A/N: Yes, this is indeed the last chapter - the big, final chapter that I certainly hope is enough for you lot, lol. I really do hope you enjoy it, and thank you so much for reading this story! It means a lot to me, it really does, and I appreciate every one of you clicking on my link to take a look at the latest update. Normally when I finish a multi-chaptered story, I have a Big Speech for you guys to thank you, but I guess for now, it's just this little paragraph. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate you - it just means I'm lazy, which I most sincerely am.
So, I hope you like this final chapter! If you enjoyed this tale, feel free to go through some of my other fics. I have plenty for you to peek at if you're bored and have an hour or two. Thanks again!
And from the first to all the last times, all the signs
Said 'Stop' - but we went on whole-hearted
It ended bad, but I love what we started
It said 'Stop' - but we went on whole-hearted
It ended bad, but I love what we started
-- Fiona Apple, Parting Gift
As I expected, Michael is waiting for me in the common room like he does most every other night, reading a book on a sofa even though he looks exhausted.
When I walk in, he smiles. His whole face lights up as he rises and abandons his book, and coming over to hug me. I allow him to, blissfully enjoying the warm weight of his body with mine and trying to make myself focus on the task at hand. It's so hard for me to let him release me, knowing what I'm going to do next.
But I do, I let him, and then I put on my best fake smile – I'm getting better at those everyday.
"Hey, Michael," I begin.
"Hey, Lily," he says back, brushing a lock of my hair out of my eyes. "How was your patrol tonight?"
"Fine, perfectly fine," I lie.
"That's good," he says, unable to sense the lie in my well-covered voice.
"But…I wanted to talk to you about something," I say, my voice catching slightly. Here it comes.
"Yeah, okay," he says obediently. "What is it?"
"I…I think…" I can barely choke any words out, let alone the ones I want. It's like being twelve years old again, unable to collect my thoughts and thinking it would get better as I got older. Look how well that one turned out.
Michael is anxious, though, to see me struggling.
"What is it?" he repeats. "Is something wrong? Did someone say something? Are you hurt?"
These are, of course, the first theories he jumps towards. He's learned, after his experiences with me through sixth year, and I see now that he has learned me wrong.
I'm not always broken. I'm not always sad. I'm not always the frightened, out-of-order girl he had to take care of before. How can he think that's the entirety of who I am? Hasn't he seen how much I've changed?
I know he's trying to be good to me, but this just won't cut it anymore.
"Michael," I say his name, holding his hand in both of mine and stroking it, keeping my voice faint but backed with strength I know I barely possess right now. I can't hold back. It has to be said now, and said bluntly, without any mistake, because I'm done making this mistake. My heart is palpitating like a horse in a derby in my chest, and when I speak, my voice burns my mouth like acidic poison.
"Michael, I…I don't think that this relationship is the best outlet for us," I finally say, the entirety of my intestines sinking down, down, down, until they surely creep into my pelvic bone. "I don't think it's working out."
"Why isn't it working out, Lily?" Michael demands, not angrily but certainly intensely. He understands immediately the weight of my hesitant words, and his eyes are blazing with fire he's never cared to show me in all the time we've been together.
His hand has freed itself from mine, and is squeezing me now; squeezing me as if squeezing it will squeeze some kind of truth he wants to hear out of me too. "Why not? Haven't I told you – and shown you – that I love you? You told me you love me too. What's different now?"
"I just…" I end up admitting, resigned. "I think we've lost it, Michael. Lately, I'm trying to remember all the reasons we were together, and…and I can't make us an argument. I keep feeling…so out of touch. That's a problem for me."
"We haven't lost anything," he tries to tell me. "We're fine, Lily, and we can work this out. You can't bail on me because you feel like you're overwhelmed. I didn't bail on you when you were overwhelmed last year, did I?"
"You didn't, and I will forever cherish that you didn't, but Michael, we have lost it," I say, my voice straining, that strength I thought would hold me up crackling from beneath me, threatening to let me fall as I've been afraid of from the beginning. "We're…distant. It doesn't feel right."
"Lily, I love you," Michael says fiercely, leaning in and kissing me with a fervor I would have never deemed him capable of. "I love you, I love you, I love you," he says between deep, imposing kisses. He holds me close, trying to get a reaction out of my lips that lay limp as he unleashes his fervor upon them.
"How many times do you want to hear me say that?" he almost demands. "Because I'll say it, Lils; I'll say it as many times as you ask, because I do love you. I love you so, so much, and the times I've been with you have been the best times of my life. Don't tell me you want to finish it."
He kisses me once more, and then looks at me, searching through me, but there's nothing to search for, nothing he's lost somewhere within my depths. When I look back at him, I look through different eyes – James's eyes, the eyes that have looked at me the way no woman has ever been looked at before – and I try with all I have in me to see things the way he said them.
What had he said? I conjure his face up in my mind's eye, recollect the images of his hazel eyes that had always been so passionate, attempt to recall the conversation we'd had that was about to prove it had the potential to change my life all over again.
This is your life, Lily. Yours. Live it as you want, but know – this is reality you're in. It's not child's play anymore, and it never will be.
Not child's play anymore. That was it. That was the phrase that had done it.
It's my life, and mine alone. Who I spend it with is my choice, so long as I remember that this is not the silly whim of an adolescent – this is it, the life I've been waiting since I was a kid to live and live well. Child's play is no longer an option.
And this – this notion, this epiphany, this truth dropped upon my head by someone I never thought would matter to me – this is the reason why I turn up to look Michael in the eye, my gut already lighter than it's been for weeks, and say with the determined conviction I always associated with headstrong Ainsley:
"I do want to finish it, Michael; because I love you, I need to let you go, because I can't love you like this. I just can't."
I can see his heart breaking through his eyes – his emotions were always betrayed there, if I knew that special place I had to look in – and as a result, mine breaks too. He purses his lips, holding himself together the best he can, and I take his hand back, clasping it and wringing it, before giving him a final kiss, which he returns with a strange weight I'm not used to.
It's not heavy, not lusty, none of that. This kiss is almost bittersweet, awkward in a way; it's a kiss of finality, a soft kiss in which our lips caress each other for the last time, a kiss of lovers that will come out of the position as only friends if even that. It's a kiss for the road, a kiss to keep – because we know nothing will ever be the same again.
"I'm so sorry," I whisper into his mouth, the mouth that has coached me through so much in the past year. "But I know you're going to be fine."
And he will be. I know it; for as I leave him, standing there with his every emotion flashing across his sweet face, it is me that is the one to fall apart.
When I get back to my dormitory, stumbling slightly with tears prickling at my eyelids but not quite falling yet, I find that James is still there, sitting on his bed, his eyes as distant as ever.
But when I enter the room, and our visions lock together, his eyes are right back to earth as he instinctively stands, reaching an arm out to me. I feel surreal, like I'm in a dream – not quite here, not quite real. I can't take his hand. I don't want his hand.
Seeing me stand there, he freezes, moistening his lips for that awkward moment of situation-recognition, before he asks me softly, "Did you do it, Lily?"
Disregarding the second use of my real name in a couple of days, there's no point in denying what I've done, no point in pretending I didn't, but I still don't want to say it aloud. It doesn't feel right, adding that note of finality to my evening's deed. Our relationship has been disintegrating for a while, dying like embers in an unfed fire, but somehow, saying we're broken up doesn't feel right.
I don't feel alone yet; the actuality of my decision – the choice to get rid of a boyfriend I've kept for so long – has not yet sunk in. I'm stuck somewhere between that uneasy realm of 'we' and 'I' and I can't say it.
Not now. Not so soon. Not when I feel broken yet liberated, weightless but buried under the burdens of the entire world.
So when I look back to James, my suddenly parched lips slightly parted as though words are about to climb through them, my eyes glistening, I simply say, "I think so."
The situation is too illusory, unreal – the fact that I am now without a boyfriend, positioned a couple of meters away from James Potter, of all the people I never expected to be close to – that all I can do is rest there, staring at him, wondering how on earth I am still alive and my heart can beat when I feel so much.
But, after what feels like a year or even five, James takes a couple of steps towards me, his eyes unsure, and he reaches his hand to me, his arm connecting the space between us as it has been since we were kids.
When I looked at the expanse between us before, it looked dishearteningly far, a world that could potentially mean everything or nothing at all, a distance I could never cross. But now, as I look at the same bridge I used to burn without a care in the world, it doesn't look as intimidating as it used to.
Now, it looks like a bit of a stretch, but a stretch I can make, if I can make myself believe in the glimmer of hope I had always sort of believed in from the beginning.
So, since I have nothing else left to lose, no place left to hide from myself or from him, I place my hand into his, letting him grasp it as firmly as he promised he would, and I permit him to bring me into him, holding me against his chest, rubbing my back. After a minute or two of this, he even plucks up the courage to kiss me so gently and hesitantly on the top of my head, promising me without words that tomorrow will bring a better day and a new sun to watch soaring across our canvas of sky.
Right now, at the end of one story and the start of another, at this crossroads in my young life, in this place I didn't imagine I'd be in, I sort of know where I want to go, but I also know, with great clarity, where I came from. Those days are over, but they're forever going to be a part of me I can't let go of; and I think, that in this unlikely spot I would never have searched on my own, I've found a new sort of horizon. It's nothing permanent yet, it's not going to bind me or set me free, but it's an idea to see, to consider for the first time in my life.
Something is happening. Even now, I know this much. Something is happening, something is at work, and this isn't the first major change that is going to take place in my adult life. It's only the first.
And so I look up for the briefest second through my red eyes at his face, his steady, well-crafted, admittedly handsome face, and I see in it some of the little kid he'd been before. They're only slight glimmers, because he too has grown up and become a man living his adult life, but I also see a beginning starting to take form somewhere within him.
Maybe one day, we'll stop being this weird pair with a History, and we'll find the courage to break more walls to talk about those taboo things I'd always wanted to discuss.
Maybe one day, I'll trust him the way I used to trust Michael, with everything I have, and we'll at least be close friends.
Maybe one day, he'll smilingly tell me a joke and I'll laugh freely and he'll laugh too and we'll be comfortable, mature, able to take our old relationship for what it was and let something new blossom from the ashes.
I know none of this will happen today, as I settle back into his chest, my eyes closed, my body soft and safe and cushioned here against his, but it will happen one day.
And for right now, I believe whatever he's said to me, and that's enough for the time being.
I feel like I am watching everything from space
And in a minute I'll hear my name and I'll wake
I think the finish line's a good place we could start
Take a deep breath, take in all that you could want
-- Snow Patrol, Finish Line