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Stay with Me

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James closed the door of the bathroom with a bang and sank to the ground. Putting a hand over his mouth, he stifled a sob and clenched his eyes closed. Muffling his cries, he knew he couldn’t make any sound, just in case he had the misfortune of someone hearing his moment of weakness.

 

Where the hell had it all gone so wrong?

 

What started as a good morning had quickly turned into the opposite, and James knew that he had reached the end of his rope. He couldn’t handle this anymore… it was just too much.

 

All of a sudden, he started to feel the four walls closing in on him, breathing picking up as his anxiety skyrocketed. He had to leave the twins house as soon as he possibly could.

 

Reaching a perfectly manicured hand around to the back pocket of his high waisted shorts, he unlocked his phone. As the phone screen swayed in front of him, he realised his hands were shaking, but he managed to call an uber to take him home to his new house. Confirming it was eight minutes away, James let out a soft breath as relief flooded through him. He grabbed the sink in front of him to lift himself off the ground.

 

Looking in the mirror, all James could see was how god damn broken he looked. He looked worn and tired. To the world, he managed to keep up his portrayal of perfect smiles and lashes and everything perfect, but today just proved how much hurt he was carrying inside of him, afraid to let it show.

 

James rolled his eyes at how dramatic he was being and scolded himself, but the feeling of betrayal and hurt was too much for him to see anything less than a scared little boy when he looked at his reflection.

 

All of a sudden, a banging at the door startled a gasp out of his mouth.

 

“C’mon James you’ve been in there for ages now, are you coming back out to the couch?”

 

James closed his eyes again and let out a quick breath of relief, thanking everything that it was Emma who had come to look for him and not anyone else.

 

Taking a deep breath in, he checked his phone and was relieved to see his uber was almost out the front of the driveway. He must have been in the bathroom longer than he realised.

 

An escape route planned, he took one final glance at the mirror to make sure he still looked put together. Plastering a nonchalant look onto his face, he stepped forward and opened the door, only to see Emma leaning against the wall, one hand on her ponytail and the other on her hip.

 

James forced a smile. “Look I’m not feeling too great girl, I’m just going to go home alright?”

 

By Emma’s less than impressed face, his ‘smile’ apparently wasn’t good enough to prove that he was, in fact, perfectly fine.

 

She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Are you alright, James? I know things were getting a bit intense out there, but I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.”

 

James opened his mouth to answer her but was cut off by deep laughter coming from down the hallway. Anything he was going to reply was cut off sharply by the reminder of exactly why he wanted to get out in the first place.

 

“Look I’m just going to go alright? Tell the-,” he paused and swallowed fast before replying, “boys I said bye. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Emma made to grab his slender arm, but he brushed by her, heading for the door. Moving through the front hallway, he said a silent thank you to his past self for leaving his bag sitting on the front table when he’d come in earlier that day.

 

He knew Emma wanted to ask more and make sure he was fine, but he also was grateful she knew him well enough to know she wouldn’t get anything out of him tonight. So, with that, flashing one more grimace-smile to Emma, he opened the front door.

 

He had successfully made it outside on to the front step and was turning to shut the door behind him when an all too distinctive voice rang out.

 

“James! Where do you think you’re going?”

 

Grayson.

 

Grayson god damn Dolan.

Alternatively known as the bane of James’s existence, the day had been long enough that any slack James was willing to cut for the younger boy no longer existed. As far as he was concerned, Grayson didn’t deserve anything from him after the stunt he had pulled today.

 

So, with one final look right into his green eyes, James slammed the door shut behind him.

 

Perhaps if they had have been in one of James’ videos, the door slam might have been a clean cut and end scene.

 

As it stood, real life wasn’t exactly being that nice to him today.

 

He marched towards the front gate and had just gotten past it when he heard the crunching on the long gravel driveway behind him.

 

Thanking god for his head start, he began to speed up, moving faster towards the awaiting car, sure he would make it out in time. Making his way through the front gates, just as he was leaning down to open the door to his uber, one strong, muscled arm gripped his and pulled him around where he stood.

 

James gulped as he stared into Grayson’s dark green eyes, chest rising faster at the sudden proximity. He felt his mask slide over his face, one he had perfected through years of being hurt by people, and steeled himself.

 

Taking a deep breath, James hissed. “Let go of me, Grayson.”

 

Grayson’s face pulled back in hurt at the sharp comment. He shook his head, “Why are you going? Why didn’t you say bye? You- you always say bye.”

 

A flash of something flickered across James’s face, and he wasn’t brave enough to recognize it for the softening it was at the younger boys’ words. Luckily, he covered it quickly enough, and the momentary softness was replaced again by anger.

 

“Why am I going?” He laughed bitterly. “If you can’t figure that out Grayson, maybe you’re a whole lot dumber than I thought.”

 

He tried to pull back, but Grayson just gripped him tighter.

 

“James, it was a joke! I don’t even know why you’re upset, it was totally fine.” James scoffed as Grayson continued, running his free hand through his dark brown hair.

 

“It was just a video, James, you need to chill.”

 

At this, James felt his blood boil.

 

A joke?

 

A freaking joke?

 

This was his breaking point. With one perfectly manicured finger, he dug into the hand wrapped around his arm.  Leaning closer he whispered angrily, “You’re hurting me, Grayson. Get your hands off me!”

 

The younger boy’s eyes flashed with regret, and he quickly released James’ arm, stumbling backwards in shock as if he had forgotten the strength he had in comparison to the slender boy.

 

James stepped backwards as Grayson released him, realising he had been practically backed up against the car the entire time. Realising how intense they must have looked, he let out a shrill, fake laugh.

 

“Just kidding Gray, it’s so fine. Doesn’t matter anyways right, like you said it was just a joke, yea?” He opened the door to the car and swallowed down the lump in his throat. “I’ll get my manager to contact you about the video’s release date. I’m going home.”

 

“Wait, James- what do you mean your manager? Just text me.” Grayson put an arm out as if to stop him from closing the door, but James had learnt his lesson the first time. Slamming the door closed with a bang, he turned to his left and made a hasty apology to driver for taking so long, and for the scene he had just witnessed.

 

As the car pulled out, James glanced into the side mirror to see Grayson standing on the side walk where he had left him, one hand on his neck and the other balled in a tight fist at his side.

 

All the anxiety and panic he had felt earlier came rushing back to him in one fell swoop.

 

Digging his long nails into his bare legs, he willed himself to wait until he got home before the tears started falling down.

 

God, he was stupid.

 

 

 

Why on earth did he ever think falling for someone like Grayson Dolan was a good idea?

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Unsurprisingly, sleep was evading him.

 

James huffed out a sigh and cursed the day he decided to let anyone with the last name Dolan into his life properly.

 

Rolling over in his bed, he pulled the covers down and rearranged himself to be more comfortable. Frustrated and more than a little bored, he picked up his phone and posted a selfie to Snapchat, telling the world of his sleeping troubles.

 

Locking his phone and putting it down next to him, he turned to lie on his back and stared up at the ceiling. It was funny how much better posting that made him feel.

 

Even if it seemed like no one really cared, he knew that out there in the world were millions of sisters, that for some reason, really did. Some days it felt like his whole life now was just a big dream, made up by a gangly teenager who just wanted so desperately to be liked. Somehow, he had managed to push past all the people who had ever doubted him and create a place where he was able to just be him, and be accepted for it.

 

Being alone in LA could be so isolating, but one quick glance at his phone reminded him that he was far from being meaningless or genuinely alone.

 

James sighed as he thought of just how much growing and learning he’d done to get him to where he was now.

 

A strange mix of confidence and insecurity, although he was happier in himself than he’d ever been before, some days (like today), his doubts were that little bit louder than any other feeling.

 

Lost in daydreams about everything he’d been through, it took James a fair while to realise the banging he could hear wasn’t actually coming from his speakers.

 

In fact, a rather loud noise was seriously disturbing his attempts at inner monologues.

 

A rather repetitive banging noise, actually.

 

That seemed to be coming from downstairs.

 

Specifically, his freaking front door.

 

Shooting up in bed, his eyes widened as the pounding on his front door continued.

 

Letting out a string of expletives that would make a sailor proud, he froze at the edge of his bed and let out a laugh of sheer terror.

 

In the midst of his adrenaline fuelled brain, out of all the times in his life, James figured if he was going to die he may as well do it in true James CharlesTM style.

 

“Sister shit!”  

 

Suddenly, he started really regretting his decision to move into his new house when the front cameras and alarms weren’t fully installed. He had reasoned with himself that if he could survive downtown LA for as long as he had, then surely a lovely suburban neighbourhood would be nothing in comparison.

 

Apparently, he was wrong.

 

Really, really, stupidly wrong.

 

Calling the cops didn’t seem like a great option, as he was pretty sure whoever was banging on the door would find a way in pretty quickly. The glass windows everywhere in his living room now started to seem a little less of a good and fresh idea than when he had originally bought the house.  

 

Making a split second (admittedly rather dumb) decision, James grabbed the baseball bat that Ian had made him buy as a joke. Attempting to be a silent as he could while the banging continued, he snuck down the front staircase towards the door, wielding the bat in his hands and clenching his hands around it.

 

He could feel his heart racing, and he squared his shoulders ready to run as fast as he could if there really was some psycho stalker behind the door.

 

With a final stupid flash of bravery, he yanked the door open and swung the bat down towards the attacker with a scream.

 

Apparently, skipping gym class was not a good or fresh idea.

 

Two seconds after his heroic attempt at defence, James found himself pressed up against the door, bat yanked out of his hands just before it could make contact.

 

A tall, lean body pressed against him, and James felt his heart race as another scream built up in his throat.

 

He opened his eyes to see his attacker.

 

Only to then realise that James would recognize that ridiculously square jaw anywhere, even at 3am in the dark.

 

Twirling the bat in his hand, Grayson smirked.

 

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this, James.”

 

 

 

------

 

 

 

 

“Ugh, seriously screw you, Grayson!” James screeched, finding the strength to push the boy off him and wrench himself out of his grip.

 

Stepping back into the main hallway, one perfectly manicured hand flew up to his chest as if the mere action would calm down his heart that seemed set to jump right on out of his chest.

 

Wearing a white hoodie with black sweats that almost matched the deep charcoal of his front door, Grayson made an imposing figure as he stood in the doorway to James’s new home. His hair was messier than usual, and a quick glance at his face showed dark circles under his eyes that spoke of a lack of sleep.

 

Unfortunately, as much as James wanted to slam the door in his stupidly handsome face, through James’s heroic bat-attempt, Grayson had already entered the doorway too far for that to work.

 

“You’re lucky I didn’t literally call the cops on you,” James said harshly, crossing his arms over his chest. “What the heck are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night!”

 

At this, Grayson swallowed heavily and turned his head to face the ground. “Look, I just wanted to come over and make sure we were all good after today. You kinda…” Grayson trailed off, any previous cockiness long since gone.

 

James didn’t want a bar of it. “Kinda what, Grayson?”

 

Grayson’s jaw flexed. “You left. You left, and I’ve texted you a million times.” He sighed and rubbed a hand at the back of his neck. “Look, I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”

 

James felt a little bit of his anger melt away at that admittance. Even though he was still beyond pissed off at the fact he thought he was literally going to be murdered, the fact that Grayson cared enough to drive all the way over had to mean something.

 

Right?

 

Expelling a little bit of air through his nose, James held out an arm and motioned towards his living room. “Look, why don’t you come in instead of standing in my doorway like a creep.”

 

At this, a bit of a smile snuck onto Grayson’s tired face.

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

The embers of the fire James had going a few hours earlier were still slowly burning in the big fireplace, sending out a comfortable warmth into the living room. The room was otherwise silent, except for the occasional pop of a long turning over.

 

“So, uh, the new place is coming up good,” Grayson said, motioning to all the new moderations and changes James had made over the past few days since he had the group over for a sleepover. 

 

James snorted and crossed his legs, sitting on the big couch. “Look, I really doubt you came over to compliment my interior design skills. Why don’t you just tell me what’s really on your mind?”

 

Grayson ran a hand over the leather material of the chair he was perched upon. He made a fist, eyes tightening as he looked up at James.

 

“I just, you know…” Grayson sighed. “I just wanted you to know it was just a joke.”

 

At this, one perfectly groomed eyebrow arched upwards into the air. James could feel a little bit of his previous anger creeping back as he answered sharply, “A joke, Gray? Seriously?”

 

“Yes, James. A joke.” Grayson’s voice deepened to that rough, dark tone he got when he was being serious. “You know I’m not… like you know I’m not like that-”

 

“Like what, Grayson?” James’ blue eyes flashed cold. “Gay? Into guys? Trust me, I know,” he scoffed.

 

James stood up, suddenly finding he no longer really wanted to know what Grayson had to say.

 

“No! No, I’m not, and it was a freaking joke James,” the younger boy ran a hand through his hair in frustration. The room seemed a little smaller, and once again James was reminded of his own stupidity that had gotten him there.

 

His own stupidity that had culminated in him believing what Grayson had said earlier, while they were filming the intro to a video.

 

 

 

 

Earlier that day:

 

“We’re back!” The quad screamed in unison, as Emma and James deepened their voices to match the twins.

 

Well, it would have been in unison if Emma hadn’t completely missed the mark and gone and yelled a good two seconds after the rest of them.

 

James, from the other side of the Grayson, leant forward and cackled.

 

“Bit off with your timing, kitty girl,” he said with a side smirk that he’d long since perfected.

 

The two twins simultaneously rolled their eyes, Ethan running a hand through the front of his hair as he shifted on the couch.

 

“Well, do we do it again, or is that good?” Emma sighed, crossing her arms over the top of the cropped tank she had decided to wear.

 

James pursed his lips together and looked towards the twins for direction, only just missing the way Ethan elbowed Grayson. Later, he’d regret that.

 

“Nah,” Ethan intoned with a smirk. “Let’s film it again real quick, ok?” Everyone on the couch nodded and turned back to face the camera.

 

This time, they managed to get it in sync, and left Ethan to do the rest of the speaking for the minute.

 

“I’m here with the one and only Emma Chamberlain,” Ethan said, motioning to his left as Emma smiled and waved. Ethan paused and smirked, before continuing. “… and James Charles, my little brothers’ crush and soon to be something a little more than just friends.”

 

All at once, the room went silent. James expected the twins to start laughing at their joke.

 

But they didn’t.

 

Time seemed to stretch out, and it was a few seconds before James found his voice and squeaked, “Your what?”

 

Ethan’s eyes widened as he turned towards Grayson with a look of reproach. “Shit man, you hadn’t told him yet?”

 

Grayson flared his nostrils and clenched his fists, “No I god damn hadn’t, Ethan!” His raised voice was almost a full shout, indicating the extent of his anger.

 

James sat still in shock.

 

No, no, no, was this actually happening?

 

Ethan blinked quickly, opening his mouth several times as if to cover himself, “Just, after what you said last week about me and Emma that we had to bleep out, I just wanted to get you back and thought we’d bleep this too… look man, I’m sorry!” He held up his hands in apology.

 

Meanwhile, James’s head was spinning. Everything was happening so fast, and he couldn’t process a single part. Grayson turned to look at him, and those dark green eyes held depths that James knew he could get lost in.

 

Hell, he’d been getting lost in them ever since he met them in person all that time ago.

 

For the past year that they’d been friends, James had gone from just admiring the younger of the twin duo for his looks, to genuinely and truly falling in love with what it was that made Grayson so incredible.

 

It was easy to understand why millions of people fell in love with the two, but even more understandable so when you got to experience the reality of how truly amazing he was in real life. Grayson was kind, and sweet, and had the kind of determination and motivation that many people lacked.

 

Above all of that, he really did have a heart of gold.

 

And now, in a second, it seemed something had changed.

 

That little pipe dream that maybe the boy James had fallen for could feel something back wasn’t so stupid after all. Maybe things could be different?

 

Maybe it wouldn’t be like all the boys who had broken his heart before?

 

James felt his breath catch in his throat, as he realised he was still staring into Grayson’s eyes some seconds later.

 

Then, he heard Ethan’s characteristic booming laugh start up, and a smirk creep onto Grayson’s face that seemed displaced by a different emotion.

 

James felt his heart smash into a million pieces.

 

“Sister spooked!” Ethan laughed, turning to grab onto Grayson’s sweatshirt, looking into the camera. “Don’t let the end of October fool you guys, we’ve still got it!”

 

Both the twins leant over and grabbed James, shaking him while they cackled at their joke.

 

“Well, that was our intro idea for today guys!” Grayson laughed at the camera while Ethan finished the sentence. “How stupid, as if that would ever happen!” Ethan slapped James on the back one last time.

 

Internally, James was berating himself for his own stupidity. Embarrassment flooded him, leaving him mortified. How the heck was he so incredibly, literally stupid that he had believed that for a second?

 

James wanted to cry.

 

In no world would a guy like Grayson Dolan ever like him back, let alone love him.

 

James wanted to sprint off and throw up at the sheer humiliation he was feeling but managed to pull himself together. Catching the concerned look Emma was shooting him, he forced himself to let out a high-pitched laugh.

 

“Gotcha good, gal!” James pasted the biggest smile he could onto his face, trying to hide the way he felt like he could collapse then and there. 

 

Somehow, out of sheer desperation, he managed to get through the rest of filming the intro to the video they were shooting.

 

He wasn’t even half aware of what he was saying and doing, only knowing that he had to shut down his feelings and make it through the next few minutes to save himself the mortification letting the boys know the truth of how he felt.

 

His sharp nails dug half-moons into the palms of his hands as he willed his mask to stay in place and not let his tears come through like they were desperately begging to.

 

The second he heard the magic words that the twins had gotten what they wanted, he was up off the couch like a flash, headed for the bathroom.

 

Stupid boy, falling in love with someone who could crush his heart with a dumb joke.

 

Stupid.

 

 

 

---

 

 

At the memory, James felt all the anger flee his body in a rush. It was be replaced with a sense of overwhelming emptiness, the kind that leaves your soul open and raw. Closing his eyes, he let out a small laugh. “Trust me, Grayson. If there’s anyone who’s very aware you’re not into boys, it’s me.”

 

James didn’t see the way that Grayson’s faced tensed with his comment, nor the way Grayson’s large hands tightened around the chair he was on.

 

And James most certainly didn’t see the way the hurt on James’s face was replicated by the other boy.

 

“I’m just, look James I-” Grayson started, only to be cut off by James holding one diamond glinted hand in the air, eyes still closed.

 

“It was a joke, Grayson. It’s done. Let’s just move on and forget about it, ok?” The slender boy grimaced a little but hoped it would come off to Grayson like it was effortless.

 

It would be easier for James to have another little cry in the dark alone if the reason for his tears wasn’t still standing in front of him.

 

James stood up and moved towards the door, opening it quickly.  

 

Grayson paused as he passed him, before leaning into James for a hug. James let his eyes fall softly closed as he tucked his head on Grayson’s shoulder, allowing the boy’s strong arms to wrap around his body.

 

Inhaling gently, he smelt the familiar soap that had always centred and calmed him. In the quiet of the night, it was easier to hug Grayson the way he always wanted to.

 

The stars were their light, and the night wasn’t going to tell anyone if they didn’t part quickly, like society said they should.

 

But even so, some things just can’t last.

 

Remembering himself and the reason they had been in this mess in the first place, James pulled back quickly and went to move away, but the bigger boy grabbed his hand before he could.

 

Grayson’s eyes softened as spoke quietly. “Look, I’m sorry again about today. We should have run it by you first. E feels just as bad as I do about it.” Grayson lowered his shoulders, not moving his hand from where it encircled James’ tiny wrist.

 

It seemed to be becoming a habit.

 

With a parting soft smile and a little squeeze of his wrist, Grayson turned to leave.

 

“Anyways, I’ll see you Sunday, James.”

 

James stared at his back as he walked away, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

 

Wait.

 

What?

 

James furrowed his eyebrows, and called out to the departing boy, “Wait, Sunday? What’s Sunday?”

 

Grayson turned back around before narrowed his eyes at him. “You know, Sunday?”

 

At this, James shook his head quizzically.

 

Grayson widened his eyes and spoke slowly.  “Camping. You, me, Emma and Ethan. We’re going survival camping for a week, remember?”

 

James’ eyes nearly popped out of his head.

 

Camping.

 

They were going camping.

 

Alone.

 

For a week.

 

What could possibly go wrong, being in close proximity to the man that had the ability to hurt him more than anyone in the world, with no distractions, for 7 days?

 

James gulped, waved, and shut the door.

 

Shit.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a scorching hot day, typical for this time of year in LA. Even in late September it wasn’t really Autumn, more of an odd summer hybrid. The city could just be seen above the palm trees, a little whisper that even though they weren’t in the metropolis as such, they still were close to the heart of the city.

 

James ran an absent hand through the water of the pool, staring out over the backyard. It had been quite the tumultuous last few days, trying to pretend that everything was normal and fine. Uploading his video Friday had successfully distracted him for a few hours thankfully. Well- sort of. As per usual, the video hadn’t buffered and it had gone out two hours behind schedule.

 

James scoffed. Maybe the internet had an idea of how he felt currently, two hours behind all the time. The thought of the impending week didn’t exactly fill him with a sense of joy.

 

He had sat down yesterday to film, and it was like all of a sudden, every inch of creativity had fled him. His anxiety took over and he ended up sitting with his head on his workbench, glad he hadn’t invited his camera crew over to help him.  If he had thought he was anxious then, it had nothing on how he was feeling now.

 

7 days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes of pure torture. That’s how long he had to survive being in the presence of his three best friends.

 

And one, particular, rather beautifully frustrating boy.

 

A boy that he happened to be rather beautifully, frustratingly, ass over tits for.

 

As he pondered frustrating boys and the merits of jumping down the embankment and ‘hurting’ his ankle so he wouldn’t have to go on this trip, he didn’t quite notice the shadow sneaking up on him.

 

"Somebody's a bit quiet today?" Emma's inquisitive voice startled him out of his inner monologue.

 

He met her blue eyes, gave her a half smile and looked back towards the city. "Just preparing for a week with your crazy bitch asses, huh?"

 

James shifted over to let Emma sit down on the concrete next to him, pulling the inflatable toy to his left out of his way.

 

Emma huffed out a laugh at James’s characteristic sass and pulled her crop too down from where it had creeped up.

 

She'd been a bit worried about him lately. On the surface she could tell he was putting up a good front for the world, but to her, he looked tired.

 

And if anyone knew tired, it was the queen of tired herself, Emma Chamberlain.

 

No, it wasn't overly noticeable, but it was in the way he took an extra second to respond, or how his comments back where no less stinging, but a little slower to come out. James was one of those effervescent people that always just seemed to exude confidence. To see him any less than that made her worried, but she knew he wasn't exactly the type to let people in all that easily.

 

In fact, even though becoming friends with the twins had scared her shitless initially, it was James that freaked her out the most.

 

He was so welcoming and wanting to help, but she could tell he had this perfectly crafted wall to keep people out. In one of their first video's together, she remembered him saying that he was an open book with no secrets. In reality, James couldn't be further from the truth.

 

Yes, he was open and honest and wore his personality on his sleeve, but he held people at arm's length with an ease she envied at times. He had the ability to make people believe that they knew everything, without them even knowing how much he withheld.

 

He wasn't the airy ditz he could sometimes come off as, nor was he as heartless and cold as he sometimes portrayed.

 

He felt and loved deeply, and at the end of the day, was one of the most loyal and true people she knew. Unfortunately, she had the feeling that a certain member of the Dolan Twins didn't quite understand the power he had over James at this present moment.

 

So, she wouldn't say anything to anybody.

 

Emma put a hand over James', and laid her head on his shoulder, providing a physical comfort that she hoped would let him know he wasn't alone.

 

She bit her lip and sighed, "It's going to be quite the week, isn’t it?"

 

James just chuckled and leant his head on hers. "You have no idea."

 

---

 

“What, no camera lights this time, James?”

 

James let out a sharp laugh and hit Ethan where he stood grinning at him. “No, I already look good enough in nature, thank you!”

 

With that, James hefted his bag at Ethan and let out a satisfied smile as he saw the stronger boy dip down with the surprise of having a rather heavy object suddenly in his grasp.

 

James thought he’d done a pretty good job at condensing his clothes down to just one (slightly/very full) duffle bag, if he was honest. It might surprise some people, but he actually wasn’t a stranger to going camping- although he had been a bit more of an indoors type of a teenager, he wasn’t actually that afraid to get his hands dirty.

 

His feet crunched on the gravel driveway as he made his way towards the passenger seat, only to have Ethan run around and block him as he extended an arm to the black door handle.

“Sorry,” Ethan huffed, “front seat is reserved for Emma. You’re in the back with Gray.” James felt like rolling his eyes but managed to keep it held within him.

 

For about two entire seconds.

 

Who was he without a good eye roll?

 

“Ok, I am literally never in the front seat. This is the worst.” James crossed his arms over his Balenciaga jumper (the one he probably, definitely should not be wearing camping, but oh well).

 

Ethan just shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t make the rules!” At this, James let out a squawk of protest.

 

Pointing at the car, he exclaimed, “Ethan! This is literally your car! As in, yours!” He began gesticulating wildly at the car, only to have Ethan raise an eyebrow.

 

“So,” Ethan started with a speculative tone, “what’s so wrong about traveling in the back with my brother?” 

 

James felt like his previous thoughts about jumping down the embankment should have been taken slightly more seriously.

 

“Let’s not even go there, sister. This is purely about the fact I am never, literally never, in the front.” James shook his head and threw his hands in the air.

 

Ethan just stood there, arms crossed. “So, this isn’t about Grayson-”

 

“Grayson? What about me?” The man himself questioned, appearing to their left, carrying a dark green bag over his shoulder.

 

Wearing a thin white hoodie and black shorts, even dressed down, Grayson looked like he stepped straight of a runway. It was a trait that James envied at times, especially when his hair fell over his forehead in a way that looked so natural, a trait that made James well aware of his own propensity to spend a lengthy amount of time merely trying to achieve any semblance of nice hair.

 

James gulped and prayed that Ethan would play their previous conversation off as nothing. “I was just telling your brother”, he paused, eyes widening at Ethan, “that it is ridiculously unfair that I am never in the front seat.”

 

Grayson turned to Ethan, his free hand pulling at the bottom of his white jumper. Ethan just smirked and waved the car keys in his hands, making a jangling noise. “I’m driving, Emma’s in the front. You two in the back.”

 

At this, Grayson clued in a bit more about the situation that had been going on. Despite what some people on the internet liked to believe, he really wasn’t stupid and quickly put together exactly what he had walked in on. Back stiffening, he clenched his jaw.

 

James saw the muscle jump, and wanted to sink into the ground even more than before.

 

“Right, well it appears we’re stuck with each other for a bit longer.”  Meeting James’s brown eyes, Grayson’s face closed off entirely. Cocking a brow, he asked, “Unless you have an issue with that, James?”

 

With one final cold look, Grayson turned and walked over to the boot.

 

Suddenly the embankment seemed like a brilliant option. It appeared that the late night visit hadn’t been a neat little end to whatever the hell was going on between the two of them.

 

In his best upbeat voice, James exclaimed, “No! Not a problem at all!”

 

And then promptly winced. His ‘upbeat’ had sounded like he’d been sucking on a helium balloon.

 

Well, he would just have to deal with it.

 

James walked over to the other side of the car, to the side he would normally sit on. Opening the door and sliding in, he glanced quickly in the side mirror and laughed internally. At least his makeup still looked kind of bomb?

 

A whole five-hour car trip had never sounded worse. At least James could try and sleep most of it? With the utter lack of anything he’d been getting, perhaps his subconscious would allow him a bit of peace.

 

Hah. As if.

 

Grayson slid into the car the seat over from him, slamming the car door, and immediately reached into his back pocket for his phone.

 

Well, if that’s how he was going to play it, James thought, he figured he could take the slightly younger boy’s lead and be addicted to his phone just the same for the entire trip.

 

He decided not to think about the fact that in a short amount of time they wouldn’t have their phones to distract them.

 

Emma jumped in the car, Ethan getting in shortly after. The big black car let out a rumble as Ethan started it, cranking up the air con. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, Ethan backed it out and turned around to drive out the gates.

 

“Seatbelts on, people.” At Ethan’s reminder, James reached up behind him to pull the seat belt across his body.

 

Only to have the thing let out a clunk and jam, quite spectacularly.

 

Furrowing his brow, he tried again, pulling at the buckle and trying to get it to shift.

 

After trying several times, James sighed and said, “Ah, Ethan- I think I have a slight problem?” He grimaced and futilely tried to pull at his belt.

 

Ethan looked back and swore. “That seatbelt jammed the last time I tried to get in it- Gray, can you help him?”

 

His twin let out a grunt, and reached over.

 

Brown eyes met green, and James and Grayson realised at exactly the same time that Grayson would have to literally lie on James to reach the seatbelt on his other side.

 

Bracing himself, James pushed as far back into his own seat as humanly possible.

 

The tanned boy ground his teeth together, undid his own (perfectly functional) seatbelt, and reached a strong arm across James’ slender body.

 

He kept his green eyes solely on the problematic belt, and let out a grunt as he tried to force it into cooperation.

 

Whilst Grayson was focused on his task, James was trying to look anywhere but the rather steeled abs that were fully on show from where Grayson’s hoodie had ridden up. In his mission to ignore the ignorable, he became all too aware of just how much Grayson dwarfed him in size.

 

So, he closed his eyes and prayed that Grayson would hurry the hell up.

 

With a final pull, Grayson sat up and shook his head. “E, it’s broken.”

 

Emma let out a laugh, “Ah yes, perfect way to start this week. Not a sign at all.” Her sarcastic tone at least lightened things a bit, as Ethan’s response was to slam his fist against the steering wheel.

 

“Look, we’ve packed the car full of all our stuff already.” Ethan rubbed his hands over his sharp jawline, pondering his next move, “James, just slide over into the middle seat.”

 

Embankment.

 

Why didn’t James just jump down the embankment when he had the chance?

 

“You are literally kidding me,” he muttered under his breath.

 

From the way Grayson’s head snapped up, clearly, he hadn’t been quiet enough.

 

Sliding over, James realised it was inevitable that unless the boy to his right lost about fifty pounds of pure muscle from his thighs, there was no way they wouldn’t be touching.

 

Resigning himself to his fate, he quickly put his seatbelt on and tried to ignore the heat that was radiating off Grayson’s body. He shivered quickly, before remembering himself.

 

Bloody hell, if he was reacting this ridiculously to being in contact with Grayson, how on earth could he survive a week in his presence?

 

Resolutely staring out the front window seat, he missed Grayson closing his eyes and the pained look that glanced over the younger boy’s face.

 

Maybe things would have been a lot easier if he had have just seen that.

 

Maybe not.

Chapter Text

The road ahead was silent, and two out of the four people who were in the big black car were fast asleep. The moon filtered in some light from the windows, and the occasional light on the highway cast a shadow over the boy who lay sleeping on the other’s shoulder.

 

The sun had quickly gone down hours earlier, and now the radio was the only background noise. They had planned to leave earlier in the day, but hadn’t quite managed it. What they thought was going to be about a five-hour drive had extended to more like ten hours when they discovered the highway they were meant to be on was closed for roadworks, then realised they probably needed to eat dinner.

 

Grayson met his brother’s eyes in the rear-view mirror and let out a sigh, running his free hand through his already messy hair. He turned his head, glancing at the sleeping boy curled up on his shoulder, then looked back out the window over the moonlit desert.

 

Ethan’s whisper could barely be heard. “You’ve got to do something, Gray. You’re miserable.”

 

Grayson just shook his head and continued watching the wind cut sand dunes pass by.

 

“Do what, E? I can’t do anything.” He scoffed. “You know that as well as me.”

 

Ethan’s brown eyes flicked up to send a pointed look to his brother in the back of the car. “You could just tell him the truth, Gray.”

 

Grayson ground his jaw together, sparing a quick glance down at James to make sure he was fast asleep, and let the silence ring out for a while.

 

Their earlier awkwardness hadn’t been missed by anyone present, and it had continued for quite some time. Thankfully Emma had already passed out by the times James succumbed to his weary eyes, and after the chat he and his brother had after things had blown up in their faces the other day, he knew Ethan wouldn’t say anything.

 

Thoughts whirled around in his head, and some time had passed before he answered.

 

Grayson shook his head.

 

“Truth?”, he muttered, letting out a humourless laugh, “Like I even know what that is, Ethan.”

 

Looking down, he fought the instinct to run a hand through the slender boy’s dark black hair. He was sleeping so peacefully, and had unknowingly shifted in his sleep to curl up against Grayson’s side.

 

It was with a pang of hurt that he realised James would never be doing that if he was awake.

 

It was this realisation that sparked something in him. In the depth of the midnight hours, Grayson made a resolute decision that he wouldn’t hurt their friendship any more than what he already had.

 

No matter what he was feeling, he didn’t want to lose James.

 

He couldn’t.

 

So, he would go on pretending.

 


---


 

 

It was about three hours later when they finally pulled into a gas station to refuel. Grayson realised he was going to have to wake the sleeping boy, and was thankful that Ethan had left the car already with a half-asleep Emma too tired to even give a second thought to the boys in the back.

 

Finally giving in to what he’d wanted to do for a while now, he reached down and ran a hand over James’s dark curls, fingertips brushing lightly down his jaw. He whispered his name a few times, and watched as the older boy only proceeded to curl up tighter into his side.

 

Grayson felt one side of his mouth twitch up in a fond smile, and repeated his name. James’s eyelids fluttered open a few times, as he let out a hum and sighed, wearily opening his eyes.

 

Then, with a shock he seemed to realise exactly why he’d been so content, James sprung backwards.

 

Apparently, he also forgot that the seatbelt he was wearing would restrict his movement.

 

Jerking back and slamming into his seat with a sharp exhale, James saw Grayson’s half smile disappear into awkwardness.

 

“Ah”, Grayson ran a hand through his hair and continued, “the other two have gone in already, we’re just stopping quickly.”

 

James felt like his throat couldn’t produce sound, and just nodded quickly. If it wasn’t awkward before, he sure as hell had made sure that it was after his little display. He unbuckled his belt and shifted over to reach for the door, when he heard Grayson’s chuckle.

 

James flipped around and stared quizzically at Grayson.

 

“You, ah,” Grayson paused and held back a smile, pointing at his own chin, “You’ve got a bit of a fun pattern going on from my jumper.”

 

James’s hand flew up to his face and he felt himself grow warm at the little star imprints he could feel. Rolling his eyes, he reached out and slapped Grayson’s arm. “Literally shut up, Grayson.”

 

At this, the younger boy let out a full-bodied laugh, and James couldn’t help but smile widely back it him. It had been a little while since he had seen Grayson laugh so openly in his presence, and truth be told, he had missed it.

 

Grayson’s laughter died down, and the two boys were left in the dark car, smiling at each other.

 

With a final huff of a laugh, Grayson leant in towards James.

 

James’s eyes widened as the boy came closer, stopping inches away from his own face. He froze, unsure of what was actually happening.

 

“Truth be told,” Grayson dragged his eyes up and down James’s face, “I think it looks good on you.”

 

With that, Grayson leapt out of the car and left James staring after him.

 

Boys. He would never understand them.

 

(It’s fully irrelevant that he was a boy. Admittedly, his own gender was wildly confusing.)


 

---



Eventually, the quartet finally made it past the seemingly never-ending desert and into the mountain range they had been aiming for. Sand was replaced with sprawling trees, grass and dense forest.

 

It was a welcome change, but it meant the temperature lifted a significant amount the higher they got. It wasn’t exactly nail bitingly cold, but there definitely was a chill in the air that did not resemble LA in the slightest.

 

The rest of the car ride had passed in a peaceful kind of way- well, as peaceful as them screeching out hit after 2000’s hit could get. It was a nice feeling for them all to be laughing together, free of the pressures that LA often brought.

 

The earlier awkwardness between the two boys in the back had dissipated, even though James still had to suck in a breath every time they would go around a sweeping corner and he would practically fall on top of Grayson.

 

In a short time with a few windy roads and interesting driving, it seemed they were quickly arriving at their makeshift home for the next few days. The forest evened out, and fortunately the campsite was only a short distance away from where they would park.

 

Luckily, the twins had a (very) distant family relation that lived out this way, and they were happy to let the four of them stay out on the edge of their property. Logistically it went quite well, as although they were fairly far away from the small shack that was on the property, there was still a way to stay in contact with the outside world whilst being so secluded.

 

Stepping one poorly chosen Balenciaga clad foot out of the car, James closed his eyes and tilted his head back as he breathed in the fresh air. Being in LA for too long made you appreciate it when you could take in air that wasn’t ridiculously polluted.

 

With all four of them helping, it wasn’t long before the car was fully unpacked and Ethan was locking it up with a beep.

 

Moving the bags across to the camp site wasn’t overly difficult. To get there you had to go down a little dirt track (and try not to trip over one inconveniently placed tree root). Branching to the right and down a little further, a clearing opened up into a little hide away that was to be their home.

 

A roughly circular space, large looming trees hung filtered the moonlight in quite well above what would become their home for the next while. Tracks spiralled off out of little openings to the woods, but a collective decision was made to not tempt fate by trying to explore when all they wanted was sleep.

 

Upon arriving, the twins had gone and put little lights along the pathway to prevent any unnecessary accidents.

 

So far, only Emma had face-planted.

 

Rather spectacularly.

 

But, she was a good sport about it and kept going- even if they all ignored the way Ethan had ran to her side immediately after watching her go flying.

 

It was almost worth it when James looked sideways only to realise Grayson was already sending him that knowing smirk.

 

After about 30 minutes of speedy bag-moving, the quartet stood in the middle of the bags and realised the slight issue that they had.

 

There were 3 tents, and four people.

 

Obviously, the logical thing would be the twins (who had shared their entire life) would go in one, and the two others would each have their own, as was previously decided.

 

Except the genius that was Ethan Dolan had bought three, lovely, tents.

 

A correction: three, lovely, single person tents, with barely enough room to fit a small person in, let alone two bulky teenagers (with muscles like you wouldn’t believe).

 

James stood back and widened his eyes in realisation that this arrangement was not going to favour what was meant to be the very safe and not-testing sleeping arrangements.

 

In fact, any organisation of the group was still going to be challenging.

 

Obviously, Emma being the only girl, and still only being seventeen, wasn’t really expecting to have to share a tent.

 

Emma sleeping in the same tent as Ethan and having to film it for the video they were making was only going to start more rumours for the two. With everything that had been going on of late, it would only place more pressure on the already struggling teen, so that was definitely out.

 

Emma and Grayson sleeping in the same tent, no matter how innocent, would have exactly the same results. Not to mention the slight unrest that it would initiate between the two brothers. Even if there might not be anything ‘official’ going on between the sarcastic brunette and older twin, Grayson still didn’t want to cause tension when there really didn’t need to be any.

 

And James, well he was happy to sleep in the same tent as Emma.

 

Except this brought them back to point one: Emma, being the only girl, should really have her own tent, even if merely for privacy reasons.

 

So, if the two twins couldn’t share due to slight fear of ripping the tent apart with their sheer muscle mass, James concluded that he would have to sleep with one of them.

 

James eyes widened as the errant thought ran through his head, and quickly clarified in his mind that he meant ‘sleeping in the same vicinity as them’, and would be very careful before he ever spoke that particular thought out loud.

 

“So, is that a yes, James?” Ethan’s address shocked James out of his musings.

 

James squinted and ran a nervous hand through his already messy hair. “Ah, we might need a little good and fresh recap?”

 

“Well, if Emma gets her tent, and I take that one, can you squeeze in with Grayson for tonight until we can figure out something better for tomorrow?” Ethan’s hopeful face didn’t exactly inspire the same feelings in James.

 

It would appear that whilst James had been doing some thinking of his own about the sleeping arrangements, the rest of the group had come to the same conclusion.

 

Looking over to see if he could gauge how the younger twin felt, he was met with Grayson’s blank face. Arms crossed over his chest, Grayson resembled one of those poster-boy Abercrombie model pictures that James may or may not have had in his side draw when he was younger and a little less out.

 

Gulping, James put on his widest smile.

 

(Yes, the big smile that looks slightly homicidal. It was the best he could do at 3am on short notice.)

 

“Sister squeeze in the tent? No worries, sounds fun!” James saw Emma look at him like he was a little crazy out of the corner of his eye and chose to ignore it.

 

Instead, he marched over to the tent, opened the flap, summoned all his confidence and climbed in without a single look back.

 

Thanking everything that was good in the world they had all changed into their sleeping clothes at the gas station a few hours early, he quickly rolled out his sleeping bag and attempted to push it all the way to the side of the tent.

 

He quickly realised that it was a futile mission, as the side of the tent was about an inch away from where Grayson would have to roll out his own sleeping bag.

 

Speaking of Grayson, James lay stock still as he heard the zipper of the tent go again, and the other boy’s face appeared in the entrance.

 

Any time other than in the dead of night in a squished tent, Grayson’s face would have been almost comical as he tried to figure out a way to climb over James’s long legs to get to his ‘side’ of the tent- if you could even call it that.

 

“Um, I’ll just,” Grayson stuttered, making numerous aborted movements before giving up and just launching himself awkwardly at his own sleeping bag.

 

Of course, with James’s luck, one of Grayson’s sprawling legs got him in a way that was neither fun or fresh, right in the hip.

 

Letting out a quick “Ooof,” James curled up as he tried not to react to viscerally to being literally kicked full pelt in the hip by a rather strong flying foot.

 

 “Shit, shit, I’m so sorry!” Realising the unintended victim of his flying jump to his bed Grayson sat up quickly, offering platitudes, only to smack his head right into the pole holding up the ceiling.

 

“Ouch!” Grayson let out, hand flying up to the back of his head to rub it in an attempt to get rid of the pain.

 

At this, James couldn’t help but let out a sharp bark of a laugh as he clutched his throbbing hip.

 

Then, Grayson, seeing James’ face, started chuckling.

 

It wasn’t long before the two bruised and battered teens were full body laughing at their own stupidity.

 

Eventually the laughing gave way to wheezing and the occasional chuckle. Realizing simultaneously that they were still in the predicament that had landed them both injured in the first place, James attempted to help the situation by scooting over more to his side.

 

Grayson quickly rolled out his sleeping bag.

 

“So, if I promise to move my legs next time you try to get in,” James started drolly, “can you promise to try not to see if you can break my hip for a real one?”

 

At this, Grayson let out a huff, squirming around in an attempt to get into his sleeping bag.

 

“Sure, as long as you don’t do anything that means I go flying into the damn pole again,” he replied sarcastically.

 

James chuckled and lay back, eyes to the ceiling. “Well, it sounds like we have a deal then.”

 

From where he was safely hidden in his sleeping bag, Grayson let out a fond smile at the boy’s trade mark snark. He had actually been worried he’d hurt James for a second, so he was rather relieved when he had started laughing. It had also been successful at ending the lingering tension.

 

“Night, James,” Grayson said softly.

 

The elder boy’s lip twitched up in a faint smile. Even though both of them had moved as far as possible away from each other (which was really not that far), he was glad that the earlier strain seemed to have dissipated.

 

“Night, Grayson,” he replied, rolling over to go to sleep.

 

The exhaustion from long night caught up with them both quickly, and it wasn’t long before their soft breathing filled the tent.

 

And, while they had started with good intentions in separating themselves as much as possible, about an hour after they had fallen asleep, they were wrapped around each other.

 

An outsider might have called it sweet, but if James had been awake to see it, he would be cursing the sister spirts for how awkward it was going to be to explain why he had fallen asleep and gravitated to Grayson, for the second time that day.

 

But for now, the night stretched on, and the pair had one of the best sleeps they’d had in a long time, held safely in the other’s arms.






 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a chilly morning, and James was quickly regretting his apparent inability to pack anything that was suitably warm.

 

In fact, the steaming porridge he was holding in his hands was just about the one good thing about this morning. It had rained a little overnight, so the log he was seated on was slightly damp. The sun was peeking through the trees intermittently, creating shadows on the leafy ground, but not really enough to warm anyone. James’ sheer black jacket did little to retain any warmth, and he could feel his cheeks going a rosy red with the wind chill.

 

Cheeks that went even redder when he thought about what had transpired earlier that morning.

 

Apparently, waking up soundly wrapped in Grayson’s strong arms wasn’t just one of his regular dreams, but a very (literal) reality. Upon waking, James had curled up tighter into the warmth enfolded around him, only to snap his eyes opened when he remembered exactly where he was.

 

Potentially due to James’ sudden rigidity, Grayson had woken up about two seconds later. After some indecipherable stammering and some misplaced accidental elbows to the stomach, the younger boy had rocketed out of the tent with an enviable speed.

 

Whilst James had spent the next twenty minutes urging his flaming red cheeks to get rid of their uncharacteristic blush, it had seemed Grayson had channelled the situation and any lingering embarrassment into building quite the spectacular fire.

 

A fire that had been perfect to make the gloopy, slightly runny (but oddly hard in places?) porridge that James was silently eating.

 

Well, eating was a loose term.

 

Attempting to eat?

 

He ran his spoon through it with a speculative glance. Look, he wasn’t going to complain- from the run down the boys had given him of what they had tentatively planned activities wise for the rest of the week, interestingly assembled porridge seemed like the least of his problems. In fact, the mere issue of what they were going to be eating seemed like more of a thing to think about than the mostly recognizable dish in front of him.

 

As lost as he was in his musings about the comparative benefits of porridge as opposed to unknown foods, he missed a certain sarcastic brunette sitting down on the log next to him.

 

“So, how was your night with a certain someone?” Emma’s raspy voice startled him out of his own mind.

 

James turned to face her, disapproval written across his face. Emma curved her lips up, wrapping her slender arms further around her body.

 

She, rather intelligently, seemed to have packed a giant, red (and rather warm looking) parka and paired it with warm grey sweatpants that she rolled at the cuff, exposing an inch of ankle before her black combat boots took over.

 

James shook his head exasperatedly and nudged her, sending her flailing precariously off the end of the log with a yelp, arms swinging.

 

Once she had gotten her balance back, upon seeing her outraged look, he squinted his eyes and whispered, “We are not going to talk about this now, thank you sister.”

 

He threw a knowing look to the opposite side of the camp, where the twins were squabbling over how they were planning on arranging the ropes.

 

It was funny how the two seemed to dress in the polar opposite at times. Grayson had hastily put on a black knit jumper. If James was honest, it looked just as warm as it was form fitting, aiding in defining every inch of his sculpted body, completing the look with a simple pair of black sweats. Comparatively, Ethan’s heavy white jumper had been paired with dark grey shorts, making James wince at the boy’s apparent inability to feel the cold.

 

As Grayson moved backwards to point at a particular rope, the morning sunlight shone off the golden highlights at the front of his dark hair. He looked lovely, a kind of morning softness in his features. James took in a deep breath and actively turned away from them before he could be caught staring.

 

Emma looked in the same direction and furrowed her brow. Whilst her sentiments might have been directed at a different boy, they still seemed to mimic James’ quite accurately.

 

“We’re a little bit screwed, aren’t we?”

 

James just laughed.

 

“And you’re figuring this out now?” Scraping the last of his porridge off his bowl and popping it into his mouth, he got up and stretched. “Girl, we’re a lot more than screwed.”

 

Now, if James had been paying attention, he would have seen the way a certain green-eyed boy watched the way his sweater rose, exposing a sliver of porcelain skin to the golden rays of sunlight breaking through the trees, not dissimilar to the way James had been looking at him mere seconds earlier.

 

But, he didn’t.

 

Instead, extending one perfectly coiffed hand towards Emma, James pulled the girl up off the damp log and walked across to where Ethan had set up a place to quickly rinse their dishes in (probably set up with a great deal of nudging from his brother).

 

Moving on from the previous conversational mind field, James queried Emma on whether or not her phone had died the previous night as he washed his bowl.

 

As Emma nodded the affirmative, James breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t the only one who’d accidentally blown all the remaining battery on their phone. It was a bit of an odd feeling to not have it in his hands, as so much of his career and life revolved around having it close to him. They had bought a solar powered phone for emergencies, but other than that didn’t really have any contact with the world outside for the time being.

 

To be honest, it was rather nice, not to be so available.

 

Unfortunately, it also had the added downside of forcing his hand when it came to interacting, as he now had no excuse to take a break by looking at it. Hopefully, his anxiety would stay at its current relatively low level.

 

Speaking of anxiety-inducing events, Grayson strode across the campsite and approached the crouched duo. Coughing to announce his presence, the unexpected sound made James whip around, just in time to fall elegantly straight onto his ass at Grayson’s feet.

 

Clambering to his feet, James attempted to play it off as casually as possible.

 

He told himself he’d succeeded when Grayson pointedly chose to ignore it. He also pointedly chose to ignore Emma’s snort at his antics.

 

The two hadn’t talked since this morning bar Grayson pushing the bowl of gloopy porridge into James’ hands, so it was only fair that the unexpected arrival of the boy made him a little jumpy.

 

Well.

 

As unexpected as somebody arriving when there are only four people around in miles can be.

 

Grayson rubbed the back of his neck, muscles flexing under his tight jumper. “So, we’re thinking of heading down the south trail to get to the river. We’ll leave in a bit, but then we’ll be crossing it and then collecting the water from a bit further upstream if that sounds good?”

 

Emma nodded in acquiescence, still somewhat asleep. However, James narrowed his eyes, stuck on a certain part of the sentence.

 

He was pretty sure he had heard him right, and if so, they were going to have an issue. A rather big issue at that.

 

“Wait, crossing a river? Why do we have to cross if we’re just grabbing water?”

 

“Well, the owners said the path on this side of the river is pretty overrun, so we figured we’d just cross,” Grayson shrugged, “and besides we can film coming back across with the water for the video as well.”

 

James shot the boy a sceptical look. Seeing it, Grayson continued in an attempt to assuage his fears, “the owners told us that it should be pretty shallow this time of year, so not to worry?” He posed it as a question, not exactly inspiring the greatest of confidence.

 

James lifted his eyebrows, and looked down at his long legs. Well, he thought, at least they’re are long enough I should just be able to jump the crossing.

 

Surely, it couldn’t be that bad?

 

---

 

 

 

After filming a bit of an ‘intro to the wilderness’, combined with their rather delayed wake up due to getting to the campsite so late, it was fairly late in the afternoon before the group set off for the river.

 

There was a noticeable bite to the air, and James was trying his best to hide his shivers. He estimated they had been walking for about twenty minutes through the dense forest, batting low hanging trees dripping water out of the way. It was nice to just be with the four of them, and he was glad that they had decided to do the video a bit differently and set up go-pro’s around the campsite instead of bringing an entire camera crew with them.

 

Grayson and Ethan were playfully shoving each other up ahead, and Emma and him had been cackling at them for the past five minutes. James had a wide smile on his freckled face as he took in how perfect this moment was, as so rarely could he just get to forget about his fast-paced life and just enjoy nature.

 

A smile that lasted up until he rounded the corner and saw the ‘small river’ they had to cross.

 

Small his ass.

 

---

 

 

The river was flowing steadily.

 

And by steadily, James meant it was a freaking giant raging beast that he had no hope in hell of crossing. There were rocks, and fast white washed water, and a steep slippery slope that was dotted with half out trees.

 

Fairly positive his eyes had widened as much as humanly possible, he turned sideways to see Grayson shooting him a sheepish look.

 

James had just opened his mouth to voice his opinion of their plan, when any thoughts (let’s clarify: expletives) going through his mind were disbanded by Emma’s exclamation.

 

“Ah crap, this camera just died,” she said, rolling her eyes in frustration. “I don’t think the battery charged properly last night. We’re going to need it if we want to do any close work on the other side of the river.”

 

The group collectively groaned, as they had only brought two cameras with them.

 

Emma waved the offending camera in her hand, pausing, before continuing contemplatively. “Maybe I can run back to the campsite quickly and meet you guys on the other side?”

 

At this, Ethan’s eyebrows shot up.

 

“No way I’m leaving you here to cross that by yourself, I’ll come back with you, and we can do it together.” He turned to face the other two. “You guys go across and start filming the first bit, and we can go from there.”

 

Emma reached a small hand to the neck of her jumper and winced, sending a shrug in James’ direction. “Um, well, yep, guess that will do?”

 

With that, the eldest boy came back to life and pasted a smile on his face. “Yeah, perfect sister, I’ll make sure we’re not all going to literally die crossing this river, and we’ll see you in a bit,” he said sarcastically.

 

Grayson rolled his eyes and chuckled at James trademark sass, before lightly punching him in the shoulder. “Come on, let’s get going.”

 

With that, the two boys set off down the lightly worn path to the bank.

 

To be honest, James was quite impressed by the way he hadn’t tripped over any logs or branches, nor slid on his ass in the muddy foliage.

 

Yet.

 

Nevertheless, it was an accomplishment in his books.

 

In his concentration, it only dawned on him that he was alone with Gray when said boy turned back and extended his hand to help James down a ledge with a bit of a jump.

 

James widened his eyes. He reached out his own slender hand, again becoming all too aware of how Grayson’s warm hand fully encompassed his own. James’ smooth, soft hands met Grayson’s calloused ones. Clutching his camera to his chest, James leapt off the edge.

 

However, his spectacular landing was ruined by an unexpected tree branch, and he stumbled as his legs gave out underneath him. Positive he was about to go head first into a rock at the base of the large tree next to him, James let out a strangled yelp.

 

However, just before his head could be turned to mush, a rather muscled arm caught his free wrist, pulling him back up from his horizontal dip.  

 

The force Grayson exerted to pull him back not only succeeded in saving him, but also in pulling the willowy boy directly into his chest with a thud.

 

Letting out a little breath, James looked down into the younger boys’ eyes from where he was gripped in his arms. James could see the initial panic in them settling the longer he looked. God, he thought, a person really could get lost looking into them, couldn’t they?

 

But remembering himself before too long, he darted his eyes away. Pushed Grayson away and stepping back, he muttered a small thank you and bit his lip.

 

Grayson just grunted, slightly embarrassed, and turned to continue their descent through the trees to the river’s edge.  

 

When the duo finally reached the raging torrent that was the river a few minutes later (thank you sister, no, that isn’t an exaggeration because James Charles would never exaggerate), James gulped.

 

From up close, it seemed even scarier. It was at least twenty meters wide, and appeared to be flowing rather steadily given last night’s downpour. The banks either side were steep and slippery, not exactly easy terrain to navigate.

 

As if he sensed the older boys internal panic, Grayson turned.

 

“Ok, so I’ll go first, and you can just follow me, alright?” Grayson pointed at the opposite bank, “I’m pretty sure it will be fine, we just have to watch the rocks at that last bit, ok?”

 

James nodded and raised his eyebrows, looking over to the jagged rocks jutting sharply out of the river.

 

Well, he was always up for a challenge, even if he was nearly certain his own young life was about to be snuffed out by a lovely portion of flowing river.

 

Even if that challenge meant he was about to completely ruin his shoes and sweats.

 

At least they weren’t Balenciaga?

 

Grayson leant down to roll up his pants to below just above his knees, and then tentatively extended one toned calf into the river.

 

“Shit!” Grayson exclaimed, yanking his leg out.  

 

Turning back to James with a sheepish look, he muttered, “I mean, it’s just a little chilly.”

 

James just quirked his lips and nodded. Sure, it was.

 

Then, the concentration game truly began.

 

It was fairly tough going, and each step required a certain amount of perfect balance. James could safely say he’d never quite felt a river beat this vigorously, and the pull of the current was continually threatening to tug legs out from under him.

 

But he kept on, watching Grayson’s careful movements and attempting to mimic them as closely as possible. The crystal-clear water would have been lovely… except for the force and noticeably sized rocks creating a white wash on the top of the river, making each step even more precarious as you couldn’t really see where you were treading.

 

After twenty meters of precarious stepping and almost slips, Grayson finally made it safely across the river, turning to help James across the last precarious rock.

 

Almost to the other side, James was ready to celebrate and shot Gray a cheeky smile.

 

He reached up to grab his outstretched hand.

 

However, he should have known it was too soon to be excited.

 

It happened so suddenly, he didn’t even really realise he was falling.

 

With a startled yelp, his foot slipped on the wet rock, and he was sent tumbling down.

 

James let out a scream as the rocks rushed towards him.

 

Coming about ten centimetres from slamming his head into the rock he’d been trying to step on when he fell, in a ridiculous parody of about fifteen minutes prior, Grayson managed to grab his slender wrist.

 

Yanking backwards with an almighty force, the younger boy saved James from his previous fate.

 

However, unfortunately, the price of Grayson saving his head was James’ knees slamming into the unforgiving stone with a bang, half stumbling into the river, drenching his legs up to his waist.

 

“Shit, James, are you ok?” Grayson asked in a panic, wrenching the boy roughly up and onto the bank.

 

He started running his hands over James’ legs, trying to see where he was hurt.

 

James just groaned and shut his eyes, gripping his undoubtedly bloody knees.

 

Clenching his teeth, he replied, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I just- ah shit,” he let out a grunt, “kind of landed wrong.”

 

He looked down, glad to see his sweats were dark enough and drenched enough that no blood had seeped through.

 

Embarrassment setting in, James waved off the younger boys’ hands and pushed himself up, only to underestimate both the steep angle of the bank and sheer vertigo he felt at his near miss.

 

With that, because the third time’s a charm, his wet shoes slipped in the mud.

 

James fell, flailing his arms as he tried to balance.

 

And of course, in his flailing, he grabbed onto the closest thing to him.

 

Which just happened to be a certain shocked Grayson Dolan, who was most definitely not prepared to be grabbed sideways by close to six feet of falling boy.

 

And, with that, pulled down in no elegant manner, Grayson collapsed soundly on top of James.

 

Both letting out an audible ooof, the boys groaned as they impacted the ground together, momentarily glad for the mud that slightly softened the landing.

 

Well, at least for James it softened the landing, because for Grayson… well, James was the landing.

 

“Ah, fuck me,” James whispered, eyes still closed, tentatively reaching a hand to rub the back of his head that had solidly hit the ground.

 

Only to have his hand come in contact with a rather prominent bicep that most certainly did not belong to him.

 

And a body, certainly not his, rather awkwardly pressing him into the ground.

 

Snapping his eyes open, James realised what he had said, and stammered, “Um, by that, I didn’t- um, I meant, wow ok, um yep…”

 

Eventually, he trailed off and just kind of stared in shock at the boy on top of him, a rare example of how even the queen of talking could be lost for words.


At this, the green eyed boy started laughing in sheer incredulity at the situation they found themselves. James started laughing himself when he heard it. He knew Grayson could be self-conscious about his laugh, so being one of the few who got to listen to it so free and open was special, even if his knee was most definitely throbbing like a bitch.  

 

Only the two of them could have screwed up just enough to land themselves in this position.

 

After the laughter has quietened, James sucked in a breath as the other boy attempted to push himself off, reminded of the precarious position they were both in.

 

However, Grayson’s grip and ingenious idea to attempt to stop squashing James was waylaid by the slippery mud.

 

With a thud, he came crashing back down on top of the dark-haired boy.

 

Letting out another groan, Grayson lowered his head, forehead connecting with James exposed collar bone.

 

James could feel his hot breath on his shoulder, and inhaled sharply, accidentally pushing his body further up into the other boy’s.

 

Grayson body tensed, laughter forgotten, and the boys lapsed into silence.

 

All of a sudden, the previous cheery atmosphere had disappeared in a flash.

 

It was then that James realised just how tightly pressed their bodies were together. Moulded without an inch of space between them, he could feel every defined curve and harsh angle of the other boy.

 

Grayson’s leg was slotted in between James’ own as close as humanly possible, and he could feel the sharp ridges of James’s pelvis pressing into his tightly muscled stomach through his thin coat.

 

They had never even been as physically close as this, not even the previous night when they had been wrapped in each other.

 

Grayson pulled his head back from where it was rested on the smaller boys shoulder, inadvertently pressing their bodies closer. Running his gaze from James’ porcelain neck up to his face, Grayson’s pupils dilated as he met James’s darker eyes, the light hitting them through the trees and making the gold flecks look like exploded pieces of stardust.

 

The world seemed to stop, and no noise filtered in.

 

James breathed in sharply, eyelashes fluttering as he took in the younger boys chiselled jawline and the tanned, sharp angles of his face.

 

Grayson swallowed, and with a tentative movement, reached a hand up to James’s chin.

 

Slowly, carefully, he ran a finger down his jawline, until he reached his chin. Gently, as if he was as afraid of breaking whatever moment they had created as James was, he softly tilted the older boy’s head up.

 

James’s eyes widened, and without thinking, glanced down at Grayson’s full lips and arched cupid’s bow, taking in the soft, beautiful pink.

 

Unconsciously he bit his own. Quickly looking back up from where his eyes had strayed, James felt his heart stop as he saw how dark Grayson’s eyes had gotten, the deep green hue eclipsed almost entirely by black.

 

Surely, this couldn’t be happening.

 

Surely, this wasn’t real.

 

He closed his eyes once more, only to feel Grayson’s free hand wrap around his wrist, gripping it tightly, then caressing it softer than he would have thought imaginable.

 

All his nerves alight, James softly pushed his body up into Grayson’s, arching his back as if seeking more contact.

 

Grayson flicked his eyes back up from where they had been following the movements of his own hand.

 

He drank in the pale curve of James’s neck, before meeting his eyes. Waiting, as if there was some invisible sign that would allow him to continue his next movement in James’ own, it seemed he found whatever he was looking for.

 

James’ heart stopped.

 

And with that, Grayson slowly leant in.  

 

 

 

 

And just, when there were only mere centimetres separating them…

 

A yell sounded from across the other side of the river, shattering the precious moment with a knife.

 

 

 

“Guess who put the spare battery in her pocket!”

 

 

 

Almost as effective as the river was in creating the position they were in; Ethan’s booming voice was as effective as drenching the two boys in ice cold water.

 

It was as if someone had pressed play on a video, and all of a sudden, the sound of the river crashing over the rocks flooded in again, and the two became all too aware of exactly what had been about to happen.

 

Eyes snapping open from where they had fallen shut, Grayson rolled off James as fast as humanly possible.

 

Slipping and clambering through the mud in his haste to put as much distance between the two as possible, he wasn’t quite quick enough to hide the look of horror on his face from James.

 

The younger boy scrambled to his feet and sharply avoided looking at boy still on the ground, striding closer to the river to yell something back to his twin brother in reply, injuries momentarily forgotten.

 

James sat up, quickly, heart beat thudding loudly in his ears.

 

Oh god, he thought.

 

Shit, shit, shit.

 

His mind went blank, and all external noise was reduced to a loud buzzing. He could barely even feel the pain in his knees anymore, or the cold seeping in through his damp and muddy clothes.

 

He was vaguely aware that the twins were calling something across the river, but James had more important things to worry about. He dug his nails sharply into his legs as he willed his mind to focus.

 

He knew if he didn’t get himself together now….

 

Well.

 

After seeing the look on Grayson’s face?

 

He didn’t know quite how long he could keep his mask of indifference in place this time around.

 

And how long he could hold back his tears?

 

Well, that was another thing all together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It had been more than just an awkward rest of the day, if awkward was even a good enough word to describe the sheer level of discomfort resonating between the two boys.

 

It had gotten dark far faster than usual. The altitude mixed with the rain that was forecast ensured the sky was clouded, not a star in sight. The fire was crackling loudly, certainly bigger and fiercer than anything they had made before.

 

It reflected in James’ eyes as he sat in silence, reminiscing on the what had passed in the last few hours.

 

After alerting Emma and Ethan to James’ injured state, it seemed whatever moment the boys had found themselves in was forgotten in light of getting them safely back across the river.

 

Whether Grayson’s concern was real or intentionally placed to divert attention from the fact that something clearly had been going on prior to Emma and Ethan interrupting them, James was more than happy to put the focus on his bruised and banged up knees.

 

He still wasn’t sure exactly how he managed to get back across the river in one piece. He had been able to walk, thankfully- god forbid any situation where Grayson would have to carry him. It was bad enough that he had stumbled halfway through crossing and Grayson had reached out to steady him, only to recoil with a speed that made James’ heart feel like someone had crushed it.

 

After that, he was more than grateful to arrive back safely on the other side and make their way steadfastly to camp.

 

As they made the long trek back to their makeshift camp, his knees smarted, but he almost felt numb to them.

 

And if he accidentally let a little tear slip down his face, well…

 

Who was to say it wasn’t exclusively from that?

 

James clenched his jaw, snapping out of his memories. He looked down to the stick he was breaking in his hands.

 

His previously flawless hands were scratched and a little bruised, but thankfully cleaner than the muddy mess they had been before. His carefully curated nails were a little destroyed, but really in terms of what he’d destroyed today, they didn’t even begin to factor in.

 

He lifted his head and looked across the fire to where the twins were huddled together, talking about something. The fire only aided in highlighting their sharp, angular jawlines, flickering shadows ever so prettily across their skin.

 

The moonlight reflected on Grayson’s face. James had never wanted to hate someone so much as he did now.

 

It was a horrible feeling, knowing you were in too deep to protect yourself. The verbal acknowledgment a few nights prior was one thing, as hearing Grayson actively tell him that he had no chance was hard enough.

 

But having a tangible, real, situation? One that surely could not have just been one sided?

 

It made it so much worse.

 

Because instead of it just being in his head, it was out in the world.

 

It was almost, so very nearly, real.

 

They had almost kissed.

 

 

Except now, sitting around the fire, it felt like they were further away than ever.

 

 

 

Grayson’s blatant ignoring of James hadn’t gone unnoticed, and if anything, it was making the raven-haired boy doubt that the almost-kiss had happened in the first place. It was awful, seeing the way Emma looked over at him, knowing something was wrong. He didn’t want to even acknowledge it to himself, let alone have to discuss it with someone else. He had brushed off her questions, trying to play off any oddness as just him being in pain.

 

He wasn’t used to feeling like this.

 

James was always, always, in control. He was the one who decided, who was strong.

 

He didn’t let boys get in his head and screw with it.

 

And now, he was stuck in the wilderness with the one boy who had managed to sneak past his defences, only to take his heart and rip it to shreds without even knowing it.

 

James didn’t even want to think of a world in which Grayson did actually know what he was doing to him.

 

It hurt too much to even think of.

 

He cracked the stick in his hands, the sharp edge jutting into his tender skin. He winced as blood pooled on his palm. He was so frustrated, annoyed at himself for getting in this deep.

 

How could he be this stupid?

 

“Oh my god, James what did you do?” Emma cried, standing up.

 

James looked at her in confusion, as her yell attracted the attention of the two other boys.

 

“What?” He asked, perplexed.

 

Emma grabbed his arm and pulled his hand straight out. Looking down, James was surprised to see what he thought was a small cut was actually a rather deep slash across the middle of his palm.

 

Well, that’s what he gets for taking his frustration out on sticks.

 

The boys rushed over.

 

“Holy shit James, that’s deep,” Ethan exclaimed, concern written on the boy’s face. He took James’ hand from Emma, twisting it to see it better in the moonlight.

 

“Really guys, it’s literally so fine. It’s just a little cut,” he said, trying to close his fist to hide the injury. James pulled his arm back, embarrassed. It was unlike him not to complain at least a little, but he was so sick of being in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons today.

 

Ethan shook his head, “No man, I’m concerned about that. Gray, can you check it out?”

 

Hearing that, James sucked in a breath and looked sideways at Grayson.

 

They met eyes, and James could see an odd mix of worry and apprehension on his face. Assuming the apprehension was about having to touch him, James gritted his teeth.

 

He was literally so done with today.

 

“You know what? I have a bandage in my tent. I’ll just put that on it.” Seeing the concern on Emma and Ethan’s faces, he sighed. “I promise I’d tell you if it was bad kitty girls, it’s fine. Don’t worry!”

 

He forced a smile to his face, pointedly avoiding looking in Grayson’s direction.

 

If he had, he would have seen the pang of hurt and regret that flashed across his face, and the way Grayson’s hand twitched at his said, longing to reach out to grab his wrist to stop him from leaving.

 

But James didn’t see it. So, with one last flashy smile, he headed towards the tent.

 

Pointedly not thinking about who he happened to have to share it with.

 

 

 

Nope, he definitely was not going to think about that.

 

 

 

 

---

 

 

 


It was a few hours later, and James was tossing and turning in his sleeping bag. He could hear the wind outside howling through the trees, and where it would normally be comforting, it was just adding to the list of things preventing him from sleeping.

 

His nose was a little cold, and he was sure it was probably going a little red, but he wasn’t concerned. It was his brain giving him issues.

 

He stretched out, sleeping bag rustling, then collapsed inwards, letting out a frustrated sigh.

 

Every time he went to close his eyes, he couldn’t stop thinking back to what happened earlier that day. He would close his eyes and see Grayson’s green eyes staring at him, leaning closer and closer until…

 

No.

 

Nope.

 

Nada.

 

Not going to happen.

 

He was in the middle of running his non-bandaged hand through his jet-black hair when the sound of the zipper to the tent opening made him freeze.

 

He quickly rolled over so his back would be to the sleeping bag next to him, curling his bruised legs up to his chest to create enough space for Grayson to get past without having to touch him.

 

He heard some muffled grunts as Grayson tried to get to his sleeping bag, assuming he achieved his goal when the younger boy left out a soft groan upon what sounded like him falling onto his bed for the night.

 

James lay as still as he could, fearing any movement.

 

He thought he had gotten away with pretending to be asleep until Grayson’s soft voice rung out.

 

“James? Are you awake?” He whispered.

 

James clenched his eyes closed, before letting out a breath. He considered keeping pretending to be asleep, but decided it would just be easier if he responded.

 

Still with his back turned, he dug his nails into his palm.

 

“No. I’m most definitely not.”

 

There was a pause, and James thought that maybe the other boy wouldn’t reply at all.

 

The silence rung out until Grayson’s voice cut through it like a knife. “Ah, well… I just wanted to see if you were ok?”

 

James felt his eyebrows lift as the boy continued, “I mean, ah, your knees and hand?”

 

Just his knees and hand? James thought, frustration bubbling through his veins.

 

In case anyone wouldn’t guess, Grayson’s sudden concern after hours of silence did not go down too well.

 

“Oh, so now you care, do you, Gray?” His annoyance growing, James couldn’t hold himself back from letting out the cutting remark.

 

The dark of the tent hid the pain that crossed Grayson’s face as he stared up at the roof of the tent. The thought that James didn’t realise he cared cut him to the core, hurting him more than the slender boy even realised.

 

Swallowing, Grayson replied softly.

 

“I always care, James.”

 

It was always easier to speak the truth when you’re hidden by the night, and this was a perfect example. Unfortunately, Grayson had picked a moment to speak the one truth that James currently doubted more than he ever had.

 

James scoffed. He sat up quickly, pushing his sleeping bag down. He turned to face the boy, a fire burning in his eyes.

 

“Bullshit, Grayson. I call fucking bullshit.”

 

Grayson sat up, sleeping bag slipping down to expose his bare chest. In the dim moonlight seeping through the tent, James could faintly make out bruising along his collarbone from where he had crashed to the ground on top of James.

 

Indignation showed clearly on Grayson’s face. “Not bullshit, James!” Throwing his hands in the air, nearly hitting the roof, he continued, “I do care, and you can’t say that I god damn don’t.”

 

James rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, trying to avoid hitting himself on the tent poles.

 

Seeing the frustration hidden in the depths of the other boy’s green eyes just made him even for infuriated. How was it that Grayson could somehow say he cared, when every action over the past day proved the exact opposite?

 

“Oh, so we’re playing that game, are we, sister? Then where the hell was your concern after today?” James hissed. “As far as I was aware, you just decided it would be a good and fresh idea to completely ignore me,” he said sarcastically.

 

Grayson furrowed his eyebrows, unconsciously leaning closer to James in his frustration.

 

“Nothing happened today, James!” He exclaimed, emphasising each word, his voice low and with that particular grit that would normally make James shiver, but now just incensed him.

 

James’ mouth dropped open in anger.

 

Nothing?

 

Nothing?!

 

He let out a strangled scream of frustration.

 

“Nothing? Are you fucking kidding me, Grayson?” He shook his head, only to be met by Grayson’s stony face.

 

He could normally read the younger boy, but now he had absolutely no idea what was going through his brain. James could feel all the pent-up emotions of the day and his refusal to mentally deal with what happened bubbling up to the surface.

 

Closing his mouth with an audible click, James shook his head.

 

“You know what?” He turned sharply to properly face the younger boy, poking one finger into his chest.

 

At the contact, Grayson sucked in a breath, eyes turning downward to look at the offending hand. Quickly pulling his arm back, James felt the rise and fall of his chest as he realised just how fast he was breathing.

 

All of a sudden, his ability to compartmentalise failed and all his emotions rushed to the surface. God, how could he be this stupid again? He kept letting this boy get closer, only to be shut down every time. His breathing picked up once again as he felt tears prick at the corner of his eyes.

 

With that, all the previous anger drained from his face.

 

“You know what?” He let out a dark chuckle. “You were the god damn who leant in, Grayson. So, don’t even, don’t even try,” his voice shook a little, “to blame this on me.”

 

Grayson’s jaw tightened, and in the shadows cast by the moonlight, James could see him tense.

 

James felt his emotions melt away, leaving him with an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.

 

He wanted out.

 

Grayson opened his mouth, but James swiftly cut him off, fearful of hearing whatever he had to say.

 

“You know what? I am done dealing with your shit. I know who I am, I know what I stand for, and I am happy with me, Grayson.”

 

Fixing the other boy with a steeled look, eyes filling with anger once more, he inhaled, “and you know what?” He paused, making sure to look Grayson straight in the eye.  

 

“At least I’m not scared to admit it. At least I’m not scared, of who I am. Can you say the same?”

 

He wanted out. He needed to get out.

 

With that, he grabbed his sleeping bag, opened the zip, and all but threw himself out of the tent.

 

Leaving the shell-shocked boy in his wake, he marched over to Emma’s tent, barely managing not to trip over the scattered branches. The wind was wailing, and he shivered from the cold as he unzipped Emma’s tent and called out her name. “Emma? Emma are you awake?”

 

James could make out a figure slowly sitting up in the dark. Emma rubbed her eyes and furrowed her brow. Concerned, she replied, “James? What- what are you doing here?”

 

James didn’t have it in him to even try to explain.

 

“Can I just sleep here tonight, please?” The desperation in his voice must have been evident because Emma moved over straight away.

 

Quickly rolling out his sleeping bag, he jumped in and curled up in its fleeting warmth, trying to steady his breathing.

 

It was silent for a while, and James tried his best to get his mind to shut the hell up, willing for sleep to take him.

 

A few minutes passed before Emma worked up the courage to speak.

 

“You know, if you need me, I’m always here,” she whispered. “I might not be the best, but you’re not alone.”

 

James let out a breath he hadn’t even realised he was holding.

 

The emotional turmoil of the night caught up with him, and he found himself holding back the tears that had been threatening all day.

 

He reached out a hand, grabbing Emma’s in his and squeezed.

 

It was all the two need to express just how thankful he was. Behind the sarcasm and constant crap they gave each other, he knew the younger girl would always be there for him.

 

James rolled over, shutting his eyes and prayed for sleep, listening to the screaming of the wind and trying not to think of the boy he had just left alone.

 

He just wanted to forget today ever happened, and go back to when it wasn’t all so complicated.

 

As he drifted off hours later, he didn’t realise that there was a boy lying awake in a tent, wishing things were different too.

 

But for James?

 

 

 

All he could think was that maybe a new day would mean this nightmare would end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Right.

 

Yes.

 

No.

 

God no.

 

Yes.

 

James was definitely going to do this.

 

He inhaled deeply, trying to pull some non-existent courage out of the world around him.

 

James had to talk to him.

 

He had spent most of the morning tossing and turning, berating himself over the callous way he had treated Grayson last night. He kept replaying his sharp words over and over in his head, brain not letting him forget for a second the mix of shock and hurt that overtook Grayson at James’ final comment.  

 

Although Grayson’s easy dismissal of a moment that meant so much to James cut him to the core, even he could admit that his words had a way of slicing through people, especially if James himself was hurting.

 

The thing was, as much as Grayson made his heart feel like went through the blender, it hurt James more to know that he had hurt Grayson.

 

Being in love with the one boy who would never want him was neither good, nor fresh for his sanity.

 

On the other hand, having the younger boy pretend as if nothing happened gutted him more than he ever expected. Such a quick, easy denial of a moment that felt so real to James made him ache with hollowness. He knew he didn’t make yesterday up, it happened- it was real.

 

What he felt was real, the ghost of Grayson’s touch on his neck was real, the way he leant in…

 

It was god damn real, and he wasn’t going crazy.

 

But in the end, James guessed it would never matter.

 

Grayson didn’t feel the same.

 

So, because it made James feel like someone ripped a hole in him at the thought of them losing their friendship, he was going to fix it.

 

Yep.

 

Fix it.

 

And by fix it, he obviously means he’s about to go up to said maddeningly frustrating boy and tell him that yesterday at the river didn’t happen.

 

James rolled his eyes. That’s such a good fix, you idiot, he thought to himself.

 

Oh well. At present, it was his only one, and judging by the fact his nails were practically cutting half-moons into his palms, it was probably best to do it relatively quickly.

 

The fact of the matter was that James would never and could never sacrifice his friendship with Grayson for anything- especially not for some stupid one-sided crush. He was trying to convince himself whatever happened at the river was of his imagining, but his brain kept inserting anything but that.

 

He sucked in a breath and straightened his Sisters Apparel crop hoodie. Thank god he gave Emma a spare, otherwise he’d be doing the walk of shame back to his own tent (but worse, seeing the only ‘shame’ he’d committed was dramatically storming out of said tent last night).

 

Nevertheless, it meant if this went to shit…

 

At least he’d look good doing it?

 

With that thought, he marched into the campsite, head held high.

 

God damn it, he was James bloody Charles.

 

He was not scared of a conversation with his best friend, for crying out loud.

 

He was halfway through the tree line when he faltered.

 

Grayson was sitting with his back to him, a light grey sweat shirt doing nothing to hide the rippling muscles that strained against the top as he rebuilt the fire from last night. James ran his eyes down, noticing the sweat pooled at the small of his back. The sun was burning hot already, and it was clear Grayson had been up for a while, if not as long as James himself.

 

A bird squawking in the tree next to his ear startled James out of his staring competition with Grayson’s back, and he threw a dirty look at the coloured bird.

 

The bird stared back and let out another squawk. James scrunched his eyes in disdain.

 

It felt like the bird was judging him.

 

God, I’m going crazy, he thought as he shook his head.

 

With one last gulp of air, he strode forward, coming to stand just behind Grayson.

 

He cleared his throat and watched as lines of tension stiffen the other boys back.

 

Grayson turned, slowly, green eyes meeting James’ brown. James tracked the way Grayson’s throat contracted and his hands tensed before he stood. Even though James was taller, the younger boy’s presence always had a way of making James feel small.

 

Grayson opened his mouth, but James cut him off before he could get in a word, fearful he would lose his confidence if he didn’t say what he needed to say.

 

“Alright, I am not going to apologise for last night, let’s get that sister sorted,” James paused, straightening his back as he hid his clenched hands behind his back, “because I meant what I said. Sort of. But…” he trailed off, looking down before steeling himself, “it never should have been said in the first place.”

 

A flash of something passed over Grayson’s face, but it was gone too quickly for James to identify the emotion.

 

James continued. “You were... right. Nothing happened yesterday, ok?”, he let out a small laugh, offering a smile that was hollow at best.

 

He felt like he was ripping up his heart and offering it to Grayson on a plate.

 

He continued in spite of it.

 

“I just,” James sighed. “I just want to get back to us, as in our friendship, before these last weeks happened. Well, even though literally nothing happened, I mean obviously…” he glanced up at Grayson, only to catch what looked like disappointment threading his green eyes.

 

Disappointment?

 

Surely not.

 

“Anyway, let’s just forget about anything that was said. It was late and, um, I was in pain!” James felt his voice go shrill and sharp at the end, and caught Grayson’s corresponding wince.

 

James crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes, that was it… so, ah, is that a yes?”

 

Grayson blinked at him.

 

James felt like punching him right in his stupidly handsome face.

 

He also felt like crying, again, but that was probably just a by-product of his lack of sleep.

 

Probably.

 

Lost as he was in his own musings, he missed the way Grayson’s jaw tightened, and the way he ground his teeth together. The sun flitted in through the gaps in the trees, lighting up the canopies around them.

 

Grayson let a soft breath escape him.

 

“Yes, alright. Let’s just… let’s just pretend yesterday didn’t happen, ok?” Grayson shook his head and looked at the ground, kicking at a bit of loose bark.

 

James breathed a sigh of relief and nodded his head.

 

His knees felt a little weak, and he was left with an odd sense that even though this had seemed like the best option, he had missed something crucial.

 

Something really crucial.

 

Instead of ruminating on what exactly that feeling was, James flounced past Grayson, determined to act as normal as possible. He grabbed a bowl of the (suspicious) porridge and sat down at the other end of the long log that Grayson had seated himself on.

 

He lifted a spoonful to his mouth and tried to cover his gag reflex as the lumpy material slid down his throat. He didn’t catch the way Grayson’s mouth twitched up in a small smile at the sight of James attempting to cover his disdain.

 

James swallowed heavily and turned to face the other boy. “So, ah, what have you been up to this morning?”

 

Grayson looked at him quizzically and rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “Um, I was… making the porridge and setting up the fire.”

 

James’ eyes widened, and he nearly choked on the mouthful he was trying to swallow.

 

Sputtering, he replied, “It’s so good! Super yummy!” His shrill voice didn’t exactly help convey the truth of the statement.

 

Grayson just nodded slowly, cocking an eyebrow. “Glad you think so much of my cooking ability.”

 

James felt himself go bright red as he tried to show his adamant enthusiasm at eating the horrid dish.

 

The bird from earlier squawked again, as if laughing at his pathetic attempts to ignore the awkwardness.

 

At this point, James was running on about two hours of nightmare plagued sleep, and had just about enough of judging birds.

 

He could feel hot anger rising up inside him. How dare a god damn bird judge him?

 

He was trying, ok!

 

The bird let out a shrill trill, as if laughing harder.

 

That was it.

 

“Shut the fuck up, you avian asshole,” he muttered angrily.

 

It appeared he hadn’t been as quiet as he hoped, as Grayson started at the comment and turned to him sharply. “Um, what?”

 

James could feel his eyes go the size of saucers, and he wished the log could swallow him whole, right into the earth. He pulled awkwardly at the sleeves of his black crop hoodie, scrambling for a response.

 

“Um, ah, just, like, a bird?” He stammered, watching Grayson’s face change from confusion to suspicion.

 

Then, Grayson’s nostrils flared and he pushed his lips together.

 

Oh god, James thought, he’s going to run away because I’ve officially lost it, I’m actually insane.

 

This was the worst idea I’ve ever had.

 

Instead of running into the woods, Grayson let out a barking laugh and threw his head back. “A bird?”

 

James blushed sharply and elbowed Grayson in the ribs. “Literally shut up, Gray. You don’t know what that bird has done.”

 

This just made Grayson laugh harder, breaking the tension. James couldn’t help but let out a giggle of his own.

 

Fucking birds.

 

Well, if all it took was a stupid (ridiculously judgemental) ugly bird to break the awkwardness, he would take it.

 

He was in the process of trying to calm his laughter when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something that made his stop laughing straight away.

 

“Holy shit, Gray! What did you do to your hand?” James exclaimed, reaching out to grasp Grayson’s bruised hand. The knuckles themselves were swollen, cuts lining the edges, purple bruises peeking out over the rest.

 

It couldn’t be…

 

No.

 

James’ eyes widened.

 

If he wasn’t mistaken, it looked like Grayson had punched something. Something that had well and truly done a solid job on his hand, if Grayson’s slight wince at James’s loose grip wasn’t enough evidence in itself.

 

But… it didn’t match up. After last night, James had left him in the tent, alone. So when would, or could, that have happened?

 

And why?

 

James’ eyes widened even more.

 

Shit.

 

Nopety nope, he wasn’t going down that line of thinking again.

 

James trained his eyes back down at the bruised appendage he still held. Laughter long forgotten, a feeling of awkwardness rippled through the air. He watched the younger boy raise his free hand, running it nervously through the back of his hair.

 

“Ah,” Grayson paused, screwing up his face. “I tripped?”

 

James narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips, brown eyes glinting with suspicion. He put his free hand on his knee.

 

“Was that a statement or a question, kitty girl?”

 

Grayson sat up ramrod straight, stumbling over his words. “A statement. Definitely a statement.” He dragged out the last few syllables, uncertainty underlining his sentence.

 

“Riiiiight…” James said, turning the hand over that he was still holding, running one finger gently over the bruised expanse.

 

“Must have been one hard surface, huh?”

 

Grayson nodded hurriedly, before retracting his hand swiftly from James’ grip.

 

Grayson tried to cross his arms before letting them fall at his side, exhaling. He flipped his fringe away from where the brown locks had fallen down his face.

 

James just quirked an eyebrow, not believing him for a second. But, their tentative truce meant more than pursuing a line of thinking that probably wouldn’t end well for him.

 

Grayson opened and closed his mouth, before quickly changing the subject with the grace of an elephant. “So, ah, after the other two have gotten up today, E and I were planning on going to find the waterfall and lake, then setting up for our swim?” Grayson looked at the trees instead of James.

 

If he had, he would have seen the amusement drop from James’ face rather speedily.

 

“Our swim?” James screeched, eyelashes nearly reaching his browbone. “Grayson, it’s literally two degrees, surely we can’t go and swim.”

 

“Well, apparently we’re meant to get one day of pretty hot weather today until late afternoon, then we’re going to get the tail end of some fairly heavy rain for the next few, so it’s looking like this is our only chance.” Grayson shrugged, fiddling with the edge of his light grey sweatshirt.

 

James rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. “Well, if you say so. But don’t blame me if we end up freezing our asses off, ok?”

 

Grayson let out a deep chuckle. “I think your ass will be just fine, James.”

 

James scrunched his nose and stood up indignantly, before whipping around so Grayson couldn’t see the beginning of a blush on his cheeks.

 

“You better hope so!” He called out as he stalked back towards his tent.

 

Why on earth had he decided to talk about his ass, not even five minutes after the end of the previous daunting conversation?

 

Oh my god.

 

Asses.

 

Well… singular.

 

Ass.

 

Not his, no.

 

Grayson’s ass.

 

I’m going mother effing swimming with a Greek god himself, after vowing to never get affected by him again, James thought as dread slowly filled him.

 

Hah, better chances of hell freezing over.

 

Shit.

 

Shitty, shit, shit.

 

It would be fine, right?

 

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

It was five hours later, and things were decidedly not fine.

 

James was standing at the edge of the relatively still water, trying to not look in the direction of the tanned, golden boy who was emerging from its embrace.

 

James nearly scoffed when he saw Grayson flip his hair, droplets of water going flying everywhere.

 

Please, did he think he was in a movie or something?

 

James just stood very still and prayed that nobody would notice the fact he still hadn’t gotten in the water.

 

It was quite beautiful, just looking around and admiring the picturesque scenery. Unlike the river that had managed to completely destroy him the previous day, the spot they had found was striking in its serenity. The water was fairly clear, the underneath of small rocks just peeking through. The area was surrounded by looming cliffs that created a lagoon of sorts, perfect for swimming. There was a large waterfall, which sounded like a thousand horses galloping just over to his left, tumbling cliffs surrounding it.

 

The day was hot, as Grayson had predicted.

 

The sun drummed a steady beat into the dark black of James’ tee shirt, and he was grateful for the fact that summer was coming to an end, which had given him a chance to develop a nice tan. Secretly, he’d been doing a lot of walking lately and had admired the changes it had made to his body.

 

But still, all the lean muscles in the world didn’t compare to the sight in front of him.

 

Actually, the sight that was rapidly approaching him.

 

Very rapidly.

 

Running, actually.

 

James barely had time to think before he was being scooped up in Grayson’s strong arms, letting out a high-pitched squeal as he grabbed onto the back of the boy’s neck.

 

“Grayson, don’t you dare!” James shouted, digging his nails into Grayson’s back, scratching him in his desperation.

 

Grayson let out a booming laugh and approached the water faster.

 

Looking down at the boy in his arms with a grin, Grayson laughed, “But James, you look like you need to cool off a bit!”

 

James tried desperately to hold onto Grayson, but it was futile when the boy launched him out of his arms and sent him flying into the deeper water.

 

James screeched as he felt his body soar, before letting out a shocked oomph as he impacted the water’s surface.

 

He sunk downwards, propelled by the force of his launch, before kicking out his legs and swimming up to the surface. Sucking in a deep breath, he coughed and spluttered as he broke the surface, rubbing his eyes as he flicked his hair back out of his face.

 

“Grayson Dolan, you are literally so dead!”

 

James was just met by three cackling teenagers, who found his situation more than just a little bit amusing. James shook his hair and strode through the water the best he could in his water-logged clothes.

 

“Didn’t you say you wanted to go for a sister swim, kitty girl?” Emma wheezed sarcastically, doubled over at the sight of James looking more than a little like a drowned rat.

 

“Right, that’s it.”

 

With that, James launched himself at the laughing girl, who let out a squeal as James jumped on top of her and pushed her under the water. The twins let out booming laughs as Emma and James splashed at each other, swallowing their fair share of water as they couldn’t stop laughing even through their mock water fight.

 

Hearing the sound, the previously distracted Emma and James paused and turned their attention to the twins who had both moved closer to them, the river coming just up to past their waists.

 

If the twins had have been smart, they would have started running then and there.

 

With a grin and a mutual thought, Emma and James let out a war cry and began running (rather pathetically due to the water resistance, however in their minds it was definitely a battle charge) towards the dumbfounded Ethan and Grayson.

 

James let out a cackle as he sent a wave of water towards the shocked Grayson, whose dodge at the last second was nowhere near good enough to avoid the deluge of water. Glancing towards Emma, he saw her send an equally as impressive rush of water, nailing Ethan as it moved.

 

“It’s on!” Ethan cried, which prompted Grayson into action.

 

Muscles bulging, the wave of water that met James’ face sent him spluttering backwards, before he let out a peel of laughter and sent even more water back towards the younger boy.

 

The grin that split James’ face was mirrored on Grayson’s, and in that moment, everything was just as it should be. Water was splashing everywhere, and laughter rung out as the four battled in the shallows of the river.

 

Eventually, after every single one of them was well and truly drenched, tiredness won out and the four ceased their water fight, letting out exhausted laughter as each caught their breath.

 

James leant his head against Emma’s shoulder as he tried to calm his breathing down. She was sitting on a small rock, the twins flopped out beside her in the shallows.

 

It was quiet for a bit, and James let his eyes close. It was so peaceful, hearing the birds chirp in the trees, and the rush of water pounding down the waterfall.

 

It was as if Ethan knew that for a second, James had dared to think of the word ‘peaceful’.

 

 

 

“Dude, let’s all jump off the cliff now!”

 

 

 

James’ eyes shot open, and if anyone had have looked at his face in that moment, they would have seen the manic chipmunk that overtook him.

 

No fucking way was he jumping off a freaking cliff. 

 

They were towering above him, jagged and more than a little bit terrifying.

 

No fucking way.

 

“Um, sister stop right there. I agreed to go swimming, but nowhere did anyone mention jumping off a cliff?!”

 

He could feel Emma tense next to him, worry overtaking her face. James could see her try to mask it, but he knew her too well. She squeaked, “I didn’t hear about that, either?”

 

Ethan’s face lit up in a smirk, “Well, Gray and I were talking about it earlier- I went up with him before and scouted it out, it’s perfectly safe and you land in deep water, so we’re clear.”

 

Emma and James shared a dubious look. The cliffs weren’t exactly something either of them were overtly comfortable or confident with.

 

Sensing their distress, Ethan continued. “What about I take Emma up with me first, then you and Grayson can come up after, ok James? Then we can get it on the camera we set up across the side.”

 

At this, James relaxed fractionally. Thank god he wouldn’t have to do it alone. However, that relaxation only lasted for a second before he tensed again.

 

Grayson.

 

Why was he always being paired with him?

 

Nevertheless, James wasn’t any coward, and they appeared to have smoothed over any lingering tension (well, sort of- but James wasn’t going to complain)

 

He tightened his hands beneath the water’s surface, hoping it would hide his distress. “Ok, sounds good gal.”

 

“Good?!” Emma barked out, looking at James in abject misery.

 

James flashed a slightly insane grin her direction, hoping to instil confidence.

 

“You’ll be fine babe, nothing to fear!”

 

The way Emma looked at him confirmed it didn’t really help.

 

She slowly got up and took Ethan’s outreached hand, the duo climbing up the bank and moving towards the base of the cliffs. Small rocks gave way to large boulders, with different ledges and roots that would have to be used to climb up to the outcrop that James was pretty sure would be the spot for their cliff jumping adventure.

 

It wasn’t easy going.

 

As the two got closer to the top, James tore his eyes away and focused on his healing palm. The cut had all but closed up, which he was very grateful for. He told himself that focusing on his injured palm was an important event, and that he wasn’t at all avoiding looking at the climb he’d have to do with Grayson.

 

Nope, definitely not avoiding looking at all.

 

Speaking of said boy, Grayson was currently being rather quiet.

 

Flicking a glance down to where the Grayson was lying on his back, eyes closed, James sucked in a breath as he trailed his eyes down Grayson’s body. Sloping shoulders met sharp collar bones, creating hollows that made James itch with the want to find out just how sharp they were. Crafted through hours of sweat and dedication, his abs stood out as Grayson tightened his stomach to remain floating in the gentle waves caused by the waterfall.

 

Golden skin trailed down, down, down…

 

Nope.

 

James ripped his eyes away.

 

Oh god, what if Grayson had have caught him staring?

 

He had absolutely no right.

 

They were friends. He just needed to get that through his head.

 

It seemed James had spent long enough admiring (and admonishing himself for admiring) the sculpted muscles of the boy next to him that the pair climbing the cliffs had reached the top. Next thing he knew, a high-pitched scream sounded as Emma jumped, Ethan’s laugh echoing as he jumped after her, executing a rather impressive flip.

 

James watched in horror as the duo fell. No way could he do that.

 

Emma and Ethan broke to the surface a second after each other and Emma threw her hands around his neck, letting out a big whoop.

 

James smiled at the sight, momentarily forgetting his own fears as he took in his two best friends hugging. It was nice to see the two acting so free. At home, the weight of the world watching them sometimes censored their actions, but here…

 

Here, they were happy.

 

Grayson’s voice startled James out of his musings. “James? We’re up now.”

 

James tensed, fear rushing back to him. He was fine with heights, and he was fine with swimming… but cliff jumping?

 

He was definitely, literally, most certainly not fine.

 

He turned and accepted Grayson’s hand out of the water and onto the dry riverbank. Realising he still had his tee-shirt on, he figured it would be best if he took it off before it could get caught on a branch or rock and send him tumbling backwards to his (premature, very premature) death.

 

Pulling the top up over his head, James was unaware of the green eyes that raked over every inch of his exposed porcelain skin. Slender shoulders gave way to a narrow waist, and as James turned, his shorts aided in accentuating the curve of his behind, leading down into legs that seemed a mile long.

 

Grayson swallowed heavily.

 

Flinging the shirt to the ground, James turned and put his hands on his hips, frowning at the way he saw Grayson’s eyes flick away from him quickly.

 

“Well, are we getting a move on, sister?” James enquired, putting on his most confident facade.

 

If James wasn’t mistaken, he could see the start of a faint blush rising on Grayson’s sharp cheek bones, but the other boy nodded, turned and headed towards the rocks lining the base of the cliff.

 

With a deep breath and a mini-pep talk from himself that he was not going to die, they began their ascent.

 

As concentrated as he was on following Grayson’s exact movements, mimicking every handhold and avoiding every crumbling bit of cliff, it seemed like both years had passed and no time at all had gone by before the two were standing on the top of the decided upon jumping cliff.

 

Breathing heavily at the effort of the climb, James bent to wipe his hands off on his shorts.

 

All of a sudden, dusting his hands off seemed like a really massive non-issue.

 

They were high up.

 

Like, really, really high up.

 

The trees were below them, and Emma and Ethan looked tiny from up here.

 

With a gulp, James pressed himself back against the face of the cliff and felt the colour drain from his face. Reaching out a hand, he wrapped it around Grayson’s arm and pulled the younger boy back towards him.

 

“Gray,” he paused, voice trembling. “I really, really don’t think I can do this anymore.”

 

Grayson’s face softened, and he turned to face the shaking boy. “Hey now, don’t be worried-”

 

“Don’t be worried? Grayson, we’re going to die!” James responded shrilly, still glancing off the edge of the cliff to the water that seemed far too far below them. The waterfall pounded next to them, swallowing up his words so that he had to raise his voice just to be heard.

 

He could feel himself start to panic, but was pulled out of it by a hand intertwining itself with his.

 

James looked down to where their fingers connected, running his eyes up the tanned arm to Grayson’s deep green eyes.

 

“James, I promise you, I won’t let anything hurt you, ok?” Grayson’s eyes were warm.

 

James shook his head, starting to close his eyes in fright when Grayson’s hand tightened around his.

 

“I’ll jump with you, ok? You’re going to be fine, it’s completely safe,” he soothed, speaking calmly.

 

At this, James peeked on eye open, focusing on the honesty written on Grayson’s face.

 

Ashamed of how small his voice was, James replied, “Are you sure? Really sure?”

 

Grayson let out a soft laugh. “Yea James, I’m sure. C’mon, it’s just a step to the edge and a leap, alright?”

 

James cocked an eyebrow, uncertain.

 

But, he trusted Grayson.

 

He took a shaky step towards the edge, gulping as he looked down and was reminded of their height.

 

He flicked his eyes up to Grayson, but found nothing but reassurance in the younger boy. With slightly more confidence, he took another step, now mere centimetres from where they would jump.

 

James felt his heart beat faster in his chest, and he clenched his hands, unconsciously tightening the grip he had on Grayson. “Can you… Gray, can you please jump with me?”

 

The younger boy lifted the side of his mouth in a gentle smile. “Yea, James. Of course, I can.”

 

James let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding.

 

“Don’t let go?”

 

Grayson turned to him, looking him right in the eye, squeezing his hand.

 

“James, I promise I’m not going to let go. I’ll keep you safe.”

 

Somewhere in the depths of the other boy, a softness translated that filled James with quiet confidence.

 

“Ok, I trust you.”

 

He meant it.

 

Grayson turned back towards the edge of the cliff.

 

“On three?”

 

James inhaled sharply, before steeling himself.

 

“On three.”

 

Before he knew it, Grayson had finished counting down, and they were leaping, falling, flying.

 

Colours swirled around them as they fell, blurring together as they soared for what felt like eternity.

 

Sooner than expected, the water approached and they were slamming into its cool embrace and sinking down into its depths.

 

Time stopped, and for a second, they were just floating, still and quiet.

 

Then, with a kick and a struggle, James was climbing up, up, up, towards the light, swimming to escape the water’s hold.

 

As soon as he took his first breath, sheer exhilaration filled the willowy boy.

 

“Oh my god- oh my god, I’m alive!” James shouted as he broke the surface with Grayson right next to him.

 

Launching himself at the younger boy, Grayson caught him with a crinkled smile and a deep, honest laugh.

 

Water flew as James tightened his long legs around Grayson’s waist, exhilaration pumping through his blood.

 

“Oh my god, that was so much fun!” James exclaimed as Grayson laughed, tipping his head back. Water ran rivulets along his jawline, and James’ smile stretched even wider as Grayson spun them around.

 

Grayson’s arms tightened around the small of his back as the adrenaline wore off and they caught their breath, and James felt safe, secure- untouchable.

 

Invincible.

 

The water stilled around them, soft waves lapping against James’ exposed back. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt this free.

 

James traced the edges of Grayson’s cheeks with his eyes, taking in the way the sun glinted off his long lashes and lit him with a warm glow.

 

Looking down, James saw that even with Grayson holding him after his decision to leap into the younger boys’ arms, their fingers were still intertwined.

 

James’ eyes widened.

 

He- he.

 

Him.

 

“You- you didn’t let go,” he whispered softly, squeezing Grayson’s hand.

 

Grayson’s glanced down, summer sunlight sparkling as his smile softened.

 

His voice was rough as he responded. “I promised, didn’t I?”

 

Green eyes met brown, and the world disappeared.

 

James smiled, tender and sweet, the kind that radiated happiness from the inside out. “You did. Thank you.”

 

Grayson’s looked him in the eye. His reply was quiet, meant just for James.

 

 

 

“Always.”

 

 

 

 

In that moment, James believed it with all of his heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The sun was setting over the trees when the four reached their campsite. Lighting them with a warm haze, shadows danced over their faces as they laughed and joked on the walk to their temporary home. It had gotten a little chilly after being in the water for so long, and James was definitely happy to be able to change seeing as he had gotten all his clothes wet.

 

Upon reaching the campsite, Emma and Ethan split off to get changed in their respective tents, leaving Grayson and James standing awkwardly in front of their shared one.

 

“Um, after you,” James gestured, scrunching his face up.

 

Grayson shook his head and motioned with his hand, water still dripping from his brown locks. “No, no, you can get changed first.”

 

James squinted his eyes and fiddled with the ends of his damp shirt. “No, really, sister- it’s fine, you can you first.”

 

“No, really. James, you go first.”

 

James rolled his eyes and huffed. “Ok, what about we just both go in at the same time?”

 

Grayson’s eyebrows lifted, and he ran a hand behind his neck.

 

“Oh, come on kitty girl, we’re both wet, and it’s not like we haven’t just spent the day topless or anything.”

 

James didn’t hang around long enough to see the way Grayson’s mouth twitched upwards in a half smile at James’ statement, eyebrows raised.

 

Instead, he climbed into the tent with speed, cheeks reddening at his boldness. Oh my god, James did those words actually just come out of your mouth, he scolded.

 

Grayson climbed in behind him and coughed uncomfortably. Again, they were met with the fact that it was a single man tent for an avid reason.

 

“Ah, if you could just move-”

 

“Yep, I’ll go here-”

 

“Oh, and if you could just-”

 

“Um, yep, I’ll just-”

 

James scrambled backwards, nearly taking out the tent pole in his haste to get out of Grayson’s way so he could move from where he was awkwardly perched in the tent flap.

 

Unfortunately, an errant sock was inconveniently placed exactly where James’ hand needed to go.

 

A sock that slipped sideways the minute James’s palm connected with it.

 

With a grunt and an oomph, James flew back as the sock displaced his hand hold, landing awkwardly onto his back.

 

Grayson let out a wheezing laugh at the site from where he was leaning on the side of the tent. “Oh my god, holy shit- that was the funniest thing I’ve seen.”

 

James quickly sat up and turned to hide his beet red face. “Shut up, Grayson!” He said shrilly, refusing to look at the other boy who cackled loudly as he made his way into the tent.

 

Changing quickly (well, as quickly as one can change when positioned uncomfortably close to flying elbows and legs), the two barely had time to spare a glance at the other in their haste to remove their wet clothes.

 

“Can I turn around yet?” James questioned.

 

“Yep, all done. Should we go get a start on dinner?” Grayson replied calmly as James manoeuvred his way back to face him.

 

Grayson had put on a warm black knit sweater and had managed to change into long, grey sweatpants. Little did he know, that particular sweater was James’s absolute favourite on him. The way is made Grayson look so soft, so warm…

 

Well, it wasn’t hard to see why it was what it was.

 

James had to pull his attention back to the original question quickly, before the jumper pulled him down a line of thinking he really didn’t feel like going down after their tentative day of truce.

 

“Yep,” he replied, popping the ‘p’. “Sounds good gal.”

 

And if James’ reply was a bit higher pitched then normal, well…

 

Sue him.

 

That jumper did things to him.

 

As James went to climb out of the tent, he inadvertently gave Grayson more than an eyeful as he departed. Long, lean legs were accentuated by his tight, black sweatpants, curving gracefully over his ass. A sliver of skin was visible where his jumper had ridden up, exposing an expanse of flat stomach without even so much as a light dusting of hair.

 

Grayson had to tear his eyes away and focus on his own attempt to get out of the tent in a vain attempt to ignore the sight that was James Charles.

 

Distracted as he was, Grayson snapped back to attention when he heard James’ exclamation.

 

“Oh my god, we are literally going to die.”

 

Grayson clambered out of the tent quickly, looking around to see what had caused such anxiety to ring through James.

 

It didn’t take him long.

 

“Shit.”

 

 

Over the hill (and far away- jokes that’s a nursery rhyme, James, this is serious), black clouds had built up, looking like Armageddon was headed for them. The air had gone static with that feeling one gets when a huge storm is approaching.

 

James turned to Grayson, eyes bulging.

 

“Um, I think we better get dinner cooked for a real one.”

 

Grayson nodded slowly.

 

“I think you might be right.”

 

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

 

All four teens were scrambling to pack everything up, picking up errant pots and pans, and hiding their meagre stash of food underneath waterproof tarps that Grayson miraculously had the foresight to pack.

 

The sky held an uncomfortable deep purple hue, and the forest around them had gone unnervingly quiet. It was suspense at its’ finest, and it had done a bang-up job of setting the four on edge.

 

Dinner had been a rushed event, scarfing down food quickly as the light disappeared faster than they thought. It wasn’t as if any of them were outright fearful of storms in general, but the thought of staying in rather flimsy tents while the sky erupted around them didn’t exactly fill them with comfort, either.

 

James grabbed the last blanket they had left out and quickly stuffed it inside his and Grayson’s tent. Letting out a sigh of relief, James scanned the campsite to make sure nothing else that needed to come undercover was left. Upon not seeing anything, he searched for the others, finding them all gathered on the opposite side of camp, moving Emma’s tent closer to Ethan’s. It had been agreed that it was best to move their tents closer together, just in case something happened overnight while the storm was raging. Gale force winds and hammering rain wasn’t exactly overtly forgiving.

 

James was very appreciative that he would be staying in the same tent as the younger twin as if anything went wrong overnight, there wasn’t anybody else he would rather have with him more.

 

He strode over to them, before speaking up over the wind. “Ok kitty girls, that’s the last of the stuff that has to be packed up. I say after this we all head to bed, it looks like we only have a couple minutes left before it’s dark and this asshole hits.”

 

With that, a rumbling boom started in the sky that felt as if it was directly overhead.

 

James laughed. “Mother Nature, hello, I am alive and well.”

 

Grayson sent him a smirk and Ethan let out a chuckle, standing up and brushing off his hands.

 

“Ok Emma, you’re all set up. We good now?” The older twin asked.

 

The younger girl nodded, cocking one eyebrow. “Sooooo ready to die, life’s great E,” she replied sarcastically.

 

“Well, if we die, then we die together?” James shrugged his shoulders.

 

He was met with three deadpan stares.

 

“Yea thanks, James, that just makes me feel sister freaking super,” Emma quipped, rolling her eyes, voice gruff with hidden anxiety.

 

“Oh Em, it’ll be fine!” James grabbed the girl and pulled her in for a hug, which she returned a little too enthusiastically to be completely devoid of nerves.

 

Emma definitely wasn’t an avid camper, so the idea of staying out in such a major storm was sure to be pressing on her already keyed up nerves.

 

James leant in close to her ear. “Hey, if you need me, you know I’m just across there. Any time, girl- ok?” He let the wind carry away his words, so only Emma was privy to them.

 

She tightened her arms around his narrow waist. “Thanks, James.” She whispered, and he just tightened his hold on her in return.

 

They stood like that for a few seconds, before she pulled back and gave him a strained smile. Then, Emma leant in closer once more, standing on her tippy-toes to whisper in his ear.

 

“Enjoy your night with lover boy, huh?”

 

James let out a screech and pushed her away dramatically.

 

“Emma Chamberlain! There will be nothing of the kind!” James huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, rolling his eyes, pushing down the amusement threatening to show through.

 

The smaller girl just laughed, and James let out a small smile. He was glad to see the lines of tension that had overtaken her body when talking about the storm had bled out when she teased him. He could cop a teasing from her if it meant she wasn’t as nervous.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the twins had just been standing back, watching the Emma and James share what was clearly meant to be a private moment.

 

Ethan leant into Grayson, “I think we might be missing something here, bro.”

 

Grayson shot him a quick look and hastily whispered back, “No shit, Sherlock.”

 

They both shared a perplexed look.

 

 

 

Thankfully, James pulled them out of their confusion by turning around and announcing loudly that all sane people should head into their tents before they all resembled drowned rats.

 

This prompted the quartet into action, all calling out goodnight to each other and heading to their respective beds.

 

James and Grayson walked back to their tent, breaking out into a jog when the first drops of rain started, and another clap of thunder boomed overhead.

 

James didn’t wait to have another round of the awkward ‘No, you go first!’ and jumped straight through the opening and into the tent. He listened as Grayson clambered in behind him, moving so that the younger boy had room to enter.

 

Grayson spun around and quickly zipped up the mouth of the tent, significantly reducing the limited light they already had. Luckily, it seemed they had chosen their timing well as the sound of rain pelting the roof dramatically increased.

 

Letting out a sigh of relief, James turned to get under his sleeping bag.

 

Well, he thought to himself, it looks like we’re in for a long night.

 

 

 

He had no idea just how long.

 

 

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

 

The side of the tents were shaking with the ferocity of the wind that whipped shadows fiercely into the dead of the night. Rain pelted down, drumming a steady, insistent beat that caved the roof of the tent in where it was accumulating in rivulets.

 

James was lost in the grips of sleep, managing to find peace in the midst of the hell storm when a tight grip around his shoulder wrenched him back to the waking world.

 

Jolting up, he blinked in the darkness. He swung his head around, scratchily calling out, “Grayson? Did you wake me up?”

 

Over the sound of the rain, James didn’t hear if he got a reply or not, but the hand that was wrapped around his arm tightened to almost a painful level.

 

James let out a yelp at the sudden pressure. “Shit, Gray- is this a joke? Trying to scare me?”

 

Again, James received no answer.

 

Feeling his heart rate pick up, he reached a hand up to try to remove the one clasped on his shoulder, cursing the darkness surrounding them for inhibiting his ability to understand what was happening.

 

However, as he went to pull away, he was suddenly yanked forward. Letting out a cry, James fell sideways onto the boy lying next to him.

 

“Grayson! What the fuck are you-”

 

In the blink of an eye, James’ frustration turned to panic as his new proximity enabled him to hear the wheezing coming from the boy next to him.

 

Oh no.

 

No, no, no.

 

“Shit, where the hell is the torch?” James scrambled around, hands flying out in desperation. Seconds felt like hours before his hand knocked against the black object, reaching backwards before turning the light on.

 

If James thought the light would ease his anxiety, he was wrong.

 

Shining the torch upwards, the lines of tension on Grayson’s face were alarming clear. The normally tanned skin was drained of colour, turning his pallor an ashen grey, and little beads of sweat were gathering on his forehead.

 

The boy was flat on his back, chest rising shallowly and quickly with the obvious signs of an inability to get sufficient air, staring up at James with a fear that held James’ heart in a vice grip.

 

Any hesitations flew out the window as James jumped into action. Trying desperately to recall any information he knew about asthma attacks, he remembered that lying down would only serve to worsen the boy’s condition.

 

Putting one slender arm behind Grayson’s back, he reined his fear back in and said as calmly as he could, “Ok, Gray. It’s going to be alright. I need you to just sit up for me, alright?”

 

Thunder boomed outside, nearly drowning out his words, but the boy nodded jerkily in-between wheezes. James wrapped a hand around one strong arm, shifting him slowly. Helping Grayson into an upright position, James moved back so he was supporting the younger boy with his arms.

 

Lightning flashed, illuminating the tent for long enough for James to see the way Grayson’s eyes were wide with fear. Grayson wheezed, “Can’t- I can’t- can’t breathe, James.”

 

James could feel his heart pounding out of his chest, but knew that panicking wasn’t an option. Fuck, what do I do next?

 

Shit, shit, shit- wait-

 

“Grayson, can you tell me where your inhaler is?”

 

At James’s question, Grayson’s eyes tightened as he clutched at his chest, “It’s- it’s in my-” he broke off with a cough, before shutting his eyes tightly, “my bag.”

 

James’ heart clenched at seeing him so distressed, before nodding quickly. He shone the torch towards Grayson’s things, unzipping the bag with a haste previously unimaginable. The wind sounded like a feral animal, shaking the walls of the tent.

 

All doubts set aside, James went into full crisis mode, calming his breathing.

 

“Ok, Gray- I have it here. Now, I’m going to give you one puff into your spacer, and I want you to take four breaths for me, really deep, ok?”

 

James wrapped one scuffed hand delicately around the spacer, staring intently into Grayson’s eyes, trying to cover the way his hand was shaking.

 

In the dark, James could see the way Grayson’s hand clutched at his chest, ribs contracting with every feeble attempt to pull in oxygen.

 

Shaking the inhaler quickly to disperse the product, James held the spacer up to Grayson’s mouth and spoke with as much reassurance as he could muster. “Ok, I’m going to give you your first puff, then I’m going to count to four. I want you to take four really deep breaths, in and out, alright?” Grayson nodded, and it cut James to the core to see the terror hidden in the depths of his eyes.

 

James steeled himself and raised the spacer to fit around Grayson’s nose and mouth.

 

 

 

Puff.

 

 

 

“One-”

 

Grayson breathed in, chest expanding futilely. Rain pelted the tent as fear coursed through James. He breathed out again.

 

“Two-”

 

The shadows danced across the planes of Grayson’s cheekbones, and James had never wished that a night would be over more than in this moment.

 

“Three-”

 

Grayson coughed violently, face tense with the effort of drawing in air, sucking in a shaky breath before exhaling once more.

 

“Four.”

 

Grayson’s inhale was the deepest yet, still struggling but stronger than his previous attempts. James pulled the spacer away, and Grayson panted with the exertion of following James’ instructions.

 

Grayson groaned and clutched at his chest.

 

“Hey, hey- it’s going to be alright, Gray. I promise.” James spoke softly, voice shaky but doing his best to keep up his calm pretence.

 

Desperately trying to think of what to do to help the boy in his arms, James asked quickly, “Grayson, do I need to go get Ethan?”

 

Grayson’s eyes snapped open as he flew a hand up to grab James’s.

 

“Please- please, don’t’” he wheezed, “don’t leave me, James.” With that, the younger boy started coughing, ribs tightening.

 

James blinked away the tears starting to well up in his eyes, “I won’t leave you, Gray. I- I promise,” he whispered, changing Grayson’s grip on his hand so that their fingers were intertwined.

 

Rubbing a hand soothingly across Grayson’s back, James shifted so that the larger boy was lying with his back to James’s chest.

 

Whispering soft platitudes to calm himself as much as Grayson, minutes felt like hours as he sat there listening to Grayson struggle to breathe.

 

Inside, although he knew there wasn’t anything else that he could do for the boy and that he’d done everything possible to help him, James’ heart still hurt with fear that it wouldn’t be enough.

 

After what seemed like hours of listening to the way Grayson couldn’t get enough air into his lungs, the boy finally started to take in bigger breaths, each inhale becoming less shaky. It might have only been minutes, but to James, it seemed like an eternity.

 

With every inhale, the hand that was gripping James’ heart loosened fractionally. In the dark of the night, he thanked anybody out there who listened to his desperate prayers that Grayson would be alright.

 

Smoothing a hand over the younger boy’s hair, James let out a shaky breath of his own. “Gray, how are you doing? Do you need another puff from your inhaler?”

 

Grayson exhaled slowly, before shifting himself up and away from James. “I’m ok, I think. I don’t even know what happened, I just woke up and…” he trailed off, eyes lowering to where his hands twisted around each other.

 

Grayson paused before continuing, “I couldn’t breathe.”

 

Even knowing that this was what had occurred, James still swallowed anxiously hearing confirmation of the nightmare that had been the past forty minutes.

 

Shutting his eyes tightly, James replied. “I know. You gave me one hell of a shock. It was neither good, nor fresh, Gray. You’re lucky Ian used to have asthma, otherwise you’d be a little sister screwed.”

 

Laughing nervously, James willed the tears that were gathering up to go away.

 

The adrenaline he’d been running on had dissipated, and James was left with the remnants of the surge of panic he’d been ignoring in order to focus on Grayson. Watching the way Grayson had drained of colour and the fear in his eyes as he struggled to breathe had been one of the scariest moments in James’ entire life, and he was reminded of just how much he cared about the other boy.

 

Eyes closed as they were, James missed the way Grayson’s face softened at his desperate attempt at humour. Lines of tension were built into James’s body, and he was as taut as a bow string.

 

Reaching out a calloused hand, Grayson clasped James’ in his. The storm outside quietened, and James tracked the way Grayson’s thumb tenderly moved over the soft skin.

 

“Thank you, James.”

 

James smiled quickly before ducking his head, a single tear escaping that quickly tracked its way down his cheek.

 

“No need to thank me, Gray.”

 

He meant it.

 

 

 

There wasn’t a single thing on this planet that James wouldn’t do for his boy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The wind was still howling through the trees when James woke from his slumber. Jolting upright, he looked down to his left and swallowed heavily upon seeing Grayson still sleeping gently.

 

Brown eyes tracked down the chiselled jaw to his chest, watching the steady rise and fall that marginally eased the tension marring James’ body one breath at a time.

 

Tilting his chin back and closing his eyes, James felt his heart race in his chest as if it was set to jump right out of it. The terror of the previous night had haunted him well into his dreams, leaving a fitful plague of nightmares in its wake.

 

The what-ifs had played on his mind, and it took a long time for him to fall back asleep after Grayson had woke him up. James ran a hand over his forehead and through his raven black hair.

 

Shifting backwards in his sleeping bag, he shuffled down until he was lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

 

Memories of Grayson’s pale face ran through his head, over and over on repeat until James physically shook his head in an effort to get rid of the pictures flashing through his mind. The terror he had felt coursing through his veins last night had shaken him to the core, reminding him of just how much he cared for the younger boy.

 

Minutes seemingly stretched into hours as he lay there, lost in his own mind.

 

Unfortunately, the thought that something could have gone desperately wrong last night wasn’t an easy one to say goodbye to. With a final sigh, James grabbed his jumper and crawled out of his sleeping back, shifting to open the zip and exit the tent.

 

Moving quietly so not to wake Grayson, he crept out the tent and said a silent thank you to the wind that whipped through his dark hair that masked the sounds of his departure.

 

The ground was soaked through, and branches and leaves were strewn haphazardly across the clearing. The sun was just starting to come up over the trees, lighting the space with a purple haze that settled softly over James’ cheeks.

 

He shivered a little with the chill but settled down over the one miraculously dry spot on the big log. He picked a little bit of bark off and turned it over in his hands, trying to focus on something that wasn’t his thoughts.

 

Which was…

 

Well, to be blunt; a futile mission if there ever was one.

 

James shook his head once more as images of Grayson flashed through his mind. But more jarring than the images filtering through his head was the way James felt his heart literally ache in his chest, emotions threatening to spill over.

 

Seeing him, lying there like that… It had only served to remind James just how precious Grayson really was to him.

 

Thus, it seemed as if all his resolve to only view Grayson as a friend had flown out the window overnight.

 

James scoffed. Please, let’s not kid ourselves. As if I was actually ever over him.

 

Grinding his teeth together, he ran a frustrated hand through his already messy hair. How could I be? When- well, when…

 

When every smile, every embrace, made golden butterflies soar inside of him, every embrace made the sun shine that little bit more, and every laugh made his world just that little bit better?

 

Grayson Dolan was an enigma.

 

An enigma that James would happily spend his entire life trying to understand, desperate for even the smallest piece of his golden heart.

 

The complex juxtaposition of such a hard, strong exterior mixed with incredible softness and warmth was just one reason why James found himself so enamoured by the younger boy. Grayson’s resilience in times of hardship was something James admired and was astounded by in equal measures.

 

Getting a glimpse of it online was one thing.

 

But being in Grayson’s presence, feeling his warmth and the way he truly cared about every one he meets?

 

Well.

 

It’s something else.

 

Caught up in musings of his innermost thoughts, time slipped by until the purple haze of the sunrise gave way to a golden morning. The wind had long since died down, but there was still a distinct chill in the air, broken only by the sun’s warm rays.

 

A hand on his shoulder moved James from his thoughts, and he looked up to see Ethan standing in front of him.

 

“Jesus, James- you’re freezing! How long have you been out here?”

 

James lifted the corner of his mouth up in a semi smile. “A while, if the fact I can’t feel my hands says anything.”

 

“Right, well let’s fix that, hey?”

 

Ethan furrowed his brow and went to the wood pile, bringing logs back to the centre of the campsite in an attempt to remedy the chill. James watched him, Ethan’s black hoodie stretching over broad shoulders as he bent and returned with different sized pieces of wood.

 

Tracking him as he was, it hit James full force when he remembered exactly why he had been sitting outside for as long as he had.

 

“Oh my god- E- I need to-” James stood abruptly, wringing his hands together.

 

Ethan’s eyes widened with surprise as he took in the boy’s worried face, and he strode towards James, coming closer to the panicked boy. “Hey- James, it’s ok, what’s the matter?” he soothed.

 

“Grayson, he, well he-”, James stuttered, words getting lost in his rush to speak too fast.

 

Ethan’s brows tightened, and he glanced towards the tent worriedly. “Take a breath. Grayson? What about him? Is he ok, James?”

 

James nodded quickly, eyes darting back towards the tent. Taking a big breath, he hurriedly spoke. “He’s fine, E. He had an asthma attack-” at this, Ethan’s jaw clenched, “but, I gave him his puffer, and he was fine after.”

 

Ethan ran a hand through his hair, body angled towards the tent where his brother lay sleeping. Torn between rushing over to check on his younger twin, he instead focused on the trembling boy in front of him.

 

“Ok, James, so he’s alright?” Ethan clarified, eyes still strained with tension.

 

James’ eyes widened as he rushed to nod again. “Yes, yes, I promise- he’s ok. He’s alright. He’s… sleeping. I came out here long after- well, long after it happened.” James spoke quickly, assuring the broader boy with his sentence almost as much as himself.

 

The relief on Ethan’s face played out quickly before he furrowed his brows once more. Any relief Ethan had felt was replaced rapidly by worry about the older boy standing before him, arms wrapped tightly around his middle.

 

“And what about you, James? Are you ok?”

 

James huffed out a little breath, Ethan’s words almost punching the air out of him. Tightly, he replied, ‘I’m fine, E. It’s Gray I was worried about.”

 

Ethan clenched his jaw, taking in the way James was almost trembling, a stark contrast to what he’d just said.

 

“When he has one of his attacks…” Ethan trailed off, before swallowing audibly, meeting James’ distraught eyes once more.

 

“It’s fucking terrifying, James.”

 

At this, James let out a shrill laugh. He turned slightly and angled his gaze to the ground, covering desperately the way his eyes filled with tears once more. The verbal acknowledgement of just how scary the night before had been, from someone who truly understood, brought back every bit of emotion James had been trying so hard to suppress. He tightened the arms wrapped around himself, attempting to hold himself together physically.

 

Seeing James’ tense reaction, Ethan’s heart panged with sympathy. Growing up, his biggest fear was seeing his younger brother struggle to breathe. He used to have nightmares about not being able to get Grayson’s inhaler to him in time. He could only imagine how scared James must have been, especially never having seen the younger boy go through one of his moments.

 

Ethan knew exactly what he was feeling.

 

So, with that, he stepped closer to James. The older boy looked up and met his gaze in surprise.

 

With a half-smile, Ethan opened his arms, moving closer again before wrapping his arms tightly around James in a hug.

 

James stood in his grip, frozen for a second, before he let out a shaky breath.

 

With that, Ethan felt the way James’ façade crumbled beneath him. James’s trembling progressed until Ethan could feel the way he shook with silent sobs that wracked the older boy’s small body. James’ slender arms wrapped around Ethan’s back, gripping the younger boy’s hoodie tightly.

 

Ethan just held James tighter, as James felt the fear from the previous night bubble over. All the pent-up fear that Grayson was going to die, and it would be his fault, rushed out of him.

 

He wasn’t sure how long Ethan stood there, holding him tightly.

 

When his sobs turned into sniffles, he stepped back from the hug, wiping quickly under his eyes, embarrassment at how visceral his reaction had been tinting his cheeks a soft pink.  

 

James stared at the ground, before darting his eyes up to meet the younger boy’s soft gaze.

 

He cleared his throat, speaking quietly. “Thanks, E. I needed that.”

 

Ethan just smiled quickly, before nodding. He reached out a strong arm and gently punched the slender boy in the shoulder. “Now, no more of that, ok? He’s fine.”

 

James nodded and swallowed heavily. “Exactly, he just made me sister shit myself for a little while.”

 

Ethan barked out a laugh, secretly very grateful at the show of James’s trademark sarcasm making a return. “Sister shit yourself for a real one, huh James?”

 

James just nodded, flashing a genuine smile. Lifted back into their normal interactions, Ethan smiled back quickly before turning to return to his previous role of collecting wood to make a fire.

 

See, now this is exactly why Ethan Dolan was one of James’ best friends.

 

Nobody on this earth should think for a second that the older part of the twin duo was in any way less than Grayson. Truth be told, James really did love him. Of course, it was a different love than what he felt for Grayson, but James knew that no matter what, E would move heaven and earth to be there for James.

 

The boy was just as kind as his brother, even though it was hidden behind a tougher exterior. But the way he hadn’t hesitated to pull him into a hug spoke miles for the way he genuinely cared about every single one around him.

 

It wasn’t a side of Ethan that many people got to see, especially not when shown the laughing and effervescent boy on the internet. James counted himself incredibly lucky to be able to consider him one of his best friends.

 

Sinking back down onto his log from before, James let the warm rays of golden sunlight dry his tears and carry away his fear.

 

Nothing could be too bad when he had friends like these.

 

 

 

---

 

 

It was a few hours before Emma or Grayson emerged from their tents. The first one out was Emma, hair up in a sloppy bun, eyes still half closed.

 

Practically asleep, she stumbled over to where James was sitting, resting her head on his shoulder and demanding Ethan to bring her coffee. Ethan just laughed, reminding her that they ran out the morning prior.

 

At this, she opened her blue eyes to glare at the older twin, eyes narrowing. Ethan’s lips twitched upwards in a smirk, before she dramatically collapsed back down onto James.

 

James watched them fondly, smiling at the pair.

 

He was in the middle of stretching his arms over his head, mouth opening in a yawn when the sight he caught out of the corner of his eye made him pause.

 

One strong arm followed a tanned and toned body emerging from the tent to their left. Grayson ran a hand through his messy brown hair, chin tilted back as the sun hit his face, illuminating it with a soft glow. The other hand tugged down the soft cream sweater that curled up at his hip, exposing a hint of the ridge of his abdominals. Black sweats rode high on his hips, hugging closely down his long legs.

 

Huh.

 

Boys were hotter in the morning.

 

It was a fact.

 

James had to swallow quickly in an attempt to kick start himself back into reality.

 

He shifted quickly, only to meet Emma’s eyes, one brow lifted. Her lips quirked up knowingly.

 

James rolled his eyes as he hissed, “Not a word, Emma.”

 

The younger girl chuckled. “I didn’t say a thing.”