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Swimming The Same Deep Water As You

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1.

James doesn’t get back from the last gig of the tour until 4am. He had the option to stay in Newcastle overnight and get the train back to London first thing in the morning but there’s just something about the finality of the last show that flicks a switch in his brain that makes him long for home more than anything else. 

By the time he gets his keys into the lock and pushes the door open all he can do is kick the door shut behind him, drop his bag on the sofa, and shuffle into the bedroom to fall face first into the pillows. He’s asleep before he stops bouncing on the mattress. 

When he wakes up it takes him a few seconds to remember where he is, running through the tour schedule before he realises that it’s finished and he’s at home. The clock on his bedside table tells him it’s 3pm.

He drifts around the flat for a while, idly picking things up and putting them back down again. There’s nothing he needs to tidy or clean since he hasn’t been here long enough to mess it up. There’s no dishes to do or washing to fold, no rubbish to take out. 

There’s always an adjustment period when he finishes a tour. It takes him a while to snap out of the constant rushing of getting from city to city from venue to venue, constantly rehearsing and tweaking the routine to make sure it works even though he’s already done it so often he could recite it backwards in his sleep. 

So now he doesn’t know what to do with himself again, he’s already forgotten what he does when he doesn’t have to travel and promote and perform. He has nothing booked in to work towards other than a couple of panel show appearances, but they’re not for months yet. 

After he makes himself a coffee and drinks it slowly, staring at the telly without actually watching it, he gets up and carries his bag into the bedroom. 

He makes himself put everything away in the places they actually go instead of leaving half of it in the bag and shoving the other half in random drawers just to get them out of the way. It doesn’t take long enough, so he picks up the small mountain of clothes and sorts them into loads for the wash, setting one of them away before he returns to the sofa.

His phone chimes from where he’d left it on the coffee table, and he practically dives on it, knocking his knee hard off the edge of it in the process.

How empty is your fridge?

It’s from Ed.

He walks into the kitchen already knowing the answer is extremely empty but opens the fridge anyway. He’s made sure to throw any perishables out before he left, having learned the hard way that they don’t wait for him to get back before they go off.

Half a jar of jam, a tin of tuna from 2016, and that jar of salted caramel sauce. He sends back. 

It's only then that he realises just how hungry he is, which is just cruel when he's being confronted with the lack of any kind of sustenance. His stomach rumbles while he waits for Ed's reply. 

Be ready for 6, I'll meet you at yours  

James looks back into the fridge for a second and shrugs to himself. It's a far better option than just ordering a takeaway. The caramel sauce will keep for after. 

The bell for the door rings at exactly 6 and James buzzes them up without looking to see who it is. There's only one person he's expecting. 

Ed looks good. He always looks good, always did . He still remembers the way Ed looked before he lost weight, before everyone started paying attention and suddenly realised that Ed was good looking. James thought he'd always been nice to look at, and got a little prickly at the amount of people who only noticed after such a dramatic change.

The shirt he's wearing has some kind of small pattern on it, white against the black of the fabric, but he can't tell what it is from where he's putting his shoes on. It looks like something one of those model guys on Instagram would wear rather than something from Topman or wherever Ed actually buys his clothes. Ed always manages to pull things like that off. James wouldn't even attempt to pull of something that's actually meant to look good and not just ironically good. 

James has instead chosen a Moss green jumper and black cords, nothing special but not overly casual either. It's half an attempt to dress nice enough for wherever Ed wants to go without actually knowing the dress code and half having a limited selection of clean and ironed clothes to hand. The load of washing he did earlier is still hanging damply on a clothes horse in the little utility room.

"Ready?" Ed smiles as James stands up, shoes on. 

"Starving." 

Ed takes him to somewhere that can't quite seem to decide if it's a fancy pub or a hipster restaurant, but they have table service and cheap enough drinks so James isn't going to complain. 

The food is good, and he lets Ed fill him in on what he's missed while he's been away. Most of it he's heard already, through other people or in texts from Ed himself, but it's nice to listen for a while. It's nice not to have to entertain anyone. 

When they receive the dessert menu it all looks so good that Ed decides the extra time spent checking his levels for the rest of the night is worth it for the passion fruit and mango cheesecake. James opts for the tiramisu, hoping that sugar and the taste of coffee will keep him going until it's a reasonable time to go back to bed. 

He watches as Ed takes the first bite of the cheesecake and his eyes close for a second, his face telegraphing the apparently rapturous experience. 

"Christ James this is good, do you want to try some?" Ed asks, already cutting into it neatly with the edge of his spoon for another bite. 

"Yeah," James mumbles even though it's clear Ed wants him to try it regardless of James' feelings on the matter. 

Ed holds out the spoon to him and it’s close enough that James’ brain doesn’t engage and he leans into it and takes the cheesecake from the spoon instead of just taking the handle off Ed. 

His heart stops for a beat when his brain helpfully catches up with the proceedings. 

“What do you think?” Ed asks after a small pause in which James’ entire life flashes before his eyes in mortification. He swallows heavily, barely tasting anything. 

“‘S good,” he mumbles, fiddling with his fork.

He avoids Ed eyes, looking over his shoulder. He tries to push down the embarrassment, telling himself he’s taken food from other peoples’ forks before, he’s probably even done it to Ed before. But all of the other times were conscious, either him trying to be funny or trying to be a dick. The fact that he did it unconsciously, that his brain just assumed Ed was feeding him, makes his insides churn. It’s weird, isn’t it? Guys don’t do that with each other, not with their friends. It’s a thing that couples do. 

“‘Good’? James it’s amazing,” Ed says, incredulous and completely oblivious to James’ internal struggle. His brow furrows and his lips do the weird pouty thing they do sometimes that is always weirdly distracting. “Here, try again.”

He holds out another piece of the cheesecake, this time going directly for James’ mouth this time like it’s not weird at all. 

He takes it and watches Ed as he chews it and then lets it sit on his tongue so he can actually taste it properly. It’s sharp and sweet at the same time, the same kind of balance as a lemon cheesecake but way, way better. 

A small moan slips out, again without any kind of approval from his upper brain function, but he stands by this one. It’s a fucking good cheesecake.

“See, I told you it was good, didn’t I?” Ed smiles, eyes focussed on James as swallows the cake. 

“Ten out of ten,” he replies. His shifts, restless and uncomfortable with the feeling in his stomach when Ed finally looks away. He wishes he could blame it on the food.

 

2. 

What are you wearing tonight? 

Ed has a warm-up gig tonight in Soho and James hadn’t made any plans for the night until Ed asked him if he wanted to go. He’s seen bits and pieces of the new show but never the finished bits, and never the whole thing. He’s nervous for Ed, new material is never good enough until it’s been tested under fire, but he’s excited to finally see it at the same time.

Mustard shirt

They’re meeting Nish and his girlfriend after the gig for drinks, Nish having just gotten back from holiday in… somewhere. He can’t remember if he ever knew where Nish was going or if he knew and decided it wasn’t worth remembering. 

Which one? You have about a thousand different ones the message pops up in the chat before he’s even locked his phone. 

He hasn’t actually chosen what to wear beyond knowing that it’ll involve one of the, admittedly many, mustard shirts he owns. He gets up and paws through the hangers in the wardrobe and pulls one out along with the first pair of dark trousers he sees and puts them on.

Brings out my eyes x he sends back to Ed below a picture of himself in the mirror in the outfit, limbs contorted into the weirdest configuration he could manage without falling over or not being able to actually take the photo.

He takes them off again and folds them over the armchair under his window since he’ll be putting them back on in a few hours.

Wear a blue shirt with those trousers x  

James stares at his phone, wondering if he’d ironed his blue checked shirt. 

The gig goes well, Ed’s material is genuinely funny and the audience reacted well to all of it. He wouldn’t say he was worried, but he dreaded the thought of having to sit and watch if the crowd didn’t like it and Ed bombed. 

When he goes backstage after the show Nish and his girlfriend are already there, their backs to the door, and Ed has clearly just finished changing out of the shirt he wore onstage. 

Ed gives him an exaggerated up and down look before he flashes a smile that’s halfway to a smirk.

“Nice to see you made an effort, James.”

A heat creeps up the back of James’ neck at the comment, his brain instinctively telling him to protest that Ed told him to wear this shirt, but he wants to keep that to himself. He blinks owlishly back at Ed, mute, before Nish turns around to greet him and the moment is over. 

 

3. 

Spending an afternoon keeping his legs wedged awkwardly under a too small and too low table without banging his knees too much on it in a crowded coffee shop is not James’ idea of a good time. 

He’d wanted to go to the cafe down the road from Eds flat, but Ed had insisted they go to a new coffee shop someone had told him about. 

James has gotten over the worst of the re-acclimation period and has started jotting down some thoughts that he wants to try to work into some new material while he has some downtime. It has however had the effect of turning him into a bit of a hermit. Getting stuck in his own head is not a thing he wants to do, and so when Ed texted him about an idea for the podcast he suggests they meet up instead of talking it out over text. 

James' notebook is open between them, neat blocks of text surrounded by Ed's handwriting and a few cock and balls doodles that James didn't see him do but wasn't surprised in the least to see.

Ed stands up and pats his pockets down for his wallet. 

"Same again?" He asks. 

James shakes his head. 

"Peppermint tea, please." 

He pulls the notebook back over to him and makes a few more notes while he waits for Ed to come back. 

It doesn't take him long, for all the shop is busy they're one of the few places with enough staff to keep the queue down to a minimum. 

"Do you trust me?" He hears as Ed sets down a tray on the table and sits down. James looks up, eyes squinted. 

"Absolutely not," he says like it should be obvious. James remembers all too well the things Ed has talked him into doing while he was drunk or half crazed from Fringe exhaustion or both. 

"Close your eyes," Ed tells him, and James watches him as he transfers the drinks from the tray, noticing a plate covered with a serviette. 

James closes them. 

He feels weirdly exposed like this, vulnerable, even though he can hear the same background noises as he could when his eyes were open. People chat, cups clink against saucers and tables, and James sits, waiting. 

"Open your mouth." 

James opens his mouth. He's stuck between apprehensive and comforted by the fact that if anyone is looking at them he can't see it. 

He doesn't know what Ed is going to do until he feels something against his lips, slightly sticky and sweet smelling. 

His mouth isn't quite open enough to get it in properly so he moves to take the bite himself. 

His lips brush over the tips of Ed's fingers and his stomach swoops. Ed breathes out slowly. James doesn't know what that means. 

He was expecting it to be on a fork, how would he have thought that Ed would be hand feeding him while he sits there with his eyes closed in the middle of a coffee shop. 

Ed doesn't let go or pull his hand back so James bites a piece of whatever it is off. His lips drag over Ed's fingers as he pulls away. 

He feels like he's burning, and just hopes that it's not too visible. At least his collar hides how flushed his neck probably is. 

His eyes stay closed as he chews, tasting the sweetness of the sticky jam and the underlying taste of almond and marzipan. There's a crunch to it and James realises it must be topped with flaked almonds. 

A Bakewell tart. James opens his eyes in indignation only to be met with Ed's stupid grinning face. 

"I hate flaked almonds, Ed. And so do you." He tries to make it sound as silly as he can, but somehow he doesn't feel that strongly about it right now.

"And you know I hate marzipan." 

"It's frangipane, James. Totally different!" Ed's smile is smug and James twists his face in a mockery of his smile in return. His neck still feels hot. 

"Well, describe it then! I don't buy you desserts not to get something out of it in return," Ed says, and James feels the wave of heat all over again. "what did it taste like?" 

He’s such a dick, he knows Ed doesn’t like bakewell tarts, and he knows James doesn’t either. 

“It tasted awful, Ed. Like death covered in raspberry jam.”

Ed just laughs and pushes James’ tea towards him.

 

4. 

James has been looking forward to today since they arranged it. Ed is going off on tour again in a few weeks and they wanted to get a few episodes of Just Puddings filmed beforehand so they can be released as and when the Turtle team sees fit. 

Ed decided he wanted to go to a fancy french patisserie and chocolatier, and James has been thinking about it for days now. 

They start filming and it’s all going well. The patissier is great on camera and the pastries are amazing. James allows himself a small moment of self-congratulation for somehow getting to a point in his career where he actually gets paid to eat them. 

“Do you think you can handle another one? Because that lime and raspberry turnover looks amazing and I would like to know exactly how it tastes,” Ed says, and James makes a show of checking his watch and thinking it over.

“It’s half 9 in the morning and I've eaten nothing but small cakes and pastries Ed. This might me my day-ender.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to manage one more,” Ed smirks, “After all, you are a bit of a slut for desserts aren’t you James?” 

It’s almost certainly a joke, carrying on the fake debate and meant to be a joke at his expense, something to make the viewers laugh. It still makes the strange wave of heat he’s been experiencing in the last few weeks wash over him again. He thinks idly that he might be coming down with something, but it only seems to happen when he’s with Ed.

He gives Ed a small, considering half smile. The patissier laughs and presents James a plate of the turnovers with a theatrical flourish. 

“There’s not much I wouldn’t do,” he hears his own voice before he realises he’s actually spoken, his mouth moving before he’s fully finished the thought, “for a free dessert.” 

The pause between the two statements is minute, not even a few seconds long. It’s a joke, an exaggeration, he’s playing up for the camera. 

But the silence lingers, and Ed has a look in his eyes that James doesn’t even know how to begin to work out. 

James turns to the camera and gives another awkward grin before he turns back to the patissier and takes a turnover, hoping to salvage the shot. Hoping to distract himself from looking at Ed and the fluttering in his stomach. 

The shot doesn’t end up making it to the finished episode. 

 

5.

Ed leaves in 3 days. It’s also Joel’s birthday, and if there’s anything their social circles love it’s an excuse for a party. The chance to get Joel disgustingly drunk on cheap shots and also toast Ed on his biggest tour to date is too good to miss. 

So James is here, standing in the corner of the function room of a club that they’d managed to book through a friend of a friend so they could actually hear each other over the music from the main room.

He’s known this was coming for a long time. Not the party, which was a bit last minute if they’re all honest but has worked out ok, but the terrible, awful timing of Ed going on tour so soon after James had finished his own. He’s only been back for a month, and even though they’ve managed to squeeze in a fair amount of meals and coffees and some work on Just Puddings and the podcast into that time, James still feels like he’s barely seen Ed at all. 

He rationalises that every time he’s seen Ed they’ve been Doing Something. James missed lazy afternoons spent in Ed’s living room watching made for TV films on Netflix while he was away. He probably could have just invited himself around, a carrier bag full of wine and ice cream guaranteeing him a warm reception, but the amount of things Ed had scheduled that were Something days stopped him for some reason. Maybe Ed doesn’t have time for Netflix right now. He tries not to take it personally.

Ed isn’t even leaving yet but he still has things to do before he leaves, so James is fairly certain that this is the last time he’ll see him for months. It’s put him in a mood.

There are so many people that want to talk to Ed, people he hasn’t seen since the last big birthday, people wanting to wish him luck, and people James doesn’t even recognise. There are times when James has looked away for a second and by the time he’s turned back Ed is being pulled off in another direction by someone else, just when James thought he could spend a few minutes with him.

It’s jealous and petty to be sulking in the corner of the bar as a result, ignoring so many of the people he would normally be thrilled to talk to. He doesn’t even know why he’s so upset about it, other than he had an idea in his head that it would be a small group of them sat around a table laughing and drinking and toasting until it grew and grew until it was a legitimate function. 

He tries to talk to Joel for a while, because it is also his birthday party after all, but it’s just as hard as having a conversation with Ed. 

He retreats back to the corner, drunk enough but not so drunk as to be stupid about it. He knows if he drinks more in a mood like this he’ll go from being prickly to sharp, and he’s not selfish enough to want to bring everyone else down with his bad mood. 

Switching to water seems to be the best idea, and he resolves that getting trashed in the corner of a party alone is possibly the saddest thing he can imagine doing and he refuses to let it get that bad. He’s just not feeling it, that’s all. People have off days, right? 

Ed, on the other hand, finally returning to James after being pulled from pillar to post, has not had the same idea about water. When he finds James he’s shuffled closer to the edges of the crowd and out of the shadow of The Brooding Corner. It doesn’t look quite as anti social if he hugs the wall, but it’s still enough distance to avoid conversation. 

“Why is your face doing that? It’s all droopy and depressing.” Ed is slurring, but not so much that James is worried about him. 

“That’s just my face, Ed,” James says, arching an eyebrow. It’s a poor attempt to style it out, but there’s still a chance of success.

Ed just tilts his head, considering, before he looks down at James’ hands at his glass of water. He apparently decides that this is an affront, because he takes the glass and replaces it with his own mostly-full glass of what James assumes is gin and tonic. What were once slices of lemon and lime are now just curled up floating pieces of rind. James doesn’t know if it was Ed who ate them.

He watches as Ed takes small sips of James’ water, sighing in satisfaction.

“Will you smile for me, James?” He asks, smiling himself as if giving James something to mirror will make it easier for him to do it.

“I’m smiling on the inside.” 

Ed shakes his head and finishes the water in one big gulp, a drop escaping from the corner of his mouth and running down his chin. James’ eyes track its progress as Ed sets down the glass on the weird half-shelf running around the walls of the bar.

He’s paying so much attention to the drop’s path that he startles a little when he feels Ed’s hands, cool and damp from the glass, cup his jaw and shake his head a little. 

James can’t say he’s overly fond of having people in his personal space without good reason, of which there are few, but he allows Ed to poke and prod at him. He doesn’t know why, other than the fact that Ed is Ed, and James loves and trusts him. Perhaps more than anyone else. 

Ed presses his thumbs into the corners of James’ mouth and pulls his lips into a smile, grinning back at him in triumph.

“There, that’s better. That trademark James Acaster smile. Who could resist?”

James doesn’t try to pull away or stop him. He just stands there and allows Ed to mould his face into the expression he’s looking for.

“Everyone who lives and breathes, apparently.” He’s still feeling petulant even with Ed’s full attention, apparently.

Ed shakes him again, a bit harder this time, and lets go of his mouth to slide a hand around the nape of his neck. He cups it tightly and leans in. He’s not smiling anymore.

“Stop it. This is the last time I’m going to see your face in person until I get back and I don’t want it to look like Nish’s when he found out about the peach cobbler.” 

That gets James to huff out a small laugh, and he ducks his head as much as Ed’s hand on the back of his neck will allow.

“So, will you smile for me?”

James can do that. Just because he asked nicely.

 

+1

A sudden bright light cuts through James' eyelids and he opens his eyes. There's a notification on his phone. He squints at it through the darkness of his room and he briefly considers turning over and ignoring it. He's fucking tired and he can't get to sleep but is determined to get there through sheer stubbornness. Then he sees Ed's name above the message. 

Ed is currently in Australia and is killing it by all accounts. He's been there for two weeks now and he's sent James a few texts, some pictures of things they saw the last time they were both there at the same time. 

This time it's a picture of a statue of a giant cowboy boot that sits outside of a shoe shop. James still has the photo of him and Ed posing next to it in his camera roll. 

He stares at it for a moment before he hits the phone button next to Ed's name. He's not getting to sleep anytime soon anyway. 

He lies there in the dark listening to the dial tone questioning himself until there's a click and he hears Ed's voice, warm and happy. 

James listens to Ed talk about the gigs he's done so far, the restaurants he's been to, the people he's caught up with, just enjoying hearing his voice again. Eventually as he's askinga question about one of the desserts Ed mentions he has to stifle a yawn. 

"Hang on I've just realised, isn't it like stupid o'clock over there?" Ed cuts himself off in the middle of his sentence when he hears the yawn. 

"I can't get off," James groans, then realises what he's said, "to sleep, I mean. Obviously. I can't sleep." 

Ed chuckles, and James' mouth chooses to ignore the command from his brain to stop talking. 

"I've tried tea, useless. I tried candy crush, nothing. Even tried yoga, but turns out I'm not really built for that." 

"You tried yoga? Why are you doing yoga in your flat in the middle of the night?" His laughter over the phone is warm and amused. 

"I'm glad you find this so funny, Ed," James' voice gets higher as he speaks, his genuine frustration mixing with the urge to play up his plight, "yoga is supposed to be very relaxing and I was running out of options." 

"You know, usually when I can't get off I just end up getting off. Puts me straight to sleep." James can hear the smirk in his voice. 

"Well that can't be a good thing for whoever you're sleeping with can it?" 

"I've never had any complaints so far," Ed audibly shrugs, and James assumes he's cradling the phone between his shoulder and his ear. 

James only makes a kind of vaguely disbelieving noise in return, not willing to stroke Ed's ego. 

"Why don't you try it?" 

"What?" James asks, his voice high again in surprise, "are you telling me I should have a wank? Now?”

"Well it can't hurt, can it? It's better than yoga surely." 

James hesitates. 

"Well… I'm not even in the mood now, for a start. Not after you made me think about you abusing yourself." He means it to be a joke but it comes out weirdly flat. 

The noise in the background changes, like Ed has gone outside onto the street. James can hear muffled and distant voices as they pass Ed. 

"Get in the mood then! What do you normally think about?" Ed probes. 

"Ed for god's sake I'm not about to give you a tour of my wank bank while you're on the other side of the world. Or ever!" 

"Humour me James," Ed says. James can hear the smile in his voice again and for some reason it makes his palms itch. "I'm trying to help you out here, don't be ungrateful." 

There's a long pause as James breathes, waiting to see which impulse wins between his need to shrink away from awkward and uncomfortable subjects and the little voice in the back of his head telling him to follow Ed's lead. 

"Kissing." 

"Kissing? Always a good start. What else? What else do you focus on?" 

James closes his eyes. Somehow the darkness makes it easier to speak. 

"Their lips." 

Ed chuckles low in his throat. 

"Got a bit of an oral fixation there have we?"

James makes a noise, unable to deny but unwilling to confirm. 

"Ok, what else? What do you look at next?" The background noise on Ed's side has faded away to almost nothing other than the tweeting of birds. 

"Ed this really isn't doing anything to get me in the mood." 

There's a part of James that has always hated being under the spotlight and yet somehow also thrives. It's the part of him that has enabled his career choices, the part that kept him doing his classic scrapes, the part that is apparently all about self-flagellation that keeps him quite literally under the spotlight. 

That part of James is apparently the only part of him that can get to sleep, because he just feels awkward talking about himself, knowing that he doesn't exactly have a long and storied sexual history that would lend itself to this kind of conversation. 

"Okay okay, well what kind of porn do you normally watch then?" Ed asks, like it's a normal question. 

James makes a noise between disbelief and exasperation. 

"I don't know Ed, normal porn?" 

"Yeah but like are we talking anal, threesomes, bareback? What gets you going?" 

He doesn't really want to tell Ed that he avoids watching porn where possible. It just feels so sterile to him, and he can't stop himself from thinking about how they're just actors pretending to feel anything. He also doesn't want to talk about how watching lesbian porn just makes him feel creepy because of how obviously exploitative it is, or how he always focuses way too much on guys in porn and how he would measure up against them. He knows they're hardly setting a realistic standard but he can't help wondering if they're doing something he's not. 

Part of his act is playing up to a persona, really leaning into the awkward gangly virgin image he already has through no fault of his own. It’s not a fabrication, it’s based in reality and this is one of those things that proves it, but it’s not something he wants to go along with at this present moment, especially with someone who knows him as well as Ed.

The silence on James' end apparently lasts long enough that Ed takes pity on him. 

"Feeling a bit shy? Why don't I start then?"

James groans and throws an arm over his face. 

"Why don't you just talk long enough for me to get bored and put me to sleep that way instead? I'm sure that won't take as long this… Spanish Sex Inquisition." 

"James as your friend, it's very important to me that you get enough sleep and I'm happy to take the hit this time. This is the best way I know to get to sleep with 100% success rate," Ed digs his heels in and doubles down, and James can already feel his reluctance to engage Ed on his level fading a little. 

"Just listen to me talk okay?" James gives a flat hum in response, allowing Ed to read it however he wants. 

"I understand your oral fixation. Don't go for it myself but I always love using my mouth. Have you ever eaten someone out until they cried?" 

James shifts around on the bed until he gets comfortable on his back and lays the hand not holding his phone to his ear across his stomach. It feels weird to hold the phone like this but he doesn't want to put it on speaker. There's something about having Ed's voice in his ear that makes it feel more private, more secret, like if he makes it any louder he'll let the secret out into the world where he can't control it anymore. 

"It's amazing, James. The way you can feel the trembling in their muscles under your hands, feel them closing their legs around your head to make you stop because it's so sensitive but they can't keep you from carrying on. Holding them open so they're at your mercy." 

He breathes out heavily, feeling himself stir in his boxers. The thing is he can picture it so vividly in his head but he doesn't think it's what Ed intended him to think about. 

Instead of picturing himself doing it he sees Ed, his lips flushed pink and shiny, face between a girl's legs. He knows it should be the girl he's focussing on but he can't get past his image of Ed. The swoop of his hair against milky pale skin, the strength of his hands holding onto sharp hips, the cocky arch of his eyebrows as he looks up to see the effect he's having. 

He imagines what it would be like to look down and see Ed's face between his own legs, his lips dark and stretched into a smirk. 

His eyes snap open and Ed keeps talking, blissfully unaware of James taking things too far. 

"Sometimes I go for so long that my mouth hurts and I finish them off with my fingers. Or my hands. Always nice and slow though. Do you do it fast or slow?" 

Heat rushes into James' face and he chokes on the answer. 

"Slow usually."

"Are you going slow now?" Ed's voice is still completely level, like he's talking about the traffic or the weather. 

"Now? I'm… not?" 

"You're not?" Now he sounds incredulous and James just can't keep up. This can't be normal. 

"Should I be?" 

"James I walked into a park to get enough privacy to help you get off so you could get to sleep, I don't know how you're going to do that if you're not touching yourself." 

James' breath catches. It could be a joke, some kind of weirdly specific and intricate prank, but even as paranoid as James can be he still finds it hard to believe that Ed would do that to him. 

"Well it seemed rude to presume," his voice is high, slightly hysterical. 

He trusts Ed, but a prank would still make more sense to him than the alternative. 

Cautiously he lets his hand creep down his stomach to the elastic of his boxers. 

"Should I…" he swallows and tries again, "slow or fast?" 

Ed makes a noise like he's thinking it over. 

"Slow. Definitely slow, for now." 

James swallows hard again and pushes the elastic down until it slips under his balls and his dick slaps against his stomach, already wet at the tip. 

The noise it makes is loud in the darkness of his room and he has a second of irrational fear that Ed heard it over the phone. 

"O-ok, I'm going slow," he says, starting up a rhythm that feels good now but won't be enough once he gets into it more. 

"Good. What about fingering, do you like that? It's always a good way to start ramping things up isn't it? I love the way you can always tell you've found the right spot by the way they jerk once you hit it, then it's up to you if you're nice about it or if you rub it until it's too much." 

James lets his hand speed up, tightening his grip. For as long as it took him to allow himself to relax, he's fully on-board now. His arches into his fist, rolling his hips and bringing his knees up to plant his feet firmly against the mattress. 

"Fucking someone after they've already come is unreal. So sensitive, the noises they make while you fuck them. Their eyes usually go weirdly glassy, like they're so overwhelmed by the way everything feels they can't pay attention to anything else but that." 

His brain drifts again and James lets it, too caught up to stop it from going to places it shouldn't. He's never been fucked by anyone, not like Ed's talking about, but he remembers days where he had too much time and too little to do and how it felt to try and come twice in a row. He couldn't manage it then, but he thinks about it now, how it would probably work if someone else was in charge of making him come, if he didn't have a choice in the matter. 

He sees Ed, doing the things he's describing, his voice getting thicker and lower as he goes. He sees him as if he's the one Ed is with, looking up at him as he fucks into him. 

James lets out a shuddering breath and Ed chuckles deeply in response.  

"See, you're getting into it now aren't you?" 

It sends a bolt of heat through his stomach and he speeds up, squeezing on the upstroke. It wasn't so hard when Ed was just talking about himself, it could have been a relatively normal conversation, but when Ed actively talks to him, acknowledging what's actually happening, it brings it all back in a rush. 

It should be weird, it is weird, but somehow it feels like some kind of logical next step for them. They've always been a bit weird with each other, so what's one more thing to add to the list? James thinks it would feel a bit different if he'd gone looking for it, if he'd tried to get them here himself, but Ed started it and the rest just fell into place. 

"Yeah," he chokes out, and he doesn't know if Ed meant it rhetorically but he answers anyway. 

"Feeling good?" 

James breathes out in a rush, his hand moving even faster. 

"'m really close," he groans. He's almost there, a few more strokes and it'll be over. 

"Don't come yet," Ed says, his voice firm. 

James' heart skips several beats as he drops his dick like it's just burned him, only just in enough time to stop himself from tipping over the end. His hips fuck up into empty air, his chest heaving. 

"Wh-what the fuck? Why not?" He tries to keep the whine out of his voice. It's fucking cruel to stop him that close. 

Ed makes an amused noise just short of a laugh. 

"I just wanted to see if you'd stop." James can see the shit-eating grin on his face in his mind and he drops his head back against the pillow with a thud. His dick twitches against his stomach, still as hard as ever. 

"I hate you so much Ed, you're a terrible friend and I hope you get bitten by a snake." His hand moves back to his cock, wrapping his hand back around it and starting to move it lightly. 

Ed said not to come, but he didn't say to stop. It's enough of a rationalisation to start jerking himself again. 

"Well, you're the only one doing a bit of snake charming so I think you're more in danger than I am." Jesus Christ. 

"Please shut up Ed, I'm trying to concentrate," he's beyond awkwardness or embarrassment. He wants the orgasm he was promised. 

"You're going back at it?" 

"No Ed, I'm doing a paint by numbers. What else would I be doing?" 

"You close?" 

"Getting there." 

Ed doesn't start talking again, and James listens to him breathing on the other end of the phone as he gets closer and closer. 

It feels… intimate . Not like friends helping each other out, it feels like something more, and as much as James tries to tell himself it's absolutely not anything else it doesn't change the way he strains to hear Ed so he knows he's still there. 

As James' breathing gets heavier the closer he gets Ed almost mirrors it, breathing through his mouth into the phone in little puffs. 

"I'm not stopping this time," James pants. He feels the silence stretched between them break and Ed huffs out a laugh. 

"I wouldn't dream of it mate." 

It only takes another few strokes before James chokes on his breath, turning away from the phone a little as he curls in on himself. 

It hits him slowly, more like a slow burning warmth spreading through his body than a punch to the gut and it feels fucking good. His toes curl in the duvet cover and he strokes himself through it lightly. 

He lets out a long slow breath as his muscles unclench and go loose and floppy. 

"Feel better?" It sounds quieter than before and James turns his head back into the phone. 

"Much." He smiles, to boneless and sated for anything more complex. 

"Think you can sleep now?" Ed's voice is tighter but James doesn't have enough energy to examine it any closer. 

"Yeah." 

"Good. Night James." 

He hums in response, and only just hears the beep as the call ends before he falls asleep.