank god for that — as Andrew is bound up in Prior. He’s heard James’s anti-method rant numerous times by this point, and all he’s ever been able to say in response is that he’s never intentionally been method, he’s just very empathic, and he’s usually rewarded by James looking guilty and then beaming at Andrew like Andrew is a glittering seashell James found along the beach, and at any moment he’s about to cup Andrew close and listen to him with intent stillness.
But they’re always getting interrupted before that conversation can ever go any place, and James is happily fucking Denise and also happily fucking his way through half the makeup crew, and he’s not in the same headspace as Andrew, at all. He doesn’t do intense pre-show rituals to get himself into the mentality of Louis. He doesn’t try to over-empathize with Louis offstage — not that he has to, because he embodies Louis so fully onstage that Andrew has genuinely wondered more than a few times if he’s some kind of wizard.
He’s not half-desperate for Andrew at all hours of the day, onstage or off, not the way Andrew is desperate for him. Sometimes during curtain calls, Andrew finds himself slumping against James — nearly always out of exhaustion, but sometimes just out of the sheer need to feel James against him after a long, draining performance.
And James, to his credit, is always there to hold Andrew whenever Andrew needs to be held. He’s always there with the forehead kiss or the brief, supportive embrace backstage whenever he can tell Andrew’s having a bad performance, or a particularly emotional one. And sometimes in the deluge of applause, he squeezes Andrew’s hand and tosses him a grin, and Andrew’s stomach somersaults, because Andrew is a cliche, and Andrew is Prior, and Andrew is only human.
So: Andrew wants James, and James is straight, and Andrew is supposed to be straight, too, and so they go on like that, trading random touches and kisses and moments of intimacy for actual conversations.
And that’s how Andrew assumes things will go until the show is finally over: he assumes, when the time comes, that he will have to give his flayed heart time to recover from this, too, along with every other emotional toll the play has taken on him.
Except then Tony night arrives.
It’s one of the first nights they’ve actually hung out together for any extended period in ages; ordinarily they’re all just too exhausted to do anything but go straight home; the Broadway run has been especially hard on them all, and they’re pretty much walking zombies backstage most nights. During Drama Desk week, Andrew had James more to himself than he’d had in a while, which was lovely, because Andrew is never going to pass up the opportunity to spend time with James when he’s in black tie and flush with the glow of actually being appreciated by the theatre establishment, for once. But James was also busy being in-demand, for once, so Andrew had mostly stayed out of the way and tried his best to give James the spotlight.
It doesn’t really occur to him that the spotlight really is the opposite of what James wants, not at first. Partly this is because James’s default state is self-deprecating, so it’s hard to realize when he’s trotting out false modesty and when he’s really uncomfortable. On Tony night, though, it’s immediately clear to Andrew, from the moment the ceremony is done, that James is abruptly and visibly less tense than he’s been in weeks.
“Thank god that’s over,” he mutters to Andrew as they’re all exiting the stage after winning Best Revival. Andrew loops his arms around James’s waist, and James turns to look at him, a mix of amused relief playing about his features.
“You were amazing,” Andrew says. “From here on out it’s all smooth sailing. Nothing to do but ride it through to the end.”
“And ride it we shall,” James replies, and then he turns to Andrew, looking unusually glowy, and he leans in and drops a swift kiss against Andrew’s lips.
Andrew’s stunned for an instant, but he reacts before he can help it; James clearly meant the kiss to be a brief brush of lips, but Andrew surges up and makes it real, parts his lips and gives James a brief hint of tongue before parting. James’s eyes flash dark, with a spark of something Andrew would call arousal, if he wasn’t completely sure James is straight.
But then they’re being ushered offstage by Tony attendees, and James drops his hand to the small of Andrew’s back and keeps it there, the classic territorial move — and all of Andrew’s awareness fixates on the feeling of James’s fingertips there, of James holding him like Andrew is his date, like Andrew is his.
And Andrew thinks:
The afterparty at the Carlyle runs late into the morning, and Andrew hadn’t realized until now how much James had been carrying the stress of having to get through an event as public and high-profile as the Tonys. Now that it’s over, James is almost giddy, more relaxed, more playful, even flirty in a way he’s not really been with Andrew in ages.
Tonight, it’s like that brief kiss has unlocked something between them, because suddenly everything he does seems like an invitation.
His smiles when he meets Andrew’s gaze are fond and a little loopy. When they’re not mingling with the other guests, Andrew inevitably curls himself against James’s side on one of the ridiculous plush leather couches, and James slides his hand around Andrew’s waist like any boyfriend would and whispers conspiratorial gossip in Andrew’s ear.
He spends the entire night touching Andrew, and shivering when Andrew touches back. Sometimes he rests his hand on Andrew’s thigh and leaves it there like that’s where it belongs. Sometimes he slips his hand around the back of Andrew’s neck and lets his fingers splay there, at the nape of Andrew’s neck, brushing the tangle of curls there. When Andrew starts to get up to fetch drinks at one point, James tugs him back down and into his lap.
“I haven’t told you what I’m having,” he says. Andrew slides his hand up James’s arm until his fingers are brushing the side of James’s neck.
“Maybe I just know what you like,” he says.
“Tell me,” James responds, trailing his fingers over the back of Andrew’s other hand. His eyes drop and linger on Andrew’s mouth as he speaks, and Andrew’s voice drops, too, going low and breathless.
“What you say you want is straight liquor,” Andrew says. “Dark, earthy, dry, a little bitter.” He thumbs the curve of James’s jawline, and James doesn’t even try not to lean into the touch. “But what you actually want is something sweet and creamy — a little frothy, a little fruity.”
“And you’re going to give it to me,” James says, not quite a question.
Andrew does lose his breath, then, for an instant. Their eyes meet, and it feels like a bottomless eternity, whole worlds expanding and collapsing into stars in the time it takes for him to unclasp himself from this shared gaze.
He has no idea what he’ll say before he says it, but he learns in, and whispers, “I want to give you the world, James McArdle,” and slides off James’s lap and flees to the bar before he can register James's reaction.
On his way there he sees Denise, chatting and laughing with some of the Mean Girls cast. He slides an arm around her, and she turns away from the others to give him a kiss.
Then she leans in and whispers, “Looks like you and James are finally getting somewhere. Good for you.”
Andrew pulls back, startled. Denise winks at him.
“I... thought the two of you were a thing,” Andrew says cautiously.
Denise laughs. “God, please, he’s too young for me. Hot, but no, we’re just friends.”
“He’s straight,” Andrew says.
“He’s—” Denise makes a face. “Flexible. I’m his floor buddy, we talk.”
“About me?” Andrew blurts.
Denise smiles a cheshire cat smile.
“Just trust me,” she says, squeezing his arm. “This is good.”
And Andrew, like a kid with a crush who knows better but can’t help himself, gets his hopes up.
He returns to James, carefully cradling a Kir Impérial. James is sitting in the same spot, chatting with a hot blond whose name Andrew has forgotten because it’s after four in the morning. James looks up and reaches for Andrew, reeling him gently back in to perch on his lap even though there’s plenty of room next to him. Andrew braces one hand on the couch behind James’s head and presents James’s drink with the other. He’s insanely gratified by the way James turns in towards him, all conversation with the hot blond forgotten.
“Hey,” says Andrew. Possibly it comes out more like a purr.
“S’that mine?” James asks, reaching for the drink but resting his fingers against Andrew’s wrist instead. Andrew shivers.
“Curated by the very best,” he murmurs. He holds the glass up to James’s lips. “Take a sip.”
James does, fixing his eyes on Andrew’s face the whole time — at least until the sweet underbite of champagne and black currant hits him. He blinks, face lighting up with unadulterated pleasure, and moans a little around the glass.
“Oh, god, that is incredible,” he says.
Andrew beams at him. James takes the glass from Andrew and takes a deeper drink, and his eyes flutter shut.
Andrew curls his other hand around James’s neck because he can’t help himself. When James reopens his eyes, Andrew is tucked against him, their heads bowed conspiratorially close together. James is wearing some kind of earthy cologne with faint hints of spice, and beneath it he smells like soap and fabric softener and sweat, and Andrew wants to bury his head against James’s shoulder and breathe him in — to inhale all those tiny molecules of James in the air around them.
James reaches up and slides his thumb over Andrew’s jawline, and Andrew swallows unthinkingly; his throat has suddenly gone completely dry.
“You’re very good at this,” James murmurs, slowly running his fingers down over Andrew’s chin, exploring the latent stubble that never really materializes unless Andrew’s gone this long without shaving. Andrew doesn’t even try not to lean in.
James’s eyes flash dark again, and this time Andrew is certain he’s turned on.
“If this is part of you giving me the world,” James adds under his breath, “then I want more.”
Andrew draws in one breath and then another. He and James are having entire conversations in the heated gaze passing between them at the moment, and he knows they must be attracting stares, but the moment for caring about that has long since passed.
After what seems like an eternity, he asks softly: “How much more?”
He knows, logically, that James is almost five years younger than he is, but in moments like this one he finds it so hard to process that age gap, because James is looking at him with the kind of innate self-assurance you only get from knowing exactly who you are and what you want, and it takes Andrew’s breath away for a moment. He’s nowhere near to knowing who he is or what he wants — except that he knows he wants this, maybe most of all.
James says, “Throw in the sun, the moon. A few constellations.”
Andrew swallows and nods. He slides off James’s lap, still holding James’s gaze, and when he holds out his hand James drains the rest of his cocktail and lets Andrew pull him to his feet.
Andrew tugs him away from the main party area, towards one of the many side hallways and rooms that have been teeming with people all night. They pass Lee and Nate in the corridor. “Where are you two off to?” Lee asks cordially. “Leaving?”
“We’re trying to find an empty room,” Andrew answers calmly, even though he feels anything but calm, even though he’s aware how that sounds, how they look with their joined hands and dazed expressions, how tawdry this is.
“Last room on the right,” Nate says without batting an eye.
“Ta,” says James, sounding strangled, and Andrew pulls him down the hallway without another word.
They’re kissing as soon as the door shuts. James reaches for Andrew just as Andrew turns and shoves him against the door they just came through, and James pulls him close and whispers his name and devours Andrew’s mouth, his hands coming up to clasp Andrew’s face like Andrew is something precious, like he can’t touch him enough. Andrew gasps and presses against him, fumbling blindly behind James for the door lock until realizing there isn’t one, which just makes all of this seem that much hotter. He grinds against James and realizes with a jolt that James is rock-hard against him.
“I thought you were straight,” he blurts.
“I thought you were in denial,” James counters.
“Not in denial,” Andrew says, burying his nose against the ever-present scruff of James’s neck and breathing him in.
“Not fucking straight,” James responds, and he moves his hand down to grip Andrew’s ass and pull their hips together. Andrew groans and bites down on the tendon of James’s neck, then kisses him there when James hisses. They shudder against each other, Andrew clutching James’s shoulders and trying not to go completely weak-kneed when James’s cock grinds against his through their clothes.
“You’re going to make me come in this suit,” Andrew gasps.
“I’m going to make you come everywhere I can,” James says, and Andrew laughs a little helplessly and surges against him for another deep, desperate kiss as James slips his hand inside Andrew’s trousers.
“Why did it take you so long?” Andrew breathes.
“I didn’t — oh, god,” James says, as Andrew squirms against him and cups James’s ass through his pants. “I didn’t want to fuck things up. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt, it wasn’t until we were away from each other last year that I realized it wasn’t just a trick of the play.”
“You didn’t say anything,” Andrew whispers, kissing James’s jaw. “Why now?”
James huffs out a laugh. “What’s the worst that could happen now? What, are they going to take back your Tony?”
Andrew pulls back, blinking. “You were waiting until awards season ended to seduce me?”
“No!” says James, and then he grins a little wolfishly. “Well. Not intentionally.”
Andrew sighs and retaliates by unzipping James’s pants and massaging James’s erection through his briefs.
“I didn’t have to try very hard, anyhow,” James says, sounding fond and unembarrassed.
“No, you didn’t,”Andrew breathes, laying his head on James’s shoulder and kissing his collarbone. “I was yours from the day we met.”
“I know you were,” James says, sounding a little awed by it. He kisses Andrew’s temple. “Look at you,” he whispers, and he slips his hand down to cup Andrew’s erection, and for the next few moments there’s only the soft sound of sighs and gasps and occasional soft laughter as they stroke each other, fumbling and giddy and clumsy and strung out on the wonder of it.
When Andrew comes, James kisses him, trembling and tender, murmuring his name, and when James comes, Andrew sinks to his knees and tastes him for the first time, the hot bitter sweetness of him. When he looks up, James is slumped against the door, head thrown back, with his eyes closed. Andrew finds himself blinking back tears, and he rests his head against James’s thigh and lets James run his fingers mindlessly through Andrew’s tangled hair until he finally feels like he can speak.
He gets shakily to his feet. James, eyes still closed, wraps his arms tightly around Andrew’s waist and pulls him close, resting his chin against the top of Andrew’s.
“Come home with me,” Andrew whispers.
“I,” says James, opening his eyes.
“Fall asleep with me,” says Andrew. “Wake up next to me. We can spoon and cuddle and be ridiculously romantic in all those ways you pretend to be above but secretly love.”
James hesitates. “I’m, I’m going back to London when this is all over,” he says. “You know that.”
“Guess who has dual citizenship and the ability to board a plane.”
“I just mean—”
“Shh,” says Andrew. “We have time to talk about all of that.”
James looks at him, eyes widening in uncertainty.
He reaches up and touches his fingertips to James’s face. He thinks James can probably, easily, read his feelings on his face right now. James has always been able to read him so easily. He’s like an Andrew-whisperer, really; half the time he winds up inadvertently telling Andrew what he’s feeling before Andrew’s figured it out for himself first. Now, though, James doesn’t look confident, the way he did before; he looks terrified.
It’s been months since Andrew’s seen him look like that, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Before, it had been because of the sheer scale of opening on Broadway, the terrible wall of adulation and emotion that greeted them night after night.
He’s overwhelmed because he cares so much, Andrew thinks. This is how he gets.
Andrew leans in and noses James’s jawline, painfully slowly, before brushing his lips against the corner of James’s mouth.
When he speaks, it’s the tiniest of sounds.
He whispers, “I want more. Of you. Of us.”
James exhales. “My place is closer,” he says. Andrew lets out a half-laugh, half-sob, and drowns them both against James’s mouth.
Maybe the best thing about waking up next to James in the morning is that, okay, Andrew’s slept with a lot of people, he’s woken up in a lot of strange places, he knows that sense of momentary disorientation upon waking all too well; but when he gradually becomes conscious of being tucked into a strange bed, warm under a loose pile of sheets and fleece blankets, with light breathing coming from the body next to him, there’s nothing but a soft pleasant awareness of where he is: lying next to James in James’s bed in James’s apartment, feeling the warmth of James’s body next to him and around him and in him.
He shifts over onto his side and moves his hand over James’s stomach, marveling at how new and yet how familiar is the feeling of another man’s bare chest beneath his fingers. James stirs, and Andrew leans up and presses a kiss against his shoulder, snuggling against him.
James cracks an eye open, sees him, and then opens the other eye and smiles. He runs a hand down Andrew's side before dropping a kiss against his forehead and pulling Andrew fully against him. Andrew murmurs, “Good morning, angel,” and settles his head against James’s chest. James hums something adorably incoherent and pets Andrew's hair soothingly for a few moments until they both fall back asleep.
The next time he wakes, it's to the feeling of James slipping carefully out from beneath him and out of bed. “Shh, no, go back to sleep,” James whispers. “You're exhausted."
“Mmm,” Andrew mumbles, getting an eyeful of James’s body as he fumbles for his clothes. “Perking up fast, though.”
James shoots him a grin. “I'm just going to pop downstairs, there's a fabulous vendor just outside, it’s the greasiest breakfast ever, you'll love it.”
“I'll come with you,” Andrew says, sliding out of bed and curling his arms round James's waist. James turns in his arms, and the grin that steals across his face is breathtaking. He kisses Andrew, and the kiss turns into something deep and lascivious, even though they both still taste a bit like champagne and whisky, and even though James’s sheets are still a hopeless mess from the previous night, and even though Andrew is, in fact, exhausted.
Andrew is rapidly coming to understand that he loves slinging his arms around James’s neck as James is gripping him by the waist, because he lifts Andrew like he's nothing, and it gives Andrew a chance to wrap himself tight around James’s upper body like a shameless koala. “You are completely insatiable,” James murmurs against Andrew's throat as he carries him back to the bed. He deposits Andrew near the edge and then sinks down against him, body aligning with his, erection hardening near Andrew's thigh.
“Is that a problem for you?” Andrew replies, running his fingertips over James's mouth.
“It's a giant fucking problem,” James says, kissing him. “It’s the day after the Tonys, and neither of us have slept, and you have to go do interviews, and I have to spend the day not shagging you senseless.”
“Then you had better get to work leaving me well-fucked,” Andrew grins, “otherwise I’ll never get through all those interviews in one piece,” and James laughs and kisses him into incoherence, before going down on Andrew in a messy, exuberant round of sex that leaves them both strung out and laughing as they lie next to each other.
“How are you feeling?” Andrew asks him, flopping over on his side and pressing kisses across James’s shoulders.
“Bisexual,” James says, tousling Andrew’s hair. “Very bisexual.”
“I thought you might say hungry, but that’s a good response.”
“Well.” James giggles. “Working on some sort of appetite.” He pulls Andrew fully on top of him and runs his hands languorously over Andrew’s spine; his fingertips send delicious shivers through Andrew everywhere he touches. “Cancel your interviews,” he says. “Let’s stay in bed. Til at least Thursday or so.” Andrew laughs. “I’m serious,” James says, grinning. “We can call in sick Wednesday, let the understudies have a day.”
“Both of us at once? On a two-show day? There’d be a riot.”
James snorts. “Nah. No one would even notice me stepping out.”
“Absolutely false,” Andrew says, nipping his way across the gorgeous line of James’s throat. “I can’t believe it took me so long to understand how self-deprecating you are. I actually thought you were a little conceited when we first met.”
“Did you really?” James blinks up at him. “God, I was so nervous the day we met. I probably came off like an arse.”
“Little bit,” Andrew says, smiling. “And then I saw you do ‘Democracy in America,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, god, I’ll absolutely never be able to hold my own against that man on a stage.’”
James snorts. “You know what I thought, within about two minutes of meeting you?” He cups Andrew’s face. “I thought, Andrew Garfield is the living embodiment of Prior Walter, and that’s going to destroy you if you’re not careful.”
“And yet here you are, safe and sound,” Andrew says.
“Not so sure about that,” James says, his eyes lit with affection, and he leans up to kiss Andrew, long and deep. Andrew loves the way James sighs and shifts, the way he can’t stop touching Andrew, can’t stop tightening his arms around Andrew’s back to pull him closer.
“I really,” Andrew murmurs. “This is really nice, you do morning-afters really, really well.” He brushes his nose against James and grins when the move makes James’s cheeks turn pink.
James kisses the tip of Andrew’s nose. “Just so you know, I’m probably going to have a proper freakout about all this at some point,” he says. He tilts Andrew’s chin up and presses another series of kisses against Andrew’s jawline.
“I think I’ve already had mine,” Andrew breathes, arching into James’s touch. “Hard not to, making out with you every day.”
“You have no idea,” James says, and his voice is so earnest it takes Andrew’s breath away. “You don’t know how hard it’s been to just... try and ignore this until I couldn’t anymore.”
“I didn’t know. I thought you were just indulging me whenever I’d kiss you or hold you backstage, and you’d just... let me.”
“I thought you were just doing your, your metrosexual bromantic thing you do.”
Andrew shivers, a little from nerves; this conversation is making his stomach clench. He pulls back and forces himself to meet James’s eyes without looking away, because it seems important to say this. “I don’t think that was ever a lie,” he admits. “I... I think it was my way of, of being close to other men I was attracted to without having to confront how I felt.”
James leans up and kisses Andrew’s forehead. “Andrew,” he says softly. “You don’t have to explain anything to me if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’ve, I’ve thought a lot about this, I’ve had to, I couldn’t not when I was having a crisis over, over dying of AIDS every night and over how much I sincerely wanted to suck your cock,” Andrew says, ending on a shrill laugh. “It was a lot to, to take in all at once.”
“Well, it’s a physical play, you have to physically embody Prior,” James says. “And you’re very abstract, which is, it’s wonderful, I love that about you. But you had to suddenly put yourself back in your body, in his body, right around the time you were making out with me and Ryan Reynolds” — Andrew doesn’t miss the touch of ruefulness in James’s voice, and he realizes with a tiny thrill that this is James being jealous — “and it’s no wonder you suddenly had to confront things, feelings, you’d been able to miss before.”
“Yes,” Andrew says. “I — thank you.” He leans his head on James’s chest and wraps his arms around him. “Thank you for understanding me.”
James cards his fingers soothingly through Andrew’s hair. Andrew presses a kiss against his stomach. “The feeling’s mutual,” he says after a moment. “This all scares me. The way you make me feel scares me. I’m probably going to be rubbish at articulating that, but...” he sighs. “It’s just, lovely and terrifying.”
Andrew breathes in and out. “What scares you most?” he asks after a moment. He looks up. James looks down at him and smiles, then wrinkles his nose.
“You leaving me for Ryan Reynolds,” he says. Andrew snorts and kisses James’s chest again, nosing his way up to flick his tongue over James’s nipple. James gasps and shivers delightfully.
“Not going to happen,” Andrew says, and for the next few minutes there’s just the lazy thrill of making James shudder and moan in pleasure, then going down on him and wrapping his mouth around that luscious cock, and god, Andrew is completely fucked when it comes to this man.
Afterwards, they crowd into James’s shower and make out unhurriedly under the water, James pressing Andrew against the tile and murmuring endearments against his skin, until everything is a soft glowy haze of arousal and he comes again with James’s arms wrapped around him, lips pressed against his temple.
James bundles Andrew up in a giant fluffy bathrobe and pulls on a pair of boxers, and they cuddle on the couch while they try to convince themselves to check back in with the rest of the world. Andrew nestles his head in James’s lap and thinks that he adores James, and he knows that James adores him, and that the reason why this all feels so inexpressibly huge and homey and safe is that they’ve both just... been so dear to each other for so, so long.
“Really, though,” he says. “What is the part that scares you?”
James stops trailing his fingers aimlessly over Andrew’s arm. “The scope of it,” he says after a moment. “I’m going back to the UK in a month. And... and you’ll go back to being a huge celebrity.”
“But I’ll still see you,” Andrew says. “I’ll see you all the time, I’ll be in London.”
“But you’ll still be you,” James says, “and I’ll still be the random bloody Scotsman having to prove myself every time I’m onstage.”
“What?” Andrew sits up and stares at him. “Do you even hear yourself right now?”
“It’s true,” James says. “God, I’ve thought about this, and, and I — I don’t know if I’m ready to be the no-name actor who lucked his way into some kind of high-profile relationship with an Oscar nominee. I — our careers aren’t in the same place at all—”
“We’ve just spent two years being co-stars,” Andrew says. “We are totally equal on that stage.”
“Right, but I’m the only cast member who was a complete unknown, at least here, in New York,” James insists. “I think people are still confused about whether I’m an incomprehensible bearded Scotsman or a Woody Allen clone. When Mary Queen of Scots comes out, it’s going to put me back in the ‘incomprehensible Scotsman’ column, and I’m worried I’m going to be typecast, and I don’t — I mean, you know I don’t care about having a film career, that’s not what I’m in it for. But I also know, just from experience, how hard it is not to be at the same point in my career as my partner. And I know you do, too.”
Andrew takes a deep breath and swallows around the lump in his throat. “I do. That’s... it’s a big part of why Emma and I broke up. Her star was rising and she was huge, and I didn’t handle Spider-Man well, and she didn’t handle me not handling it well, and it just... things got awkward. But that was years ago, and I learned from that, and I’m not — I’m not looking for the same things in my career that I was then.” He leans into James, and James tightens his arms around him. “I don’t have those expectations anymore. All I want is to, to do the Great Work and be with the people I love.”
James kind of melts around him — Andrew can feel him untensing. “I know, I know that about you so well,” he says, and he kisses Andrew’s temple. “It’s... it’s just you, and it’s wonderful.”
Andrew beams and snuggles against him. “And honestly,” he adds. “You’re the next Mark Rylance. Anyone who tries to say we’re not at the same level only has to see you act once before they get it.”
James laughs, a blank, startled, affectionate laugh. “Oh, god, stop,” he says.
“I’m serious,” Andrew says. “God, how can you not understand how good you are?”
James snorts. “I lost the Olivier to Bertie Carvel. Getting beaten out by Miss Trunchbull isn’t exactly a sign that you’re making an impact onstage.”
Andrew laces their hands together. “Firstly, you were nominated in the wrong category, and you know awards are driven by political bullshit and a desire for ratings rather than logic and actual critical appraisal. You’ve told me so yourself countless times.”
“Yes, but I’m a hypocritical sod,” James says, laughing. Andrew lifts his hand and kisses it.
“Do you want this?” he says, turning in James’s arms to look at him. “I mean, do you want to, to try a real relationship and see where it goes?”
James swallows. “I couldn’t stay in New York even if I wanted to, I don’t have anything lined up here. And I need to get out of this city.”
“I know,” Andrew says, leaning his head against James’s shoulder. “I’m going to Central America for a little bit afterwards. There’s an ayahuasca retreat there I wanna try.”
“I’m sorry, a what?”
“It’s a psychotropic meditation ritual that’s supposed to unlock your inner self. It’s apparently intense but very spiritual.”
James laughs and kisses Andrew’s forehead. “Yeah, I’m not doing that. The last thing I ever want to do is unlock my inner self.”
“That makes sense,” Andrew says lightly. “You can barely handle how beautiful you are as it is.”
James snorts and makes a face. Andrew kisses him on the cheek, and the look James sends him then gives Andrew a sudden sharp pang of affection and grief; he already feels safer, more cosy, more real with James than he’s felt with anyone in years. He doesn’t think waiting so long was a bad thing, not really — the play wouldn’t have allowed them to have this — but he still mourns all the time they’ve lost.
“We could wait,” he says. “If that would make this easier.”
James tenses up again. “Wait for what?”
“For you,” Andrew says, nuzzling his shoulder. “For you to be satisfied with where your career is at. And not distracted by the imbalance, or, or worried this is a fluke.”
“We’ve waited for so long, though,” James says, sighing. “And — and Alexandra and me. I did that once, waiting, and our careers were never matched up, and I wound up having to let her go. I don’t know if I could go through that again.”
“You were struggling then, though,” Andrew says gently. “You had more to lose by making sacrifices. And I’ll—I will never ask you to make sacrifices for me. Of the two of us, it should be me who does the sacrificing, at least until you become a huge mega-celebrity and I have to schedule appointments through your agent to see you.”
“But that’s not fair to you,” James tells him, tightening his arms around Andrew. “I want to make compromises with you, I want to wrestle and grow and—” he sighs. “Maybe we’re doing this backwards. We started out being in a relationship before we had a chance to be casual and see where things developed, and now this feels like it’s all-or-nothing. The idea of trying to start slow feels like it would be a break-up instead of a beginning.”
Andrew laughs. “That’s so fucked-up. What if this play has ruined us for relationships that aren’t perpetually on the cusp of disintegration?”
James giggles and kisses him, and for a moment there’s just that, James’s arms around him and Andrew bundled in his giant fluffy bathrobe, shifting closer and burrowing against him as they make out.
“I think,” Andrew says after a bit, “we need to do the long-distance thing for a while. See each other when we can. When it’s time for more, I think we’ll know.”
James sighs. “Open relationship?” He doesn’t look especially happy at the prospect.
Andrew brushes his nose against James’s. “If you want. I don’t mind trying to—” James shakes his head.
“No, no, I couldn’t ask that of you.”
“But we still have the next month,” Andrew says, brushing a kiss against his lips. “For the next month, you can ask everything you want of me.”
“Oh, god,” James breathes. “You’re going to undo me.”
Andrew shifts and slides into James’s lap, straddling him and touching their foreheads together. James holds him tight.
“I’m already undone by this,” Andrew tells him, “the least I can do is return the favor,” and he thinks he could sustain this relationship for years just from the look in James’s eyes.
The final month of Angels in America ’s Broadway run flies by in a rush of sex and joy and exhaustion. There are days when they’re too tired to do anything but fall into bed holding each other, and days when they lose hours upon hours just touching, exploring one another, being inside one another. There are days Andrew can’t wait for all this to be fucking over with so the two of them can get on with their lives together without the shadow of Prior and Louis hanging over them; and there are days when he cries because he doesn’t ever want it to end.
But on all those days, James holds him, and laughs with him, and teases him, and touches him, and whispers his affection against Andrew’s skin. And Andrew feels lighter and realer and truer for all of it; as if the play has finally helped him shed his outer skin, as if the Andrew Garfield who loves James McArdle is the truest version of himself he can be, the version waiting to emerge from and merge with Prior Walter all along.
Two days after the show ends, he drives James to the airport. They hold hands and talk about dumb stuff for the most part, and when the car pulls up to the terminal, Andrew says, “I’m going to miss you endlessly,” and kisses him with a smile he doesn’t really feel.
“I’ll be a phone call away,” James answers, and he thumbs away the tears forming in Andrew’s eyes and says, “Now stop being ridiculous, you’ll see me again in a few bloody weeks.”
“Your hair is ridiculous,” Andrew sniffles, “and so is that shirt, when I see you again I’m going to buy you so many shirts that aren’t fucking blue —” and they kiss until some sort of airport person raps on the door to tell them to get on with it.
The weeks, mercifully, fly by. Andrew’s ayahuasca lodge sends him into a profound state of psychic shock — that’s how his guru describes it — and he writes James long, dazed emails about his realization, deep on the third night of the meditative ritual, that his entire being is built around a deep-seated search for approval and validation from other human beings instead of a core acceptance of his innate self-worth.
James replies, I could have told you all of that from the moment you chose to work with Mel Gibson, you beautiful brat, and Andrew is so happy to get such an utterly James-ish response back that he cries over it a little.
I was on the train today, James emails him not long after, and this woman kept staring at me, and it was getting sort of awkward, but then her stop came and as she was leaving she just sort of came up to me and looked a bit teary and said, “The Great Work Begins,” and then just got off the train. I don’t know what to do with that. I didn’t know how to respond and by the time I could think what to say she’d already gone.
You didn’t have to respond, Andrew answers. She didn’t want you to.
How do I just not respond?
Andrew thinks about that. The play goes before us, he finally sends back. It’s already responded for you. That’s why she didn’t wait around for you to answer.
Andrew is used to the kind of fans who always want responses. He heads to Fire Island after visiting Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the fans there snap video of him on the beach with friends, and stop him for autographs as he’s trying to take a walk along the meat rack in honor of Prior and good old Judy. He still feels exhausted, still feels the weight of the world Prior carries with him, down to his bones. I miss being able to collapse against you at the end of the longest days, he texts James.
You can, sweetheart, James replies. I’m right here.
He flies back to London and turns 35 with his family around him and his hand tucked in James’s. A month apart has somehow only made him appreciate James’s smiles more, the creases of his gorgeous face, his easy flush and stammering politeness around Andrew’s mom and dad, the steady warmth of him at Andrew’s back when they’re together, and even his endless array of blue workman shirts.
“You’ve completely failed at updating your wardrobe,” Andrew whines when they’re finally alone together, and he’s finally, finally, tucked up against James’s chest, breathing him in. “It’s like you want me to take you shopping and buy you a ridiculous number of clothes like we’re in the middle of a teen makeover.”
“I would almost say yes to that,” James grins, “just to see you pitching a proper gay tantrum over everything I pick out.”
“Oh, god, it would be apocalyptic,” Andrew says. “Just the fight over the shirt collars, alone.”
“What? What’s wrong with my shirt collars?”
“They’re always open,” Andrew wails. “Why do you always walk around with these goddamn open collars, it’s maddening, I have to, it just makes me want to,” and he shows James exactly what he’s talking about.
Gradually, Andrew relaxes, settles into being whoever he is now, into whatever the play has changed him into. He is still Andrew, but he is queer, and in love, and he will always be a prophet of the millennium; he’s a little freer, and inevitably sadder, and inevitably unsure what to do after this except wait for a blue streak of recognition to hit him, to show him what his next move should be.
In the meantime, James is working; he’s making appearances at London shindigs, working red carpets, keeping himself in the picture even though his next project hasn’t even been announced yet.
You’re not allowed to leave me for Jack Lowden, Andrew informs him, I don’t care how many times you work together, I’ve made out with you far more in a professional capacity than he has and therefore I have dibs.
I’m only leaving you for someone else with birds-nest hair and a tendency to quote Kant, James replies. You’ve raised the bar too high and now Jack hasn’t a chance.
Poor guy, Andrew texts back. As Kant would say, ours is an age of criticism.
omfg you are an absolute fucker, James replies, and Andrew can hear his laughter.
The months roll by. They get very good at phone sex, and at translating time zones across drastic differentials. James constantly sends Ren elaborate pet care packages, and always includes dashed-off notes to Andrew: I thought Ren might enjoy a fake fur hoodie! I thought about throwing in this lovely bespoke collar I saw at the pet store, but then I thought you might wear it better so I’m saving it. ;) Andrew, in turn, retaliates by sending James reading lists on socialism and the history of the labor movement, and a t-shirt with the words “Top Marx” emblazoned over Karl Marx’s face. James wears it to his next red carpet.
He’s not sure what his next move is, so he brings a shitload of scripts with him to London and spends a week or so curled up on James’s bed as they read and mock them all together. It’s a few weeks after Labor Day, and it’s raining in London, one of those beautiful early autumn days that’s poised somewhere in-between the limpid heat of Autumn and the brittle chill of October — when everything is cool and sweet and unhurried. James is stretched out beneath him, one hand behind his head, the other on Andrew’s back, and Andrew can’t stop dotting kisses across James’s chest and shoulders, anywhere he can reach.
“I’m failing at the whole open relationship thing,” he says. “My head is too full of you, and this.” He tilts his head and looks up at James. “Is that okay?”
James takes Andrew’s hand and kisses the underside of his wrist.
“I’m here, with you,” he says. “You’re the only thing that I want. I feel like you’re the only thing my body even remembers how to want. And I don’t ever want that to end.”
Andrew drops a kiss against James’s navel. “Me, too,” he whispers, and it feels like an unburdened shared secret, untidy and raw and a little painful, but true.
He’s only supposed to be in London for a week or so, but he finds excuses to linger. He drags James to Fashion Week and inundates him with advice on suits and tailoring, and James eyerolls at most of it, but Andrew can see him taking careful mental notes. James is teaching kids once a week at an after-school acting camp, because he went there when he was a kid and wants to give back, which is the purest thing Andrew has ever heard of — so of course he has to go and watch James try to adorably explain the difference between acting for stage and screen to a bunch of kids who are completely distracted and paying zero attention because Spider-Man is in the room with them.
He does some promotional campaigns for #HeForShe and #TimesUp with Emma Watson while he’s in London, and then James gets asked to do a charity benefit performance for former Grenfell Tower residents at the Ambassadors, and Andrew tags along, and they wind up getting Tony’s permission to do the opening Prior/Louis scene from Millennium.
It’s just one scene, and slipping back into Prior and Louis is easy for them, even after all the months away; but it unmoors Andrew, to return to Prior, and to that moment in Prior’s life. It reminds him of Prior’s experience of being hit with illness again as he leaves heaven — the deluge of pain and anxiety, the sheer weight of Prior’s physical and metaphysical burdens, all seem to enter him at once, and it’s hard for him to shake. It’s hard to accept how physical the play’s toll on him has been, and how much lighter he feels now that he’s no longer in it.
They do the scene for a packed house on another rainy night in September, and as they take their bow, James cups Andrew’s cheek and kisses him. It’s soft, brief but tender, and the audience loses their minds over it, which Andrew thinks is a bit much from a London crowd; but he slumps against James, as he’s done so many times over the last two — god, nearly three years, and closes his eyes in something like relief when James’s arms immediately enfold him.
They’re both subdued for the rest of the night, despite the obligatory all-night after-party, and despite James wearing a blue tuxedo just to spite Andrew, which is so hilarious and adorable that Andrew doesn’t even threaten to spill champagne on it. Besides, James wears blue because he knows he looks incredible, and his baby blue eyes are glued to Andrew’s most of the evening, and Andrew’s sure, now, every time their eyes meet, that he’s sure of James.
He’s never felt as sure of anything.
The party’s at the Stafford, and it’s inevitably a little too cramped, and several hours in they wind up on a random balcony overlooking the courtyard, the glow of the city peeking over the rooftops. Andrew shamelessly corners James between the balcony and the wall and wraps his arms around him, resting his head against his chest. James holds him, and for several minutes, they stand together without speaking. It’s some subtle shift in James, his breathing, perhaps, that draws Andrew’s attention. He lifts his head and sees tears shining in James’s eyes.
He pulls back, astonished. James meets his questioning gaze and smiles, shaking his head. “No, I’m fine,” he says. “It’s just the play. I was just...” he sighs. “Thinking about Prior and Louis.”
Andrew blinks, shocked, and instantly has to swallow back tears himself. “You don’t cry that often,” he says.
James pulls Andrew back into his arms. “I had to cry on stage constantly,” he said. “I just... I left it all there, night after night. And I think, sometimes now I just, I can’t leave it onstage anymore, but I still need to process it. So after tonight, I just... it’s hard not to carry Louis around with me, you know? Mourning him a little, and mourning Prior a lot, but. Wondering if Louis is... okay.”
Andrew laughs and leans up and kisses him. “He is currently somewhere ranting about Trump to anyone who will listen like the old curmudgeonly queen that he is,” he says, and he’s not going to cry, he absolutely isn’t. “He’s probably ranting right now to the man he eventually fell in love with after Prior.” Oh, fuck, he’s totally going to cry. “And I hope, whoever he is, he understands what a fucking gift Prior gave him when he kicked Louis into manhood as he was on his way out.”
James looks stricken — like Louis, actually — and bends his forehead against Andrew’s.
Andrew closes his eyes. “I can’t find a way to spare you, baby,” he says. “We didn’t agree to devote years of our lives to this play thinking we would walk away unscathed.”
“We are, though,” James says, tightening his embrace. “We are, we are healthy, and alive, and—”
“And people come up to us on the street and cry because of what we have bequeathed unto them,” Andrew says. He lifts his head and looks James squarely in the face, tears and all. “We are all carrying that pain forward together. But it’s not just loss. It’s joy, too. That’s part of what you and I are carrying forward, right here and right now.”
James swipes at his eyes and laughs, though it’s a little watery. “I bring you joy?” He kisses Andrew’s forehead. “Is that what I’m hearing from you right now?”
Andrew smirks and nestles against him. “Your acting brings me joy,” he says, kissing James’s collarbone and reflecting mistily that he’s never going to tease James about his open shirts again. “I’m still on the fence about you.”
James gets a call two days later from Jonathan Kent, his director for Ibsen next season, and Andrew runs around picking stuff off the floor of James’s flat so that James can pace around the living room more effectively. James is ambivalent about working with David Hare, but he loves working with Kent, and he always gets nervous and excitable when he calls, as if he thinks circumstances could change and he might be fired from the gig at any moment — which is, honestly, so adorable and baffling to Andrew, because how can James not understand how, how not fireable he is?
Kent seems to be talking to James about the Ibsen cycle James is doing next summer — it’s nearly a year from now, so it’s odd for him to be calling about it now. As Andrew watches, a strange dazed look come over James’s face, and he abruptly stops pacing and stands frozen in the middle of his flat.
Andrew goes to him and laces his arms around him. James turns on speaker mode.
“Look, the National really wants to do a limited six-week transfer of Platonov starting in January,” Kent is saying.
Andrew draws in a sharp, audible breath. James swats his arm. Andrew tightens his hold on him.
“Ever since Angels there’s been a resurgence in the idea of transferring Platonov because there’s so much interest in getting you back to New York.”
“What,” says James blankly.
“Haven’t you been getting slammed with offers to return to New York?” Kent asks. “Your agent said she’s been turning offers away in droves.”
“Well, she exaggerates,” James says. “And the timing hasn’t been right, with the Ibsen, everything I’ve been offered has cut into—”
“Exactly, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The National figure we could get by on limited rehearsal time, since this would be a walk in the park for you and the other cast members, if they agree to come back for it. Roth’s interested in financing, and we already know he loves you. And it won’t cut into the rehearsal schedule for Peter Gynt. It is a bit of a short turnaround, granted, we’ll only have about two weeks in-between productions, but what do you say?”
“They’re only transferring Platonov?” James asks blankly. “Not the other plays?”
“We can’t do the whole Chekhov cycle, it’s too much and they just did The Seagull off-Broadway anyway. Platonov is four hours long as it is, but there’s demand to have you back, and it’s your vehicle.”
James gapes. “But they just did this play there two years ago. The Present? That was just 2017!”
“Yes, but who were those people, a bunch of Ozzies? The title was different! Nobody will even notice.”
“People will be coming to see you,” says Kent. “And my stunning direction, of course.”
“I,” says James. He looks at Andrew. Andrew mouths, I told you so.
James makes a face at him. “So what do you think?” Kent asks.
Say yes, Andrew mouths.
James looks back at him and suddenly a huge smile breaks across his face, pure and perfect. “We’d start rehearsals when?” he asks Kent. “December?”
“You got it.”
“Then that’s fine,” says James. “We might have to work around the press junket for my movie, I’ll be in L.A. part of the month, but sure. Let’s do it.”
“Great!” says Kent. “I’m genuinely excited about this, I can’t wait for you to get back on that stage again.”
“Right,” says James, still smiling at Andrew. “Send me the schedule and we’ll talk soon.”
He rings off and Andrew kisses him hotly, desperately, already dragging him towards the bedroom. “You are magnificent,” he tells James, fumbling with the infuriatingly small buttons on his shirt. “I want to devour you, I can’t even wrap my head around how lucky I am to be the one who gets to have you when everyone else wants a piece of you.”
“You’re the only one,” James breathes, running his hand down to cup Andrew’s ass and pull their hips together, “who could possibly think anyone is looking at me when they’re in a room with you. Jesus.” He bites down on Andrew’s collarbone and kisses him there when Andrew gasps.
“You’re coming back to New York,” Andrew says, pushing him on the bed and straddling him, tugging his shirt over his head. James runs his hands over Andrew’s bare chest and kisses him there, closing his eyes when Andrew threads his fingers through his hair.
“I’m coming back to New York,” James says. “To you.”
“I love you,” Andrew says. “I’m so in love with you, I’m so—” James inhales, sharp and surprised, which is silly of him, so silly of him, and Andrew kisses him and pushes him back against the pillows, making short work of the rest of their clothes in the middle of the frantic scramble to get closer. James shudders and arches against him as Andrew shoves their clothes off the bed to wherever and takes James’ cock in his hand. He has no idea if all of this, this heat that sizzles through him whenever he has James like this, was buried somewhere dormant within him, or if he just morphed into this new body like some sort of chrysalis transforming into a gay butterfly. He presses his mouth to James’s stomach and licks his way down to his thatch, nosing him there and grinning when James clenches a fist in Andrew’s hair.
“You absolute slag,” James says, sounding incredibly smug about it. Andrew traces the velvet head of James’s cock with his finger, collecting the precome gathering there and letting James watch as he spreads it over his lower lip.
“I am,” he breathes. “You’ve made me a complete slut,” and he wraps his mouth around James’s cock to prove it. James always shudders and tenses and tries his best not to arch up into Andrew’s mouth, and Andrew always gets him to unravel anyway, and it’s fucking incredible every time it happens, like there are secret buttons on his skin that only Andrew knows how to push, and this time he feels like he wants to do everything at once, all of it, so he goes straight for the weaknesses: he strokes his fingertips gently over James’s perineum and laughs around James’s head when James cries out and surges up despite himself. When he looks up, James’s pupils are blown; he’s incredible, flushed and panting and dazed, like he can’t get over having Andrew go down on him, having Andrew here, and Andrew has to press a hand against his own erection just from the thought of James wanting him; it’s like some grand feedback loop of arousal.
James comes in Andrew’s mouth with a sigh, trembling and clenching one fist in the bedsheets and the other in Andrew’s hair. “Andrew,” James says into the aftershocks, hoarse and sounding utterly wrecked. “Come here.” He pulls Andrew up against him and cups his face. “I love you so much,” he says, comeswept and gorgeous, and Andrew has to close his eyes against the euphoria of it, the rush of emotion, the feeling of complete and utter rightness.
He leans down and kisses James into silence, touching him everywhere, trying not to think about having to leave him in a few days, about the too-long stretch when they won’t have each other.
“This is becoming a religious ritual for me,” he whispers, pressing a kiss to James’s forehead as he reaches for the lube they keep in the nightstand these days. “Having you inside of me, being inside you, it’s better than any other kind of communion I’ve ever had.” James chuckles and stretches out beneath him.
“Well, take me to church, then,” he says, completely unfazed by Andrew and his ridiculous abstractions. Andrew grins at him and slips a pillow beneath him, lifting his hips. James obligingly spreads his thighs, pulling Andrew down between them and curling one leg around Andrew’s shoulder. Andrew kisses his thigh and slides a long finger inside of him, and soon James’s laughter is a steady stream of moans and soft grunts. Andrew lets himself frot against him, nudging his cock against James’s balls and between the curves of his cheeks. James makes delightful strangled noises and reaches, flailing, for his hand. Andrew takes it and laces their fingers together.
“When we were doing the play,” James says, shivering as Andrew works another finger inside of him. “The thing I loved most about curtain calls was that you’d always reach for me without looking. You’d just hold out your hand knowing mine would be there, and we’d find each other by instinct.” He fixes his gaze on Andrew and lifts Andrew’s fingertips to his lips. “I love, I don’t, I’m never going to have that with anyone else.” He kisses Andrew’s fingers, his knuckles, the underside of his wrist. “You know I’m terrible at talking about this but I wanted you to understand that.”
“You’re not terrible at it,” Andrew says. “You make me feel... enveloped in warmth, in safety.” He grips James’s hips. “You always have. That’s why I always knew we’d find each other.”
He pushes inside of James in a slow, steady stroke, and James exhales softly, eyes fluttering shut. They’ve done this plenty of times by now, but still every time feels fraught and delicate and uncertain, desire and wanting and need stretched taut and trembling between them like something that could break any moment if they’re not slow and precise — careful, careful. Andrew breathes in, breathes out, waits until he feels James relax around him.
“You are so fucking, fuck,” James breathes, shuddering.
“Is this okay?” Andrew asks. James moans and nods in response, tightening his hold on Andrew’s hand. Andrew begins to thrust into him, gently, trying to hold back at first but quickly losing himself in the irresistible heat of James’s body, the feeling of James rising up to meet him, the total and complete trust of this, the way they lock into sync so easily. He presses another kiss against James’s thigh and pulls James’s other leg up over his shoulder so that James can relax even more, so that Andrew is sheathed even more tightly inside of him. He shifts slightly and feels the moment he hits James’s prostate and James clenches all around him. James hisses and Andrew gasps and then does it again, speeding up without his conscious control. “James,” he pants, and then adds helplessly, “please,” even though he doesn’t know what he’s asking for — maybe just this, just this, for as long as they can have it.
“Yes,” James answers, head falling back against the pillows. “Yes, anything,” he whispers, and he sounds like he hears all the wordless things Andrew is pleading for. He’s getting hard again, and Andrew reluctantly lets go of his hand at last so he can stroke him to fullness, and it’s just this, his hand on James’s cock and his other hand holding James’s hip while he’s buried inside of him, the cry that breaks forth from James’s beautiful lips when Andrew wraps his hand around him, that pushes him over the edge. He comes with a helpless burble of noise, waves of pleasure breaking over him as James trembles around him.
“Fuck,” he breathes, giddy and overwhelmed, and James pulls him down against him and kisses him sloppily, smiling against his lips when Andrew says again, “I fucking love this, I love you, you’re perfect.”
“This is perfect,” James echoes, pressing a kiss behind Andrew’s ear, “you and me, we’re fucking marvelous.” He shifts their positions so Andrew is stretched out beneath him. He grips Andrew’s hands and presses kisses all along Andrew’s neck and shoulders, soothing him through the aftershocks and murmuring incoherent affection into his skin.
“Fuck me,” Andrew says when he can formulate coherent thoughts again. “Come inside me.”
James moans and flicks his tongue against Andrew’s nipple and laves it until Andrew is quivering, and only then does he flip Andrew onto his stomach and dapple kisses across Andrew’s back. He reaches for the bottle of lube, still lying on the bed next to them, and slicks up Andrew while Andrew is still fuzzy from the haze of afterglow, and he’s limber and relaxed, easy in James’s hands.
“You’re the most beautiful fucking thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” James says thickly, and he says ridiculous things like that so often, but this time Andrew is too shagged-out to do anything but laugh.
“Well you’ve got the best ass on two continents,” he retorts. “I think we’re even.”
“Right now, I do, yeah,” James says, and he pinches Andrew’s bum for emphasis.
“Honey, you can have that any time you want,” Andrew hums into the pillow.
James drops a kiss on his shoulder and replies softly, “I know I can, and I’m never getting over it.”
Andrew closes his eyes and smiles when James noses a kiss against his cheek. “I really,” he sighs, “I really, really love you.”
“You,” James says softly, “are very, very good at loving people.” He presses another kiss, lingering, against Andrew’s temple. “I want to be so good to you,” he whispers, “you have no idea.”
“Show me,” Andrew replies, breathless, and then James is sliding inside of him, easy and slow, and Andrew doesn’t even try not to groan from the euphoria of it. He’s fucked out and exhausted and his legs are a little wobbly, so James pulls him up, one hand tucked around his waist and another gripping his hips, and just takes Andrew like a pliant rag doll, fucking him the way he wants, and it’s so fucking hot that Andrew has to bite the pillow to muffle the noises James drags from him.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, James, I need, oh, god,” he babbles.
“You need?” James asks, wry and teasing and affectionate. “You want me to stop?”
“I need this for hours,” Andrew gasps.
“Oh, god,” James says, choked off, and his rhythm grows more erratic.
“Don’t stop,” Andrew whispers, “Don’t ever stop, please, just—”
“Andrew,” James says, and comes deep inside of him with a guttural moan that sends sparks through Andrew all over again.
Afterwards, strung out and satiated, James cradles him, their fingers tangled together, kissing him gently — soft, unhurried kisses that last for days and lifetimes. Eventually James shifts and moves, probably to clean them up, but Andrew pulls him back down to the bed and kisses him some more. James smiles and trails his fingers over Andrew’s cheek and indulges him, and eventually winds up tucked around Andrew, spooning him with one leg slung over his thigh, breathing warm endearments against his throat.
“We should probably move some time today, love,” he says at last. Andrew grunts and shakes his head. “You’ll thank me later when neither one of us has to sleep on the wet spot,” James says, nuzzling Andrew’s chin.
Andrew groans and pulls James’s arm around him more tightly.
“And at some point I have to start making arrangements,” James says. He kisses the nape of Andrew’s neck, his hair, his temple. “Have to get my visa in order, call the New York real estate agent, god, what a bloody hassle.”
“None of that is a compelling reason to,” Andrew starts, and then he hesitates. “You could live with me,” he says. “While you’re back.”
James goes still next to him, and a cold chill steals over Andrew out of nowhere. He shivers and turns in James’s arms to find James looking wide-eyed and unsure.
“I thought that’s why we just had all this incredible celebratory sex,” Andrew says blankly. “You moving back, us being officially together.”
James swallows and doesn’t respond right away.
“You just, you just kissed me onstage the other day, in front of everyone,” Andrew continues, shoving down the urge to panic and reminding himself that no matter what, he’s still sure of this, of them, and that hasn’t changed. “I thought that meant you were, were getting closer—”
“I am,” James blurts. “It’s not that I don’t want — I just, I don’t want to screw this up, I want to make sure I don’t, that I don’t embarrass you or do anything premature—”
“Stop,” Andrew says, clarity sinking in, because of course this is still about James wanting to protect him, because James is completely incapable of seeing himself the way the rest of the world sees him. “Did you not hear Jonathan Kent tell you earlier that Jordan Roth — Jordan Roth — wants to bring an entire production overseas just to get you back onstage again? What part of that do you think would embarrass me?”
“It’s just,” James says, “You’re you —”
“And I love you,” Andrew says.
“And I love you,” James says. “I love you too much to rush this. And I know, I know it’s a lot to ask for—”
“It is,” Andrew snaps. “People are going to talk, we kissed onstage, we were at that party, it’s not like we haven’t been seen together.”
“And that’s fine, let them talk,” James says. “They talk about everyone you’re seen with. But this... this means you coming out, and you maybe permanently altering your career when you do, and — and I, I think... I just need to be sure that I’m enough for you.”
“You are,” Andrew says. “If you’re not sure now, after these last few weeks, you won’t be sure no matter how far you ascend some invisible career ladder.”
James winces. Andrew kisses him impulsively, and James kisses him back, a little heated, urgent.
“This isn’t about me advancing my career, I don’t care about that, you know I don’t,” he says, and Andrew huffs and kisses his forehead, because it’s true, James is one of the least ambitious actors he’s ever seen.
“I just...” James sighs and lies back against the pillow, looking up at the ceiling. “I’m only 29,” he says. “I feel so raw and inexperienced next to you, where you were in your career when you were my age. And I know I’m incredibly lucky, I have this incredible career, but I hear all the time that I need to learn how to, to maximize my opportunities or whatever bullshit you have to do, and I think I need to figure that out on my own without entangling you in it, because the moment I do, then if I fail, if I screw it all up, if I turn out to be a massive fuck-up or if I, if I can’t pull off a red-carpet look, or whatever, it could all rebound on you.”
“James,” says Andrew. James looks at him, smiling wryly.
“And you,” he says, “are a perpetual whirling dervish of impulsive decision-making, and I love that about you, I adore it and I never want you to change, but you would fling your career away in a heartbeat over this, and you automatically want to jump from being in the same city to living together, and from being seen publicly together to calling a press conference and formally coming out, and I am not saying I wouldn’t want to live with you or come out with you, or hold a bloody commitment ceremony in Times Square, or, or any of those things. I just want them to happen without either of us doing anything rash and suffering the consequences. So I need to, to be three times as careful and overthink everything three times as much to balance out everything that makes you, you.”
Andrew processes all of this, then sighs and kisses his shoulder. “That’s fair,” he says.
“Yes,” says Andrew. “Ugh. It’s more than fair. I don’t want you to change either, though,” he says. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to make yourself into something you’re not.”
“I won’t,” James says. “Just a teensy upgrade.”
“And if you can’t pull off a red carpet look,” Andrew adds, “it’s the red carpet that’s failing, not you.”
A smile seems to tug unbidden at James’s face. “I’m terrible at the red carpet bullshit, though,” he says. “You know I am. And I know I need to get better at it, learn to take it more seriously, if I want to have any hope of — of standing next to you.”
There’s a raw earnesty in his voice that makes Andrew’s stomach flutter. Andrew sighs and kisses him. “Can you at least not wait until December to come to New York?” he asks. “Can you at least rent some seedy midtown apartment and shack up in it with me like I’m your scandalous mistress?”
“I can,” James says, sliding his palms soothingly over Andrew’s shoulders. “I have to be in LA in November, though.”
“What a coincidence,” Andrew says. “We both have to be in L.A. I’ve got to do the press tour for Under the Silver Lake. You’ve got to do the press tour for Mary Queen of Scots. You can be my red-carpet date.” He winks. “If you’ve completed your makeover by then.”
James grins. “That gives me about six weeks. You drive a hard bargain.”
Andrew cups his face. “That’s because I know how good you are at exceeding expectations.” And he kisses James until they’re both hot and hard and desperate for one another all over again, and the bedsheets are ruined beyond salvation.
Andrew has never forgotten how annoying it is to date anyone while in LA — how could he, when the paparazzi are everywhere, willing to follow you around all day out of sheer boredom. But he’s never tried to secretly date anyone in LA before, and that’s even worse. When he and James first meet up in mid-November, there’s pretty much nowhere for them to escape to where they won’t be instantly spotted outside of their hotels, so they mostly just fuck and hang out and order room service and then leave separately like the shamefully clandestine lovers they are. But James has a whole new wardrobe, full of proper suits and actual colors besides blue, and even textures and nice Italian shoes, and Andrew jokes that it’s worth staying in the hotel all the time just for the personal fashion show.
James has been busy; he’s lined up a number of film auditions while he’s there, and he’s let his hair grow out a bit so it’s closer to the Louis look he had towards the end of the London run, curlier and tousled and irresistible. Andrew can’t stop running his hands through it.
“You realize you can’t actually pet me like this when we’re on the red carpet next week,” James tells him one day when they’re tucked on the couch together at his hotel. Andrew’s exhausted because he’s been up since 5:00 doing press for Silver Lake, and all he wants to do is flop on the couch and cradle James in his lap and cuddle.
“This is why I have to get all the petting done now,” Andrew tells him, and James kisses Andrew’s palm and shifts closer to give him better access.
He’s thumbing through gossip sites on his phone looking for dating rumors about Andrew, which is one of his favorite ways to tease Andrew since they got not-quite-together. “Oh, look, you and Emma are back together again, of course.”
“Oh, of course.”
“I should really meet her,” James says. “The stories she could tell me.”
“There’s a reason I’ve strategically kept the two of you apart.”
“Here’s a rumor you’re actually shagging your Angels in America co-star — Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.”
“Hmm,” says Andrew, yawning. “I should be so lucky.” James swats him. Andrew ruthlessly pets his hair.
“Oh, this is interesting,” James says. “Blind item about a certain former superhero who’s now dating a selkie, and everyone’s torn on whether it’s you dating Saoirse Ronan or Ronan Farrow.”
“That’s a terrible blind item, do another.”
“Oh, look, here’s gossip about you and J-Law, followed by people upset you haven’t done anything new with your true love Jesse Eisenberg.”
“Next, move along.”
“Aha!” James proclaims. “‘Garfield’s been seen out and about with his Angels boyfriend James McArdle,’” he reads. “‘Huh. I didn’t get the sense from the Angels press run that they even liked each other.’” He frowns. “And then the rest of the thread is just bickering about whether we’re even friends.”
“Are we friends?” says Andrew. “I think we skipped friendship and went straight to the unbearable sexual tension.”
“Unbearable, did you say?”
“It’s true,” James admits. “I did spend a lot of time avoiding you because it was easier that way.”
“Easier than just fucking me,” Andrew scoffs.
“God, yes,” James grins up at him. “Look at me now! Now that I’m sleeping with you I have to make myself respectable! I have to find proper work instead of fucking off to Glasgow for the next 8 months! I actually have to shave! The other day I realized I can actually tell the difference between Versace and Armani now, pfft, are you shitting me?”
Andrew cracks up and bends to kiss him. James leans up and holds him in place, deepening the kiss. When their lips finally part he looks a bit wistful, a bit dazed.
“This all feels like a dream I’m about to wake up from any moment,” he says. “This, us, all of it.”
“Eventually we will,” Andrew says. “Or, I mean. I will. You’ll be working til you die. I can’t keep coasting on this boyish charm forever.” He touches James’s cheek. “But I want to be with you, when I wake up. I just want...” He yawns.
“God, you’re exhausted,” James says, sitting up and kissing his forehead. “Here.” He grabs a pillow and props it behind him, then rearranges the two of them so he’s lying against the couch and Andrew is nestled against his side, using him for a pillow. Andrew burrows against him, burying his nose in the soft cotton of James’s shirt.
“I just want you,” he mumbles. “I want you dearly.”
James wraps his arms around him and pulls him closer. “You have me,” he says gently. “I’m right here, not going anywhere. Now go to sleep.”
Their two films have the same release date, and the red carpets for each of them are just a day apart — which thankfully means they can just get it all over with and fly back to New York together. Andrew attends the premiere for Mary Queen of Scots by himself, which means he's just there to support his good friend James McArdle. James avoids him the whole day beforehand because he says he doesn't want to get nervous or get cold feet by comparing himself to whatever Andrew turns up in, which is just so ridiculous of him, but Andrew knows him so well by now, and knows that it's the smallest things that freak him out, not the huge giant things that would scare most people.
Fine, Andrew texts him. What color suit do you want me in?
What do you mean? You're just going to grab a suit? You haven't been angsting for weeks over what to wear?
You get good at this after a while, Andrew replies. You really do. You learn what looks good and what doesn't.
There's not a color you don't look stunning in, James replies, and Andrew actually lets out an embarrassingly swoony sort of sound.
Cheeky. Bright colors don't exactly work for me.
Bet you could pull it off for me, though, James replies. What’ve you got in the line of green?
I can do green.
Pushing it, Andrew replies, grinning.
When he arrives at the theatre, he immediately sees why James suggested green; tartan patterns are everywhere, mostly done up in hunter greens and burgundies. He's wearing a forest-green Balenciaga suit jacket over a black dress shirt, and he's grateful he thought to throw in the plaid pocket square.
The thought occurs to him that Jack Lowden is almost certainly going to be wearing a kilt, and probably he should be working harder to befriend Jack Lowden than he is, since he and James are good friends who are apparently going to be perpetually working together because Hollywood can only handle so many Scottish actors at a time.
And if Andrew befriends Jack Lowden, he can influence Jack Lowden’s horrible fashion sense so that it doesn't rub off on James, so that James doesn't do anything rash like wear a kilt to a Hollywood premiere, and, oh, god, suddenly Andrew understands fully why James didn't want to rush into this, because, yes, Andrew tries to remain above the pettiness of caring about things like clothing, but the reality of dating someone who might wind up wearing a kilt to a red carpet fills him with eye-opening horror.
That won't be James, Andrew thinks firmly. James would never.
His phone buzzes. Like my kilt?
Andrew pales. Quit playing games with my heart, he texts, with trembling fingers. Where are you?
Going to get my bloody picture taken, James texts.
Andrew looks up ahead to the press area of the red carpet, but doesn’t see James at first amid the sea of people and suits. He glances past the row of actors lining up for the ensemble photos, and then double-takes, because there, among a sea of actors wearing mainly boring black suits is James, and he’s not in a kilt, he’s in...
“Canali,” Andrew breathes.
James is wearing a gorgeous rust-colored suit over an open-collared cream dress shirt that looks like a confection Andrew wants to sink his teeth into. The suit is lowkey but stunning—it looks like it might be cashmere. Andrew remembers this collection, it was full of woven textures with subtle shimmering patterns that revealed layers of colors when you looked closer. The color brings out the red highlights in James’s hair — and his hair, for once, is perfect.
James is sandwiched in between Guy Pearce and David Tennant, objectively two of the hottest people in the commonwealth, and Andrew thinks that at this moment he looks hotter than either of them have ever looked in their lives. He knows he’s just staring, but he can’t help himself.
James looks up, then, finally, and sees Andrew standing there, eyes glued to him. His eyes widen and he smiles involuntarily, and then he looks away, embarrassed, and then looks back, and now Andrew is grinning, and they’re just smiling at each other like two people who are failing at pretending like they’re not in love.
But Andrew is a great boyfriend, and because Andrew is a great boyfriend, he drags his gaze away from James and fixes it on Saoirse, who’s thankfully already had her photoshoot and is now standing around chatting to Gemma Chan.
They all hug and do the requisite small talk where they catch up on one another’s careers, and then Saoirse exclaims, “Andrew! You must be here to see James, right?” And then without waiting for a response, she says to Gemma, “You saw Angels in America, right?”
Gemma says, “Of course, Andrew was amazing—”
“No, no, no,” Saoirse says, cutting her off with a wave. “Sure, whatever, Andrew, you won a Tony, whatever,” she says teasingly, “but no, you weren’t on set with him, I don’t think. James McArdle, the guy playing Moray—”
“Right, with the beard?”
“Right, or, well, they all have beards—”
“Right, but his was,” Gemma makes a whooshing gesture at her chin and Andrew cracks up.
“Yes, him,” Saoirse laughs. “Look, he’s over there now, beardless.”
She turns and points to James where he’s standing next to Jack. She and Gemma wave at them and they wave back uncertainly.
James shoots Andrew a baffled look. Andrew tosses him a wink.
“Oh, yeah, he looks great without the beard,” Gemma is saying.
“No, I mean, yes, he’s super hot, but I’m saying he was Andrew’s boyfriend in the play.”
Gemma blinks and then her jaw drops. “That guy? That guy was Louis?”
“No way,” says Gemma. “That Scottish guy?! You’re shitting me.”
“You’re telling me that Scottish guy with the giant, like, Beowulf beard was the same guy who played Louis Ironson. That phenomenal performance. That amazing scene with the, the leg thing,” and she demonstrates by hiking her leg up and fidgeting awkwardly, and Andrew can’t stop laughing.
“Right?” says Saoirse. “I couldn’t believe it, when I went backstage I just kept telling him how incredible he was.”
“No, that guy is a fucking shapeshifter,” Gemma says. She turns to Andrew. “Oh, my god, you got to make out with him. Like. Constantly.”
“I did indeed,” Andrew says grandly, “and it was marvelous.”
“You know,” says Gemma. “I’m dating a guy right now who also played Louis.”
“Dominic.” She glances around.
“Oh! That’s right, he played opposite Andrew Scott in London.”
“He’s around here somewhere, we can get them together and let the two of them have a neurotic asshole showdown.”
Andrew laughs. “James will lose,” he says. “He’s incredibly sweet. He only gets mad about British class politics, and he only gets neurotic over line memorization.”
“No, but they’re both that type,” she says. “That hot scruffy guy who can step into that kind of completely shameless painful character, like Louis, who’s so frustrating, and who can infuriate the hell out of you and completely demolish your heart and still make you love him even more by the time it’s over.”
“It was incredibly easy to love James’s version of Louis,” Andrew says. “It was harder to let go of him sometimes. Like, I’d catch myself getting jealous, like, really jealous, during the scenes where he left me for Lee Pace. And then after the show, James would always be leaving the theatre with two girls on his arm or something, and I’d feel that same sort of twinge because I wanted him all to myself.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Gemma says. “Because you can’t let that kind of character into your heart without it leaving a mark on you. Or that kind of actor, even. Especially over, god, two years.”
“Almost three, actually.”
“Well,” says Saoirse, “I’d want him all to myself. Is he single?”
“He’s...” Andrew blanches. “Yes. Um. I think he’s straight. I mean. Single. I think he’s single. Straight and single. Very, very single. And. Straight.”
He looks around for James and sees him coming over, thank god. “Look, here, he can tell you himself,” he says, relieved.
“Tell them what?” James says, coming up to them.
“How single you are,” Andrew says, smirking at him.
James shoots him a look, and it’s wry and mirthful and full of heat, and Andrew’s only been away from him for a day but he’s missed him, his looks and his smiles and his, everything.
“Seems like you’ve been talking me up,” James says. “I should pay you.”
“You can’t buy this publicity,” Andrew says. “I hear you get it for being very good.”
“At acting,” James says to Gemma and Saoirse, who are looking between the two of them with interest. “He means good at acting.”
“Do I,” says Andrew.
“I hope so,” says James. “Too late to send me back to school to be a policeman.”
“You’d never wear the uniform anyway.”
“Wouldn’t last a day,” James says with a grin. “I’ve never worn a uniform I haven’t immediately wanted to tear off.”
“Oh, I bet,” says Andrew. “You and everyone else around you.”
“Really,” says James. “Is this a fetish? Am I seeing a new side of you?”
“It sounds like we’d all be seeing a new side of you,” says Andrew.
“Not everyone,” says James, and his voice doesn’t go low, but something in it makes Andrew shiver anyway. “At least not everybody at once.”
“Only the very lucky few,” says Andrew.
“I think just one at a time will do,” says James. “You’ve got very interesting ideas about my versatility.”
“Oh, I’ve got very accurate ideas,” says Andrew, grinning. “You look gorgeous, by the way.”
“And you look like Andrew fucking Garfield,” says James fondly, and then he leans in for an embrace, and Andrew thinks they’re about to kiss for a moment, but James just gives him a hug. It disconcerts him, until he remembers that, of course, they’re supposed to not have seen each other for weeks. How annoying, he thinks, and he slides his hand down possessively over James’s back, just to make sure he knows how annoying, and how annoyingly inconvenient, all of this is.
“Hi,” James tells him, pulling back and meeting his gaze with a look that instantly leaves Andrew flushed and aware that they’re in public.
“Hi,” Andrew says, gazing back at him, and James suddenly slides his hands in his pockets, and Andrew knows that he’s doing that solely because he has to stop himself from reaching out again to touch him.
“So... very single,” says Gemma with perfect aplomb.
“And I don’t think we’ve met,” James says to her without missing a beat, turning all his attention on her with the kind of focus that leaves Andrew feeling suddenly bereft. Gemma promptly gushes over James’s performance, and Andrew was just enjoying himself a moment ago, so he doesn’t know why he’s annoyed now.
No sooner has he thought that, however, than James leans into him for a moment, just a bit, just for a moment, as if Andrew’s his generator and he needs a quick recharge. Andrew leans back, and feels James’s warmth against him for long moments after he’s pulled away again.
He stands and watches them, and completely fails at not mooning at James like a fond lover. He can’t help it; Gemma is insisting that the “Democracy in America” speech was the equivalent of an opera aria, and it’s adorable watching James try to be self-deprecating and downplay his gratitude. Saoirse catches his gaze and waggles her eyebrows towards James, then gives Andrew a clear, ‘You and him?’ followup. Andrew is about to rearrange his face into something that’s not a totally obvious giveaway when suddenly Jack Lowden is there next to him.
“Andrew!” he says, even though he and Andrew have never met.
“Jack Lowden!” says Andrew, even though he secretly dislikes Jack Lowden.
And then Jack Lowden is pulling him into a hug, which is also annoying, because Andrew is quite happy secretly disliking Jack Lowden, and would rather Jack Lowden not screw that up by being a nice guy.
“Had to meet the wife,” he whispers in Andrew’s ear. Andrew pulls back, startled.
“Brother!” says Jack, beaming at him.
“I told you,” James says, still laughing at him hours later after they’ve found their way back to Andrew’s hotel. “I didn’t have to say anything, I moment I saw him in London, he was like, ‘are you still pining away over Andrew Garfield?’”
“See, I don’t like that either,” Andrew pouts. “I don’t like that he knew you were pining for me before I did!”
“Well, you see,” James says indulgently, “that’s sort of what friends are for.”
“He’s too friendly!” Andrew says. James catches Andrew in his arms and holds him there, smiling softly.
“I didn’t know this about you,” he says. “That you get jealous.”
“I’m not jealous,” Andrew says sulkily.
“No,” James says, “not at all.” He kisses Andrew, properly, finally, and Andrew melts against him, his hands automatically coming up to cup James’s face and pull him closer.
“Remind me why I’m not jealous,” he breathes when their lips part.
“You know why,” James says, pulling their hips together to emphasize the point. “You know exactly why.” He begins to strip Andrew of his clothes with what is by now practiced efficiency, whisking kisses over his skin as he moves. “You know I can’t even look at anyone else when I’m in a room with you. Christ, everyone in that theatre tonight could tell just by looking at us.”
“Good,” Andrew says, arching into James’s hands. “I want them to look. I want them to see us.”
“They will,” says James. He pauses. “You know tomorrow night won’t be like tonight, don’t you?” He reaches up and thumbs Andrew’s cheekbone. “They’ll all be there for you, they won’t know who I am.”
“I don’t care,” Andrew tells him firmly, and he doesn’t, not until they get to the theatre and the press line treat James like he doesn’t exist, even though he’s standing right next to Andrew, looking like a walking fantasy in navy Dunhill. James plasters on a charming smile and holds it for hours, and he mainly just seems amused. Andrew is mortified. During a few interviews, he gets asked who he’s with, and he explains that he’s there with his lovely Angels in America co-star James McArdle, only to be met with polite subject-changing.
The sole exception is an EW reporter who greets them with, “Andrew — and James McArdle!” and then proceeds to ignore Andrew in favor of gushing over James’s performance as Louis. James is a bit thunderstruck by it, and Andrew is so happy he gives the reporter an extra ten minutes for questions.
“Stop grinning,” James says when they’re done, but he’s grinning himself. “You’re not helping.”
“This is what I mean,” Andrew says, linking his arm with James’s just because he can. “No one who sees you perform can stop talking about you.”
“You are so full of rubbish.”
“You have no idea,” Andrew says tenderly, and James gives him a look of helpless affection that Andrew thinks he’ll remember forever, and then it’s time for the show to begin.
This loudly straight foreign-ish mostly movies A-lister has been extremely supportive of a certain foreign-born co-star in recent weeks. There’s been a lot of loyal, lengthy stage door visits, take-out for two, and plenty of plausible deniability. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this behavior from him, but it’s all been bromance up til now — though his friend is known to be a ladies man who’s stayed squarely mum about his own preferences. Still, mutterings are that our doe-eyed local fave may have gone full-on Judy at last — just in time to boost his pal’s award-season profile.
Back in New York, James rents a tiny but gorgeous apartment on 44th, and he and Andrew take turns sneaking into each other’s places and shagging on every available surface. Andrew brings him sweets from the candy store on the corner and addicts James to his favorite Moroccan place on Tenth, and holds his hand under the table when he drags James out to Birdland, because James is horrified by the tourist grab but in love with the music; and Andrew has gotten better, since Emma, at not wearing his heart on his sleeve, but he’s still pretty transparent, and when James gets caught up in the jazz and completely loses himself in the moment, all Andrew can do is lose himself, too.
James starts rehearsals for Platonov the same week Andrew is doing talk show rounds for Under the Silver Lake, so there’s a stretch where they’re either working or exhausted, and James gives Andrew a key to his apartment immediately so he can swing by during the day and nap if he ever needs to, without having to drive all the way back uptown. Andrew kind of moves himself in; he runs James’s lines with him until he could understudy all the parts, and James makes space in his cramped closet for Andrew’s clothes, and Andrew makes sure he eats properly and gets rest and doesn't stress about learning his lines, and James makes sure Andrew doesn't forget to go home and feed and walk and play with Ren, and keeps him from obsessing over people's unsolicited opinions of his performance as Spider-Man, and curls around him every night. Andrew learns to drift off to the sound of his soft breathing, the feel of his arms holding him, his warmth at Andrew’s back.
Andrew gradually, carefully, introduces James to his closest friends as the guy he's sort-of dating, sort-of living with. His friends seem startled but unfazed, and of course they all love James, because who couldn’t? James seems wary of them all at first; James is always wary of posh boys, which is adorable to Andrew, because he makes so many exceptions in his own head for Andrew. But he tries to be open and gregarious, playing social until he actually feels social, and Andrew loves him all the more for it because he knows that this kind of extroversion is always an effort for James, and he knows now James is making that effort for him.
He’s getting better at it, though; James really has gotten so much better at the whole New York thing : the schmoozing at parties, the theatre awards circuit, the press events. He’s gone from having only three shirts to carrying an extra dress shirt in his backpack in case he has to change into something more formal on the spot or gets called to some last-minute shindig. He has tailoring appointments, and he hates them but he goes anyway, and Andrew makes sure to let him know how much he appreciates the difference in James’s wardrobe. His hair is less all over the place, though some days it’s still a total disaster, and those are the days Andrew likes most, the days he can grab handfuls of James’s hair and tousle it endlessly and leave him messy and unkempt and smiling.
There’s a difference in theatre circles, too; there’s less incredulous scoffing from people when they hear James’s natural accent; there’s more overt praising of his performance last-season, more open incredulity that he wasn’t nominated more heavily. There’s a good deal of buzz about Platonov, and Andrew’s not involved in the production but Roth is clearly building the marketing for it around James himself. That’s got to be making James nervous, but he hides it well.
There’s buzz about the two of them, too; they’ve rarely been seen together except at parties where they both arrived separately, but they aren’t exactly subtle when they are together, and Andrew’s getting enough hint-dropping that he knows they’re not exactly an opaque secret. When Platonov moves to the theatre — it’s at one of the smaller theatres, which is fitting, because Broadway generally appreciates Chekhov, but probably not to the tune of packing them in by the thousands night after night — Andrew becomes a frequent stage-door entrant, and that definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.
In January, tickets finally go on sale, and to everyone’s astonishment the first week of previews immediately sells out. Then so does the second week. Then the marketing kicks into high gear, and James is booked solid for interviews and his face is on yellow cabs, and the size of it all starts to sink in.
For all James has been trying to take this rise to fame in stride, Andrew knows how overwhelmed Broadway audiences can make him, and he can see the moments when James goes into a frozen-in-headlights panic. He spends a lot of time in James’s dressing room before performances, giving him massages and doing last-minute line reads with him and making sure he has plenty of protein smoothies and distracting him from his nervousness with a lot of sex. Backstage, everyone knows about them, and James doesn’t seem to care if people catch them snogging, or if anyone enters his dressing room while Andrew is cradling James’s head in his lap, carding fingers gently through his hair. But word gets around fast. Andrew always leaves before the stage door starts, but the fans aren’t shy about asking James if the rumors are true.
“Do you want to just... lean into it?” Andrew asks James a few days before opening night.
“Even more than we already are?” They’re at Andrew’s place for once, curled on the couch. Andrew is against the cushions, and James is snuggled against him. Ren is lying spread out on the rest of the couch with his head in James’s lap, and James is idly petting Ren with one hand and running his fingers over Andrew’s wrist with his other.
“I mean,” says Andrew. “I’m ready to be more open whenever you are. I don’t mind treating this like an open secret instead of something we’re just really bad at hiding.”
James kisses his cheek. “You’ve been so, so patient with me,” he says. “And I know you want to get on with it and be a real couple doing all the things real couples do.”
“The kinds of things you’d hate,” Andrew snickers. “Shopping for furniture together and picking up the dry cleaning and walking the dog—”
“I’m going to be so bad at it,” James laughs. “You’ll be sick of me outside of a month.”
“Not happening,” says Andrew, resting his head against James’s.
James chuckles and settles against him, and for a moment they’re quiet. Andrew breathes in and out and tries to relish the feeling of this, the shape of the two of them together.
“Andrew,” James says after a moment, softly.
“Hmm.” Andrew kisses his hair.
James hesitates for a moment, and then he turns to look at Andrew, eyes shining and pleading, and says, “I think I would do anything for you.”
Andrew’s jaw drops. “I mean,” James says urgently, “I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t be willing to, to push myself to become if it would mean being better at this. At being someone better for you.”
“You are better at this,” Andrew says. “You’re amazing at this.” He takes James’s face in his hands. “Has it ever crossed your mind that who I was when we met two years ago, compared to who I am now, who I’ve become since this started — they’re not even on the same planet? I don’t even know who that guy was.”
“You were just as lovely when I met you as you are now,” James says, covering Andrew’s hand with his own.
“I was a complete mess,” Andrew says. “You didn’t notice?”
James starts to reply and then thinks better of it. “You did notice,” Andrew snorts.
“You were unbelievably sweet and perceptive and kind when I met you,” says James. “You were so angelic it was hard for me to take you seriously.”
“I knew that,” Andrew says. “I remember that day you stopped me in the middle of rehearsal and just stared at me and—"
“And I said, ‘There's no limit to you, is there?’”
“I wasn't sure if you were mocking me,” Andrew confesses.
“I don’t think I was,” James says. “I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the ‘real’ you to emerge. But over time, I got to know you better, and I realized that this persona was just... it was just you down to the core.” He smiles. “God, you made it impossible not to fall in love with you.”
“I wasn't showing you everything, though,” Andrew says. “Because I wanted you to respect me so much, I was just in awe of you.”
“That makes zero sense,” James says. “You’ve worked with everyone, you’ve worked with Hoffman, you’ve worked with Scorsese.”
“None of them kissed me like you did,” Andrew says wryly. James laughs and kisses Andrew’s palm. Andrew shakes his head.
“When we were first working together,” he says, “all I cared about was that even though I’d just been nominated for an Oscar, Emma Stone still wouldn’t date me. I was making out with male celebrities on camera because I couldn’t deal with the reality that I wanted to be making out with you instead. I was taking terrible care of myself, I was either drunk at parties crying over Emma, or going home with somebody who wasn’t you for shallow sex I didn’t want, or I was killing myself onstage. I secretly thought that playing Prior was actually going to kill me. There were moments when I was just clinging to you for strength because I didn’t have anything left.”
“I know,” James says softly. “I remember.”
“And you always were so, everything just rolled off you no matter how stressed you got, no matter how overwhelmed you got, and I, I wanted you, I wanted you so much, and it finally sunk in that...” he takes a deep breath. “I was watching you perform the Kaddish one night, toward the end of the London run, and it just, it dawned on me that even if nothing ever happened, even if you really were straight and you didn’t want me, I still wanted to have some part in your future. I wanted to become the dream of a person who could stay in your life no matter where you went — somebody who could be strong enough to balance you, who could give you everything you deserved, if you wanted it.”
“Andrew,” James breathes, and Andrew kisses him quiet, trying to make him understand.
“I stopped drinking as much,” he says in between kisses. “I stopped partying, I let go of the dream of getting back together with Emma, I let go of the idea that if I wasn’t playing a superhero, it meant that I’d failed. I let go of a lot of things. When we opened in New York, you were in shock, and I tried my best to be indispensable to you, to be the person you leaned on, who knew you best and gave you everything you needed to get through it. I, I really, I tried to level up as Prior, too. And I think we were more real together onstage in New York. I just... I tried to be more serious, more of an adult, more available, more... just more.” He presses a kiss to James’s forehead. “And I think I became more, in the end. I am more serious now, I am less flighty, I’m less abstract and more grounded, and I — I want everyone to know that you gave me that, because it’s true.”
“That was all you, though,” James says. “You did that, I didn’t have anything to—”
“Shh,” Andrew says. “You had everything to do with it. Look at yourself in the fucking mirror sometime, you monstrously talented asshole,” and he kisses away James’s protests until they turn into pleas and promises.
For Valentine’s Day, Broadway Bares throws a bachelor auction.
James McArdle, currently drawing rave reviews from critics and audiences as Platonov at the Helen Hayes, is one of the bachelors.
“This is what you get,” Andrew tells him gleefully as James frets about his tuxedo and bow tie. He’s in black-tie Armani, and he looks stunning, he looks like the most fuckable thing Andrew has ever seen in his life, and Andrew keeps interrupting his progress to bite his collarbone just below the point where it will show later. “You didn't want to tell people, and now you're an Eligible Bachelor. I'm going to have to suffer and waste away as you lend your charms to some other lucky human.”
“More likely you'll have to comfort me afterwards when no one wants to bid on me,” James snarks.
“I cannot believe we are still having this conversation weeks after Ben Brantley called you one of the most exciting actors Broadway has seen in decades.”
“Ben Brantley said the same thing about Book of Mormon,” James says with an eyeroll.
“You are ridiculous,” Andrew says, not without affection. He wraps his arms around James and looks at him through the mirror. James stares back at him, beautiful and wry.
“If you get bid on tonight by people who are desperate enough to hang out with the great James McArdle that they’ll throw money at the opportunity,” Andrew says, “will that be enough? Will it sink in then?”
James laughs. “You are so...” he sighs. “You seem to think I’m going to be, what, in demand. I’m just going to be one of the small items they bring out at Sothebys to warm everyone up,” he laughs. “I’ll be the opener while they’re waiting for Andrew Rannells to arrive.”
“You have over-thought this,” Andrew says, kissing his jaw. “You are absolutely not going to be as eligible as Andrew Rannells, but people are going to want you. You’ll see.”
“You are biased,” James says, but he’s beaming.
“We will see,” Andrew says forebodingly. “We will see, my friend, who is right, and who is in denial.”
The auction is in the Marriott Marquis, because everything is always in the Marriott Marquis. As per the norm, Andrew and James arrive separately; Andrew’s banquet table is near the front, because of course it is, and James’s is all the way across the room from him. He’s sitting with Jordan Roth and Lesli Margherita. Andrew wants to be sitting next to Lesli Margherita! Instead he’s sitting next to some producers whose names he’s already forgotten.
He scans the room for familiar faces, but just to get in the room requires paying ungodly amounts of money, and most of the people present are producers and upper-echelon Manhattanites. He spots Grace Park from Mean Girls and sends her a wave, and then is startled to find Zachary Quinto sitting down to join his table.
“You here for James?” Quinto asks.
Andrew stammers, “Oh, yes, I’m always happy to support a friend.”
Quinto folds his napkin in a perfectly straight line across his lap and gives Andrew a look that says Andrew has fooled no one.
“We’ve both played Louis, you know,” says Quinto.
“Yes, I know,” says Andrew.
“I’m just saying, we have a bond,” says Quinto.
“Why do people who’ve played Louis always think they have a bond?” says Andrew.
“You have a bond with Spinella,” Quinto reminds him. “The Times said so.”
“Yes, but I’m not bidding on him at bachelor auctions to make sure it stays healthy,” says Andrew.
“Who said anything about bidding?” says Quinto, with a slow dawning smirk.
“No one,” Andrew says primly.
“That’s an excellent idea, Andrew,” says Quinto, patting his arm and grinning. Then he covers his mouth in faux shock. “Oh, wait, you’re not going to bid for him, are you? I’d hate to step on your toes!”
“You are enjoying this entirely too much,” Andrew tells him.
“Oh, entirely,” says Quinto.
“I’m not here to bid on anyone, as it happens,” says Andrew. “Go, bid, I hope you win and the two of you are very happy together.” He takes out his phone. You have to withdraw from the auction, he texts. Quinto is going to bid on you and he’ll win and then you’ll fall in love with him and not me.
I don’t think that’s how bachelor auctions work, James replies. Quinto, hmm? Into it.
You are a fiend and I’m no longer letting you control the remote.
Andrew Garfield, you wouldn’t.
But I have to watch Champions!
Look, baby, it’ll just be sex, it won’t mean anything, I promise.
Andrew sends him a row of skull emojis.
James texts back a kissing face.
“Sure you’re not bidding?” Quinto asks, and Andrew realizes that he’s beaming crazily at his phone.
He leans over and puts his chin in his hand. “You know,” he says, smiling darkly at Quinto, “I hear he’s double-jointed.”
The auction starts out with a few up-and-coming musical stars Andrew has barely heard of. Because this is Broadway, everyone has to perform some sort of special talent before they go on the auction block. Most of the singers are singing, though some of them are doing comedy numbers or impressions or variety-show style gags. The night wears on, and six people in, James still hasn’t been summoned onstage. Andrew sends him a scandalized glance. James sends him an eyeroll from across the room.
The next person up for auction is Harry Hadden-Paton, who turns in a boring patter-song, followed by Joshua Henry, who floors everyone by reminding the room that he can also dance.
Maybe there’s been a mistake and they skipped your number, Andrew texts James, while everyone with eyes is bidding on Joshua Henry. There’s no way they’d let you follow *that.*
No way in hell, James agrees.
“And next up!” the host announces, after Joshua Henry has been escorted off the stage by a lucky woman who bid $50,000 for the honor, “we have a man whom the New York Times recently dubbed one of the most exciting performers Broadway has seen in decades.”
The audience breaks into premature shrieks, and a grin breaks unbidden across Andrew’s face.
James pointedly does not look at Andrew, Andrew thinks. He instead sits awkwardly while his praises are sung and then climbs onstage to a solid wall of cheers from the audience. He looks a bit stunned by it, which is silly, because he’s seen the audiences packing in the theatre by now, and surely he knows they’re not coming for Chekhov.
Or maybe he doesn't, Andrew reminds himself. Probably it’s always going to be his job to see how much people love James, when he can’t see it himself.
James clears his throat.
“When I was here last season,” he starts, in his familiar Scottish brogue “I was playing a character who is a Jewish New Yorker.” He lets that sink in. “And when I met people I would inevitably get one of two reactions. Either they didn't believe I had really played Louis, or they didn't believe I was really Scottish.”
He smiles a little ruefully at the waves of laughter in response.
“So,” he says, “In Scotland, we have this famous festival, the Fringe—” a few people applaud —”right, thank you. And it’s always full of street performers and carnival types who do things like stand in the middle of the road juggling as you’re trying to get past ‘em. So in honor of the Fringe, I thought I’d try to convince people that I’m true to my Scottish family—” and here he pulls out three jugglers’ balls from his pockets — “while also convincing them that it’s not a joke, and I actually did just play Louis Ironson in Angels in America on Broadway.”
There’s a huge roar of approval from the audience. James laughs. He looks amazing right now, Andrew thinks — completely at home onstage, even though Andrew knows better, he knows how much James hates these sorts of dog-and-pony shows. He’s just that good at pretending, Andrew thinks fondly. He’s just so good.
“So,” James says, and he starts carefully juggling the balls in his hand. “I asked Tony Kushner, and he told me I should try to recite the Democracy in America speech until I either forgot a line or dropped a ball. You think I can do it?”
The audience definitely thinks he can do it. James grins.
“Well, then,” he says, “here I go,” and then he, there’s no other word for it, transforms in front of them all into a skittish jittery guilt-ridden New Yorker who’s juggling in-character while he’s wondering aloud how democracy has succeeded in America.
It’s not just his accent, it’s not just that he’s instantly physically smaller, tenser, more inwardly focused, inexplicably sharper; it’s as if Louis Ironson were alive and were trying to giddily, guiltily, babble to himself about politics while juggling balls in the air — as if each object he’s tossing around contains meaning, as if it’s symbolic of all the burdens Louis is struggling to carry and all the ways he’s already failed. And it’s mesmerizing, because it’s not just a visual gag, it’s somehow immediately a part of the expanded meaning of the play. When Louis burbles, “What does that mean, the word ‘ freedom ’?” he nearly drops one of the balls, and the audience actually gasps before he catches it and shakes himself, as if he were momentarily jolted out of his reverie to confront all the truths he’s running from, only to pick back up and dive into his galloping litany of thoughts.
And as he goes, he subtly speeds up, as if his thoughts are an escalating train and the things he’s juggling, too, are increasingly out of his control. As he inevitably turns his thoughts to the subject of AIDS, the covert reference to Prior himself, his hands start to tremble, and his motions become wilder, the juggling more unwieldy; and when he spits, “when the shit hits the fan, you find out how much tolerance is worth — nothing,” the balls abruptly cascade out of his hands and spill across the floor, and Louis is left, physically and spiritually, holding nothing, not even the illusion of his own control.
There’s a moment when the audience sits completely motionless, stunned, while Louis takes stock of his failure, and then it’s over, and suddenly James returns to himself, and steps back with a sheepish grin, and the ballroom is instantly on its feet. The ovation is thunderous; it goes on, and on, and on. And under ordinary circumstances it would honestly be a little embarrassing.
But instead, glancing around, Andrew just sees a sea of faces who look completely floored by what they’ve just seen.
“Holy shit,” says Quinto next to Andrew. “Holy shit, what was that? Holy shit.”
Andrew shakes his head in slow amazement, because he has no idea.
Eventually, after what feels like minutes, the crowd finally settles down and returns to their seats. The auction host, looking just as stunned as everyone else, starts the bidding for James at $10,000 — double every other starting bid of the night so far.
Bid cards fly up all over the room, including the one Quinto is holding. James’s jaw drops in shock.
Andrew folds his arms.
“$10,000, do I hear $15,000, do I hear $20? Do I hear $30,000?” The auctioneer pauses. She’s tripled the starting bid and there are still seven bid cards held high across the room. “Do I hear $50,000 for Mr. James McArdle?” she asks after a moment.
Only two cards fall.
“Do I hear $75,000?” She says slowly.
James looks like he might faint.
Quinto looks expectantly over at Andrew, who studiously avoids his gaze, and doesn’t lower his card.
“Do I hear $100,000?” the auctioneer asks.
Only one card falls.
Andrew looks around at the room to see who else is pushing the bidding this high. Apart from Quinto, there’s a man in the back he doesn’t recognize, there’s Rocco Landesman, looking a little gleeful about the whole thing, and then there’s... Joe Mantello.
“What is it with all of you Louises!” he hisses at Quinto. Quinto sends him an unrepentant shrug.
“Do I hear $125,000?” the auctioneer pushes.
No one’s card falls.
Andrew’s stomach twists a little. He raises his card.
“300,000,” he calls.
The audience gasps dramatically, like they’re all in a play, and Andrew supposes that in a way, they are.
James looks at him in utter shock.
“$300,000,” says the auctioneer, sounding a bit dazed. “Do I hear $350?”
Quinto lowers his card and smiles beatifically at Andrew, who’s definitely still not looking at him. Joe Mantello and Landesman, who have both undoubtedly heard the rumors about James and Andrew, follow suit. An unsubtle whispering flies across the audience.
The unknown bidder in the back keeps his card up.
“Do I hear $400?” The auctioneer asks. She does. There’s a dramatic pause before she continues, “Do I hear $5?”
The cards remain up, and the audience bursts into spontaneous applause. James covers his face and then mouths, What are you doing? at Andrew. Andrew shakes his head fondly.
James turns and whispers to the auctioneer.
“Mr. McArdle has agreed to go on dates with both of the bidders if they’ll each agree to their final bids of $500,000,” the auctioneer announces.
The man in the back agrees to this with a nod. Andrew is going to find out who he is and then send large men in burly coats to loom menacingly outside his windows for a few days.
“Sorry,” Andrew says. “I can’t do that. But I will double my bid to one million.”
The auctioneer stares at him. James stares at him. The crowd, having already gasped dramatically and prematurely cheered, now settles on a heady mix of cheering and catcalling and gasping.
“In exchange for a date with Mr. McArdle and the first dance of the evening,” Andrew says, sending James a wink.
“One million dollars for a date with Mr. McArdle and a dance,” says the auctioneer. “Do you raise, sir?” she says to the man in the back.
The man in the back slowly lowers his card. The audience bursts into sustained applause over the auctioneer’s pronouncement: “A Valentine’s Day date with Mr. James McArdle, sold to his Angels in America co-star Mr. Andrew Garfield, for one million dollars — a new Broadway Bares record.”
Andrew joins James onstage amid the swell of applause.“You absolute tit,” James says, hugging him fiercely. “What are you doing, how could you just — what are you thinking? A million dollars?”
“You know exactly what I was thinking,” Andrew says. Behind them, the ensemble starts to play “Moon River.” The auctioneer gestures to them to take the stage. James pulls Andrew into his arms, and Andrew suddenly feels a bit heartsick. They know this dance so well, the two of them.
They have been in love for so long.
“It's time for us to do this,” Andrew says, “if we're doing it at all.”
James draws in a breath.
“You are incredible, and I'm in love with you, and I want everyone to know that I have incredible taste in boyfriends,” Andrew says, lacing his arms around James’s neck. “And there is no way, after tonight, you can think that you haven’t shown people that you deserve to be here.”
“I still think this might be premature,” James says. “People already think I'm just using you for some kind of awards season boost or something, I don't want to—”
“I want to actually go back in time and strangle, with my bare hands, whoever the person was who made you think you would never be good enough,” Andrew says abruptly.
James stills. “What?”
Andrew swallows. “I want to, to worship you, and adore you as you deserved to be worshipped and adored,” he says. “And stop making that face at me, because this is the right I claim as the person who knows that you, James McArdle, are also the person who can't arrive early to a theatre to save your life, and that you would rather die than get caught publicly displaying too much affection, and that you will walk literally five blocks in the wrong direction rather than just checking Google Maps to orient yourself after coming out of a subway, and that when you get mad you stew about it for days instead of just speaking up, and that you secretly think cats are overrated, like they are a meme put on earth just to annoy you, because you are ridiculous and imperfect and beautiful and human, and because along with all of that, you are also the greatest fucking actor I know.
“And when I say I want to worship you, I mean that I want to cherish you and taunt you and make fun of you and praise you and give you standing ovations every single night and fall asleep next to you and bring you cookies backstage and let you make fun of my hair and walk my dog with you and make sure you stay hydrated and tell the entire world how, how completely we belong to each other, because I don't want anyone else thinking, for a second, that this isn't exactly what it looks like.”
He takes a breath. James stares at him, stunned.
“Ask me what I think it looks like,” Andrew adds.
“It looks just like this,” James says, and he kisses Andrew, deep and passionate, as the audience bursts into applause.
Andrew sinks against him and kisses back, and they’re still kissing when the music stops playing, and Andrew leans his head against James’s chest and closes his eyes for one long moment before he opens them again on the bright golden new world where he can say...
“Hi,” he greets the auctioneer, tugging James over with a grin. “This is my boyfriend. He’s the next Mark Rylance.”