Chapter 2 : Moving Forward
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Lily sat in a small cafe across the street from her flat. There were only four or five tables filled, most taking advantage of the diner like menu the cafe offered. It was a family place, and closed every night by eight. Lily suspected that was probably what kept it from being a local hangout for those who were too hungover or too drunk to even consider cooking for themselves.
She could have selected one of the empty booths lined in plush cushions, but was instead positioned on a tall chair near the window, a seat that allowed her a perfect view to the street. If someone were to ask why she’d chosen one of the least comfortable spots, she’d say she was keeping an eye out for a friend. Which was true, in part. She knew one of the boys would be coming over eventually. Peter only had an hour or so of work left and James and Sirius where in the small car park behind the flat changing the motorbike’s oil. Apparently that was something they refused to use magic for, and Lily decided to chalk it up to the ‘things boys do to prove their manhood’ list. She wasn’t entirely sure where Remus was, and he’d been rather vague about it when leaving that morning, but she reckoned they’d find out soon enough.
Lily had told James where she’d be, and to come get her when they were all ready to figure out something for dinner. The Order meeting wasn’t until ten, giving them plenty of time to eat and prepare.
So it was true that, in part, Lily was keeping an eye out for a friend. That was the answer she’d give, at any rate. Though, in all honesty, her real reason for selecting that seat was the fact that she refused to be caught unaware. She wouldn’t curl herself up in some back booth where anyone could walk in and see her before she saw them.
Lily couldn’t even count the conversations they’d all had about safety. The times they’d gone over spells and curses, talked about what they would do if cornered. But no matter how important to all of them it was to remain safe, that still didn’t mean they could stop living. Lily couldn’t hide out in James’s flat anymore than Sirius could spend every hour of his life drunk.
Three weeks ago they’d watched their friend walk from a crowded pub into the restroom, and that was the last time they’d ever seen her alive. Three weeks ago they’d all been forced to realize, more than ever, they couldn’t control the situations around them. But they could be prepared. Lily wouldn’t forgo getting to spend some time in the cafe in favor of hiding in the flat, but she’d make sure that she took in every face around her. If even the smallest feeling that something was off washed over her, she would leave.
But she wouldn’t stop living. Not when she still had a beating heart.
She took a gulp of tea out of the fat ceramic mug then glanced back down at her parchment. The quill twisting around in her fingers didn’t seem to gather any looks, but she still couldn’t help but chide herself for not thinking to bring a pen. The more she could blend in, the better.
Her eyes moved along the lines she’d already written, scrutinizing every word as if it was the most important she’d ever read. Lily didn’t know what the letter would result in, but she did know she had to try. She couldn’t keep bouncing from one day to the next, constantly ignoring the dread that wrapped ribbons around her every time she thought of Belle. She wanted to help and needed to keep her mind busy. Of course they had the Order, and though the meeting coming up that evening was only the second, she already felt good about their decision to throw themselves into it. But for Lily, it wasn’t enough.
She took a deep breath then dipped her quill, finishing off the last of the letter before blowing on it to dry. After she was sure the ink wouldn’t spread, she folded it up and slipped it into a heavy envelope. When she got back to the flat she’d stop by the landlord’s office and see if he had an owl that she could use to send the letter to St. Mungo’s. Beowulf would be annoyed about not getting to, but she didn’t think it was safe to use him for this.
And maybe, if she was lucky, the Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries would write her back. Maybe they’d tell her that they could use her volunteer help and put her to work a few days a week.
Lily might not have all the free time in the world, but she had enough. The idea of needing to get out and be productive was what started her wheels spinning, but it was her realization that she could afford to volunteer that really solidified her plan. After converting most of what her parents had left her as well as the money from selling her childhood home into wizard currency, then of course adding her pile of saving from the last three years, she’d realized that her finances were a lot more secure than she’d thought. She could live comfortably on what she had for at least a year, and maybe by then things would be getting better and she’d be able to start making a decision about her future career as a Healer.
She couldn’t spend seventy hours a week in school and revising just now, not with her desire to help the Order, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be able to one day. And hopefully in the meantime St. Mungo’s would allow her to volunteer a few days a week... she needed that. Needed to feel like she was doing more to help.
A small weight seemed to lift off her chest as she slipped the sealed envelope into her bag. And now, she thought, it was time to deal with the other thing that had been on her mind. She left a few Muggle bills on the table, knowing it was enough to cover both the tea and a tip, then walked out of the brownstone cafe before she could change her mind.
“Hand me the screwdriver,” Sirius mumbled, not looking up. James reached a few feet over and grabbed the tool, then glanced around them one more time to be sure that preying eyes were nowhere to be found. The flat provided a gravel area for anyone with vehicles to park, but there were only two cars, both on opposite sides. James figured that the lack of Muggles living in the building was partly the cause, the other part revolving around their location and the fact that a car was hardly necessary in London.
Their building was a small one, and he’d already made it a priority to meet everyone living there. Which only amounted to ten other families. Probably a total of twenty people or so. Still, he would sure as hell know who he was sharing a building with.
Sirius lifted the screwdriver toward the oil filter, then jabbed it through the center.
“Stuck?” James asked, watching as his mate tried to wriggle the thing free. He wiped the side of his hand where a thick drop of the black substance had landed, then pulled the leather belt from his jeans.
“Here,” he said, nudging Sirius with his foot. Sirius moved his body off of the gravel and James slipped beside the bike, taking on the same angle with his back on the ground and his face beside the block that the machine sat on. He secured his belt around the filter, holding it tightly enough to keep the leather from slipping off, then yanked the filter from its place.
“I taught you that, show off,” Sirius said with a smirk. He held out his hand and James placed the dirtied filter in it before sitting back up. A dozen or so drips had made their way back onto his hands, which he transferred to his jeans.
Sirius glanced around, probably checking for neighbors the same way James had. Vehicle maintenance wasn’t something people appreciated being done in their own parking area.
“Open the intake on it,” he requested, sending a glance at James as he started walking over to where they had the big jug of oil placed. James unscrewed the piece of metal, then sat it on their clean rag. He bent down and grabbed his Dragon Brew, taking a long swig of the beer before glancing back at his friend.
“Mum and dad wrote earlier asking if we’d come over for lunch on Sunday.” James knew the knowledge would brighten Sirius’s mood, which still hovered between black and grey, though favoring the former. He was right, and the sulky face across from his nearly smiled.
“I bet they really just wanted to ask me to lunch, but knew they’d hurt their precious James’s feelings,” Sirius teased. Well, James thought, the insult was far from original, but at least he was trying.
“We’ll see who the precious one is when you’re puking up your dinner after a few drinks tonight,” James said with an eyebrow raised, keeping his face serious.
“Me?” Sirius’s voice filled with the false indignation, then he steadied the funnel and began pouring the oil into the empty compartment. Maybe he was doing better, James thought with a small sense of relief. Not good, but possibly improving. Either that, or James had just gotten so used to his friend being drunk that it seemed nearly normal. Not that he could fault Sirius for wanting to do just about anything possible to try and ignore the fact that Belle was gone. James wouldn’t even allow himself to imagine what it’d do to him if it’d been Lily...
He almost felt guilty for not being as broken about Belle as his best mate and girlfriend were. It wasn’t as if he was any less gutted about losing her, but maybe he knew he didn’t have the right to feel the way Sirius and Lily did. Still, James would get these moments - and for no real reason - when one of her bratty comments or sarcastic replies would fill his head. He’d see her standing there, laughing at Lily when she was in the middle of lecturing one of them, or scowling at Sirius when he walked by and buggered up her hair... in those brief flashes it was as if a wrecking ball had been launched through him.
As much as losing Belle hurt, it hurt even more to watch Lily, Sirius and Alice try to handle it. He knew the brunette was attempting to be the strong one, her and Lily both, really. But she flooed over at least a few nights a week with puffy red eyes and a quivering lip.
Lily was on the uphill, though -- a fact that at least offered a grain of comfort to James. He’d watched her when she’d had her parents ripped from her, and understood that she’d still have plenty of moments when everything would feel just as fresh and it would nearly crush her, but those were starting to grow fewer and farther between.
Sirius was a different story, James thought as he glanced over just in time to see his mate screwing the drain plug back in. He honestly couldn’t be sure if Sirius had been through his worst, or if the storm was still brewing and preparing to break. Usually when something fucked with Sirius’s emotions his reaction would be fast and drastic. The first girl he’d shagged had been because Walbitcha Black had gone off on Sirius right before fourth year. James was sure he’d developed some feelings for the girl afterward, but the sex had started with simply the desire to get as far out of his own head as possible.
He hadn’t done anything necessarily dramatic so far, unless drinking enough to stay toasted for days on end counted. Lily would say it did, but James wasn’t so sure. James couldn’t say that he was pleased with the amount of time Sirius spent drunk... but had to hope that once he got the worst of it out of his system, it would pass.
Well, he thought, that’s why they were going tonight. Hopefully it would give his mate a chance to just let go of some of the shit he was holding in.
James shook his head, trying to figure out why he felt the need to assess his friend’s mental state. It was Lily’s fault, he was certain. She was the one who brought up these sort of conversations late at night while they drifted off to sleep. They were bound to get stuck in his mind. Really, James thought as he wrinkled his forehead, his thoughts had been a lot more manly when his redheaded girlfriend hadn’t been intruding on them.
Although James knew he was much happier having her inside his brain than having it all to himself.
Sirius took his bike off the block and cast his concealment charm on. Good timing, James thought as a thick layer of clouds began to darken with water. He knew they’d be taking the motorbike tonight regardless of the weather, and would really rather it didn’t start pissing rain.
Of course, the moment he thought the words the sky opened up and a sheet of drops began falling. Maybe it’d clear up before they headed out to the pubs, James thought with a shrug as he and Sirius made their way into the flat.
They climbed the stairs to the third floor, and James reached out to yank open the door to their flat. He smiled slightly when he realized it was locked, and broke out into a grin after he pulled out his wand and it became apparent that ‘alohomora’ wasn’t going to do the trick.
He turned his gaze to Sirius, who preceded to raise his fist and give the wood a few knocks.
“It’s us,” he called through the barrier. James heard someone move on the other end, and imagined Lily’s wand pointed directly at them.
After a few seconds, her voice rang out into the corridor. “What was the nickname you gave Beatrice Larson in fifth year?”
James felt his eyes widen and was about to whisper something to Sirius when his mate beat him to it and hissed, “She can’t possibly know, can she?”
“You wouldn’t think so,” he answered, then added, “can’t be too bloody sure with this one, though.”
After a few more moments, he and Sirius both spoke up and said together, “Quaffle Knockers.”
A snicker came from Lily as she said a spell, which resulted in the door swinging itself open.
“You boys never thought that got around?” she asked, a hand on her hip as she gave them a smile that basically said she pitied their idiocy. “Everyone knew about that, including her. You’re just lucky she didn’t take offense.”
James couldn’t resist the urge to state his case. “Well, they were that size! And they went from nothing to.... there!”
“We thought it was pretty damn creative,” Sirius added, before heading to the cupboard and pouring a drink.
“No, Sirius,” Lily said as she crossed her arms and gave the glass a pointed look. “I’m sorry, but no. Not if you’re planning on driving that bike tonight. Over two thousand people die a year in the UK because of drinking and driving related accidents.”
“I’ll be in the bloody sky!” Sirius argued, but James noticed he’d had the good sense not to take a sip... yet.
“I’m not daft enough to think you’ll be flying that thing the entire time, though it’d probably be safer. I’m certain you’re planning on being as careful as you’re capable of, but accidents don’t generally happen because someone planned on them. I’m sure out of the thousands of people who did die, not one decided they’d just stop being careful.” She wasn’t yelling, but the tone of her voice had taken on a steel like quality.
Lily had already won the debate, and James could see Sirius realized that as well. He stepped over to the sink and poured the amber liquid down, glaring at Lily as he did so.
“Thank you,” Lily said in a softer tone, then crossed to the sink and washed out the glass before setting it up to dry. She opened the fridge and came out with a small plate holding a few lemon squares.
“Trade?” she asked, gesturing to the bottle still clenched in his hand. Sirius’s annoyed expression shifted ever so slightly as he handed her the whiskey and took the desserts, though James was sure the taste of the strong alcohol was still dancing in his head.
“What about me,” he said, hoping his face looked convincing. “I didn’t even reach for the liquor, doesn’t that earn me anything?”
His girlfriend leaned her head back and laughed, thoroughly charmed the way James had anticipated. Or maybe she was simply allowing him to think that.
“Go ahead, have one too. But save a few for Remus and Peter, they’ll be over soon.”
As if on queue, a knock came at the flat’s door. James took over the process of questioning, making certain of their identities. This security measure was the one Moody had focused the most on, but far from the only.
Remus held up a bag of Chinese take-away and they all grabbed plates and silverware then dug in, sprawled out over the two couches.
After chewing half of his bite, James glanced at Remus. “You meet with Dumbledore today?”
Remus nodded, but finished is entire mouthful before speaking. “Yes. I didn’t want to say anything this morning in case the meeting wasn’t what I expected, but it seems that Dedalus Diggle is confident that he has at least six months of work for me.”
“Diggle...” Lily paused, leaning over so her hair swung dangerously close to the dipping sauce on her plate. James caught it before she did, and tucked the strand behind her ear. His fingertips grazed her neck as he smoothed the red curtain farther from her cheek, and he felt a rush of desire spring through him. He had to fight the urge to run his hand down the milky length of her shoulder, to slip the small strap of the shirt off of her and watch the blue fabric slink from her skin.
“Thanks,” she said, the look in her eyes convincing James that she could read every thought flowing through him. It took him a moment to figure out what she was thanking him for, then remember the entire reason he’d touched her in the first place was to save her hair from the sticky mess.
Peter cleared his throat. Could the whole damn room feel the tension piled up in James?
“Anyway,” Lily continued, averting her gaze. “Diggle. He’s the sort of... frumpy looking one, right? Erm... works security?” She kept her eyes ahead, but James could as good as feel them wanting to move back over to his face. He didn’t know if he could handle the large green orbs just then, the look of heat and innocence that rested in them more intoxicating than anything else James could imagine. He’d have to take advantage of the blokes’ night out and figure out a good way to ask them, or Sirius at least, about Lily.
He knew it probably made him a shitty person, but he’d had to fight the urge to strip her clothes off from practically the first night of sleeping together. For fuck’s sake, one of their best friends was in the ground and there James was wanting to see if every part of her body tasted as good as her lips.
“Yes, security,” Remus said, his voice effectively breaking the mental trance that held James. “He’s been needing someone else to help keep an eye out. Not Order related, but the work he does for his own business. His clients are Muggles and Wizards that want their places routinely checked and their rich daughters escorted to and from social gatherings. He does most of that, I’d mainly be in charge of patrolling areas. It’s a lot of night stuff, but because he’s in the Order too he already knows how to work our schedule around the meetings.”
James’s mind had shifted almost completely from the image of Lily without her clothes and he was able to focus on what Remus was saying, then asked the first thing that came to mind. “And do you have to tell him about...”
“Yep, he knows all about the full moon. Thought it was a bit to our advantage, really. Not sure why. I suppose he’s a bit eccentric.”
“Congratulations, Remus,” Lily said, her smile warm as she stood up and walked over to him, wrapping him in a hug.
That prompted a round of congratulatory responses, all of which brought a blush to Remus’s face.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“I have something I want to bring up as well,” Lily said as she sat down, and for the first time James noticed an air of tension hovering over her. She walked to the window on the far side of the room, the glass still open a crack, and closed it as the rain began pounding harder against the roof. Next she moved to their plates and went to grab them, but James was able to catch her wrist in his hand and force her still.
“Sit. What is it?” he asked, knowing she was trying to keep busy while she told them so she didn’t have to focus on what she was saying.
“Okay, well. I don’t know if this the sort of thing I should bring up to you all...” she paused, gnawing on her lip for a moment. “It’s just... you know Alice and I were in the old flat for an hour or so the last few days going through Belle’s stuff. I was trying to decide if I was ready to let Remus and Peter move out and move myself into there-”
James interrupted before he was able to stop himself. “You know how I feel about you living alone, Lily,” he all but growled. He tried to smile, knowing she hated when he got too protective, but she barely paid him a glance.
“Yes, I’m aware. Anyway, I realized while I was in the flat that it isn’t knowing what happened to Belle keeping me away.” She glanced from one of them to the other, her eyes as large as tea saucers. “I like being here. I like getting to be with you,” she added, finally locking her gaze with James. “If you guys are willing, I’d like to talk about a way to work things out so, if James wants, we can continue living together. I know you asked before,” she added to him “and I said I didn’t think it was a good idea. Well, I suppose I’d been worried that the only reason I wanted to live together was because I didn’t want to be in there.” She nodded her head toward the door, suggesting the flat across the hall. “I’ve realized over the last few days that it isn’t the flat, but that I’m happy here...with you.”
Her fingers started fidgeting again and before James could get her to sit back down, she was already up and gathering plates to carry to the sink.
“Actually,” Peter said, his voice gaining volume as he spoke. “Remus and I enjoy having the space. We’re perfectly happy to share the master bedroom like planned, but it’s nice having our own areas and...”
“This suits us perfectly fine,” Remus finished.
“Already bringing girls home to shag?” Sirius said, and though it was probably meant as a joke, James picked up something bitter in his words.
“No, haven’t met anyone, obviously,” Remus answered, changing his tone to match the tartness of his friend’s.
Sirius didn’t respond, and for a moment James wondered what was going on. Then, as quickly as if a flame had been lit, it dawned on him. The last thing Sirius wanted to think about was his two friends enjoying themselves in the flat that his girlfriend had been killed. Bringing home girls, filling the air with anything that didn’t revolve around mourning their lost friend.
“You’d rather some strangers be in there, instead of Remus and Peter?” James asked in a hushed tone, trying to ignore the anger he felt at Sirius’s ridiculous attitude.
Maybe that was just enough to bring him back over the edge, because when Sirius glanced up his face had lost some of the darkness.
“No, course not.”
“Well, erm, you’re all okay with it, then?” Lily asked, sitting back down by James and directing her attention to him. “And you? I realize now I should have talked to you first,” she threaded her fingers nervously through his as she spoke. “But I was just feeling so pleased with myself for coming to the conclusion without Alice pushing me... well, only pushing me a bit, that I didn’t think about the fact that it might not be in best taste to discuss it as a group.”
“Of course it was the right idea,” Sirius said, now seeming almost normal as he smiled over at them.
“He’s right,” James added, finally allowing himself to process what this meant. Sure, he and Lily had been as good as living together for the last three weeks, but more as a result of what happened than anything. This was different, though. She wanted to stay with him.
Before the conversation could continue, another round of knocking filled the flat. James glanced to the large grandfather clock his mum had given them, and realized that it was already past seven.
“Must be Frank and Alice,” he said more to himself than anyone else. As the round of questioning began, James watched Sirius slip down the hall and into his room. If he thought he could make himself believe it, he would just decide Sirius needed a moment to himself. But James wasn’t half as gullible as it’d take to accept a crock of shit like that, and he knew his friend was off to suck down a swig of the stash he kept in his room.
He glanced at Lily, who was now talking in that girl way to Alice that no one else could understand, and was relieved to see that she didn’t notice the disappearance.
“Going to use the loo,” he mumbled to Frank who’d just taken a seat by them. He walked down the corridor, but instead of going into the door that would take him to the bathroom he went into the opposite, Sirius’s.
The hinges were silent as they swung open, giving James a glimpse of the bottle before Sirius stashed it under his bed.
“Oh, s’you,” he said, then pulled it back out. “Thought it was Lily.”
“Lucky for you,” James mumbled. He hadn’t expected to feel angry at his mate, but something seemed to shift inside of him as he sat down on the bed... the only item of furniture in the room.
“You know we still have the Order meeting,” James said, nodding towards the bottle Sirius had chugged from. More whiskey. “And you’d planned on taking the bike to that.”
“And the two of us are going to take it around the pubs tonight, don’t forget that,” Sirius said with a pleased sort of nod.
“Yep, and that. You think you’re going to do anyone any good if you’re too sloshed to see straight tonight?” Again, James was surprised by the wave of irritation rising up in him, but couldn’t seem to calm it. “I’m as happy about a good night out as you are, mate, but I’m not making a move to get toasted every time someone’s not looking.”
“Fine, then look while I get drunk. I don’t give a shit,” Sirius said and took another pull from the bottle, obviously picking up on James’s anger and challenging it with his own.
James prided himself on the amount of control and patience he possessed. He’d been raised by two incredibly patient people, and often found he could use his persistence to get his way much more effectively than by using rash behavior. But that self control only went so far, and before he could stop himself, he snaked his hand out and grabbed the bottle. His muscles acted on their own accord, launching the glass across the room and into the wall where it shattered, covering the paint with liquor.
“What the f-” Before he could finish, James was already standing and glaring down at his mate, his hands shaking.
“You know, I figured you could handle this however you wanted. Losing Belle. That you’d spend a few weeks drunk then we could see where to go from there.”
“Like you know anything about handling-” James cut him off, his hand reaching up and grabbing the back of Sirius’s neck to force his friend to face up and look at him.
“I know a lot more than you, apparently. I know that you’ve gotten reckless before and it cost Lily her fucking parents. And I know that we’re all ready to do whatever the hell we can for the Order, to destroy the people that killed Belle... except for you, because you’re too drunk every Goddamn day to even know what’s going on. I thought you were getting better. I really did.”
“I’m just supposed to get better?” Sirius shouted as he shot up, though he didn’t make a move toward James.
“No, but you’re supposed to have enough damn sense to realize that it isn’t just about you, Sirius. Getting on your damn bike drunk is going to kill someone else as easily as it will you, and sitting in an Order meeting that you aren’t going to remember doesn’t do shit for anyone else! You can waste your bloody life in that bottle, but you’re not going to do to someone else what you did to Lily with that car crash. And you aren’t going to sit through another Order meeting bleary eyed.”
James couldn’t establish just where the anger was coming from, but had to resist the urge to knock the lantern off the wall. The idea of Sirius ignoring Lily’s concern about him being on the road drunk, combined what had happened to her parents a year ago when he wasn’t even drunk...just restless, must’ve forced up a slew of frustration he wasn’t aware he had.
The red haze that had formed ebbed slowly away, and James noticed that Sirius had sat back down, his head hung, tension so thick around him that it was nearly viable.
“Fuck,” he mumbled, sitting by his friend.
“You think it’s so damn easy to say you know how I feel-”
“We all lost her, Sirius. Not just you.”
“But you still have Lily! You lost a friend, Potter. I get it. It sucks, but she was still just your friend. I’m not going to sit here and claim that she was the love of my life or some other girly shit like that, but…”
His voice trailed, and James knew it was smarter just then to remain silent. After a few long beats, his friend continued.
“She was mine. We had that thing… and it made sense. I wanted to wring her neck half the fucking time, but I didn’t even mind that. It was like she was always either making me crazy or making me want to spend every second with her.”
“You loved her,” James said quietly. Not a new revelation, but maybe one that Sirius needed voiced.
“Yeah. And I miss her,” he finally whispered, still not looking at James. “I miss her so fucking much.”
“I know.” James moved an arm to his friend’s back, patting his shoulders and feeling like the biggest prick to ever walk the earth. “I didn’t mean-”
“You did, and you’re right. I know I’m not... however Lily says it. I’m not ‘letting my emotions have a chance to escape because I’m too busy ignoring them.’”
“Hey, that was pretty good. Sounded just like her,” James joked. “You just... you have to remember that people still count on you, you know? Dumbledore wants us in the Order so we can help, not sit in our flat drunk all day. Lily wants you to be safe, not speeding your bike off a bridge and being too out of it to save yourself.”
Sirius moved his elbow to his knee, lifting his hand and resting his forehead in it. “Can we go see Belle before lunch on Sunday? I know I said I didn’t want to a few days ago...”
“Now you do. Course we can. Just try and get it together a little bit, yeah? And...” James glanced over at the shattered glass and the liquid still dribbling down the wall. “Let’s not tell Lily about this.”
Sirius sent up a bark of laughter before saying, “Deal. But did you really need to break the whole thing? As bad as a damn girl throwing a temper tantrum.”
James smiled, giving Sirius a shove and knowing they’d have to spend their night at the pubs trying to out drink each other in hopes of earning back their manhood after that conversation.
I'm so sorry that this update is three weeks late! Anyone who's over on the forums probably saw my blog, but if not I'd like to explain/apologize. I've been visiting family for the last three weeks on the other side of the country and really just wanted to spend some time with them and not focus on anything else. Things will continue to be pretty crazy for me until the end of October, but I'm going to try my best not to let that influence updates! If you don't see a Saturday update though, please know I haven't abandoned this story or anything, but am just in the middle of a seriously insane few months.
Anyway, I hope you liked this second chapter! The third is one I'm really excited to write, and I think you guys will see why next Saturday :). Let me know any thoughts, and I'm so sorry again for my tardiness!
Thank you so much to CambAngst for his wonderful beta-reading!
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