I heard some shuffling and then a moment later, the nurse’s gasp. “Oh, just a moment.”
There was more shuffling, the opening and closing of a door, and then silence.
“Professor Miller was making some potions to help,” James’s voice broke the silence. “She’s gone to go get them.”
I was about to nod, but then stopped when I remembered the pain.
“I fell,” I whispered, closing my eyes against the blinding white of the Hospital Wing ceiling.
“I’m sorry,” he responded in the same tone.
“Why?” I frowned, my eyes flying open again.
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not!” I shouted, my voice straining as I whipped around to face him.
I gasped and snapped my eyes shut against tears as undeniable pain washed over me, my head feeling as if someone was trying to drill through it.
“Stop moving.” James voice sounded scared as his fingers closed around mine.
A warmth seeped through my fingertip and spread throughout the rest of my body. The aching numbed.
“It’s not your fault,” I repeated, my eyes still squeezed shut.
“I didn’t know you were scared,” he confessed in response.
“You weren’t supposed to.”
I opened my eyes again to meet his dark ones. The colors mixing in the hazel of his irises seemed frozen, almost dead.
“Because it’s not your fault,” I repeated again. “You weren’t supposed to have a reason to think so.”
James fingers squeezed my hand slightly as he closed his eyes and ran his free hand over his face tiredly. “Ara…”
He dropped his hand and opened his eyes again to look at me. “Please just let me be sorry.”
“But what f –“
“For making you think you had to get back on a broom again!” he cried. “I never would’ve asked if I’d –“
He broke off again and tore his eyes away from mine.
“Mr. Potter, get away from her!” Madame Pomfrey burst back through the door, laden with various potions vials.
James released my hand and sat back in his chair, but his eyes remained on me as Madame Pomfrey set down the potions and began waving her wand around, muttering to herself.
I, for my part, was aware of the return of pain to every part of my body.
I closed my eyes again as Madame Pomfrey continued to check me over.
There was a sudden bang a moment later, however, followed by a multitude of voices.
“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Madame Pomfrey’s rose over all the rest. “Leave!”
“But Rina –“
“What about –“
“I’m not going anywhere!”
“We want to –“
“Thank God you’re still alive, Rina!”
“Don’t do that!”
I closed my eyes again as the throbbing in my head intensified, releasing a sigh of relief when everything suddenly fell silent.
When I opened my eyes, I found the majority of my friends to be confused while James calmly returned his wand to his pocket.
I was smiling again for a moment, but then frowned and then proceeded to gag as a potion was literally shoved down my throat.
“You were in a heavy coma, fractured your skull, shattered practically all your bones, experienced internal bleedings, punctured a lung that then proceeded to collapse, obtained a large gash to your head, and spent the last two weeks running high fevers,” Madame Pomfrey listed off briskly while preparing the next potion. “Here.” She’d tipped it and then seven more potions into my mouth before I could conjure up the energy to protest.
“You should be dead,” she concluded frankly, tipping the last two potions into my mouth and then swishing her wand at me again.
My eyes were closed again as the throbbing and aching began to numb.
“I’m still not done administering the Skele Grow, and your lung isn’t fully healed yet either, so you should not be moving,” she went on. “I would prefer you to sleep as much as possible until your bones are fully mended. I will continue to keep you on nourishing potions, but you should start eating slightly regardless, possibly beginning tomorrow. Your fever is still high, so you will continue to be treated for that as well.” She stopped suddenly, and when I opened my eyes, it was to find her steely gaze fixed sternly on me. “You will be taking Dreamless Sleep Potions until I say otherwise. Your lack of sleep has caused your immune system to deteriorate. I’m still trying to build it back up.”
I attempted to nod meekly, but enough potions hadn’t taken effect yet to allow the movement, so I just settled for returning her gaze earnestly.
I found myself suddenly not caring much anyway; I was too tired and in too much pain.
“You,” the nurse rounded on my obnoxious friends crowded around my bed, “will return to class.”
They all simultaneously opened their mouths to protest, but then snapped them shut again and rounded on James who still had their voices.
He shrugged in response. “It’s still my turn.”
“You will go as well, Mr. Potter,” Pomfrey commanded, beginning to clear up her supplies.
“What?” He appeared outraged.
Madame Pomfrey responded by pursing her lips at him. “Miss Zar is clearly fine now and awake; there is no further need for you to remain here.”
“Fine?” James scoffed, appalled. “Look at her!” he pointed towards me.
I attempted to try and not look so pathetic.
Judging by the collective grimaces around the room as all eyes turned to me, I did not succeed.
Madame Pomfrey sighed. “I will continue to allow one visitor at a time,” she relented. “But she,” she went on, rounding on me again, “will remain asleep.”
I almost sighed but then remembered about my lungs and instead allowed the last potion to be tipped into my mouth.
I registered some mumblings and heard my friends’ voices as my eyes drifted shut again, and I felt a gentle pressure around my fingers as the aching and my consciousness faded away.
When I next awoke, it was to a soft chuckle.
James was actually smiling slightly at me as I opened my eyes with a groan, though his smile instantly wiped the grimace off my face.
“Allie and Rose are going to be furious at you for never waking up on their turn.”
I couldn’t help but return his smile. “What time is it?”
“Just after 10:00,” he answered. “Scorpius will be upset, too, actually; his turn just ended at curfew.”
My eyes flickered out to the dark window again and I frowned. “How long was I sleeping?”
“She put you to sleep around 4:00 yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” my eyes widened.
He nodded, still smiling.
I grinned back and squeezed the hand holding mine slightly. “You’re not mad at me anymore.”
His smile instantly dropped as his eyes became more serious, boring into mine. “Ara –“
“No, you were mad at me,” I told him. “I’ve been off lately; really off for a very long while.”
“I wasn’t –“
“Yes you were,” I insisted. “I was pretty upset with you too. I still am.”
He stared at me in silence for a while. “I’ve missed you,” he spoke finally.
I offered a small smile. “I’ve missed you, too.”
His thumb rubbed gentle circles on the back of my hand, and I followed his gaze down to his hand covering mine on the white bed sheets.
I’d really missed him.
And I’d known it, but I hadn’t realized how little of me had remained without him. I could feel it now, the lack of Rina in the past year. I’d been as absent from my life as James had been.
He spoke again, after some time, drawing my eyes away from his hand and back to meet his hazel eyes.
They were dark, serious, no-messing-around James eyes. When I’d had James, there had been very few times I’d gotten those eyes from him. Over the past year, there had been a layer of coldness over them. Now, there was a depth of warmth.
The last time I’d gotten those eyes, we’d been sitting around in the bright library during lunch, me trying to do Ancient Runes and him Potions, me blowing my nose into my tissues and dropping them into my conjured trashcan, him not being in the least bothered by me sniffling across from him.
That evening, the warmth had disappeared to be replaced with a coldness, and I’d almost forgotten it until now.
“Why were you on the broom again?”
“Why were you scared?”
I can’t say.
He pulled his fingers from my grasp and sat back, his eyes searching deep in mine for an answer. Anything.
I felt a chill rushing through me and instantly leant towards him, reaching for his hand again. I winced at the strain but bit my lip, reaching further. He returned his hand to me as I winced again.
I pulled it back towards me as I settled back in my bed, gripping his hand in both of mine on my stomach.
“I really missed you,” I repeated.
He didn’t say anything.
I looked back at him, and I could feel the pleading expression in my eyes. “I just want you to be happy again.”
His eyes melted into a swirling, fiery amber as he leant over me and pressed his lips to the side of my head.
My eyes closed as a rush of warmth washed over me again, and I clutched his hand to me as we lapsed back into an infinite silence.
It was probably almost an hour before he suddenly spoke up again, jolting me from drifting thoughts and that haze of nearing sleep.
I opened my eyes and turned my head again to look at him. He wasn’t looking at my face, but at our hands, still laid across my stomach.
“For a while there, I started thinking that you actually really hated me.”
I frowned slightly, still looking at him. “So did I,” I confessed.
His eyes snapped back to mine. “Thought that you hated me or that I…?”
I held his gaze in silence for a moment, the stars outside the window catching in his eyes. “Both,” I finally admitted. “You were always getting mad at me, and you upset me.”
His eyes flickered slightly, pained. “I didn’t mean to.”
I gripped his hand tighter as his emotions flitted through his eyes in the moonlight. James was difficult like that; he was a bit of a stoic. So many times, I loved that about him, that he could balance me out when things got serious or dramatic and I was hysterical and he was patient. Other times, I wished his emotions didn’t have to hide in his eyes, that he didn’t try so hard to always be so impassive.
With James, there had always been only two choices; bouncy James, jovial, lively, always happy, smiling, laughing, James, or there was the stoic, emotionless, withdrawn, impassive, always enduring and strong and endlessly patient and composed, but hiding.
The first never failed to make me smile; the second always frustrated me to no end. But I always did my best.
So I offered him a small smile. “I know.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“You’re James,” I reminded, “You can’t hate me; I’ve always known that.”
“No,” he agreed, “I couldn’t.”
“I know,” I assured, smiling again.
“You never had to prove anything to me,” he went on, his voice dropping to a soft whisper as he stroked his thumb across the back of my hand again. “You’ll always be sweet, kind, selfless Ara, no matter what anyone says. No matter what I say.”
I quickly tore my gaze away from his, looking back to our hands.
“You’d never want to hurt anyone. You can’t see someone you love in pain.”
It was true.
“You’re too good of a person, Ara,” he averred softly. “Sometimes you get so lost in it that you forget, but it never goes away.”
I looked slowly back to him. “Kind of like when you let guilt eat you and destroy you until there’s no James left?”
It was his turn to look away.
“You have to breathe, James,” I went on. “Just step back a bit and trust yourself. Everyone else does. You’re too good for this.”
He turned back to me. “What do I do?”
“For starters,” I grinned gently, “practice should only run from 7:00 to 9:00 on a school night, two days a week, and one weekend, three hours, preferably reasonable ones. You are allowed an extra five hours a week for Quidditch as captain, and the rest of your life, you should be breathing. You should sleep from 11:00 to 8:00, eat during meals, and be sure to smile through it all. You’re not James when you don’t smile.”
He observed me silently for a moment before quirking a single eyebrow. “In that case then, I’m afraid I can only allow you ten hours a week to worry about everyone else.”
I closed my eyes, lying back in my pillows as I fought a smile.
“I can’t ration the time I spend caring, James.”
“Can you try to not let it destroy you?”
“If you do the same,” I conceded, opening my eyes again and turning back to him.
“Deal,” he grinned slightly, squeezing my fingers.
I rolled my eyes before closing them again.
“How much are you going to sleep?”
“I don’t know,” I didn’t open my eyes. “Will you sleep?”
“You probably should,” I decided, tiredness washing through me as I rolled over to the side facing him and pulled his arm up to hug to my chest.
“Probably,” he agreed. I heard a smile through his voice and grinned again myself. “Good night, Ara.”
“And sweet dreams.” My eyes flickered open to grin cheekily at him.
He only winked back with a smile still in place and motioned for me to close my eyes again.
I did so, still clutching his arm close, like the teddy bear I slept with when I was little.
Eventually, everyone got a turn to visit while I was awake.
I was screamed at a few times, Rosie had to be silenced, Allie gave me the silent treatment for a while, Callie had to take a Calming Draught, Fred and Louis poked fun at me, Albus glared a bit, Austin kept forgetting that I was in pain everywhere, and I got a nice long lecture from Scorpius.
I love my friends.
No, I’m not being sarcastic.
It was already Easter Break, but I wasn’t allowed out of the Hospital Wing. Jacob was upset that I wouldn’t be home, but even he supported Madame Pomfrey’s decision to keep me, claiming that I needed to “get better.”
I was already feeling loads better.
I mean, sure, I was still in general pain and couldn’t move much, had difficulties breathing sometimes, still ran fevers, had developed odd sleeping patterns, was covered in random bruises, had suddenly funny eating habits, my bones and damaged organs weren’t fully mended, and I still looked like general hell, but I was fine.
(That is definitely a lie).
I was stuck in the hospital wing without much to do, other than my dumb friends randomly hanging around when they had nothing better to do.
Madame Pomfrey had eventually relented to allowing me as many visitors as could fit around my bed, as long as none of them disturbed or hindered my healing. They also couldn’t spend the night with me anymore, only allowed during regular hospital hours from the start of breakfast to curfew.
James was always waiting outside the doors at 7:00 with breakfast he picked up in the kitchens and had to be kicked out at 10:00. Madame Pomfrey wouldn’t let him or anyone else skip classes anymore either, much to their dismay.
I had taken up laughing at them that I got to skip all my classes, until Rose started shoving work at me and Austin pointed out I couldn’t move, much less do anything else.
I actually reached a point a couple days after I awoke where I started wishing I could be in class. Sad, I know.
Everyone else had written home and decided that they were staying for break as well to keep me company. While I’d initially insisted that it was not necessary, I was actually rather grateful for the company. I may have died of boredom in the Hospital Wing otherwise if I was left all by myself with only Madame Pomfrey for company.
Slytherin had beat Ravenclaw in the last Quidditch match, though just barely, the final score being 270-260. Ravenclaw was still in the lead for the cup, but Slytherin still had a match left to play, against us during which they would need to score at least 100 points. We, meanwhile, would need 240 to beat them out in the standings. Yeah, I know. James wasn’t taking it too well, but at least he was trying.
I’d let him back into the changing rooms and returned the team’s brooms to them, and James was actually trying to follow my advice. All in all, the Quidditch team was looking healthier and happier, James included, which meant that I couldn’t stop grinning at them all every time they stopped by to visit.
“You’re way too excited for a girl going on her third week in the Hospital Wing,” Austin informed me as the Quidditch team, sans Ericson, trooped into the Hospital Wing to join Rose, Albus and Scorpius who were doing their homework around my bed.
Well, actually, Rose was trying to do her homework, while Scorpius was insistently attempting to stop her. Albus had already completely disregarded his homework ages ago and was exchanging amused looks with me over the arguing couple.
“You’re way too healthy for a kid returning from one of James’s Quidditch practices,” I shot back, glancing up at him.
I was sitting up in bed now, too, though I had to be supported by a whole army of fluffy pillows.
“Funny,” James made a face at me as he took the chair reserved for him right by the head of my bed. Seriously, he’d made a sign and, when that failed, put a charm on the chair to only allow him to sit in it.
I’d laughed heartily (and then lost my breath and clutched my chest as I remembered the aching from my lungs) when Fred tried to sit down and was instead flung across the room with his entire body flashing various neon colors. Needless to say, no one tried to sit in James’s chair after that.
“I thought so,” I grinned up at him.
He returned the smile and dropped his broomstick next to my bed. “So, listen, since Easter break officially begins tomorrow –“
“You can’t increase your practices over break, James,” I sighed.
“But it’s –“
“Ara!” James whined.
I raised an eyebrow at him, to which he responded with a pout.
I held his gaze for a moment, but then lost it and burst into laughter. Which resulted in pain. Fantastic.
“I blame you,” I wheezed at James as my laughter turned to coughing and I hunched over, clutching my chest.
“Way to go, James,” Rose sent him a glare, forgetting her lecturing to Scorpius as she shot up and hurried to hand me a glass of water.
I took it gratefully and downed it, taking deep breathes as the coughing subsided before laying back into the pillows, closing my eyes.
I felt a sudden pressure on my fingers and smiled slightly as James’s hand closed around mine.
“I know,” I opened my eyes to meet his.
“All I want is an extra day and an extra hour.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“It’s not much!” he insisted.
I bit my lip slightly, glancing around to the rest of the team, who did indeed look as if they were doing much better.
“Pick one,” I decided.
“Extra day or extra hour?”
James sighed but eventually conceded. “Extra day of practice it is then.”
“Pushover,” Fred made a face at me.
I raised an eyebrow. “I could just let him go back to his old regimen.”
“No,” Louis declared resolutely. “That will not be necessary.”
I grinned and James smirked more smugly.
“I’m hungry,” Allison decided. “Coming?” she glanced around to everyone else.
Fred and Ausitn were already on their feet, but Callie glanced back around at me.
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll get sick of you guys next week when you have no classes.”
That seemed to settle it, and eventually, everyone filed out of the Hospital Wing, save for James, whose butt remained firmly planted in his chair.
“Not hungry?” I raised an incredulous eyebrow.
“Starved,” he assured.
I rolled my eyes but grinned, leaning back again and closing my eyes.
I’d almost forgotten what it was like to miss James.
The others all even reported that he was doing much better with being James in general. He relaxed more and was smiling more. He didn’t even bring his Quidditch plays to the Hospital Wing, which is where he spent the majority of his free time.
Only during Quittitch practices themselves did James go a bit nutty, actually, according to a disgruntled Allison. She didn’t seem to understand why I couldn’t fix him for that time, too.
I’d just sighed. He was still James, and he was still insanely passionate about Quidditch. He’d come around.
The team was performing much better, he revealed, which had him calming down slightly, at least. Even Ericson was playing tolerably. I know, I was pretty shocked too. Proud, but definitely shocked.
It was just then, as I was in the middle of feeling proud, that James’s stomach let out a loud grumble.
I opened my eyes and turned to blink at his innocent face for a moment before bursting into laughter. And, as per usual as of late, my laughter led to severe chest pains and shortness of breath and quickly turned into a coughing fit.
“Ara!” James’s eyes widened.
“I’m…f-fine,” I wheezed slightly, coughing again (attractive, I know), “Fine.”
James was watching me with concern as I took some more deep breaths and drank the glass of water he handed me.
“Are you okay?” he eyed me carefully, taking the empty glass back.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Maybe you should go eat something so that that doesn’t happen again, though,” I suggested.
James rolled his eyes but sighed. “I’m sorry.”
I rolled my eyes right back. “Shut up. Go eat.”
“I’ll eat later, I promise,” he insisted.
I raised an eyebrow.
“I missed you!” he confessed with puppy-dog eyes. “I’m making up for lost time!”
I resisted another eye roll but couldn’t help a smile.
“I missed you too, James,” I admitted.
“I’m sorry,” James’s eyes suddenly grew serious as he picked up my hand.
“Oh, please,” I snorted, “I’m the idiot that convinced myself that James Potter had spontaneously decided to hate his best friend.”
“I’m the idiot that let you,” he reminded softly.
I glanced down at my hand in his for a moment before looking back up to him. “We’ll be okay.”
He grinned again suddenly, and I couldn’t help but smile along. “Well, of course!”
I rolled my eyes but pulled my hand back, ignoring the chill that ran through my body as I did so. “Go eat.”
It took another fifteen minutes of argument before he relented and went, vowing to eat fast. I didn’t doubt that he would, but I figure the amount of food he’d consume would negate how quickly he ate it.
Truth was, I wasn’t getting the rest Madame Pomfrey claimed I needed while James was there. I figured that I’d make the most of this half hour and take a nap, because I knew James would be back to bug me as soon as he could be.
Smiling at the thought, I lay back in my pillows and closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep.
“This is sickening,” Allison declared, dropping into a chair next to my bed.
“What is?” James frowned around at her in confusion.
Allison responded by looking pointedly at my hand (once again) in James’s, before raising an eyebrow up at me.
I promptly turned red.
James noticed nothing.
“What?” James asked again, looking from her to me in puzzlement.
I was still red.
I’ve actually looked real attractive for the past three weeks. Laying around in a hospital bed and all. Real attractive.
(That was sarcastic).
“Never mind,” Allison rolled her eyes.
“What do you want?” I asked her in annoyance, ignoring James’s continued perplexity.
“I have news,” she grinned suddenly.
“Really?” I sat up and went to lean towards her slightly. I was hindered, however, by pains in my chest and winced slightly, which directly prompted James to gently push me back into my pillows.
I sent him a scowl, which he ignored.
Allison was frowning at me again, head tilted to the side slightly as she observed me.
“News?” I prompted.
She sighed shaking her head. “Never mind.”
“What?” I asked, going to lean towards her again. James’s hand remained on my shoulder, however, and I sighed. “What?” I repeated. I hadn’t had any exciting news in the whole almost month that I’d spent in this Hospital Wing. I was ready to get out.
Allison gave me a once over before relenting. “I overheard Longbottom discussing with Pomfrey when she’d let you out.”
“Really?” I almost sat up again.
“Yes,” Allison nodded. “She was worried, however, about your inability to move without pain. I figured it would be good progress that she’s started thinking about considering it, but…”
“I’m not in pain!” I exclaimed immediately.
I sent him a glare.
He ignored me.
“She really doesn’t know how to stay still,” James explained to Allison. “That’s the problem.”
“Exactly,” Allison nodded. “And she’s always getting herself worked up.”
“Which is bad when her full energies need to be invested into getting better,” James finished.
“She also really needs to get out of here,” I grumbled, crossing my arms.
I almost winced when the action stressed some muscles, but I quickly refrained and uncrossed my arms instead.
James caught it, however, and sighed, turning back to Allison. “She’s staying here through break, at least.”
“You’re not the healer, James,” I reminded him.
He sent me a look. It was one of those looks that said to not defy him.
Now, as of late, I’ve been ignoring that look. It’s been nothing more than a mere nuisance trying to order me around.
It didn’t seem to be the same at this moment. Probably still a nuisance, but it wasn’t ordering me to do anything.
I vaguely remembered to back when that look asked me to please not get in the way of him caring.
I think that’s what the look may’ve been saying when I was cold and sick and my parents had just died and there was Quidditch practice out in the wind.
Perhaps I’d been ignoring that.
So I backed down.
Allison raised an eyebrow at me, but I ignored her.
James looked me over again carefully (me sitting innocently as I caught the look in his eye).
“But you know,” James turned slowly back to Allison.
I bit my lip.
“It may take time getting used to being up and about as it is,” he said. “Maybe it is best that she has a day or two before having to go back to classes to get herself used to getting around.”
Allison sent me a look before turning back to James. “That’s an argument you’d have to take to the healer.”
James glanced at me again before nodding.
“I love you.”
“Shut up, Ara.”
“You are my most favoritest person on earth.”
“That’s not even a real word,” Austin grumbled petulantly.
“I’m starting to regret this,” James sighed as I settled into his arm on the couch in the Gryffindor common room.
“No you’re not,” I told James.
“I will,” he corrected.
“No you won’t,” I assured.
He sighed, rolling his eyes, but didn’t argue.
So maybe I could barely walk, but he would miss visiting me in the Hospital Wing about as much as I’d miss it.
“This is ridiculous,” Albus decided, rolling his eyes at James and I from an armchair. “He doesn’t deserve for you to forgive him.”
I felt James flinch and stiffen slightly next to me, so I felt compelled to open my eyes and send the younger Potter a glare.
Al, and to a lesser extent Fred, were being really hard on James. Fred thought he was a git and Albus claimed that he was taking advantage of my general goodness.
I’d snorted at that; I don’t come equipped with general goodness. If there was a reason to not forgive James, I wouldn’t have, but I felt as if I’d contributed to the rift just as badly as he had, so it was only fair.
Albus, however, believed that James being a prick to me was inexcusable. He probably only thought so because he’s a protective prat himself, but I’d eventually decided to let him come off it on his own.
“Shut up, Al,” I told him when he met my gaze.
“I’m just saying that –“
“You’re really good at holding a grudge?” I suggested, raising an eyebrow.
“He doesn’t deserve for it to be so easy,” Albus corrected.
“Yeah because walking out onto the Quidditch pitch at 7:00 in the morning to find your best friend broken in a pool of blood is always easy,” James rolled his eyes sarcastically, glaring at his younger brother.
I flinched a bit at that and Albus’s jaw snapped shut.
Everyone else gave up on pretending to mind their own business and were instead looking back and forth between the two brothers, Callie eyeing me anxiously as well.
“I think they’re pretty even, Albus,” Scorpius spoke up after a few minutes of silence.
My breath hitched at that, James’s blood-covered face flashing before my eyes in an instant. I caught a glimpse of the scar through my peripheral vision and immediately snapped my eyes shut.
“Ara?” I felt James’s questioning eyes on me.
“Way to go, Scorpius,” I heard Albus snap at his friend, and I instinctively flinched again.
“Shut up, Al,” Rose probably rolled her eyes.
“I didn’t –“
“I was just pointing it out, Al,” Scorpius sighed. “Just let it go.”
“There’s a difference between James’s stupidity and –“
“Rina wasn’t acting with her full brilliance either, you know,” Louis pointed out.
“True,” Louis finished, crossing his arms as I peeled my eyes open.
“Stop arguing,” Callie’s eyes flashed as she sent Albus a glare, making him promptly shut his mouth again. “This is stupid.”
“It’s not –“
“You’re all dumb,” Allison snapped jumping out of her chair and marching over to Albus’s. “Come on,” she grabbed his arm and yanked him up.
“But I –“
“I don’t care,” Allison sent him a glare. “If you’re going to make a habit out of upsetting people, you’re not going to spend your time with them.”
“But I’m not –“
“Yes you are,” Allison sent him a withering glare, “Move,” she dragged him from the common room with authority.
“Why can’t I ever keep up?” James sighed.
I closed my eyes again and dropped my head back against his arm as it began throbbing again.
“It’s your own doing,” Louis reminded.
“Stop it,” Callie commanded again.
I didn’t hear anyone argue with her, and instead, the soft murmur of conversation took over.
“Will you tell me?” I heard James’s voice in my ear after my heartbeat had slowed again.
I bit my lip and quickly shook my head, the pace of my heart picking up again.
I only shook my head again, refusing to open my eyes and look at him.
I haven’t got a clue why.
“You don’t think I deserve to know?”
I hesitated for a moment before answering honestly, “You don’t.”
I felt him pull away from me slightly, and I eventually forced my eyes open to look at him.
He looked hurt.
“It’s too terrible,” I admitted.
“I mean it,” I warned. “I’m honestly scared you’ll take it badly.”
“But I –“
“Trust me, James,” I cut him off. “It’ll upset me to know that I’ve upset you.”
“Friends don’t hide things, Ara,” James stated, looking me dead in the eye, daring me to defy him again.
And, for a time, it had been easy to ignore his gaze and to defy him anyway. But I suddenly found it so difficult to defy him now.
“Why?” he demanded, crossing his arms fixing me with a severe stare.
“Because you’re making progress,” I sighed, brushing my hair from my eyes.
He frowned slightly.
“You’ve finally stopped trying to fix everything, and you’re finally having fun again,” I went on.
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?” he raised an eyebrow, his tone edging nearer to dangerous territory.
“When was the last time you did something fun or told a joke?” I demanded, raising an eyebrow right back, “When was the last time you laughed a real laugh or smiled an honest, genuine smile? I don’t want emotionless, moody James wasting so much energy with the weight of the entire world on his shoulders that he forgets to laugh and have fun and smile. Remember when every little stupid thing was hilarious? I don’t want you to entirely forget that.”
James held my gaze for a moment more before he sighed and took my hand in his again. “I’m a big boy, Ara,” he reminded. “I can take it.”
I hesitated another moment as I stared at his pleading eyes, desperate for answers and understanding.
“Whatever happened is hard for you, and I hate that I don’t know what it is,” he admitted softly. “How do I make it better if I don’t know what it is?”
I sighed, closing my eyes again. “You don’t have to make everything better,” I told him. “That’s the point. You don’t have to fix everything.”
“If it’s you, Ara, I do,” his fingers brushed against my forehead as he moved my hair out of my face, making me open my eyes to meet his amber ones again. “I have to make that hesitation and fear go away from your eyes. I don’t like it.”
I smiled slightly, resisting an eye roll. “I don’t like it much either, James.”
“Tell me,” he said again.
My smile faded as I stared at him again, forcing myself to study his face, to really look at every bit of his face, to force my eyes to remain on that terrifying scar.
My fingers almost unconsciously moved to it, for the first time tracing the angry raised mark from his temple to the back of his jaw. My fingers trembled, and it was all I could do to not jerk away, all I could do to keep his face from flashing red, covered in blood. There was almost blood running down my fingers, and I had to force it away. My hand shook but I kept it in place, instead forcing my eyes back to his bewildered ones.
“What did they tell you happened to you?” I asked in a voice barely above a whisper, the sound of my voice barely reaching my ears over the lashing of the rain and the howling of the wind. And Lily’s scream.
I forced myself to hold it together, willing away the images of blood, steadying the shaking.
James frowned slightly. “I tripped over my feet and crashed into the bar, right? A lot of the bottles broke and the glass cut me…” He trailed off, staring at me for a while as I forced myself to hold his gaze. “Stacey says she tried to fix it, but she wasn’t exactly sober…. She’s really sorry it scarred.”
I didn’t responded.
“But I probably shouldn’t drink so much again, huh?” his lips twitched upward slightly. “I’ll probably never touch alcohol again if it means marring my gorgeous face.”
I shook my head slightly, keeping my voice from shaking as I replied. “Alcohol is bad; it makes people do stupid things.”
“No doubt,” he agreed.
“Because you can’t control what happens to you when you’re not sober,” I went on, still holding his steady gaze.
“Exactly,” he agreed.
“But you don’t have to control everything,” I reminded him, “Sometimes it all just…falls into place. In its own way. Sometimes only when we let it go, let life…run lose, take its own course, that’s when it’s the truest, purest form of life. Everything else is…artificial, fake; it becomes forced and planned, too well-planned and orderly and precise. It’s when you forget to laugh and smile and breathe and live and be you…be everything that’s you and nothing else. Trying to take control distorts the way it’s supposed to play out. You just need to let go and let it happen. You know that, James, don’t you?”
He stared at me for a long while before answering me. “The unpredictable will destroy your life, Ara.”
“The unpredictable is unavoidable; no matter how hard you try to take control and tighten the reigns, it will happen if it’s meant to happen. You can’t control the unpredictable, James; you need to let it happen. I can’t tell you if you don’t know that.”
He stared at me again before speaking after what felt like an eternity. “What happened that night Ara?” he questioned in a soft voice, imploring eyes boring into mine. “What did I do?”
I almost closed my eyes to collect myself, but I feared the images that would plague me if I did; they’d scare me into silence yet again. James’s eyes were the only refuge, the only safety from those horrific images of that terrifying night.
My heart nearly stopped every time I thought of it, at every thought of thinking, just for a moment, that he could be dead, the miniscule instance in which he was dead in my mind. It was a tiny moment, a millisecond in the spectrum of eternity, but it would haunt me forever.
“Leap of Faith,” I breathed out before even realizing it. “You jumped, and you didn’t come back.”
James’s brow furrowed, his eyes still filled with endless questions.
“It was a branch, a stupid awkward one on the ground,” I went on, my fingers running over the scar again but my eyes never leaving his. “It was so close to the ground, James; I could see your blood mixing with the rain on the grass. You turned the floor of that balcony red as if someone had used a spell; there was so much blood. You looked dead; Lily thought you were dead. I thought you were dead.”
There were tears in my eyes, and James was frozen.
“I was counting,” I went on, “Callie knew something wasn’t right, and I was counting, but your broom just lay there; it didn’t move, and I thought…. You were unconscious before I got you, but I let you get close enough to the ground for that branch to get to you. You were unconscious before you could summon your broom.” My voice faded into a whisper as tears slowly slid over my cheeks, dripping off my chin, landing in my hair and on my collar bone, hot and cold, all at once.
I tore my gaze away from his and finally closed my eyes, burying my face into his chest and succumbing to every vivid detail of that night, only his heart beating over the howling wind.
A/N: Have I made up for that horrendous wait?
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