James needs somewhere to live, and Ed just so happens to have a spare room in his flat.
The lease on his flat is up and his landlord had taken an offer to sell the building without really giving anyone a chance to find something else first. He’s not overly bothered by it if he’s honest, the flat was alright for what he was paying for it but it was always just a place to sleep. Somewhere with a door that locked where he could keep his things.
He wasn’t attached to it, is what he’s saying. The only problem he has is that it happened at the worst possible time, when he has a string of shows and recordings coming up, so he doesn’t really have the time to invest in seriously looking at flats and he needs somewhere to stay until he can find somewhere suitable.
He briefly considers going back to Kettering but the hassle of travelling into London for all of the things he needs to do and the people he has to meet and, eventually, flat viewings makes it more trouble than it's worth. Especially with the cost of rail tickets these days.
It’s always there as a last resort, he supposes.
Ed’s flat is gorgeous. It's all high ceilings and open rooms, double glazing and sturdy floors. It’s a new build, so it doesn’t quite have the character of some of the buildings James has lived in closer to the centre of London but it also doesn’t have plumbing that has become sentient and can sense fear so he’s not about to say anything bad about it. He’s spent a lot of time in Ed’s flat since he bought it, working on the podcast or Just Puddings, writing together for the next round of Mock The Week recordings at the dining table with music playing softly in the background, watching shitty films together if they haven’t seen each other in a while.
So when Ed offers him the spare room for as long as he needs it, James jumps at the chance. He doesn’t have much in the way of stuff that he has to move, just boxes of clothes and vinyls and books. His flat came furnished and the crockery set he had is old and chipped and not worth taking with him. He spends a weekend at home in Kettering and takes all of the stuff he won’t need for a while to store in his parents’ garage. He takes the rest of his stuff over to Ed’s when he gets back and just like that he’s moved in. Simple as that.
The spare room is way better than the cupboard of a room he had when he lived with Ed and Nish after he broke up with Louise. He slept on a sofa bed for over a month surrounded by half empty suitcases and rails of clothes and boxes of stuff neither Ed nor Nish ever ended up needing but didn’t want to throw away.
It wasn’t great, but it did him in a pinch.
The spare room here is an actual room though, with a double bed and a small wardrobe and everything. It’s even decorated, small touches like a flat wooden bowl full of pebbles, succulents, and rattan balls courtesy of Ed’s mum. She did a good job decorating the flat for him, and it makes Ed look like an actual functioning human adult which is a success in itself. He wonders idly if she could do the same for him when he eventually finds his own flat.
Living with Ed doesn’t feel any different to the times he’s come over and ended up staying the night except that he doesn’t have to leave again in the morning and all of his clothes are here. It makes podcast recordings and going for dinner way easier though.
They take turns cooking on an evening when neither of them have anywhere else to be. Ed usually ends up taking charge of operations seeing as he’s a better cook than James, telling him when to take things off the heat and to stop sneaking in extra garlic, even when it’s something that James has made enough times he could do it in his sleep. He doesn’t mind though, and he happily follows Ed’s orders and helps him to set the table.
It’s nice. It’s weirdly domestic, really. He expected there to be a bit of chafing after a while, neither of them having the option to just go home and retreat to their own sanctuary once they’d had enough of being social, but living with Ed is just… easy.
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that they work so well like this, after all they’ve been friends for a long time and they’ve shared a flat more than once in Edinburgh, even if it was only for a few weeks. Still, James likes to prepare for the worst and take comfort when it doesn’t turn out as bad as he expected.
It’s a few weeks before it happens.
Ed’s doing a gig and then going out for drinks after with some people he hasn’t seen in a while and James is making the most of an evening alone in the flat. He orders in and has a few drinks after a long bath then takes himself to bed early. It’s not exactly a wild night but he’s always enjoyed his own company and he hasn’t had the chance for a nice long soak in years; his flat didn’t have a bath and he feels bad hogging the bathroom for that long when Ed is home.
A bang rouses him and he looks sleepily at the clock, blinking until the numbers come into focus. It’s just after 1 in the morning and it sounds like Ed has finally managed to find his way back. He considers getting up to see how the gig went, weighing it up against how comfortable he is and how drunk Ed might be. He’s still deciding when he hears the sound of high heels on the wooden floor. Well, that makes his mind up.
It’s the first time Ed has brought anyone home since James moved in. It’s totally normal, there’s no reason he shouldn’t do it, it’s his own flat and he’s perfectly entitled to bring whoever he wants there. James is just a guest, he has no say in what Ed does in his own space.
It still makes him feel a bit weird though. He doesn’t really know why; Ed has picked up on nights out with him before and he’s met a few of Ed’s exes and hook-ups. It shouldn’t be any different now that he’s temporarily living here.
He closes his eyes and lets himself drift back to sleep just hoping she doesn’t want to stay for breakfast.
He gets woken up again by another loud bang after he’s only just dropped off. It startles him, and it takes him a few seconds to work out if it actually happened or if he’d dreamed it, because he can’t hear anything else.
Then he hears moaning.
It’s stupid, but he feels a flush of embarassment spread over his face. It’s obvious why Ed brought someone back to the flat, James isn’t under any kind of illusion that they’d be doing anything else. He just didn’t think he’d have to hear it.
The walls aren’t exactly paper thin but their rooms share a wall, and Ed’s bed happens to be against that shared wall.
He doesn’t want to listen, and he actively tries not to. He closes his eyes and tries to focus on the sound of distant traffic outside but now that he’s heard it and he knows it’s happening he can’t stop hearing it. He hears isolated words, soft moans, occasionally the smack of skin against skin that he doesn’t want to think about too much. He doesn’t know if the girl says anything, but he hears the rumble of Ed’s voice without even trying. It’s second nature to tune in when Ed starts speaking.
He’s seized by indecision. If he gets up or makes any kind of noise by accident they’ll know he’s awake and moving around. He doesn’t want to ruin the mood for them or anything, so putting something on to cover up the noises is out of the question. Maybe they’re too wrapped up in each other to even notice anything he does, but he still can’t make himself move to do anything. Ed is probably just drunk enough not to realise how loud they are or how well the sound carries in the flat, he’s never had to think of that since he moved out from the place he shared with Nish.
So he stays in bed, his brain spiralling, hating the fact that he can’t just turn his ears off.
James knows a lot of things about Ed. They’ve talked about sex before, naturally. James knows the type of girls Ed usually goes for, that he prefers blondes over brunettes but will go for a nice smile over everything else. He knows that Ed lost his virginity when he was 16 to his first real girlfriend and that it was absolutely terrible. He knows that Ed hasn’t slept with anyone for about 3 months if not longer, since the girl he was on and off with finally decided they worked better when they were off.
What he didn’t know about Ed until this moment is that he’s a talker.
He can hear the rumble of his voice, he can make out select words that make his toes curl slightly and he finds himself listening in, straining to make out the words when they’re not clear. He can hear him telling her to spread her legs for him, the way his voice dips when he calls her sweetheart.
It’s so creepy to listen in to them like this. He probably has a pair of headphones in the drawer next to the bed, he could listen to music or something on his phone and go to sleep. He doesn’t do that though.
The sound of the springs in the mattress moving and the rocking of the bed get louder and it covers up anything they might be saying, and he can’t hear anything else over it. But he keeps listening.
He’s… curious. What else doesn’t he know about Ed? They’ve never really discussed specific things they like in bed, but he’d assumed Ed just liked normal things. What if he doesn’t and James never knows? For some reason it feels incredibly important that he doesn’t know these things now that he’s been confronted with something new about Ed.
The rocking slows down and between the noises James hears Ed call her a good girl before everything goes quiet again. He waits for another minute or two to see if there’s anything else before he shakes himself out of it.
Now that it's over James has nothing to distract him from the self-conscious embarrassment he feels. Like after you get off and suddenly everything you were thinking about that was so hot a second ago is suddenly awful.
He digs in the drawer for his headphones and plugs them in, shuffling his playlist and turning the volume up a few notches just in case Ed goes for a second round.
He tries not to think about Ed at all.
The girl isn’t there in the morning. James makes Ed a cup of coffee and some plain toast while Ed sits at the breakfast bar and cradles his head and vows never to drink again. It’s a normal day.
James tries to forget all about it.
The next time it happens James is still awake reading a book. He can’t stop himself from listening in again.
There isn’t really much to hear this time, and James is about to roll over and try to get to sleep before anything too loud starts. Until the headboard starts banging hard against the wall. Apparently it’s not just something that happens for comedic effect in films and on TV, and James thinks this might be a fitting punishment for trying to listen to Ed in the first place.
Apparently Ed likes it hard and fast. Apparently he’s good for multiple rounds of hard and fast.
James doesn’t sleep well that night, but he does make good progress with the audiobook he’s been listening to while he travels.
James has a few shows to do away from London, in the midlands and in the north, and it makes more sense to stay in the cities rather than commute to each of them separately.
He’s been staying with Ed for about seven weeks and it already feels really weird not to see him every day.
His phone pings constantly with texts from Ed about stupid things that he would usually just shout at him from the kitchen or while they’re stretched out over Ed’s ridiculously comfortable sofas.
It makes James smile, it makes the whole thing feel a bit less weird when Ed is apparently feeling odd about it too.
He rings him after each of the shows to tell him how they went and to find out what Ed spent his day doing.
Ed falls asleep on the phone to him more than once in that week and James listens to him breathe for a while before he hangs up.
The buzzer for the flat goes off just past midnight.
As far as James knows they're not expecting anyone, or at least Ed hasn't mentioned anything to him. He stays in bed and lets Ed deal with it, not thinking anything of it even when the front door opens and closes again. It's not like Ed to order food this late or not ask James if he wants anything but he's not bothered enough about it to get up and see what he ordered.
Ed comes back towards his room and then James realises there's two sets of footsteps and his stomach sinks. He hadn't been expecting anything to happen tonight, Ed hadn't even been out to meet anyone. He'd gone to bed early after telling James he was too tired to watch another episode of Cake Boss.
James doesn't know if he'd planned it or if it was just something that came up by chance but either way he feels a little miffed that Ed hadn't at least given him a heads up. Even just some kind of way to let James know he should stay in his room out of the way, anything that would mean Ed had considered him at all.
He doesn't know why he finds it so important that Ed had thought of him when arranging a booty call.
Ed is louder this time, and James can hear almost every instruction he gives to the girl, every name he calls her. Nice or otherwise.
James turns on his side to face the shared wall and closes his eyes. He lets his arm rest over the sharp edge of his hip, his hand hanging down so that his fingers just brush his crotch. His dick is already starting to take an interest in the proceedings and James hates himself for it, but not enough to stop listening.
It's been a while since he's slept with anyone himself, he rationalises, so it's not exactly unusual that being able to hear the sounds of someone having sex would make his body respond like that. He resolutely doesn't let himself think about it any more than that. No good has ever come from James overthinking anything.
He lets his fingers run over the exposed skin of his hip and his stomach where his shorts ride low and his top has bunched up. It makes him come out in goosebumps, makes his stomach twist pleasantly.
As he listens to Ed order his booty call into various positions and acts he reaches down to adjust himself a few times, gives himself a quick squeeze to relieve some of the pressure.
He waits until after it's gone quiet before he actually touches himself properly.
It's not weird if he doesn't do it while Ed is having sex, surely.
After that it happens enough that it can be called a regular thing. At least twice a week Ed will bring someone home with him and every time James can’t help himself from listening to every sound that comes through the wall. Every time he tries to stop himself, tries not to get hard, tries not to give in to the urge to get off while he’s listening in. Every time he fails.
He tells himself not to, he knows it’s so fucking wrong to get off to his best friend having sex with someone. Ed deserves privacy, he took James in as a favour to a friend and James is taking advantage of that.
Each and every time, James feels the overwhelming torrent of shame wash in as soon as he’s come and always falls asleep with his headphones jammed into his ears, curled into a ball facing away from the wall. His stomach churns and he tells himself he won’t do it again, next time he’ll just ignore it.
It never stops him from doing it again.
The first time he hears Ed with a guy James comes hard enough to blank out for a minute or two and spends a good deal of the night lying on his back, staring at the plain white of the ceiling, re-evaluating his life.
James waits for Ed in the entrance of the tube station to go meet Suzi and her girlfriend for lunch. Ed is running late at the gym for some reason, and James tries to keep out of the way of the crowds while still being easily spotted through the masses.
He gets a text from Ed saying that he’s finally here and looks up to see him jogging towards him, hair still slightly damp around the edges and his cheeks rosy.
“Christ let's go, I'm absolutely starving,” Ed pants and James follows him, letting Ed fill the silence between them with idle chat and observations about the tube service the whole way to the restaurant.
James responds, he carries the conversation as much as he can, but he’s not entirely present.
Now isn’t the right time to indulge in a crisis though, so he tries to shake it off him until he can give it some real thought.
By the time they walk into the restaurant Suzi and Alice are already waiting for them and the waiter leads them over.
“Here comes domestic bliss!” Suzi crows, standing up to hug them both in greeting. They hug Alice as well who rolls her eyes and smiles at them.
“Nice to see you haven’t killed each other yet,” she says once they’re seated and James and Ed have ordered their drinks.
“Nah,” Ed waves away, “James is a delight. If we didn’t kill each other during that first Fringe i’m sure we can make it work. Right, James?”
Ed looks to him for an answer and James forgets how to breathe for a second. Would Ed say the same if he knew what James did every time he had someone over?
“It’s all good,” he smiles awkwardly, “except when Ed starts playing Slipknot at seven in the morning before he goes out for a run.”
“I’ve told you before James, in a hundred years’ time Duality will be regarded as one of the classics, much like we think of Beethoven and Mozart now.”
The topic of conversation doesn’t drift far for the whole of dinner. James thinks he manages a convincing performance.
The thing is, Ed has never mentioned liking guys.
James absolutely does not have an issue with it, that’s not what his problem is here. It’s the fact that Ed didn’t feel like he could tell James.
He doesn’t want to bring it up though. There’s only one way James would know about it and he’s definitely not prepared to give that away, and if Ed didn’t tell him there must be a reason.
James starts to feel really awkward about it as it keeps happening, as James stops hearing high gasps and moans and starts to hear more and more low grunts and two male voices.
He doesn’t know if Ed is trying to hide it or not. He saw high heels near the door a few times when he’d get up early for a drink or if he had to leave for the train station, but he never saw any of the girls the next morning so it’s hardly like there’s a difference between the two.
But he’ll never admit it when he has a guy over. There have been times Ed has told him that he’d picked up on a night out, but he’s never mentioned anything about hooking up with a guy.
And the thing is, he’s not even upset that Ed didn’t tell him, really. Ed can tell whoever he wants, James isn’t entitled to know anything about him, let alone something like that. It’s just that Ed obviously felt there was something about James that made him not want to say anything.
The fact that James is only supposed to be staying at Ed’s until he can find a flat suddenly crashes over him like a tsunami that he didn’t see coming.
It’s been months now and he hasn’t done a single thing to find himself a place to live. He hasn’t looked at any listings, hasn’t spoken to the estate agents he was renting through, he hasn’t even looked in the paper.
Ed hasn’t mentioned that either, but James feels his stomach sink when he thinks about how he just moved himself into Ed’s space without a second thought and let himself get comfortable and somehow forgot all about the fact that it was never supposed to be a permanent solution. Now Ed is having to hide a part of himself that he would otherwise be free to explore had James never invaded his home and just refused to leave.
He can do something about that, at least, but he doesn’t know what it is that made Ed not want to tell him in the first place.
He wakes up with the sunrise the next morning and doesn’t let himself drift back off for another few hours of sleep. Instead he gets up and spends the next hour tidying up the clutter in his room.
In the spare room . Not his room. He makes it look like what it is again, a temporary space that isn’t actually his. He tidies away the books and vinyls that have started creeping out of the boxes they’re in and accumulating in piles around the room so that only the book he’s reading and the sleeve for the record on the turntable is left out. He folds the clothes he doesn’t tend to wear that often back into his suitcase and leaves only a few T-shirts and pairs of trousers in the little wardrobe in the corner of the room.
He goes out and buys some milk because he’d used the last of it the day before and he’s a guest, he shouldn’t be taking things that aren’t his without replacing them. He buys a few more things, a box of teabags a bag of sugar, things that he’d been helping himself to and not putting anything towards.
He also picks up a newspaper and he spreads it out over the dining table when he gets back and goes through the flat listings, making notes on each of the ones he thinks are worth a viewing in his notebook. He writes down names and numbers and locations, rent prices and if it’s a flatshare.
At this point in his life and his career he’s fairly certain he can afford a nice enough place on his own but he’s not ruling out flatshares. He’s been here long enough to he doesn’t want to be too picky. He can always find somewhere temporary and keep looking.
Ed shuffles out into the kitchen not long after James gets back from the shop and leans over his shoulder to see what he’s doing. He doesn’t say anything until he’s made himself a mug of tea and he brings it back over to the table to sit down. He’s made one for James as well, and James gives him a tight smile when he sets it down in front of him. It’s in the mug that James bought for him as a joke present for his flatwarming, covered in hand-painted sweets and little hearts.
“Looking at flats then?” Ed asks finally, his voice oddly flat.
“Yeah,” James replies, equally as stilted, “it’s been a few months now, you know? Thought I should probably get a start.”
Ed just nods and watches him write down the details of another flat. It’s not in a particularly good place for commuting into the center of town but it looks nice from the photos.
“Getting sick of it here already?” It sounds like it’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s not very funny.
“No, no. Just feel like I’ve taken advantage of the hospitality for long enough. I can’t stay forever.” James tries to chuckle when he says it, failing to make it sound any less awkward than it is.
“Okay,” Ed mutters and takes a drink of tea.
He stands up a few minutes later and starts to walk back towards his room. James doesn’t say anything.
“You know,” Ed starts, turning around and James turns in his chair to face him, “there’s no hurry for you to find somewhere else. If you want to stay longer, I mean. That’s fine.”
James stares at him and Ed nods to himself and flashes him a tight smile before he turns around again and leaves the room.
Somehow, James is more confused than he was before Ed said anything.
He doesn’t understand why Ed would tell him he can stay for as long as he wants and then hide the fact that he’s bringing guys home. James decides he’s going to try and drop some subtle hints and try and show Ed that he can trust James with this, that James is totally happy and supportive of every part of Ed’s life.
It’s the only thing he can think of doing.
On a Saturday afternoon Ed realises neither of them have any plans so he declares a movie night and sends James off to the shop to buy snacks while he “gets the living room ready”, whatever that means.
James isn't sure if he means normal movie snacks or Ed And James Snacks so he gets a mix of both, lugging home two bags for life full of food. The receipt reads somewhere between a middle aged mother throwing a party and a child turned loose in a supermarket without supervision. He gets a few different types of hummus and a box of assorted crackers, a bag each of salt and sweet popcorn, chocolate, a couple of different types of mini poppadoms, and a raspberry cheesecake, among other things, as well as a couple of bottles of wine. He's not even sure if it'll be enough to last them the night. Maybe they can order a chinese as well.
When he gets back Ed pulls him into the living room to show him the elaborate movie night construction he's made which looks to James' untrained eyes like he's just dragged the cushions off the sofa onto the floor into a vague crescent shape around the coffee table and piled pillows and blankets on top of them. James tells him it looks good and Ed beams at him.
He doesn't know why they couldn't just have watched films and sat on the sofa like normal, but he doesn't mention it to Ed who looks very pleased with his floor-nest.
Since the whole thing was Ed's idea he insists that he picks the first film and James doesn't argue. Chances are they'll both enjoy the other's choice anyway.
Ed picks Thor Ragnarok and James smiles to himself. It's a perfect opportunity to hint to Ed that he's totally cool with him liking guys.
His master plan starts and ends at commenting on Chris Hemsworth's chest and biceps, and about how it's fairly obvious that Loki slept with the Grandmaster. James gives himself a pat on the back every time he points out a nice angle or a shot of Thor looking good even when Ed starts giving him odd looks.
He maintains his approach when they switch to James' film and he puts on Fury. Even covered in dirt Brad Pitt practically does all the work for him.
It's foolproof, James thinks, as he turns to smile at Ed.
"Is there something you want to tell me, mate?" Ed asks, and James frowns in confusion.
Not so foolproof after all it seems.
"N-no, I'm just saying that it's totally fine to find guys attractive. Love is love and all that, you know?" He smiles nervously at Ed, willing him to understand without him having to say it.
"Yeah, I know," Ed says, slowly and gently, "and if you're trying to tell me something, then it's totally fine. I get it."
"Oh my god." James drops his face into his hands for a second to gather himself. He's going to have to say it.
Ed rubs his shoulder, comforting and so, so getting the wrong end of the stick.
"I'm trying to tell you that I know. About you."
James stares at Ed and Ed stares back bemused.
"I know you do, James. I told you ages ago." His voice is still gentle like he's still going along with whatever he thinks James is actually trying to tell him.
James' mind freezes as he repeats what Ed just said. He told him? Told him what?
"What?" He blurts out, still staring.
"I told you I liked guys as well about a year ago, that night in Hawksmoor for Joel's going away party."
James gapes at him, fishlike and extremely unattractive.
"I don't even remember getting there that night! You know how drunk I was that night, when did you even tell me!?"
Ed watches him gape for a bit longer until he bursts out laughing, head thrown back into the cushions surrounding him.
"A guy bought me a drink and you were complaining that no one had bought you one, and I told you he was trying to get my number but he wasn't my type." He smiles over at James, watching to see if anything comes back to him.
James tries to remember, pictures the bar in his head and still gets nothing.
"You said 'what type's that, girls?'," he says it in a terrible imitation of James' voice and James wrinkles his nose at it, "and I told you that I usually go for blonde guys, not brunettes."
He watches Ed, waiting to see if the memories come back or Ed tells him he's joking first. Neither of them happen.
Ed laughs again and sits himself up a little more.
"So, what, you thought I didn't know that you knew? How did you realise then?"
The revelation of already knowing had pushed the concern about how exactly he found out out of his mind, and his blood runs cold when he remembers. He's going to have to admit the truth, albeit the most stripped-down version of the truth he can give him without it being a lie.
"Oh… I just woke up in the middle of the night, the other night, and I heard voices in your room."
Ed raises his eyebrow and James' mouth starts running without his permission.
"I didn't hear anything, not really. Enough to know what was happening but then I just put my headphones in and went back to sleep. It's fine, I didn't hear anything at all."
James swallows, the heat crawling up his neck the longer Ed watches him, then he smiles again and James feels himself unclench a little bit.
"Sorry if we woke you up, I'll try and keep it down next time." Ed says, and he picks up the controller to flick through Netflix to find his next film.
It doesn't take that long before James hears something from Ed's room again.
It's been about a week, and he doesn't know if it's a different guy or if they're doing something different but James swears they're louder this time, somehow more obvious in the quiet of James' room.
It can't be that different though, James rationalises, because Ed thought he knew the whole time so it's not that he's being any less secretive about it or anything like that. He didn't know that James didn't know, so it must be James. Maybe it's more real to him now that he knows that Ed knows that he knows.
Jesus Christ, he thinks, and shakes himself out of the impending mental pothole he's about to get stuck in before it gets too deep.
The point is that, for whatever reason, James can hear both of them clearer than he ever has before, and it's fucking distracting.
Ed really has a mouth on him, and it's melting James' brain a little bit.
He hears every command Ed gives, from telling the guy to strip, to get on his knees and then pushing him down when he apparently doesn't do it quick enough, to open his mouth and hold still. James hears the wet noises of Ed fucking the guyls throat. He wouldn't have known exactly what they were doing at that point beyond the obviousness of some kind of blowjob-adjacent activity, but Ed helpfully tells the guy exactly what he's about to do before he does it and keeps up the commentary while he's doing it.
Ed's voice sounds rough and powerful as he narrates everything the two of them are doing. It makes James' stomach burn with arousal.
He holds off touching himself for as long as he can but once Ed tells the guy to jerk off so that he can watch James can't help himself.
He goes as slow as he can, gradually speeding up, unintentionally drawing it out as long as he can so that he can keep listening to Ed.
Ed tells the guy how good he looks when he's doing it, touching himself just for Ed like a little slut, desperate to come but not until he says so.
James shudders when Ed calls him a good boy.
If he closes his eyes and focuses on the words it sounds like Ed is talking directly to him.
When James makes it out of his room in search of food Ed is already sat at the breakfast bar on his phone with a mug of coffee in front of him and half a slice of toast in his hand.
James shuffles past him to the fridge to dig out the orange juice and some milk for a bowl of cereal.
“Morning!” Ed smiles, his grin so big it’s almost audible.
James grunts in response, brain not quite engaged after another night of broken sleep.
“Sleep well, mate?” Ed asks, and James hums as he pulls a bowl out of the cupboard and reaches for the cereal.
“Oh,” Ed says, “did we wake you up again last night? Sorry.”
He doesn't sound that sorry.
“Yeah, almost sounded like you were talking to me.”
James is about to put the spoon into the bowl when he registers what he’s said and his fingers slip, dropping the spoon to clatter against the ceramic.
“Obviously you weren’t,” he rambles, “obviously not! It’s fine i just put music on, don’t worry about it sorry.”
He turns around with the glass of orange juice and his cereal, expression of panic just about smoothed out.
Ed is smiling at him but it looks… odd. Considering, almost, and James is sure he’s seen it before. Then Ed blinks and it’s gone.
“Alright. Lunch later? I’ve got to go and see my agent this morning then I’m free.”
“Yeah,” James says, shuffling out of the kitchen, “see you then.”
Maybe he got away with it.
“Right, you’ve seriously lost me here,” James says, somewhere between laughing and being genuinely confused, “you had such a good starter, you went with poppadoms over bread, we were getting on so well, and now you’ve done this.”
“It’s good, have you ever tried it?”
“Well how do you know it’s not good!”
The podcast recording is in full swing and James is fully geared up to argue the toss with Rhod over his choices while Ed sits back and watches the verbal tennis match.
“In much the same way that I don’t need to try arsenic to know it’s bad, I don’t need to eat a tuna and sweetcorn Subway with chilli heatwave doritos to know that it’s not a good combination.”
Ed lets out a bellowing laugh and James feels himself smile in response.
“Don’t know what you’re missing out on, you’re deprived.”
“I can’t decide what’s worse between this and Joel’s school dinner disaster. At least Joel had the decency to admit he’d hate it if he ate it now but you’re genuinely trying to tell me that’s a good sandwich.”
“James,” Ed cuts in, “I’m absolutely not condoning this abomination of a main but I’m fairly certain a genie waiter would not fight with a diner over what they’ve ordered. Why don’t you get Rhod his sandwich like a good boy and stop being so rude?”
Ed says it as a joke, he carries on the humour, but James blinks, dazed.
He flashes back to the times he’s heard Ed call someone a good boy while he was, James reasonably assumes, in the middle of fucking them and fights down the urge to squirm in his seat.
“Genies are allowed an opinion, you know. I might be bound to serve but I’m not a slave, Gamble.”
It’s a pretty weak return, and they both know it. Luckily Rhod picks up the thread again and continues the discussion to get them back on track, and James makes himself take a deep breath.
He feels Ed’s gaze on the side of his face for an agonising few seconds before Ed looks away.
It's Ed's turn to cook tonight. He's decided to make a chilli and James is more than happy with that. Neither of them are in the mood for anything particularly fancy or special after a day spent running their own errands and going to meetings with various different people..
James stands in the kitchen with Ed, leaning against the worktop while he watches Ed pulling Ingredients and utensils out of various cupboards and snapping off little bits of the bar of dark chocolate Ed has bought to go in the mince. Ed keeps slapping his hand away when he catches James eating it. It's the first time either of them have actually tried using Kerridge's recipe and they're both weirdly excited to see what it's like.
Ed hands him and onion and a chopping knife.
"Be a good boy and dice that for me will you, instead of standing around looking pretty and eating all the chocolate." Ed doesn't even look up from what he's doing as he says it and James is thankful.
He stares down at the onion as he chops it, only just focussed enough on what he's actually doing to avoid cutting himself.
At this point it's fairly obvious that Ed knows that he's heard more than just enough to realise he needs to block out any sounds coming from the other side of the wall. But he doesn't think Ed knows about what he does when he overhears it, not for sure anyway.
It's enough of a chance that he clings to it and tells himself his secret is safe, that it's never gone beyond the walls of his room. It's enough that he can carry on as normal, even if he's waiting for the other shoe to drop at any minute.
"You make a good little sous chef," Ed tells him as he scrapes the onion off the chopping board into the pan.
"Not bad for a genie waiter," James tells him.
A lazy afternoon bleeds into evening and they’re both in James’ room, James leaning back into the headboard and Ed laid out across the foot of the bed, with nothing to do and no desire to make any plans.
Ed had gotten up once he’d noticed the light fading outside and brought back a bottle of his good Cab Sav with two glasses and they slowly work their way through it, laughing and drinking and laughing some more, open and easy and nice.
“Oh, before I forget, did you use some of that fancy Italian roast I got for my birthday the other day?” Ed asks, face flushed with wine and contentment.
“No,” James says after a slightly conspicuous pause.
Ed laughs, his head tipped back and his throat exposed. James’ throat feels dry and he looks down at his glass, giving himself a second to refocus.
“I know you did, James,” he smiles.
“Then why did you ask?”
“I just wanted to see what you’d say,” Ed grins, “your face gives you away every time anyway.”
James frowns, thinking over the statement.
“What do you mean, my face? I don’t know what the means Ed, what’s wrong with my face?”
Ed rolls himself over slightly so that he’s resting on his forearms on the bed and facing James.
“You always get this certain look on your face when you feel guilty or when you know you shouldn’t do something and you’ve done it anyway.”
James’ stomach plummets through his body and down through the floor. The wine feels like it’s burning through him from the inside.
If Ed knows what he looks like when he feels guilty, then maybe he knows. He breathes in deeply as his vision narrows to just the weave of the duvet cover as he spirals through the five stages of guilt in the blink of an eye.
Whatever Ed knows, or thinks he knows, he’s still here. He hasn’t kicked James out, and he’s smiling. He swallows thickly.
“There it is again,” Ed muses, head tilted to rest on his shoulder, watching James like a cat with a mouse, “you’re thinking about something you’ve done now. I always know.”
“Yeah?” James just his chin out, voice falsely brave, “what else do you know then?”
Ed gives him that look again, the one that he’s been giving James for the last few weeks, the one that makes the back of James’ neck prickle.
He’s pretty sure by now that Ed knows enough, but James isn’t going to be the one to volunteer that information. He’s not going to say it first.
“I know you eat my cereal even though you say it’s boring, I know you “accidentally” end up making one serving bigger when you cook and keep the big one for yourself, I know it was your sock that made all of the whites pink the other week.”
Ed sounds smug as he speaks, eyebrows raised and voice all smarmy the way James hates. Only this time it makes James feel so much better, and he starts to unclench a tiny bit.
“Okay fine, you’re right.”
Maybe Ed won’t say it and they can move on and James can just invest in some earplugs or noise cancelling headphones and they can just never ever talk about it.
Ed keeps watching him, his face a little less insufferable.
“I know you’re listening in when I have someone over.” He throws it out like a challenge, a test of James’ will. A gauntlet thrown down in front of someone who has never known better than to pick it up, regardless of the consequences.
“Guilty,” he says, voice steady. He shrugs like it doesn’t mean anything, like he hasn’t been tying himself up in knots about Ed finding out about it since the first time he heard the noises and figured out what they were.
“Do you get off to it every time? Or only when it’s a guy?”
James swallows, mouth suddenly dry and his bravado deserting him as quickly as it had come.
Ed watches him closely for a moment and then smiles, satisfied.
“Both. Good to know you’re equal opportunity.”
He opens his mouth to respond but nothing comes out and James flounders, excuses coming to him and disappearing, none of them good enough.
“Oh don’t go shy on me now James, this is just starting to get interesting!” Ed takes a swig of his wine and leans over to put it on the floor at the side of the bed before he pulls himself up to sit with his back resting against the footboard of the bed, mirroring James’ position. He pulls his knees up and sits with them slightly apart facing James.
“Are you just a bit hard up at the moment or do you just really like to listen?”
“I’m not that hard up,” James blurts out without thinking and Ed smiles again, sharper but just as amused.
“So you like to listen?” His knees swing side to side when he says it like he’s enjoying torturing James. He probably is, the sadist. He’s always enjoyed putting James on the spot, but James is usually quick with an answer for him.
Not this time.
James just nods, looking at Ed’s chin because he doesn’t want to look him in the eye and admit it.
He almost doesn’t see Ed’s hand moving in his peripheral vision, creeping over his hip to lie lightly over the crotch of his shorts. He flicks his eyes up to Ed’s face to find him watching him closely, eyes full of something like intent.
“Yeah,” James says, and swallows the rest of him wine. He puts the empty glass on the table at the side of the bed.
“Good,” Ed smiles, and presses the heel of his hand down into his crotch, a breath sigh of satisfaction sounding far louder that it actually is in the charged silence between them.
James breathes again, conscious of the drag of the air in and out of his lungs, of the movement of his chest. He leans back into the pillows and untangles the sprawl of his legs to mirror Ed’s position, feet planted on the bed and lets slightly spread.
Ed’s smile gets bigger and he starts rubbing properly over his clothed dick in earnest, coaxing himself to hardness.
James has never been A Lad. He’s never been particularly assertive or Capital-M Manly and has never in his life played a game of gay chicken. So he doesn’t know how it starts or what happens, doesn’t know how one would find themselves in that kind of situation, but he doesn’t think that’s what this actually is.
It feels like a dare, like Ed is taunting him, but not out of malice.
Ed’s eyes on him feel heavy, like James can feel the weight of his gaze that never leaves him.
He spreads his legs slightly wider and runs his palm over his own dick that, despite his confusion over what exactly is going on, has already started to stir. He applies pressure and lets out a breath and Ed grins.
“That’s it, James,” Ed breathes and grinds up into his hand, “knew you were listening.”
“Yeah?” It’s all James can think to say.
“Yeah. Tried to make it good for you.”
James groans and Ed slips his hand under the waistband of his shorts to grip his dick properly, the font of the material tenting out with the movement of his fist.
“It was good.”
Ed smiles, cocky.
“The last time I fucked him against the headboard just so you could hear better.”
James’ stomach swoops low again, this time with a heat that hits him like a punch to the gut. He pushes the waistband of his joggers down so that they’re just clinging to his hips but that he can get a hand on his dick to stroke it, slowly up and down, unimpeded.
“The least you can do is give me a bit of a peek in return, James. After everything I’ve done for you. Don’t be selfish.”
Fuck. James realises Ed’s eyes are on his crotch, but his joggers are blocking the view of his cock where they hang between his spread thighs. He looks up and swallows, mouth dry again. Ed looks hungry, hand moving faster in his shorts.
“You first,” James manages eventually and Ed doesn’t even hesitate, pushing the elastic of his shorts up his thighs and down over his knees again. He kicks them off to the floor when they get stuck around his ankle.
James takes a breath and copies him, tilting his hips up to pull the joggers off. He holds his legs closed in front of him, nervous, until Ed raises his eyebrows expectantly. James parts his thighs again, slowly and feeling more vulnerable in front of Ed than he ever has before.
He’s so self conscious, his knobbly knees and his bird-bone ribcage contrasted with the slim muscle of Ed’s frame, the roundness of his thighs and the hints of definition on his torso. He knows he doesn't compare.
“That’s it James, keep going,” Ed says, and James makes the conscious decision to let himself get lost in the moment, to let go of the insecurity. It’s not easy, and he doesn’t know how successful he’ll be at it, but he tries. He wants to do this.
“Yeah,” James breathes out. It’s an unnecessary response, but he feels like he should at least say something.
“Getting closer.” Ed’s hand keeps moving over his dick, strong steady strokes, and another bolt of heat hits James
“Jesus, Ed.” James squeezes the base of his dick before he resumes the rhythm, unconsciously matching the speed of Ed’s hand.
“Just ‘Ed’ is fine, James.”
It takes James’ brain a second to process that Ed has made a joke, and Ed looks so fucking pleased with himself that James has to smile back.
“You’re putting me off,” he whines and Ed grins again, his face changing from amused back to heated in a second.
“Well we can’t have that, can we? Maybe I should keep talking, you seem to like that.”
James makes a noise in his throat, feeling like he’s been caught out all over again but this time it only makes him feel even hotter.
“Do you want me to call you a good boy? Tell you how well you’re doing?”
James lets his head fall back into the pillows and moves his hand even faster, his stomach clenching.
“Yeah? I thought you might like that too. I’ve got you all figured out James, it’s not hard.” Ed’s voice has gone all low and breathy and James raises his head to look at him, needing to see his face.
Ed’s eyes are dark and heavy, staring so hard at James that James feels like he could combust.
“I’m nearly there,” he says, glossing over Ed’s quite frankly terrifying declaration because he cannot handle addressing that right now. That’s something to be dissected at a later date.
“Me too,” Ed pants, matching his rhythm to James’, “don’t stop.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
Ed grins again, sharp and amused.
“If you come first I’ll pay for dinner next time we go out, your choice.”
James barks out a slightly hysterical laugh and twists his fist on the upstroke. A win win scenario for him.
He’s so close that it won’t take long, and he drops his eyes to watch Ed fisting his own cock.
Ed has such a nick cock, just like the rest of his body is nice. It’s thick but long enough that it doesn’t look squat or fat. The head is flushed purple and shiny from the precome leaking out of the top.
James has the sudden urge to taste it and he swallows down against it, scolding himself for always taking things too far, for always wanting too much.
“What do I get if I come first?” Ed asks, another challenge laid out in front of James.
“I’ll do the dishes for a week.”
“Deal,” Ed says and then smirks again, “I’ll even get you a pretty pink pinny to wear while you’re doing them.
James’ vision blanks out white for a second and his orgasm hits him like a brick wall without warning. The heat in Ed’s voice and the image of the apron is too much for him and he’s spilling all over his stomach and his chest, hips jerking into the air as it pulses through him.
He lets out a long, lingering groan and strokes himself through the aftershocks, watching Ed from under heavy eyelids.
Ed breathes in through his teeth.
“Fucking hell, James.” He speeds him even more, his hand working so fast over his dick that it blurs slightly in James’ eyes. “If I’d known you’d get that excited by a frilly apron I’d have bought you one ages ago.”
James whimpers, his dick twitching in a feeble attempt to show interest again.
Ed grunts and comes, white spilling over his fist and onto his stomach in thick ropes.
James is transfixed, breathing hard as Ed refuses to drop eye contact until he’s fully spent and panting, his dick soft in his hand.
They breathe, watching each other without moving until James breaks the spell and reaches over to the bedside table for the box of tissues and offers them to Ed before taking one for himself to clean up.
James feels punch drunk and highly aware of it, like the feeling you get when you don’t realise how drunk you are until you get outside into the fresh air.
He’s not willing to be the one to break the little bubble that’s still settled around them. He wouldn’t know what to say anyway.
Ed stretches back out over the bottom of the bed once he’s wiped off his hand and his stomach and thrown the tissues in the vague direction of the bin. He reaches down to the floor at the side of the bed to pick his glass of wine back up and pulls up the bottle as well, tiling it in James’ direction in askance.
James picks up his empty wine glass and holds it out for Ed to pour out the remaining wine between their glasses.
Things go back to normal after The Night, or at least as normal as James can be after that.
Ed books them a table at Sushisamba without complaint, even though James had mainly chosen it to see Ed’s reaction.
They go a few days later, Ed ushering James into the restaurant with a hand on his lower back. He even lets James order a bunch of small plates to share for their starter instead of being his usual awful self and refusing to let James even try some of his food.
He draws the line at letting James choose the wine and James relents without protest. Ed knows what kind of wine he likes anyway.
James gets invited to record Cats Does Countdown as a guest on Dictionary Corner as a last-minute replacement for someone who cancelled on them and he only has a few days to come up with some material to take on.
He’s been sitting at the dining table with his laptop for hours looking for inspiration and writing down anything and everything that comes to him to discard or refine later. He won’t need that much brand new material for the show but he doesn’t want to turn up half cocked and not make the most of the recording.
His phone trills with a new text and when he pulls his eyes away from the screen he realises how dark the room has grown around him, lit only by the low glow of the lamp in the far corner of the living room.
On the way bk now, dnt wait up!! X ;) It’s from Ed.
He puts his phone back down on the table without responding to it, deciding he wants to at least finish sketching out this last bit to come back to in the morning and then he’ll call it a night. Ed is out in Soho so he’ll have plenty of time to get into his room before Ed makes an appearance, drunk and dragging someone home with him. He ignores the knots in his stomach.
What James hadn’t taken into account, he thinks as he hears keys scraping around the lock of the front door, is that Ed is a piece of shit and obviously only remembered to text James when he was around the corner. Not when he was actually leaving the last club.
He closes the lid of his laptop and tries to make a run for it before the door opens but Ed gets the key in and turns it before James has even pushed the chair away from the table and he freezes in place.
James is sitting at the top of the dining table wedged into the corner of the room behind a half wall that just keeps him out of sight when he’s sitting down. If Ed goes straight for his room they probably won’t even notice James if he stays quiet, and then once they’re both safely shut away in Ed’s room, more interested in each other than anything James is doing, he can quietly get to his room and shut himself up in there out of the way.
It’s a solid plan, he thinks. Or at least it’s the best he can do with what he has to work with when Ed is literally walking through the door and his only alternative is to go out and say hi to them as he scuttles off to his room like a creep. No, it’s for the best that he just pretends he’s not here and that way he won’t ruin anything for them.
He hears their footsteps moving closer and closer towards him, and he can hear them when they keep stopping to kiss each other against the wall or table on the way, drawing out the journey from door to door and causing James’ shoulders to tense more and more. He takes a deep breath.
He keeps his eyes down on his closed laptop until they stop to kiss again halfway between where James is sitting and the little hallway leading to where the bedrooms are. He watches them through quick, nervous glances, looking up at them from under his brows while he keeps his head down. It feels wrong just to sit and watch them openly, but he can’t stop himself from looking at them anyway. It doesn’t feel quite as bad doing it that way, the plausible deniability of keeping his head down and the restraint of not allowing himself to see everything.
The guy has his back to James and Ed is shuffling backwards in small steps, pulling him along without interrupting the kiss. When they break apart, seconds later that feel like hours to James, the guy goes for Ed’s neck and Ed tilts his head back to give him access.
Ed opens his eyes and looks directly at James, who happened to shoot them another nervous glance at exactly the wrong time.
James’ heart stops dead in his chest, sure that this is finally too far, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the thing that changes him and Ed forever. He’s been too reckless, been stupid and taken advantage. Ed is finally going to call him out for being a fucking creep and kick him out for good.
Instead, Ed gives James a slow, smirking smile and threads his hands through the guy’s hair to use to pull his head up and away from his neck.
James can’t look away. It’s like Ed has hypnotised him, like a rabbit staring into the eyes of a snake and freezing in fear.
Ed kisses the guy again, hand still in his hair, and James can see the low light glinting in Ed’s eyes as he watches James while he sticks his tongue down this guy’s throat.
He stays frozen to the spot as Ed starts walking backwards again, finally breaking eye contact with James with a smirk as he rounds the corner to go to the bedroom. Finally.
James’ heart is hammering in his chest so loud and it’s all he can hear, filling the room with a pounding like a bass drum. His palms are clammy.
He gives them as much time as he can, needing it to pull himself together, before he finally manages to move again. He pushes up out of the chair, carefully and quietly, not wanting to make even the slightest noise.
It’s probably redundant given that Ed knows where he is, but it still feels like he needs to keep the secret, to pretend that he hadn’t seen a thing or been here at all. He places his feet carefully when he walks, thanking everything that is good in the universe that Ed’s flat is new enough that it doesn’t have any creaky spots in the floor yet.
He rounds the corner to the bedroom and his heart, having only just begun to return to its normal rhythm, almost stops completely. Ice runs through his veins again. Ed’s bedroom door is wide open. He has a moment of hysteria, thinking about how Ed really can’t be good for his heart given the way he keeps making it beat funny. Maybe he should go and see a doctor.
The low velvety murmur of Ed’s voice comes through the open door, words of praise and encouragement that makes James’ hairs stand on end. And James has to walk past it to get to his own room.
It takes him at least a full minute to force himself to move, and when he walks past the open door he has to fight every instinct in his body to make himself walk normally without hesitating.
He can’t help but dart another glance into the room though, like all of his will was focussed on his legs and there was nothing left in him to stop him from looking.
His stomach somersaults when he sees the guy on his knees at Ed’s feet with Ed’s hand fisted tightly in his hair, his other teasing the guy’s mouth with his cock.
“Ah ah,” Ed admonishes him, pulling even harder on his hair before he flicks his eyes over to James in the doorway for a second, just enough to make James’ blood run cold again. “Good boys say please when they want something.”
James keeps moving until he gets to his room, closing his door behind him as quietly as he possibly can and leaning his back against it, breathing deeply.
“Did you enjoy the show last night?”
Ed catches him in the kitchen, wedging him in between the fridge and the wall. He’s not sure if it’s intentional or not, but it stops him running away so either way it’s probably a win for Ed.
James only went into the kitchen for a cup of tea, making sure there was no noise from inside Ed’s bedroom first, the door blessedly closed this time, and moving everything around as quietly as he could.
He really wasn’t trying to avoid Ed, except that that’s exactly what he was doing.
Ed, quite obviously, has other ideas.
James squirms, stammering and making random noises, unwilling to answer the question either way. He can’t say no, Ed knows too much already to believe that James didn’t like it, and he’s never been able to get away with lying to Ed. But he can’t say yes either, because then it’s all out there and he can’t take it back; there’s no more pretending that this is normal and that it’s not real.
He doesn’t want to say anything.
“Why didn’t you give me more warning?” he manages eventually, voice weak in his attempt to sound somewhat normal, “I could have been out of your way when you got back.”
“Well, you seemed to like watching the other night. I thought you might enjoy a little peek.” Ed smiles, reaching around James to grab a mug off the drainer, “did you not?”
“I’m not saying I d- I just… Why do you do it?” he asks, “Why don’t you think it’s weird?”
Ed watches him closely before he shrugs, looking completely unaffected.
“I get as much out of it as you do, James. Honestly It’s not that weird.”
James doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand why Ed doesn’t seem to care at all that this is fucking weird, that he doesn’t understand why James isn’t comfortable with this even though he’s the one that started the whole thing by listening in the first place.
He’s sick of winding himself up into knots when Ed doesn’t seem to give it a second thought.
“Yeah but why? I don’t get it, Ed.”
Ed stills, giving James that look he would get whenever something weird happened between them but looking more serious than he ever has with it before. James’ stomach churns with nerves but he makes himself stand straight, refusing to back down this time.
“Come on, James. Surely you must realise?”
Obviously not, James thinks, verging on the hysterical. He wouldn’t be asking right now if he knew, surely.
“Realise what Ed?” He asks, voice going slightly whiny.
Ed watches James again for a second, two, before he steps closer to him, one foot in front of the other, moving slowly but with intent. James steps back once, unsure of what Ed is doing, but his back hits the fridge door and he can move no further.
Ed stops in front of him, close enough that he can see the flecks of green in the blue of his irises. He drops his eyes to look at James’ lips and James swallows heavily.
“Oh,” he hears himself say, “right.”
“Yeah, right,” Ed repeats, and watches James’ face for another beat before he moves in slowly.
He gives James plenty of time to move away, to stop him, to laugh in his face, but James does nothing.
He stays still and watches Ed come closer, suddenly aware of every part of his body and how close it is to Ed’s.
Ed kisses him softly and James lets out a breath. He presses back, tiling his head slightly to get in closer.
It only lasts a few seconds before Ed pulls back and gives him a small smile.
“You’re an idiot, James.”
“Yeah,” James agrees, and chases Ed’s lips for another kiss.