A/N: Hello and Happy New Year! THANK YOU to those who've written encouraging feedback. And to those who add constructive criticism, a hearty thank you to you as well. Doing my best to listen, although I'm always learning.

Also, apologies for typos in the last chapter such as lack of separation between scenes. It's a little confusing because I could have sworn I put those in when the chapter was in the editing window...hm. I just have to be more more careful I suppose. If, however, anyone else has experienced this with uploading their chapters, please let me know how to avoid it!

Other than that, I don't have anything much to say except I really hope you enjoy this chapter. I'm really proud of how I've written what I consider crucial emotional turning points in this part of the story. Hope you enjoy and don't be shy about your reactions!

x


"No, no, no. Take more. Sometimes swallowing lot of truth requires swallowing even more wine." -Kate

Chapter 22: Emotional Reckonings

Luckily for Lily and James the stroke of midnight arrived before they could move onto washing the Greenhouse windows. Their respective assignments were completed, the vials neatly boxed and sorted the way Professor McGonagall had instructed and the self-fertilizing plant properly sheared of its leaves. The wands had descended gently to the ground once the last stroke of the clock chimed, and Filch waited for them outside, punctual and bad-tempered as always.

His back curved as he stooped over and in his gnarled fist he gripped an antiquated lantern held out in front of him. It shed a dimmed light on all the wrong places in his face, and along with the highlight of the moon's light along his spine, he cast an ominous image in the night. The sight of him in such a backdrop would have terrified a First Year and either sent him sprinting in the other direction, or caused him draw his wand in alarm, racking his brain for a newly-learned basic curse of self-defense. But Lily and James were used to seeing Filch in much less intimidating circumstances, like witnessing him sweet-talking his dear feline on more occasion than their comfort allowed. All they saw before them was a cantankerous man plagued with constant rheumatism from his years-long bad habit of terrible posture. He was neither guard nor deterrent to potential trespassers of Hogwarts; just a troublesome obstacle that stood between them and the sweet reprieve to be found in rest of their Saturday night.

As he escorted the students across the grounds and up to Gryffindor Tower, Filch grumbled relentlessly about how their "delinquent behavior" disrupted his otherwise peaceful night. He couldn't wait to return to Mrs. Norris, he said, curled up together while listening to what the Muggles called classical music. On and on he went as he strode ahead, twisting his neck back periodically to address the teenagers. Instead of maintaining a sharp, fear-inspired focus on Filch's diatribe, and rather than punctuating his rare pauses with profuse apologies, Lily and James remained silent and let his complaints flow over them like the light breeze that made their cloaks dance while they walked.

James had years of familiarity with Filch leading him back to his dorm after serving detention, and from it all James learned long ago that the best decision was to let Filch air his grievances uninterrupted instead of reigniting his ire with anything he'd consider insolence.

Like breathing. It usually worked to breathe as quietly as possible when walking behind him.

But this time James had to make a massive effort to keep swallow and contain the deep-throat chuckles that threatened to bubble out of his throat, for Lily kept contorting her face and mouthed mockingly in time to Filch's words. Her impressions were a ridiculously comedic caricature on its own, but its added juxtaposition with complete silence was a hilarious combination that James could barely handle.

Eager for a distraction he kept his eyes trained on Filch's heels and the pattern of his uneven gait, keeping Lily out of his peripheral vision and covering up leaked out chuckles with a light cough.

By the time Filch finally dropped them at their portrait and carefully watched through a suspicious, squinted eye as they went through the little corridor, James's sides ached with suppressed merriment.

"I know I've said this before," he gasped, finally able to express his glee. "But I never want detention with you again. Not even because I don't want the detention itself, but I cannot take another walk like that with Filch if you do those impressions. I just can't put myself through the ringer trying not to laugh. Oh, Merlin, I felt like I couldn't breathe."

When they strode into the warmth of Gryffindor common room, they came into a laid-back bustle of students gathered to enjoy their Saturday evening. The place was a welcoming and warm environment alive with activity. A scant few continued working steadily on their studies but others participated in more relaxing things. Some were involved in games of chess or exploding snap, and a few couples canoodled on their own, creating an intimate date night out of an isolated corner or two plush chairs pushed together.

They'd quickly spotted Parker and Kate playing with the Muggle cards Lily brought from home. (At first the girls had been bewildered by cards that remained completely dormant instead of attacking the player. But they quickly learned how much one could relax and focus when it was unnecessary to avoid injuries from the deck). After much nudging Lily convinced James to go over and join her friends, saying she needed to wind down with some solitude after feeling so fried.

"It's actually perfect," she said to him. "You can get to know Parker and Kate a little better without me. It's about time you do, anyhow. I've spent time with your friends and it's only fair that you have the chance for the same. Go, have fun."

This is how he'd found himself about fifteen minutes later in Lily's dorm with Parker and Kate, settling in together comfortably on the bed. Kate brought out two bottles of spiced wine, a few chocolate, frogs, and a sugar quill. Parker added a large jug of sangria, given to her by her parents from their holiday in Spain. James, after some prompting from his companions, got a box of various sweets out from Lily's bedside table and two bottles of Butterbeer.

If I have to listen to inane girly chatter at least I'll have proper refreshments, he thought.

"Finally!" Kate exclaimed. "It's about time we've had some well-needed girl time." She tipped her head back and gulped a swig of the wine straight from the bottle. "We've missed you, Lily," she added after wiping her mouth, prodding at James' foot with the back of her other wrist.

"Yeah, I know." James winced guiltily. "I'm sorry, Kate, just this thing with Dumbledore and James is really—"

"I know, I know." Kate just waved her hand dismissively. "Parker told me everything. I understand, but I just hope it will be over soon." She grinned at him and passed the wine bottle into his waiting hands.

"Mm!" James nodded appreciatively as he swallowed. "Merlin, that's delicious."

"I know! It isn't even that expensive for what you taste."

James took another mouthful before passing it to Parker. "So, Parker," he said, unwrapping a chocolate frog. "About Sirius."

Parker groaned and rolled her eyes. She reached for a butterbeer and uncapped it hurriedly, seemingly eager to consume liquid courage before facing James's questions.

"You gonna finally say yes to the poor bloke and put an end to his misery? And to mine," James added under his breath. Until Parker agreed to go out with Sirius at least once, James knew that he would have to listen to his friend bemoan his ability to convince her. Then he'd have to help him come up with plan after possible plan only to listen to each one get scrapped in favor of a previously discarded option. It was a merry-go-round that James wanted desperately off of.

"What are you talking about?" Parker asked him. "I'm not going to say yes, Lily, you know that. And you are the last person who I would have thought to try and convince me otherwise considering how you feel about the Marauders."

"I've changed my mind," James responded somewhat defensively. He couldn't help it; suddenly this situation of Sirius's pursuit of Parker hit too close to home. Now, it seemed more possible that he could find himself involved in something similar with Lily. "Look, I was wrong about the Marauders, okay? They really aren't as bad as I thought before."

"Oh, Lily, please don't change your tune." Parker sighed and leaned against her side of bed frame, raising her arms to rest her folded hands on top of her head. "Between you and Kate you were the one who thought I should hold out. I probably would have foolishly given in long ago if it weren't for you being the voice of reason in all this."

"What's so foolish about giving the poor guy a shot?" Kate argued.

James's eye shot toward Kate, eyebrows raised high on his forehead. He was shocked that she would come to Sirius' defense, and he wondered whether she'd ever be on his side if he was dealing with an identical situation.

If.

"Take a chance, Parker!" Kate continued earnestly. "Seriously, what do you have to lose?"

Parker fixed her with a pained expression of disbelief. "Are you kidding me?! You've seen how he treats the girls he dates, Kate, do you really think I want to end up like that? All we hear about around school sometimes is how he kisses and discards them once he's bored."

James maintained his silence, concealing his reaction to Parker's words and quelling the impulse that rose to defend Sirius against Parker's negative assumptions. He distracted himself from letting his expression betray his private thoughts by opening the bottle of Sangria, bowing his head over the stopper as though he was struggling to release it. As close as he was with Sirius, sharing a bond tighter than found between many siblings, it was extremely difficult to hear disparaging opinions based on only one side of the boy he'd known so long. It was abnormal for James to keep quiet after hearing such things, especially when he knew how incorrect the assumptions were.

But then, James recalled Lily's explanation of her conclusions she'd come to about Sirius before she'd spent time with him as James. As much as he wished he didn't, James could finally understand the reasoning behind Lily's assumptions of Sirius' character. And it seemed that Parker held the same line of thought.

"Please," Kate was saying. James watched her snort derisively and flutter her hand at Parker, his interest piqued that Kate wasn't readily agreeing with Parker's assessment. "You would never stand to be treated that way. My dad always said, 'A man treats you the way you wanted to be treated.' I know you, Parker, and I know you would never stand to be treated like a discard regardless of how things did or didn't work out. And I think Sirius knows that, too."

"She's right on the money," James agreed firmly, speaking up finally. "I know for a fact that that's one of the things that stands out to him about you."

"But have you seen the girls that rotate on his arm? Some of those girls are beyond gorgeous, I can't compete with that!"

"Have you actually talked to them, though?" James challenged. "Parker, some of those girls could barely hold a conversation beyond parroting what they think Sirius wants to hear. Don't get me wrong, some of them were indeed very sweet and smart, and what have you. A few of those just had a natural end, with not real resentment left between them. But as for the girls you think are the only type he's dated? For whatever reason Sirius has gotten bored with them all once he has to deal with what's beyond the pretty face."

Parker raised an eyebrow at James as she pulled open the chocolate frog wrapper. "And how would you know all that?" she asked skeptically, cocking an eyebrow. "And why are you defending him so much?"

"I, uh...I've talked to him sometimes, you know, since James and I have been spending more time together. And he's different than what I thought before. As for what I know about his dating history and how he thinks about you, I mostly got little tidbits here and there that James let me in on."

"Like what?" Parker leaned forward eagerly and rested her chin in her hand. "Anything I should know?"

James shrugged a shoulder, unwilling to betray Sirius's trust by delving into the detailed musings he'd heard him ramble regarding Parker. "Oh I don't really know. You're just different than the others, that's all. The other ones haven't really called him out the way you would. And I'm not just talking about the shallow girls—even the smart, sweeter ones don't really call him out on his shit, it just wasn't their style. I personally think he needs that."

"Parker, what do you have to lose?" Kate reiterated, this time in a gentler tone.

"My dignity," Parker muttered. "I'm just afraid that I'll …I just…we actually get on, you know? Aside from him being Mr. Popularity, and in demand and all that, if he weren't who he was I could end up liking him quite a bit."

"What do you mean, 'who he is?'" James challenged, guffawing at her. "He's no celebrity; he's a complete goober and if only you knew what I was talking about, I highly doubt you would hold him in such high regard."

"Lily, as much as you hate to admit it sometimes those boys might as well be celebrities at this school. They're in the public eye here at Hogwarts, in ways both good and bad; I feel like there would be pressure if I were to pursue anything with him and I don't know if I could handle that. I'm an over-thinker enough as it is without other people's opinions right in my face; you and Kate both know this."

"That's very true," James said. His memory was still fresh from being on the receiving end of it during his conversation with Parker a few days prior. "But honestly, you need to take Sirius off this pedestal you have him on."

"Puh-lease! I do not have that boy on a pedestal!"

"Bullshit, you don't! You just told me that your bloody dignity is in danger if you say yes to a date with him—snap out of that bollocks, Parker, it's just sad. You may not bat your lashes at him like some fools but this stuff you're saying boils down to the same message at the end, and it's so much clearer to me now than it was before—you're intimidated by Sirius Black!"

In few short seconds Parker's features contorted from a sullen, sulky stare down at the comforter to a furious and indignant glower at James for his accusation. Even though she was glaring daggers at him, he was undeterred. After all, compared to what he'd already dealt with regarding Lily's anger, Parker's was like a lion cub attempting—and failing—to growl.

Meeting her evil eye head on, James pushed forward. "And it's for no proper reason at all. It's not like he's popular for inventing a spell, he just has really good people skills with the other students. That's all. If you view him any differently than that, then your image of him is beyond out of proportion."

"I do not put him—!" Parker began.

"Oh-ho, yes, you do!" Kate interjected adamantly. "Lily's right, Parker, you're acting like Sirius is better than average, rather than just some bloke who you might have an awesome connection with. If it doesn't pan out, then oh well! Stop acting like this is a life-changing decision." She thrust the wine bottle toward Parker's face and gave it a little shake. "Now take this. You know I love you, you know this is said with love. And I know your ego is extremely bruised listening to all this, because you both know and hate how right Lily and I are. This will make you feel better."

Parker sighed. Finally out of excuses and explanations to her friends' arguments, she accepted the bottle and daintily took a sip. She made a move when she was done to pass the bottle off to James, but Kate reached out pressed her palm against the wine to keep Parker from letting it go.

"No, no, no," she chided, waggling her finger. "Take more. Sometimes swallowing lot of truth requires swallowing even more wine."

x


x

Downstairs, Lily released a frustrated groan as she tucked a slip of paper into the pages of her book and banishing the story within its covers once again. Almost half an hour ago she'd cracked it open, smiling at the sound of the satisfying faint crinkle of the spine stretching as it bent and creased. Finally, she had enough downtime and peace to continue the story that she'd set aside during the stress of the last few weeks. Normally she was a quick reader, but twenty minutes later her eyes continued to rove over the same page and she finally had to admit defeat. So she tucked her book snugly between her body and cushion next to her, folded her arms and closed her eyes. Leaning her neck comfortably against the back of the chair, Lily gave her full attention to the distracting thoughts.

Damn James Potter.

Unbeknownst to him, while he enjoyed the company of her friends upstairs, he was pestering Lily without even being in the same room.

At the beginning of their predicament she'd been forced to act in spite of her opinion of James, with the very logical reason they had no choice but to rely solely on one another. Prior to the disaster, she wouldn't have entrusted James with the slightest modicum of minor information about her. She never wanted to know anything more about him outside of how he planned to stay out of her way. His personal details were not something she gave thought to.

And then she found out how well he could draw, and her curiosity was planted.

That revelation brought with it a number of surprises. One, that James had a hobby so personal and introverted, with nothing to do with the public persona he'd showed throughout his years at Hogwarts. Nothing he did as the popular and humorous ladies man indicated an interest in creating the visual arts. He may have been known as a talented athlete on the Quidditch Pitch but there was no indication of his incredible artistic gift.

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Evans," Lily recalled him saying quietly. That sentence, said simply with a fascinating yet subtle challenge, was the exact type to ignite Lily's curiosity. Her inquisitive nature often turned her into a glutton for any and all knowledge on whatever subject that had captured her attention. This was no different, really, except the subject was the same person who happened to be a former bane.

So really, she reasoned, there was almost zero difference between James and, say, a historical figure learned from her History of Magic course.

No more, no less.

But at the metaphor, Lily's stomach dropped. The inconvenient truth was that historical figures weren't making her laugh until her cheeks cramped, nor were they making her suppress a blush and stumble over her words with increasing frequency. They weren't making her upset at difficult truths and they weren't challenging her thoughts and making her question certain ways she approached and went through life.

Historical figures weren't making her feel things.

There was no denying that she and James would share a unique connection after they switched back. And really, wasn't that the whole point of the spell? Even if they chose to reveal their predicament to their friends, it was impossible to accurately describe the intimate and terribly uncomfortable reality of taking a literal walk in another's shoes. No one else could possibly understand what it was like having your life turned topsy-turvy by watching yourself, from a third-person perspective, while a strange puppet-master controlled your every movement without permission as they impersonated you.

One might try comparing it to being under a Polyjuice Potion, but Lily disagreed. The affects of Polyjuice had a known expiration and the person taking it knew precisely the experience they were getting into. There were known counter-potions to combat unexpected consequences, quick fixes that could end the experience if the taker would like. The switching spell allowed no such relief. There were no breaks from this until it wore off, and that time was a complete mystery. They had to keep up the charade of acting like the other when in truth both were worn down and tired, both emotionally and sometimes physically, of keeping up appearances to such a degree at all times.

"Until peace calm their hearts…" Lily murmured aloud.

And peace really had come over them. She had to admit that the petulant arguing with James was not something she missed. Things were calmer and more at ease; she wasn't nearly as tense as she usually was. Before, one of her first thoughts waking up was about whether her morning or afternoon would be ruined by James provoking her into an altercation. She would waste energy on either thinking of responses that might shut him down or building up the stamina to walk away.

And now that she was by herself for the first time in a long time, when she could really think on what was going on, Lily wondered whether peace was the only thing growing between her and James. She noticed a different look pass his face now when they spoke. Almost fond, or warm, or…something.

In the corner of her mind and heart Lily felt an emotion different from peace begin to take hold. At the thought of James's quirked up side grin that he so often seemed to direct at her now…

Abruptly and Lily sat up straight, and her limbs jerked at the sudden shift from her languid position. She rolled her shoulders a few times before resolutely opening her book with more force than necessary, and she flattened it down with a firmer grip than she usually handled her things with. Setting her jaw, Lily returned to the abandoned passage with new fervor, unwilling to explore her thoughts any further for fear of what could be revealed.

x


x

James stretched his hands high over his head and sunk into the puffy pillows behind him. The wine and sangria had enveloped him in a boozy haze that kept him warm and comfortable without needing a blanket. Parker and Kate had peppered him with questions about his date with Derek Thomas until he spilled everything about the uncomfortable experience. When he repeated the lines Derek delivered and reenacted his overtures that still turned his stomach, the two girls erupted into uncontrollable giggles that he couldn't help join in on.

Parker was overcome with peals of laughter specifically at James's memory of slamming Derek's hand beneath the table.

"Oh, Lily, that's terrible! Oh my gosh!" She bent over, clutching her stomach as she tried to get herself under control again. "If only I had the balls to do that on a bad date…"

"Maybe it's a good thing most of us girls don't," Kate said. She carefully rubbed a finger along her lower lash line, wiping away the moistened eyeliner that smeared while she was laughing. "If we all did that boys would either stop asking us out altogether or be forced to step up their game in the romantic department; and considering our ages I somehow think it most likely be the latter."

"Now that I know the details of that date it's no wonder James punched the lights out of that daft boy," Parker said darkly.

"Well, he didn't know all that yet," James corrected. "He found out that same stuff I did when you told me about the rumor. I hadn't gone into details about the date until I talked about it after I punched Derek."

Kate frowned in confusion. "What, you mean that hullabaloo wasn't just built up anger? I just came out when you two were in the corridor?"

"Well, yeah. It was pretty upsetting for him to watch, you know?"

James responded to her question with Lily in mind, understanding fully why she had such a knee-jerk reaction as to punch Derek beyond the initial satisfaction. But Kate and Parker heard it as an explanation of James having a knee-jerk reaction to protecting Lily. Both exchanged quick looks before Kate ducked her head to hide a smile and Parker burst out into a fresh round of laughter.

"What?" James looked bewilderedly between the two girls with his palms turned upward. "What?"

"Lily," Kate began. "I have never seen that boy defend anyone the way he did you that day, and that's including how he plays on the Quidditch Pitch."

"Fair enough, Kate, but James was just—!"

"Upset, yes, we know. Exactly," Parker finished.

"Yes, okay, but not the way you two are implying."

Parker hoisted her body forward and balanced on her knees as she grabbed the remaining bottle of wine, "Your turn, Lily. Come and drink from the wine of truth and humility," she declared theatrically, nose in the air.

James rolled his eyes but did as he was told. "Seriously, you guys," he said, once he was finished taking a few swigs. "You're viewing this all wrong!"

"Not with how you've been viewing James lately," Kate countered. She grinned and jabbed a finger at him, wobbling unsteadily on the mattress. "You can't hide it."

"Parker," James groaned. "Quit telling people I stare at a certain someone; as we all know too well rumors have a life of their own."

Parker looked affronted and shook her head. "Tch! Don't look at me! Kate noticed your moon-eyes all on her own." She popped a chocolate bonbon into her mouth and tucked it in the inside of her cheek to add, "Not like it's difficult," under her breath.

"Lily, I'm shocked no one's called you out on it before. The way you look at James these days is really something else."

"It's not like it matters anyway," James replied. "I don't have a chance regardless."

It was perhaps the most revealing thing he'd said since the switch; for once he was speaking as himself, his thoughts driving the conversation, rather than as answering with the best guess of imitating Lily while in her body. Maybe it was the alcohol that lowered his inhibitions and with it, his careful avoidance of saying too much. Or the fatigue of keeping too many secrets and deceptions, being tired of suppressing multiple impulses and behaviors that otherwise came naturally. Perhaps a little of both. Regardless of the main reason at fault, his lips were loosened and he didn't particularly care to tighten them up again.

James slid his body down and slouched further against the pillows. He sighed and looked up at the crimson canopy, letting his previously avoided thoughts finally come to the surface for the first time in weeks as he spoke as himself.

"There's just so much history between us. We've argued and made each other absolutely furious, gotten countless detentions over each other, and just made each other's lives a complete living hell overall." He paused, shaking his head and taking another sip of wine as he marveled at how far he and Lily had come. Kate had been right—swallowing wine really did make swallowing the truth much easier.

"I didn't expect it at all," he continued quietly. "I've tried ignoring it, explaining it as something else, not thinking about it at all…but now almost every time we spend time together there's something done or said that makes me think a new way or question things that I thought I knew. More and more, I'm caught off guard by something said or something done and even when I think I finally have it sorted and under control, it all comes up and I have to reckon with how I'm feeling all over again.

"We've spent day in and day out together and I keep learning things that take me completely by surprise. I keep learning these traits…funny, smart, witty, quirky…traits I wouldn't have ascribed before. I'm not too sure how this will all end or what will happen but my gut tells me that there's something that's changed between us whether I like it or not, and it feels like there's nothing I can do about it but let it happen and stop fighting it. This is the very last person I'd ever thought I could feel this way for, and I'm just at a complete loss as to what the bloody hell to do about it."

James inhaled deeply and breathed out, instant feeling the tension in his shoulders ease up. A lightness took over his body, finally feeling free now that he'd voiced musings that he worked so hard to carefully shield, both from others and from himself. He felt light and airy; fuzzy, even.

Then again, in addition to my truth I've also swallowed a whole lot of wine. Beer jacket? Truth jacket? He chuckled softly to himself at his little joke and, at hearing how loud a single sound seemed in the vicinity, realized just how silent it'd become underneath the canopy.

He chanced a peek and flicked his gaze over to the girls whose presence went forgotten while speaking.

Parker's eyebrows were up closer to her hairline and her fingers covered her mouth. Her other hand tightly gripped a wrapped chocolate that squished and melted within her palms while she squeezed tighter the longer James had spoken.

Both of Kate's legs were crossed, her elbows digging into each knee. She'd cupped her face and her cheeks were pushed and scrunched upward by the heel of her hands. The combination of the exaggerated chubbiness of her cheeks with a wide-eyed stare gave her the appearance of a small child rapt with attention during story time.

"One of you, please, say something," James pleaded uneasily.

Another beat of silence.

"I…" Parker gulped, her eyebrows slowly lowering back to their normal position while she shook her head. "I mean, bollocks, Lily, what in Godric's name am I supposed to say to all that? I knew you seemed to develop a little crush or something but to know you've been in such turmoil over James—"

"Oh, don't be dramatic," James scoffed disdainfully. His pride flickered at being fixed with such a theatrical description. "I haven't been in turmoil, this isn't a Shakespearean play."

"You've just said that you've been turning it over and over in your head constantly, didn't you?" Parker argued.

James just lifted the side of his mouth in a sneer and looked down, pulling at an exposed feather stem poking out from a pillow.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Parker said triumphantly. "Turmoil."

"Well, could you find a better word, please? I'd prefer that descriptions of my romantic problems not resemble language in stories that generally lead to a tragic end."

Kate squared back her shoulders and shook her head lightly. "Okay, wow. My brain is slowly coming back to life after that confession. Lily, I've never heard you talk about any crush you've had in the years that I've known you. What you just said…I mean, the way you spoke? That sounded so…so real, I guess.I don't think the word 'crush' does any justice to how you're beginning to feel about James."

"Yeah, I know it sounded real," James said. He sighed and rubbed the back of his head. Although he felt relief having aired out all of his feelings, the reality was setting in now they were out on the open and on the surface rather than buried deep and ignored. Now, he had to deal with it all. "Real bad…real risky…real bloody unlikely—"

"Which part?" Parker demanded, speaking loudly over the budding new rant.

James sputtered to a stop at her question. "Um…the entire part. I'm sorry, but did you miss my entire stream of consciousness a few minutes ago? It's not something that can be repeated without losing a bit of the impact."

"No, you twit, which part is unlikely," she answered impatiently. "You never said which kind of outcome you even want from all these feelings. If you don't know what you want from it all then how do you know what is and isn't unlikely to come of it? You don't know whether those feelings will fade away with time should you continue to ignore them, nor do you know if it could lead to something awesome with James. It's not like the outcome is predestined, you still have to decide what to do."

James's gaped at Parker, opening and closing his mouth as he tried to come up with some sort of response worthy of the point she'd brought up. She was right; he hadn't yet put any effort into what kind of result he wanted from all of this. His energy had consistently been put toward figuring out how to hide and avoid his growing feelings. Throughout it all, he'd forgotten that that he had a choice in what he did about it at all.

Parker brought up a very valid point. Until he decided which direction and course of action he wanted to take, nothing was set in stone enough to be considered unlikely. Sure, he might not have a choice in what he felt, and he couldn't go backwards to when he didn't have those feelings. But in that moment James was reminded that he certainly had a choice in his actions. Having a choice made it a little less intimidating. It meant he could make a plan and do so smartly, wisely, and level-headed.

James calmed down considerably as felt some semblance of strength over the situation flow back into his subconscious.

"Lily?" Kate was snapping her fingers in front of his face. "Lily!"

"Huh? I'm sorry, what now?"

"Are you going to answer my question?"

"Um…" James tried to recall her words but drew nothing but blanks. "Could you repeat it for me please?"

Kate cracked a smile and rolled her eyes while Parker just shook her head at James smug look returned to her face.

"I'm telling you," Parker said. "Turmoil."

"I asked you, again, whether you know what you want to get out of it all?"

"You know, I know it might sound strange but I've spent so much time and energy trying to avoid and explain what I feel, I've completely disregarded what could come of it all."

"Well, no time like the present. Go with your gut and answer with your instinct. You know how you've been feeling. Enough of the ruminating, what do you want to do about it?"

James took a deep breath and gripped the bottle by the neck between two fingers, swinging it slowly around in a rhythmic circle. He watched closely as the dark liquid inside lazily spun into a whirlpool. It was entirely hypnotic to watch. When he trained his eyes on the deepening center, he lost himself back to his wine-addled comfort, and the heady cloud returned and muted his thoughts. Once the mental babbling was finally muted, he was able to listen as his intuition revealed what he desired, and the decision he wasn't entirely surprised to make.

Because now, the fear and unexpected elements of his emotions were finally stripped away; he recognized his power to choose which path he took, and that realization allowed him to see the rest of the experience for what it had to offer. Without the self-induced stress and pressure plaguing him to try avoiding his feelings, James was free to embrace the growing warmth, thrill, and the comfort that he continuously found in his time with Lily.

Tearing his focus from inside the bottle, James looked up to meet Kate's gaze. "Whatever this is, I don't want this to stop," he declared quietly.

Kate's mouth remained stoically set in a neutral line. But her eyes twinkled and turned up in a way that James could detect a bright smile behind the surface of her features.

He nodded his head resolutely and spoke again, and this time the confidence in his answer didn't waver. "I want to know more. I'm ready for more."

x


A/N: Wowee did that feel good for me to write. I know that you all have been waiting for turning points between these two and I promise it's coming! Trust me when I say I wish I could write them sooner as well-its super cathartic for me to get those important parts out. But at the same time it sometimes isn't entirely up to me. Lily and James are both stubborn. I have to stay true to the characterization and for the romance, I just have to wait til the moment is just right. It will be worth the wait. It will feel more real than it would if it were rushed. Bear with me, dear readers as you have for so long, and I will work very hard to give you a satisfactory reward.

As always, Until next time...

Spirit