The sound of Sirius having nightmares made James' breath catch in his throat.
The echo of Sirius' whimpers and his ragged gasps, of his cries and the sound of him thrashing around, consumed by images and terrors that James could not protect him from, were painful to listen to. It killed James to know that he could do nothing to protect Sirius from these things that haunted his sleep.
James lay awake, his heart clenching with every pained cry that left Sirius' lips. To know that he was less than two metres away from his best friend and yet, could not help in any way was a terrible feeling.
He rolled over, facing in the direction of Sirius' bed. The hangings were closed, but James could see Sirius' silhouette as he tossed and turned. His eyes remained open, watching Sirius' movements.
James winced as Sirius cried out again. He wanted to reach inside Sirius' head and take away everything that tormented him. He wanted to shield Sirius from the darkness. He wanted to protect him, and never let another thing hurt him, ever again.
James sat up when Sirius fell silent. The sudden quiet scared him to death. He couldn't protect Sirius from what he couldn't see, let alone what he couldn't hear. James pulled his blanket up around him, feeling cold, a coldness that was deep inside him, that could not be shaken.
It was like poison, this feeling of helplessness. It spread quickly, making James' limbs feel heavy and his head feel cloudy. He hated feeling powerless; he hated not being able to help Sirius. It made him angry, this helplessness. He wanted to rage and storm until Sirius sat up and said 'Calm down, Prongs, it's okay.' And everything would be all right, because things weren't fine in James' world unless Sirius was there and he was happy.
Sirius, when he didn't burn as bright as the star after which he was named, was like a magnificent bloom that wilted. It was dreadful to watch something so glorious fail.
Usually he sailed along in a blaze of glory, but when he crashed, he crashed and burned and James always thought his heart might shatter when he had to see Sirius like that.
Sirius cried out again and James could handle it no longer. He threw his blankets back and walked to Sirius' bed. He wanted to help, and this was the only way he knew how.
Gently, he pulled back the hangings. He shut them again once he was inside, with a glance at Remus and Peter's beds. He couldn't prevent the slight smile that tugged at the corners of lips – full scale rioting could not wake either boy once they were out.
James turned and frowned. Sirius' sheets were a mess, tangled and half hanging off the bed. Sirius, himself, was asleep on his back, his eyes flickering frantically behind pale eyelids, his chest rising and falling feverishly and his fingers gripping the convoluted sheets.
Very carefully, James untwisted the sheets and gingerly extricated them from Sirius' fingers. Then he slipped under the covers, just as Sirius' eyes opened and he sat up quickly, breathing unevenly.
"It's all right, Padfoot," James whispered, propping himself up on one elbow.
Sirius fell back onto his pillow. "Prongs. Is something wrong?"
James wanted to laugh. That was so like Sirius, to be concerned for James instead of himself.
"Not with me. You were having another nightmare."
"Oh." Sirius tilted his head away from James, one hand coming up to run through his ebony hair. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"Don't be ridiculous," James said. "You know I can't sleep when you're having a nightmare."
Sirius didn't say anything, instead rolling over so he was on his side.
"I hate it when you have nightmares," James continued. "I feel so helpless."
Sirius' hand came up, his long fingers touching James' neck gently, with feather-light touches. "This helps," he said quietly. "I don't have them when you're around."
"I wish I could protect you from them all the time," James admitted, catching hold of Sirius' wrist.
"Come here." It wasn't a request, nor was it quite a command.
James moved closer, wrapping his arms around Sirius and holding him tight. He could feel Sirius lips at the curve of his neck, where it met his shoulder, and the light tickle of Sirius' hair on his sensitive skin.
"This is enough," Sirius whispered. "Enough for me."
How long they lay there, like that, James had no idea, but he didn't care. Sirius was safe, within his arms. He could protect him. He could make him feel better. It was a powerful thing for James, to hold Sirius and feel the rise and fall of his chest against his own and to know that Sirius needed him, perhaps the way he needed Sirius.
For a while, James thought Sirius was asleep until he felt Sirius laugh and say "Your feet are cold."
Sirius pulled back slightly and James opened his eyes. Sirius' hand moved up James' arm and tangled gently in his unruly black locks and James followed Sirius' line of sight until their eyes met. James shivered; Sirius had a way of looking at him that made him feel bare, exposed under that intense grey gaze.
James leaned back in, pressing his lips to Sirius' neck and trailing up to his jaw, across his cheek to the corner of his mouth. James broke off when Sirius' legs tangled with his and the other boy's arm circled around his waist and pulled him close so that they were hip to hip, chest to chest, skin on skin.
James shivered again as Sirius' lips touched the hollow of his neck and moved upward, tracing a line of fire wherever they touched. James' world narrowed down to Sirius, to his lips and his scent and his hands and the feel of him against James' body, perfect despite his flaws.
"Sirius," he breathed.
His lips traced Sirius' jaw, and then moved up, searching out Sirius' lips. His fingers caressed every plane of Sirius' chest and he was on fire, Sirius' lips on his were making him feel like he was burning.
And James wanted more because he always wanted more of Sirius, because he could never get enough of him, because no matter how much he got of Sirius, it was never enough.
The fire raged, and James' hands were on a collision course with every inch of Sirius that he could reach. Sirius' lips were intoxicating and James was hooked, hopelessly, desperately, wonderfully on him, on his best friend.
James believed in the existence of soul mates, and at seventeen, he already knew who his was. Soul mates didn't have to be a boy and girl. They could be anyone. They could be a parent and child. Or two siblings. Or even a boy and his best friend, even if that best friend was also male. James didn't consider the idea of 'soul mates' to necessarily be a romantic thing. It was about two people who were the same.
And that was what James and Sirius were. Two halves of one whole. James couldn't imagine his life without Sirius. That idea was too painful to entertain.
"James," Sirius gasped.
Their kisses slowed, no longer passionately fiery but tender and gentle, the kind that sent delicious shivers down James' spine. Sirius' breathing was ragged again, but for a different reason, and James knew his own would sound similar.
Sirius kissed the spot under James' jaw, where his pulse was beating, before rolling onto his back. "I feel better," he murmured, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
James watched him closely, but if any remnants of his nightmare lingered, then Sirius did not show it. He looked content.
"Are you sure?" James asked, unable to help himself.
Sirius turned his head to look at James and he touched James' lips gently. James felt goose bumps erupt across his skin. Sirius twined their fingers together and pressed James' palm to his chest, where his heart was beating. It was the most beautiful rhythm that James had ever heard or felt. And it belonged to him.