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drowned in living waters

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I.

The air smells like freshly cut grass, spiced meat still sizzling away on the barbecue, and just ever so faintly like vanilla candles. It should be heady, everything overpowering eachother. But as Harry takes a deep breath and shuffles his shoes against the daisies peaking out against the green ground - it just feels like spring is finally here.

They're at a nice restaurant quite a bit out of town, him, James and Romeo and Marnie. It's a Friday, the joyous conversation all around the tables reflecting that pre-weekend mood. He's basking in the atmosphere of it all, the fairy lights strung along the slowly blossoming trees and the taste of the pistachio ice cream from dessert still sweet in his mouth.

The place is laid out in what he'd call a Mediterranean style, the building terracotta with large open spaces and rounded entrance ways leading out onto a terrace - a chef preparing steaks and chili chicken skewers off to the side - and then onto a little meadow.

That's where he's currently standing, taking a small walk around after their meal, a nice gentle buzz in his veins from the white wine he's been drinking. He feels both full and very light, the sky is slightly red from the setting sun and and there's this happy sensation of 'this day is gonna last forever, we're eternal' inside of him.

'Tell me, what great big secrets of the universe have the flies told you?'

Harry smiles, turning around at the sirupy voice and seeing James come up to stand beside him. He'd changed after work, now looking ridiculously handsome in a light blue button down and chinos, leather dress shoes still making him fancy.

James' hand settles on the small of his back, rubbing over the cotton of his shirt. When Harry looks up at him, he can indeed see a swarm of tiny flies in the air - mostly settling around the warm light of the lanterns. His boyfriend's face looks just a bit flushed, redness on the apples of his cheeks and on the patch of skin where the top of his chest is peeking out.

'Are you drunk?', Harry questions, reaching out to stroke his thumb over James' collarbone.

'Pssh. No. Is this your way out of answering my question?'

Harry rolls his eyes, laughing.

'No need to. I'm afraid the flies haven't been very talkative though.'

'Mmh. You just looked so...serene just now. Like a little forest nymph. Talking to the sun.'

He can't help but snort out more laughter, patting the older man's chest. He looks adorable, lower lip jutting out into a small pouty looking thing, right hand gesticulating at the trees around them.

He might not be drunk. But he's also definitely not sober either.

'You're ridiculous. And yet somehow very charming. I think you're the one with secrets, not the flies. Did you order another moscow mule while I was gone? '

'I guess it's not a secret then if you can see through it that easily.'

Harry bites his lip, goes on his toes to kiss him. And indeed, there's the taste of vodka and ginger. James reciprocates right away, mouth easily opening up for him and massaging his own with the perfect amount of moisture, the alcohol involved making everything feel just a bit tingling and hot.

When Harry pulls back, the older man surges after him - eyes still closed - and almost whines in his throat like someone is taking away his favourite treat. Harry grins, eyes sparkling.

'Mhh. They do make a nice cocktail here.', he concludes, licking the remnants off of his own lips - James' eyes interestedly following the movement.

'They really do.'

The other man's fingers on his spine travel downwards minutely, grazing the swell of his butt.

'I like you like this.', Harry says.

'Like what? Inebriated?'

He shakes his head. 'No, carefree. Happy.'

James' face turns even more gentle, eyes bright.

'You know I don't need a drop of alcohol to be happy, right? I've got everything I need for that right here.'

He feels himself melt under James' gaze and words, also thinking how easy it would be to drag him to the toilets for a longer snog. But then he looks past his shoulder, sees Marnie and Romeo still sat at the table - splitting a plate of something chocolatey and fruity. Later, he thinks.

'See, I told you. Very charming.'

'Are you saying I'm not charming sober?'

'Oh please, now you're fishing for compliments.' Harry fiddles with the button on James' shirt, staring up at him. 'What I'm saying is...I'm glad that you're a happy drunk.'

James' eyebrows scrunch together slightly, looking a bit confused.

'I mean, you have seen me angst drinking before too.'

'Yeah, but.. even then that's all you were. Angsty. Frustrated. Upset.'

Another layer of something indecipherable flows over James' face, his pupils clearing up a bit, looking at him more intently.

'What else did you expect?'

Harry averts his eyes, feeling a bit weird all of a sudden. Shrugging his shoulders and staring at a piece of grass next to his feet.

'I don't know, nothing, really. Just..Nothing.'

James takes one step closer to him, the toes of their shoes meeting.

'Hey.', he says - so incredibly softly - 'Are you sure?'

Harry sighs, frustrated and caught off guard with the direction this has turned into.

Lifting his head, he's met with one very close up boyfriend who suddenly seems a lot more sober.

'Yeah. I'm sorry. I'm being weird. I didn't mean to.. make this into a thing.'

'You've got nothing to apologise for. It just felt like there was more to it.'

'There wasn't.', he tries. 'My point was just that.. I don't even know-''

'That you're glad I'm a happy drunk.'

'Yes.'

'As opposed to what?'

Harry huffs out another sigh through his nose, turning away a bit and without even noticing wrapping an arm around his middle as if to close himself off.

'Nothing. Do we have to talk about this now? Romeo and Marnie will probably be finished soon.'

James' hand is still on his back, but feeling a bit more tentative now, fingertips hovering instead of full on touching. Like he's not sure if he's still welcome to touch him. Harry immediately feels guilty, pressing his body against him again. The other man's fingers still feel a bit tense for a second before they glide over him once more, rubbing back and forth over the area.

'We don't have to talk about it, no. But.. maybe we should. If not now, later?'

Harry looks back up at him, concern obvious in his eyes. This is the last thing he wanted.

'It's honestly not a big deal. It's just that..I'm used to things being..different, I guess.'

James give him a few moments, continuing to stroke his spine. Harry bites his lip, tongue feeling dry.

'Different how?', he eventually asks, voice both inquisitive and very gentle.

'With Ste.', he finally manages to get out. It's not like Ste is a forbidden subject, something that Harry's not allowed to bring up - like how it had been when the roles had been reversed in a way. No, it's just that.. these days the other man is very far from his mind. Harry has a boyfriend who makes him so over the moon incredibly happy, heart full of love and passion and domesticity, and he's gained a family - a group of mismatched people that fit together like a puzzle that Harry wants to frame. The last time he'd actively thought of Ste had been when he'd talked to James about how to proceed with their divorce, already going over some details and drafting up a few documents. James reassuring him again that them technically being together by law did not bother him and that while what had happend sucked, they now just had to wait it out. And that was that.

Him and Ste have completely different lives at this point and as cruel as it might sound..he's never happier. So there really was no reason for the older man to slip into his thoughts. Exception apparently being instances like this. Where memories will involuntarily flash through him, making him recall things he's been trying to shove down and down into drawers he didn't want to open anymore.

Apparently, that's not how quite how his mind or subconscious or whatever the fuck is responsible for this works. Faded conversations creeping back to him in moments when he doesn't expect it.

And of courses James being slightly buzzed on this beautiful evening is what would do it.

'Ste?', the older man questions, his forehead crinkling up with more lines as if trying to get the full story just from repeating the name out loud. It's no secret to.. well, anyone, that James has never been Ste's biggest fan. How his face would often morph into immediate disdain at the thought of him alone. If anyone else were to judge James' expression right now, that might be all they'd see. But Harry knows better, knows his boyfriend must have an inkling about where he's going with this. That there's both concern and a desire to go and confront Ste immediately just beneath the surface.

'Yeah.', he continues - swallowing down the knot in his throat. 'Let's just say that, if I had to categorise him, he'd fall under 'angry drunk'.

James continues to search his eyes, his mouth slightly gaping open like someone just punched him in the gut. 'Harry..I know he has a temper but..what exactly does that entail?' His hand quickly travels from his back to Harry's face, thumb caressing the high point of his cheekbone. 'If you don't want to talk about it, I completely understand. I'm sorry for pushing.'

He feels his eyes getting misty for a second, pushing his face into his boyfriend's touch and breathing out a laugh.

'It's fine, no apologies needed. I didn't even mean to.. turn this into a thing just now. But seeing you like this, I guess it reminded me that..this is how things should be, right? That being drunk is not an excuse to treat someone like shit. Yelling, being rude, the whole schtick.'

'Is that what he did? Yell at you?' The dry warmth of his hand a continued comfort over Harry's skin, grounding him in the moment and making those memories fade into even more grey.

'Yeah. You know he was a recovering alcoholic, right? So he did stay away from it most of the time but..when he had his relapses with drugs I guess he just thought 'might as well' and went for the drinks too. That's when things were bad. Shouting, slamming doors, lying..throwing around insults until he ran out of his vocabulary. It always took him a while to get out of it again. And it took me even longer to realize that he was using it, even if only subconsciously, as a form of manipulation.'

'Manipulation? How?'

Harry puts his own hand over James' on his cheek, the pads of his fingers pressing over his knuckles, holding onto him eventhough he knows he's not going anywhere.

'He used to say things like 'I need someone like you in my life, someone good, or I'll just go off the rails like this all the time. And then who knows what I'd do.' I didn't see it as what it was at the time. I just wanted to be there for him, support him. Help him change. Take care of his kids, I don't know.'

'Because you're a good person.', James interrupts, making him smile and lean forward to press their lips together shortly. Noses pressing into cheeks and their breaths mingling in the middle as he pulls back again. He takes his hand off of James', reaches out to wipe over the older man's lower lip once. His thumb moving over plush red softness before pulling back and settling on his chest, a few fingers landing over where his shirt ends and his skin begins.

'Maybe. But in the end it only made me stick to him. Because he made sure i'd feel guilty or at the very least responsible if I left and he did end up doing something really stupid.'

James hums under his breath, listening to his every word. Every word Harry has never felt brave enough to say out loud.

'I'm proud of you, you know. For realizing that.'

Harry rolls his eyes, shy at the praise.

'I guess I have my moments.'

James cocks an eyebrow. 'Since when are you the one who can't handle some sentimentality?' His face finally relaxes again, lips drawing up at the corners into a smile. Everything looking less tense, Harry no longer stuck.

'I can totally handle it. I'm standing on a field at sunset with my boyfriend. That's straight out of one of those romance novels Cindy is always going on about. Granted, the topic of conversation could be a bit more romantic but...'

James laughs, making his heart flutter and surge at the sound. 'Really? I think talking about past trauma has become kind of our thing.'

Harry mirrors his grin before he even knows it. 'You're right. We've made our own clichés, haven't we?'

'Wouldn't have it any other way.' James pauses for a moment, the late sun making his skin look golden. 'Seriously though, I might enjoy the occasional drink and apparently that makes me a bit...touchy feely at points as we both discovered today but..you know I'd never do anything else, right?'

Harry looks at him, can see the slight ginger coming out in his beard, can see the green specks in his irises, can feel his hearbeat thrumming right there under his palm - he knows this man, inside and out. And he's not afraid.

'I do know that. I do.', he answers. Voice clear and confident and honest.

And suddenly he's no longer stuck in a flat with a man whose eyes are too wide and red, whose screaming carries through the hallways, whose kids he told to go to their rooms. It's spring, the air is warm and the grass slightly damp. There's food and drinks and laughter and family.

'Good.', James answers, letting his hand fall from Harry's cheek over his side and ribcage, tickling him briefly, before landing at small of his back again.

'Is this you being touchy feely again?', Harry jokes, raising his eyebrows.

'No.', James answers - faux seriously - his fingers wandering down and down and then plomping on his butt, squeezing. 'This is me being touchy feely.' His smirk is mischievous and lovely, the whole thing making Harry giggle, very much pressing further into his palm.

'I'm fine with that.'

'Yeah?'

Harry looks over James' shoulder, sees Romeo finishing up what is left on the plate and Marnie reapplying her lipstick in her pocket mirror.

Somewhere off to the left to him he's pretty sure he can hear a bee buzz by. The flies over their heads continue to swarm around the glow of the orange lights.

'Yeah. More than fine.' There are no secrets here, only truths to tell.

_________________________________________________________________________

II.

Harry huffs dramatically, opening another tab on his laptop, clicking - the horror - on google's second page of search results. Scrolling down and reading through articles that seem like they were deliberately written in a way that would confuse him before going back to the other tab.

He stares at the question for a few moments, knows it hasn't changed since he last looked at it, and then starts typing.

Going through his mental checklist of points he definitely wants to include, he continues writing his answer and the words finally start flowing a bit more easily. Everything around him kind of disappears for a while, the clicking of the keyboard the only noise in the room - until his leg feels slightly numb from how he's been sitting and where he's balanced the laptop.

He hasn't checked the time, deliberately, knowing five minutes will pass as slowly as an hour if he keeps looking at it. Just when he's about to take a tiny break, unscrewing his water bottle, the door of the flat opens and falls shut again.

He takes a sip, hears some shuffling and then

'Harry? You there?'

'Yep. Bedroom!'

James comes in, Harry already back to writing again.

'Hey.'

'Hey.' He finishes his sentence and then finally looks up at his boyfriend. 'You're back already?'

The older man sits down next to him, Harry immediately catching the now familiar scent of his shower gel, vanilla and pear, instinctively pressing his thigh closer against James'.

'What, no 'oh how i've missed you' or ' im so delighted to have you back early'?' Harry grins at his theatrics, pushing his laptop aside onto the bed, grabbing James' face inbetween his hands and planting a kiss on his lips - breathing him in and tasting him, the other man's hand landing on his knee and squeezing gently in appreciation.

James hums when he pulls back, hand staying where it is. 'Mhh. Now that's better.'

Harry plays with the short strands of hair at his nape, leaning slightly back to look at him. 'I am so very delighted to have you back early', he recites jokingly.

His boyfriend's lips twitch up into a grin, green eyes lighting up. 'You'll be even more delighted to hear that I brought back some lunch for both of us. That green curry you love.'

Harry groans, disentangling himself from James and finally looking at the clock. 1 pm. Has he really been sitting here for almost three hours trying to write this damn essay?

'Wow. Not quite the reaction I expected to that either.', James says, sounding both amused and confused.

'Sorry, sorry. I just didn't realize it was actually lunch time already. I've been trying to get this thing done for hours now and... it's not quite working out yet.'

James scrunches up his eyebrows, trying to peek over his shoulder to see what's actually on the laptop.

'Oh, are you working on an application?'

Harry sighs. 'Again, yes. I know.'

'Hey.' James squeezes his knee again, aiming to get his attention. 'That's not what I meant at all. You know that.'

He does. But it's just a bit hard not to completely drown in self-deprecation at the topic. He's been making plans to go back to college well... basically since he dropped out of it. But realistically, since he got out jail almost a year ago now. But things with Ste just kept tumbling in a very different direction and next thing he knew, he was helping him build up his food truck and spending his days selling sandwiches. And spending his nights doing...other things again. The dream of going back to uni never went away though, even in those dark moments he allowed himself that bit of light.

Since he's moved in with James, it's become a dream that seems more realistic again. He's been able to think through what he actually wants to do with his life, now that he feels safe, happy and grounded. It's a whole new thrilling experience on its own. So he's been looking into different unis and programmes that are close by, then checking out some financial funding options - which had James protesting really quickly when he told him about it. Insisting there was no need to apply for a loan, he had it covered. Harry had felt weird about it at first, already feeling guilty for only contributing a small part to the rent, the few hours he helped out weekly at Lisa's Love Boat not amounting to much at all - and of course James refused to take even all of that as well.

Harry wasn't naive, he knew James came from a good family name and a lifestyle that was very far away from financial struggles for the most part. Adding on top of that that his boyfriend was a naturally generous person with the people most dear to him, it sometimes could feel a bit overwhelming for someone who grew up with a single mom's income and then a father's fluctuating investment in both him and his restaurant. Overwhelming, but far from bad. So he caved, James sitting him down and telling him that he knew how much he wanted this and how there where far worse things to spend his money on than a higher education. With that topic out of the way, he finally felt ready choosing what he actually wanted to major in, for a few days playing around with the idea of doing something straight up and safe like business and economics. As soon as he said it out loud though, discussing it with Marnie over some tea and biscuits, his own voice and her expression in return made it clear very quickly that it wasn't what he was looking for. He quickly found what his heart and mind were really after: Sports management and a minor in health and nutrition. Combining both his love for sport and a good side of administrative things.

Only a handful of unis around Liverpool offered a programme like this - but he just had to try. He knew his CV was spotty and lacking at best and education ruining at worst. James helped him make some of the gaps look better, finding the words to appeal to whatever stuck up person might end up reading it. And now he'd filled out three application forms already, thankfully a police clearance certificate wasn't required, making him audibly sigh with relief. While he'd let go of the guilt and shame involving that particular part of his past, at least for the most part, he still felt happy it wouldn't stand in the way of his future anymore.

Then the first rejection letter had come. Followed two weeks later by another two negative replies. The logical part of him knew not to take it personal, that hundres or thousands of other applicants would get the same notice and that there were only so many places to give out after all. Still, it made him feel like a complete failure, spiraling down after reading the messages and dramatically claiming it was all in vain and that he might as well just stop trying. James wouldn't have any of it, an expert in self-deprecation himself, and only let him wallow in it for a few hours before pouring out another one of his speeches filled with compliments and support that made Harry teary eyed within seconds - and then later pouring a large glass of rosé wine to make him relax completely.

And now here he was again, trying his luck anew. Filling out all the things already stated in his damn CV and currently writing the piece on why this particular university was the one of his dreams.

It felt like a bunch of sucking up and rambling. He knew it was necessary protocol, but he hated it all anyway. Couldn't his A Level grades just be enough?

'I do but..this just sucks.'

'Yeah, academic ass kissing really isn't all that fun.'

'That's an understatement.' James keeps rubbing his knee, thumb softly pressing through his sweatpants. There's a split moment of silence, the older man opening his mouth again before Harry interrupts him. 'Don't you dare even make a joke about ass kissing right now.'

James' lips snap shut again, lower one slightly pouting out like Harry just ruined the joke of the century for him.

''Well if you're not even in the mood for that, the situation must be really dire then.'

His fingers move from Harry's to knee up to his side and to his back, a welcome presence that makes him lean even closer towards him, shoulders and thighs brushing. Small circles being massaged over his spine with James' warm palm.

'Tell me, what exactly has got you in such a mood then? It can't be just that essay there.'

Harry promptly plops down backwards on the bed, head landing over the blanket somewhere in the middle, James' arm stuck beneath him and the sheets for a second before the other man moves it away. Harry is about to apologize for squashing him there when his fingers simply go back to Harry's side, tracing back and forth from his hip to his upper ribs.

It makes him breathless for just a moment, how good James' physical comfort feels and how the other man seems to get the same joy out of giving it so generously, like touching him is the most natural and calming thing in the whole world for him too.

'It's just..so frustrating. All of it. Answering all these questions and writing this damn essay again. I know it's just protocol or whatever but I feel like I'm gonna go crazy if I have to read through one more article on 'applying for your dream uni 101'

James laughs, a soft short little thing, and leans over Harry's stomach to continue reading from the laptop. 'Well, from what I'm reading here...these articles seem to be working though. This is really good, Harry.'

Harry bites his lip, chin pressing into his chest, feeling just a bit shy at the comment. 'Thanks. I don't remember any of this being this hard the last time though. Like, I feel like two years ago I barely put in half as much effort after my A Levels and got accepted. I was just happy I got in, everything else around me was already so messed up anyway. When I think about the fact that I could technically be finished with uni now..'

'Hey, don't do that. Don't go down that route.' The older man's voice is surprisingly serious as he says it, making Harry look at him.

He knows it's a slippery slope to think about it like this, but he can't help it either. James' ticklish movement along his side stop momentarily, then his hand moves forwards, landing on his stomach. The gentle weight immediately grounding him and pulling him back out of his thoughts.

'Look, the past few years haven't particularly presented an ideal situation for you to pursue an education. You were forced to deal with things that were out of your control. And I know that I at least played a part in keeping you on the wrong track for a while, which-'

'No, stop it. If I'm not allowed to feel bad about ruining my own life for a bit and fucking up my future plans, then you're not allowed to feel guilty about something that you know I don't blame you for.'

And he doesn't. They've talked about this a few times with various degrees of seriouness, that period after Christmas a year ago. The one that made them both miserable but felt right at the time. Like the safest option. Harry knows a part of James still feels like he's the one who dragged him down the path but he himself has never really seen it that way, not really. Sure, he doesn't have the fondest memory of those weeks but none of the loathing and sadness is directly connected to James. They both played at a game that was never gonna end with a winner, even if they were the ones making the rules. One day he will make him realize that for good.

James sighs, hand about to pull away fom his abdomen when Harry puts his own on top of it. He can feel his boyfriend's pulse through his own palm, steady but heightened.

'Fine. How about we settle on the fact that we've both done..questionable things in the past three years that we're not necessarily proud of.', James says eventually.

'Agreed. And dropping out of uni isn't very high on that list usually, but man I'm really feeling it right now.'

'If that's the biggest of our worries at the moment, I'd say we're doing pretty damn great.'

Harry snorts, rubbing his thumb of James' knuckles.

'Don't jinx it. Though I'd feel even more great if this application actually ends up being successful.'

'Harry, you're gonna get in. You're brilliant. And I'm not just saying that because I love you.'

He can't help but smile, those three little words never do get old. It feels like with James, there are a thousand different ways to say them - each one more beautiful than the other.

'Thanks. I'm gonna choose to trust your totally unbiased opinion here. I mean, 18 year old me did manage to scour a scholar ship after all so I can't be completely useless.'

James 'hmm's under his breath for a moment. When Harry peeks over at him, his eyebrow are minutely drawn together questioningly.'Was that the one Tony tried to sue you for? Because he wanted his money back?' His own mouth drops open in surprise, genuinely shocked James even remembers that detail.

'Yeah', he breathes out. 'Yeah, I.. I ended up not taking it. Obviously.'

James stares down at him, pushing his pinky finger over Harry's to intertwine them. 'It was a football orientated one, wasn't it?'

'Yep. I used to play a lot more regularly in my early teens but then when I came here I joined the team at school again and somewhere along the way I got inspired to just..try out for a scholarship. It seemed so exciting you know? Going to America, living there, maybe getting to make the first step of turning something that I love into a career.'

James lets him talk, a silent but ever present listener at his side.

'And then? Did you fall out of love with the idea of it? The whole American dream?'

Harry swallows. 'Not necessarily, no. Certain things..happened that..made me change my mind, I guess. Give up on it and focus on something different.'

'Certain things?', James asks, voice carrying a gentle inquisitiveness, like he doesn't want to overstep. Clearly noticing that the mood has shifted slightly, this topic not bringing Harry's favourite memories with it.

'Ste.', he says, simply. James goes stiff next to him for a second and then exhales loudly , tinged with somthing bitter and incredulous.

''Ste.', he repeats. 'Of course. Don't even know why I bothered asking.', he continues, shaking his head.

Harry frowns, sitting back up again. Both his and James' hand falling from his stomach.

'Are you mad at me for this?'

James' face turns over to him so quickly that he's worried the older man might have snapped a muscle or something.

'What? No, that's not what I was trying to get at. I'm mad at him.'

Harry relaxes, his shoulder melting against his boyfriend's.

'We've been through this before. If you wanna be mad at every single shitty thing he did to me, you're gonna go grey really quickly.'

James sighs, rolling his eyes, and then smiles. Harry thinks he should always smile, looking absolutely gorgeous with the bright midday sun coming through the sheer curtains. His dark orange button up making him glow even more. Sometimes it feels like a rush through his entire body: looking at him and falling even more in love each time.

'You're right. I mean, I don't even know why I'm surprised that he'd talk you out of a scholarship. That man's distaste for anything that would make you happy really knew no bounds, huh?'

Harry can't help but grin at the comment.

'I'm not gonna disagree with you there. Though I guess technically he didn't talk me out of it. I sort of.. talked myself out of it, if that makes sense?'

James quirks an eyebrow, waiting for him to continue.

'We'd just gotten back together again. He'd asked me to move in and it felt like we were actually going to do this properly for the first time. Felt like I was on cloud nine. Thought I was doing the right thing, you know? Being there for him after another relapse..feeling..needed. Wanted, even if only to a degree. It seemed like something I was actually good at, you know? Being his crutch. Felt like I'd gotten the hang out of it. It didn't even matter if I liked it, I just knew it felt safer than going off to California and possibly failing.'

The other man takes his hand in his own once he's finished, pulling it up towards lips and pressing a kiss onto the back of it.

'I hate that you ever felt that way.' He pauses briefly before continuing. 'You could still do it, you know. Join a team again, go to some try outs, see what opportunites present themselves.'

Harry laughs, shaking his head. 'Would you come to my games then? Cheer from the sidelines even when it's raining?'

James gives him a 'duh' look. 'You know I would. You're probably the only man in the world who would be able to drag me to a football match and have me actually enjoy it. Or at least the view of your legs in some shorts.'

More giggles bubble up his throat. 'You don't need me to join a football team to get to see my legs. No, but seriously..It's not something I see for myself anymore. American college life and training every single day? No thank you.'

'No? You could have gotten yourself a nice frat boyfriend. Wearing snapbacks and sandals to class. Introducing you to beer pong. The full experience. Wouldn't want you to miss out on anything.'

Harry bumps their shoulders together, both their chests shaking with mirth. 'Nah. I think I'm good right where I am.'

'Yeah?' James' eyes travel down to his lips, grin widening.

'Yeah.' Something on his laptop bings, making him turn around and bringing him out of the moment. A software update he's been postponing for way too long. And yep, his unfinished essay is still there too. He lets another sigh escape at the sight of it. 'Ugh, I should get back to this then and finally finish it.'

'No, no, no..what you should be doing is having a break and eat some lunch with me. Trust me, your creative juices will flow much better afterwards.'

Harry wrinkles his nose. 'Why did you have to say it like that? Don't ruin the curry for me if you want me to join you.'

'The way you usually shovel it down, I don't think anything could ruin it for you.'

His mouth drops open, playfully slapping James' arm.

'Rude.' James pats his knee before getting up off the bed.

'You coming then?'

Harry looks back and forth between him and his laptop, biting his lip. He saves the document, shutting off the part in his mind telling him to sit here until he's got everything perfect even if it takes hours.

James smiles, halfway out the doorway into the hallway when Harry catches up to him and holds onto his elbow.

'Wait. Just..thank you. For listening. And encouraging me to do what I want.'

The older man's face goes soft. 'You don't need to thank me for that. I'd be a rather terrible boyfriend if I did anything else.'

'Yeah, well.. I guess you don't go through three years of dating someone who could not care less about anyone else's dreams but his own without being a bit messed up. So you might hear me moaning about this a few more times.'

'You're not messed up.'

'Maybe I am, just a bit. And that's okay. Lord knows it took me a while to realize but..I know it's not my doing. Not this, at least. Ste simply hated it, you know. The whole topic of education.'

James looks contemplative for a moment. 'Do you think it's because he never got to experience it himself? More focused on venturing into making his own coin at an early age?.'

'Maybe. But I think a big part of it was the control it gave him over me. If I didn't go to uni to study something I was actually interested in.. that meant I would stay with him. Support him and his business. I don't even think he made me feel that way on purpose, I think it's just who he is.'

It's not an epiphany, these words being something he's thought over and over, especially last year. But it feels signifcant to say them out loud to someone else.

James' face hasn't changed. There's no pity or disgust for Harry letting himself be treated like that for way too long. He's completely open for him to read.

A hand cups his jaw and cheek, making him hold his gaze.

'You're right. That is who he is. But the only thing that matters is who you are now.'

Harry thinks of late night coffee, minty kisses in the early hours, fluffy robes and satin pillows. Thinks of date nights with fruity wine, rainy afternoons and boardgames. Hot breaths against his neck, gentle touches over and inside of him. Conversations had when everybody else is asleep, stories and experiences shared. Finding a place to breathe and be himself in this flat not made for seven. Becoming part of a new family.

'I think I'm the luckiest guy in the world.', he says. Being able to smell his favourite curry waiting right there in the kitchen really only adds to that.

_______________________________________________________________________

III.

'Chocolate? Really? I can't believe you're this boring.'

'You're the one going on about cookie dough. If I wanted to taste cookie dough.. I'd get a cookie, not ice cream.'

'I can't believe you just tried to compare those two things. They're so completely different. Frankly, I'm disgusted.' Harry is only half joking.

It's finally starting to feel like summer. He can smell the sun screen on his own arms and it's the first day warm enough to wear both a t-shirt and shorts outside.

Harry thinks there's a certain child like instinct to waking up to a bright day beaming through the blinds and just wanting to get out of the house and explore as quickly as possible. That particular whiff of blooming nature and the heated up pavements, it fills you with something indescribable.

James had left for work when he had still been mostly asleep, briefly saying goodbye while pressing a kiss to his temple and kind of making him wish he'd actually woken up earlier. Because by the time he did, he felt way too sweaty under the blankets.

Him and Romeo had breakfast together while still in their pyjamas, a common occurence these days, and as the sun continued to rise from late morning into midday, the flat started feeling stuffy no matter how many windows they opened.

So what's the perfect plan for a day like this? Getting ice cream.

'It's literally just vanilla with crumbly bits in there, you don't get to call me boring.', Romeo continues, white teeth peeking out between his smile.

'Fine, I guess we can't all have such a refined palate like myself. I'm sure you'll get there one day.'

'Living with two snobs? No doubt.'

But there's only so much slander Harry will tolerate.

'Hey! I'm not a snob.' He pauses for a second, considering whether he wants to spill one of James' secrets. He might not be around to defend himself but..oh well. He'll live. 'I'm not the one who will straight up only eat neapolitan because its 'a classic'.'

Romeo halts next to him, hand reaching out for the inside of his elbow. 'No?', he asks dramatically.

Harry nods his head, both of them continuing to walk. 'Yep, discovered it when that was the only thing he'd order for dessert on our dates. And then when I mentioned it to Marnie she confirmed that that's the one area he's always been a picky eater in.'

'That's a tragedy. The fact that it's these three flavours all weirdly next to eachother should make it more exciting but instead it's just...one big blob of bland.'

'See? My thoughts exactly. I suppose you're already one step above that by being a chocolate purist.'

'Nice try, but I'm gonna continue to be a cookie dough hater.'

'More for me then.'

They quickly reach the ice cream stand, run by Scott. It's new this year, just outside The Teahouse and already proving to be quite popular based on the amount of people Harry often sees queuing up.

Scott looks happy, pink apron tied around his waist as he serves two teenage girls and then spots them.

'Hiya! What can I get for you two lads? We've got some new sorbet stuff going on today as well. A bit of raspberry, bit of mango. And this froyo like blueberry one, all fresh.'

'I'll have one scoop of chocolate and then one of the mango.'

'Cup or cone?'

'Cone please.'

Scott scoops the two flavours out of their containers, the mango looking so deliciously bright orange that Harry feels like he can almost taste it.

As soon as Romeo gets the cone in his hand, he starts eating. He can't blame him, it really does look mouth watering.

'And you, Harry?'

'One cookie dough, one watermelon, please. Cone as well.'

Harry's tried the watermelon here before and it's absolutely amazing, the vibrant pink and sweet creamy texture coating his tongue.

He hands over the coins to Scott and him and Romeo decide to stand across from one another at one of the little tables set up around the van.

They enjoy their ice cream, the frozen goodness starting to melt as the sun blares down on them.

Romeo is on his last few bites of the cone, Harry finished and wiping his hands and mouth on a napkin.

'Well isn't this just the prettiest family picture?'

Harry tenses up at that voice, shoulder blades pressing against his shirt. He turns his head and there is Ste.

A smirk is on his face - but it looks cold, bitter.

'Look at you..having a nice day, are you?' Ste continues, walking a few steps further towards him.

Harry quickly looks back at Romeo, a confused frown on his mouth, and then back at Ste.

'Ste, what do you want?' He moves slightly forwards to him, not meeting him in the middle but hoping if he stays approachable enough, maybe whatever mood Ste is in will be over in a blip. And that Romeo won't get dragged into it.

'Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. Just saw you two standing over there and felt like saying hi.' Ste's voice is dripping with false cheeriness and for a second Harry wishes he still had some ice cream left to smash it in his face.

It's been weeks since they last talked to eachother, and even then he uses the term 'talking' loosely. The awkward unspoken silence between them at Tony's after Lily's tragic passing away and then another round of amicable 'hello's' and 'how are you's at the easter fete. It had seemed okay enough, but Harry had been glad for the limited contact even then. Happy that they could put their own issues with one another aside to celebrate and come together as a family.

When he'd first come back to town, Harry had thought he might try more actively to become friendly with Ste again. But after the still incredibly cold reception by both him and his own father in January, he quickly realized he would not again fall into the trap of confusing his own wants and wishes with pleasing two people who've made it very clear where he stands on their list of priorities.

So here he is. With no desire to hurt Ste, nor one to really play friends.

'Great. Now that you've done that, is there something else you wanted or..?'

Ste laughs, sounding metallic. 'Nah, I'm all good. There is absolutely nothing I could possibly want, is there? Got everything I need. Oh wait..I actually don't, do I? Feels like there's something missing.'

Harry contemplates what to say for a moment - still unsure where exactly this is going, but apparently even that is too long, the other man already continuing.

'But you certainly do, right? The man of your dreams. The nice, fancy flat. The step-son you're already bonding with. I have to say, I'm impressed. It's really worked out well for you, hasn't it?'

'Ste..', Scott interrupts, watching the scene unfold with worried eyes.

'How is it that after everything that's happened, you're the one who gets to be happy, huh? The one who..gets to build a new life. New love. New family. Everything I lost is what you gained.'

Ste's face has turned into an angry grimace, gone the put on smirk. Harry's not sure what set this off, the other man doesn't seem inebriated.

Harry's not the monster Ste wants him to be. He's felt sorry for hurting him and empathetic towards him for losing his sister. But he also meant what he said. He's not gonna spend the rest of his life hiding under a rock and be miserable to make him feel better about himself.

'Look, Ste. There's only so many times I can apologise. I feel like I've done my due. It's clear that you're upset but maybe you should calm down, yeah?'

'Calm down? How can I do that when I have to see you around town all the time. Practically rubbing your happiness under my nose. Tell me, how come that you're apparently buddy buddy with this guy already when in all those years...you never even bothered to bond with Leah and Lucas?'

Harry scrunches up his eyebrows, thrown off at the accusation. 'That's not fair. Also, you really need to leave Romeo out of this.'

'See? Coming right to his protection, aren 't ya?'

'I think that's enough now, mate.' Romeo suddenly calls out from behind him. Harry almost jumps, surprised by the action. The younger boy comes to stand beside him, expression challenging, chin tilted up. Harry wants to tell him it's alright, apologize he had to witness that but he doesn't get the chance.

'Isn't that cute. How'd you two get so close then? Pyjama partys and talking about your mutual murder charges?'

He can feel Romeo tense up just like himself almost simultaneously. He wasn't in prison insanely long, but Harry knows what that place can do to you. Romeo hasn't had to deal with the guilt of thinking you actually committed the crime, but he sure knows what it's like to feel like the whole world is suddenly against you.

It's something they've bonded over, even if only subconsciously, and Harry won't tolerate Ste using it as a sore spot.

'You need to shut up now.', he says, steeling his eye contact.

'D'you wanna try one of my new flavours, Ste? They're really yummy, I promise. Gonna cool you down.', Scott tries again with a shaky smile, ice cream scooper held out.

But Ste looks like he doesn't even hear him, a vein protruding red on his forehead and fists clenched at his side.

Harry instinctively steps halfway infront of Romeo, broadening out his shoulders.

'You should have never come back to town, you know? Things would be so much easier with you gone. But you're too stupid to tell when you're not wanted, aren't ya?'

The older man is practically spitting his words at this point, Harry swallowing down his own anger to not rile him up even more. He's not worth it.

Harry looks over at Romeo, closing his eyes for a second and breathing out to calm himself before blinking them open again.'Romeo, come on. Let's go home.' Romeo's mouth drops open like he wants to argue, staring straight over Harry's head back at Ste, something dark in his eyes.

But he does relax his jaw when he finally meets Harry's eyes, hopefully reading that it's alright, and turns around with him to walk away.

They're a few metres away when he hears steps running up behind him. Everything else seems to happen both insanely quickly and in slow motion. Scott shouting out Ste's name, Harry looking back at Ste coming up to him and Romeo, a black haired guy standing at the entrance of the Teahouse with a smirk and crossed arms, watching.

His fists are no longer balled up but he looks fuming, like he's angry that he didn't get the last word in.

Something scared settles in Harry's stomach though, unsure of what the other man wants to do. Out of the corner of his eye, Romeo darts foward a step, Ste immediately catching the movement and focusing in on him.

Harry stretches out his arm, pushing Romeo back by his chest. A second later Ste is on him. Two hands on his shoulder blades push him to the ground. His palms land on the pavement accompanied by the surface scratching up his skin. It stings slightly. Ste's foot kicks harshly against his own, trying to get his attention.

When Harry looks back up, bloodied hands shaking, both Romeo and Scott are on Ste. The latter pulling him back by his shoulders, the former pushing him away by his upper arms. Ste's face is still made up of pure anger and while Rome's face is twisted up too, there's something else beneath it. Not just an obvious dislike for the man infront of him, but a dsilike in particular for what's just happened to Harry. Oh, he realizes. He's worried. All three of them are shouting something over eachother he can't quite catch, feeling like everything around him is weirdly buzzing.

He shakes his head, making everything come clear again. The hard ground beneath him. The stickiness on his palms. Ste's loud voice.

'Oh come on, I barely touched him!'

'Why are you being like this?', Scott keeps trying.

'You're just a bully, aren't you? A violent, selfish asshole.' Romeo's hand reaches for his elbow in a gesture to check in on him. The touch the complete opposite to the words coming out of the boy's mouth right now.

He gets back up on his feet, staring down at his palms all the way. They're merely surface scratches, tiny really. He's ready to tell everyone it's alright, he's alright. Get Romeo out of this situation.

'Selfish? If I was so fucking selfish I wouldn't have pushed this one out of the way the night of the storm. And then that tree would have hit him instead of Tegan.' Ste halts for a second, making sure to catch his eyes. 'If only I'd made the right choice.'

He involuntarily clenches his hands, nails digging into the wounds. Ste grins, knowing his words are having their desired effect.

'Who the fuck do you think you are, talking to him like that-', Romeo presses out - but gets interrupted.

'Ste, mate, I need you back inside.' The dark haired guy from the shop calls over before any of them can get anouther word out. There's still a self-satisfied look on the man's face and Harry has no idea what to make of it.

Ste's eyes travel over both Romeo and him one more time and then he wordlessly turns around to leave, shrugging Scott off with the movement.

'You okay?', Romeo asks, eyes frantically searching over his frame.

'Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Just a scratch.'

The younger boy squeezes his lips together and Harry wants to make that worried overcast on his face go away, bring back the smile from only a few short moments ago.

'Not quite what I meant.', Romeo says. And he knows what he's really getting at but Harry just wants to leave. Wash his hands and forget about all this.

'We should head back.', is what he says, hoping Romeo will catch his mood.

Scott shoots them another worried look out of the corner of his eye, two other customers already at his little van and demanding his attention.

Romeo looks over where Ste's disappeared inside now and then back at him, exhaling loudly before nodding his head.

The walk home is quiet.

Back at the flat, Harry runs his hands under cold water while Romeo gets some antiseptic gel and spray on band-aid.

As he's applying everything, the other boy waits next to him, leaning against the kitchen counter with his arms crossed.

The silence is starting to get a bit uncomfortable so Harry decides it's the right time to apologize.

'I'm sorry you had to witness all ot that.'

When he gets no acknowledgement, he turns his gaze from the sink to Romeo - who's staring at him intently.

'Has he ever done that before?', he asks, wrinkling his forehead.

Harry breathes out a laugh. 'What? Been a dick?'

'No. I mean...it's clear that's one of his trademarks but. What I mean is...has he ever, you know..hurt you. Physically.'

He stares down at the towel in his hands. The question doesn't feel as dramatic as it should, doesn't suck out all the air out of the room. But suddenly the wrinkles on his fingers seem a lot more interesting than meeting Romeo's eyes.

'No.', he answers. 'He just..has a temper. That I'm glad I no longer have to tolerate.'

He looks back over at Romeo who looks like he's trying to read his mind. Eventually the younger boy sighs and nods his head, meaning whatever he found while staring at Harry was satisfactory.

'Alright. He's still an asshole though.'

'Oh, a huge one.'

They both laugh, finally breaking the moment. The sun casts everything in a light beautiful yellow: His palms have stopped hurting.

The rest of the day is a relaxing affair of iced tea, xbox and going out again to help Marnie with some of the flowers on the balcony of her new flat just around the corner.

When James comes home in the late afternoon, tasting like the SPF in his lip balm, Harry heads to the shops to get some wine for after dinner - Romeo and James later taking care of chopping up all the vegetables for their pasta dish.

It's still light out by eight when Romeo pops over to Marnie again to spend some time with Juliet.

Some comedy that isn't all that funny is playing on the tv, Harry's legs thrown over James' thighs. The latter finally stripped out of his suit and in a light cotton shirt.

'So..Romeo told me you had fun today.'

Harry hums non-committedly, taking another sip of his glass, focused on the screen. When he goes to put it back down on the coaster, James' hand reaches out to touch his. He gently turns it around, soft fingers searching his palm. Small patches of scratched up skin still standing out.

'He also told me you walked into Ste.'

Harry looks over at him, greeted by a raised eyebrow.

Apparently Romeo wasn't quite as convinced by his 'everything is fine' mood from earlier as he had thought.

He sighs, pulling his legs back and sitting up properly. Right, they're having this talk then.

'We did, yeah. And before you say anything, I'm sure Romeo made it sound much worse than it actually was. He was probably on a sugar high.'

'Oh, so Ste didn't just verbally attack you out of nowhere to then push you on the floor? Romeo might be one for teenage exaggeration but I'm not sure how he could have just pulled all those details out of thin air.'

Harry bites his lips, that weird feeling settling in his stomach again. He looks down at his hands, one of James' fingers oh so slowly tracing along one of the wounds.

'It's..I didn't want to make a big deal out of it. I don't.'

'Harry, love...what he did, it could fall under assault. With Romeo as a witness, I'm sure I could build a case and go to DS Yates to-'

Harry snatches back his hand, suddenly feeling agitated. 'So that's what this is about then? Your work? I'm not just another case for you to study, James.'

The older man's mouth drops open, eyebrows coming down and wrinkling the space between in confusion.

'What? No, that's not what I meant at all. I was trying to say that we can make sure that Ste doesn't get away with this.'

'It was just a push.'

'There's no 'just' about this. Today it's a push and tomorrow it's something else. He's been harassing the Maaliks for weeks as well, physically trying to provoke them.'

'Don't, okay? Don't try to include me with the Maaliks here. What they're going through is hell. You don't need what Ste did to me to prove that.'

'So you admit that he did something to you? That it wasn't just an accident?'

Frustratedly huffing through his nose, he gets up. He takes a few steps away from the couch, back turned to James and crossing his arms. He doesn't know why he's being like this. Or perhaps he does and that's why he can't face the topic. Can't face James. Can't face his own past with Ste.

There's some shuffling and then he can hear James walk up to him, stopping a short bit away from him. Probably trying to give him space. Harry's heart aches a bit at his tenderness.

'Harry', he says quietly - almost sounding slightly choked up. And fuck, why is he about to tear up himself? A hand touches his shoulder, warm and grounding. 'I apologize if I-'

'No.', he answers. 'Don't apologize. You're right when you say he shouldn't get away with it. But that's just how I know him. Getting away with everything. So imagining anything else is..difficult.'

James is quiet for a moment, thumb pressing over the meatier part of Harry's collar bone.

'You're not just another case. You're my boyfriend. And I want to help you in the way I know best. Even if this is the first time Ste has been this physically aggressive towards you I can still-'

'It's not.' His voice sounds too loud for the room. The evening quiet, the movie only background noise. He feels a bit hysteric as soon as the words are out. It's still not the soul crushing moment he'd expected it to be, like when Romeo asked the question a mere few hours ago.

It's more.. hearing his own pulse in his ears and his mouth feeling too dry, like he doesn't quite know what to do with his tongue now that he's said it. Blinking away the moisture in his eyes and feeling angry at himself for getting so worked up over this. It's breath and heartbeat. A quiet devastation.

James' fingers on his shoulder feel like they're shaking just a tiny bit, unsure of whether to pull away or press more firmly.

Harry swallows and turns around.

Questioning eyes stare back at him, shining in the late golden light.

'It's not.', he repeats - quieter but more firmly. Like he's enunciating every letter. Like there's any way James could possibly misunderstand what he's saying. Because he doesn't think he can say it again.

James stares at him for a few more seconds, mouth opening and closing. He clears his throat and Harry wonders if he's experiencing the same sensation of welling up.

'Harry..is that..do you mean?..'

'You know of his history with Amy, right?'

James nods.

'Right. Well, I didn't. At least not when I started dating him. My dad only told me after we'd been together for half a year or something. And he didn't just tell me out of nowhere either.'

While Harry is the one laying everything out in the open, he watches James very carefully. Beyond aware of what this topic means to him, how it could cut memories of his own open. Mac may be gone but the years of abuse are not.

'Tony didn't tell you when you got involved with him?', James questions. His hand has dropped from his shoulder, fingertips now brushing against his in the space between them.

'Nope. I got to know about the drugs. And the HIV. But that part..somehow neither of them thought it was something I might want to be clued in on. And like..I get it. People do shitty things and then they have the chance to better themselves. There should be a chance to leave the past in the past. It just becomes a problem when it catches up with the present.'

'Harry..did he..'

'He punched me.' James breathes out a gasp, sounding wet. His eyes glaze over and Harry watches his adam's apple move strainedly. It's a mixture of blunt sadness and bubbling up anger.

'It was during one of his relapses. I tried to help him and he just..lost it. Punched me straight in the face. It's hard to suddenly have a black eye from the same hand you'd dreamt of putting a ring on.'

James' eyes close for a second like he's gathering himself. Harry knows he must be imagining it. The purple over Harry's pale skin. He quickly reaches out to grasp his hand, pulling him back into reality.

When the older man focuses back on him, he continues.

'That's when Tony told me everything. And I was angry and hurt and confused. And I was also eighteen with a boyfriend who was like another son to my dad. A boyfriend who was going through a really hard time. So he apologized and I forgave him.'

'I'm so..so sorry, Harry.' A tear of his finally breaks loose, tumbling down his cheek. Harry cracks a small smile, wiping it away with his thumb.

'I know.'

He cups James' face shortly but when is about to pull back, his boyfriend's own hand quickly covers his and holds him there.

'You know I would never-'

'I know.', he repeats instantly. He had feared James' mind might go there. He's opened up about his worries of fatherhood. About becoming Mac in that regard. About being worse than Mac, even. It's been good to see these worries die down. Helped by insistent words of encouragment from both him and Marnie and actually spending time with Romeo. Discovering that he's not just able of being a father who's simply there. No, he's an amazing father. And while Harry is far from a family expert..Romeo has bloomed under that new found bond.

'Please, just let me say it once. I would never hurt you. I'd rather cut of my own hand than lay it on you like that.'

Harry exhales something between a laugh and a cry, turning his hand under James' palm and entertwining their fingers. He lets their hands drop between them, thumb stroking over James' knuckles.

'Don't do that.', he says. 'I happen to be quite fond of your hands.'

James chuckles, the sound making Harry's heart soar, and squeezes his fingers.

'Alright. Wouldn't want to disappoint you.'

'You could never.' He takes a breath before continuing, feeling insanely lighter now that the worst is out. 'It wasn't just..that one defining moment though, you know? It was countless of small little things. A shove here. A grip that was harder than it should have been there. After a while it just..became normal. I'd call him out on it when I actively noticed it but...if things fall on deaf ears so many times you just drop it at some point, you know? I don't know what' s sadder. Him not noticing how I would flinch when he touched me sometimes or him noticing and not changing his behavior.'

James stares at him for a few moments, eyes so clear and green they make Harry want to run out and gaze into the evening sky, watch as the dark and light glitter for competition.

'You've never flinched around me.', James says, voice soft and wondering. And that simply won't do, he decides.

'No. Because you're you. And I know you. My body knows you. With you it's..I always want you near.'

The older man looks like he's found religion as he stares at him, green and blue eyes meeting. Melting into one another and turning into moss. Fresh life and new beginnings.

James leans down to kiss him then, a short press of petal lips that still manages to make his kneeks buckle. Harry breathes him in, pushes into it. Near. Closer. Harry's lips part his mouth, getting his taste in.

When they pull apart, James' hands settle on his hips. Harry lets himself lean into the hold, feeling weightless.

'I hate what he put you through.', James concludes. 'But I'm happy that you felt comfortable enough to share it with me.' He pauses for a second, gauging Harry's expression. 'You said you didn't want to make a big deal out of it. And you still don't have to. I just want you to know that if you ever want to adress it, any of it, legally..well, I'm here for you.'

Harry smiles. 'You're sweet. But it's not the way I want to go about it. It's..I'm done with it. I've spent enough of my time staring at Ste in court and being worried. I've dealt with it in my own way. By figuring out that what he was doing to me was wrong. That I wasn't to blame. And that I deserved better than that.' He reaches out to stroke a spot above James' elbow. 'Which I have now.'

James mirrors his smile, lips stretching upwards. Pink and beautiful against his dark beard.

'Fine. No defending your honour with my legal genius.'

Harry quirks an eyebrow.

'Legal genius, ey?'

'Oh, completely. I can pull a case out of thin air and win it, darling.'

'Right.', he answers. Playfully rolling his eyes. Now that the mood is back to chill summer evening rather than tearful honesty hour, he disentangles himself from James, plopping down on the sofa again. The movie is still running. It doesn't look like he's missed much. The main guy and girl still seem stuck in the mutual pining zone.

'Mhm.', James says, lifting Harry's legs to squeeze past him and the coffee table before falling on the spot next to him. 'For example, if I happened to hear from person A that person B cruelly and heartlessy joked about my fantastic taste in ice cream..I would call that slander.'

Harry's mouth drops open.

'I can't believe Romeo is such a snitch.' He crosses his arms over his chest in fake offence.

James laughs, settling his hand on Harry's thigh.

It's the beginning of summer. The evening is still warm. The bare skin of his arms rubs against James' body. The wine glass infront of him is chilled from condensation. It's summer with long crystal nights and even longer days. Harry can't wait to spend all of them with James.