Hey, all! I'm happy to be back in the Jily universe — no worries, the Dangerous Crowds updates are indeed under way. In the meantime, I hope you're digging this AU. No clue how long it'll be, but for those of you who have asked that this continues, I can tell you that it will. On another note, I haven't been getting email notifications for private messaging, so if you've sent me something, like, ever, I'm so sorry that I haven't replied; please feel free to shoot me another message if you still want to chat!

I'd also like to do a little shameless plug for the two websites I freelance for — first, the Game of Thrones winteriscoming(dotnet), where I write episode recaps and a few editorials here and there; second, the new Harry Potter-centric wizardsandwhatnot(dotcom), where we post HP-related news and I write a weekly character analysis (Harry Potter & the Order of Archetypes). Check 'em out!

II. I've Waited So Long

It was after three in the morning, James was sure of it, and some wanker was pounding on his door.

His glasses had slipped down his nose and his back smarted where it had leaned against the headboard. Game of Thrones was still flickering across his television screen, but since James had watched the series a dozen times over already — thank you, Evans, he thought — he wasn't surprised that he'd passed out.

Figuring it was just Sirius rapping at his door, James didn't bother putting a shirt on before he went to answer it. He wasn't wearing anything more than his shorts, but Sirius was never terribly concerned with anybody's state of dress. Remus and Peter had a bit more propriety, but neither of them ever assaulted his door like this, either.

So when James opened his door to Lily Evans' raised fist, he wasn't sure how exactly the high-pitched "Eeep!" escaped his throat, but at the same time he wasn't all that surprised, either.

"Evans —" James was so very aware that it was after three in the morning and Lily was at his door and he was half starkers, no less — "shit."

She looked properly miserable, and James knew that whiff of gin in the air was coming from her. He and his mates had their fair share of house parties, but none of them drank gin. Lily didn't even drink gin, not usually; she preferred something with a sweeter tang, but she always reached for the gin when something was wrong. He'd seen her knock back enough tumblers with tear stains on her face to know.

"Hullo," Lily said glumly, then promptly launched herself into his arms.

James fell back a step or two, but his grip around her waist was so tight that he worried he would leave his fingerprints in her skin, but like hell would he let her go. "What's wrong?"

"Don't I get a hello?" Lily muttered into his shoulder.

James nudged his door shut, then — because she was swaying — he swung Lily up into his arms, making her laugh. "Only if you tell me why you were punching my door."

"I got into a stupid fight with Sev and I was pretending your door was his face." Lily nuzzled into his neck while James carried her to his bed.

Best for her to sleep it off, he figured. This wouldn't be the first time she spent the night in his bed, although it was the first time Snape had led her to it. James grinned ruefully; he bet that greasy little twit would just love that. It had always been a platonic arrangement, which was vaguely disappointing but all the same James loved it so much that Snape — if he knew about it at all — was sure to hate it on principle.

James wasn't stupid, after all. He saw the way Snape looked at Lily as clearly as Snape had seen James look at her. They were both too bloody obvious about it, even if Lily didn't seem to catch on.

"I'm sorry, love." James dumped her unceremoniously onto his bed, which made her laugh again. He leaned over to give her a chaste peck on her forehead, but Lily yanked him down to lay beside her. "Ouch — woman, you nearly ripped my skin off."

"Sorry!" Lily released her sharp grip on his shoulders and curled up at his side. She nestled her head under his chin and inhaled deeply. He smelled so good, so warm and comfortable… She wanted that smell all over her.

Keep it cool, Evans, she instructed herself. But it was so hard when James was touching her. He set her skin on fire with the way he looked at her, and the way he touched her was like heaven. With his arm around her waist or a hand at the small of her back, with his fingers tweaking her nose or tucking her hair behind her ear, or even when his leg accidentally brushed hers when they sat together, she felt… cherished, and she wanted him back just the same. She would snort at the hokeyness of it, but it was too true to laugh at.

She sighed contentedly and tried to move closer, but she was practically on top of him as it was. "Thanks for letting me in."

"Anything for you, dear." James curled an arm around her shoulders. The buttons of her cardigan were undone, and the only thing she wore beneath it was a thin camisole that tickled his skin whenever she moved. It made his pulse jump; he took a few deep breaths to calm it, but… No dice.

Keep your hair on, man, he told himself firmly, but how could he? It was the hardest thing, to be this close to Lily Evans and not do a damn thing about it. He'd spent so many longing looks on her while he was dying inside to get to know her — because she always knew how to make him laugh, always knew how to put him in his place when he was too stupid to realize it. She made him want her like there was nothing left in the world, and as far as he was concerned when she was around, there might as well not be.

Lily sighed again while his fingers traced her shoulder blades like they were trying to memorize them. "You smell nice."

James squirmed beneath her touch because it was killing him not to touch her the way he wanted to. "I nicked Remus' aftershave."

"Hm, remind me to thank him."

"No way," James protested, trying to laugh it off so all of his focus wasn't concentrated on the way one of Lily's legs situated itself between his. She was so physically affectionate, always had been, and it made him ache. "He's already your favorite, he doesn't need the ego boost."

Lily's lips grazed his neck and her words were whispers. "He's not my favorite."

"Bloody h—" James started to swear, but lost the words when Lily's mouth closed over his earlobe. His hold around her shoulders tightened and his fingers gripped her arm hard when she pushed the length of her body against his. Her breath was so hot on his skin, which only burned brighter wherever her lips ventured.

She played her fingertips across his collarbone and rolled herself a little more fully atop his body. Her lips stayed glued to his ear. James thought they could suck it off for all he cared, as long as her tongue kept doing those marvelous things to the skin around it.

He closed his eyes while the feel of her mouth on him rocked him into a state of surreal ecstasy. One second you're fantasizing about something happening to you, and five years into it, bam, the girl of your dreams shows up at your door just so she can rock your world at four in the morning. The universe is a helluva place.

"You can touch me if you want to," Lily said while she bit his jaw, and only then did James realize he had no idea what to do with his hands. Best figure it out…

"Oh —" James' heart shot up with his eyebrows. "Well, if you say so, Evans —"

One of his hands slipped under her shirt to roam the expanse of her back to find that she'd gone braless. Fuck. The other hand skimmed the band of her jeans, and either he wasn't venturing far enough into them or she'd decided to skip her knickers, too. Double fuck. Lily slapped his hand aside to undo the snaps and James found that, yes, Lily had absolutely decided to skip her knickers, too.

"I should have done this ages ago." The words reverberated into James' bones while Lily sucked her way down his neck. "But I couldn't ever do a damn thing, you make me so nervous —"

"Wait 'til my heart explodes all over you, Evans," James said as seriously as he could while he pulled her cardigan off her, "then you'll know what nervous is. But rest assured, you can come calling any time if it means you're gonna put your smart mouth on me."

"I'm afraid to put my smart mouth on your smart mouth," Lily admitted in a rush. She tugged on his earlobe with her teeth once more, then pulled back just enough so she could look at him. His specs were askew and his skin was flushed everywhere. He looked at her and his smile was a little dazed, like he'd been hit upside the head and now he was hopped up on pain meds.

"I've got enough hickeys already to prove that you're not afraid to put your smart mouth anywhere," he pointed out. Saying it out loud made his grin widen.

"Well if you kiss me back, I don't reckon I'll be able to stop." Lily ignored James' little triumphant "whoop!" as she tried to pep talk herself out loud. "It's just a kiss, I know that. Just a kiss, it's not a marriage proposal. It's just one night. I don't know what it is you want, but it — well, it — it's not as though, well, I mean, it — it doesn't have to be anything else."

Her voice shook on those last words, shook so bad that James wanted to take all of her bad thoughts and break them apart in front of her, just so she could see that they were gone for good and she never had to worry about them again, if it meant he'd never make her voice sound like that again.

"Christ, Lily." All jokes aside, James cupped her face in his hands. "Nothing with you is just anything. I want you. Okay? In every sense, I want you. What do you think, I want to shag you and then ditch you like you never happened to me?"

"The thought had crossed my mind," Lily muttered at the pulse point in his neck.

"Did Snape tell you that? Well fuck Snape," James said before Lily could answer. He already knew what that answer was. It was why she'd shown up here tonight, and James was going to show her that she hadn't come to him for nothing. "Look at me."

Lily's gaze moved from his Adam's apple to his eyes, which were looking at her as intently as ever. That old familiar tingle shot up her spine when their eyes met, that old familiar tingle that told her that James Potter was looking at her like she was the only thing in his world.

"I'll be honest and tell you that I want to fuck you into my mattress, like, right now," he said as matter-of-factly as he said everything else, "but that's not gonna stop me from holding your hand tomorrow. Got it?"

"I reckon I do, yeah," Lily said, more honest than she'd been in who knew how long. But butterflies aside, it was easy to be honest with James — he made her believe every word he said, because he meant them all. So what was stopping her from doing the same?

Not a damn thing, really, she thought.

So when she kissed him, she made sure he knew that she meant it.

Her hands gripped the back of his neck, her fingers clutching at the hair that stuck out haphazardly along his nape. His arms wrapped eagerly around her in response, pulling her as close as he could get her. Their breath was hot as it crashed together between their lips. James saw stars every time her tongue swept over his, and Lily thought her heart might burst if he kept holding onto her the way that he was.

It was everything he'd ever wanted — Lily, smiling at him. Lily, laughing because he brought that out in her. Lily, touching him as fervently as he was touching her. Lily, with her hands in his hair. Lily, in his bed in the middle of the night. Lily, kissing him.

Lily, who had come to him with damp eyes and breath that smelled like alcohol...

"Ah, shit —" James pulled away. His breath was so ragged that it sounded almost painful. "How much have you had to drink?"

Lily whimpered at the loss of contact, and James squeezed her in apology. "Not enough that you should stop kissing me."

His head spun. She was much too close, but he couldn't keep his hands off her; all he wanted was to hold her, to keep her there with him for as long as she would stay. But her eyes were red and she reeked of gin and she couldn't even walk herself to his bed without his help.

"Damn it," James swore at himself. He met her eye, and hers looked so disappointed, so crestfallen, so rejected. "Please, Lily. Believe me when I say I want you, but I can't do this. Not when you've been crying and drinking your way through every downtown pub."

She pouted. "It was only one pub."

"Yeah?" James cocked a brow in an effort to stamp out the desire that tugged at his gut. It didn't work, of course, but at least he'd put in the effort. "And how many drinks did you toss back there?"

"Enough to help me seduce you."

James rolled his eyes, the effect of which was somewhat lost in his grin. "Evans, please. You could show up at my door dressed like Ronald McDonald and still seduce me."

Giving it up as a lost cause and succumbing to the headache that had begun to throb behind her eyes, Lily rolled off him. She landed back on the mattress with a soft fwump and sighed. "Ronald McDonald, eh? Shall I try that next time?"

"Do I get a next time?" James asked, not even trying to hide the hopefulness in his voice. She already knew how much he wanted her, so there was no sense in playing hard-to-get after a few years of obvious affection.

"I s'pose. Only because I reckon you're right, I'm smashed and I'll be right hacked if I shag you now and then forget how good it was by the time I wake up tomorrow."

James shrugged. "Maybe I'm rubbish."

"Maybe," Lily agreed. She grinned at his scandalized expression. "But I'd still like to remember shagging you."

"Tell me, Evans," James said as he propped himself up on his elbow, all the better to look at her, "how long have you been plotting your seduction?"

"Oh, shut it," Lily laughed. "Now I'm embarrassed."

"Don't. Please don't. I'm honored. Oi, I mean it," James insisted when Lily laughed again and covered her face with her hands. "You know I'm mad about you, yeah? 'Course I'm gonna love it when you show up at my flat for a little, ah…"

"Canoodle?" Lily supplied from behind her hands.

"Yes." James snapped his fingers. "Canoodle."

Lily groaned. "I'm humiliated."

"Well, stop it. I promise I'll kiss you properly tomorrow, when you're sober and you've got all your mental faculties in tact. Maybe you won't even feel like snogging me at all."

"Blech." Lily dropped her hands to fix him with an incredulous look. "James, I've wanted to snog you for longer than I can remember."

"Since secondary school?"

"Well, not so much then," she amended, "although I thought you were fit, at least."

James nodded once, satisfied. "I'll take it."

Lily kissed his chin and rolled over so she could occupy her preferred little spoon position. James dropped down to his pillows and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her so close that her hair tickled his nose every time he breathed.

"You hold on really tight," Lily observed. She thought not only of tonight, but of every hug, every time he took her hand, every time she'd stayed over because it was late or raining or just because they'd both wanted her to. James always held her like this. "Did you know that?"

"Yeah, I do." James nestled his head in the crook of her neck. "Just making sure I'm not dreaming."

Lily snorted. "Now how am I supposed to resist shagging you when you say things like that?"

"You have an impressive amount of willpower." James chuckled; his breath was soft and warm when it hit the hollow of her throat. "Don't worry, though. I've got a lifetime supply of kitschy romantic lines to use on you. We'll probably never stop shagging."

They fell quiet for a moment, their slow, sleepy breath the only sound between them, until James prompted her. "Hey, Evans?"

"Hey, Potter?"

He hesitated a moment, but he couldn't let it go. He cared about her, about everything that went on in her life, even if he didn't care for the person who had caused the redness in her eyes. "D'you want to talk about it? You know —"

"Yeah, I know," Lily said when James let the question hang. "But no, I don't want to talk about it. Not right now."

"Alright." He would take that for now. Truth be told, James didn't want to talk about much of anything, either, not when Lily was next to him, when he was holding onto her like his life depended on it. Lily had come to him for comfort, and James would give it to her any way she wanted.

He kissed her neck, and when he entwined the fingers of his hands with hers, she squeezed hard, and didn't let go.