They say a photo is worth a thousand words. Maybe it is. But a photo never tells the whole story. It can't tell you what happened before. Or what happens after. It is but a single moment frozen in time, perfectly preserved but incomplete. James was crying that day. The wallabies were training and he was crying, surrounded by all his team mates. But that is not the beginning of his story. Just a piece of it.
James's story begins, for the purpose of this story when he first meets Quade. Quade is brilliant and James soon comes to a point when Quade has to be in his life every day for James to classify that day as a good one. Their friends figure things out way before they do. When the first 'boyfriend' comment comes, he laughs it off. But the hints keep on coming and he shoves Kurtly in to a wall one day in retaliation. It makes him think though. About why he reacted that way. He's about to run out to the ground on one game day when it hits. He turns to Kurtly, who is behind him, eyes wide with the force of the epiphany.
Kurtly understands. He always had. And he smiles.
"About bloody time."
He flies up to Queensland the next day, practically runs up to Quade's door and then freezes. He doesn't know what he should say. Nightmare scenarios where Quade punches him in the face keep flashing through his mind. Quade opens the door before James can knock.
"Hi," Quade says with a smile.
"I…" He throws caution to the wind and kisses Quade on the lips. Now that he knows how he feels, there's nothing else he can do. Quade will find out, if not now, then later. Might as well be now. He feels slightly better about things when Quade cups the back of his head with a gentle hand and kisses him back.
James draws back a little, eyes roaming over Quade's face to memorise it in this moment. Their first kiss.
"I love you," he bursts out. Quade smiles and James is mesmerised by the colour of his eyes. So very green.
"About time you figured it out, Jem."
Quade kisses him, drawing him closer.
"I've been in love with you for a long time," Quade says, "I was starting to think maybe I should give up."
"I'm glad you didn't," James smiles.
That was their first weekend together. The first of many. The first of many until the day of that photograph.
They're in New Zealand for a test against the All Blacks. Quade breaks up with him two days before the game.
James thinks he's joking at first. But then Quade chooses to room with Digby and James realises he's serious. Then he's hurt. He doesn't understand. All Quade said was 'We're not good for each other' and that doesn't make any sense at all. He tries. Tries to talk to Quade, to make him explain why. Why the tears in his eyes if they're no good for each other? But Quade doesn't talk to him and James lets the hurt turn in to anger. If Quade doesn't want him, then fine. James can play that game.
But that morning, in the freezing rain, James realises what it means. He'd imagined they'd be together always and as fanciful as it sounds, he wanted them to grow old together. Because ever since he met Quade, James could not imagine his life without him. But it seems Quade does not want the same thing, even if James had been so sure that he did. All of his dreams had turned to dust in the space of two days and it hurt. So much. His tears mix with the rain as he stands amidst his friends and tries to gather his broken heart.
Quade pulls out of the game. Out of guilt or because he doesn't want to play alongside him, James doesn't know. And he doesn't care. Quade flies back home on the morning of the test.
The next time he sees Quade it's two months later and because Kurtly had planned it all. 'You have to talk to each other' he insists when James realises what he'd done. Quade has lost so much weight in the space of two months that all James can do is to stare, forgetting that the man infront of him is supposed to mean nothing to him. Quade takes one look at him and leaves, obviously Kurtly had lied to him too.
James stares after Quade, frozen before turning to Kurtly.
"Tell me what's going on," he says and it's not a question.
Quade actually staggers back when James hits him. He's angry but James knows he didn't hit him that hard. And he immediately reaches out, grabbing Quade's arm to steady him, anger replaced by concern.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks in a voice much milder than he expected.
Quade looks at him.
"Who told you?"
James lets go of Quade and takes a step back, folding his arms across his chest.
"Answer the question."
Quade closes his eyes, takes a step back to lean against the wall behind him and sighs.
"I didn't want you to be hurt if," he looks up, "things went badly."
"So you left me to spare me the pain of losing you?" he asks with as much sarcasm as he could manage, which is not much.
Quade actually smiles.
"I guess when you put it like that, it doesn't make much sense."
"No, it doesn't, you absolute moron," James takes step forward, as close to he can get to Quade without touching him, "do you think it would hurt me less to know that you went through all this on your own? That I wasn't there when you needed me the most?"
He knows there are tears in his eyes now, he can feel them threatening and he wipes at his eyes angrily, "why would you think that?"
Quade reaches out to touch his face, a sad smile on his face.
"I'm sorry", Quade kisses him softly on the lips, "James, I'm sorry."
Even if he runs, he knows he'll never make it. But he tries anyway. He runs and runs and runs. Until his chest is burning and there is no air in his lungs. He arrives at Quade's door and rushes in without catching his breath. Everyone looks up when he enters the bedroom and he takes a shaky breath. Quade is lying on the bed, his eyes closed and James feels his heart burn to dust in a beat. He is too late. He moves to the side of the bed, Digby getting up and moving away without a word. James drops on to the bed. He is in tears and about to crumble when Quade opens his eyes.
"James?" he whispers and James clasps his hand in reply.
"I'm here. I'm here."
Quade smiles, green eyes finally fixing on him.
James lifts Quade's hand to his lips.
"No," Quade says, "no…"
James presses his face to Quade's hand.
"Please," his tears are wet on Quade's skin, "please, Quade."
"I love you," Quade's fingers are fleeting on James's skin, "I've always loved you."
James leans down and kisses Quade.
"You're my miracle," Quade smiles at him.
"What will I do without you? How can I…?" he's shaking and Quade's fingers tighten around his'.
"Be amazing like you've always been," Quade closes his eyes, breathing quickening. James holds his breath. He's more scared now than he'd ever been in his whole life. And this is the last time.
"Wait for me," he says, almost bursting with the need to reach Quade and Quade's eyes open an inch, "I'll find you."
Quade smiles, bright and beautiful and just like James remembers. Then his hand goes limp in his' and the smile fades and James leans his head on Quade's chest and lets go.
But that's not the end of James's story. His story goes on. Although he doesn't think of it as a story anymore. Just words and sentences trying to rearrange themselves in to something meaningful. He'd erase the whole thing if he could. Rip the pages apart and burn them. But he won't. Because as much as it hurts, he can never regret Quade, never forget.
He doesn't talk about it. Not even to his friends that had been there at the end, who had let James grieve in peace, who had made sure he ate, slept and lived. They had formed a circle around him at the funeral, shielding him from curious eyes as he watched the man he loved disappear forever in to the earth.
It is just a photograph. And this is the story woven around it. It is a lifetime and everything that it encompasses. It is James. And it's Quade. And it's their story. Caught in a moment of time.