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Love Me Tender

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The sky was ashy grey from the dreary weather, cotton textured clouds lined with silver covered what used to be blue skies as a gentle rainfall peppered the earth, the fresh scent of it wafting through the cracked open window on a soft breeze.

Despite the slight chill, the bedroom was warm, heat collecting beneath the blankets on the bed, shared between the two bodies lying together. Teddy was watching the curtains wave slowly, the room barely lit from the darkening sky outside and the single lamp on the bedside table behind him. It cast a soft golden glow over his left shoulder and spilled over the wrinkles and folds in the silky sheets and heavy duvet.

The gold seemed to meld especially well against the softly tanned and heavily freckled cheeks of the man lying next to him. They were both awake, sharing one pillow, close enough that Teddy could make out the complex kaleidoscopic pattern in the honey gold of his lover's eyes. His hair was a chaotic mess, the Potter signature, copper-brown with heavy red tones that darkened at the ends, curling subtly from dried sweat and giving off a salty scent that mixed enticingly with the sharp spice of his aftershave.

Stray strands of hair were hanging in James’ eyes, the rest of it pooled in an ebony spill on the pillow around his head. His lips were curled up, showing a hint of teeth, the skin at the corners of his smile wrinkled and a dimple sitting in his right cheek that Teddy was horribly tempted to kiss. While the duvet was pulled up, hiding the way their legs had tangled together, it didn't hide the shirt James was wearing. It was one of Teddy’s, rather old and just a bit too big for James, with a barely readable, worn band logo on the chest. The collar had been stretched out after years of yanking it on and off, and was dipping low enough on James' right shoulder that Teddy could see the freckles there that matched the ones on his cheeks.

He kept looking between the freckles and the little bruises that were decorating James’ neck and the column of his throat, already purple and red. I did that, Teddy thought to himself dizzily, before attempting to focus back on James, who was talking, and had been since his breathing had returned to normal, after at least an hour of fingers digging into sweaty shoulders, hands clinging to backs and lips leaving bruises on every bit of skin they could reach, hot breath mingling, and fingers tangled in hair a mix of curly and wavy.

Teddy had a hand on James' neck, tracing one of the bruises slowly with his thumb. There was a sensation of guilt in his throat for leaving marks, as if he'd hurt James, but deep in his stomach was a burn of possession and pride. He could easily heal them just with his hands, no wand needed, but he hesitated. Something inside him was happy to see these hickies and love bites on his boyfriend. James must have been happy too, as he hadn't complained when Teddy had made them. In fact, Teddy seemed to recall James putting a hand on the back of his head to keep his mouth on his throat, body shaking under Teddy as he bit and sucked blossoms of purple into his skin.

He felt drunk, in a way, watching James' lips as they moved to form lazy words that barely registered in a heady mind. Teddy moved his thumb from the love bite he’d been tracing to the hinge of James' jaw to feel over the freckles under his ear, his mind wandering and somehow unable to concentrate on whatever it was James was saying. They'd been dating for a while now. Months, a year, two years, so long together, and yet they'd never done this before. They were official, they went out on dates, they held hands in public and James flipped off the occasional twat who sneered as they passed. James had a drawer at Teddy's flat filled with his belongings, and there was a drawer here where Teddy kept his things when he stayed over with James. Shirts that James stole most of the time, so that whenever Teddy was there he still mysteriously had nothing to wear.

When thinking back on previous relationships, Teddy found himself awestruck, wondering how he could love someone this much. He remembered having a similar thought in the past: "I'll never love anyone else like this," and he supposed in a way he'd been right. He didn't love James the way he'd loved Victoire, or anyone else he'd dated, no, he loved James so much more, and at times it was overwhelming to look at James and be filled with warmth that had the capacity to drop him to his knees from the sheer volume of emotion.

Teddy loved James. Tender and true; and James loved Teddy back.

They'd shared beds before, slept beside each other and held each other at night, and they'd certainly experimented before. They'd touched each other with fevered hands, kissed against walls with their bodies pressed together, fumbled on the couch until their vision was white and their lungs were burning, but this had been the first time since they'd started dating that they'd fallen into bed together like this, memorizing each other's bodies deeply and intimately as fire built between them and they couldn't seem to get close enough.

Teddy could feel something in the atmosphere that wasn't just the rainstorm, a shift in their relationship that was both terrifying and brilliant. He didn't want to mess this up, didn't want to say or do the wrong thing and chase away the man who'd so entirely stolen his heart. So he held him, his hand on James’ jaw and eyes memorizing the indiscriminate pattern of the freckles on his cheeks and the bridge of his nose.

Beautiful. James was a galaxy that Teddy was lost in.

"Hey." James lifted a finger to poke against Teddy's nose, which wrinkled in protest. "You're not listening."

"I'm not?" Teddy asked, mesmerized at the little roll of James' eyes.

"You look daft," James said. "What's so interesting?"

Teddy felt his lips quiver in a bad attempt to keep from smiling, shaking his head in answer as his thumb followed James' cheek towards his nose. "You're feeling okay, right? Not in any pain?"

The color in James' cheeks seemed to darken red. He shifted around under the covers from his nerves, as if they hadn't just done something that would make a grown man blush. Their legs were already tangled together under the covers, but James seemed to force himself closer, their ankles hooking securely as he pulled the duvet higher and shook his head.

There was a dreamy sheen in his brown eyes as he smiled, clearly trying to look confident but instead coming off as shy. "Feel pretty great actually," James admitted, wiggling closer and slowly winding his arms around Teddy's waist.

Teddy responded by wrapping his left arm around James, the right one slipping under the pillow at their heads.

"I didn't hurt you? I wasn't too rough?"

"You definitely could have been a little rougher," James teased, his fingers tracing up and down the ripples of Teddy's spine. "You really worry too much, I'm fine. I'm happy."

Teddy felt high, sliding his head closer so he could press his forehead against James', his eyes shutting. "I'm happy too." When he opened his eyes again, James' face had deepened to a darker shade of scarlet. "You were honestly amazing, I just want to be certain it was good."

James snorted a little. "Of course you'd worry about that." He shook his head. "It was good, definitely good. You were good." His cheeks burned red. "You were hot."

"Thanks," Teddy choked, and James laughed at whatever ridiculous expression he was making, rubbing their noses together and letting the laugh taper off into soft giggles that had Teddy inexplicably relaxing, turning his head a fraction in order to kiss the tip of James' nose.

"Do you think if we just stayed in bed, we could get away with missing work?" James asked with closed eyes, his fingers rubbing small circles up Teddy's bare side, along his ribs.

"I don't know," Teddy answered. "Suppose I could write in saying I'm sick. If I do that though, Harry might worry. I can't tell you how many times he's shown up with bags of medicine for me as if I'm still a kid and need someone to nurse me back to health. For the record, I don't think he'd appreciate walking in on us half naked under the covers. He may be accepting enough of us going out, but I think he'd take exception to finding out I just took your innocence."

James burst into a fit of giggles, as if the very idea of his father walking in on them after the act was the most amusing concept in the world. Teddy didn't agree, and would much rather keep living for a few more years. Best to avoid Harry's anger for now. Their sex life was no one's business, and if Teddy had to pretend it was nonexistent in order to keep Harry from hexing him, so be it.

This kind of intimacy didn't warrant public discussion. What mattered was keeping it private and special between them, trapped with the heat collecting under the covers as they pressed together and just stared at each other. James was tracking swirling, nonsensical patterns into Teddy's ribs and back, not caring that he was shirtless (probably enjoying the view, actually) and Teddy was having trouble staying awake for it. The rough sensation of his lover's calloused fingertips gently scratching his skin was entirely too soothing.

Teddy lifted his hand, pushing aside the strands of hair in James' eyes, raking his fingers back through his hair to tuck them away, the touch bringing a smile to James' lips as he stared at Teddy silently. No words were exchanged between them for a long time. James seemed to watch Teddy as closely as Teddy was watching James, memorizing every wrinkle, freckle, dip and blemish. James seemed to be only half paying attention, a faraway look in his eyes and a wistful smile on his lips.

"What is it?" Teddy finally got out the question, tearing his eyes away from every perfect imperfection and focusing on James' eyes.

"Oh, I was just thinking about how unplanned this all was."

Teddy frowned a little, getting the sense he didn't quite understand the meaning of those words. "I'm sorry, I know this was pretty spontaneous-"

"That's not what I meant." James laughed. "Not tonight. Us. This." His hand followed Teddy's arm from his shoulder down to his wrist, pulling his hand away from his face and pressing their palms together, fitting his fingers between Teddy's and squeezing.

Teddy stared at their hands as James laid them both on the pillow between them, not lessening his grip and simply smiling at where their fingers were hooked together.

"Back when I was just a kid, I imagine that's all you saw. Just a kid. When you were graduating, I was just starting school. It probably never crossed your mind that this could be an eventuality. Never crossed my mind either." He pulled their hands closer, holding the back of Teddy's hand against his forehead and laughing softly. "Honestly, having a relationship like this with you was never a thought. When I was fourteen, I know I daydreamed about you, but I never entertained the possibility you could feel the same way about me. It would have hurt too much. If I just kept it a secret, a fantasy, a fiction, then I wouldn't get my hopes up; we could just stay friends. Nothing would change."

Teddy swallowed, rubbing his thumb over what parts of James' hand he could reach. He was right. When James was fourteen, Teddy had been twenty and just starting his career as an Auror with the Ministry, juggling work with his then relationship with Victoire, and struggling against internal mental conflicts that had clawed their way to the surface after years of self expectation weighing heavily on his shoulders. He was on the verge of a nasty breakup and a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, James had been falling in love with him.

Teddy remembered James writing letters to him every week back then. Sometimes more than once. Back when Teddy had ended things with Victoire and couldn't eat a meal without a glass of firewhisky to wash it down, James was always a constant.

"You knew I was a real mess back then," Teddy noted, and James smiled at him. "Why did you fall in love with me?"

James shrugged. "I never thought about it before. Maybe because you were hurting so much."

"That doesn't really make sense." James laughed and Teddy smiled. "You fell for me when I was at my worst."

"Yeah, I did." James hummed. "Makes being with you pretty effortless, now that I think about it. If I already love your bad parts, that just means I'm more than capable of loving everything else about you." He rubbed his cheek against Teddy's hand. "What about you?"

Teddy snorted. "I remember when you were born, Jamie, I definitely didn't plan on taking your virginity when Harry brought you home in a car seat."

"Merlin's tits, don't make it weird." James hissed, squeezing Teddy's hand tightly as Teddy barked a laugh.

"It was never a possibility in the beginning," Teddy admitted. "Only because you were so much younger than me, and I suppose the fact you're Harry's son made me see you differently." He paused, seemed to think for a moment before continuing. "I never saw you as a brother, exactly. I think… I was too stubborn. Harry's family was mine, he always made sure to tell me that, but half of me always ensured I was somehow still separate from the rest of you. I think I wanted to be accepted as a part your family, but at the same time I was afraid if I actually called myself your brother, or Harry's son, then I'd be… betraying my parents somehow. I'd be willingly forgetting them; but if I kept myself at least a little apart, continued thinking of myself as just an extra instead of an extension, then I could still keep Harry as well as my mum and dad. I was selfish," Teddy whispered, "because I wanted a family, but I didn't want yours; I wanted mine. I wanted everything at once, including the things I couldn't have. Focused so much on what wasn't there that I didn't look more than once at what's always been there. I always stayed a step behind the rest of you, tried to be part of what you had while giving Harry and the rest of your family the chance to tell me to bugger off if my presence got too invasive. I never let myself feel as if I really belonged with you, because I was afraid if I did, then it would just hurt me in the end."

"That's not selfish, Ted," James argued softly, giving Teddy's hand one final squeeze before releasing his fingers to cup his palm against Teddy's cheek.

Teddy closed his eyes and focused entirely on James' hand. "My habit of seeing myself as a separate existence that didn't really fit with the Potter's is probably why I came to terms with how I felt about you. My only hindrance was worrying over Harry's reaction, but even when I let myself get lost in day terrors about him going mad if I told him, I never really considered telling you. I think part of me felt I didn't deserve you."

"What made you change your mind?"

Teddy opened his eyes to watch James. "Being an Auror can be dangerous," he explained, "and the last thing I want to do is die with regrets."

James pressed his lips into a thin line. "You're talking about the raid, before we confessed to each other." Teddy nodded.

It was only two years ago when Teddy and a handful of others had gone to raid an old warehouse in Northern Ireland, where intel had led them to believe a group consisting of werewolves and dark wizards left over from the war were hiding out planning a terrorist attack. The intel was good enough, they'd even anticipated it was a trap, but no one could plan every detail down to the last curse.

When Teddy thought about that night, he thought of bright flashes shooting from wand tips, a dozen colored lights sparking through the air as half a dozen duels broke out all at once, and agony broke through his chest, a pain he'd never experienced before. It was his own fault for not paying attention, which was of course humiliating, but at least there was no one sulking from guilt over letting him get hurt. The responsibility was his and his alone.

When he woke up, he was at the hospital. He recognized the voices of Harry and his grandmother, talking off to one side of the room, and despite his hazy mind he could sense there were others there as well, but what Teddy remembered most of all was the hand clinging to his and the young man leaning over his bed with teary brown eyes and a desperate smile: James.

It was his tonic heavy, barely lucid brain that prompted him to reach up with his free hand as James had leaned over him, hovering just inches above his face and talking a mile a minute. He was asking how Teddy felt, if he remembered who he was, what happened, close enough that Teddy got the full view of his face going beet red when Teddy managed to hold his cheek in his hand and pull him down.

Their first kiss had been induced by healing potions and a half conscious state of mind, right in front of Harry, Andromeda, the rest of the Potter’s, and some very entertained Healers. Teddy didn't even remember how they responded; he’d blacked out again before he could even break the kiss.

Of course, he'd been too weak to force James to stay in place at the time. James had followed him down out of pure shock, but surely he'd kept their lips together in that soft kiss Teddy could still feel on his own volition. James let Teddy lead him down to a kiss because he wanted to kiss him just as much, and he kept kissing him because he'd waited years to do so.

According to Harry, James had planted himself on the edge of the bed and refused to move after the kiss, clinging to Teddy's hand and watching his resting face with wide, slightly mortified eyes. Later on James had explained softly that at the time he was torn between running because he'd made a horrible mistake but unable to move because why on earth would he? Teddy was hurt and needed James, so James would stay.

When Teddy finally woke up he remembered everything, including the kiss, and while at first he thought he imagined it, the owlish expression on James' face confirmed it hadn't been a dream. Instead of talking about it, apologizing to James like he wanted to and fixing whatever friendship they had left, James kissed him. They confessed to each other in a jumbled mess of words and tears of relief. It wasn't exactly what Teddy had planned or expected, but it made the fact he'd be in bed for a week recovering a lot easier to deal with.

Harry had taken it a lot better than Teddy was expecting. In fact, he looked a little too intrigued at the prospect of his son and godson being in a relationship, watching them in the hospital like he was watching a television drama. Still, kissing and holding hands in front of Harry was different than admitting to him they'd done, well, this.

"I'm glad you kissed me back then," James said. "I thought I'd completely lost my chance to tell you how I felt about you when Dad owled us from St Mungos saying you were unconscious. I hate that you got hurt, but I'm glad it was enough of a push to make you confess first."

"I didn't really confess though."

"Maybe not with words," James teased. "What else could you have been thinking when you kissed me like that?"

Teddy felt his cheeks burn, knowing fully well his hair was probably changing color, but he refused to break eye contact with James as he answered. "I thought I was dying, and that death was giving me one last chance to do something I'd always dreamed of doing before fading away."

James didn't seem to know how to respond to that at first, until a smile took to his lips. "So in your last moments, instead of calling to my dad, you decided to kiss me."

"If you're gonna make fun of me-"

"You're sweet."

Teddy was blushing down to his shoulders as he glared at James, who was snickering into his hand. Teddy imagined he was just as embarrassed, but the laughing wasn't doing them any favors, so Teddy wrapped his arm around James' shoulders and hauled him closer, cutting him off mid laugh with a fierce kiss that James moaned into. His hands were pressed into the small of Teddy's back, clinging even when he broke the kiss.

One of Teddy’s hands was tangled into the hair at the base of James' neck. "I'm ashamed that I had to almost die in order to tell you how I felt," he said, and James gave him a painful smile.

"Just never almost die again," he said, voice shaking subtly as his nails dug into Teddy's back and he pressed his face against Teddy's chest. "I really don't know if I can survive losing someone I love this much."

Teddy winced in guilt at the way James' shoulders shook, the last thing he'd wanted was to make him upset by remembering something like that. The incident was different from Teddy's perspective, he'd been unconscious a lot of the time so it wasn't that damaging of a memory, but it must have been horrible for James, being unable to do anything aside from sit there for hours waiting for Teddy to wake up and be okay.

"How much do you love me?" He asked in a teasing voice, slipping his arm out from under the pillow so he could wrap it around James, forcing a tiny grunt from his lips from the tight embrace.

"You don't know by now?" James asked back, one hand returning to its path following the knobs of Teddy's spine, his other arm hanging lazily over his waist. "Or maybe you're trying to distract me."

"You know me so well," Teddy hummed into James' hair, burying his face into the wild nest of tangled auburn.

"A lot," James managed to whisper in Teddy's ear, his chin digging into Teddy's shoulder. "I wouldn't have done this with you at all if I didn't think I loved you enough. Maybe that sounds bad… but I didn't want to just sleep with you for the sake of it, just because we're dating."

"Jamie." Teddy pulled back just enough to look at James, holding his face with a hand. "Baby, don't ever think you have to do anything just because we're dating."

James just nodded with wide eyes. "I already know that. What I meant by that was, you know I mean it when I say I love you, when we do this together. I'm doing it because the feelings I have for you aren't just genuine, they're… I don’t know, I’m bad with words. They're not going away any time soon."

"I'm not going away either. I'll be here for as long as you want me here."

"What about forever?" James asked. "Will you stay forever? Even when I'm really obnoxious?"

"You're obnoxious all the time, Jamie."

"Who told you that?" James pinched Teddy's side, making him jump. "It was Al wasn't it? He's always talking shit."

"If it had been, he would've just been confirming something painfully obvious," Teddy said, emphasizing it by poking James in the cheek, then leaned closer to kiss the same spot on his cheek. "We should sleep."

"Should we?" James grumbled the words, and Teddy leaned back to smile as James rubbed his eyes lazily.

"What, are you going to try telling me you're not tired?"

"I was thinking about it."

"Sweetheart, you can't keep your eyes open. We both have work tomorrow, remember."

"I'd rather I not be reminded of that, actually."

"Hey." Teddy took James' face between his hands and held his chin up as he closed in to place a soft kiss onto his lips. "Let's make a deal, because clearly you need to be bribed."

"You're right, I do," James said, looking far too pleased with himself.

Teddy kissed him again just to chase away the smug smile. "We can talk till you fall asleep, but you need to sleep. We both need to sleep. I personally would love to sleep."

A corner of James' lips curled. "Did that workout tire you out, old man?"

Teddy's eyes widened. "Care to repeat that?"

"Okay I'll sleep," James squeaked when Teddy gripped him by the ribs with a threatening squeeze that had his skin tingling. "Don't tickle me, I'm not five. Do that and I'll never sleep."

Instead of waiting for a response, James squirmed closer and wound his arms tightly around Teddy's waist, burying his face against Teddy’s sternum so his wild hair was getting caught in Teddy's mouth. Teddy didn't mind, taking a hand and pulling the strands from his lips, setting his chin onto the crown of James' head. His right arm was stuck under James' body, and he took a minute to readjust himself so the crook of his elbow was cradling James' neck.

He let his left arm hang at James' waist, wrapping up around him so his hand was at James' shoulder. Then they stopped moving, settling into the bed. They were comfortable for all of thirty seconds before Teddy had to move his arm and wave a hand towards the lamp behind him, switching it off before threading his fingers into James' hair and kissing the crown of his head.

"Not gonna talk?"

"I'm thinking."

"Don't think, sleep."

James hummed. "You should call me that more often."

"Call you what?"

"That. That one thing you called me."

"Your name?"

"No, jerk."

"What did I call you? Obnoxious?"

"That's what you're being right now, Ted."

Teddy snorted, hiding his face in James' hair for a moment before it dawned on him and he smiled, turning his head and closing his eyes. "You want me to call you baby and sweetheart?"

James tensed up, and that was answer enough. He still mumbled though, barely legible against Teddy's chest. "Yeah, that. Those."

Teddy's smile grew into a grin and he chuckled. "I'll call you whatever you want."

"Cool. Oh, I love you by the way."

"Love you too, baby."

"I probably shouldn't tell dad about this, huh?"

"Yeah, please don't."