Chapter Seven

A/N: Lo! Faster updates, what? Don't say I never gave y'all anything.

"I see your dad's making a real commitment to being a better person," Kendall says conversationally as they make their way down the sidewalk.

"Leave it alone, dude." The air smells like black tar and palm fronds, oaky bark and sharp citrus. Cars whizz past with such speed that it hurts to watch, there and gone in a streak of red and white light. James breathes deep, shoves his hands into his pockets, and waits for the inevitable fight Kendall's about to put up.

"I can't. I hate it when he talks to you like that."

He never knows when to leave well enough alone. Predictable.

James asks, "Like what?" perfectly innocent, concentrating on his footsteps, counting them out.




"Like you're property." Kendall's face scrunches up rather unattractively, his distaste a physical reaction. "And not even property he likes very much."

"It's cool." James bumps their shoulders together affectionately. "I don't like him very much either."

The summer sky is hazy black beneath the thick layer of smog that clings like a cobweb to the Los Angeles skyline. Intense heat beads sweat at the small of James's back.

It should be more bearable now, in the darkness, but Diana's game beneath the table continues to prickle hot under his skin. He wants flesh beneath his palms. He wants to feel filthy noises reverberate in his throat. Kendall doesn't look particularly receptive to being pushed up against a wall and ravished, but that doesn't stop James from giving the idea some serious consideration.

Between Diana's visit and Kendall's puritan values, it's been nearly a month since he last got laid, and at this point he's shamefully indiscriminate about whom he seals the deal with. Kendall, with his full, pink mouth and his wiry musculature and his open adoration, fits the bill just fine.

"James. Hey, hi." Kendall impatiently wiggles his fingers in front of James's face. "You're zoning."

"Can you blame me?" James steps in close to Kendall, running his fingers over the collar of his flannel. He nuzzles his nose into the crook of his neck. "We're all alone."

He mouths along the ridged line of Kendall's jugular. A moan vibrates beneath his lips, so he sucks harder, tries to taste it. Kendall laughs harshly, ruffles his hands through James's hair and tugs at his shirt. "We're in the middle of the sidewalk. Idiot."

James doesn't care. This moment, right now, it is asphalt, broken glass, crushed flowers, and the sharp, hot whimper tripping off Kendall's lips. He marks Kendall because he can, coaxes red-black bruises beneath his tongue. The velvet black of night blurs the contours of Kendall's face, creates a palette of pink-peach, red, and green, green, green. He mouths against James's ear, wet and open, making this noise that's half-grunt, half-whine whenever their hips rub the right way.

This is perfect, this is it, this is exactly what James needs to forget the tease of Diana's foot against his skin. He wants her, he wants her, he wants her, but he wants Kendall too, and for now, it's enough. He begins fumbling open the front of Kendall's jeans, denim scraping rough under his hands.

Kendall fits his hands between them, grabbing James's wrists. "What are you – no, I'm not letting half of Los Angeles County see my ass."

James shoves him against dark, knotted tree bark, rich brown against Kendall's pale skin. Squeezing his fingertips into the stitching at the back of Kendall's jeans, he murmurs, "Let them see mine instead."

"You're ridiculous," Kendall snorts, cocking his head to the side. His bangs lay golden across the pale skin of his forehead, illuminated by lamplight and the toxic glow of electric light reflected down at them from smog-tinged clouds. He's really absurdly beautiful, James thinks, this single dissonant sentiment that pushes against the hailstorm of lust pounding through his bloodstream.

Maybe Kendall hears it, somehow, because he isn't fighting anymore. He pushes his mouth up against James's, soft and insistent, testing his tongue between the plush of James's lips. He does not stop James from unbuttoning his jeans.

There's something insanely intimate about touching Kendall through the front of his boxers, because of the newness, because of the faith that Kendall's putting in James. He hates public exposure, loathes the idea of anyone seeing him in a compromising position, but here, against the peeling bark of a eucalyptus tree, he allows James to strip parts of him bare. He trusts James to shield him against the cars blurring by, even as his fingertips dip beneath the soft cloth opening of his underwear. And James takes that trust without flinching, because with something important like this? He can't remember ever letting Kendall down.

James kisses him deep, swallowing down Kendall's tiny gasps. He palms the head of Kendall's cock, skin slipping against beads of precum, bitter and glistening. His knuckles scrape against fabric, brushing back against own dick, and god, yes, he's hard. He groans and shifts his attention to Kendall's jaw, biting out. Kendall whimpers and bucks up into James's hand, smearing sticky wet against his heartline, his lifeline, the tiny scar he got from street hockey when they were eight.

James snakes his fingers around Kendall's cock, his grip confident, practiced, easy. He strokes down, learning the length of his best friend, each firm movement coaxing tiny noises from the beatbox of Kendall's flushed throat. James ruts himself into the heated spaces between their bodies, each twitch of his hips finding a different place to land; the tight muscle of Kendall's thigh, the indent of his hipbone, the molten warmth that has caught on the bunched fabric of his boxers and jeans.

Crickets and cicadas chirrup and buzz. A car horn blares, some jackoff cat calling loud, bawdy words that are lost to the night. James doesn't worry about it, even when Kendall stiffens. There's no one else walking the street, and what can anyone in the sluice of cars see? Two boys, making out? Certainly not the short, jerky movements of James's elbow, riling Kendall higher and higher until he's wild with it, attacking James's lips and forcing his own hands down the front of his jeans, ignoring the tight fit between his belt and his stomach. James can feel the shift of Kendall's bones in his wrist when he finally grabs hold of his dick, his touch fizzing electric all over James's body.

He nibbles at the hinge of Kendall's jaw, murmurs, "I've dreamt about your hands on me," satisfied that it isn't anything like a lie. He has had this dream, Kendall's guitar-callused palms skidding against him in blazes of light, each brighter than the next behind his eyelids.

Kendall sucks promises against his throat, harmonizes them with pleased encouragement and expectant moans. He's vocal in little ways, telling James yes, telling James there, telling James you're- and never finishing with what exactly James is. He grasps him tight and too experienced, reminding James that he knows his way around another guy's cock, but that thought's lost when Kendall's breathing speeds up, his free hand digging into the muscles of James's back hard enough to bruise. He's fucking into James's grip almost as fast as James can move his hand, and that desperation is hotter than it should be, the night air warming until it feels like the sun's burning the back of James's neck. He can feel Kendall practically trying to climb him, wants that, wants Kendall naked and in a bed, or maybe just on that lawn over there, that looks soft, and that's how James comes; with Kendall painted in soft pink, violet, and burnished gold in front of him, real and fantasy at the same time, seeing him clothed, imagining him naked.

It's only after he comes down that he notices his own hand is wet and sticky. James licks Kendall's cum away perfunctorily, missing the hungry way Kendall watches him until he's done.

Kendall buckles them both back into their pants, and when he's done, his sticky fingers circle James's wrist, rough and firm. He pulls, forcing them both to stumble away from the trees, backing away from their tiny haven and back out into the world. James is working himself up towards a pout when Kendall breaks into a run, carried away on the wind and the concrete.

"Hey!" James yelps after him, giving chase instinctively, but Kendall has a head start, and he's always been fast. He can't catch up, he doesn't catch up, until he trips over Kendall's shoes, left in an unceremonious pile in the middle of the sidewalk three blocks away. James glances around wildly, confused as fuck.

The wrought iron gate to an apartment complex is swinging open on rusty hinges, the pool behind it glowing jewel toned and lovely. Kendall bobs in the center, lean limbs glittering crystalline, and the whole tableau is framed; by birds of paradise in bluegreenorange, by fragrant wisteria and trees heavy with citrus, each plant more vibrant and alive than the next.

James wanders up the path of terracotta tile and rich earth, his boots thudding loud, his heart pounding harder. He stands at the edge of the pool, breath held, cum drying against his stomach in white flakes and he feels too dirty for this place. Not on the outside, where he is sated, vibrant, awash in Kendall's wide, happy grin, but in a deeper place. He can feel the ghost of Diana's foot against his thigh, the sensation throbbing with the squeak of the gate hinges behind him. It's unwelcome, he doesn't want it, not here, not with Kendall.

James shoves it down deeper, into the dark, secret place he has reserved for emotions that are useless. Then he shoves it deeper still and strips down to nothing. He focuses on here, on Kendall, on owning the night. He obliterates everything he doesn't want with a single cannonball – and the raucous, uncontrollable shout of Kendall's laughter.

On their first date, Diana showed up at the theater rain-bedraggled, with mud-flecked jeans. The other girls milling around the lobby, buying popcorn or thumbing over their phones, were immaculate, butterfly colors clinging to their skin, makeup un-smudged, hair carefully styled. And then there was this girl, sopping wet and inordinately beautiful.

"Did you walk here?" James asked. He thought about kissing her cheek – he wanted it so hard he could taste rainwater on his lips, but they barely knew each other. It would be weird. And James lived in fear of this pretty, strange girl thinking he was weird.

She grinned wide, her teeth flashing pearls. "My car's junk. It broke down about ten blocks back."

Immediate guilt flooded his stomach. "You could have canceled."

She shrugged, her dark hair matted in pointed whorls against her pale throat. "I wanted to see what you're all about, James Diamond." Assuming a low tone, she commanded, "Don't disappoint me."

James took that to heart. He was so desperate to impress her, to make her like him back, that he couldn't pay attention past the opening credits. Halfway through the movie, Diana's hand slipped into his. It was smaller and frailer than James expected, too soft to be real and too easy to break. He tried not to move, not to squeeze, not to sweat, because nobody liked a clammy hand-holder, nuh-uh, not at all.

Thinking back on it, James acted like his first date with Diana was his first date ever. Maybe that's why, at the end, she didn't kiss him. She talked to him, perched on a bench in the theater lobby, for close to an hour after the flick, but when he went in for the kill, she flipped still-damp hair out of her eyes and weaved away.

He thought he'd done something wrong, but her smile was no dimmer than it had been at the beginning when she said, "Next date, don't invite the rain."

"You're smiling. It's creepy," are the first words Gustavo says to Kendall and James when they walk into the studio.

Sweat is soaking through the back of James's shirt, sticking the fabric to his skin. The air conditioning of Rocque Records barely does anything to assuage the unbearable gluey feeling. He can't wait to get into the darker cave-like rooms by the sound booth, where he'll actually be able to enjoy the way Kendall is constantly touching him – on the shoulder, on the knee, a hand at his elbow or the small of his back or ruffling through his hair.

James catches sight of his reflection on the glass protecting the glossy poster of the band. Gustavo's right, he is smiling. There's something intoxicating about being the center of Kendall's attention, like standing in a spotlight of stars. These days, James is never smarter, funnier, more gorgeous than he is with Kendall's brilliant green eyes on him, and it would probably be scary if he hadn't spent such a huge part of his life vying for Kendall's attention anyway. They all do it, even Logan and Carlos, because it's Kendall. He's always had this very special way of looking at people like they're the only thing worth seeing.

Ever since last night, Kendall's been watching James like that to the power of oh, say, eight billion.

"You're smiling. It's creepy," Carlos says in a perfect imitation of Gustavo, accompanying the words with a quick jab to the ribs. James smacks him back, because he can. It quickly dissolves into a slap fight of epic proportions that Kendall and Logan observe with smug grins until Kelly intervenes, promising them juice boxes.

They lay down two and a half songs before she delivers, grape sweetness pooling on James's tongue. He doesn't really need the fifteen minute break, but it's nice to sprawl out on the leather couch in Gustavo's office, his head pillowed on Logan's lap, his legs tangled with Kendall's, Carlos's head a heavy weight against his own side. They get to be grade school levels of interdependent in Rocque Records. Braced by red and black walls and endless circles of gold, no one cares whether they grow up or not.

"So how gay are you?" Carlos asks Kendall and James, cheeks hollow as he sucks on his juice. "On a scale of one to Liberace?"

"We've seen Kendall in glitter spandex," Logan pipes in. "So let's go with Liberace."

Kendall chucks his empty juicebox at Logan's head, droplets splashing over James's face. He swats at them both, glaring.

Logan pats James's head in a placating manner and tells Carlos, "Dude, it's not nice to Kinsey Scale other people's gayness."

"'M just curious."

Voice fond, Kendall nudges Carlos with his sneaker. "'Bout? Ask away, Carlitos. We've got all the answers."

He says it with suitable levels of majesty and jackassery, of course. James is totally unimpressed – he mostly has all the questions, like why he came harder in Kendall's hands than he has in a long, long while.

"'Kay." Carlos sucks thoughtfully on his juicebox before asking, "Does butt-sex hurt?"

James hacks and spits. His shirt now smells of grape.

Logan's stunned too, mouth is gaping open, but Kendall manages to school his disbelief into a careful mask of cool authority. He says, "At first, it kind of sucks. But then it gets better." He takes a sip of juice, cutting his eyes towards James, whose cheeks are flaming. "A lot better."

Gaping wider, Logan mouths down at him, Did you…?

James shakes his head vehemently. He almost forgot that Kendall isn't new at this, at boys, and it makes all James's limited experience feel really inadequate. The warm glow that's lit his stomach all day dissipates.

It doesn't matter whether James impresses Kendall, probably. It's not like they're going to have a relationship, after, or anything.

He works on convincing himself that the thick sourness in his mouth doesn't taste like regret.

"And what's it like sucking another dude's cock?" Carlos asks, completely pragmatic about it. Like this isn't the most embarrassing conversation James has ever been a part of.

He's saved the humiliation of answering – or worse, hearing Kendall's answer, because he so doesn't want to know if his pretty pink lips have ever touched Jett Stetson's dick – when Gustavo storms into his office, Kelly trailing in his wake.

"Dogs," Gustavo intones with the kind of gravitas that suggests at deep irritation. "I have a surprise for you."

"Is it Rocque Records' Calendar of Nudes?" Logan asks, "Because that was the worst surprise ever."

James shudders. He's never been able to figure out if he was more traumatized by Mr. Miyazaki, posed naked in front of a waterfall or Griffin, bareass naked, except for some nasty looking hunting gear.

"Fortunately," Gustavo says loudly, talking over Logan's complaints, "No one asked me to undress this year."

"The calendar didn't sell well," Kelly mutters, looking plenty traumatized herself.

Gustavo frowns at her, only barreling onward when Kendall clears his throat. "Your third track is going to feature a celebrity singer."

Carlos perks up. Gustavo crushes his dreams.

"No, it's not Jordin Sparks."

"Is it Leighton Meester? She's hot on that Cobra Starship song," Kendall says.

"I'm down for Leighton Meester," Logan pipes in.

"Unless Leighton Meester has a penis, it's not Leighton Meester."

The guys look at each other uneasily. She could. It is Hollywood, after all.

James wracks his brain for local talent, coming up with a list eight miles long. Hollywood is one big fondue pot of creativity. The options are virtually endless.

"How about Dak Zevon? What?" Carlos makes a face at the guys. "Dak's cool."

"Dak, yeah, right, that's why you wanted to know about buttsex," Logan says under his breath, an easy tease that has Carlos leaping to his feet for a flying squirrel-tackle.

"You are all wrong." Gustavo announces, trying to skewer them with the power of his glower. It doesn't work; Gustavo grimaces in a way that suggests he rues his total lack of superpowers. "Wrong. Wrong. Wrong."

"Right." Kendall rolls his eyes, forever unflappable in the face of Gustavo's melodrama. "Enlighten us already, then."

Less than pleased with the entire situation, Gustavo crosses his arms not very threateningly. He says, "Colossal Studios are trying to kickstart the singing careers of the actors on New Town High."

Kendall brightens quicker than a sodium light, joy flashing quick and fierce across his face. "Are we working with Jo?"

James holds his breath and waits. Jo and Kendall's breakup – and inability to make up – last year came out of left field. Or maybe not, knowing what happened between Kendall and Jett in DC. James thinks back, tries to remember if the trip took place before or after Jo left to film Chauncey Jackson and the Magic Gallows. After, he decides. It had to be after. Kendall's not a cheater.

Besides, Jo stuck it out with him for a long while after her less than triumphant return from New Zealand. If Kendall cheated on her, if she knew, they wouldn't have managed to be obnoxiously happy together all those months. Not that James found their happiness offensive or anything.

(There's a spiky, urchin shaped creature in the pit of his stomach, jealousy, or maybe just his body reminding him oxygen is not optional.)

"No," Gustavo says loudly, swiveling his head towards Kendall with horror-movie speed. Something must show in Kendall's eyes, an emotion that James can't suss out in profile, because abruptly, Gustavo softens his voice. "Jo's working with Lucy Stone, over at the Colossal label. They're doing a duet about girl power."

"We sing about how much we love girls. It's totally the same thing," Carlos argues.

Logan smacks him, hard. "No it's not."

"No, it's not," Kelly agrees, with way less hitting.

"Who are we singing with?" Kendall demands, sitting up and untangling himself from James.

James stares pointedly at the warmth seeping away from his knee and thigh, only vaguely interested in Gustavo's answer now that he knows it's not the former love of Kendall's life. There are some cute girls on New Town High, but none of them constitute a legitimate threat to…to…

He's not really sure where he's going with this line of thought, or why he cares if Kendall likes a pretty girl. He doesn't, really.

He totally doesn't.

James begins examining his cuticles, trying to prove to himself how completely disinterested he is in Kendall's potential love life. He's focusing so hard on a ragged edge of skin near his pinky that he's not paying attention when Gustavo tells them, "The idiots running Colossal think it's a good idea if you idiots work with Jett Stetson."

"What?" Logan yelps, unsettling James's head from his lap.

Skull thunking against the edge of the couch, James glares balefully up at Logan. "What?" Then the name catches up to him. "Wait, what?"

"Precisely what I said," Gustavo booms, annoyance scrawled all over his face. He hates prissy Hollywood divas practically more than Kendall, and Kendall…

Kendall isn't saying anything.

Sensing an impending tantrum, Kelly steps gracefully in front of Gustavo and his clenched fists. She totally misses James's imminent snit-fit, but her calm-vibes are obviously meant to have a blanket effect. "Colossal requested we pair Jett with the band, but the decision's sound. Griffin's already signed off on it. And look, Jett has fantastic credentials – a large fanbase and a stellar reputation with our local investors."

"Have our local investors ever met Jett Stetson?" Logan grumbles.

James points at Logan and nods, "Listen to Mitchell. He's talking sense."

"Guys, this is a great opportunity. Jett's…difficult, sure, but he's a hit with your core demographic. Think of it this way – he'll only be making you more famous."

"Can Jett even sing?" Kendall interrupts, the question mild, too curious. It's the first reaction the news has gotten out of him, and it's not at all the reaction James wants.

Does he actually want Jett around?

"No idea." Kelly shrugs, forever pragmatic. "Frankly, the publicity we'll get out of this is worth the hassle."

Gustavo makes an incensed noise.

"It could be fun?" A Carlos-shaped traitor volunteers, wavering between Kelly and his best friends like the Brutus he is. James scowls at him so hard that his body blurs into the red background of Gustavo's walls, punctuated by spots of metallic gold.

"I'd rather get my teeth pulled," Logan counters.

"I'd rather shave my head," James adds.

"Carlos is right," Kendall says, missing the sharp in-what-universe look James shoots his way. "Jett's not a bad guy. This could be fun."

He's wearing his Challenge Accepted face, which bodes well for, um, nobody, but especially not for James. If Jett flounces in and sweeps Kendall off his feet, well.

There goes the game.