A/N: So here's a little something for my favorite Harry Potter pairing, odd as they are. I just thought, you know...well, here goes. I personally, like it a lot.

Disclaimer:I am not JK Rowling and I own nothing but my odd fanfictions.

Substitution

Sirius and James have always considered themselves kindred spirits.

What they love, they love together. What they despise, they unite to destroy. They see the whole world open for them, the simplest thing to dance back out and in, returning with their desires, back to their fairy land of brothers born apart and magic, their safe haven.

Sirius was sprawled on his bed, the joint in his knee allowing his foot to scrape the flagstone floor of the boy's dormitory. His head was propped up on one of the posts of his bed, cushioned by a Black Family pillow, slashed to shreds. His fingers lazily turned each page in a thin-leaf picture book, the kind that Muggles like. He was thoroughly bored by it, though the dialog was interesting in passing and damn, he wished he could shoot spiderwebs from his wrists. Maybe he'd look up a spell.

"James, mate," he called lazily, swinging his leg like a child because it makes entertaining swishing noises on the floor, his sock-feet. "Are you asleep?"

"Not asleep," James whispered from behind his thick burgundy bed curtains. "Just...thinking."

Sirius rolled his eyes to heaven, or, more likely, the blown-up moving picture of Lily Evans looking shocked and then yelling at the offending camera. His three pictures of her were arranged in a semicircle around his bed, and Sirius was treated each night before sleep with the view of Miss Evans' silent reprimand, the words long forgotten, though the picture lay tacked up carefully. James, he'd bet, was lying on his bed, staring at the picture of Lily above his bed, this one a soft smile morphing into surprise, his brow furrowed, mouthing out the words he'd use when he got up the courage to win her over.

"Talking to a picture doesn't count as thinking, mate," Sirius drawled, swinging himself off his bed and parting the curtains of James' bed. "Bloody hell! You're still in your pajamas!"

"Am I?" James asked, looking down at his appearance blankly. "Oh, right, yeah. I am."

Sirius rolled his eyes to heaven once more, catching Lily in a smile.

"Get your arse out of bed. Get dressed. I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry," James grumbled, irritated, but swings himself out of bed and promptly drops his pants.

Sirius stumbles backwards, a hand clapped to his eyes.

"You gotta warn me when you're going to do that, mate," he managed. It never fails to shock him, this easy baring of skin and feelings with James. They've proclaimed themselves brothers, as Sirius would have done with any bloke who struck him as okay, never meaning anything by it, but James had surprised him, now telling him everything, doing everything with him, mumbling things about how much he loved him whenever intoxicated—and Sirius would not lie, he enjoyed the experience of someone being so close, so intent upon you. Though he did find the love thing rather disconcerting.

"Mhm, sure," James mumbled, pulling on a pair of trousers, sniffing a sweater, deeming it passable, and pulling it on. "I shouldn't wear robes, should I?"

Sirius shook his head, a mute no.

"We're nearly the only people in the school. No one is going to be yelling at you for violation of dress code," Sirius said, tugging absently on the hem of his own nondescript button-down, which he felt was at liberty to wear during the break. He had a habit of tugging on his clothes, pulling them free, strand by strand, fraying them beyond repair. Strike that. He had a habit of breaking.

"Oh, okay," he said, looking a bit dumbly, Sirius thought with amusement, down at the regulation schoolwear. "So, food now?"

"Yes, you bloody oaf, food now," Sirius said, checking his watch. "We should be able to catch dinner if we hurry."

"Since when do you care?" James asked, walked lead-footed out the door of the dormitory. Sirius strolled with, easily keeping up. "You can always just go to the kitchens."

"The elves have been giving me the creeps lately, bless them," Sirius said dismissively, twirling a limp gray thread between his fingers.

"Liar," James said, his voice still drugged. He took the longest time to wake up, his record three minutes to lucidity—and that was with the aid of a bucket full of water and Peter's rather lovely operetta. "Do you think Lily will still be here? I think it will be easier to appeal to her if she's not surrounded by all her friends."

"Of course she's here, Prongsie," Sirius said, sighing through his nose. "You're Head Boy and she's Head Girl. You're obligated to stay through the break."

"O-oh. Right," James said, memory coloring his face. "I remember now. You know, Sirius, I'm a little—"

"Slow in the mornings, I know," Sirius finished for him. "It's not like we've been sharing a dormitory for seven years or anything so silly."

"You're my brother, Padfoot," James proclaimed as they entered the common room. Sirius felt his cheeks heat, he mumbled a thank-you. His unflappable cocky attitude, lately, was becoming easily flapped. Maybe it was just his nerves—not about school work, pah—but that the world was coming at him far too fast. He wished he was Peter Pan, or a face in a comic book, snapped into immortality in his youth by printer ink.

"Food, yeah?" James repeated, looking around in what he thought was a discreet manner for Lily. Sirius rolled his eyes to heaven once more. He was going to burst a blood vessel in his eye sometime soon.

"Prongsie, please compose yourself. She's not going to go for you if you're so pathetic."

James turned and looked at Sirius, who, for all his good looks and girlfriends, was hardly one to take advice from on serious, ongoing, eternal love.

"Really?"

But of course he would ask anyway.

"Yes. Pretend you don't need her. At least for the break. Just for a week. For me, Prongsie."

James eyed his friend warily.

"And you're sure me not asking her out will make her want to say yes?"

Sirius nodded vigorously, not believing he was making headway with his hard skulled friend. "You know that Lily wants to go out with you. She just doesn't want to see it as giving in. She wants to do it on her own. Taking a step back will help."

"Taking a step back...right."

James nods at his friend, his smile wide and grateful, and just the slightest bit weary at the edges. Sirius hates that look that James gets—worldweary, tired already and not even out of school. He's got so much waiting for him out there. And Sirius—well, Sirius has the world without a brother, waiting to swallow him up as one, an individual, alone.

-x-

The bread is staler. The meat is slightly tougher.

Sirius chews his makeshift sandwich slowly, wondering if it's just his grumpy mood that has the normally delicious food tasting so dry and listless, or if the elves just relax over the holidays, feeding the students old leftovers. The Great Hall is nearly empty. A few Slytherins sit grouped at the edge of their table, talking softly, the handful of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws milling about amiably, chatting interchanging between to the middle tables. There are only three Gryffindors; Lily Evans, Sirius Black, and James Potter. The first of these was carefully sitting at the very edge of the table, her legs stretched luxuriously over the bench, chin propped up on her hand, reading a a book that lay open next to her plate.

"Sirius, is it just me, or does the school seem so much bigger when we're here nearly alone?" James asked around a mouthful of potatoes. "So many more possibilities."

"I guess, mate," Sirius said, putting down his sandwich and using a tine of fork to clean a few speckles of dirt out from underneath his fingernail. "It always seemed like this to me."

James put down his fork, an expression of pity on his face as he looked at his friend. First and second year, he'd stayed at Hogwarts, claiming emotions for the great castle, during breaks, before his parents had started demanding his presence at home, and long before he ran to James for a roof, his nose bleeding badly and a ring of black around his eye.

Sirius stood, shaking off James' gaze. He didn't want his sympathy.

"I'm going to go up to the Owlery and send a letter to Lucinda," he said, naming a girlfriend he'd broken up with last week. James had obviously forgotten this tidbit, because he just nodded, irked at being left but certainly not overeager to leave his food.

"Meet you up in the common room later, yeah?" James asked, his eyes drifting over to Lily.

"Sure, sure," Sirius said, distracted, and snapped his fingers when he noticed his friend wasn't listening, too preoccupied by a certain redhead. "Step back."

"Step back, right," James said, nodding.

Sirius strolled out of the Great Hall, his shoes tap-tap-tapping on the stone floor. Cold radiated from the conductive mineral, the kind that no fire can banish, and no jacket or robe can keep out. Suddenly, away from the warm hearth of the Great Hall and the dormitories, Sirius regretted his decision to leave his robes laying on the floor.

His feet continued to tap out the rhythm on the floor, and he imagined a song to go along with it. Tap-a-tap-a-tap-a-tap...tap...tap. And repeat. He imagined he looked a little odd, making his feet follow his song, but he didn't care. It was amusement, and the castle was nearly deserted, after all.

"Sirius?"

Sodding hell. Or not.

"Ah—Lily, love, hello," he said, stopping during one of the more fast-paced segments of his song and stumbling out of momentum. The redhead watched silently as he tripped, gathering her robes around her. She had cut her dark red hair short recently, and it hung down to her shoulders, a pert bob. It made her face look harder, more angular, and her brilliantly green eyes more cold and piercing, making her look like

"Are you all right, Sirius?" Lily asked when he had righted himself, staring at him curiously. Usually, Lily pitched a reprimand at him and stalked away. Not this time, apparently. He couldn't help but think that maybe she had come looking for him—but that was impossible. Not a pretty girl like Lily, a smart, fast one like Lily—

James' rants must be wearing off on him.

"Yes, fine. Dealing with the boredom, you know."

Lilys odd expression told him that no, she did know.

"Right, of course, you have your studying to keep you busy." Sirius couldn't help the derisive snort that came out of his nose. Lily's mouth creased downward in distaste.

"Yeah, Sirius...Look, I was just on my way to Head Tower to fetch my things," Lily said, and gathered her robes more closely around her. "And I've been meaning to talk to you for a while. Would you mind coming with?"

Sirius nodded, slightly dumbly. He knew that James wouldn't forgive him for associating with Lily alone very easily, but he couldn't help but wonder what she wanted to see him for. She proclaimed often her life would be so much easier if she never saw hide of hair of them.

James had once caught Remus telling Lily what the Potions homework had been on a day she had been sick. He hadn't spoken to the boy werewolf for a month, until the smug moon hung like a silver penny in the sky, after which James got on with Remus like nothing had been wrong.

Sirius decided to take chances and follow Lily anyway.

Despite her claiming to need to talk to him, Lily didn't say anything to him on the way to Head Tower, until she came to the portrait of the Fat Child, who kept the password. Lily leaned forward, glancing back at Sirius dubiously, whispering the password so close to the childs' ear that the obese little boy giggled at the ticklish feeling.

"Why isn't James in Head Tower this break?" Lily asked, holding the portrait open for him with her hand while she stepped through, then letting it go. Sirius caught it when it was nearly shut and swung inside. James had never allowed him inside the sacred tower, claiming that Sirius would try to throw parties of some sort (true) or booby trap the common room (also true), and Sirius glanced around with admiration. There was the Ravenclaw banner, on the east side of the circular tower, Gryffindor north, Hufflepuff west, Slytherin south. The furniture was plush but generic, carefully in none of the different house colors. Sirius thought it would look better in red and gold, but that was just him. A door was on the other side of the circular common room, presumably leading to dormitories.

"Oh," Sirius said, examining one of the plush chairs by the fire. "He was keeping me company. I'm only here because he is."

"Oh," Lily parroted, standing there in the warm common room, not seeming to know what to do with herself, or how to speak.

"You wanted to talk?" Sirius asked, seating himself on what seemed to be the puffiest, most comfortable of the chairs. Lily nodded, and, seeming a little lost in the middle of the room, pattered over on her small feet, standing next to his chair.

"I wanted to ask you," she said, and paused. "About James."

Sirius felt his heart drop to his stomach in his happiness for Prongsie—was it happiness? It felt more like nausea.

"I...what he's doing. It's not okay."

"Not okay?" Sirius asked skeptically.

"Yes. It's not okay. It's distracting for me. I've made it clear that I'm not interested in him, and he won't let up. I understand that he likes me, but my studies are suffering because he won't let up."

Sirius couldn't help but laugh, a slightly harsh sound.

"I'm sorry, you're saying the only reason you're not going out with James is because of your studies? Christ, Lily, and I thought you had more mystique than that."

"Thats not the only reason!" Lily said sharply, scowling. "I'm just not interested in James Potter, okay? I'm sorry that I don't want to go out with him, but really, there's no use crying over spilled milk. He should just get over his little pity party and move on!"

"Lily..." Sirius was perplexed. Lily was belittling James' never ending angst that more often than not centered around her. "James really really likes you."

"Oh, please," Lily snapped. "James Potter likes me because I said no to him. If I had just said yes, he would have dumped me after a few weeks like all of the other girls before me."

"What?" Sirius asked, furrowing his brow. "No, Lily, you've got it all wrong—"

"I've got it right," Lily said flatly, dropping onto the wide arm of Sirius' chair. "The only reason he won't let go of me was because I was never willing to be his."

"Then just say yes," Sirius said, this idea both appealing to him and not at the same time. "Then he'll push you aside."

"That's not an option anymore," Lily sighed, playing with her fingers. Her feet were resting on the seat cushion of the chair, and she twisted a gold Celtic wedding ring around her finger, the heart set upside down, a symbol of being single. "I wish it were. But I've been walking away so long he's gotten a little too fond of the idea of us going out, if you haven't noticed..."

Sirius laughed again.

"No, really, it's easier this way. If I say yes to him even once, you can tell he's going to take even more possession of me than he does now, with no good right, if he ever gets even the smallest reason to take charge of me."

"Lily..." Sirius said uneasily. "You're making James sound like something that he's not. He's a good guy, really..."

"No, Sirius. I'm not making him sound like anything he's not." She leaned forward again, and slid off the arm, sitting in an impossibly tiny space next to him, her knees tucked up to her chin, little feet nearly underneath his leg. He shivered. Not like he'd never had a girl in such close proximity—Godric, no—but not one nearly this forbidden. It was an odd mixture of anxiety and giddiness that made his head light. "Do you know I've never kissed a boy?"

"You've never—never what?"

"Never kissed a boy," she repeated miserably. "I came this close to kissing Carl Link in third year. James put Nifflers in his bed and painted his boxers gold. I nearly snogged Jeremy Matthews in fifth, but James chased him off."

"Lily, you're nearly eighteen," Sirius managed. He knew James liked Lily, but to keep her from kissing any boy but him...not only was it rather sadistic, but also pretty sad.

"Yes. And I've never dated anyone for more than a day, kissed anyone...nothing. I've never lived, Sirius. He's driving me crazy."

"I'll talk to him," Sirius assured her.

"It won't help," Lily said miserably.

"It might," Sirius said, unsure himself, patting her knee, leaving his hand there. What would he say to James? How could her persuade him to leave Lily alone? He knew that had Lily not followed him upstairs, he would've lost all momentum he might have had on the stepping away philosophy and approached her.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, the two of them, alone in the common room.

"I could live right now."

"What, Lily?" the Anamaigus asked distractedly, glancing over at her.

"I could live right now. With you."

Sirius caught her drift easily. Words like that were his ballpark.

"No, Lily," he said firmly, shaking his head. "I'm James' best mate. You know I couldn't do that to him."

"See?" Lily asked, shaking her head. "This is what I'm talking about. The only time when there's no one at Hogwarts to see me and spread the word around, it's just you, who is, of course, never going to kiss me in a million years..."

She buried her head between her knees and chest, arms folded protectively around her red halo, didn't say anything. James could walk in any second, see them like this. He'd freak out. He'd never forgive Sirius, even though he'd done nothing.

"Lily, love..." She didn't raise her head. "You have to understand...James likes you very much. Why don't you give him a chance?"

"Told you," she said, her voice muffled by her arms, but he could hear the quaver in it. And he could tell, it was her sniffling quietly into her lap. He knew that the sting of rejection, no matter how kind, always left a barb. Even to him.

"Oh, Lily," he said, raising his arms tentatively, patting her head. "Please. Don't do this."

"Do what?" she asked, and he could hear the tremor in her voice, more pronounced now. He closed his eyes reflexively. Do what, really? Make him want to live with her, as she put it? He couldn't help it, he loved girls. Simply existing, he loved them. The delicate way they were constructed, the way they could smile and speak in a way no boy could with any dignity, the way they could play boys like puppets on strings—but not him. He was a vexing anomaly, and they seemed to like that. He liked it, too.

Lily scoffed into her lap when he did not reply, not able to make the sound completely unbothered, not raising her head.

And when she was so defiant but so childish at the same time, so wounded that she retreated into a younger self, he wanted to tuck her into his arms, lay his black haired head upon her red one, like you would that of a child. But he did not. Because he was Sirius Black, and he was a sidekick.

"Make me tattle to Jamesie about your bad behavior, missy," he said instead, smiling fakely, moving his hands around her head and pulling lightly. She lifted her face obligingly, and he was relieved to see there were no tears on her cheeks, though hurt was writ on her face. Lily had never struck him as the type who would cry.

"James is not my father or my husband," Lily said sharply, and her green eyes bored into his gray ones. Sirius shrank back. Lily possessed a courage that he would never own, though he was brave enough to warrant the red and gold of Gryffindor. Lily was of another level. He couldn't help but admire her—but everyone knew how the story would end. James Potter would get the girl, help stop the war, kill the bad guys, and maybe he'd even shoot webs out of his wrists someday.

Sirius would have to be the sidekick.

"I know that, Lily," Sirius said, smiling his sideways smile at her. "Just let's get out of here, yeah? James could waltz in at any second now."

"I changed the password," Lily said, and her eyes sparked again, and she added "You know what else I've never done? I've never really done something spontaneous, just because I felt like it."

Sirius smiled uneasily. What was she getting at?

"That's my specialty, love, but..."

"I think I'd like to live about now, just because I want to."

Lily moved fast, he'd have to give her that. Before he knew what was happening she was nearly on top of him, her mouth moving over his. And he didn't lie, he liked it. A lot. The sensation of Lily's mouth was soft and pleading, quite unlike his usual kettle of fish. The girls he went with were usually wild, knowing that this was probably the first and last time they would kiss him, trying to pack as much living in the hours they had with this beautiful apparation, the kisses they shared.

Her intentions, however, were not so different. Her hands fumbled, momentarily, at the button on his shirt, sliding open easily, as the fabric had been worn loose. Sirius had not been expecting this, but he caught Lily's wrists and pulled her away from him.

"Lily, I'm a substitute. You're just doing this because you want to experience...I don't know what you're trying to experience, actually."

"You're not a substitute," Lily said breathily, staring at him intensely. The dim indigo of twilight filtered through the glass, intensifying her gaze.

"No, Lily. I'm just a substitute for you. It's supposed to be Lily and James. Come on."

His persuasion was halfhearted—he was experiencing pleasant, bubbling feelings in his chest, and Lily's frantic face looked so attractive in the firelight. He could see why James loved her, and he could almost say at that moment that he did too, with her v-neck sweater lopsided, pulled to the extreme left, showing an edge of a white lace bra. Maybe it had been James' praise-singing that had made her so beautiful to him, but all he could think right then was James be damned.

He wanted to be Spiderman, just for one night.

He wanted to kiss MJ Parker, and be one damned lucky guy.

"...I'm just a substitute," he repeated, the only words he could find.

"Not," Lily said, and he let go of her hands, and she fell forward onto his chest, and her hands were around his neck, and she was kissing him hard, with a fiery intensity. The rest of the buttons came undone, and Lily reached for her shirt, fumbling, but Sirius caught her wrists once more.

"No, Lily. Not that."

She protested, but he just kept shaking his head. Who would have thought, Sirius Black, shaking his head, a firm no to her pleads. They took to snogging again, and somehow, Lily managed to wriggle out of her shirt when all of his lucidity had been swept away by her intoxicating presence. But then the common room was dark, and Lily was asleep on Sirius, who was also swept under by sleep, his lips colored dark red by kissing. Their skin stuck together slightly, except where Lily's cotton bra kept their skin apart.

They spent the night lying there, asleep on that wide red chair by the dying embers of the fire, and when the House Elves came in, they tittered and blushed amongst themselves as they set about their work. The first rays of lemony sunlight filtered through the windows, settling on eyelids, waking the day—

"SODDING HELL."

Lily jumped into wakefulness, stared around in confusion for a second, then remembered the happenings of the previous night, and smiled druggedly at Sirius, who was patting his pants, making sure they were still in place. He had woken, slightly surprised but not completely alarmed to find a half-clothed girl lying on him, which isn't to say he didn't yell several curses upon recognizing her peaceful sleeping face pillowed on his chest.

"Lily Evans, get the fuck off of me!" Sirius screeched, scrambling off the chair and falling to the carpeted floor with a thump. Lily peeked over the arm of the chair, glee written over her features.

"I christen you alive," Sirius grumbled, buttoning his shirt conservatively, up to his chin. "Now never ask me to help you live again."

But his heart stopped thumping at the sight of her kiss-bruised lips.

-x-

The problem with kindred spirits is learning to share.

James Potter and Sirius Black are both greedy, self-centered boys. Being one of a kind brought up all sorts of awkward hurtles for them to leap. Suddenly they needed to think of someone else's feelings before acting, because that person was everything to them. They both found it difficult, but the delight they found in the other's presence made it worth their while.

What they love, they love together. What they despise, they unite to destroy.

It shouldn't have surprised Sirius that he found himself looking at Lily with such sadness when she approached James the day after their awful secret had begun, when she asked him in halting speech if he would come with her to Hogsmeade. It shouldn't have surprised him that he didn't tell James of how he had come to love Lily Evans, that instead he watched them in their perfect, long-lasting love, and he kept on dating the pretty girls of Hogwarts until the end of the school year, to keep his mind off that perfect, understanding smile. It shouldn't have surprised him that when James took down his silly blown-up pictures of an enraged Lily, he kept the one of them, a soft smile morphing into shock and horror.

A king once told two mothers to cut the baby in half, and the one that would cut the child would lose it.

But this is not a time of old kings and squabbles over children. This is a time when the one who will not cut it must set it free, and watch it run into the arms of the other.

-x-

Sirius watched impassively from the dormitory window as Lily and James walked down the grass surrounding the Great Lake, James strolling along, Lily letting her arms swing. James reached out a hand and caught hers. They stopped for a second, the Lily turned her face up to James and laughed. James paused for a second, then held up his arms, a tentative prelude to an embrace. Lily laughed again and stepped into them. They stood there a moment, wrapped up in each other, before releasing each other and moving on.

But James held her a little closer as they made their way across the frozen ground, tucked into him the way that Sirius had wanted to tuck Lily into him when her face had been so pained and so childish at the same time.

He may have lost her to the boy who had the only right to her, the only claim of true love, and ardor, and long-standing allegiance, and he gave her gladly, because the smile on James' face whenever he saw her was the greatest reward he could ask for. But for some reason, he couldn't bring himself to forget, to stop revisiting, that night in Head Tower, when Lily had kissed him so hard and so searchingly, lying to him, knowing he was only a substitute.

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Love,

Vacancy