Chapter 17 : Ex-boyfriends' families tend not to like your new boyfriend, I've discovered.
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"Mmm…" I mumbled, rolling over onto my side and trying to snuggle against the warm thing in front of me. Said warm thing put its hands on my stomach and rolled me back onto my back, poking me in the bellybutton once again. I sighed and the same chuckle resonated around the room.
"Now, minx, behave yourself. Now is not the time for you to try and seduce me." The lightly teasing tone in the deep, relaxing voice made me stir, and I pressed my hands against the warm person's chest and pinched my eyes even more tightly shut. "Come on, Aimes, try and wake up. I'll take you… I'll take you to go and see him. Just wake up for me." Something stirred in the back of my mind, trying to remind me of something that I knew I'd forgotten. I cracked open one of my eyelids to find a sombre looking James Potter dipping a kitchen cloth into a small bowl of water. A second later, James placed the cloth on my forehead.
"That feels nice," I sighed. Potter chuckled again. The cloth was removed a second later and then his hands were on the back of my neck, pulling my head upwards and therefore making me sit up straight. I opened my eyes properly and found Potter smirking at my expression.
"Well hello there, my sleeping beauty." I smiled slowly as he bopped his finger lightly on the end of my nose, an amused and infuriatingly sexy smirk spreading across his mouth. "How're you doing? You've been out cold for about half an hour. I'm pretty sure these walls are so thin the neighbours can hear us, and they're going to think I'm the mad boyfriend that talks to himself." I laughed weakly, wiping the sweat from the revealed portion of my chest shown by the low cut neckline of my shirt. Potter frowned sympathetically and handed me the re-dampened cloth.
"What happened?" I asked groggily, letting Potter push my hair back off my forehead and tie it back with an elastic band he found under the couch. A second later he got off his knees and headed off into the kitchen, coming back an indeterminable amount of time later with a glass of lemonade – lemonade I didn't know I had, I would like to point out – and a small chocolate bar in a foil wrapper.
"Here, I want you to take these. You need to get your energy back up; the fainting took a lot out of you. If I was that kind of guy, I'd offer to give you a foot and back rub, but I'm not, so I won't. I could call the masseuse I have on speed-dial and tell her to do it, if you want." I shook my head slowly.
"Nah, I'm good, thanks. I wouldn't mind if you wanted to give me a foot rub, though, Potter my love. You've got nice hands, there." I winked cheekily at Potter who chuckled again, elbowing me in the side of the thigh. I wondered what was going on – Potter was being sweet and caring, using sweet nicknames that he'd never used before. I, myself, was almost flirting back, sweetly teasing him in a way that I never really had with anyone before. I wondered what brought about the sudden, roundabout change in Potter's personality, and it shocked me to realise that it might actually be nothing short of pity.
And thinking about pity, and the reasons for that pity, made me suddenly realise why I was sitting on my couch, weak and covered with sweat. Because Dan was dying in a hospital somewhere, and I wasn't with him. The shocking realisation of my selfishness was like a blow to the stomach, and I quickly tried to stand up.
This, of course, led to me then falling down again, right into the muscular, capable and annoyingly delightful arms of a smirking James Potter. A second later I'd been scooped up by the irritatingly amused Potter and tossed back onto the couch – just a little bit too hard. My head slammed backwards and whacked against the wall, since a chunk of the back of the couch was missing.
"That reminds me, why is there a chunk of the back of your couch missing? I've been wondering that from the first time I ever came in here." Potter gestured to the gap in the back of the couch with a slight frown on his face. I frowned at the back of the couch too, absent-mindedly wiping the palms of my hands over my collarbones, which were covered in a thin sheen of sweat. I knew I needed a shower, but I wasn't sure how to broach that with Potter. I was terrified I would collapse, and there would be no way on hell's green earth that I would ask Potter for a hand.
"I don't know. Either the chunk was missing when we bought the couch, or it has gone missing since it got here. How does one carve a chunk of couch out, anyway? My sharpest knife is a steak knife and that would not cut a chunk of couch out. Maybe I should have bought a new one." Potter rolled his eyes and started to gather up all the debris of things he'd used to try and wake me up. I laughed a little bit when I saw a decanter of table salt, which Potter had clearly attempted to use as opposed to smelling salts, given that I had never owned smelling salts.
"I'll buy you a new set of knives, then," Potter said, not focusing on me but tossing handfuls of rubbish into the bin and struggling to master the concept of a pedal-opening bin. He even kicked the side of it at one point, before just lifting the lid manually. I bit back another giggle.
"Yeah, I just need a shower before we head over to some department store cutlery department like an old married couple that want to spice things up in the dining room department." Potter turned around to cock an eyebrow at my flat-lining joke and then kicked the side of the bin again to get the lid to once again slam shut. I slowly pushed myself off the couch, ignoring the way the inside of my knees felt like grape jelly and my hands were shaking like some kind of a recovering alkie.
"Here, let me help you to the shower. And then I'll take you over to St… I'll take you where you want to… you know." I blushed slightly despite my newly pallid complexion when Potter flung his arm around my hips and lifted me a couple of inches off the ground, carting me to the small cupboard sized room adjourning the living room that contains a toilet and a shower cubicle and not much else.
"Thanks," I grumbled ungraciously, grasping hold of the toilet tank and taking a careful step onto the cold bathroom tiles. Potter snorted with impatience and stepped around me, consequently filling the entire of the remaining bathroom space, and spun the shower dial in a way that made my heart drop into my thighs. In an apartment that shit, spinning a dial too fast could cause a leak or a pipe burst or an apocalypse, etc and so on.
Though I was moving into my new apartment the next day, free of charge, and the place was pretty much in ruins anyway, I had planned on doing something nice for Potter with the security deposit I would get back on the place – I'd have to flirt with old Reggie to get it, but it would be worth it.
"Do you need a hand getting in?" Potter murmured sleazily, turning around too shoot me a leering smirk so thick that I safely assumed it was a joke. I punched him in the rib, just to be on the safe side, and started to jimmy him out of the bathroom. He laughed and flicked his hand at me so that the water he had been testing the temperature of splattered the front of my shirt.
"You're a prick," I informed him, the weariness in my voice unfortunately taking the edge off the venom behind the insult. Potter pretended to look wounded all the same, and I appreciated the effort. A few seconds later, he was out of the bathroom and the hot – let's be honest, tepid – water of the shower was attempting to undo the knots spread down my back and shoulders. Disjointed images of Dan's face swam into the forefront of my vision, some from happier times when I'd thought the world was the Ace of Spades, and others from when I was throwing various kitchen utensils at his head and telling him to drop dead – and then new ones. Others. One where his face was pale and pallid, sweat clinging to his skin and blood dribbling from the corner of his mouth. My knees buckled again. I managed to yell for Potter just in time.
"I'm sorry, Miss Woods, but we're not letting any visitors in right now – not even family. His parents and siblings are in the waiting area right now, you're free to wait with them, but you're not going in to see him just yet." The Healer cast a wary glance at Potter's pissed off expression and quickly scarpered back into his office with his tail between his legs.
"Ready to meet the family from hell?" I sighed, keeping tight hold of the handful of Potter's shirt I had been clutching since I stepped into the cold lobby of St Mungo's. Potter awkwardly wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me through a small white door off the corridor we were standing in, and into a sterile waiting room full of chairs with metal legs and plastic seats that squeaked when you shifted. Leaflets sat in stacks on the walls but they might as well have been written in Afrikaans for all the sense they made to me.
Lois was the first person to move. She was up like a flash, still looking her usual impeccable self, despite the circumstances, and had her arms in a chokehold around my neck before I could greet her. She acted as though Potter was not there, despite his arm remaining resolutely around my waist. Her eyes appeared to be stuck straight ahead with her efforts not to look at him.
"Thank you for coming," she whispered, her voice thick, as though she had not spoken in a few hours. I patted her on the back and pressed a kiss to her blusher-slathered cheek, not trusting myself to speak. Barney pulled me into a hug a second later, kissing the top of my head. He then extended his hand to Potter, who took it with what seemed to be a sympathetic smile.
"Barney Richardson, nice to meet you," he said civilly, his tone even, but the red rimming his eyes alerted me to the fact he'd spent a good portion of the evening in tears. Barney always was the heart of their family, while Lois was the soul. Dan was the stomach. And the rest of them were just those pointless organs like the appendix and the tonsils and the spleen or whatever.
"Pleasure," Potter said. "I'm so sorry about your brother." I was surprised at how genuine he managed to get his tone. Barney nodded his thanks, and Lois even managed to flick her eyes up to shoot him some semblance of a grateful smile.
"What do you think you're playing at, Aimee?" Someone suddenly sneered from behind me, and the nasally, irritating pitch of the voice meant it was Shelley. Potter sat down in the only remaining seat and pulled me onto his knee, prising my fingers from their iron grip on the front of his shirt. I turned to face Shelley, who was sitting with that boyfriend of hers – Mick, or whatever – but paying him no attention. He was playing some kind of game on his phone, clearly not interested in whatever was going on. An engagement ring was glittering on Shelley's hand, and my heart went out to the bloke.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Potter asked before I could even open my mouth. Shelley glared coldly at him for half a second and then switched her venomous expression back to focus on little old me. I shrunk back into Potter's chest, and he wrapped one of his arms around my stomach, resting his chin on my shoulder so he could stare at Slimy Shelley and her Stupid Sisters.
Anne-Marie and Naomi were both glaring at me too, Anne-Marie clicking her talon nails together and Naomi chewing disgustingly on the bottom of her ponytail like a three year old. Unusually, Shane wasn't glaring at me – he was staring down at the toes of his shoes, clearly determined not to argue with me since he wanted to get back to doing my brother. Ew. Jim was staring out an enchanted window to his left, seemingly unaware that I had even entered the room.
"My brother is in the hospital," Shelley said slowly, as though Potter was mentally handicapped and was explaining something quite complicated. Anger unfurled in my stomach. "And he loves her, for some unknown reason. And you're her new boyfriend. That means you ought to get the fuck out of here, out of respect. Do you know what respect means, or do you need your daddy to buy the definition for you?" I raised a hand to cover my mouth as Potter bristled behind me.
Adopting a high, simpering voice that imitated hers pretty well, Potter leant forwards and smiled ironically at her.
"You're a bitch, do you know that means? Or do you need me to curse the definition into your pea-sized brain?" I smirked behind my hand. Lois cleared her throat and looked like she was about to rebuke Potter, but I cut her off with a look. She sits back down and the waiting room plunges into a cold silence, a slight pink tinge colouring Shelley's pale cheeks.
"You still shouldn't be here. Dan wouldn't want you here," Jim eventually said, dragging himself out of his reverie around five minutes after the relevant conversation had died an awkward death. He still did not peel his gaze away from the window. Potter cleared his throat.
"Aimee needs me. I'm not going to leave her. She matters more to me than your son does, I'm sorry. And she wants to be here for him, and I want to be there for her. So I'm here whether you like it or not. I'm sorry about your son and your brother, but insulting Aimee and I will not heal him any faster. So if you haven't got anything nice to say, then keep your mouths shut. This is a free hospital, and I have just as much right to be here as you do." I turned my head towards him and sent him the most grateful smile I could muster, hoping he wouldn't notice the glassiness of my eyes.
Potter leant down, brushed my lips against the bridge of my nose and then planted the softest kiss imaginable on the corner of my mouth. I shuddered and he tightened his arm around my stomach, his hand sliding up towards my elbow to wipe away any goosebumps. Lois sent me an odd look, an oddly tender one, and then went back to staring at the toes of her expensive pumps. Barney sent us both a grin, and I knew he didn't mind Potter and I being together. He knew Dan and I were… well.
After ten minutes, the silence in the room felt like it was pushing down on my lungs and suffocating me from the inside. I shifted on Potter's lap and pulled my forehead off his shoulder, accidentally knocking his arm away from my spine, where it had been tracing odd patterns that seemed like they were spelling out words, but I was too distracted to focus on their composition.
"I need to get out of here," I whispered to him, trying to stop myself from bursting into a loud and highly embarrassing round of tears, but a second later Potter had pulled me out of his seat and was towing us both towards the doors.
"Thank fuck. The atmosphere in that place was more like a funeral than a place of healing. It was depressing, I'll tell you that much. I think getting the tattoo on my collarbone was less painful than spending ten minutes sitting in there." Potter's kind, caring tone was gone and his usual grumble had returned as he shoved me into an elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor. I leant my head against the wall and tried to ignore the pounding in the back of my skull.
"Where are we going?" I asked, but the words jumbled together and came out like mush, spewing all over the metal floor of the elevator. If it didn't look so hard, I would have curled up in a ball on it. Potter shrugged, checking his phone in his pocket and frowning. While it may have been selfish, irritation prickled through me as I noticed I was no longer getting all of his attention.
Maybe that was Potter – he could play the nice, caring guy, but he was ultimately going to go back to his bitter, introverted self. Of course, that was based off the fact the bloke checked his phone when I thought he should have been coddling me and giving me more of those nice kisses of his. Thinking about his kisses warmed my tummy, so I pushed the hand holding his phone aside and pulled his head down to meet mine. We only had a few seconds before the door pinged open and some old biddy cleared her throat at us. I glared at her as we passed.
"For a second there, I thought you were offering to shag me in the elevator." I would have laughed if I hadn't known that Potter was being completely serious, and I didn't know that my Dan was strapped up to needles somewhere above my head, slowly breathing his way towards his last breath. My hands clenched into fists at the very thought.
"I loved him for the longest time," I whispered suddenly, as Potter steered me into the cafeteria area of the hospital. He doesn't order anything, so I presumed that he knew I wouldn't be able to stomach anything. "I loved him so much for so long and I worry that I don't know how to do anything else. It was always Dan, and now it's not Dan and that's so scary. And I don't want to be with him anymore, James. I don't. But the thought of him dying knocks me sick and I – I can't handle that. Does that mean I do want to be with him? I… I can't live how I did before. But I don't want him to die. Am I mad, James?" Potter tossed a handful of napkins at my face as I started to sob.
"No, you're not mad," he muttered. "You're just very upset. Just because you don't want to be with Dan anymore doesn't mean you want any harm to come to him – you want him to be safe and happy, just not with you. And that's fine. It doesn't mean you want him back." I take a shuddering breath and Potter presses a warm hand to my shoulder. "How are you feeling, Aimee? Really, how are you feeling?"
"I feel sick, actually. I feel like everything in my torso is being squeezed by a giant hand of death, like it's playing the accordion with my stomach or something. Merlin, I feel terrible. Maybe it's a good thing that we're in a hospital." The droop in my tone, the sagged stretch of my shoulders, the way I sitting amongst people curled over a glasses of cheap coffee that tasted like badly mixed piss, all told me how pathetic my life was quickly becoming – just like it once was. Or maybe still was. I'd lost track of the shitiness.
"That sounds a bit like Irritable Bowel Syndrome to me – do you want me to go and talk to one of the healers for you?" The complete seriousness and sympathy on Potter's face made his misinterpretation of my words twelve thousand times worse, and I flushed bright pink and began to splutter like some kind of backwards duckling.
"No!" I screeched, my pitch not in-keeping with the sombre faces of anxious family members or the exhausted bags under the eyes of the healers on their breaks. I couldn't tell why they were so exhausted – clearly they weren't being worked that hard, since they were on a break right then.
"Don't worry, I won't let on that it's for you. I'll be discrete. But I got a new bathroom fitted in your place when I signed the lease, and I'd hate for you to move in there with-"
"Potter!" I interrupted loudly. "I do not, that's not, have any trouble with my bowels. We should not be having this conversation. Try to bring a healer into it and I will decapitate you." Potter's eyebrow flew up and another smirk spread across his irritatingly pretty mouth. It made me both want to kiss him and punch his teeth out. He'd look good choking on them. He almost looked like he was rising to some kind of hidden challenge in my words. I prayed it didn't involve a duel – anyone who had been in my DADA class could tell you that duelling and I were not best buds.
"Well that perked you up," Potter said suddenly, his serious expression breaking into a grin and his eyes winking cheerfully at me. I scowled and crossed my arms over my chest. "It's okay to be scared, Aimee. That's allowed. You loved him, and you most likely will always have a part of you that will love him and will want to look out for him. You wouldn't want Brent to die, would you? But that doesn't mean that you want to date him." I gagged slightly at the very thought.
"I suppose," I allowed, wringing my hands together under the plastic table-top. "I just… I need to see him, Potter – James. I need to see him for myself, I need to hold his hand and see him and let him know that I… I don't hate him. And I… I don't want him to die. Part of me hates him, James, because he ruined me, he really did… but I'd die if he did. He was my life for years, and him dying would mean a part of me dying – my past dying. I need him alive, just not… not with me. I just need to know he's alright, and he's happy." Potter frowned.
"You loved him more than he deserved, you know," he said quietly, staring down at the table and gesturing to the waitress to bring us two coffees. I knew I wouldn't be able to stomach it, but the idea of holding something warm between my palms was appealing.
"He wasn't all bad, James. He wasn't. He was a good guy and a good boyfriend, he just… he wasn't ready for a relationship as serious as ours. He wanted me to be his girlfriend and his mother, and since I'm not from the 1800s, I wasn't happy with that. I cooked, cleaned, and did everything expected of a 20's housewife, and worked alongside it. It was too much." I let out a deep breath.
"He treated you more like a maid than a girlfriend?" Potter guessed, a frown between his eyebrows. I shook my head, struggling to find the right words.
"He wasn't romantic. Not even a little bit. And that wasn't a huge problem, because I'm not a huge romantic myself, but every now and again… I don't know, a little bit of girly indulgence might have been nice. Flowers, or a card on Valentine's Day, or a cheap piece of jewellery, or a nice date in a fancy restaurant or something. Not proposed to after sex and after being kicked out of bed to make him a sandwich. I didn't get any of that. He rarely told me he loved me. I was expected to do all the cooking and cleaning and work full time, but cleaning and cooking was never for him. He didn't think it was a man's place – he was very old fashioned in that sense. He did not think that he should have to do that. It was my job and that was that. He ate all the time and he was so messy. His family, apart from Lois and Barney, were awful to me, but he made me go and see them anyway. Every Sunday. I dreaded it." I put my face in my hands and tried to massage out the tension in my head.
"Sounds like a nightmare relationship, if you ask me. Why did you stay with him for so long if things were that bad?" I sighed and leant back in my chair, ignoring the ominous squeak of aging plastic joints. A Styrofoam cup of coffee was placed down in front of me but I barely noticed it.
"No, it wasn't a nightmare relationship. There were some good points. He used to bring home the paper every day and he'd turn down the corners of the pages that had articles on them he thought I'd like. He would eat whatever I cooked and thank me for it regardless of whether it was home cooked or microwaved. He was grateful for everything I did, I just don't think he ever realised how much it really was. When his brother cheated on my brother, he sided with Brent and I over Shane. He was very good in bed," I laughed hollowly, before I noticed the way Potter's cheeks hollowed and his lips twisted up into a scowl. "Not that I need to tell you that, of course…"
"I'm not very good with relationships or… I don't know, people in general, but if I had to make a guess, I'd say it sounds like you loved Dan because you thought you should and because he loved you, rather than loving him because of him. Almost like, you accepted his proposal simply because you had no reason to turn him down, not because you wanted to spend your life like that." I blinked down at my coffee as my face sagged into a frown.
"I loved Dan," I bleated pathetically, not able to come up with anything else.
"Past tense?" Potter asked tersely, raising an eyebrow at me as I frowned into the murky brown depths of my cup.
"I don't… I don't know. I'll always love him, but I don't think – I'm not in love with him, not anymore. That is, if I ever was. I think I was just sick of being alone. Molly was always with Lorcan and she was so happy and I was sick of being alone and Dan was the solution to that. And I did love him. I know I did. But I… I don't know. I don't want to be with him anymore." Potter blinked slowly.
"The way you emphasised – is there someone you do want to be with?" he asked, raising his cup to his lips with a mild frown playing across his face. I shrugged, shaking my head. I was suddenly jealous of the rim of his coffee cup, which was being nibbled between his two rows of teeth. I could see the top of the tattoo on his collarbone above the low neckline of his stretchy t-shirt. My head started to pound so I ran a clammy hand through my roots.
"I don't… I don't know." The hammering in the back of my skull was distracting but I knew I had some old pills lying in the bottom of my bag somewhere, so I began to root around for them. Potter watched as I popped them dry, before he downed the last of his 'coffee' with a wince and stood up from the table.
"This is a joke. If you want to see him, then you should be allowed to see him. What difference does it make if he's got someone in the room with him – if he's out cold anyway, then it makes no fucking difference. Come on." In response to my questioning gaze, Potter pinched his lips together. "There's not a lot that money can't buy, Woods," he muttered bitterly. "I came to learn that early in life."
Five minutes later, a large stack of money had changed hands between Potter and the Healer in charge of Dan's ward – so fast that I couldn't even tell what was going on – and Potter and I were being escorted past Slimy Shelley and her Stupid Sisters and into Dan's room. The look on her face made accepting Potter's charity and help a little easier to swallow. I realised it was a good job I had been put in Hufflepuff – Gryffindor pride wouldn't be able to stomach leaning on someone as heavily as I was leaning on Potter. I clutched his shirt as we reached the one bed in the ward that contained an actual person – this particular ICU was hardly ever full, we'd been informed.
The fact it was hardly ever full because the patients brought here were usually beyond help hung in the air like a rotten smell, curling down into my lungs and tainting the oxygen around me.
Dan looked small in the bed. His skin was slightly clammy and he was completely washed out, giving him the pallor of a zombie from a badly dubbed movie. His hair was slicked back from his head, slightly damp from his recent sponge bath. White circles connected to long wires were stuck at random intervals on his chest, hooked up plastic bags full of bright potions and a heart machine that kept fluttering paddles up towards him, and then dropping them down onto the floor. The majority of his body was covered with a thin floral nightgown and then a white regulation sheet, which was tangled around his ankles. An ugly gash was slashed down his right cheek, so deep I knew it would scar badly. Both his eyes were blackened. His lips were swollen and split. He looked like death.
A sob had wracked its way out of my chest before I could think about it. Potter's hands, wrapped around my upper arms, guided me to the chair next to the bed. One of Dan's hands, which was strapped up and wrapped in a bandage smelling faintly of bone strengthening potion, was poking out of the duvet, and I brushed my hands along his bloodied nail beds.
"Hey, babe," I whispered to his unconscious form, not noticing Potter slink back into the shadows in an attempt to give us some privacy. "It's me. I reckon you can hear me, and so does the Healer. So hey." My voice started to shake. "Could you – could you wake up for me, Dan? Please?" I took a deep breath on the last word but tears began to pour down my cheeks regardless.
There was no sign of life on his handsome face, though it no longer looked handsome beneath the bruises and crusting of blood. The veins behind his eyelids were a startling shade of blue, and they stood out from his translucent skin in an oddly ethereal manner. His stubble cast a dark shadow on the bottom portion of his face, and I brushed my finger along his chin.
"Dan? Can you hear me?" Nothing. "Dan, please wake up. I want to talk to you. Danny, please." I brushed my finger along his bottom lip, but nothing about his form changed. I sobbed again.
"I don't think he's going to wake up, Woods. He's pretty doped out on potions and stuff. I think just sitting with him would be good – hold his hand or something. But don't get your hopes up and think he's gonna crack an eyelid for you. Money can't buy everything." I nodded at Potter to show I understood and scooched my chair closer to the bed, curling my fingers around his bandaged claw and trying to ignore the slight sting from the acidic smelling potion on my palm.
"Sleep well, Danny," I eventually murmured, leaning my head against the back of my chair and closing my eyes. The feel of his hand in mine, a pulse somewhere in his thumb, was enough for me. For now.
Two hours later, Potter and I were still sitting in silence together in Dan's empty hospital ward. He had moved closer over that time, and my head was lolling backwards so it rested on his shoulder while he held my back upright with his arms. My bones felt like noodles from exhaustion. We were both squished into the only seat designated to Dan's bed, and though his knee had been digging into my backside for the last forty eight minutes, I didn't say anything. I didn't want to jinx Potter's sweetness by complaining about his bony knock-knees.
"Wow, that guy looks hot in that leather jacket," I said vaguely, gesturing to a tall hunk of a guy strolling past the entrance to Dan's ward, tightly clutching a newly bought bunch of yellow roses and a box of red grapes, which looked like it might have been half empty. The fact the dude was chewing suggested where the grapes had disappeared off to.
"Of course he does," Potter grumbled, leaning back – and therefore forcing me to lean back – and kicking his legs up onto the side of Dan's bed, jostling both Dan and the covers slightly. I frowned at him and straightened out the blankets like some kind of mother hen. "Everyone is hot in leather. The material doesn't breathe well."
"You know that's not what I meant," I deadpanned, unable to infuse expression into my tone.
"Your boyfriend's in the hospital, Woods. Have a little respect, will you?" He seemed to be snapping at me, his eyes narrowed and his thumbnail scratching against his index finger.
"He's not my boyfriend," I said haltingly, the words, despite being true, falling uncertainly off my tongue. Potter made a noise, an odd combination of a sigh and a snort, and fiddled with my wand, which he had just fished out of my back pocket.
"Well, technically, I am. So show me a little bit more respect than that." Potter's tone wasn't teasing, though I would assume they were had I seen them out of context.
"You're not my real boyfriend, Potter," I grumbled, feeling like there was no energy left in my body. I didn't want to argue with Potter. I didn't have it in me to fight with him then.
"Yeah, well I've paid enough," he spat venomously, and I recoiled as far as I could while sitting on his lap. His venomous words were like a slap to the face, though they were nothing more than a rehash of things he had said before. "Being your babysitter and councillor wasn't part of our deal, I don't think. I wanted you to go to events with me in public, and that's it. So why am I here, Woods?"
"I…" I said, lost for words. I had never questioned why Potter was there. Why Potter was sitting in Dan's hospital ward with me, holding my hand. Paying for me to get in and see him when his own family couldn't. Talking to me about things I couldn't talk to other people about – about Dan. Why he spent my evenings in my apartment with me, drinking strong coffee and not speaking to me, but battling my loneliness with his six foot presence just being in my house. Why he spent time with me outside of the media world, being nothing more than my shoulder to cry on and my crutch to lean on. It wasn't his kind of thing.
"Because you want to be," I finally offered up weakly. "I didn't ask you to come – you just came. And I'm so grateful that you're here. Please don't – please don't leave me, Potter." I gauged the expression on his face. "James. Please don't leave me, James."
Potter nodded, though a frown still creased his forehead, and leaned forwards until his lips brushed mine. And that was all. One brush. Not James Potter at all. And as sweet as it was, it didn't suit him. He'd shown he was capable of being a good boyfriend – he had. But sweet, innocent, romantic Potter wasn't right. He was trying to be someone he wasn't and that wasn't right. The James Potter I knew and sort-of hated would pin me up against a wall and kiss me with my legs around his waist, not brush a kiss across my lips. And it pissed me off that Real James was gone, and I didn't know where. I slapped his chest with my hand.
"Kiss me properly, you fuck, or don't kiss me at all." Potter's eyebrows rose cockily towards his eyebrows and his lips curled into the familiar Potter smirk, before he grabbed my hips and practically tossed me onto his face. Several aggressive minutes later, during which time I acquired a new hickey – yes, like a randy teenager – and lost all the feeling in my hips due to Potter's tight grip on them, I was decidedly more satisfied. I told him so with a loud, wet kiss on his mouth. He rolled his eyes at me and went back to staring out of the window, his hobby of the last hour.
A few seconds later, as I adjusted my wrinkled shirt, a nurse poked her head around the door and smiled condolingly at me.
"Miss Woods, we're going to let Mr Richardson's family in soon. If you and Mr Potter could say your goodbyes, that would be wonderful. I'll print you out a copy of our visiting times and find a Healer for you to chat to about his progress. His mother has instructed that you are to be kept informed at all times, my dear." I nodded my thanks, Potter still not dragging his eyes from the window.
"I'll give you two some privacy," Potter said gruffly, rubbing his hand across his red lips. I nodded and turned my back on him, gripping hold of my Dan's hand again. He looked so much younger in sleep – none of the arrogance and bravado that aged his face during the daytime. The bruises around his eyes were violently black, spreading from his eyebrows to the centre of his cheeks. Made on impact, I'd been told. It had been a nasty crash. A passing walker had found the car in a ditch, smoke pouring from the hood and blood all over the inside of the car. People must have seen him drive off the motorway, but no one stopped to help. The very thought filled me with fury.
"I always told you that you were no good at driving, Danny," I whispered into the eerily empty room, trying to ignore the wobble in my voice. "I always told you not to drive without a seatbelt, too." My hand brushed lightly against the hair combed back off his scratched forehead.
"I told you that all the time. All the time. You have to wear a seatbelt, because if you – if you get into a crash then I'll lose you. And I can't lose you." My voice was hoarse and breathy as I struggled to breathe and talk while sobbing and simultaneously slashing under my eyes with the back of my hand to wipe away tears. "I told you to wear the damn things! If you'd been wearing one then you wouldn't have hit the airbag so hard and bounced off it – you wouldn't have smashed your head open on the fucking door window! You twat!" I slapped his bed. "How could you be so stupid?! Did you think about me at all? About what this would do to me?
"I doubt that you did, because you hardly ever thought of me when we were together. I find it strange that you're more attentive now than you were when I was your girlfriend. I… I always hated you a little bit for that. You made me feel like I wasn't worth listening to every single day. I never wanted to talk to you about my day, or about my friends, or Molly's wedding plans, or… anything, because I knew you didn't care. I know you cared about me, but you didn't care about my day. You just wanted me there, you didn't care what I'd been doing when I wasn't with you. And that isn't love, Danny. You have to – you have to love everything, and care about everything.
"You expected me to do everything. I resented you for that, too. I resented you so much for that. I worked all day, then came home and worked all night for you. I was so tired all the time, and everything seemed so bleak. It was like there was no point to anything – I hated my job, I hated cooking, I hated cleaning, I hated looking after you and ironing for you and hanging your clothes on hangers and pairing up your socks while you sat on your arse and watched fucking television. I hated you for that, because you expected my life to be hard to make yours easier.
"And yet, for reasons that I can't fathom even to myself, I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest when you left me. I lay on the floor for three hours and screamed crying into the carpet of our bedroom, and then I tore up picture after picture of us and ate a bucket of ice-cream and threw things at the walls. And I felt like my lungs were giving up on me because you'd given up on us – I felt like I couldn't breathe without you. You were everything to me – I'd spent so long looking after you that, without me realising, you'd become my entire life. I had other parts to my life, but you were it. And I only realise now that I couldn't live like that. It wasn't healthy. It wasn't love, it was… obsession. Being forced into a routine for so long that you lose sight of everything else.
"I basically let myself die while you were gone. I went to work and I worked like a regular lazy-girl, as I had before, but when I came home I did nothing. I went out with Molly about once a month, and she came round to mine otherwise. I didn't want to leave, because it's the only place that was really ever ours. So I only really left to go to work, to the point where I stopped bothering to go out shopping and so I never had any food in so I just got into a habit of not eating. I lost a stone and a bit when you left, Danny. No man is worth your health, not even you. Molly used to complain I was becoming skeletal – she said as I lost weight, I lost personality. I kinda lost myself because you were my life and you were gone. I had nothing to focus on anymore.
"I… it's gotten better recently, Dan. I don't know why. I'm smiling when I wake up in the morning. I'm moving into a new apartment tomorrow – I'm not living in our shithole just because it's full of memories of you. It's gorgeous, my new place. It knocks everything into perspective for me. I've got a new job and I love it – I've made friends already, and I the work is interesting and keeps me entertained and actually makes me think. And when I come home I drink wine and eat a good meal because I can. And I can leave the dishes in the sink because there's no one around to care.
"I… Potter… look, never mind about him. This is about you. I love you, Dan. I do. And I've spent the last two minutes listing your flaws but I never want you to doubt that I love you. I love you so fucking much that I feel sick to my stomach and all I want to do right now is hug you to my chest and kiss you until you wake up and get better, and then I want to nurse you and cook for you until you're healthy again and then I want to finally marry you and be your wife. But I know that's not right, because that's not the life I want. I love you, but I can't be the kind of wife you need. I'm sorry. But I do love you – so, so much. More than I should, and frankly, more than you deserve. But I need to think about me over you for once, and so I'm not – this is it for us. Officially. We're over, though we're not even together right now.
"They say you never forget your first love, you know. And you are my first love. I was eighteen when I fell in love with you – or was I just nineteen? I was young, anyway. And I'm nearing twenty one, now. They say you never forget your first love, but it can be buried alive by true love. And one day, Dan, I'm hoping you're going to be buried screaming in the sand. Though I don't know if that expression is completely correct, because someway, somehow, I already feel myself getting over you. But I just, I don't know why. I don't see why I would be getting over you. But I am. And you might not like that, but it's a good thing, Danny. You'll move on from me quickly with one of your French girls, you know you will. And that's okay. And you can write to me. I'd like that."
I brushed my fingers through Dan's hair, and then leaned down over his bed to brush my lips against his. I knew he was out cold and therefore would have no idea I was on the same planet as him, but him lying cold and motionless beneath me still brought hot tears to my eyes.
"Bye, Dan. Love you."
"Right, well, bye," Potter said shortly, still not having fully recovered from his bout of surliness in St Mungo's. I frowned at him but nodded all the same, and slowly began to slide along the leather seat in the back of our taxi. I hadn't felt up to flooing, and Potter said he had nothing particularly interesting to do with his day, so we took a muggle taxi back to my place.
"In fact, can you head up to Bold Street and make a left, and make as though you're heading towards Kensington but actually head into that little village where the actor with the blonde hair was born? Beechwood High-rise, when we get there – the penthouse." Potter looked like he was choking on his own tonsils for a minute, and then swallowed his own spit so he could talk. I tried to force an impish grin onto my face but my muscles still felt frozen and tight, and I just didn't have the energy or the motivation in me to muster up a smile.
"And we are going back to my place, why?" he asked slowly, as though speaking to a particularly stupid yet resilient child. I glared at him and settled back into my seat.
"I don't want to be alone right now," I said honestly. "And to be quite truthful, your company is better than nothing." Potter looked like he wanted to smile for a moment, but his brain must have instantly rejected the kind notion. I heard he laughed once. He said it was awful.
"And if I do want to be alone right now?" he asked slowly, leaning a little closer towards me on the back seat. I would have shifted backwards had there not been a door behind my back.
"Potter, I don't care what you want – I think I've proven that before," I said confidently, in some kind of whisper that sounded rather seductive, even to my own ears. Potter's partial-smile quirked up into his usual arrogant smirk, and I wanted to smack the obnoxious look off his pretty boy face. His cheekbones looked divine up close – you could probably drink from them if he lay on his side. His eyes were warm and brown, not cold and calculating as they had been during our first official meeting. I reached between us and grasped hold of his wrist, knowing that neither of us were really the hand-holding sort of people. That was Molly's thing.
"So we're going back to my place? Alone?" Potter murmured, leaning closer towards me. I swallowed the excess saliva that flooded into my mouth. I let go of his wrist and put both of my hands on each of his shoulders as he leant in towards me – like my noodle arms were actually going to be able to do anything against his sheer bulk.
"Yes," I said. "Is that a problem?" Potter grinned wickedly at me.
"No, not at all," he laughed, and then he was kissing me. Again. Well, not really again – only again if you count the kissing two hours ago at the hospital, which was completely unrelated to this kissing and therefore would not constitute an again – would it? Instead of pushing against his shoulders, I wrapped my arms around his neck. I wanted to scrub myself clean in the shower for kissing James – Potter, dammit – an hour after I decided to let Dan go, while he was still lying in a hospital somewhere, but the thought oddly spurred me on. I wanted to forget about him. I owed him nothing.
"We're here, ma'am," the taxi driver said, all too soon. Potter pulled away, practically launched a wad of cash at his head and pulled me roughly out of the taxi door, jimmying me along the pavement, into the building and into the posh elevator reserved especially for Potter's fancy penthouse suite. I launched myself back into his arms like some kind of wanton heathen, and Potter laughed into my collarbone as I left scuff marks on the polished mirrors on the walls.
Thirty seconds later, we'd crashed through the door to his place.
"I know I'm a Gryffindor, but I've never left less honourable than I do now," Potter muttered, pushing me into the wall lining the left side of the entrance corridor. I tried to avoid knocking a fresh vase of flowers, obviously not of Potter's choosing, to the floor as my arms flailed uncontrollably.
"What do you mean?" I panted, and a mortified blush spread from my toes to the tip of my nose at my embarrassing voice. Potter laughed again, kissing the spot on my neck where my Adam's apple would be, had I been cursed with a Y chromosome in the womb. Still, maybe that wouldn't be a curse – it's not joke that women have it harder. But that's an inner monologue for another day.
"You're doing this to forget the love of your life, Dan Richardson, is lying in a hospital, comatose, and no one knows if he's going to wake up. You don't know if he's coming back to you." Potter's tone was almost bitter, but his hands never left my waist. "You don't care about me, but I make you forget. I make you forget that everything seems horrible and you might lose him."
He was mostly right, but wrong on two counts. One, that Dan was the love of my life – I had realised, not an hour before, that he most certainly was not. And two, that I didn't care about him. In some kind of messed up, masochistic way, I did. But I'd die before I told him that.
So instead, I said "Is that a problem, Potter?"
He grinned at me, though something was a little off.
"Not at all," he laughed, while pushing me into his bedroom. I kicked the door shut behind us. He caught his fingers in the wire when he was rolling the blinds down. I struggled to undo the laces on the shoes. Potter's belt got caught in his belt loops. I spent the best night of my life in his arms. I know, I couldn't believe it either.
James Sirius Potter
I was trying to remember whether Woods wanted one sugar or two sugars in her coffee when a loud hammering on the door spared me from actually having to think back to our conversation. Since she was lounging in my bed at the time, I hadn't really been listening to what was coming out of her gob.
I knew Woods wouldn't be stupid enough to answer the door to my apartment in the nude, since her clothes had disappeared into the dark and dangerous forays under my bed, so I made the journey to the front door, picking up the pace when the hammering got louder and more insistent. I guessed it was my pain of a sister, since she always managed to appear at the worst of times, but the rude knocking was too obnoxious even for her, the little chit.
"I'm coming, calm the fuck down," I yelled, plucking the front door key off its hook and jamming it into the handle. The door swung open and a second later, a harassed looking Mark Woods slammed his way into my apartment, his hands in his hair and his eyes roving around wildly, as though he wasn't really aware where he was.
"James. James, shit. I've fucked up big time. I – I don't know what to do. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She's going to kill me. She's never going to talk to me again. I've really, really messed up everything. I didn't mean to! Merlin knows I didn't mean to. But I… how am I going to tell her? She'll tell my mum, and she'll never talk to me again. I – I didn't want him to get hurt!" Mark continued to ramble on like he was fresh out of the psych ward, so I pushed him towards the living room, painfully aware that his sodding sister was only on the other side of the wall, sans clothing, and without any knowledge that her brother and I were well acquainted.
"Mark, calm down, mate. Who are you talking about? Who is this 'he' and 'she' you keep talking about?" Mark stared up at me with wild eyes, his hands clutching handfuls of his hair, and opened his mouth like he wanted to speak but had nothing to say. A horrible thought occurred to me. "Mark, are you talking about your son? Is he hurt? Where is he?"
"No… no, my Jack is fine. He's… he's with my parents. He… I wanted him to see them. They'll never want to see me again. They'll hate me. Aimee will never, ever forgive me. She'll kill me, James. She'll kill me. I…" I glanced towards my bedroom door and refocused my attention on Mark, handing him a glass of brandy and wincing when he downed it in one and handed it back to me for a refill. "She was acting strange the other day. Talking about forgiveness and whether you should get back with people and forgive them and – I know my sister, James. I know what she was thinking."
I frowned, not comprehending his random ramblings. I filled up both of our glasses, watched Mark down his second shot and then moved the heavy glass onto the coffee table.
"Mark, what are you talking about?"
"Dan," Mark whispered, his shoulders slumping and his voice coming out nothing short of a tortured groan. My heartbeat picked up in my chest and I quickly downed my own brandy. "He… the car accident. I… it was me. I was only trying to frighten him. I wanted to shake him up. I was going to scare him and then tell him to stay away from my sister and hope the message stuck. But I'm not a very good driver and neither is he and… I ran him into the… fuck!" Mark suddenly started yelling, throwing his head down into his hands and screaming at the floor. My eyes flicked back to my door.
"Mark, what did you do?" I said calmly, trying to hide my growing sense of dread.
"I think I've killed him," he whispered brokenly. "I hit the turnoff wrong and slammed into his car and he went into the ditch. There was blood all over his face. I… I didn't know what to do." Mark's hands were shaking, none of the swaggering Quidditch player I knew remaining on his face.
"Mark, if you accidentally slammed into his car then that's not your fault. Aimee will understand that – you didn't mean to hit his car. It's not like you deliberately tried to kill him. You said yourself, you only went there to scare him." I stopped talking when Mark started to shake his head, his lips moving but no sound coming out.
"I… he was still conscious. There was blood all over his face, all over the airbags… his arm was sticking out of the window in the most disgusting position… but he was conscious. And I… I didn't know what to do. I don't know whether I wanted him away from Aimee for good or whether… whether I was too scared to help him. I didn't call the healers. I didn't want to be linked to the accident. So I left him… I left him…" Mark took a deep, shuddering breath and focused his glassy eyes on my face. "I left him there to die."
disclaimer: nothing in this chapter belongs to me.
heeeeeeey. soz this chapter took a while. sooo, yeps. do you reckon dan will die, in the end? and why did mark show up to potter, of all people? those two hardly know each other, as far as aimee is concerned. yeps. see ya next time.
ellie :) xx
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