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Teddy blinked, the afterimage of the bright-green Floo flame still burning his eyes. He felt… well, he wasn't sure what he felt, really. Confused, upset, a little lost. He took a deep breath and was hit with the faint scent of Linde's vanilla perfume still lingering in the air. It made something inside him ache as he realised that the now-familiar fragrance would soon fade from his flat entirely, until it was nothing more than memory.

He'd liked Linde. Liked her wide smile and relaxed nature, liked the easy way she had fit right into his life. They hadn't been dating for all that long in the scheme of things, but there had been times when Teddy had thought she might be the one. The sex had been great, Grandma Andromeda had adored her, and Teddy had desperately wanted somebody to come home to every night, somebody to share his life with. Linde had seemed perfect, like the exact type of person Teddy needed, the kind of girl he should marry, but apparently he hadn't been what she'd needed.

"This relationship is moving too fast," she'd said, her expression contrite but firm as she'd broken things off bare moments ago. "I don't think we're a good fit. I like you, Teddy, I do, but I don't think we want the same things."

Well, that was his Friday night ruined. He'd been planning to take her out for drinks and nibbles at the new gastro-pub off Diagon that everybody had been raving about since it opened, before returning to Teddy's for an evening in bed. He groaned and stood, suddenly itching to leave and escape a flat that still smelled like Linde, and a future that was no longer viable. He knew exactly where to go.

James.

His best mate always knew how to cheer him up and had an uncanny ability to read Teddy's moods and determine exactly what he needed at any given moment. Yes, he'd go to James's, and they could get takeaway and eat mint choc chip ice cream, and Teddy could forget about this whole shitty day entirely.

Teddy already felt better, as if the simple act of having a plan helped clear away the uncertainty that had formed in the wake of his unexpected dumping. Or maybe it was just the fact that Teddy had made a plan to see James that made Teddy feel instantly lighter. James always seemed to have that effect on Teddy.

Grabbing a handful of Floo powder, Teddy called out for James's flat and stepped out into his living room a moment later. The room was empty, but Teddy could hear the loud blare of the latest Screaming Mandrake song filtering out from James's room, audible even through the closed door. Teddy frowned as he made his way down the short hallway. It was nine o'clock on a Friday night, and James was in his room blasting pop music, which meant…

Teddy opened the door and paused in the doorway, watching as James danced around his bedroom in nothing but a pair of tight black pants, singing into his beer bottle. The sight of James's broad, muscular back, round arse, and thick thighs straining against the fabric of his pants made Teddy's throat dry as his stomach wriggled uncomfortably. It wasn't the first time James had made Teddy feel like this, hot and feverish and desperate to touch, but Teddy had locked the feelings away as quickly as he could.

He had plenty of practice, after all.

Teddy leaned against the doorway and watched in amusement until James turned and caught sight of him, his eyes going wide as an attractive flush stained his cheeks. He waved his hand purposefully at the wireless sitting on his chest of drawers, and the sound lowered to a more reasonable decibel.

"Teddy!" James exclaimed, grabbing a pair of skin tight jeans off his floor, giving them a sniff, and, apparently deciding they passed muster, wriggling into them in a way that should have looked ridiculous but instead only served to make Teddy's breath grow shallow. "What are you doing here? I thought you had plans with Linde tonight."

Teddy made a face and looked somewhere over James's shoulder as James continued thrusting his hips in an effort to do up his flies. The jeans really were indecently tight. "We, err… well, she broke up with me."

"The fuck, seriously?" James sounded so indignant that Teddy couldn't help but meet James's eyes, smiling at the look of disbelief on his face. "Well she's fucked in the head then, isn't she?"

"Nah," Teddy said with a self-deprecating smile. "She was probably right. Said we weren't a good fit."

James gave him a searching look, probably wondering why he wasn't more upset about the break-up, given that James was one of the few who knew that Teddy had been thinking Linde could be it for him. Hell, Teddy was wondering that himself. Half an hour ago he'd been completely distraught, but thinking of it all now, Teddy felt more sadness over the fact that he was single again than for the loss of Linde herself. Had he really got over her that quickly? Maybe he was just in shock.

"Okay, well let me just send an owl to the others letting them know I won't be joining them, and then I'm all yours for the night. Pizza, beer, and mint choc chip ice cream?"

Warmth flooded through Teddy, both at the easy way in which James was ready to change his plans to be there for Teddy, and how well he knew exactly what Teddy needed fresh off a break-up. Still, despite James's willingness to cancel on his friends, Teddy could tell that James had been looking forward to going out tonight, and Teddy felt a frisson of guilt for imposing on James's fun. All Teddy had wanted when he'd come over was to spend a quiet night in with James, burying his sorrows beneath alcohol and carbs, but the urgency of that need had already begun to fade. Teddy very much didn't want to be the reason that James stayed in when he so clearly wanted to go out—he'd already disappointed enough people for the evening.

"You don't have to do that," Teddy said.

James waved a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it, I don't—"

Teddy interrupted him. "Why don't I come out with you instead?"

James paused, his eyes wide with surprise. Teddy supposed he should have expected that, considering the group of friends James was likely going out with that night, and the fact that Teddy generally avoided hanging out with them whenever possible. It wasn't that he didn't like James's friends, it was just that they were all so comfortable with themselves, and Teddy…

Well, nobody knew about Teddy at all.

"You sure?" James asked, not a little skeptically. "You've never really been one for going out clubbing."

"Maybe I need a change of pace. We've done the crying into a tub of ice cream thing every time I go through a break-up. Could be I need something else to take my mind off things."

James hesitated. "And you do know we're going out to a gay club, yeah? And not one of the ones that're half-full of straight birds out for their mate's hen do."

"Yeah, I'd guessed," Teddy said flatly, hoping it hid the sudden racing of his heart. "If your mates are okay with me tagging along, it's no problem for me." If only James knew how much it wasn't a problem. Though, the way James looked at him on occasion, curious and speculative, Teddy wondered if he didn't already know, or at least suspect. Sometimes, Teddy hoped he did already know, if only to save Teddy from having to ever properly tell him.

Of course, it wasn't like Teddy couldn't tell him. Teddy knew James wouldn't ever judge him, and especially not for that. If there was anybody in the world Teddy could tell, it would be James, but every time he'd tried, the words had always lodged themselves in his throat, refusing to be set free.

James had been out and proud since he was fifteen, had boldly told the world he was gay in true Gryffindor fashion and hadn't looked back since. Teddy had always admired him for that, had envied James the easy comfort and acceptance he had about who he was. Teddy wished he could be brave the way James was, but Teddy had barely been able to admit to himself that he liked men just as much as women, let alone speak the words out loud to anybody else.

Ever since he was little, Teddy had always wanted to be liked, craved approval like a Seeker wanted the Snitch. Maybe it had something to do with being an orphan, or the fact that he was the son of a werewolf and a Metamorphmagus and thus often automatically regarded with some kind of suspicion. Whatever the reason, Teddy couldn't bear disappointing people, especially the ones he cared about. And he would be disappointing them if he were to shack up with a man, even if he knew they'd still love him, that they wouldn't mean to be disappointed. Grandma Andromeda never let a visit pass without asking after his latest girlfriend—she'd be heartbroken when she heard about Linde—and talking fondly about Teddy's future wedding and, most importantly, his inevitable offspring, daydreaming of him carrying on the Tonks line with great-grandchildren she could spoil.

The Potters and Weasleys were practically family as well, and though they'd taken James's coming out in stride, he'd seen the undercurrent of friction it caused, barely noticeable from the surface. But it was there in the way Grandma Molly and Grandpa Arthur did their best to be supportive but couldn't seem to quite understand how it all worked between two men, noticeable in how boisterous Uncle George sometimes made off-colour jokes at the queer community's expense that he didn't even realise were offensive. Many family members made assumptions about James and his boyfriends, oddly more at ease when James dated somebody more flamboyant because, as Teddy had overheard Uncle Percy whispering to his wife, no question with these two which one's the girl, eh? Teddy didn't think it was a coincidence that Charlie Weasley—the only other family member who was pressumably gay, not that he'd ever confirmed it, though Teddy gathered there'd been a few incidences in his youth—lived far away from England and visited infrequently. Teddy knew they were all trying, that they didn't mean to be hurtful, but he also saw how it weighed on James, the unintentional slights and assumptions, the little comments that dug their way under James's skin and drained him like leeches. Teddy had been there to provide a sympathetic ear more than once when James needed to vent his frustrations.

Maybe it made Teddy a coward, not speaking up, lying to his friends and family while James walked a more difficult, yet more authentic, road. But it wasn't really a lie, was it? Teddy truly did like women after all, liked their soft curves and breathy laughs, their sweet smells and long hair and the taste of their cunts on his tongue. So what if it wasn't all that Teddy liked, if sometimes his fantasies were filled with the sound of a deep voice, the feel of broad hands, the smell of something spicy and masculine? He didn't need that, not when girls were so much easier.

"Yeah, okay then, let's go out!" James replied, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm as he gave Teddy a thorough once-over that made Teddy's skin tingle. "Though first, we really need to get you a better outfit."

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Teddy did his best to suppress his nerves as he followed James down the street, dodging drunken groups of giggling girls and rough-housing lads as James led them towards the club where they were meeting his friends. Teddy tugged at the hem of the shirt he'd borrowed from James, much tighter and shorter on Teddy than it really should have been, considering James's broad, muscular chest. Teddy was no slouch himself, but he was more lean and toned compared to James's brawny form. Which was why it made no sense that this shirt was so damned snug on him.

He had the passing, unwelcome thought that perhaps the shirt wasn't James's at all, that maybe it belonged to an old boyfriend or had been left behind by some one night stand, but the immediate wave of displeasure Teddy felt at that thought frightened him with its intensity, so he quickly put it from his mind.

Teddy didn't generally wear clothes that were quite so form-fitting, and in the cool night air, he felt strangely exposed. If they weren't in a Muggle part of London, he'd have Morphed his torso a bit slimmer just to give himself some breathing room, but as an Auror, he couldn't risk breaking the Statute, especially not for something so trivial. Besides, a little discomfort was worth the warm look of approval James had given Teddy when he'd obediently slipped into the outfit James had picked out for him.

Teddy was well aware that this vulnerable feeling of exposure likely had less to do with his actual outfit, and more to do with the fact that he was going out to a gay club with James and all of his out-and-proud friends, people James had met through the Hogwarts Queer Alliance or through the various LGBT advocacy groups he'd become involved with after leaving Hogwarts. According to James, Teddy was already acquainted with most everybody who would be there tonight, but though he'd met many of James's other friends over the years, they rarely spent any significant amount of time together. It wasn't that James didn't invite him to their various gatherings, or that they weren't perfectly nice and engaging people, but Teddy was never able to really relax around any of them. He was always strangely paranoid that they all suspected the truth about him, that they knew his secret and were tacitly passing judgement on his refusal to boldly claim his identity they way they all had. Being around them made Teddy feel like a fraud, ashamed that his sexuality weighed so heavily on his mind when they all seemed so proud of their own, wearing their preferences as brazenly as the shiny multi-coloured badges that decorated their blazers and handbags and scarves. It was easier to demurely pass along his excuses whenever James invited him along to hang out with this particular group of friends, though of course, like tonight, it wasn't possible to keep their worlds entirely separate.

"James! Over here!"

Think of the devil, and they shall appear, Teddy thought darkly as Spencer, Teddy least favourite of James's mates, ran over and gave James a hug that, in Teddy's opinion, was entirely too enthusiastic a greeting for one's ex-boyfriend. It had been over a year since James and Spencer had broken up, but the split had, unfortunately, been amicable, which meant Spencer was just as present in James's life as he ever had been. He was short and slight, with big blue eyes and brown curls that were artfully styled in what was probably some ultra-hip haircut, but that Teddy just thought made him look like a ridiculous child. Spencer was bubbly and effusive and something about him scraped every last one of Teddy's nerves raw. But he was important to James, so when he turned to Teddy with obvious surprise before letting out a far-less-enthusiastic, "Oh, hello there, Teddy," Teddy flashed him a smile that was only a little bit pinched.

"Hi, Spencer. Good to see you again."

He thought he'd done a decent enough job masking the blatant lie, thought judging by the amused glance James flashed his way, perhaps he'd not managed as well as he'd thought. But Spencer blithely nodded before focusing his attention back to James, so maybe it was just that James knew Teddy so well that he could hear things in his tone that others couldn't. The thought made Teddy's cheeks warm.

Spencer began to tug James towards wherever they were going, and Teddy followed along after them, doing his best to suppress his annoyance at Spencer's immediate monopolisation of James's attention. They passed a long queue of people outside a club Teddy didn't recognise, and Teddy could almost feel the palpable annoyance and envy glared at the three of them when Spencer gave the massive bouncer one of his enthusiastic hugs and the gruff-looking bloke waved them all inside with a fond grin. Merlin, was there anybody Spencer hadn't slept with?

Spencer began to make a beeline for a table at the far reaches of the club where, no doubt, the rest of James's friends were waiting, but Teddy wasn't prepared to face the lot of them while still stone-cold sober. He grabbed for James's arm, halting his progress as he leaned in close so James could hear him over the thud of the bass.

"I need a drink, you want anything?"

James's eyes flashed with understanding. "Yeah, 'course you do. That's step one in getting over a break-up. I'll come with you."

Guilt flashed through Teddy at James's assumption—he hadn't thought of Linde once since they'd left James's flat. He'd been so nervous about going out, preoccupied with James and the anxiety James's friends inspired in him, that somehow the fact that he'd been dumped by his girlfriend just a few hours earlier had completely slipped his mind. Teddy tried not to let it bother him. After all, the whole point of joining James out tonight was for distraction from the break-up. There was no reason to be concerned just because it was a little more effective than Teddy had expected.

Spencer pointed towards where the group was sitting before melting into the crowded dance floor, leaving James and Teddy to hunt down some drinks. James was clearly familiar with the club, so Teddy let him lead the way, trying not to look as out of his element as he felt. It wasn't as if he hadn't been to clubs before (though he much preferred a good pub) and the general atmosphere here wasn't all that different from any of the other places he'd been to. There were the same pulsing lights and ear-splitting pop songs, the same sticky humidity in the air from too many writhing bodies crammed into too small a space. But everywhere he looked, there were men together: dancing, touching, laughing, kissing, groping each other as their bodies rolled to the thumping bass. There were women, too, though far fewer, most of them coupled up and canoodling, just as easy with their affection as the men. They were all so open, so blatant, and it was obvious how safe everyone felt here, utterly secure and confident that in this club, it was okay for them to be exactly who they were.

A young bloke in a lavender crop top and black leather hotpants brushed by Teddy suggestively, looking up at him through thick, false lashes in clear invitation, licking the perfectly drawn-on pout of his lips. When Teddy only blushed and shook his head, the boy winked and slid away, no harm done. Well, that certainly put Teddy's earlier anxieties over his too-tight shirt into perspective. Most of the blokes in the room were dressed like Teddy—his skin-tight shirt was in good company—but Lavender-Crop-Top was hardly the only man there who was more scantily-clad.

"Here." Two shots of clear liquid appeared in front of Teddy and, startled, he took them both. He looked at James, who grinned. "You can have your beer later," he said, clearly understanding Teddy's confusion. "We're on a mission to get you bladdered, which means shots first."

"Shots of what, exactly?" Teddy asked as he gave the spirits a sniff and winced. "Ugh, is this Sambuca? You know I hate licorice."

James gave him a shameless grin. "It's on offer."

"What, I'm not even worth the full-price stuff?" Teddy asked in disgust. "You're not exactly skint, James, it's not like you can't afford it."

"Nope," James said, far too cheerfully for somebody who held two shots of his own cauldron cleaner. Unless he was only making Teddy drink the vile stuff. "Break-ups call for the bottom of the barrel booze. It's symbolic or something. Now drink up." James clinked his two shot glasses against Teddy's before downing them one after the other in a truly impressive display of the complete erosion of his taste buds. With a grimace, Teddy followed suit, the Sambuca burning as it slid across his tongue and settled hot and acidic in his belly. James laughed.

"All right, princess, let's get you a pint."

Teddy rolled his eyes and shoved his shoulder playfully against James's, the spirits already working to ease the tension in his muscles.

"You're not going to make me do any more shots are you?"

James's slanted him a sly look as he tried to wave down the barman. "No promises, mate."

Teddy sighed. "Better get me a vodka and coke then, if you don't want me vomming all over your over-priced trainers."

James sputtered indignantly—taking the mickey out of James and his obsession with naf trainers was one of Teddy's favourite past times. "Just because I pay more for quality—"

"You pay more for brand name, Jamie. You don't give a fig about quality." He smirked. "And you don't pay for them at all, companies fall all over themselves sending you free shit hoping some paparazzi will get a photo of you wearing their gear."

James grinned at him, that cocky, self-assured grin that made witches and wizards all over Britain go shaky in the knees. "You've got me there." He looked down at his trainers, the bright white cast in an aqua glow beneath the blacklight of the club, and the neon-green detailing radiating a slightly eerie green luminescence. "Though you have to admit, these are pretty sick."

"Yeah, yeah, you've got the prettiest slippers at the ball," Teddy replied with a smile, wide and giddy from the alcohol. "Now why don't you get us our drinks. And none of that shit half-price Sambuca this time, I like my stomach lining as it is, thanks."

James rolled his eyes, but did as instructed, leaning over the bar until the barman headed their way, and ordering two drinks each for good measure. By the time they finally disentangled themselves from the crowded bar and made their way across the dance floor to James's friends, Teddy had already downed half of the first drink and was feeling the effects. He enjoyed a nice pint on the weekends or a glass of wine with dinner as much as the next bloke, but it had been ages since he'd been on a proper bender. It was clear that the high tolerance he remembered from his early twenties no longer existed. Tomorrow's hangover was sure to be brutal, but that was future-Teddy's problem.

The group was crammed around two small tables, with only one free seat, located conveniently next to Spencer. Teddy grit his teeth at the obviousness of such a display, and only barely stopped himself from smirking smugly at Spencer when James didn't immediately take the offered seat. Instead, he asked the table next to the group if he could grab one of their spare chairs, wedging it next to the empty one so that they both had a seat. Of course, James still took the one next to Spencer, and Teddy wasn't sure whether to be grateful he didn't have to sit next to the annoying bloke, or peeved that Spencer was now sure to do his best to take all of James's attention.

James did a quick round of introductions, likely guessing that though Teddy had met almost everyone before, he hadn't exactly retained the information. There were two women, Syd and Violet, who were sitting closely enough that Teddy guessed they were dating; an unassuming and slightly nerdy looking bloke named Sam whom Teddy was fairly certain did drag if he was remembering correctly; Alex, a tall, andrognous person with perfectly chiseled cheekbones that could cut glass; and a trio of people, two men and a woman, at the far end of the table whose names were lost in the noise of the club. They all waved and smiled at Teddy before returning to their conversations, and Teddy leaned back and downed the second half of his drink as Spencer predictably leaned in close to James for some intimate conversation.

He just didn't understand how close James and Spencer had remained even after their break-up. Teddy hadn't ever managed that with any of his exes, not really, and he couldn't fathom going back to just being friends with somebody after having been so much more. The closest he'd managed was with Victoire, and even with her, things weren't at all like they'd been back before they'd got together. To be fair, they had tried at first, unwilling to let go of the deep friendship that had sustained their romantic relationship far past what should have been its natural conclusion, but it had been too hard for either of them to let go without a clean break. They'd spent a year after their "official" split coming back together and breaking apart again and again, unable to suppress their sexual chemistry despite knowing that they ultimately weren't compatible. Neither of them could figure out how to go back to being friends without falling back into bed together, and so they'd been forced to let the friendship quietly fade away. Years later, and they were amiable enough, but they certainly weren't out clubbing together or gossiping about their latest hookups the way James and Spencer were. If Victoire and Teddy hadn't practically been family and forced to see each other at every single one of the frequent Weasley gatherings, Teddy wasn't sure if they'd have even managed as much as they had now. It had only been a couple of hours since Linde had broken things off, and already Teddy felt the distance yawning wide and impassable between them. Like the others, she'd likely fade out of his life entirely, relegated to a footnote.

It seemed different for James and his group of friends though. From the way James told it, just about everyone had fucked everybody else at some point or another, and yet here they all were, laughing and joking, no awkward tension to be found—at least not that Teddy could see. As far as Teddy knew, James and Spencer hadn't hooked up at all since they'd ended things (though privately Teddy thought Spencer would be more than happy to change that fact) and yet there they were, thick as thieves.

He tried to ignore the feelings churning in his stomach at the sight—the ones that felt suspiciously close to jealousy and possessiveness—and tried even harder not to think about what those feelings might mean. James was his best mate, his godbrother, his family. He was six years younger, a man, and he was completely and totally off-limits.

James wasn't for him.

It didn't matter how amazing he made Teddy feel, or how good he looked right at that moment, surrounded by friends, happy and more relaxed than he usually allowed himself to be in public. It was clear James felt at home here in this Muggle gay club, that these were people, and this was a space where he could just be James, instead of James Sirius Potter, rising Quidditch star and the son of famous parents.

Teddy drank his second vodka and coke and got steadily pissed as he watched the crowd around him swell and sway with life and happiness. People peeled away from their group and rejoined with friends as songs changed, and platters of shots appeared seemingly out of nowhere as the hours passed. James was a warm, steady presence at his side, sloshing spirits over their fingers as he pressed shot glasses into Teddy's hands, grinning over at him in a way that made it clear that he was genuinely happy Teddy had come out with him. Despite Spencer's best efforts, he never managed to tear James away from Teddy for long, and eventually he appeared to give up the ghost, making his way out onto the dance floor to find a bed for the night. Teddy was drunk and happy enough by that point that he'd only found Spencer's presence a little annoying, but he certainly wasn't upset by his sudden departure.

He watched the men on the dance floor, so open and free, and something cracked open inside of him, spilling covetous want through his veins. The force of it was a riptide, pulling him under, and he was powerless to drag himself out in his drunken state. All the reasons why he couldn't, why he shouldn't have that same freedom were lost to him, leaving only dizzying resolve. He turned towards James, watching the flashing lights cast the familiar lines of his face in light and shadow. James, too, was watching the dancers, and it was clear he wanted to be out there with them, wanted to lose himself to the music under the revolving disco ball, but he was too good a mate to abandon Teddy in his supposedly heart-broken state. Teddy blinked slowly, his thoughts thick treacle trying to penetrate the vodka haze around his higher brain function.

"Dance with me," Teddy said, the words immediately lost in the din of the club. James turned to him, his brow furrowed.

"You say something?"

Teddy leaned in closer, misjudging the distance and mashing his lips right up against the whorl of James's ear, so much softer against his lips than he would've expected. This close, he could smell the faint vetiver scent of the shampoo James used, a warm, masculine fragrance that made Teddy's heart pound. "Dance with me. I know you want to."

James shivered and pulled back, looking at Teddy with wide eyes, emotions flickering across his face, too quickly and too subtly for Teddy to make them out, before plastering on a too-wide smile.

"Aww, you're pissed, mate!"

"So're you!" Teddy countered.

"Yeah, but I want to dance with blokes even when I'm not, so…"

"And you want to dance now, but you don't want to leave me alone to cry into my empty glass. So. Dance with me."

James hesitated. It was clear a part of him wanted to, but something was holding him back. "I don't—"

"It's just a dance, Jamie," Teddy said, not believing his own words but hoping that James would. "Don't make me ask somebody else."

That last part seemed to clinch it, something dark flashing across James's face before it set in fierce determination.

"You're not going out there with anybody else," he said, his voice low and full of so much conviction it made Teddy's heart beat a little faster. James stood up and held out his hand, his palm broom-calloused and fever-hot as he tugged Teddy out of his chair.

"Let's dance."

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A dull, thudding pain dragged Teddy into wakefulness, his brain throbbing inside his skull with each sluggish beat of his heart. Sunlight streamed onto his face, warming his skin and searing his eyeballs even through his closed lids. He winced and turned his head into the dark safety of his pillow, pressing his face against warm blue cotton. Underneath the faintly unpleasant scent of stale sweat and sour liquor, there was something spicy and warm that made him want to burrow deeper.

He tried to ignore the dead Flobberworm taste in his mouth, that his stomach felt like he'd just eaten one of Uncle George's Puking Pastilles, and the fact that every one of his muscles ached like he'd been flown down by the entire Puddlemere team, and willed himself back to sleep. His twinging body did not feel like cooperating, and Teddy winced as he began to gain full consciousness.

He blinked against the pillow and froze.

Being an Auror and everything, Teddy was generally a pretty observant bloke, but given the monster hangover that was currently wreaking havoc across his nervous system, he figured he could be forgiven for taking so bloody long to take in a few key details about his current situation.

One, this was not his bed. His bed had dark green flannel sheets—not light blue—that smelled not at all spicy, instead absorbing the faint lavender scent his Cleaning Spells manifested, as Teddy was dead lazy when it came to household chores and much preferred magical methods over manual ones.

Two, he was not alone. He'd been sharing a bed with various partners for long enough now to know what it felt like to be in such close quarters with another body. Not to mention, there was a hard line of heat pressed up against Teddy's shin that he was aware enough now to realise was somebody else's leg.

Three, he was naked. Or, well, nearly naked, clad only in the tight, black boxer briefs he'd worn out last night, and absolutely nothing else.

Maybe those facts wouldn't have been damning enough on their own, but the realisations were followed swiftly by what little his brain could still remember of the previous night. Murky, shimmering flashes rolled through his mind: dancing in the club, broad hands on his hips, his lips brushing against stubble. Stumbling drunkenly through the Floo, clinging to one another, lips fused together like they'd been hit with a Sticking Charm. Laughing and panting as they rolled around in bed together, arching and writhing and rubbing up against one another until they'd spilled in their pants, barely managing a half-arsed Cleaning Charm before darkness overcame him. Teddy swallowed heavily, terror and desire battling it out in his gut as he raised his face from the pillow and met his best mate's petrified stare.

James.

Teddy couldn't bear it, couldn't face him. He squeezed his eyes shut before rolling onto his back and taking a few deep breaths as he stared blankly up at the ceiling. Last night…

"Are you freaking out?" James blurted, his tone laden with fear. "Because it looks like you're freaking out."

"I—" Teddy wanted to reassure James, to lie and tell him everything was fine, but he couldn't do that, not to James. He gusted out a heavy sigh. "I don't know."

"Fuck," James said with feeling, his voice shaky. "Fuck, I don't—I didn't mean—Merlin, I'm so sorry, Teddy. I know you probably hate me right now, but—"

"Sorry?" Teddy interrupted, James's panic managing to cut through his own, dissipating the spiky tendrils of anxiety like smoke in a breeze. He turned to face James, his heart twisting at the abject misery on James's face. "What do you have to be sorry about? And of course I don't hate you, Jamie. I could never hate you."

"I took advantage of you!" James exclaimed with wide, wild eyes. He sat up in agitation, bedsheets pooling around his bare waist. Despite the tense situation, Teddy couldn't help the flash of curious arousal at the display of skin, and he wondered what, if anything, James was wearing beneath the sheets. "I mean, what the hell is wrong with me?" James continued loudly. "Here you are, my best mate, my straight best mate, fresh off a break-up and clearly heartbroken, and then I go and get you so pissed you—"

"James," Teddy cut in, and then again, louder, "James," when James kept right on talking. He stopped, looking at Teddy in terror as he swallowed audibly. "You weren't the only one there last night. We were both drunk, got a little carried away, but you didn't take advantage of me, all right?"

"But you're freaking out! You never would have done it if you'd been in your right mind. And I'm gay, and you're not, and now you probably think—"

"Will you stop telling me what I think!" Teddy snapped, guilt flooding through him at James's wince. He hadn't meant to lash out, but he knew that James's anxiety had a tendency to spiral, quickly gaining momentum, making Devil's Snare out of a Shrivelfig. The best way to prevent it was to cut it off at the legs, but it was difficult to do that when James would hardly let him get a word in edgeways.

"Sorry, but you're making assumptions about my reactions based on several minutes of hungover processing, and…" Teddy's cheeks flushed as the words caught in his throat. He didn't want to say them, but if they'd help ease some of James's suffering, then how could he keep them in? James was making assumptions, yes, but it wasn't his fault he was working from incomplete data. That was on Teddy. He cleared his throat and looked away. "It's not like I've never got off with a bloke before. It's fine. You've not corrupted me or anything."

"I'm sorry, what?" All of James's fear had apparently been replaced with shocked indignation. "Since when do you get off with blokes!?"

Teddy looked down at his lap, twisting James's pale blue sheets between his hands. "Just back at Hogwarts, you know? I mean, didn't everyone mess around with their roommates?"

Teddy peeked up at James and caught his unimpressed expression. "Schoolboy experimentation is a bit different than getting off with your best mate as an adult, Teddy."

"Is it?" Teddy asked lightly, falling back on humour to deflect, as his Mind Healer would say. "I don't know that I'd say last night was much more sophisticated than those adolescent fumblings." Not that he could really say for sure, given how fuzzy the details were, like watching the telly through his Grandma Andromeda's thick reading glasses.

As Teddy had hoped, James's chest puffed up in clear indignation at the slight against his prowess, but unfortunately, he didn't take the bait. His eyes narrowed. "Not gonna work, Ted." James's expression softened, showing the vulnerability beneath, the fear that he'd fucked up still lurking. "Tell me the truth. Don't pretend it's okay if it's not."

Teddy let out a loud breath and bit his lip. If only James knew what his seemingly simple request for the truth would cost Teddy. If only he knew what he was really asking. But they were in this together now, him and James, and he couldn't leave him alone with this, couldn't ask him to bear a burden that wasn't his to carry. Hadn't Teddy been longing to let this secret out, hadn't he felt that James would be the one person he could trust with it? It hadn't been enough, before, to tell James for Teddy's sake, but now it was James on the line, his sanity, his conscience, and there wasn't anything in the world Teddy wouldn't do for him.

"I'm not pretending, James. It's okay, really. Maybe it wouldn't have happened if we'd both been sober, if Linde hadn't just broke up with me, but it's… it's not the first time I've thought about it, being with a man." The bedsheets were bunched and wrinkled tissue paper in his hand. His heart raced. "I've been thinking for a while that maybe… that I might…" He cleared his throat.
"That perhaps I like both."

There was a long pause, and then, "Really?"

Teddy finally worked up the courage to look over at James, whose face was such a jumble of conflicting emotions, Teddy couldn't tell which was winning. There was something like shock and confusion, hurt and disbelief, maybe even a tinge of hope that Teddy couldn't quite understand.

"Yeah," he replied, his voice rough. "Really."

Teddy watched as James visibly struggled with a response, which was a marvel in and of itself, because normally one couldn't get James to stop talking. That Teddy had rendered him speechless… Teddy wasn't sure if it was a good or a bad thing. Then again, James also had a tendency to speak without thinking, and he put his foot in his mouth far too frequently. The fact that he was taking such care now, that he was clearly forcing himself to consider his reaction, meant that he knew how big of a deal Teddy's confession was, and that he didn't want to fuck up his response. The realisation caused some of the tension throbbing behind Teddy's eyeballs to dissipate.

"I'm glad you told me," James finally said, softly. "I wish you'd felt comfortable enough to tell me sooner, but it's okay that you weren't ready. Does… does anybody else know?"

Teddy shook his head, and James's lips twitched into the ghost of a smile. Teddy wasn't surprised at the reaction—he wanted to be the first person to hear James's secrets, too.

"So I'm guessing you don't want to tell anybody else?"

Teddy shook his head again. "No, not… not now at least. " Not ever. "I'm still figuring it all out myself, to be honest, and it's really more… theoretical at the moment than anything else. My sole experience with men consists of a couple of handies at Hogwarts a decade ago, and last night's drunken fumble that, frankly, I only barely remember."

"I could help you with that if you wanted."

Based on the faintly shocked expression on James's face and the hot blush flooding his cheeks, this was another instance of him speaking without thinking things through. Still, he didn't take back his offer, and the longer Teddy stared at him in surprise, the more determined his expression became, his jaw set and eyes flashing as he raised his chin at Teddy in obvious challenge.

"I mean it," James said again, and this time his voice was clear and sure. "If you want somebody to help turn the theoretical into practical, I can do that. When it comes to guys, I've got plenty of experience, and you know you can trust me." He straightened up and looked Teddy dead in the eyes, every part of him radiating urgent sincerity. "I know how much you hate feeling out of your depth, and how private you are, which I'll bet is part of why you haven't already gone out and picked up some bloke on your own." He raised his eyebrows, as if daring Teddy to contradict him, quirking his lips into a smile when Teddy stayed silent in tacit agreement. "So," he continued forcefully, "If you need a little more hands-on experience to convince you that being attracted to men is more than just a passing fancy, I'm happy to help you… practice."

Teddy's heart raced as he attempted to wet his suddenly dry mouth. The offer was… fuck, it was so much more appealing than it had any right to be. James was right, Teddy's fear of looking like an inexperienced idiot, his terror of somebody he knew finding out, and his determination that if he liked girls then he should just date girls and not muddy the waters with this whole other part of himself, all meant the chances of Teddy going out on his own and trying things out, so to speak, were slim to none. This could be his chance. His one chance to finally experience what he'd decided to live without, to experiment with somebody who wouldn't laugh or judge. It would just be his best mate helping him out, no expectations of the future, no hurt feelings when Teddy finally got it all out of his system. Because that's what it would have to be, all it could be. Teddy might have finally spoken the words out loud, but that didn't mean he was ready to shack up with a man and endure the whispers and the stares and the palpable disappointment. He wasn't going to end up with a man, he couldn't, but that didn't mean he couldn't at least see what it was like, just once, did it?

But no. That was selfish of him, wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. Not to mention, it was taking a rather naïve and rosy view of what was certain to be a situation littered with potential Dungbombs. Teddy had read enough of Grandma Andromeda's romance novels growing up to know that arrangements like this always got complicated, and James meant far too much to Teddy to fuck things up with an ill-advised friends-with-benefits type situation, no matter how much Teddy wanted it. Hadn't he just been thinking last night about all his ex-girlfriends, and how the moment sex had been added to the equation, it was impossible for them to go back to being just friends? That couldn't happen with James. Teddy didn't think he'd survive it.

"I—I don't know if that would be a good idea," Teddy finally replied. "I can't say I don't see the appeal, and you're not wrong about me. But sex complicates things, and… you're one of the most important people in my life. I don't want to risk fucking things up."

"Worried I'm going to fall in love with you, Ted?" James said with a laugh, though something about his tone felt off, forced.

Teddy managed a weak smile. It wasn't James he was worried about. "With this face, how could you not?"

James's eyes darted away briefly before focusing back on Teddy, more determined than ever. "It wouldn't fuck things up; we wouldn't let it," James said, conviction ringing through, loud and clear as a bell. "The fact that we're such good friends is why it would work. I get what you're saying, I do, but sometimes you're a little too cautious and self-sacrificing." He paused, running a hand through his bed-head before throwing Teddy a sheepish expression. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to push, it's just… I know our situations aren't the same, but you remember my friend Zaryn?"

"Your first boyfriend, the bloke you dated at Hogwarts?" Teddy said, hating the ridiculous flash of envy in his gut.

James nodded. "I mean, we weren't actually together, not officially. We knew right away we'd never make a good couple, but we liked each other, and there weren't a lot of other out gay blokes at Hogwarts, so we sort of clung to one another. I wasn't ever in love with him like that, but being with him, with somebody I liked and trusted, and figuring out what felt good and experiencing sex with a man for the first time… I'm not exaggerating when I say it fucking changed my life. And I want you to have that, Teddy. Maybe it won't be the revelation for you that it was for me, but at least then you'd know. And if there's a chance…"

Teddy could feel the truth of James's words, how ardently he believed in them, and his chest ached with longing. What he wouldn't give for James's certainty. He could feel himself wavering, swayed by James's passionate argument and his own burning desires. But now wasn't the time to be hasty, and half-naked and hungover in bed with James was hardly helping him keep a clear head.

"I'll think about it, okay?" James seemed a little disheartened by his response, so he tried to soften it with a smile. "To be honest, it's kind of hard to get in the mood when I feel like I've been taken down by a herd of Nundus and smell like the changing room after a Quidditch match."

James grinned and laughed, slipping effortlessly back into the role of Teddy's best friend. "Fair enough, mate. I think I've got some Hangover Potion around here somewhere if you want?"

Teddy made a face, but nodded. "Stuff's foul, but I probably should." He looked down at his wrist before he remembered he hadn't worn a watch out last night and cast a Tempus instead. "Shit, I actually should get going soon. I need to make myself presentable and then round up all of Linde's stuff at my flat so I can drop it off at her place."

James's brows rose as he climbed out of bed and began rummaging around his potion's chest. "Damn, that's fast. Didn't you guys just break up last night?"

And it took even less time for me to jump into bed with somebody else, Teddy thought shamefully, though he knew better than to say that out loud. "Yeah, but she's going on a trip to China with her mum in a few days and she'll be gone for a few weeks. I guess she doesn't want to have to worry about it when she gets back. I'm not too fussed, really. I'd rather get it over with."

"And you want to look presentable so you don't look like you went out last night after she tore your heart out and drowned your miseries in a bottle of Odgen's Finest?" James asked before crowing in triumph as he held two bottles up in the air. He turned and tossed one to Teddy, his aim perfected by his years as a Chaser.

"I thought you didn't use the good stuff for the traditional post-break-up blackout?" Teddy teased as he uncorked the Hangover Potion and promptly gagged. "Merlin, this stuff is rank."

James grinned, taking the same kind of sick pleasure in Teddy's reluctance that he had last night when he got Teddy into this mess. "Bottoms up!"

Teddy downed the vile concoction and shuddered as his body spasmed its way through the rapid detox. It was an awful process, but thirty seconds later and it was over, leaving his body feeling at least seventy-five percent more human.

"Feeling better, baby?" James teased. Any resulting shivers the endearment might have caused could easily be explained away as an aftereffect of the potion. Teddy climbed out of bed, mentally preparing himself to face Linde again in the wake of everything that had happened since their last uncomfortable conversation.

"Oh, fuck off," Teddy replied, hoping his cheeks weren't as hot as they felt. He looked around James's disaster of room and sighed. "But before you do… can you tell me where the hell my clothes went?"

━━━━━━━━━▲━━━━━━━━━

It didn't take long for Teddy to round up the things Linde had left at his flat—a couple of potions and creams by the sink in the bathroom, a set of skimpy pyjamas in the laundry, a romance novel on his nightstand, and several pairs of lacy knickers that came zooming from all sorts of unlikely places when Teddy cast a final Accio. He even threw in the unopened bottle of her favourite Moscato that he'd kept on hand for her—Merlin knew he wasn't going to drink the sickly-sweet stuff himself. He tossed it all into the large cardboard box his latest pair of dragonhide boots had come in several months back, the one he kept meaning to break down and Banish but had never quite got around to. Who said procrastination never paid off?

He gave himself a final once-over in the floor-length mirror hanging in his room and, satisfied he looked perfectly respectable and not at all like he'd spent the previous night completely shit-faced, grabbed the box and Apparated to Linde's flat.

Despite the fact that it was now technically spring, the weather hadn't appeared to have caught on just yet, the air cool and damp with the threat of rain, supported by the thick layer of ominous grey clouds hanging low on the horizon. Not wanting to tempt fate, Teddy hurried towards the awning over the entrance to Linde's building. Shifting the box to one arm, he slid his wand out of its holster and pressed the tip to the grey 410 next to Linde's name. It flared silver in acknowledgement of his request, and a moment later the front door swung open to let him inside.

Linde was waiting at her open door when Teddy climbed the stairs and turned down the hallway, and he followed her silently inside. It wasn't yet noon on a Saturday, and though Linde had always been an early bird, he knew her routines well enough by now to know she was more likely to spend Saturday mornings in joggers and a messy bun than in a full face of makeup and a cute dress with the tags still on—not that he'd tell her that, she'd be mortified.

"Heading out soon?" he asked after the general pleasantries had been exchanged.

She shook her head, her cheeks blushing peony pink. "Spending the day in, actually. I've still got to pack for the trip with my mum, and I want to clean up my flat so I don't have to deal with it when I get back."

Teddy smiled. It seemed he wasn't the only one who'd put in a little extra effort to seem unaffected by the break-up. Only, the thing was, Teddy was starting to realise that he really wasn't as bothered by the split as he thought he probably should be. It wasn't as if there weren't things he'd miss about the relationship, things he already felt the loss of keenly, a gentle ache beneath his sternum. But those aspects—the warm weight of somebody in his bed, sharing intimacy and affection, having someone to go out on dates with, access to good and regular sex with someone he genuinely liked—well, none of them really had much to do with Linde specifically, they had to do with being in a relationship.

Linde was great. She was pretty and smart, quick to laugh, passionate about her career as a social worker, and thus understanding that Teddy's job was often as unpredictable as hers could be. They had good conversation, even better sex, and Andromeda, who'd always been a discerning judge of character, had loved her from the start. When Teddy had thought of the kind of girl he wanted to settle down and raise a family with, Linde had ticked all the right boxes. He hadn't really paused to consider if they were on the same page or if they wanted the same things, if Linde was really the person he wanted to start a life with, or if he just wanted somebody like her.

When he looked at her now, rounding up the last of Teddy's things that had accumulated in her flat, Teddy realised that he didn't feel any spark, that indefinable something that he really should have noticed was missing much earlier on. Teddy's cheeks burned as he registered it, the fact that he'd been so desperate for a normal relationship, to feel like he belonged, to have somebody who was his, that he'd been trying to force it, applying meaning and feeling to their relationship that just hadn't been there. He'd moved them along so fast, he hadn't noticed all the ways in which they didn't fit, hadn't wanted to notice. They were lucky Linde was more self-aware than Teddy, that she'd called things off while they were still able to extract themselves with minimal damage.

They exchanged their boxes, and Teddy wished her a happy trip before making a swift exit, not wanting to overstay his welcome or linger in the awkwardness. Now that the breadth of his denial had fully sunk in, Teddy couldn't shake the feeling of embarrassment, wondering if she'd realised the depth of his obliviousness. If she had, she was far too kind to say so, even when she'd been breaking up with him.

Despite the lingering shame, Teddy felt lighter when he'd exited her flat, and not just because the box of his belongings was significantly less hefty than the one he'd brought over to her had been. His brain was still a chaotic jumble, but he felt like maybe he knew himself a little better now, that he would perhaps be less likely to make the same mistake again. He'd had his share of relationships, but before Linde, it had been over a year since he'd seriously dated anyone, and he had a feeling that dry spell had contributed to his desperation to make their relationship work. Teddy knew he was a serial monogamist. He liked the comfort and the security of being in a relationship, liked having somebody to care for and to be cared for in turn. He liked sex, too, of course, but for him that aspect was almost secondary to the rest of it, and one-offs or casual engagements had never left him feeling fulfilled and truly satisfied the way a meaningful relationship did.

So why, then, could he not stop thinking about James and his offer?

When Teddy's thoughts turned to last night, as brief and blurry as the memories were, his belly squirmed and jumped with exhilaration. He wasn't sure how to feel about the fact that hazy, half-remembered sex with his very much off-limits best mate was the most erotic experience he'd had in a long damn time. His skin seemed to tingle with the phantom press of James's fingertips, a touch his mind couldn't fully recall. Merlin, how he wished he'd been sober, wished every millisecond had been indelibly seared into his brain in vivid technicolour.

You could have that, if you wanted, Teddy's traitorous mind continued to remind him, you could do it again, you only have to say the word. It sounded so simple, but Teddy knew it would be anything but. Teddy wasn't nineteen years old any longer, guided by his prick, and the truth of the matter was, Teddy knew better than to get involved with James. It was tempting, Merlin it was tempting, to say yes and finally experience the things he'd buried deep inside, the desires that had haunted his dreams for years. But being hard-up and desperately curious weren't good enough reasons to risk one of the most important relationships in his life. Not even if he really, really wanted to. James mattered too much to Teddy for them to mess things up with a bit of experimentation. Teddy already knew where his life was headed, the kind of future he wanted for himself. Fucking around with a bloke wouldn't change that.

It couldn't.

The memory of last night, as fractured and unfocused as it was, would be enough.

It had to be.

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"You coming with, Teddy?" James asked, throwing his arm around Teddy's shoulders and interrupting the conversation Teddy had been having with Harry. It was the closest they'd physically been in the two weeks since James had made his tempting offer, and Teddy fought off the urge to shiver.

"Don't be rude, James," Harry reprimanded, giving James a stern look. "Teddy and I were talking."

"About work," James said, rather pointedly. "Which you know is a banned topic during Sunday dinner."

"That doesn't give you the right to interrupt," Harry said before his expression turned sheepish. "But you're right. Teddy, we can talk more about this tomorrow."

Harry stood and pressed a warm palm to James and Teddy's shoulders, giving them both a comforting squeeze as he excused himself. Teddy turned to James, hoping he wouldn't realise Teddy's flushed skin was due to James's proximity and not the warmth of the room.

"You had a question for me?"

James gave a slow blink before shaking his head as if coming out of a daze, his own cheeks turning a delicate pink. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, uh, a bunch of the cousins are about to head out to Bezoar for a drink. Thought I'd see if you wanted to join."

"Yeah, all right. Though I still think it's a stupid name for a pub," Teddy said, letting James pull him up off the sofa and towards the Floo. "I don't think putting poison on the brains of your patrons is the best move."

James shrugged. "Clearly it's not enough of a deterrent to stop us from going though, so it can't be that bad of a marketing strategy." He threw a cheeky grin over his shoulder at Teddy. "Besides, it's an antidote, not a poison."

"Yeah," Albus said as he came into the room, "So at least if the drinks are toxic, they've already got the cure on hand."

"Exactly," James replied, flashing a grin at his brother. "You let everybody know we're leaving?"

"Yup. The others just Flooed over to get us a table."

"Cool." James picked up the bowl of Floo powder and offered it to Teddy with a flourish. "Age before beauty."

Teddy rolled his eyes—James had been using that line on him since they were kids, and he didn't appear to be tiring of it anytime soon—but he grabbed a handful of powder before calling out for Bezoar. He did a quick sweep of the room, his gaze snagging on Roxanne's waving hand in the far corner. The pub was busy, but thankfully not so packed that their group hadn't been able to nab one of the larger tables. It was certainly much roomier than the table he'd crowded around the last time he'd gone out, the one at the club with all of James's friends, where he'd proceeded to get bladdered and then…

A hand landed heavily on his shoulder. "Al said first round's on him," James said, leaning in close. "What do you want?"

You, Teddy's traitorous brain supplied, and he fought off an instinctive scowl as he forcefully shoving away the thought.

"That doesn't sound like Al," Teddy said instead. The word stingy was too ungenerous to apply to Albus, but he'd always been more conservative with his spending than his extravagant siblings, who had perhaps swung a little too far on the other end of the spectrum.

James snorted. "He forgot his wallet the last time we were out and I spotted him all night. He owes me."

"Ahh, that makes more sense. I'll have a lager then, whatever's on tap."

"Coming right up."

Teddy settled into one of the open seats while James disappeared to convey his order to Albus, reappearing moments later in the seat next to Teddy. He was a perfectly respectable distance away, and yet Teddy's body still hummed with awareness, his muscles tense with the knowledge that James was within touching distance.

It had been like this every time he'd been in the same room as James since the incident. Thankfully, that had been fewer times than was usual for them in a standard fortnight, as James had been gone for most of the two weeks playing matches abroad. He'd only just got back from Germany last night, and according to the schedule that Teddy had pinned up next to his desk—which wasn't weird at all, no matter what his Auror partner said—James wasn't due to travel again for another month at least. Which meant they'd be back to seeing each other on the regular, and that meant that Teddy really needed to get himself under control. The whole point of not saying yes to James's proposition was that he didn't want to make things weird and fuck up their friendship, and that wouldn't mean a damn thing if Teddy got all awkward anyway.

He must have spent longer than he'd thought lost in his musings, because when he finally tuned back into the world around him, there was a pint of lager sitting in front of him, and the cousins were talking about blow jobs.

"I'm telling you Molls, blokes love it when you play with their bollocks. Drives Urik absolutely wild," Dominique said, the light slur to her words telling Teddy that the nearly empty vodka tonic in her hand was not her first drink of the night.

Molly wrinkled her nose. "But they're just so… weird looking, all hairy and wrinkled."

"Make 'em shave," Roxanne chimed in. "The spell's dead fast and if they expect us to do it, turnabout's fair play."

"Like hell I'm aiming a Shaving Spell at my bits!" Fred said, scandalised. "What if I lob something off?"

Half the table burst into laughter. "It's a Shaving Spell, not a Severing Charm," Lily said, her grin turning wicked as she continued, "Worst case scenario you just knick the skin a bit."

"Oh, like that's so much better, little cuts all over my knob!"

"You're such a baby," Roxanne teased. "It's really not that difficult. And there are always salons you can go to if you're so worried about it."

"Seems like a lot of hassle…"

"You won't be saying that when your girlfriend suddenly becomes a whole lot more keen on sucking you off," Dominique said dryly before throwing back the last of her drink.

"They're not lying," James added with a lascivious grin. "I mean, I bloody love going down on a man either way, but not everybody likes getting a mouthful of pubes every time they give head. Besides, shaving makes everything so much more sensitive." He gave a theatrical shiver of delight that had Albus making retching noises before throwing a napkin at him in disgust.

Teddy had been silent throughout the conversation, quietly draining his beer as his jeans grew tighter and tighter. All this talk about cocks and balls and sucking people off had Teddy's mind right in the gutter. He couldn't stop thinking about James and that night, the fractured bits of memory of their mouths fused together, the hot press of James's skin. Against his will, Teddy's gaze flicked over to James, who was staring right back at him over the rim of his glass, his eyes seeming to sear straight into Teddy's soul. It was intoxicating, a tailspin of arousal that Teddy could seem to pull himself out of. His cock pressed painfully against his flies, and he knew if he didn't take care of it, he'd spend the rest of the night hard and aching. There was a spell he could cast that would… cool things off, albeit uncomfortably, but there wasn't any way for him to cast it discreetly, and the last thing he needed was the entire table becoming aware of his little (or not so little, thankyouverymuch) problem.

With considerable effort, he managed to tear his gaze away from James's, muttering something about the toilet before pressing back from the table, doing as best he could to hide his bulge. He let out an audible sigh of relief when he made it to the loo and discovered it empty, taking a moment to brace his hands against the sink and breath in deep, doing his best to calm his racing pulse. He'd just grasped his wand and was preparing to recite the incantation that would figuratively dous his ardour with icy-cold water, when the door behind him burst open. Startled, he fell back on his instinctive Auror training, spinning into a defensive stance with his wand at the ready.

James was standing in the doorway, an amused smirk playing about his lips as he held up his hands as if protesting his innocence. But he wasn't innocent, not James, and he stepped inside the loo before lazily flicking his own wand towards the door, his Locking Spell sliding into place with an audible click. Teddy swallowed.

"Have you thought any more about my offer?" James asked, taking a step closer.

Teddy took an instinctive step back, his arse pressing against the firm edge of the porcelain sink. "Why'd you lock the door, James?" his voice was low, already rough with lust, and James knew it, judging by the way his smile grew more confident.

"Thought we could use a little privacy for our… conversation." Another step closer. "So have you?"

Teddy swallowed again, trying to wet his parched throat. "I…"

James's gaze slid downward, lingering obviously on the distended bulge of Teddy's erection. "Because if you have, if you're interested, then maybe I could help you with that."

Teddy shivered, feeling like prey in front of a predator and not entirely hating it. "I was going to cast the spell," he said weakly.

James made a sympathetic face as he took another step closer, his body barely an inch from Teddy's. "That spell is awful. I can think of a much better solution."

"Oh?" Teddy's voice was high and breathy. He wasn't sure he'd ever heard himself sound like that before.

James nodded and licked his lips, his pupils blown out with lust, making it clear that Teddy wasn't the only one affected. "Just say the word, Ted, and you can have me on my knees. I wasn't lying out there; I really fucking love giving head."

And how the fuck was Teddy supposed to say no to that? James, with his full pink lips and his bedroom eyes, practically begging for the chance to choke himself on Teddy's cock. It would take a stronger man than Teddy to turn him down, that was for damn sure. He gave a wobbly nod.

James shook his head. "Need you to say it, Teddy. Say yes."

"Yes," Teddy said, shaky and desperate. "Please."

James's face lit up with triumphant desire as he gracefully sunk to his knees. Teddy spared half a thought to hoping James had cast some Cushioning and Sanitation Charms—the floors were hard and they were in the men's at a pub for Merlin's sake—but then James was reaching for his flies, and Teddy didn't have room in his head to think of anything other than what was about to happen.

James undid the buttons and tugged down his pants, and Teddy's cock sprung free, bobbing eagerly in front of James's face, flushed and dripping and begging for attention. James didn't make him wait. With one last hot stare up at Teddy's face, he wrapped a hand around Teddy's prick, and brought the head to his mouth, swallowing him down in one tight, hot gulp.

Teddy choked down a shout, barely remembering in time that they'd not cast a Silencing Charm, and too far gone at this point to manage one now. He'd just have to do his best to stay quiet, a task that he was becoming increasingly sure would be impossible, because nothing in his life had ever felt as good as James's mouth around his cock. Teddy had received plenty of blowjobs in his life, but nobody had ever swallowed him down with such relish, with such a perfect combination of honest desire and obvious skill, making it clear just how much James truly loved sucking cock. The slick sounds of his mouth moving wetly over Teddy's shaft, the not-quite-choking noises James made when he deepthroated Teddy, the unbelievable pleasure of heat and friction and James's maddening tongue dancing along his frenulum, all of it served to push Teddy closer and closer to his peak.

He looked down, captivated, unable to tear his gaze away from the erotic sight of James's red lips spread wide around his dick. A flash of movement caught his eye, drawing his gaze slightly lower, to where James had managed to undo his jeans and pull out his own throbbing cock, his hand a blur as he fisted himself in time to the bobbing of his head. And that—the irrefutable proof that James was just as into this as Teddy was, the sight of his flushed dick sliding between those strong, capable fingers—was what finally pushed Teddy over the edge.

Arousal saturated Teddy's system and his abdominal muscles seized as he came, unable to even give James polite warning before he flooded his mouth. Thankfully, James didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to love it, moaning around his mouthful and swallowing eagerly as the hand around his dick moved with even greater intensity. It wasn't long before James was coming himself, spilling all over the floor as he licked Teddy's cock clean.

Teddy leaned back against the sink, his head tilted up towards the ceiling, as his racing heart and panting breath began to slow and even. At his feet, James began to shift, his fingers like magical shocks against Teddy's sensitive skin as he pulled up Teddy's pants and jeans and buttoned him back up. He felt a rush of James's magic as he cleaned up the floor, heard the zip of his flies and the rustle of his clothes as he tucked himself away and stood up, could feel James's eyes on him like a physical touch. He took a steadying breath and met James's eyes.

He opened his mouth, but James cut him off before he could utter a word.

"Don't say it was a mistake."

There was something vulnerable and exposed about the way James said it, in the look in his eyes and the waver in his voice, that crumbled the last of Teddy's resolve. That had been what he'd been about to say, but he couldn't do it now. Maybe it was a mistake, but that wouldn't change the fact that it had happened.

"I won't. But I'm not…" Teddy ran a frustrated hand through his hair, sure that if he looked in the mirror it'd be flickering between all the colours of the rainbow, a physical manifestation of his indecision. "I don't know if it should happen again."

"Why not?" James said, clearly just as frustrated, though probably not for the same reasons that Teddy was. "You want to, I know you do, and I'm offering."

"I don't want to mess up our friendship. I don't want either of us to get hurt."

James's face spasmed with some emotion, too quick to make out before he gave a casual shrug and looked away. "We won't. Both of us know the score. It's just a little casual sex between friends, giving you a safe space to figure out what feels good, what you like. No harm, no foul." He didn't manage to quite meet Teddy's eye as he spoke, and disquiet tiptoed across the back of Teddy's mind, but it was far too easy to ignore it and brush his misgivings aside. Because James was right, Teddy did want it, hadn't been able to think of anything else for weeks. Perhaps the only way to move past this preoccupation and move on with his orderly life was to give in, allow himself to experience a man just this once so he'd no longer be haunted with wondering and what-ifs. Wasn't James's offer the perfect solution to the curiosity that had burned within him since those furtive Hogwarts handjobs a decade ago?

And James, beautiful, brilliant, captivating James. His best mate, his almost-brother, the person Teddy trusted more than anybody else in the world. Despite the affinity between them, there was no way a relationship would ever work. James was a man, he was family, he was young and had made it perfectly clear that he was not at a point in his life where he was looking for something serious. Teddy trusted him enough to let James guide him through this, and he could feel secure in the fact that James wouldn't fall for him, that he wouldn't fall for James. They couldn't.

So maybe this was a good idea, the best idea really. Besides, Teddy was tired of fighting it, of trying to resist temptation.

"All right," he said, his body releasing the last of its tension when James gave him a giddy grin. "I'm in."

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"Regular Americano with milk?" the barista—Karlee—said with a bright smile as Teddy stepped up to the counter. It was his usual order, and he was here frequently enough that nearly all the baristas recognised him on sight.

Teddy was about to open his mouth to confirm, but paused. Truth be told, he'd never been a huge fan of plain coffee, but it had seemed to be the masculine adult beverage of choice, and when he'd turn fifteen, he'd started drinking it in the mornings, relishing the feeling of fitting in, despite the fact that it was bitter and not entirely pleasant. It was marginally more palatable with a generous splash of milk added in, but what Teddy wanted, really wanted, was something sweet and decadent and sinfully bad for him. Just this once, he decided to give in—he'd been trying all kinds of new things lately, after all.

"Actually, I think I'll have a mocha today," he said, feeling strangely giddy.

Karlee's brows rose in intrigue as she marked the cup. "After something a little sweet this afternoon?"

"Just one of those kinds of days."

"I think we've all been there," she said with a giggle. Teddy's brow furrowed—hadn't thought he'd been all that funny. "Would you like anything to eat to go with it?"

He scanned the pastries, his gaze snagging on the deliciously tempting Cauldron Cakes. His mouth watered, but he thought he was probably getting enough sugar in his beverage and didn't want to actually be sick. He could always get one later if he wanted.

"Best not just yet," Teddy said with a rueful grin, before handing over a Galleon. She passed several Sickles and Knuts back in change, and seemed almost disappointed at the lack of further conversation when Teddy dropped them back into his wallet without fanfare.

"It'll be up in a 'mo," she said brightly after a moment, before moving over to the complicated espresso contraption to froth milk and pull his shots.

Teddy took the opportunity to settle his things in his favourite corner table, the one next to the windows that looked out onto Diagon Alley. Given that it was early on a Tuesday afternoon, it wasn't quite as bustling as usual, but the street was never empty, and Teddy did enjoy a bit of people watching to break up the monotony of filling out his Auror reports. It was one of the reasons why he did his paperwork at The Coffee Cauldron instead of at his desk. Of course, any truly sensitive case work had to be done within the Ministry, but for minor infractions—Apparating without an official license, improper use of magic, failure to utilise Silencing Charms during quiet hours, and the like—Teddy was fine to work outside the office, provided he took all proper precautions in obfuscating the contents of his parchments.

"Your drink's ready, Teddy," Karlee sang out across the shop. There was something almost grating about her voice today, though Teddy couldn't quite understand what it was—perhaps he was just tired. He almost missed Iona, who'd moved to working weekends, and who had a tendency to call out the drink orders in a volume entirely unnecessary given the size of the shop.

Teddy made his way to the counter once more and picked up his drink, flashing Karlee a generic smile that caused her own grin to droop slightly—clearly he wasn't the only one having an off day.

Beverage in hand, Teddy settled back at the table, casting the layer of charms that would prevent anybody from being able to read over his shoulder before deeming his Mocha cool enough for the first sip. Chocolatey sweetness burst on his tongue, carried on a wave of full-fat milk and creamy espresso. Teddy barely held back a little moan of pleasure, though he couldn't help the giddy smile. Yes, that was more like it. Why had he ever thought to deny himself this decadent pleasure? Even the mountain of case files awaiting him on the table seemed less daunting now that he was fortified with a cup full of sugary bliss.

Teddy decided to allow himself a few moments to properly savour the drink without the dull distraction of paperwork. He looked out the window, sipping delicately as he watched passersby. He'd every intention of people watching, but instead his gaze grew distant as his thoughts turned, the way they inevitably did these days, to James.

It'd been several weeks now since Teddy had agreed to James's proposition, after that truly spectacular blow job in the loo. With James on an extended period of home matches and no travel in sight, the two of them had been hanging out more than ever. They'd always been practically attached at the hip, only now they were more literally attached at the hip, frequently frotting their way to release as they kissed and moaned. There'd been… other activities too. Teddy had a particular weakness for James's broom-calloused hands wrapped tight around his cock, and he wasn't sure he'd ever tire of the sight of James hungrily swallowing him down.

Last night, they'd even tried it the other way 'round for the first time, Teddy nervous, but eager, wanting to make it as good for James as James always made it for him. It'd been unexpectedly arousing, having James tell him what to do, instructing Teddy on how best to please him. He almost liked that bit better than the actual blow job itself, though that had also been a serendipitous pleasure. For all that he loved having sex with women—and he really, really did— going down on them had never been his most favourite of bedroom activities. He didn't hate it by any means, but he'd quite happily live without if his partner was amenable, which some had been, and some hadn't. Teddy had assumed he'd feel similarly lukewarm about sucking cock. But of course, cocks were quite different from cunts, and Teddy found the sensations to be altogether dissimilar and significantly more enjoyable. Add to that the fact that he still got to make his partner writhe with pleasure—which had been the part he enjoyed most about eating a woman out—and Teddy had a feeling he could easily become quite addicted to giving head.

The tinkling of chimes sounded as somebody opened the door of the café, and Teddy gave a guilty start. Had he no shame, daydreaming of sex—with a man, with James—right there in public? His entire body felt hot and shivery, almost feverish, as an uncomfortable feeling took root in his gut, some mix of exhilaration and shame and panic. It was all so much more intense than he'd been ready for, and he could admit he was a bit discombobulated. He wasn't sure if it was the novelty, or the activities, or James himself, but intense didn't even begin to cover it.

James was a perfect gentleman—not that Teddy ever had any doubt—letting Teddy control the pace. So far, they'd steered clear of any sort of penetration—Teddy wasn't ready for that just yet, possibly not ever—but James had never seemed anything other than delighted in their activities. Even still, the whole arrangement felt like it was rapidly spinning out of Teddy's control, twirling faster and faster, a whirlwind sucking Teddy into its orbit. The terrifying thing was, Teddy wasn't bothered by this at all. Stopping was the furthest thing from his mind, though he knew that would be the smartest course. But now that he had a taste, Teddy was hooked, and as long as he and James remained on the same page, that this was only a bit of temporary sex between mates, then Teddy didn't see any reason why they couldn't continue.

Teddy looked down at his drink, already significantly lighter than it had been when he got it, and noticed a scrawl of black ink along the sleeve. He slid his thumb away from the lettering, his eyebrows rising at the sight of Karlee's name, followed by a mobile number and a cheeky In case you'd like something else sweet… His cheeks warmed, and he set the cup down, pretending he'd not seen the message as he pulled his case files close. Merlin, she'd been flirting with him. A cute girl had been all but throwing herself at him, and he'd not even noticed. Things really had got out of control.

Even now, Karlee and her ineffective advances were already fading from his mind, overshadowed by his impending work, and, more importantly, by the ever present thought of James, and the fact that Teddy would be seeing him again later that night.

He couldn't wait.

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Teddy let out a happy moan, squeezing James's pants-clad arse as they rocked slowly together and traded lazy morning kisses. He'd stayed over at James's last night, and was pleasantly awoken by an affectionate and turned-on James. Teddy had always been a fan of morning sex, the syrupy-slow decadence of it, the languorous burn of desire a smoldering coal as opposed to the flashpaper lust of the previous night's activities. His cock was plumping up in his pants, rubbing delightfully against James's half-hard prick, and Teddy was just starting to properly sink into the spiraling pleasure of it all when the door to James's room banged open with a clatter.

"James you lazy sod! I'm starving, so you've got three—oh—" The gruffly feminine voice abruptly stopped shouting, clearly not expecting to see James otherwise engaged.

Teddy felt a bolt of pure panic shock through him. They'd been caught, Teddy had been caught, with a man. Nobody was supposed to know, it was supposed to be his and James's secret. Teddy wasn't ready for anybody else to find out about him, wasn't ready for any of this. He wanted to run and hide, but pinned as he was beneath James's body, all he could do was lie there, frozen.

"What's going on? Why'd you stop, Syd?" came another voice, this one more girlish and lilting, as James scrambled off of Teddy and hopped out of bed, apparently unconcerned about his lack of clothing. Teddy stared up at the ceiling, wishing it weren't too late to Morph his features into somebody else. But the women had already seen his face, no doubt about it.

"Shit, we're supposed to be getting brunch today, aren't we?" James said, his tone contrite. "Sorry Syd, Vi. Completely slipped my mind."

Teddy reluctantly looked towards the door to face the music. Sure enough, Syd and Violet were standing in the doorway, looking over at Teddy with unreadable expressions. They were part of James's other crew and, if Teddy remembered correctly, had been dating for quite awhile now. He'd met them several times before and had thought they'd got on well enough, though clearly not, judging by the way Syd narrowed her eyes at him in a distinctly unfriendly manner.

"Yes, I can see you've been otherwise occupied," Syd said, her voice dripping disapproval. James winced, and Violet nudged her girlfriend with an elbow.

"Hello, Teddy," Violet said lightly. "Nice to see you again."

Teddy gave her a brittle smile. "Yes, you too."

She turned back to James. "Why don't we wait for you out in the living room. Unless you're no longer available…?"

Syd looked like she was about to object to this, but James answered before she could say anything. "No, no, I'm still going. It's been ages since we've had a proper catch up."

"Clearly," Syd muttered.

James ignored her. "Just give me a mo' to get dressed?"

"Yes, of course." Violet dragged Syd away, closing the door behind them and leaving James and Teddy alone once more.

"I'm so sorry about that, Teddy," James said, his expression earnest as he tugged on a pair of jeans and an old black T-shirt. "I completely forgot I had plans with them this morning. I know you didn't want anybody to find out, but I swear they'll keep quiet if I ask them to. You don't have to worry."

"It's fine," Teddy said, doing his best to sound unconcerned as he sat up in bed. He must have missed the mark, because James's face twisted with guilt and something else Teddy couldn't quite catch.

"Fuck, I really am sorry," James said again, running his fingers through his already messy bedhead. "I'll go explain to them that they need to keep this to themselves while you get dressed."

He was gone before Teddy had a chance to reply, slipping out of the room and leaving the door open just a crack. Teddy groaned, rubbing the heels of his palms over his eyes and allowing himself a moment to wallow in self-pity before hauling himself up and throwing on his clothes. He paused at the door, stealing himself as the murmur of voices in the living room became more distinct, floating in through the partially-opened door.

Teddy couldn't help himself, he listened in.

"—nothing serious. Just a bit of casual fun," James was saying, his voice exasperated, as if this was not the first time he'd had to explain himself in the past several minutes.

"You're being an idiot!" Syd, sounding equally exasperated.

"Oh for fuck's sake, it's sex, not a bonding ceremony. He wants to experiment, and he trusts me."

"Oh, right, because everybody loves being an experiment," Violet added. She sounded less judgemental and disapproving than her girlfriend, but just as firm. "That won't end badly at all."

"I can take care of myself. It's not like this is the first time I've had a fuck buddy."

"Yes, but you didn't care about any of the others," Violet said, her voice almost painfully kind, as if she was delivering an unwelcome truth. "And we all know you're in—"

"Enough," James said, and it was clear he was done with the conversation. The tone sent something strange skittering down Teddy's spine, something almost appreciative. "You don't have to like it, but it's my life and my decision. What you do have to do is keep it quiet. He's not ready for anybody to find out, and you weren't supposed to see anything."

"Of course we won't say anything," Syd said, much gentler than before, though her voice was still gruff. "You know we'd never out anybody. We're just worried about you."

"Well, don't be," James replied. "I'll be fine."

Teddy figured that was as good a time as any to make his appearance, and he pressed open the door to James's room, trying not to feel self-conscious at the way they all went dead silent as he stepped into the hall. James gave him a shaky smile and Syd nodded at him coolly. Violet sighed, her expression apologetic.

"I'm sorry we barged in on you like that," she said. Her smile was kind, but there was a wariness in her eyes, as if she, like her girlfriend, didn't entirely trust him for some reason. "We didn't realise James had company, or else we certainly would have knocked. As I'm sure you heard, we have brunch plans, and you're welcome to join us if you're free." Syd's expression implied that she, at least, wouldn't welcome Teddy's presence, but another elbow to her ribs from Violet, and her lips spread into a grimace that Teddy figured was as close as he was going to get to an encouraging smile.

He knew he should probably appreciate the invite and the fact that James's friends were clearly making some kind of overture, despite the fact that the conversation he'd just overheard indicated they didn't much approve of what he and James were getting up to. Instead, all he felt was pressured, panic welling up in his gut. They were probably going out to eat in a wizarding neighbourhood, which meant anybody they knew might see them. And yes, friends got breakfast together all the time, but it felt too much like a double date for Teddy's liking, and he was certain that anybody would be able to tell just by looking at them what he and James had just been up to. Thinking about it made Teddy feel like the walls were closing in around him, and he needed to leave, needed to get out, as quickly as possible.

"I appreciate the offer, but I'd hate to impose, and I actually have plans myself this morning, so I'll have to take a raincheck." That was a lie—he didn't have any plans, and he had no intention of following up on the raincheck—but they didn't have to know that. James, of course, perceptive bastard that he was, did, but he didn't seem to hold it against Teddy, nodding at him and flashing a sad, understanding smile.

"Nice to see you again Syd, Violet," Teddy said. He turned to James, wanting nothing so much as to brush a kiss against his downturned lips, but unable to do so in front of their guests. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

James nodded. "Yeah, tomorrow."

Teddy grabbed a handful of Floo powder and tossed it into the grate, calling out for home and ignoring the furious whispering behind him. He'd made the right choice. The only choice. There was no reason for him to feel guilty, as if he'd let James down, failed some sort of unspoken test.

None at all.

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"How about this one?" James asked, gesturing towards a massive sofa in a truly offensive shade of green.

Teddy gave him a horrified look. "Given your career as a professional Quidditch player, I know you're not technically colour blind, but dear Merlin, James, really?"

"What?" James asked, a defensive curl to his lip. "I thought the whole point of this was to add some colour and variety to my flat? Since apparently my lack of decor and bachelor-pad inclinations are offensive to the eye."

Teddy tried not to scowl. James was clearly quoting Spencer, who'd been on James to redecorate from the moment they'd started dating. His wheedling hadn't let up even after the break-up, and James had confessed to Teddy this past weekend that he'd been thinking of giving in. Though Teddy was in complete agreement over the fact that James's flat was in dire need of a makeover—loathe as he was to admit he agreed with Spencer on anything—the thought of Spencer spending hours with James, intimately helping him choose the personal items for James's flat, made Teddy's stomach writhe unpleasantly. And so, without thinking things through—which was very much unlike Teddy—he'd offered to help James instead. Teddy had always had an eye for pattern and colour, and his own flat was quite tastefully decorated, if he did say so himself. As a boy, he'd actually briefly dreamed of being an interior decorator, or even a clothes designer, before schoolboy teasing had disabused him of the notion, quickly informing him that those were hardly the most masculine of professions. He knew better now, but he was happy in his career as an Auror, and he still had to occasionally fight against the instinctive prickle of shame that flared up whenever he let himself indulge in those passions of his that the world had arbitrarily decided were feminine in nature.

"We should go with something a bit more neutral for the sofa," Teddy said, steering James towards some tasteful leather sectionals. "Perhaps something in brown or black leather? We can bring in colour through the accessories—rugs, artwork, throw pillows, things like that." Teddy paused, picturing James's flat in his mind's eye, imagining what it could look like. "We should probably get something living in there, too."

"Living?" James asked, his eyes wide. "I said I'd redecorate, not get a pet!"

Teddy rolled his eyes fondly. "I meant a plant, not an animal. I bet Uncle Neville would set you up with something low-maintenance."

James grinned. "I like low-maintenance. Do you think he's got any that are self-watering?"

"If not, I'm sure there's some kind of spelled device you could purchase that would water on a schedule. Though it could be good for you to try and keep something alive."

James waved the suggestion away with a dismissive, "Psh," before flopping down a rich brown leather sofa with brass detailing. It was a gorgeous piece, and quite comfortable as well, judging by the pornographic moan of contentment James let out as he settled back amongst the leather cushions.

Teddy couldn't help the soft smile on his face as he looked James over, gorgeous and smiling and utterly relaxed as he thoroughly "tested" the comfort of his potential future sofa. He looked so happy and, Teddy realised with a start, Teddy felt quite happy himself, bickering with James over sofas and chiding him good-naturedly on his horrid taste. A strange pang went through him as the domesticity of the scene swept over him. This was something one did with their partner, not their fuck buddy. Were things getting out of hand? Were they doing the casual sex thing completely wrong?

Maybe so, but they'd been friends, best friends, well before sex had been added to the equation. It wasn't so unusual for a mate to help pick out home decorations, was it? Perhaps that excuse could have flown, if it weren't for the fact that Teddy was rapidly realising it wasn't just furniture shopping with James that Teddy wanted. He wanted to see James smiling like that always, content and care-free, wanted to the one who made James smile. He wanted to do silly, reckless things like hold James's hand and bring him flowers and kiss the dimples in his cheeks right there in the shop.

But he couldn't.

Because they were in a popular shop smack dab in the centre of Diagon Alley, and he and James were just friends. To the world, they were best mates who grew up together, practically brothers, family, and Teddy was, as far as everybody else was concerned, as straight as a broomstick. And maybe he wasn't really quite as straight as all that, but admitting that to himself was different from admitting it to the world. As wonderful as it was, experiencing sex with a man, with James, it wasn't what Teddy wanted for his future. He wanted normalcy, a family, wanted to carry on the bloodline in both his mother and father's names. Being with a man was too much of a risk, and being with James a bigger risk still. It was impossible, and it was better for everybody if Teddy put the thought out of his head entirely.

He plastered a smile on his face and turned towards James, now starfished out on the sofa in utter contentment.

"I take it we've found a winner?"

James hummed happily, and Teddy's smile grew a little more genuine. He could do this. James was, first and foremost, his friend. As long as Teddy didn't lose sight of that, they would be fine.

"Right, then," Teddy said briskly, scanning the room for a sales associate. "In that case, we've got some accessorising to do."

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They made it to the pudding course, and Teddy was almost ready to breathe a sigh of relief, when Andromeda finally broached the topic Teddy most dreaded.

"Is there any special young lady in your life, Teddy?" she asked with a kind smile before taking a delicate bite of raspberry tart. "I know the break-up with Linde caught us all by surprise, and she was such a lovely woman, but it's been three months, plenty of time to get back on the broomstick, so to speak."

Broomstick, indeed, Teddy thought, darkly amused. If only Andromeda knew just how apt a phrase that was.

"No," Teddy said lightly, cutting into his own tart. "No new women in my life at the moment."

Andromeda's face pulled into a moue of disappointment. "Ahh, well, I suppose these things take time, but don't take too long putting yourself out there! You're a wonderful, smart, attractive young man, and any lady would be lucky to have you."

Teddy flushed and mumbled his thanks, uncomfortable with the compliments given the fact that he wasn't being entirely truthful with her.

Andromeda smiled indulgently. "And so modest, too! But don't worry, you'll find someone, a special girl that will make you feel complete." Her smile turned teasing. "We'll just have to hope it's soon! I'm not getting any younger, you know, and I would so love to have some great-grandchildren to spoil."

It was clear that Andromeda meant the words kindly, a loving jest, but they landed like Diffendo, slicing straight through him. His grandmother, his wonderful, kind, self-sacrificing grandmother, who'd lost her husband and only child within months of each other, who'd dedicated herself to raising Teddy and ensuring he was safe and loved. All she wanted in the world was for Teddy to find the kind of domestic, wedded bliss that had been stolen from her—and from Teddy's parents—by a madman. She wanted him to settle down and produce a gaggle of great-grandchildren for her to cherish without having the heavy responsibility of raising them, the way it should have been with Teddy himself. How could he deny her that? How could he even contemplate the possibility of dashing those hopes and dreams of hers, after everything she'd done for him?

"You know," Andromeda said slowly, an excited gleam in her eye. "Now that I think of it, Imogen Listrotter—you remember her, she used to bring over those ginger snap biscuits you loved so much as a boy. Anyway, she was just saying the other day in our knitting circle that her granddaughter, Ophelia, finished with her studies in Australia—in Marine Magizoology, isn't that just fascinating?—and she accepted a position in London. It sounded like she could use some friends, and she's a wonderful young women. Perhaps you'd be interested in calling on her?"

Teddy held back a grimace. The last thing he wanted was to be set up on a blind date by his grandmother, but he couldn't think of a plausible reason to politely decline.

"Sure, maybe," Teddy said lightly, stuffing his face with a forkful of tart and focusing more intently than was necessary on thorough chewing.

"I'll talk to Imogen," Andromeda said happily. "Set something up."

Teddy hummed noncommittally and stood to collect the dishes, needing something to occupy himself with. Andromeda beamed at him, chattering on about how much these bi-monthly dinners meant to her, how lucky she was to have such a polite and caring grandson, how someday soon he'd meet a woman who saw how amazing he was, and all the while Teddy's stomach roiled.

He'd been living in a bubble, these past few months with James. Teddy had let himself get caught up in the novelty of it all, the joy of having sex with a man, with James, somebody he liked and trusted above all others. It had been easy to lose himself in it, to convince himself that it was only a bit of fun, and that nobody had to ever know or get hurt. But he'd been fooling himself. They couldn't keep it up forever, and sooner or later, things were going to get out of hand. Already, Teddy felt like he was letting Andromeda down, so wrapped up in James that he couldn't even think about looking for somebody else, for that perfect woman he was supposed to end up with. Even though he and James weren't in any kind of committed relationship, dating somebody while he and James were still fooling around felt like it would be a betrayal—of both James, and any woman he might have dated.

There wasn't a future for them, there never had been, and Teddy's dinner with Andromeda tonight had just reinforced that fact. Teddy needed to call things quits, put a stop to their arrangement before either of them got in too deep, before they were found out, before something happened that they couldn't come back from.

The problem was, Teddy had a sinking feeling they'd long since passed the point of no return. There'd be no getting out of it unscathed.

At least not for Teddy.

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"Hey, you," James said as Teddy came through the Floo, looking undeniably happy to see him. Teddy's own mood lifted in response as James reached out and pulled Teddy into a warm hug. For a moment, it seemed as if he was going to kiss Teddy hello, but he seemed to think better of it, rubbing his cheek against Teddy's instead, a day's worth of stubble rasping against Teddy's skin. Teddy's lips ached from the absence of the almost-kiss, but he ignored it. Fuck buddies didn't greet one another with soft kisses—even the hug was pushing it, but Teddy couldn't bear to give those up, even if he probably should.

"Hey," Teddy said eloquently in response, murmuring the words into James hair, clean and vetiver-scented from a recent shampooing. He reluctantly pulled away and flashed James a small smile, holding up a bag of takeaway; the fragrant scent of spiced meat, oregano, and garlic made his mouth water. "I brought Greek."

James's stomach rumbled loudly in appreciation, and they both laughed. "You're a lifesaver," James said fervently, leading the way towards his kitchen. "I spent most of the day with the League bigwigs going over the plan for us marching in Pride in a couple of weeks, and I've not had anything to eat since breakfast!" He took the bag and began to extract the plain white containers. "Did you go to Taki's?"

"Yup. I got lamb and beef souvlaki—I figured we could split them—and some of the house-made tiropitas that you're so obsessed with."

James had already found the triangular cheese-filled pastries, crunching through half of one in a truly impressive bite and moaning happily as flakes of crisped filo coated his lips and shirt. Teddy smiled fondly. He'd not seen as much of James so far in July as he'd become accustomed; just a few minutes in James's presence, and Teddy could feel himself relaxing more thoroughly than he had in ages.

While James finished his morsel, Teddy got out plates and cutlery, portioning out the kababs, Greek salad, and garlic-roasted potatoes. The tiropitas he mostly left for James, though he managed to sneak one dainty triangle from James's possessive hold of the container, Auror-fast reflexes allowing him to dodge James's attempt to slap him away.

"Sounds like you've been busy," Teddy said as they settled onto the brown leather sofa he'd helped James pick out—it really was quite comfortable—with their food.

James nodded around a skewer of spiced lamb, thankfully chewing and swallowing his bite before replying. "Yeah, Pride month's always a bit bonkers, really. It's still early yet, and official London Pride is still two weeks away, but between Quidditch and helping plan things and then going to smaller events and recovering from the ensuing hangovers… well, it keeps me busy." He grinned, cleary not at all put out by that fact. Rather the opposite, really. It was obvious James hadn't been getting as much sleep as he ought, but he otherwise seemed buoyant and happy. His easy, contentedly relaxed manner reminded Teddy of how James looked whenever he was with his friends at a gay pub or club—it was obvious how important and affirming it was for James to be present in spaces that not only welcomed the queer community, but were specifically for it. Teddy envied him a little for that—Teddy hadn't ever managed to feel as comfortable or at home in those spaces himself.

"Well I'm glad you're enjoying yourself," Teddy said—it was the truth, if not the whole truth. "Even if it means I don't get to see you nearly as much as I'd like."

James's cheeks pinked up in response, an almost shyly pleased grin stealing across his face as he speared a piece of potato on his fork and popped it into his mouth. He chewed slowly, his expression pensive, as if he was deliberating on his next words carefully. Teddy's stomach began to squirm unpleasantly—he had the strangest sense that he wasn't going to like whatever it was that James was considering.

"Actually," James said in careful, measured tones that only made Teddy's anxiety ratched higher. "I was thinking about that."

"Oh?" Teddy managed to choke out. He put his plate down on the coffee table, nerves doing away with his appetite.

"You remember my friend Violet, yeah?" James was looking rather fixedly at his plate, taking small, perfectly-reasonable sized bites. He was nervous about wherever this conversation was going, too. Bollocks.

"Yes," Teddy said, proud that his tone came out as dry as intended, not a wobble to be found. "Her and her girlfriend did make quite an impression. I do find it's hard to forget somebody once they've walked in on me in flagrante."

"Ah, yes, that," James said with a breathy—Teddy might even say slightly hysterical—laugh. "Well, she's been with Syd for ages now, but she's actually bi—did you know? You might have, she's always been pretty vocal about it. Anyway, she chairs the London wizarding Bi group and is on the committee organising this year's Pride. Her group's applied to march in the parade, of course, and she'll be manning the stall for a bit after that. And she's organised a sort of meet-up for fellow bisexuals that evening, before the unofficial pub crawl." He gave Teddy a significant sort of look, which Teddy did his best to ignore.

"That's nice," Teddy said blandly, desperately racking his brain for a subject change. "How's the souvlaki? I think the beef's a bit dry." His hands were shaking, and he shoved them under his thighs, hoping James would take the hint. Teddy wasn't ready for this, he'd told James he wasn't ready for this. Then again, Teddy knew it was in James's nature to push. He'd never been one to let well enough alone.

"Lamb's great," James said dismissively, his eyes bright as he kept them intent on Teddy. "But back to what I was saying. I thought maybe you might like to come to Pride with me this year. I've got to be marching with the Quidditch League, since I was the one who all but forced them to participate this year and they'll not be pleased if I'm not giving them all the free publicity I promised, but you could hang out with the cousins and watch the parade." He smiled, hopeful and encouraging. Teddy's stomach frothed and seethed. "And after, we could go say hi to Violet, give you a chance to check out her group's stall and maybe think about meeting up with them later on? It might be good for you to meet some other people like you, you know? Who like both. It's shit, but even within the community there's still a lot of biphobia, which is why Vi is so vocal about not identifying as a lesbian, even though she's in a committed relationship with a woman, and puts so much work into hosting events and socials year-round. I think if you just…"

James continued babbling on about how great it would be for Teddy to make friends within the community, people he could talk to who weren't James, who better understood his unique perspective and struggles. It was clear he was excited and hopeful about the idea, that he wanted Teddy to be comfortable in his world, but Teddy barely heard a word. He'd gone cold and still, his body completely frozen as his mind raced through the implications of James's enthusiastic suggestions.

He'd known this would happen.

James was brilliant and bold and completely unafraid. He also often had a hard time understanding people who chose to live their lives in a way that didn't perfectly align with James's own sensibilities. Teddy had known James wouldn't be able to accept Teddy's desire not to come out forever. Teddy was aware of how hard James had been trying to be understanding, but he'd also seen that James hadn't ever been able to quite accept Teddy's reasons and justifications for not wanting to broadcast his sexuality. It was frustrating, but it wasn't unsurprising—everybody had their flaws, and Teddy had never been under any illusions regarding James's. Teddy was impressed he'd managed to hold off as long as he had, really. Fooling around with somebody in secret, as if he were something to be ashamed of, would have been anathema to James. Of course, Teddy wasn't ashamed of James—not James, never James—it was himself and his own desires that filled Teddy with guilt. All he wanted was to live the normal, happy life that his parents had died to give him the chance to live. It wasn't as if he was like James, who wasn't at all interested in the opposite sex. Teddy had a choice, and he knew what that choice had to be, even if the thought of making it made him feel like he was drowning, like all the air had suddenly gone out of the room.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Teddy finally managed to say, effectively cutting off James's ramble.

James looked at him blankly, blinking at him in incomprehension, as if he'd forgotten that Teddy had a say in all this, and that his say might differ from James's expectations. "What?"

Teddy suppressed a grimace, ignoring the creeping feeling of dread as he forced himself to continue. "Me, going to Pride with you. I don't think it's a good idea. I'm not even sure if I am bi—" Lie, "—and even if I am, I've no interest in coming out. So there's no point in attending some social. I'm doing fine on my own."

James clearly wasn't having it.

"We've been having sex for months now," he said, his eyes narrowed in disapproval, "and I know how much you've enjoyed it. I don't care what label you use, or if you use one at all, but you're certainly attracted to men, or at least to this man. Don't lie to yourself, Teddy. You deserve more than that."

"Yes, fine," Teddy bit out, angry and ashamed. Maybe things would be different if he'd been fooling around with somebody else, but this was James, and Teddy couldn't deny what had happened between them, even if he'd wanted to. "I'm not saying that I've not enjoyed all the things we've done together. But that doesn't change the fact that it's not…" He faltered as, inexplicably, his eyes began to sting with the threat of tears. He blinked furiously, talking deep breaths until he felt more steady. "It doesn't change anything. I eventually want to get married and have children. With a woman. That's always been the plan, and enjoying the company of men doesn't change that. So there's no point in coming out, or making other bi friends, or tattooing the flag on my chest. It's not what I want for myself."

James's looked as if he'd been slapped, his eyes wide and startled, swimming with hurt and a devastating sadness that made Teddy feel miserable. The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt James, but he had to make him understand.

"Still?" James croaked out. "I thought… we've been having sex for months. I thought you were getting more comfortable with it. I mean, Teddy, it's a part of you. Even if you do end up married to some bird, that isn't going to make you suddenly straight, just like being with Syd doesn't make Violet gay. You don't have to act on it for it to matter, and suppressing something like that, lying about it… It's not healthy!"

"It's not a lie!" Teddy said, frustration and shame transmuting into anger. Why must James always push? Why couldn't he just let Teddy be? "Ending up with a woman wouldn't be a lie. Just because I've enjoyed sucking cock doesn't mean I can't be happy without it."

"That's not what I'm saying," James said, throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation before bounding up off the sofa and beginning to pace restlessly. "But a lie by omission is still a fucking lie—I know my dad drilled that into your head the way he did for me and Al and Lils. Are you really okay with never sharing this part of yourself with anybody for the rest of your life? Denying your friends and family the opportunity to know you more truly? Because if you think this secret isn't going to come between you, isn't going to affect your ability to form deeper and more meaningful connections, you're wrong." He whirled to face Teddy, jabbing a finger towards him accusingly, eyes blazing. "And this perfect hypothetical woman you're going to marry, are you never going to tell her, either? Spend your marriage hiding it from her? What are you going to tell her about me, hmm, when I'm standing up for you at your wedding? Are you going to tell her that you used to shag your best man?"

The bottom dropped out of Teddy's stomach, panic and denial and confusion running riot in his gut. He'd never spent much time thinking about the specific details of the future he'd imagined for himself, and there was a part of him that hated James for pointing out the holes in his plan, the flaws in his logic. And wasn't this what he'd been afraid of from the moment James had made his offer, that they'd end up at odds, that it would all blow up in their faces?

"You're right," Teddy said, and for a second, James looked hopeful, before Teddy continued, "Having sex was clearly a mistake. I think it's best if we stop and go back to being just friends."

James's expression was almost panicked, as if the conversation had got away from him. This clearly hadn't been how he'd expected things to go. "What, no! That's not what I said, it's not what I want. This hasn't been a mistake."

Teddy shook his head, ignoring the way every cell in his body seemed to stretch towards James, the utter wrongness that filled him at calling it quits. But it was the right thing to do. He shouldn't have let things get so far in the first place.

"I appreciate everything you've done for me, James, but this was a bad idea from the start, adding sex into our friendship. I knew… I knew you'd push, that you wouldn't be content to let me experiment forever, and that's fine, it's good. You deserve more than that, deserve to be free to find somebody who can give you what you want, the kind of person you can go to Pride with."

"But why can't that be you?" James asked, his voice wavering, eyes suspiciously bright. "We have fun together, don't we? And I know… I know this is just supposed to be casual, two mates helping each other out, but…" He took a deep breath, as if to steel himself before continuing, "It's been more than that for me, it always has been. And I know you feel it too, it's not just me. You helped me pick out this bloody sofa for fuck's sake!" He looked at Teddy, gaze beseeching. "Don't you think we could be good together, you and me, if we made a proper go of it?"

The thing was, Teddy did think that, had experienced glimpses of how things could work between them, if they'd been dating for real. James's wasn't wrong about Teddy's feelings—he'd wanted James for a long time, longer than he'd been willing to admit to himself, even. These past few months with James had been as close to perfect as Teddy could imagine a relationship being, but there were still issues Teddy couldn't ignore. The fact that James was a man. The fact that he was Teddy's best friend, practically his brother. He'd already dated within the Weasley-Potter family once before with Victoire, and when that had imploded, the shock waves had reverberated throughout their group for years. Even if Teddy was brave enough to come out, publically date a bloke, break his grandmother's heart, he didn't think he'd be strong enough to risk losing James. This argument now was already killing him, knowing that it would likely take a long while for them to move past it.

Teddy shook his head, and James's face crumpled, spearing Teddy straight through the gut as he forced out the words. "It's too much, Jamie. You're so… you're so out and involved, waving your rainbow flags and shouting from the rooftops, and that's just not me. I'm not ready for your world; I don't know that I ever will be. You deserve more than that."

"And what about what you deserve?" James asked, voice shaking. "It's not just some switch you get to turn on and off, Teddy, it's not a choice you can choose not to make. This is who you are. Ready or not, you are a part of my world, and it's a beautiful one, if you'd only stop hiding away and let yourself experience it."

Teddy clenched his jaw. "You say that coming out is an individual decision, that nobody should have to do it before they're ready, but here you are, pushing for something I'm telling you I don't want."

"Because I know you, Teddy," James said, running a hand through his hair and tugging it in obvious frustration. "Keeping this secret for the rest of your life… it'll eat you up inside, and the thought of that kills me. I just want you to be happy."

"Funny that your idea of what would make me happy aligns so closely with what would make you happiest."

Somehow, James managed to look even more wounded at that, his lip wobbling. "That's not fair."

"Isn't it?" Teddy replied, feeling awful but unwilling to completely let James off the hook. "Look, I think maybe I should go. I think we both need some time to cool off and think things over."

"Teddy…"

"You're still my best mate, nothing's going to change that, not for me at least. But what you're asking of me, pushing me for… This has all been hard enough without having to feel like I'm not living up to your expectations, either." One of the reasons he didn't want to come out in the first place was to avoid letting down his family, and now here he was, disappointing the person he cared about the most.

"That's not what—"

"Well that's what it feels like, and I… I need to go. I need some space, okay? I'll owl you." He needed to get out, escape, before either of them said something they couldn't come back from.

"Teddy, wait—"

The rest of James' sentence was lost in the twist and crack of Disapparation as Teddy made his hasty escape.

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There was no denying it—Teddy was miserable.

It had been just two weeks since his and James's argument, and he'd not seen hide nor hair of James since. Which wasn't exactly surprising, given that Teddy had been rather purposefully avoiding James while he sorted out his feelings, but the fact that James hadn't yet sought him out made Teddy fairly certain he wasn't the only one doing the avoiding. He knew it wasn't fair of him to be upset about that fact, but Teddy's emotions didn't seem to be much influenced by logic these days.

It didn't help matters that mere days after the incident, Teddy received an owl from his grandmother letting him know that she'd spoken with her friend and set up a lunch date with Imogen's lovely granddaughter, Ophelia, for the following Saturday. Teddy had completely forgotten that his lack of protest over the set-up was as good as approval, and now he was stuck going on a blind date or risk being an arsehole by cancelling at the last minute. Andromeda would not be best pleased by that, and Teddy had already proven he'd give up a hell of a lot more than a single afternoon for her sake.

Ophelia had indeed been as lovely as promised, smart and passionate, with a wry sense of humour that perfectly complemented Teddy's own, and a smile that could light up a room. She was great, and exactly Teddy's type, the kind of good-natured and driven woman he could see himself settling down with someday. That was what Teddy wanted, what he'd always wanted, and yet… He couldn't seem to muster any feeling for Ophelia stronger than platonic affection: there was the possibility of friendship, but nothing more romantic than that.

It didn't make sense.

She ticked all the boxes, was precisely the kind of woman he'd called things off with James so that he'd be free to pursue, but she didn't feel right. She didn't make his pulse race when she turned that blinding grin on him, didn't cause his breath to catch when her fingers brushed his while passing the sugar, didn't make every cell in Teddy's body yearn to reach out and pull her close. She wasn't who he wanted.

She wasn't James.

They parted with a smile and a handshake, a promise that they'd get together again soon, though Teddy had made it clear it would just be as friends. Ophelia seemed fine with that, perhaps a little disappointed, but she'd clearly picked up on the fact that Teddy's heart wasn't in it. How could it be, when Teddy had apparently already given his heart away without even realising it?

That had been days ago, and Teddy had continued right on with his brooding. It was worse today, as Teddy couldn't help but be aware that it was London Pride, that James had no-doubt spent the morning waving at the crowds pressed along the streets of Diagon as he marched along in the parade.

James had wanted Teddy to be there with him, waving at him from the pavement. Instead, Teddy sat on his sofa, the melancholic tones of a Cursed Resistance record filtering through his flat as he stared listlessly at the untouched bottle of Firewhisky he'd placed on the coffee table. Alcohol wouldn't fix this problem, wouldn't tell him what he should do, but it didn't stop his hands from itching with the urge to grab the whisky and drink straight from the bottle.

After all, wasn't getting drunk a time-honoured tradition in overcoming a broken heart?

Because there was no way around it, no way to pretend that wasn't what was happening here, that Teddy was mourning the loss of James and what they had the way he'd mourned his past relationships. Hell, this hit him harder than most of his past relationships, and he wasn't sure if that was a testament to how little he truly cared for his past partners, or how much he cared for James. Probably both.

He knew he needed to fix this, needed to seek James out and apologise. Teddy had hurt James, disappointed him, and all Teddy wanted in the world was to make things right between them. Before he could do that though, Teddy knew he needed to get his head on straight, so to speak, and figure out what it was he ultimately wanted. Because him and James were solid enough that Teddy knew they could get past this, that he'd eventually get his best mate back, that things could go back to the way they used to be. What Teddy needed to do before making that first overture, was decide if that would be enough.

Because as much as Teddy wanted James in his life as his best friend, he was increasingly aware that it was no longer all he wanted from James. He wanted to hold him close and kiss him all over, wanted to spend his nights with James and still be there in the morning when James woke up bleary-eyed and cranky. He wanted to be James's boyfriend, wanted them to be real.

Just the thought sent a powerful bolt of anxiety through Teddy's core, making his hands shake and his stomach cramp. He wanted all of it with James, the whole damn package, but the only way that could happen would be if Teddy came out. Even more terrifying than that was the underlying knowledge that if Teddy were to really make a proper go of things with James, risk their friendship even further, it would have to be with the quiet certainty that James was it for him. Teddy knew it would be difficult, and maybe somewhere down the line they'd realise they ultimately didn't suit, but the only way this chance would be worth it was if Teddy truly believed that James was the person he wanted to go the distance with.

Teddy sat there, staring at the unmoving whisky bottle, and realised that he did.

He could see himself building a life with James, one filled with love and respect and affection, a life where his best mate was also his life partner, where he got to wake up each morning with James in his arms. But for that dream to come true, it meant a different dream had to die, the one Teddy had harboured since he was a boy, the one where he settled down with a nice, young woman, surrounded by children and family, living a perfectly ordinary, peaceful life. Normal, accepted, a husband and father instead of an orphan, a Metamorphmagus, the son of a werewolf.

Was he ready to give that all up, to dream a different dream?

It hurt, a deep, inescapable agony, as he thought about the uncertainty of speaking this particular truth, of giving voice to the parts of himself he'd hidden for so long. How would his grandmother take the news? The Potters and Weasleys? Yes, they'd all been perfectly loving and supportive of James, but they couldn't entirely conceal the fact that it wasn't the life they would have chosen for James. Teddy knew they'd still love him, but there'd be an inescapable disappointment, too, no matter how hard they tried to pretend otherwise. And what about his job? The Aurors weren't the most queer-friendly profession, though they'd certainly made great strides in that respect, and in other areas, since Harry had taken on the mantle of Head Auror. Still, he knew he'd face discrimination from colleagues, and maybe even from friends. To say nothing of what would come from taking up with James, a famous Quidditch player and the son of even more famous parents. Teddy's visibility, and thus his exposure to the world and all kinds of opinions he didn't want to hear, would increase exponentially.

It would be hard at times, even painful. There would be hurt and heartache. And yet…

For the first time in Teddy's life, he thought that maybe it would still be worth it. That maybe everything he'd gain from speaking his truth would outweigh what it would inevitably cost him. He'd spent his entire life compromising, breaking off pieces of himself that didn't fit into the box the world told him he should fit in. Teddy thought it hadn't really mattered, that those bits weren't really important anyway, but James had helped show him just how stifled and stunted he'd allowed himself to become. He'd genuinely liked the women he'd dated, had even loved some of them, so he'd told himself it wasn't really a lie if he ignored the part of himself that knew he could fall in love with a man, too. Teddy had just been keeping things simple, making it all easier for himself and the people he loved by limiting his dating pool, by exerting strict control—just because he was attracted to men, it didn't mean he had to date them.

But he wanted to date men. Or at least a man, James, and denying this crucial part of himself, never allowing himself the freedom to explore this aspect of his sexuality, had taken a far greater toll than Teddy had ever realised. It had weighed on him, a heavy and impenetrable armour that, while keeping him safe from potential censure, had also prevented him from fully connecting with the world around him. His secret was always there, in the back of his mind, the tacit terror that somebody might find out lurking beneath every interaction, every conversation. He couldn't ever be himself, not fully and completely, with something so massive left unsaid. At the end of the day, his continued silence spoke of distrust and a lack of faith in the people who had loved and cared for him so selflessly for all his life.

James wasn't entirely wrong when he said that a lie by omission was still a lie, and when Teddy looked at it like that, was it any wonder that all of his previous relationships had failed, when there'd been a secret part of himself he'd been unwilling to share? Did Teddy really want to live the rest of his life like that, lying to the people closest to him and keeping everybody else at arm's length lest his secret get out? Just the thought of it was exhausting.

He was tired of hiding, tired of living a lie, of not being able to talk openly about his feelings and experiences, of never being able to acknowledge the full range of his desires. Burying it had only allowed poisonous thoughts to creep in and fester, but Teddy no longer wanted to be ruled by fear. He wanted to be brave, like James, and own his truth. For so long he'd thought he wasn't strong enough, but that was just the shame holding him back.

Being with James, kissing him, touching him, loving him… there'd been nothing shameful in that. It was beautiful, every bit as pure and meaningful as his relationships with women. More so, really, because Teddy hadn't ever felt about any of them—not even Victoire—the way he felt about James. The way James made him feel, strong and capable, funny and sexy, cared for and caring… It was worth fighting for. James was worth fighting for.

Teddy was coming around to the idea that coming out was the right choice for him, the only choice that would free him from the fear and shame that had kept him shackled for so long, and allow him to truly move forward in his life. It would be worth it, even without James, even if he did end up with a woman someday. The thought made his stomach cramp with discomfort, so embedded was James in Teddy's vision of what he wanted his future to hold, but Teddy knew he needed to be firm on this point, that he had to be sure. He couldn't do this just for James, couldn't risk resenting him for it. It had to be Teddy's choice.

More than that even, was the fact that the last conversation he'd had with James had not had the most auspicious of endings. Though Teddy felt confident their friendship wasn't lost, he was less certain that James would be willing to resume the sexual—and hopefully romantic—part of their relationship. Because Teddy didn't just want the sex, not any longer, and they'd never made each other any promises beyond that. Teddy didn't think it was only him who'd felt the shift into something more between them, and several of James's comments during their last argument seemed to confirm it, but Teddy couldn't rely on a few words spoken in the heat of the moment. Besides, the way Teddy had run away from the conversation might have decidedly cooled James's ardour, shown him that Teddy wasn't worth pursuing.

Well, Teddy would just have to show him otherwise.

He stood, sending the untouched bottle of Firewhisky back to the cabinet as he strode towards the Floo. Teddy had finally made his decision. He just had to hope that he wasn't too late.

Grabbing a handful of powder, he stepped into the grate, and called out for James's flat.

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Teddy stepped through the Floo into a dark and silent flat. He looked around to confirm that he'd come out in the correct place; the familiar brown-leather sofa quickly established that he had. He cursed and checked his watch, then cursed again when he realised the lack of light made it impossible to make out the time. He cast a Tempus instead, then groaned at his rashness as he took in the glowing numbers. It was just after two in the morning, which was an absolutely ridiculous time to go calling on somebody, let alone somebody you were attempting to apologise to. Interrupting one's sleep was a surefire way to end up on their shitlist, especially if that person was James. He did love his beauty sleep.

Then again, Teddy was almost positive that James wasn't currently sleeping, at least not here. The silence in his flat had the strange, pervasive quality that seemed to uniquely characterise empty and abandoned places, and Teddy was fairly certain if he checked James's room, he'd find it unoccupied. If James was in bed, it wasn't his own.

A sick feeling spiked through Teddy's gut but he ignored it, refusing to even contemplate the possibility that James had moved on so quickly. Maybe he had—James had every right to, Teddy had no claim over him, he never had—but that didn't change anything, not for Teddy. Still, it wasn't a pleasant possibility, so he ignored it, preferring instead to assume that James was just out with his friends. It was Pride, after all—of course James would be out celebrating.

Teddy hesitated, torn between a desperate desire to see James and make things right, now that he knew what he wanted, and the practical realities of waiting unexpected in somebody's flat at two in the morning, especially given he had no idea when, or even if, James would be returning home. Or what state he might be in when he did so. This was a conversation they should both be entirely sober for, and if James was celebrating Pride by hooking up with somebody who wasn't Teddy… well, Teddy wouldn't hold it against him, but that didn't mean he wanted any kind of visual confirmation, either. The thought of James potentially bringing somebody back to his flat with him pretty much decided it, and Teddy was just reaching for the bowl of Floo powder when he heard a loud ruckus in the corridor outside James's front door.

The sudden noise, muffled though it was through the walls, gave Teddy pause, though his heart slowed as he made out the indistinct chatter and laughter of what was clearly a happy group of people likely coming back after a night out. He reached for the Floo powder once more, but froze as the party came to a stop right outside James's flat. A moment later, and Teddy felt the wards tingle and the lights flare on as the door swung open and several people stumbled clumsily inside.

Teddy had several moments to observe them uninterrupted, taking in the bright colours, tight clothes, and profusion of glitter that confirmed Teddy's earlier suspicions that James had been celebrating Pride in style. Syd and Vi were there, Syd's short hair striped in the colours of a rainbow, while Violet sported dramatic eyeshadow in tones of pink, purple, and blue. Syd was clearly well and truly sozzled, hanging off her marginally more sober girlfriend as she tunelessly hummed some Muggle pop song. Sam—or rather, Sasha, as she was called when in drag—was as dishevelled as Teddy had ever seen her as her alter ego, her elaborate ginger up-do slightly askew, a large run in her hose, and… was she barefoot? She was gesticulating wildly with a tall dark-skinned man wearing an impressive amount of leather—Teddy was fairly certain he'd met the bloke before, though he'd looked more like an Accountant than a Leather Daddy at the time. And of course Spencer was there, looking as twinky and adorable as ever in denim short-shorts that barely covered his arse, and a mesh shirt studded with sparkling rhinestones. The group all appeared to be very drunk and very happy, if a bit messy, and they all seemed to be covered in what looked to be colourful splotches of paint.

And then there was James.

James, who had on a pair of tight, low-slung jeans, and nothing else, the word PRIDE painted across his bare chest in rainbow letters. He was wobbling precariously as Spencer ribbed him about something, and oh there were Sasha's shoes—hot pink stiletto heels, several inches high, encasing James's feet. Teddy was a little shocked at how much he liked the sight of James in heels, but that was a thought for another day.

James, too, was covered in paint, and when Teddy looked closer, he could make out fingerprints in the various smudges, a suggestive palm swiped along the curve of James's throat and, when he turned to close the door, several overlapping handprints of varying colours marking the arse of James's jeans. Another glance showed the palms of the entire group were coated in different colours—clearly they'd been at some kind of paint party. Still, it didn't prevent the sick feeling of jealousy from welling up inside Teddy at the physical proof that so many others had been touching James this evening. His only consolation was that James's flies seemed to be mostly free of paint, save the bright blue on his own fingertips.

James seemed to be in high spirits—they all did—and though Teddy was always glad to see James happy, a part of him wilted at the possibility that their weeks of silence after the harsh words they'd last exchanged had not bothered James as much as it had Teddy. Perhaps he'd already moved on, and Teddy's revelation was too little, too late. Or perhaps, Teddy thought, taking in the strain around James's eyes and the slight waver of his smile, James was putting on a brave face and doing his best to enjoy himself despite his heartbreak.

There was only one way to find out.

Teddy cleared his throat, softly at first, and then louder when the sound was lost in the group's chatter. Everybody froze, save James, who went directly for his wand, the way Harry had trained all of his children when confronted with potential danger. James's eyes widened when he caught sight of Teddy, his wand lowering as a myriad of emotions danced across his face, too quickly for Teddy to make out.

"Teddy? What are you doing here?"

"I, err…" Teddy trailed off and cleared his throat. "Can we talk?"

James's friends broke out into a chorus of Oooos at that, and Teddy flushed, wondering how much they knew about what had happened. Syd was glaring at him, the bloke in leather was entirely neutral, and Spencer—blooding fucking Spencer—appeared apprehensive. But Violet flashed Teddy an encouraging smile, and Sasha gave him a lascivious wink, which Teddy decided to take as positive signs.

James bit his lip and nodded. "Yeah, okay then."

He turned towards his friends, but before he could say anything, Sasha spoke up. "All right, darlings, shall we head to my flat for the afterparty and leave these two alone to… talk?"

"Yes, perfect," Violet replied, before pressing up on tiptoes and brushing a kiss against James's cheek. "We'll assume you'll still be joining us for brunch tomorrow unless you owl otherwise."

With that, she, Syd, and leather bloke—what was his name?—followed Sasha back out of James's flat. Spencer hesitated at James's side, and envy tore at Teddy's insides as Spencer pressed a concerned hand to James's arm and whispered something too low for Teddy to hear. Teddy knew he didn't have any right to his jealousy, but he couldn't help himself. He wanted to be in Spencer's place, going out with James to gay clubs, dancing with him under flashing lights, holding his hand without a second thought. Would he ever be able to get there? Teddy wanted to, he planned to, but he knew the reality of it all was easier said than done. Would James be okay with waiting for Teddy while he figured it all out?

James shook his head at Spencer and gave him an encouraging smile, and Spencer nodded reluctantly before squeezing James's shoulder. He turned to leave, but not before gracing Teddy with an inscrutable look as he closed the door behind him with an audible snick.

"So," James said, looking suddenly exhausted, weary, so very different from the happy man who'd walked through the door just minutes earlier. "What did you want?"

Teddy couldn't stand it, all this distance between them, James looking so fucking sad when all Teddy wanted to do was pull James into his arms and never let him go. His carefully constructed speech went right out of the window as he took two huge steps towards James, his gaze beseeching.

"You," Teddy said simply. "I want you."

James's eyes went wide, his pretty mouth dropping open in apparent shock. "What?"

"You were right," Teddy said, pressing closer. "This thing between us, it is something, something more than just two friends helping one another out. I want you, want all of you, all of the time. I don't want to be without you. I… I want to come out. Eventually. I still need some time to figure everything out, but I don't want to hide anymore—I want my friends and family to know me." He winced, hoping that would be good enough for James. He wanted to be able to tell James he was ready to join him up there on the rooftop, but he wasn't ready for all of that just yet. "Maybe… maybe that's not enough for you, and it's okay if it's not. But if we can't be together at least promise me we'll still be best mates. I don't want to lose you. You're too important to me. The most important."

James's eyes shone in the low light, and there was no mistaking his expression: joy and pleasure. He didn't even hesitate before throwing his arms around Teddy's neck and pulling him close. Teddy relished the feeling of James's strong body flush against his own, uncaring of the paint likely smearing against his clothes. He breathed deeply, inhaling the familiar scent of James's shampoo. It smelled like home.

"Enough? James scoffed. "Of course it's enough." He pulled back, his expression contrite. "I'm sorry for pushing you so much before, that wasn't fair of me." He chewed on his lip, fingers still wrapped around Teddy's neck and playing with the collar of his shirt. "I wanted you so damn much, I let my feelings make me selfish. I won't go back into the closet—I can't—but I don't mind waiting for a little while, as long as coming out is on your radar. I want to build something with you, something real."

Teddy nodded vigorously. "I want to build something with you, too. And it'll happen, I swear it. I've been thinking a lot over the past week at how much I've sacrificed, denying this part of me, letting the fear of others knowing control me… I don't want to live like that anymore."

James's face was all love and sympathy, and he opened his mouth, likely to say something sweet and encouraging, but Teddy didn't want to talk anymore. He knew there was still plenty to settle between them, that there were long conversations ahead as they figured out how to be together for good, but for now, all Teddy wanted was to feel James's lips against his own. Teddy kissed him, tugging him close and kissing him with everything he had, pouring all his want and desire into the press of his mouth against James's full lips.

James kissed back just as passionately, a paint-speckled palm sliding through Teddy's hair and holding tight as the other grabbed hold of the back of Teddy's shirt, his grip almost desperate. Clearly James had been feeling their separation just as keenly as Teddy had, was just as eager to confirm that this was real, that they were real.

James's lips slid away from Teddy's mouth, gliding along his jaw before latching on to the spot just below his left ear, the one James had discovered early on made Teddy's knees weak. Teddy gasped, stomach flipping pleasantly as shocks of pleasure sparked throughout his body, his cock rapidly filling as he ran his hands down the bare, broad expanse of James's muscled back. He had little doubt that he could come just like this, standing in the middle of James's living room, fully dressed and grinding together as James sucked on his neck, but that wasn't what he wanted, not tonight. In their several months of fooling around, there was one thing they'd never done, one line Teddy had been too scared to cross, but he wasn't scared anymore. Or rather, he was still scared, but it was the good kind, the kind all twisted up with exhilarated anticipation. He wanted James, wanted to share this with him, and he was no longer afraid to face what it meant for him to do so.

"I want you to fuck me," Teddy breathed as James nibbled at his earlobe. James froze against him, though plastered together as they were, Teddy felt the undeniably interested twitch of James's cock at the suggestion.

James pulled back to look Teddy in the eyes. "Are you sure? You don't have anything to prove, you know. Not everybody's interested in that, and I don't need to fuck you to know that you're serious about us."

Teddy quirked a smile, choosing to be touched at James's concern as opposed to offended at the implication that Teddy was sacrificing his arse out of some misplaced sense of duty.

"I know, but I want to. I want everything with you."

"Okay," James said, looking turned on, but a little wary. "Have you ever—" he waved a hand suggestively, "—with anything or anybody before? Fingers, toys… tongue?"

Teddy shivered at the various mental images James's words conjured, but shook his head. He flushed, feeling almost embarrassed by his complete lack of experience when it came to his arse. Teddy knew plenty of straight men enjoyed a bit of anal play, but Teddy had also known that he wasn't completely straight, and experiementing with his arse seemed like it'd be acknowledging and encouraging that part of himself a little too directly, so he'd avoided it entirely. He had no idea how it would feel, if he'd even like it, but he knew he wanted to try.

James nodded. "We'll go slow, all right? It's okay if you don't like it, or if you decide you're not ready. We've got all the time in the world."

Teddy tried not to bristle at the implication that he couldn't handle it, knowing that his own worries over that very possibility were making him defensive. This was James, and no matter what happened, it was going to be all right.

"Bed, then?"

James grinned and brushed a kiss against Teddy's lips.

"Bed," he confirmed.

A sense of giddiness stole over Teddy as he was pulled into James's bedroom, the both of them awkwardly stripping out of their clothes as they went. Awkward, because they were still kissing, their hands touching and grabbing, neither of them willing to separate for long. When Teddy was almost strangled in an attempt to remove his shirt without detaching himself from James's lips, he forcibly removed himself with a laugh, holding out a hand to prevent James from following.

"If we're going to live long enough to get to the sex, I think we need to get naked, then continue touching each other."

James pouted, but didn't waste any time before peeling off the last of his clothes, which only consisted of the skin-tight jeans and a lime-green jockstrap that made Teddy's mouth water—the heels had been lost somewhere in the stumble to James's room. Teddy thought about telling James to leave the jockstrap on, but there'd be time enough later for Teddy to fully appreciate that particular sight. They had other plans tonight.

James cast several Cleaning Charms on his body, clearing his hands and chest of the remaining bits of paint before climbing onto the bed. He reclined back against the pillows like a king, completely unselfconscious as he beckoned Teddy forward with a crook of his finger. Teddy was helpless to resist, not that he wanted to, pulled forward like a magnet towards north. He crawled over James's sprawled body and kissed him breathless as their naked flesh pressed together in delightful and delicious ways.

Fingers scratched at Teddy's scalp, rubbing against the short hairs along his nape and making him shiver and melt against James's firm body. James hummed into the kiss in obvious pleasure, and then those hands of his began to travel down, stroking along Teddy's spine and flanks, setting fire to his skin. Teddy kissed James more intensely, grinding down against the thick, Quidditch-toned thigh he was straddling. James just felt so damn good beneath him, his skin smooth and warm, spread taught over sleek, compact muscle Teddy knew James had spent hours in the gym cultivating to make himself a better and more capable Chaser. His physique was due to more than just vanity, but James certainly took pride in his appearance, preening beneath Teddy's worshipful touch. Teddy enjoyed James's body, no doubt about it, but it was James himself that Teddy loved, and he knew in his soul that he'd be loving James for the rest of his life. He'd love James when they were old and grey, when James's muscles lost their crisp definition and his stomach grew soft and round.

That knowledge seemed to centre Teddy, hammering home the fact that this might be their first time, but it wouldn't be their last. They'd do this again and again, a hundred times, a thousand, and each time would be new and different, because they'd grow and change. But they'd do it together, and that was all Teddy had ever wanted. James was exactly what Teddy had wanted, he just hadn't let himself see it.

Teddy had so lost himself in his contemplations of the future, that he'd missed James's hands making it to his arse, but he jolted back to the present when cool, wet fingers brushed against his arsehole. His entire body tensed, nervousness fluttering through him like rapid beat of a Snitch's wings. James slowed their kiss into something soft and sensual, clearly trying to sooth him as gentle fingers circled his rim with delicate patience. Faintly, he could acknowledge that James's fingers skating along his cleft felt quite pleasant, stimulating nerve-endings that had long been neglected, but the delight was muted by the anxiety knotting up his insides and constricting his muscles. Teddy tried to force himself to relax, mentally giving his sphincter a stern talking to and demanding it open up. He wanted this, dammit!

After several minutes of tense petting, Teddy felt himself loosen just a smidge, enough for James to begin to press the tip of a single finger against Teddy's hole, attempting to ease it inside. At the first hint of proper intrusion, Teddy's body locked up tighter than Colloportus. James's fingers immediately disappeared, and Teddy groaned in frustration, breaking the kiss.

"I'm sorry," he said, feeling wretched. He wanted it, he did, but his body refused to cooperate. He didn't know how to make himself relax, and he couldn't help but feel like a failure.

"You're not ready, Ted."

"Maybe if we—"

James shook his head, and quieted Teddy with a kiss. "Not tonight. If you want it, we'll get you there, I promise. But you've never even had a finger up your bum, and it's okay if it takes you a while to get over the mental blocks you've spent a lifetime putting up."

Teddy bit his lip, his erection flagging. "I just… I really wanted to share this with you."

James smiled, boyish and sweet, as he squeezed Teddy's arse. "Don't worry, you will. I'm definitely not giving up on having a go at this arse when you're ready. But in the meantime…" His gaze turned wicked as he arched beneath Teddy, and suddenly, Teddy's dick was perking right back up. "How would you feel about fucking me?"

Teddy's mouth went dry. He'd like that very much indeed.

"Yeah?" Teddy rasped, unable to stop himself from grinding down against James. "You'd like that?"

James nodded, a pleasing blush dusting his cheeks, a strangely shy expression on his face; James was never shy.

"I'm versatile, and the thought of you inside me…" He trailed off and shivered. "Let's just say I've been wanking off to that particularly fantasy since I was sixteen."

Teddy's eyes went wide, as did James's, as if he hadn't meant to be quite so honest.

"That long?" Teddy asked, his voice rough with emotion. He'd been suppressing his inclinations for so long, he wasn't entirely sure when he'd fallen for James, but he was starting to realise it wasn't exactly a recent development. He'd never thought it might be the same for James, too.

James cleared his throat; the flush on his cheeks spilled down his neck and chest. "Yeah," he said quietly. "That long."

Teddy couldn't help but kiss him then, fucking James's mouth with his tongue, the way he would soon be fucking James's arse. Teddy's stomach flipped at the thought as he settled himself between James's spread legs, petting along James's sides as they snogged. Victoire had quite enjoyed being fucked up the arse, but she'd been the only woman he'd been with who was willing to try it, without a bit of quid-pro-quo, as one of his girlfriends had put it. That had seemed fair enough to him, so he'd stopped asking, which meant it had been a couple of years now since he'd had a go at somebody's arse, and he had no idea if it was different with a bloke than it was with a woman.

James seemed to sense his hesitation, because he pressed Teddy back, breaking their kiss. He took Teddy's hand and Conjured some lube before guiding his fingers between James's spread legs. His cock was flushed and leaking, and Teddy wanted to wrap his slick hand around it, or take it into his mouth, but he forced himself instead to focus on the furled arsehole beneath his fingertips.

"You've done this part before, yeah?" James asked, grinning cheekily up at him.

Teddy swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, but not for awhile. And never with a man."

"It'll come back to you. S'like riding a broom," James said with a wink. "And from what I've heard, it's really not all that different than with a bird from your end of things."

"You'll stop me if it doesn't feel good?" Teddy asked, circling the pads of his fingers along the wrinkled skin of James's rim, delighting in James's resulting quiver.

"Yeah, but I don't think that'll be an issue," James replied, his voice breathy. "If you'll just—"

He broke off as Teddy pressed his middle finger inside, slow and steady until it was buried to the knuckle. James clenched around him, hot and tight and smooth as silk, and Merlin, Teddy hadn't ever felt anything so fantastic. He began to gently thrust his finger, and when James took it easily, Teddy slid in his pointer finger as well, watching James swallow them both.

"Yeah, just like that," James breathed, arching up into the press of Teddy's digits. "Now curl them up a bit, you're looking for—fuck, you're looking for that," James finished on a thready moan as Teddy's fingers stroked up against the textured nub of what must have been James's prostate. "Always were a quick study, weren't you?"

Teddy grinned down at him, feeling far prouder than was probably warranted, but fuck he loved making James feel good.

"Do you need another?" Teddy asked, nudging his ring finger against James's hole as he continued to finger-fuck him with the other two.

James panted and shook his head, his legs falling even further open in blatant invitation. "No, I'm ready. Want your cock now."

Lust speared through Teddy, igniting the very blood in his veins as he slid his fingers from James's arse. He wasn't sure if he'd ever wanted to fuck somebody so badly in his life, and from the look of things, James was just as eager for it. He let out a small sound of displeasure at the loss of Teddy's fingers, but his noises turned appreciative when Teddy grabbed hold of his cock and rubbed the head against James's wet rim.

"Fuck, yeah," James breathed. "Put it in me."

Teddy barked out a startled laugh. "How romantic."

James glared at him. "Fuck romance, I'd rather have your cock."

"Well, since you're asking so nicely," Teddy teased, and he began to press inside.

If he thought James's arse was warm and tight around his fingers, it was nothing on how it felt wrapped snug around Teddy's prick. The pleasure was almost unbearable as he eased his way in with gentle thrusts, his gaze intent on James's face, watching for any signs of pain. There was discomfort, but it didn't appear to last long, quickly overtaken by undeniable rapture as James's legs came up to wrap around Teddy's waist.

"All right, then?" Teddy asked as he settled, his hips flush against James's arse.

"Yeah," James breathed, his eyes already glazed with apparent pleasure, hands petting along Teddy's biceps and shoulders as if he couldn't decide where he wanted to grip. "I'm brilliant. I'll feel even better once you start to move."

Teddy was hardly in a position to argue with him, not when every cell in his body was urging him to move, to thrust, to take James's body as thoroughly as James had taken Teddy's heart. He began to move, warmth and friction and James's blissed-out expression sending shivers of pleasure throughout his body. Teddy had had his fair share of sex in his day, but he wasn't sure if he'd ever had sex quite like this, so raw and real, tearing him apart and putting back together all at once. Then again, he'd never had sex with somebody who knew him as well as James before, never had sex with anybody who'd meant more to him than James did. Yes, he'd loved several of his past lovers, but not the way he loved James, with the kind of love that was meant to last. The forever kind of love.

"Fuck, you feel good," Teddy murmured against James's ear before kissing his way across James's cheek to get to his mouth. James moaned happily into the kiss, his hands, which had landed on Teddy's arse, squeezing and urging Teddy to fuck him harder, faster.

All too soon, Teddy could feel his orgasm cresting. He wanted to last forever, to spend eternity fucking James. Then again, wasn't that already the plan? He and James were in this together, which meant there'd be no end of repeat performances; they could do this again and again, as often as they wanted.

And oh, did Teddy want.

Teddy's thrusts began to speed up, and one of James's hands left up its iron grip on Teddy's buttock to wrap around James's dripping cock. He wanked himself fast and rough, just the way Teddy knew he liked it when he was close to coming. Sure enough, it didn't take long before James's body was seizing up below him as his cock erupted, spilling streaks of white across his chest. Teddy had grown rather addicted to the sight of James coming over the past several months, and this time was no exception. James was beautiful in the throws of passion, and his look of abandon, combined with the ripple of his arse clenching around Teddy's cock, was enough to push Teddy over the edge himself. He thrust in deep and came, shuddering as he emptied himself into James's perfect arse.

The next several minutes seemed to float by in a haze, the mindblowing sex and incredibly satisfying orgasm leaving Teddy punch-drunk and dazed. When he fully came to again, he was on his back on James's bed, clean and fluid-free, James's warm, firm body lazing against Teddy's chest. James's fingers traced circles along his pecs, pulling lightly at his chest hair in a move that was surprisingly erotic. Then again, everything James did seemed to turn Teddy on. That might become a problem. Eventually.

"So," Teddy began, his voice croaky, as if he'd just been deep-throating James's cock instead of fucking him through the mattress. "How are you feeling?"

James looked up at him, his expression radiating so much pure happiness that it stole Teddy's breath away.

"Never been better," James said, and there was no doubt that he meant it. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've never seen anything so hot in my life as making you come on my cock." Teddy leaned forward to brush a kiss against James's lips. "And like I can't wait to feel what it's like for myself."

James grinned. "Don't worry, we'll get you there."

"Soon?" Now that he'd seen first hand just how much James had enjoyed himself, Teddy had a feeling it might be easier for him to be on the receiving end of things.

"As soon as you want," James replied. "But there's no rush. We've got plenty of time."

Yes, Teddy thought, tugging James more securely into his embrace as he reclined back against the pillows, we've got forever.

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Two months later

"Baby!" James shouted as he flung himself at Teddy, wrapping his arms around Teddy's neck and smacking a wet kiss against Teddy's cheek. Teddy grinned and gave James a fond squeeze as club music and multi-coloured lights pulsed around them.

"Somebody's sloshed," he said on a laugh as James disentangled himself and dragged Teddy towards the table where his friends were sat. James was always quite tactile and affectionate, but the pet names and endearments rarely made an appearance unless he was well and truly pissed.

"You know James," Syd said, coming over and nudging Teddy hello. "Likes to celebrate in style."

"It's not everyday you turn twenty-two," Spencer added with a smile. He turned towards Teddy, and the smile didn't even dim. Progress. "Hiya, Teddy. Glad you could make it. This one here was starting to get a little pathetic with his pining."

Teddy smiled back, still a little surprised at how much he didn't actually hate the bloke, now that Teddy wasn't being eaten up with jealousy at the thought of him with James. The minute Teddy and James had got together for real, Spencer had immediately backed off, and though he was still a consummate flirt, Teddy had spent enough time with him now to realise he was like that with everybody.

"Yeah, I got held up at work," Teddy explained with a face that showed exactly how he felt about that. "But I definitely wasn't going to miss one of James's birthday celebrations."

Syd snorted. "How many is it now, four, five?"

Teddy held up a hand and began to tick them off his fingers. "Well, there's this one, dinner tomorrow with his immediate family, brunch this weekend with the entire family, followed by a pub night with his teammates, and then a party at his flat next weekend that he's all but put out an advert for in the Prophet…"

"Hey, now!" James said, swatting at Teddy in mock offense. Teddy merely looked at him and raised a brow until James's face broke out into a sheepish grin. "It's not my fault I'm so popular."

Before Teddy had a chance to reply, Sasha strutted into the fray with a platter of shots. Teddy marvelled at her ability to balance the tray while wearing six-inch stiletto heels, but Sasha's flawlessly made-up face wasn't even breaking a sweat.

"Drink up, babes," Sasha shouted above the throbbing bass-line.

"You are my favourite," James said emphatically. "I'd kiss you right now if I knew you wouldn't kick my arse for smearing your make-up."

"Darling, it would take a lot more than a little kiss to smudge this bake," Sasha said with a wink. She caught the eye of a stacked bloke sitting at the table over—who was looking at Sasha like he wanted to strip that skin-tight dress right off her—and gave the man a flirty wink. "Though I might drag that nice gentleman into the loo later on and see if he can give it his best effort."

James laughed. "At least let us get through this round before you pounce, yeah?" He grabbed two shot glasses from the tray and passed them both to Teddy. "These are both for you—you need to catch up."

"Yes, sir," Teddy said, only a little mocking, pleased at James's resulting shiver and the expanding of his pupils.

"Happy birthday, James," Violet said, raising her shot glass and knocking it against James's.

"Happy birthday!" everybody else echoed, following suit, liberally dousing James's fingers in vodka with their clumsy clinking. James didn't seem to mind, downing his own shot before licking the liquor off his fingertips while looking directly at Teddy. Teddy's trousers grew tight, but he couldn't look away, downing his own two shots in quick succession, before grabbing a third off the nearly-empty tray on the table and shooting that one too. The alcohol burned as it slid down his throat, setting a fire in his stomach that spread warmth throughout his limbs. He grinned, giddy and happy, light.

Six months ago, Teddy had been with this same group in this very club, feeling awkward and out-of-place, desperately jealous of how comfortable they all seemed with each other and with themselves. Teddy certainly still had work to do when it came to fully accepting and embracing who he was, but here, now, under flashing rainbow lights, he felt almost none of the anxious tension that used to be his constant companion.

Part of that was likely influenced by the fact that Teddy had spent a lot more time with James's group of friends in the few months since they'd officially got together than he ever had before. They were the only people who'd known about his and James's relationship, and it had been nice, being able to hold James's hand or brush a kiss against his cheek without wondering what they were thinking. He knew it was a luxury, and that he couldn't stay in this little bubble of acceptance forever, but it was nice to know that it was there, and that he'd be able to seek refuge with these people if he needed it in the future.

"Dance with me," James said, his breath hot against Teddy's ear as he pushed up on tiptoes and molded himself against Teddy. Last time, it had been Teddy asking James to dance with him, and the night had ended with the drunken fumbling that had started everything. He hoped tonight ended in much the same way, though perhaps with Teddy a bit more sober.

"Lead the way."

James dragged him towards the centre of the dance floor, directly below the rotating disco ball, scattering fragmented light amongst the writhing throng below. He wrapped his arms around James, the strong solidness of him, thrilling at the easy way James threw his arms around Teddy's waist and pressed in close. Teddy wondered if there would ever come a moment when James's touch didn't send shivers radiating across Teddy's skin, when he didn't marvel at how right it felt to have James in his arms.

He hoped not.

"How are you feeling?" James asked, his cheek against Teddy's cheek. "Nervous?"

He didn't have to specify that he wasn't talking about the club; Teddy knew what he meant. Tomorrow was James's birthday dinner with his family, a dinner Teddy would be attending as James's boyfriend. Teddy had been debating for months how to come out to his family, dithering over the perfect moment that didn't exist. James had been the one to suggest the dinner, since almost all the people Teddy was closest to would be there, and James wanted to celebrate his birthday with his boyfriend. Of course, Andromeda wouldn't be present, which was why he was going over to hers for brunch beforehand, knowing that she deserved to hear it from him first. Tomorrow was going to be a very long day, indeed.

"Yeah," he breathed, nodding his head against James's. "Honestly, I'm terrified. But… I'm excited, too. I want them to know. I want everybody to know how I feel about you."

He felt James's cheek plump up into a smile where it was pressed against his own, could perfectly picture the expression of shy pleasure on his face, the sweet look of wonder he got whenever Teddy reminded James just how wild Teddy was about him. It was another thing Teddy had a hard time wrapping his mind around, how much James loved Teddy in turn, that Teddy hadn't been the only one pining, though James had been fully aware that was what he'd been doing, while Teddy had spent years ignoring the signs.

He wasn't ignoring them any longer.

Teddy danced with James for hours under the rainbow lights, music wrapping them both in a lover's caress as their bodies became hot and sweaty, and their hands grew bolder in their appreciative wandering. Teddy was wild with it, with want and yearning and burning desire, overcome with the pureness of the moment. It was glorious, the ability to be his unequivocal self in a room full of friends and strangers who understood, who looked at him and James dancing together and could see just how blindingly lucky Teddy was to be with somebody who shone as brightly as James. He liked being able to claim James as his own, to show the world how much they meant to one another, and though he'd not been lying about how terrified he was to take that next step, more than anything, it felt right, publicly claiming James and, more importantly, claiming a piece of himself he'd been hiding away for far too long.

"Want to get out of here?" Teddy murmured against James's ear, arching against him to make his meaning abundantly clear. Apparently the thought of everybody knowing that James was his and he was James's had quite the effect on his libido—though maybe that was just James himself.

James's body shivered approval, even as he teased, "And leave my own party early?"

"It's been hours, and they all look properly occupied." Several people had left already, gone home by themselves or with a partner for the night, and those that were still around would be more than fine on their own. "I've got to get up early for my brunch tomorrow," Teddy reminded James, before scraping his teeth along James's throat for a little extra incentive as he continued in a growl, "And I was really hoping you'd fuck me tonight."

James groaned at that, pulling Teddy into a heated kiss as his hands slid down to squeeze Teddy's arse. Teddy's toes curled in his dragonhide boots, his body growing warm in eager anticipation. James had spent several weeks after that first attempt slowly working Teddy up to it, opening him up with skilled fingers and his even more skilled tongue. By the time he'd finally fucked Teddy for the first time, Teddy had been gagging for it, and the resulting mind-blowing orgasm had officially sold Teddy on the joys and pleasures of taking a cock up the arse. The Wizengamot was still out on which he preferred—watching James's come undone on Teddy's cock or losing his mind on James's—but lucky for him, James also enjoyed both, and there was no need to choose. Tonight though, he knew he wanted James on top of him and inside him, obliterating every thought that wasn't about James and the glorious ways their bodies came together as one.

"Yeah," James finally replied with a shudder. "Let's get out of here."

They caught Syd's eye where she was dancing with a surprising amount of enthusiasm with Violet, Spencer, and a tall blond man that had glued himself to Spencer's back, much to his evident delight. They shouted their goodbyes and Syd merrily waved them off as the rest of the group blew them kisses. Sasha was dirty dancing with the bloke she'd been eye-fucking earlier, and she made a lewd, and hopefully prophetic, gesture as James and Teddy passed on their way to the exit. James responded with an equally crude gesture, and Teddy was laughing as they finally stumbled out of the club, happy and exhilarated.

The street outside was packed with fellow late-night revellers, which meant Apparition was out of the question until they made their way somewhere a little less crowded. Teddy didn't mind. Eager as he was to get James out of his clothes and into Teddy's bed, a nighttime stroll with the man he loved was more than welcome. He reached down, threading his fingers through James's, holding his hand in public for the first time.

After tomorrow, he'd get to do this whenever he liked.

He knew it wasn't as easy as that, not really, not everywhere. There would be difficulties ahead, hard conversations to be had, and obstacles to overcome—not everywhere or everyone was as accepting as the Muggles partying late into the night at gay clubs—but those were problems to be tackled another day. Tonight, he'd allow himself to celebrate the simple pleasures, the small and meaningful victory of holding his boyfriend's hand, uncaring of who saw or what they might think.

James looked over at him and grinned, full of pleasure and possibility. Teddy grinned back, and then tugged on their clasped hands, leading them down the street and towards home.

Together.

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