Ed almost doesn't notice the first time it happens. He and James are in a crowded, noisy pub with a horde of other comedians, celebrating the end of another Edinburgh run. James had once again been nominated but beaten to the prize, and while he claimed not to care, Ed knows that he will be obsessing over it for ages. He notices James looking a bit distant, sipping on his drink, and he leans over to talk to him. They're both in a booth near the back of the room, so Ed doesn't have to go far. 'Hey, Earth to planet James.'
James glances up. Ed knows that he hasn't heard what he said by the bland polite smile on James's face, so he shifts closer, trying not to push too much into his personal space. 'I said, Earth to planet James.' This time it gets a flicker of a genuine smile which Ed returns. 'You OK there?' James nods, opens his mouth to speak and pauses. Ed is just about to say something himself when James shuffles over, closing the distance between them until he's pressed up against Ed's side. He gives a little shrug at Ed's surprised face. 'We might actually be able to hear each other now.' Ed grins before drawing James into a conversation about what they were planning to do next, watching him become more animated but never leaving Ed's side.
The next time it happens, they're both at a house party. Ed comes back from the kitchen with his refilled drink to find James chatting to some of the other party guests on a sofa. Ed can tell that James is uncomfortable as he crosses the room, his body language practically shouting it. James glances up when Ed reaches the little group, and Ed could swear that there is relief in his eyes. He drops down on the sofa next to James, only realising once he's there that there's only just enough room for him. He can feel a firm line of warmth where he and James are squashed together, but James doesn't flinch away. If anything he leans into it, just enough that Ed doesn't think he's doing it consciously. A warmth blooms in his chest, and he carefully places his arm across the back of the sofa, partially because that was the only comfortable place for it and partially to see how James would react. James shifts to get comfortable, leaning a little more into Ed and Ed watches, fascinated, as the tension drains out of James's frame and he resumes his conversation with more gusto. Ed smiles to himself, takes a sip of his drink, and deliberately joins the conversation in the exact perfect way to wind James up.
Ed watches as James paces around his kitchen, his hands flying up to his hair for what must be the hundredth time, messing up the unruly strands. He knows James can be an anxious person, even if they've never discussed it, but this is the worst he's seen James in a long time. James keeps pacing, murmuring to himself so quietly that Ed can't really make out the words. He feels slightly helpless, he wants to be a supportive friend and help James out, but he's willing to admit to himself that he's out of his depth.
Suddenly James spins round and bangs both his fists against the door of the fridge. Ed jumps, startled. Before he realises it, he's reaching out for James, grabbing both of his wrists and turning him so they face each other. James looks at him for the first time in ages, and he looks so lost that Ed acts purely on instinct. 'Look, come here.' He pulls James into a tight hug, feeling him trembling against him. James just sags, leaning heavily on Ed and burying his face in the crook of Ed's neck. Ed brings a hand up to bury in James's hair, gently stroking as he feels James slowly start to relax. He's not sure when it changes from a hug to Ed simply holding James, but he has no complaints, and when James finally pulls away and thanks him in a shy voice, he pretends that he doesn't miss the feeling.
Something shifts between them after that hug. Ed finds himself reaching out to touch James more often, a reassuring hand on his shoulder or a pat on the back. He notices that James is the same, lingering when they hug each other goodbye or seeking out Ed's presence when they're both at the same event. He casually mentions it to Nish one day, both of them well on their way to being drunk. 'Hey, have you noticed that James is getting more tactile lately?' Nish just stares at him. 'Not with me mate, he's still got that personal space bubble well and truly up.' Ed just frowns. 'Huh.'
After that conversation Ed watches James more closely and he starts to notice that Nish is right. James likes his personal space and works hard to keep other people from getting too close. Ed soon realises that the only people James lets close to him are his family, his (now ex) girlfriend, and him. He doesn't know what that means, but every time James leans into his touch or sits close enough that their knees brush, he feels a spark of pleasure that James trusts him enough to let him this close.
They're sitting on Ed's sofa, the end credits of the film scrolling across the TV screen. The remains of their snacks are strewn across the coffee table, along with a half-drunk bottle of whiskey. James had warned Ed when he arrived that he hasn't been sleeping well, and this only became more apparent as the film went on. James started yawning two thirds of the way through, and now he's almost asleep, leaving heavily against Ed's shoulder. Ed shifts to grab the remote and turn the TV off, leaving them in silence. The movement shakes James out of his stupor, and he sits up properly, rubbing at his eyes. 'Sorry, I guess I'm more tired than I realised.' Ed just smiles. 'Absolutely not a problem, you know you're always welcome here no matter what state you're in.' James just smiles back, but is interrupted by another yawn. Ed watches him and feels that same fond, protective feeling that he always gets when James shows some vulnerability. Without thinking he pats his thigh. 'Rest your head here.'
James looks at him, startled. Ed doesn't stop to second guess himself. 'Come on. I've been reliably informed that they make an excellent pillow.' James watches him for a moment before settling down, his head in Ed's lap. Ed begins gently stroking James's hair, and it doesn't take long for James to relax into sleep. Ed just stays there, watching over him, eventually dozing off himself.
They don't mention it the next morning when they wake up.
Ed opens the door, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He managed to throw on an old t-shirt and some jogging bottoms, not wanting to give the person on the other side of the door an eyeful. He's strangely unsurprised to see James standing there, fidgeting on his front step. James starts talking as soon as the door opens. 'Hey, I'm so sorry, I know it's 3am but I couldn't sleep and I needed to not be alone and you're the only person I could think of that wouldn't shut the door in my face.' He pauses for a breath, and Ed simply opens the door wide and gestures for James to enter.
They go through to Ed's living room and Ed sits down heavily on the sofa. James paces a little before coming to a halt in front of him. He fidgets with his hair before opening his mouth. 'Can I… Can you just hold me? That helped last time.' Ed just opens his arms, his brain still foggy with sleep. James quickly settles himself against Ed, practically in his lap, and Ed just gathers him close, one hand rubbing slow circles on James's back, the other migrating to his hair. James just sighs and pulls himself tighter against Ed's body, snuffling like he's trying not to cry.
They sit there for a long while and Ed doesn't even realise when he starts murmuring things against James's hair, soft endearments and reassurances. He's not even really conscious of what he's saying, the warmth of James's body almost lulling him back to sleep. He feels James tense up in his arms, and mentally runs back over the last thing he said. He freezes himself when he realises. 'I'll look after you, don't worry, I'm never gonna let you go.'
James pulls back just enough to look up at him, looking more fragile than Ed had ever seen him. 'You mean that?'
Ed just nods, words failing him. James's tongue darts out to wet his lips, and Ed's gaze is helplessly drawn there. Before he realises what he's doing, he closes the distance between them and fits their mouths together, soft and slow. He panics when his brain catches up with his actions, but James just sighs and kisses him back. They sit there kissing for a little while, until the kiss naturally ends. Ed opens his eyes to see James's shy smile and feels a wave of affection and fondness. Suddenly all of their behaviour from the last few months makes sense, both James's and his own.
He strokes James's hair again, feeling just how tired he is. 'C'mon, let's go to bed.' He feels James tense and runs the sentence through his head again, rolling his eyes when he realises how James might have heard it. 'Just to sleep you idiot.' He can't keep the affection out of his voice, doesn't even try and is delighted when James blushes. They untangle themselves and start heading towards Ed's bedroom, but James pauses in the doorway to the living room. Ed turns to ask him what's up but is stopped when James cups his face in one big hand and kisses him, sweet and tender. Ed understands what James is trying to say, and can't help but smile when the kiss ends. 'Yeah, me too.' James just smiles back, slipping past him and Ed just shakes his head and follows James up the stairs to bed.