A/N: Well, it seems like I always go through a bit of J/L withdrawal when I finish a story...and what you have before you is the product of that! A little one-shot to brighten your Monday :)
James set down his quill with a sigh, taking off his glasses to rub a hand tiredly over his face. He glanced over at the redhead at the table across from his, looking away again before she sensed his stare. His eyes had wandered in her direction a mere six times in the past hour, and she'd only caught him looking twice, which he considered a personal accomplishment. If only her hair didn't fall over her shoulder in that particular way; if only she didn't get that small, adorable crease between her eyes as she wrote; if only her fingers weren't so hypnotizing to watch as she drummed them absently against the table; if only—realizing he was staring again, James straightened his glasses purposefully and leaned over his Transfiguration essay once more.
He worked steadily for a few more minutes, before a small hand appeared in his line of vision and a voice said quietly, "Potter."
Glancing up, James blinked in surprise at the sight of Lily Evans standing before him, leaning slightly over his table. "Evans," he returned, recovering from his shock enough to flash her a characteristic smirk.
Looking as though she was barely refraining from returning the usual eye roll that accompanied most of their exchanges, Lily continued, "Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you happened to get down what McGonagall said today about the usefulness of Switching Spell theory in Human Transfiguration? The fourth year I was tutoring just wasn't getting Summoning Charms, and I lost track of time, and . . . well anyway, I missed the first few minutes of class."
James let out a purposefully dramatic sigh. "And here I thought you didn't have a valid excuse for being late; I was all prepared to tease you and everything, but—"
"Potter," Lily interrupted impatiently. "Do you have the notes, or not?"
James sighed again, though there was slight frustration behind it this time. "Yeah, sure," he muttered, flipping through his book to the pages on Human Transfiguration and turning it to face her. Pointing, he indicated the information Lily had requested, scrawled messily along the margin.
Unable to hold back her eye roll for a second time, Lily snorted softly. "Helpful, that is," she said sardonically, squinting at the words and copying them carefully onto the spare parchment she'd brought over.
"Well, it's not like I was taking them with the express intention of giving them to you," James defended. "If it's such an inconvenience, you could ask someone else."
Lily glanced up, guilt flashing briefly through her eyes. "Right, sorry," she mumbled. "This—this is fine. Er . . . thanks," she finished, offering him a small smile.
James grinned back. "Anytime, Evans."
As she started to turn away, Lily's eyes fell on his essay. They widened as she looked up at him and demanded, "Is that your essay?"
"Er, yes?" James replied tentatively.
With a defeated sigh, Lily sank into the chair across from him, propping her elbow on the table and sinking her head onto her hand. "I haven't even started yet," she groaned, glaring at his parchment as though it had insulted her. "And you're nearly finished . . ."
James grinned in amusement. "Well, it's not a competition, Evans."
Lily met his eyes again, flushing slightly and mumbling something that sounded an awful lot like, "It is to me."
His amusement growing, James continued, "Even if it were, I've had nothing to do all afternoon since I had to cancel Quidditch practice due to the weather, while you've had prefect rounds—"
"How did you know that?" Lily interrupted with a frown.
"Er, because you had them with Remus," James explained, but he reddened anyway.
Lily, either not noticing his pink cheeks or choosing not to comment on them, simply nodded. "Still," she said after a moment, "you always beat me in Transfiguration."
James raised an eyebrow. "And that bothers you?"
"Yes," Lily admitted, blushing again. "Oh, shut up," she added, sticking her tongue out childishly at him when he laughed quietly.
"Well, you can't always be perfect, Evans," James reassured her, though he was still smirking.
Lily narrowed her eyes at him, but there was a playful twist to her lips as she asked, "And what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
"Perfect people are boring," James stated simply, and all hints of amusement suddenly dropped from Lily's face. "Not that you're boring," he amended hastily as Lily rose from her chair. "I just meant you can't be good at everything—no one is—and if you're a bit shoddy at something that's nothing to—"
Lily turned abruptly, striding back to her table and snatching her bag off the floor. James scrambled up from his chair as she began stuffing her things haphazardly into it, reaching her just as she swung it angrily over her shoulder. Shooting him a final glare, she started for the library exit.
James followed, abandoning his own books and half-finished essay. "Evans, hang on," he said, reaching out to catch her arm. She snatched it away and quickened her pace. "Look, I didn't mean it like that," James added desperately as she burst into the corridor outside the library. A couple of first years loitering near the doors backed warily away from Lily's stormy expression, but she ignored them. "Evans—" James started again, and Lily whipped around so fast that he backed up a step in surprise.
"Why do you always do that?" she demanded.
"That!" she yelled, gesturing wildly at the library behind him. "We'll actually be getting along, for once, and then you have to go and ruin it by saying something stupid, or insulting me—is it really too much to ask that we get through one day where we behave civilly towards each other?"
James glared at her. "You always have to take everything so personally, don't you? Maybe if you weren't so sensitive—"
Lily let out a mirthless laugh. "Oh, is that what you think? That I'm the problem? Well, you would, wouldn't you? I mean, heaven forbid perfect James Potter ever do anything wrong!"
"That's not what I said, Evans," James gritted out.
"Fine—maybe you're right, Potter," Lily spat, continuing as though she hadn't heard him. "Maybe I am sensitive about the fact that Transfiguration is the one subject I can't quite seem to get the hang of. But that doesn't mean I appreciate you casually throwing my weaknesses in my face!"
"I didn't—" James tried to protest, but Lily started walking down the corridor again, her shoulders drooping slightly as though the fight had suddenly gone out of her.
"Just leave it, Potter," she muttered, sounding tired.
"No, I'm not going to 'just leave it,'" James said firmly, hurrying after her once more.
"Of course not," Lily said with another humorless laugh. "Because you never do."
"I know," James agreed. "And I probably should—you're right. But I can't, Lily."
His use of her first name arrested her steps, and she spun to face him again, though more slowly than before.
She regarded him with a cold suspicion, and the fire in her green eyes momentarily froze James's tongue. Swallowing, he finally managed to say, "It would be easiest to just let it drop every time I messed up, or said the wrong thing—which, as you said, is rather a lot. But that wouldn't exactly be fighting for you, would it?" Lily's eyes widened, surprise banishing the anger from them. "And, much as it might not seem like it, I am. Fighting for you, that is." He smiled wryly. "Merlin knows why, because you drive me bloody insane. But there is something about you that's just so—so—" His hand fisted in his hair briefly before he flung it out in frustration. "There's not even a word for it; 'irresistible' makes you sound like a dessert, while 'addicting' seems somewhat insulting . . ."
Lily was now regarding him with a mixture of alarm and concern. She opened her mouth to say something, but James shook his head.
"Just . . . let me finish. So even though I can't ever seem to get it right, and even though you turn me into an inarticulate idiot every time I'm around you . . . you're it, for me. For whatever inexplicable reason, I'm never going to give you up, Lily." The silence that followed his confession was nearly deafening. When it had stretched to an unbearable interval, James added awkwardly, "So, um, that's that."
Her expression betraying nothing, Lily said, "I've got to get started on that essay." James's stomach dropped as she turned away for the third time that evening. Pausing, she added over her shoulder, "And don't follow me, Potter."
But of course James didn't listen. Because he could never just let her walk away.