A/N: Damn guys, I was blown away by your support. You are the reason I am me. Ponder that and never forget it.

This doesn't feel right to me. None of my writing ever does. So after writing and rewriting and scrapping and then writing it four more times (no exaggeration – this has been a grueling project, because the moral of the story here is that you can't recreate the simplicity with which you do things, like this fic), I give you this.

It's taken me forever to get this bit of crap up for you and that's inexcusable. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Try to enjoy it regardless. Thanks!


What hurts the most
Was being so close
And having so much to say
And watching you walk away

And never knowing
What could have been
And not seeing that loving you
Is what I was tryin' to do

-- Rascal Flatts, "What Hurts the Most"


You're doing it again.

There you are, going on doing it, so audaciously that you should be ashamed of yourself.

You're doing that "wallowing" thing again.

You never used to wallow, a fact that you appreciate only now that you're starting to do it. You didn't even know what wallowing was, because you weren't the wallowing type. But now you are, you're wallowing, you're wallowing deep within your oh-so-pitiful sorrows that you brought upon yourself, and you hate it.

Wallowing from you means nothing is right in the world. It means things are changing in dangerous, delicate ways, like a gypsy singing her dark and glittery tunes in the thick evening air that's never been more ominous, and you don't know where this is going.

He isn't James anymore, this man you're wallowing about. That's the bottom line you've come to, in your wallowing and falling in love with him.

This isn't James. How could it be?

James would never have been Head Boy. James would never have left your relationship at this cordial, pitter-pat relationship that bears absolutely no resemblance to the fiery teenage passion you used to have.

James wouldn't put his tie straight or not talk about Quidditch 24/7. James would laugh so hard that everyone stared in the common room instead of chuckling quietly at a raucous joke. James wouldn't pay attention to the board. James wouldn't have put his infatuations away for a rainy day.

James wouldn't be so polite, either. James would've been crude and unrefined and sloppy and full of emotion, and he would have a glow about him, a glow that could never be extinguished, a glow of confidence that defined him for the spitfire he's always been.

James would've pretended to choke people with his loose tie that he used like a baton, and he would've pulled stupid, childish, endearing pranks like he did before.

James was always the one that could never seem to grow up, and now that he has, he's no longer James.

And that's it, isn't it? That's why you're wallowing and in-love. Because that James was the one you accepted, the one you created so much friction with. You always create friction, but that friction was different and turbulent and chaotic and so energetic, that it's golden.

You fell in love with the boy he used to be once you caught sight of the man he changed into. You loved that boy all your life and then you figured it out and you wished you had him back so you could tell him, but now he's not there. He moved on. How could he wait for you when he had a life of his own he had to live?

Some other man is there in your life, with James's face and James's hair and James's voice, but he's not James. Not the James you knew. Not the James you want to know.

He used to love you too, that old James. In his own way, he told you everything you needed to know and more through his actions. He overwhelmed you, a tidal wave on the erratic nature of your soul, and although he was refreshingly cool against your heat, it was easy to drown under that weight as well. That was what you'd always been afraid of, and now you want it back with all your heart.

You want to cuddle him, nuzzle his neck, laugh at his jokes, stroke his hair (which you ironically hated a few countable years ago). You want to be held in his arms and graced with his penetrating stare – as if you are the only one to exist in that moment, in that universe out of your own.

That look he gives Alexandra now…it gives you such a rush, of mixed joy and misery and darkness and ache and nostalgia and weird levity, because he used to look at you like that.

He did. He used to look at you every way, look at you in a way that made your skin crawl because it was so intimate, and now you see that same love in his eyes when he holds Alexandra against his body.

He's replaced you. You were always used to a James that loved you, knew a James that knew you. It was part of him. It was part of you too. And now that he isn't like that anymore, you're lost. Everything was so extreme, it was hard to figure out what meant what – how were you supposed to know anything?

But now you know. That's the difference.

So you need to tell him. That much is obvious. You love him, love him more than anyone else you've dated put together, and he has to know. Of course he does.

In the old days, you would've known what to do. Simply throw a fuss, but accept his offer to take you out when he bestowed it upon you against your will for the millionth time.

Because that's what James would do – ask you out, never take no for an answer, persevere because he's so pure in his intentions and believes in his intuition so much that you can only envy his single-mindedness.

But you're not going to be telling James that you love him. That makes things tricky, because you don't care about this new guy. He can't be expected to recreate the raw emotion he had way back when, yet…is it allowed to be this different? Has he really forgotten where he came from, who he was, what he used to be?

Still, you can't get out this mission that easily. You still have to complete it regardless of the thorny thicket you have found yourself in. So when it's time for patrol, you go to him, as usual, and you smile brighter than usual. You walk with him down the corridor, and also as usual, you hear him tell you about his girlfriend because you don't offer any other form of conversation.

It's hard to hear, and you know that, but you deserve the misery. You've given him plenty; he deserves someone to make him happy. So you'd better endure him babbling like a lunatic about Alexandra, and you'd better keep your mouth shut.

You do, and to be honest, you do it well, considering how much your gut constricts whenever he mentions her name. Now he's taking a breath, so you tell him stop, stop, you have something to say, and you'd like to say it now before you chicken out and say nothing at all.

This catches his attention. You are so good at doing that.

So you sigh, and you fidget, and you rumple your hair and tuck it behind your ear and pull the wrinkles out of your shirt, because you're nervous and you really need to get a grip. You're not ignoring the frantic pumping of your heart, the way your stomach turns as his achingly lovely eyes focus so exclusively on you.

The unbearably high body-temperature you're at, the relaxed tension about the two of you, the way he's just standing there waiting with no idea how momentous all this is; it's all killing you, with such sweetness it's hard to distinguish as dying unless you've been through this too many times before.

He's taller than you, lumbering over you instead of being at your height like he was as a gangly youth, and you lose yourself in the hazel of his eyes, the patience in his features. You're both here, facing each other and filling each other up, intoxicating firewhiskey poured into a mug more than ready; and now you have to say it, because if you don't, Aphrodite help you, you're going to eat yourself alive with over-analyzing and regret.

So you clear your clogged throat. There's the first step. And now you look for words.

But there are none, you're finding. There are no words for how he's making you feel. It's all flashes, emotion deep within your chest, profoundly fathomless and out of the wavelength for human communication.

You know, but he never will, because there's no way to tell him. It's like being a mime whom nobody can apprehend. It's frustrating, so you stutter a bit, until he cuts you off, and he asks you, "Are you all right, Evans?"

No true concern. No earnestness. None of that. Just politeness, on-the-surface, completely cordial courtesy. And this makes you erupt completely.

"No, I'm not!" you inform him angrily, rounding on him with your old strength, your old temper. "I'm not all right!"

This bewilders him. It's bound to. You haven't yelled him in a while. He wrinkles his nose, all adorable-like, and you want to slap him, and then throw yourself on him and snog him senseless. He's been having this effect on you of late, and now, with his lips parted and rosy and full, slack and confused, you almost do.

But you don't. Instead, you stand there, and you challenge him, challenge him with your eyes, give him the invitation you're both not accustomed to anymore. His eyes flicker in recognition of your game, your boldness, and he asks you, so simply it shatters you, "Why aren't you all right?"

"Because…because this is ridiculous!" you shout, hysterical and probably sounding like a lunatic, but feeling the words bubble up too high to ignore.

"What's ridiculous?"

"You!" you accuse him.

"Me?" His nose wrinkles even more. "I'm ridiculous?"

"Yes, you're ridiculous!"

"Evans, are you really sure you're all right?" His eyes are narrowed, his eyebrows furrowed. "What are you going on about?"

"You," you repeat stupidly.

He doesn't understand. He's staring at you, hazel on green, and you can't stand how out-of-the-loop he is. How doesn't he know what's going on? Has he lost his memory along with the rest of his cracked, striking soul?

Apparently he has, so it's up to you to set him straight.

"You're not James," you eventually tell him after a few moments, something flat and sorry about your tone.

"What do you mean?" He's looking seriously worried now, his expression a plethora of things that include many shades of 'wary,' 'anxious,' 'curious.' "Of course I'm James." He thinks you're crazy, and you agree, but this needs to be said. You won't leave until it is. You've always been stubborn that way.

"No, you're not," you say to him next, pained because you have to admit this.

"Why?" is his only question, and he asks it with every bit of probing wonder he has in him.

"Because…" You pause, and then you say, "Because you used to be crazy. And loud." And beautiful.

"Yeah, I was, but I changed," he says, still confused, but handsomely so.

"Why did you do that?" you want to know. You've wanted to ask this question for a long time.

"Merlin, Evans, why would I do it?" He's surveying you almost agonizingly, as if you are completely and abysmally stupid.

"I don't know. That's why I'm asking you," you say, your voice so small.

He waits a moment that could bridge time until the very end if it wanted to, his carefully hazel eyes smoldering down like a building burning to the ground, and then he says, anguished, "I did it for you. I did it because that was what you wanted."

A chill pierces your heart, and the whole, tragic irony hits you like a lead block in your stomach, the vibrations disturbing whatever is supposed to be right in your body. You want to close your eyes and fall to the floor and just stay, stay there, because you can't find your stance anymore.

All of a sudden, you're plagued with the thought that you want him to get those unspoken things you can't vocalize for him, like he used to when you wanted to be private. So you stare at him now when your words have finally failed you; waiting for the pretence to fall, the curtain to vanish; for James, the James that loved you, to peek at you from beneath it all, but he doesn't.

He's not that James. He doesn't peek out at you. He only rumples his hair, confused, and stares back at you, waiting for you to reveal yourself.

No inferring. No seeing right through to your soul. None of that. His gaze remains only skin-deep, and he only sees the most trivial things, and you can't bear that.

You want him to see you, see the person you could never find yourself, because he used to do that and you would soar, soar in ways you never did, and you would know deep within your bones that he made you feel, and he made everything so excruciatingly simple.

So you moisten your mysteriously dry lips, and you repeat like a mantra, "You used to be crazy. And loud." And you add on the last bit you didn't add before – "You used to be beautiful for it."

He looks at you, so strange, as if you're speaking a dead language, and you force yourself to swallow down your fear and respond, even if hesitantly, "You were…you. And now you're not."

His brow furrows with concentration, biting his lips, and you watch, watch him decipher these sentences, until he fixes you with a stare that brings up the frayed edges of memories long forgotten. You feel the chill of his understanding as if he blew an ice-cold fan in your face.

You watch him for a moment or two, standing there and staring at him, the two of you looking like long-estranged lovers, and you realize that there's nothing else left for you here. You've done everything you could have and you've said what needed to be said.

So, because you learned your lessons from these past years, you brush by him and you leave the patrol early, your person quivering slightly with the intense potency of that conversation, the first real one you've had with him for a really long time:

You know now that it's better to walk away than to continue fighting when it comes to this boy.

So you do.

You finally do what you knew was right, and all you can do now is wait for the rain to fall, the sun to shine, the heavens to send down something that's going to set things down once and forevermore.

--

You're wary the next day, when you step out of the quiet haven of your Head Girl's dorm to the rest of the unprotected castle. You're wary of what could happen to you today. You're tired. You want to fade away and you know just how you might.

James kisses Alexandra as tenderly as ever when they saunter in barely on-time to first period Potions, separating to their respective seats glowing without caring who sees it. You control yourself, taking barely-audible deep breaths as Slughorn dismisses you all to make your potion for the day.

Your neighbor is in the Hospital Wing today and the seat beside you is empty. This suits you; you can spread your things around on the table, working more comfortably. You begin your work leisurely, but still faster than most other people in the room.

You get the surprise of your life when James comes, unasked and unexpected, to sit beside you in that empty seat, carefully moving your things closer to you and dumping all his there in his usual heap. You stare at him, but he doesn't notice, instead asking very politely to borrow your knife so he can cut his daisy roots. You hand it over, but you don't stop staring at him for several more seconds.

He ignores you and you reluctantly get back to work. You both pass the period in silence, making your potions and speaking only to reference materials or inquiring if a certain procedure is correct. You purposely lag very behind in clean-up so you leave the room late and don't have to walk with him.

You're surprised again when he helps clean up for you and then goes to the door. Your hands brush oh-so-lightly, but you feel it, you feel that spark of pure electricity that always flows through you when he's near. You look up at his hazel eyes again, so achingly intense, and you feel like a little girl again.

You can read him. You haven't lost that ability yet. You can see the acknowledgement hidden in the depths of all that olive and brown, and when you both turn your heads instinctively at Alexandra's call for James at the door of the classroom, you know fully well what he's trying to tell you.

It's all about instinct with the two of you. Both of your instincts have a strange habit of being in-tune with each other at the best of times.

So because his girlfriend and his real life are calling to him, James stacks your things on the desk for you and gives you a good-bye look before kissing his girl and walking out the room with her, smiling and listening to her jargon. You take your things and say good-bye to Slughorn, who's got that knowing look on his face as you go, and you walk quickly down the corridor to catch up with your friend Alice, allowing yourself to be normal as you complain about the potion you created in silence.

As you walk, James is right in front of you, walking with Alexandra and kissing her every few seconds, as if ensuring she's still real and solid every time and not trusting the answer he gets. You pretend to ignore him, but you know you don't. Alice knows it too, but she's too smart to say so when he's right there. She just smiles and that's enough.

You walk and you come to a junction which branches off into several different sets of stairs, a parting of the ways. Alexandra kisses her boyfriend and goes for one, and Alice has to go the same route, so follows her. You have a choice of the stairs Alice took, or the stairs Alexandra's boyfriend is about to take, and you don't know which.

You stand there helplessly a moment, deciding, when you turn to your right and watch almost dumbly as the staircase moves away without you on it. You start, run, reach, and you're almost on it, but that's when you see the hand.

It's a lean hand, calloused and rough from playing too much Quidditch, but it's sturdy and soft when you grab hold without thinking.

The owner's hand pulls you and manages to get you on the stairs with him. You look him in the eyes again and he looks familiar to you for that fleeting second, familiar like something you once lost but might be on the verge of rediscovering. A flood of sunshine warms your insides as you smile slightly, blushing but grateful.

"Are you on all right?" this man who is dating Alexandra asks, finally some concern coloring his tone, looking at you leaning against the rail of the moving staircase taking you to another floor.

You find yourself smilingoh-so-faintly as you tuck your hair behind your ear, shifting a little so your bag is more comfortable on your hip.

There's something a lot like love in your voice as you say, "Yeah, I am. Thanks for caring."


A/N: Review, por favor?