“James Potter, don’t you dare even think about—”
“It’s just a pint, Lily, what’s the big deal?”
“Sure, it’s just a pint! You go for a pint with Sirius, you’ll be gone all night and come back so plastered, you won’t know your own name!”
“I don’t have any trouble remembering names when I’m drunk!”
“Oh, sure. — Not Sirius’s, anyway!”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Lily.”
“Where do you think you’re— Come back here this— JAMES!”
“What did you do to the living room?”
“The living room, Lily! What the hell did you do to it?”
“… What do you mean? I didn’t do anything, James.”
“What are those things on the windows, then?”
“You mean the new curtains? I got them today. Aren’t they lovely?”
“No. They’re hideous.”
“Get rid of them.”
“No. I like them.”
“Well. That’s too bad.”
“Gah, you— Fuck it. Whatever! Fine.”
“I thought we’d agreed not to get him the broomstick.”
“James Potter, you LOOK at me when I’m speaking to you.”
“What was that, dear?”
“The broomstick. I thought we’d decided not to get Harry one before he was older.”
“We decided nothing. You decided that you didn’t trust me not to get our son hurt.”
“James! That was never—”
“Wasn’t it, though?”
“Ugh, you’re impossible, you moronic toerag!”
“Home at last, are you.”
“Where have you been, Lily? I had to make Harry supper!”
“Oh, heaven forbid the high-and-mighty man have to cook.”
“Where. Were. You?”
“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, James.”
“I’m going to bed. You may have the couch. Goodnight.”
After sending James off to put Harry to bed by himself, Lily sat at the kitchen table and waited for him to come back, steeling herself for the conversation she’d decided it was time they had. James came back before she was done, and began fixing himself some tea. He didn’t ask if she wanted any — or maybe he did, and she just ignored him.
“James…” she began at last, in a voice that sounded heavy even to her own ears.
Her husband turned to her, the same wariness in his eyes as there was after they’d had a fight. Only they hadn’t fought — today. In fact, things had gone rather smoothly. Amazingly smoothly. No-one had gotten angry over something trivial, no-one had grown impatient too quickly, no-one had snapped at someone for something silly. Even Harry, little two-year-old Harry, had behaved himself.
But days like this were one in a hundred, now.
“Yes, Lily?” James asked, in his most cautious, polite tone. He moved around the table and took the chair across from her, sipping his tea and setting the cup down.
Inside her mind, Lily cringed to hear that tone. It was nothing like the careless, vibrant voice of the man she’d married. A voice which she never heard now. At least, not directed at her. There was only one person who could draw that sound, all unguarded, from her husband now.
“I think we need to talk,” she said, rather than voice her other, even more depressing thought.
James’s brows drew together in a tense black line. “You look awfully seri—” but he cut off before he said the word, and she was oddly grateful for it. He paused a moment, frowning at her. “Talk? All right, we can do that.”
“Thank you,” she replied, and twisted her hands together anxiously.
His hazel eyes noticed the motion, and glinted behind his glasses as he followed it, even when she tried to hide her hands in her lap, under the table.
Damn it, she thought, why couldn’t he be just a little less observant, just this once?
“Lily…” began James, in an even more cautious tone, sounding actually worried now, of all things, the stupid, infuriating man. “Is there something wrong?”
She took a deep breath. She could do this. She must. She could.
“Yes,” she muttered, not looking at him. It was easier, if she just didn’t have to see the concern on his face before she said this. Another deep breath, a stall, because she didn’t think she could help herself. Then—
“I want a divorce.”
James didn’t move, didn’t react, didn’t even blink.
She forced her eyes to meet his, their gazes colliding sharply in the middle of the table, warring silently across its surface.
Lily whispered, “And so do you.”
There was a moment of silence, and her heartbeat actually stuttered at the look she thought she saw in his eyes.
Then James thrust his chair away from the table and surged to his feet, turning away from her and pacing halfway across the kitchen. He had a hand in his hair — almost like when he used to muss it just because he thought it made him look cooler — only this time it wasn’t raking quickly through to disarrange, but coiling and gripping and Lily couldn’t help wondering if he really wanted to hit something that badly.
He must have, because when he stopped in front of the sink a few seconds later, staring down at the dirty glasses in it without seeing them, both his hands were in fists at his sides, and his shoulders were tense.
Lily wished, a little wildly, that she were still one of the two people who could ease that hard line of discomfort from his body. But, no, there were no longer two people, only one — and it wasn’t her.
“Do you really feel as guilty as all that?” she asked his back, not even bothering to make the words sharp.
“Guilty, Lily?” he spat, and then he was whirling to face her again — and she was actually stupidly comforted to see the angry spark in his expression. She was used to that. He took a step closer, his hands still empty fists. “Are you trying to say that… that this is my fault?”
“No,” she said quickly. She shook her head, once. “It isn’t your fault, James. Not solely yours, anyway.”
That seemed to throw him — as it had a right to, since she wasn’t usually in a hurry to declare him innocent of anything, these days — and he stared at her blankly a moment, taking in the white, determined set to her face. Like anyone who knew her well would have, and he knew her almost the best of anyone now, he could see the tiny, almost invisible quaking of her shoulders.
Would he know what it meant?
James drew back, visibly regrouping. His hands uncurled, fingers flexing, as he thought.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Lily?” he finally asked, careful again. He paused, apparently to allow the scorn in her eyes a moment of due recognition. Then he went on, “I mean, think of Harry. Do you really—”
“Harry will be fine,” she interrupted, her hands twisting around themselves again. “I’ve thought about this, believe me. As long as the two of us are not living in the same house, we should be able to get along well enough to keep raising him together.”
He just stared. Stood there, perfectly still, and stared. She had no idea what he was thinking. But then, was that so unusual?
“Really,” he eventually said, and then nothing else.
She nodded, anyway. “Yeah,” she replied quietly. “I do. We fight now because we see too much of each other, I think. Once we don’t have to, well — we won’t fight so much.”
“Is divorce really the answer, though?” he asked, and she didn’t at all understand the nearly panicked edge suddenly creeping into his voice. What was he afraid of?
She frowned, slightly. “James—”
“I mean, I could just… just go stay with Sirius, most of the time. We wouldn’t have to actually—”
“James!” she protested loudly, getting to her feet as well, and glaring at him. It was her best glare, the one he had cause to remember from their Hogwarts days, and it had the proper effect; he shut up.
Lily sighed, and passed a hand tiredly over her eyes, unconsciously bringing back the concerned look in his. “Look, James,” she murmured, “I appreciate that you’d be willing to do that, but— but do you really think it would work?”
James was silent.
“It would help the fighting, yes,” she agreed, reluctantly. “But that’s not our only problem, is it?”
He still didn’t say anything.
She huffed, and turned her back to him, pacing toward the fridge. When she spoke next, it was over her shoulder, not facing him again. “James, think about it. When things between us are the way they should be, we’re great together. But they’re so very, very rarely that way, anymore.”
Now— now— the idiot decided to try and speak. “Lily…”
She just raised her voice and talked over him. “Why is that, do you think?”
“Is the effect, not the cause.” Finally she spun back around, giving him her best fierce look of superiority.
For once, James didn’t fold under it, but stood there, his face gone curiously empty, and stared. As if he were waiting for something. Like a man accused, who was just about to be shown the evidence of his guilt. And knew it.
How many times had Lily had arguments with him, and she’d never got quite that look out of him? Resigned, yes; defiant, yes; protesting, yes; defensive, yes. But never this cool acceptance. What did he think she was going to say?
What, damn it, did he think she had on him?
Pushing the speculation aside, she refocused on her argument. “The fact is,” she threw out, expecting him to recoil at the accusation, “we’re just not in love anymore.”
Incredibly, his expression didn’t waver.
Idly, Lily wondered what more he thought there could possibly be. That was bad enough, wasn’t it?
“I won’t stay married to a man who doesn’t love me, James,” she finished, quietly. Firmly.
Finally, he winced, and the bewilderingly void look on his face vanished. “But Lily,” he pleaded forlornly, and without heat, “I do love you.”
“Not like you used to,” she countered calmly. “Not like you should, not like that.”
James didn’t seem to know what to do. He couldn’t deny it, and obviously he wasn’t willing to argue that it wasn’t important. So he sighed, and looked pathetically sorry.
“I won’t stay married to a man I don’t love, either,” she said after a minute, heartsick of watching him grope for the right thing to say, some way to make it better. He couldn’t — they couldn’t — do that, and somewhere deep down, they both knew it.
He hung his head.
But he didn’t look quite as miserable as he maybe could have.
And Lily discovered what defeat tasted like.
“All right,” he whispered without raising his head, into the stillness of the kitchen, his voice covering the sound of her heart failing to break again. “Whatever you want, Lily. It’s your call.”
“Good,” she said, briskly. “I knew you’d see reason.”
And that was that.
They were going to get a divorce.
Not once had James actually denied he wanted it.
Standing in the living room of his little flat, for a moment Sirius could only stare. “What?” he blurted.
Sprawled across Sirius’s couch, rumpled ridiculously and still wearing his heavy cloak, staring at the ceiling rather than his friend, James grunted. “You heard me, Sirius.”
Sirius swallowed, wide-eyed. “You mean, seriously—”
James didn’t move.
“Yes, Sirius,” he muttered.
“A divorce, James?” demanded Sirius, his lips curling at the word, as if it left a strange taste in his mouth.
Sirius frowned, a little bit bewildered. “But… Why?”
This at last provoked James into movement. He got to his feet and stormed over to the window, leaning against the frame and staring unseeingly out into the weak early-morning winter sunlight as he growled over his shoulder, “None of your fucking business.”
“I—” Sirius started to exclaim, indignant and possibly a little hurt at the abrupt coldness. But his mouth snapped closed and his jaw worked for a minute. He took a deep breath, and forced a shrug. “Fine. Whatever.”
There was silence for several minutes, James pretending to pay attention to the world outside, and Sirius standing several feet away, staring intently at the other man, as if he could will away the tension in the slimmer shoulders.
James broke the air with a sigh. His shoulders slumped, and he crossed his arms over his chest, to hide it.
“… Sorry,” he whispered to the glass panes in front of him.
“Forget it,” said Sirius, almost before the second syllable of the single word had escaped James’s lips. “You staying here?”
James leaned forward and rested his head against the cold window, not turning as he replied, “For awhile.”
“All right. Good.” That seemed to be enough for Sirius, who moved toward the hallway, going back to his bed. He briefly rested a hand on James’s back as he passed, a fleeting touch of comfort with an eternity of support behind it.
He was practically through the bedroom door before James’s voice halted him.
He half-turned, his face smooth; James hadn’t moved away from the window. “Yeah?”
Sirius let himself in the back door, shaking off the smell of fresh green things and over-eager spring. He wasn’t expected, but he had a few hours, and it had been awhile since he’d checked on them.
He found Lily curled up on the couch, staring across at Harry, napping in the armchair that used to be James’s favorite. She didn’t look up when he entered the room.
“Hullo, Lily,” he said quietly, trying not to startle her. “How are you?”
“What?” She started, lifting her head sharply, her eyes wide. When she realized it was him, she settled back against the cushions. “Oh. Sirius. I’m fine.”
He eyed the tight lines around her mouth critically. “Are you sure?”
Lily’s gaze returned to Harry, to the small mop of messy black hair tucked into the corner of the big red chair. “Of course.”
Sirius sighed, and went to sit beside her. “You don’t look fine,” he objected gently, taking her hand in one of his, trailing the fingertips of the other across the shadows under her eyes.
She tensed. “Sirius, if you’re trying to make me feel worse—”
“No, no!” he protested quickly, withdrawing the hand against her face. “I’m sorry. I only meant that— well— you look like you could use a break.”
“A break?” Lily asked, looking at him blankly, as if he’d used a foreign word.
“Yeah.” He patted her hand. She looked so— worn. His heart twisted, and he for the millionth time he felt guilty for how much fun he’d been having with James over the past several months. “Why don’t you let me watch Harry for a couple of hours? Go out and have some tea. Sit at a café somewhere. Relax.”
“I don’t know…”
Sirius looked at her critically again. There was uncertainty in her face, but longing, too. And something else he couldn’t read, resigned that he didn’t understand.
“I promise he’ll still be here when you get back,” he teased softly, deciding to ignore whatever it was.
She seemed to consider, and then finally, relented. “Oh… all right.”
“There’s a good girl.” Slipping his hand to her elbow, he urged her to her feet. “Go on, then.”
She paused, standing there in front of him, looking down with an odd wistfulness in her eyes. “Sirius?”
He gave her one of his brightest smiles. “Yeah, Lily?”
For some reason, it seemed as if she was talking about a lot more than a May afternoon to herself.
Sirius shifted on the park bench, rearranging his cloak against the weather — crisp and slightly chilly, with a wind that made the fallen leaves dance around their feet — and almost missed Lily’s words, as she broke the silence they’d been sitting in for the past several minutes.
“Sirius, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something.”
“Shoot, then,” he said, offering a grin, as if he couldn’t see that she’d become a little tense.
She took a steadying breath, and declared, “It’s about James.”
Sirius paused. “What about him?”
Lily didn’t respond, instead asking, “You’re still single, aren’t you?”
Warily, Sirius nodded.
“And so is he?”
Sirius decided he didn’t need to answer that, as they both knew that if James had gotten himself a significant other, Sirius would have made sure Lily heard about it. So instead, he prompted, “Lily?”
Lily’s eyes stayed on Harry, whizzing down a slide and squealing happily. Watching her profile warily, Sirius shifted again, suddenly uncomfortable on the bench beside her. He had a feeling he knew where this was going, but if he was wrong—
“I think the two of you should get together.”
—he wasn’t wrong.
“You mean— James and— and me?” stammered Sirius, hurriedly turning his eyes to Harry, as well.
Looking at him now, Lily nodded. He saw it from the corner of his eye, felt the confirmation hit him somewhere in the chest.
“Why would you say something like that?” he demanded, in a low voice that miraculously didn’t shake at all.
“Because you’re perfect for each other,” she replied evenly. “More so that he and I ever were.”
“No,” she insisted, cutting him off. “It’s the truth. I can see that now. Even… before—” she paused, took a deep, quavering breath, “—before, I think I could see that, on some level.”
Sirius could see that this conversation was costing her, and it upset him to think the subject of his hypothetical potential happiness could be so painful for her. But under the circumstances, it couldn’t be otherwise, and he knew it. “Lily, you don’t—”
She reached over and laid her hand on his knee, gripping hard, until he turned his gaze back to her. “I do,” she declared, and somehow she sounded calmer now. “Sirius, James and I were good together — fabulous, even — when we got along, at least. But you and James complete each other, always, no matter what the situation. Even simply as friends, the two of you are utterly perfect for each other. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Sirius, wanting to say something, found he had no words. He swallowed thickly.
“Truly, Sirius, there isn’t a single thing in which the two of you aren’t halves of the same whole.”
“If you’re about to try and tell me that you haven’t noticed the same damn things, I think I will smack you, you prat.”
“I wasn’t,” he assured her quietly.
She lifted one red brow. “Are you going to try and tell me that you aren’t absolutely in love with him?”
Sirius shook his head, words failing him again.
“Then is it that you’re not sure James could feel that way for you?” Lily asked. When he didn’t reply, she rightly took his lack of response as a hesitant affirmative. Her hand lifted from his knee to cup the side of his face tenderly. “Oh, darling— I think you were meant for him, Sirius.”
“Maybe the other way around,” suggested Sirius.
But he didn’t contradict her.
Without really having decided to, Sirius found himself outside James’s flat, his hand raised, knocking. Then, before he could reconsider, or really absorb what was happening, the door was opening and—
There he was.
“Sirius!” James let him in with the cheery smile he always gave Sirius at the door, though today Sirius had a little difficulty returning it. If James noticed, he didn’t call attention to it.
“This is unexpected,” he said unnecessarily, stepping back to let Sirius enter, which he did automatically. The sound of the door closing behind him seemed absurdly loud. “I thought you said you were going to be busy until this evening?”
Sirius followed him into the kitchen, where James’d apparently been eating lunch. There was a plate on the counter, empty except for some bread crumbs and a few crisps, and a half-full glass of pumpkin juice, which James picked up.
His voice recalled Sirius’s attention to his face; he was looking at Sirius expectantly.
Sirius had to clear his throat before he could speak. “I was.”
His voice must still have sounded off, because James was suddenly looking at him differently. “Sirius?” he asked, a crease appearing between his brows. “What is it?”
Sirius’s stomach rolled, and he couldn’t find his voice.
“Spit it out.”
“James,” Sirius started uncertainly. He paused, and ran his hands through his hair. He could feel James looking at him, full of curiosity, but he tried to ignore the way it made his stomach flutter. He cleared his throat again. Then, bravely, he declared, “Earlier, I had a little chat with Lily.”
He sensed the change in James immediately.
It was difficult to describe the way her name, spoken by Sirius, affected James. It was not as if he grew immediately angry, or became instantly depressed, or felt impatient that anyone would mention her at all. It was more as if he were simply a little sad, but not badly, and resigned, and perhaps also a little wary… especially, Sirius thought, because of the tone in which it had been said this time.
Regardless, it was there, and normally Sirius would have allowed James a moment to recover himself, but for once he didn’t. This was too important, to take the chance he’d lose his courage.
“I have something I need to tell you.”
The shift in James this time was even more abrupt, and far more dramatic. Even worse than its violence, though, was how quickly and how completely James hid it from Sirius. While Sirius stared in growing surprise, the turbulent flurry of emotions was suppressed with disturbing ruthlessness, even faster than it had come, to be replaced by a bland, blank look.
“James?” ventured Sirius.
“Have you, indeed,” was the reply, spoken with the same sort of placid lack of inflection.
“Well.” James gave him a long look, the emotions behind which Sirius couldn’t determine, and then turned away. He set down the pumpkin juice glass and picked up a Quidditch magazine from the counter, beginning to flip through it. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”
Sirius continued to stare, bewildered by this uncharacteristic behavior. “You mean, you know what I—”
“I’ve always suspected,” replied James, and his voice came out sounding tight, to Sirius’s ears. And not just forced, but rather frighteningly flat. “I suppose, after Lily and I… split… it was only a matter of time.”
Not knowing how to respond to this, Sirius cleared his throat again. “So… So, you’re…”
James didn’t give him a chance to finish, jumping in on top of his already dying voice and saying, somewhat sneeringly, “Oh, I don’t see how it matters what I am, Sirius. It doesn’t really effect me, does it?”
His coldness confused Sirius, made him stop and consider.
James kept flipping through the magazine.
“James,” Sirius said slowly, “just to be perfectly clear here, what is it that you think I’m telling you?”
“That you and Lily have— That the two of you are— That you’ll—”
“… But how can you—”
“Know?” James smiled a little derisively, without looking at his friend, and then shrugged. “It wasn’t hard to figure out.” Abruptly, the Quidditch magazine hit the counter, and James turned back around. “Actually, I’ve somewhere I need to be now, so if you could just…”
“Of course,” Sirius replied instinctively, nonplussed in the extreme, too numb with horror to think properly, to object. “I’ll, er, see you tomorrow, then?”
“Mm.” James was already walking out of the kitchen. “I imagine.”
Sirius just stood there, watching him leave, reeling.
The front door slammed.
Lily opened the back door, not seeming entirely surprised to see Sirius on the other side, but after one look at his face, concern washed over hers. “Sirius?”
“I went to see James, like you said,” muttered Sirius, walking past her into the kitchen.
“Did it not go well?” She didn’t wait for him to respond, the answer already being obvious. She hurried after him. “Oh, Sirius, I’m so sorry, I was sure—”
“No,” he interrupted, shaking his head. “No, that wasn’t what happened.”
Lily frowned at him. As he sank, defeated, into a chair at her table, she asked, “What? Sirius?”
“He— He thought—” Sirius stopped and blew out an explosive breath. The next thing Lily knew, he was laughing harshly, a hysterical edge to the sound.
“Sirius?” she cried, alarmed now, rushing to his side.
Sirius’s laughter kept on, growing wilder. “God, Lily, he thinks I’m in love with you!”
Lily stood next to him, shocked into temporary silence.
She found her voice just as Sirius was calming down, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
“What?” was all she said.
“I know,” moaned Sirius.
“Sirius— Oh, Sirius, that’s… That’s terrible,” she whispered, sounding horrified. “You poor, poor darling!”
Her sympathy seemed to hit Sirius rather hard. He crumpled a bit in his chair.
“It’s not even that he jumped to the conclusion he did! It’s just that he didn’t give me a chance to explain, at all,” exclaimed Sirius, burying his head in his hands. Lily bent down and rested her cheek against his hair, her arms going around him. Sirius sighed. “To tell him how I feel, or anything.”
“He’ll have got over it by tomorrow, I’m certain of it,” Lily assured him gently. “You can explain everything to him then.”
The sound of a throat being cleared had them both looking up, toward the back door that Lily had left open.
It was James.
Sirius froze. Lily’s arms tightened.
“I really don’t think I need an explanation, thank you,” James announced coolly, his expression blank.
“James!” Sirius finally managed to blurt. He made to stand, but the weight of Lily against his back held him down. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to see my son,” responded James, as if this were perfectly reasonable — which, well, it was. His eyebrows rose mockingly. “If that’s all right with you, of course.”
So did Lily, though in her case it was obviously from anger. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, a small voice from the other doorway broke in.
“Daddy!” cried Harry, and then his tiny body was launching itself across the kitchen to latch on his father’s knees. His little, mop-headed face gazed eagerly upwards, as he demanded, “Play with me?”
“Harry, you’re supposed to be napping,” Lily said sternly.
For a moment, there was a mutinous expression on James’s face, and it looked as if he was going to contradict Lily, but then his lips tightened and he said, “Your mother’s right, squirt. Daddy only stopped by for a minute, anyway.”
Harry pouted. He reached out and clutched the folds of his father’s cloak. “Daddy!”
After a moment, James sighed, and crouched, scooping Harry into his arms. “Sorry, Harry. But you know you’re supposed to listen to your mum.”
Harry buried his face in his father’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around James’s neck.
“How ‘bout I take you back upstairs and tuck you in?” offered James, not looking up at the other two in the kitchen, Lily still standing with her arms around Sirius, who was still staring, practically stricken, at James.
Nodding, Harry tightened his arms.
James raised his eyes, but only to briefly glance at Lily and ensure she had no objections. She didn’t, so she managed a nod, though she still looked rather annoyed.
Eyes skipping over Sirius, seated in the circle of Lily’s arms, James moved past them. They heard the over-heavy steps going up the stairs, as well as Harry’s small voice saying something, and James’s more distinct baritone replying, before it was muffled by their arrival in the nursery.
Sirius lurched a little forward, his head bowing again and his fingers curling to fists on the table. Lily let her arms fall from around him and stepped away, but reached out to take his hand comfortingly.
That was how James found them, sitting side-by-side at the kitchen table that used to be his, in the house that used to be his, cozily holding hands. Sirius, who hadn’t really thought far enough to realize how it would look to him when he returned, was not at all surprised when James’s jaw tightened.
It still made him feel a little ill, though.
“This is unexpected,” he remarked, in a voice that suggested rather the opposite.
Sirius cringed, visibly.
“This,” retorted Lily heatedly, “is not what it looks like.”
James raised a scathing eyebrow. “Isn’t it?”
Lily opened her mouth again, but Sirius stopped her with a quick, sharp tightening of his hand. She subsided, for a moment, and Sirius murmured, “James, please, just—”
Suddenly, James was snarling. “Don’t speak to me!”
Sirius recoiled like he’d been hexed.
Lily’s eyes flashed angrily.
“What is it about the idea of us—” with a sharp gesture with the hand that still held Sirius’s, “— that so upsets you?”
“That’s a stupid question,” James replied coldly. “I’d think the answer was obvious.”
“Oh, but it’s not.— Are you jealous of Sirius?” Lily went on, ignoring the horrified look on Sirius’s face as he realized what she was about to ask. She raised both her eyebrows, and went on, deliberately, “Or of me?”
Sirius’s heart seemed to stop for a moment, and then resumed, double-time.
The blood draining abruptly from his face, James opened his mouth, but no sound came out, and he closed it again.
Lily looked a bit disgusted. “Do you even know?” she challenged.
Color roaring back into his cheeks, James glared and cried, “Of course I do!”
“Really!” Lily replied, tauntingly surprised.
James’s glare settled into a grim scowl. “Don’t mock me, Lily,” he snapped.
“Lily,” Sirius cut in, before either of the others could really get into a proper ex-spousal spat. He squeezed her fingers again, and then very carefully pulled his hand from underneath hers. “Stop, please.”
She glanced at him questioningly.
“That isn’t helping,” he mumbled, looking wretched enough that she decided not to argue.
“Fine,” she replied, with a little concerned glance at his face. Then she stood, and went back to glaring at James. “I do have something I want to say, though.”
James stared her down. “Say it, then.”
“There is nothing between Sirius and I but friendship,” announced Lily, holding James’s eyes and enunciating each syllable carefully. “There never has been, and there won’t ever be.”
James gave them a doubtful, guarded look. “But, earlier, he said—”
“That wasn’t what I was about to tell you,” Sirius blurted, unable to lift his eyes from his hands, where they fidgeted on the tabletop.
For a long moment, James just looked at him. “Oh.”
Sirius’s cheeks began to slowly turn pink.
“And that,” muttered Lily, “is my cue to leave you two alone.”
Only after she’d left the kitchen and climbed the stairs, and they’d heard her bedroom door close softly, did James demand, “What did you come to tell me, earlier?”
“I…” Sirius froze, debating whether he should actually say it, now, right after such a horrible, tense misunderstanding. On the one hand, if James took it the way Sirius hoped he’d take it, there’d never be a better way to smooth the lingering coldness from his face. On the other, if James didn’t take it that way, then it could ruin things even worse than his thinking Sirius and Lily were together almost had.
James hadn’t stopped looking at him.
Sirius really, truly couldn’t deny that look anything.
“That I… I love you,” he said, in one quick rush.
There was a moment of silence. Barely.
James gaped. “You what?”
Faced with the other man’s surprise, Sirius didn’t seem to know what to do, other than panic — which he was trying very hard to avoid. “Er.”
“You…” James words trailed off, like a dying man’s last breath, and then resumed, his voice rising. “You love me?”
Sirius’s unequivocal “Yes” slipped out before he could decide if it was a good idea.
James stared a bit more. “You mean… You’re— y-you’re—” he stammered, his face going rather white again. “You’re in love w-with—”
“Yes.” There it was again darting past his lips before he gave his permission for it to leave his head.
Then he watched as James absorbed that single word like it was much weightier than a single, hasty breath, and his eyes wouldn’t close and block out the shuttered look growing on the other man’s face.
But he had to do something.
“James, I—” he began, not entirely sure what he meant to say, if he was going to try to take it back, or only explain that he didn’t expect anything in return.
James’s voice stopped him.
“I have to go!” he blurted, a curious edge to his voice
Before Sirius could do more than half-raise a hand in appalled protest, James had darted out the door and disappeared into the dusk of late afternoon.
The flat was dark, except for where the light from a streetlamp outside filtered through the window, casting weird shadows across a patch of floor and one chair. Sirius was sitting on the floor in front of his sofa, a barely touched glass of Firewhiskey held carelessly in one hand, between his splayed legs — the left stretched out flat, the other bent, his elbow propped on it. The fingers of his right hand were tangled in his hair, gripping so tightly his scalp hurt. His forehead rested on his palm and his face was twisted into an expression that approached rather closely to forlorn agony. His eyes were closed.
He didn’t open them or lift his head when the door to his flat creaked as it admitted someone, spilling brightness around him and over one half of his face.
“Go away, Lily,” he mumbled miserably.
Whoever it was closed the door, cutting off the light, and took a few steps deeper into the gloom of the apartment.
“I’m not Lily.”
Sirius’s head snapped up so fast his neck popped. He stared.
“Hi,” said James, rather lamely. He was still taking slow steps, bringing him closer to Sirius
The glass of Firewhiskey slipped from Sirius’s fingers, falling an inch or two to hit the floor with a dull thunk. Sirius thought his jaw might have gone with it, but it was hard to tell, with the way his head was spinning.
“What are you doing here?” he gasped, bemusedly. For a moment he wondered if maybe he was hallucinating; but he’d not had that much to drink yet, only a few sips really, and he’d heard the door open.
That didn’t necessarily mean much, though.
James had reached his side, an inscrutable expression on his face. Sirius tilted his head back to continue staring, up at him this time, even though the way the action exposed his throat made him feel uncomfortably vulnerable. It wasn’t as if there was much James could do to him, that walking out of Lily’s kitchen earlier hadn’t already done.
He repeated his question.
James swallowed before he answered. And then, the words pouring out of his mouth like an exasperated plea, “Sirius, you great fucking idiot, you should have said!”
“Wha…?” Before Sirius had time to even blink — which as all he could really think to do, anyway — James was kneeling next to him, putting a hand on either side of Sirius’s head and shaking slightly.
Sirius might have thought James was trying to kill him, if it weren’t so impossible. And irrational. He considered asking if that’s what was about to happen, anyway.
“Damn it, Sirius,” James snarled, before he could form this new question, which was probably just as well because he hadn’t answered Sirius’s last, anyway. He shook Sirius again. “That is not the kind of thing you just spring on a bloke.”
“Er.” This time Sirius couldn’t even make himself blink.
“Especially,” James added sharply, his fingertips pressing against Sirius’s skull, “not in his fucking ex-wife’s kitchen!”
The last word echoed off the walls, ringing a little and bouncing tauntingly around Sirius’s head. He tried to shake it, to make things hold still so he could understand them, but James’s hands wouldn’t let him, and the remembered pressure just confused him even more.
James wasn’t making sense.
Lifting a hand to push ineffectually against James’s chest, Sirius struggled to fit his tongue around that thought, and force it past his lips, immobile with the same bewilderment as the rest of him. “You’re confused,” finally came out. It wasn’t exactly what he’d meant to say, but it would do.
“No, for once, I am not,” James countered firmly. “I had to think first, to stop being surprised, but now I’m done being confused.”
Sirius frowned. He tried to shake his head again, more forcefully, and James let him succeed this time. But the look burning in the eyes behind those glasses, right into his, negated whatever good the action had done him.
“James…” Sirius stopped after the other man’s name, not liking the plaintive sound of his voice.
The hazel burn intensified, impossibly; but James waited.
“Make sense,” Sirius commanded after a moment.
James smiled crookedly, an expression that matched the fire in his eyes. “I’m in love with you too.”
Sirius’s eyes widened. His lungs took a break. The hand on James’s chest clenched, drawing the fabric of his shirt into a fist that felt almost too tight.
“Oh,” said Sirius.”
One of James’s hands shifted to the back of Sirius’s head.
“Well,” said Sirius.
With the fist against James’s chest, he tugged, drawing James closer.
“Good,” said Sirius.
Then James leaned down, Sirius arched up, and their mouths met in a way that was not the least bit gentle or tentative or unsure or the thousand other things it would’ve been if they were dealing with a girl, but was instead full of heat and insanity and relief and the million other things they’d always shared.
What felt like ages later, James broke the kiss and pulled away, only far enough to look at Sirius’s face, framed between his hands. He brushed a thumb softly across Sirius’s cheekbone.
“Lily is really all right with this?”
Sirius wanted to say that it shouldn’t matter if Lily was or not, but he thought he understood what James really meant by the question — it wasn’t her interest in James’s life that was being respected, but Sirius’s — and so he nodded, and responded reasonably. “She supports it. Us. Really.”
James laughed, a little, and leaned until his lips were back against Sirius’s.
“Maybe she’ll even finally forgive me now.”