Forever Is Composed of Nows
“Your words wound me,” James said in a plaintive voice.
Aurore eyed him severely. “I don’t think the wounds you’re feeling are from me.”
James tried to move his arm but barely managed to do more than twitch his fingers. He was lying in a hospital, almost buried under monitor spells and magical casts, and smeared from head to toe with bright, iridescent-blue burn salve. “How was I supposed to know a potion smuggler would have an erumpent and a dragon?”
Aurore gave an exasperated scoff. “I don’t know. Maybe a detection spell?” She raised an eyebrow pointedly. “Or you could have analysed the wards or just stopped and noticed that the magic was designed to keep things in rather than out. I don’t know how you ever managed to graduate with that harebrain of yours.”
“I’m more the hands-on type,” he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Aurore rolled her eyes and sighed. “Well, you aren’t going to be getting your hands on anything until you finish regrowing your entire rib cage and spine.”
“I know. It hurts.” James moaned, his expression pitiful as he looked up at her with wide, woebegone eyes.
Aurore’s entire face crumpled. She stepped closer, pulling out her wand and rapidly manipulating all the diagnostics hanging over his body. She lowered her hand after a moment, rapidly tapping her fingers along her wand. “You’re on full-strength pain relief. Bone regrowth hurts a lot. Do you want me to call someone in and have them knock you out?”
“No. It’s fine.”
Aurore gnawed at her lower lip as she stared at him. Half of his face was smeared in the blue burn salve, but his green eyes were staring intensely up at her.
She slipped her wand back into her robes and gently picked up his hand. “Let me call your mum; she should know you’re hurt. She‘ll want to be with you.”
“No.” James attempted to shake his head and winced. “I’m fine. She’ll freak. She threatened to quit at Hogwarts and join the DMLE if I ended up in the hospital again, and if she sees me like this, she’ll probably do it. I will never live it down if my mum becomes my Auror partner.”
“You might live though,” Aurore said in a sharp voice. “You are the most careless person I’ve ever met. Your mum will die of a broken heart if you get killed doing something reckless.” Her entire body was tense as she rubbed her thumb along the back of his knuckles.
“You’re an absolute idiot,” she said for the tenth time since she’d been allowed in his hospital room. Her voice wavered, and she glared down at him.
James closed his eyes, his rib-less chest expanding unevenly as he sighed. “I know. You tell me every time.”
They fell silent.
Aurore stood beside him for several minutes, watching his breathing and all the monitoring diagnostic around him carefully.
His fingers slowly loosened in hers, and his breathing became more even. She gently laid his hand back on the bed.
His green eyes opened instantly, and his gaze locked on her face, his fingers straining as he tried to reach for her. “You’ll stay, won’t you, Rory?”
Aurore nodded and sat carefully on the edge of the bed. She levitated her satchel over and pulled out a book before lacing her fingers with his.
“I’m staying, Idiot. Go to sleep.”
“It’s not fine. You nearly lost your entire arm!”
“I know.” Aurore scowled and stared resentfully down at the cast which her right arm and shoulder were encased in. “I told them not to save it, but they wouldn’t listen.”
James looked as though he were on the verge of strangling her. “You wanted to lose your wand-arm?”
Aurore nodded and gave a petulant sigh. “I’ve always wanted one of Mum’s prosthetics. I’d never need a wand again. You’ve never seen how Dad can duel with his, and I know Mum’s holding out on him because she doesn’t trust him with anything too dangerous or flashy. I bet she’d make me something absolutely nuts.”
James stared at her in furious disbelief and finally scoffed. “You are an absolute moron. I’m telling Mum.”
Aurore’s silver eyes narrowed dangerously. “Don’t. You. Dare, James Potter.”
His expression hardened, and he crossed his arms. “You nearly lost your arm and bled to death in a Gringotts vault.”
“But—” Her eyes widened innocently. “—I didn’t. I’m entirely alive and not lacking in a single appendage.”
James was still staring at her as though he was about to bee-line for the floo.
Aurore’s expression grew tense, and she leaned towards him. “If you tell your mum, she’ll tell mine, and Mum will tell Dad, and Dad will probably show up here.” Her mouth twitched nervously. “If Dad comes here, I’ll be scared the whole time that someone will recognise him and he’ll get arrested. And Mum might even come too—if he comes. She can’t—it would stress her too much to come to Britain.” Aurore was turning white. “I’ll write them a letter when I’m out of the hospital.”
James inhaled jerkily. “Aurore—“ His voice cracked, “—you nearly died.”
Her mouth curled into an obstinate scowl. “Not any more nearly than you do every few months, and I haven’t told your mum about any of those times. You owe me, James. This is my first time in the hospital. There’s no reason to make anyone worry.”
Her eyes were glittering a deadly, threatening silver.
James ran a hand through his wiry red hair, tugging at it as though he intended to tear it out as he stared down at her.
“Fine.” He bit the word out and dropped into the chair beside her bed, slumping back with a scowl of his own. “I won’t tell her until you’re released.”
Aurore relaxed. “Thank you.”
James continued to glower at her. “You have no idea—” his voice broke off briefly, “—how freaked out I was when I heard you were here. And then when I got here you were in surgery, and no one was telling me anything but that it was a curse-breaking accident. A mediwitch forced me to take a calming draught because I was panicking in the waiting room.”
Aurore sighed. “Well,” she twitched her left shoulder, “now you know how it feels every time I rush here because of you.” She raised an eyebrow and looked at him pointedly. “It’s not much fun to be the one sitting in the waiting room afraid your best friend is dying in the next room.”
“Sorry ’bout that.” He smiled weakly at her. She snorted and rolled her eyes.
James’ smile dropped, and he looked down at his hands. “It’s scarier when it’s you here though. You’re the careful one.”
Aurore shrugged. “I’m a Curse-Breaker; it does come with inherent job risks. Even when you’re careful, it’s always a game of probability. I try to calculate the best odds I can, but it’s like life; nothing’s ever sure. I didn’t realise you were still listed as my emergency contact.”
“I don’t think I’d call ‘nearly having your arm bitten off by a giant steel chimera’ minor. They should have better security on the vaults. And Curse-Breakers should have partners.”
“Right,” Aurore’s tone was a sarcastic drawl as she settled back gingerly among the pillows on her bed. “Because your partner has made such a difference keeping you out of the hospital.”
He gave a small smile. “That’s just because I’m incorrigible.”
Her eyes fluttered closed. “I guess you are.”
James studied her closely. There was a pained tension in her face that made his knuckles whiten as he balled his hands into fists.
“Aurore,” he said in a cautious voice. “Do you ever think about trying again? You and I? It was fun, wasn’t it? When we—”
“James…” her tone was warning. Her eyes opened, and she stared at him. “It didn’t work.”
James closed his mouth, his disappointment overt as his shoulders slumped and his expression grew dejected.
Aurore gave a soft sigh. “We agreed that it was better to just be friends.”
“We were young then.” He shifted in his chair as though it were too small for his frame. “You were—”
“‘Intense’,” Aurore said in curt voice.
James winced. “A bit. I just think we’re older now. It might go better now—if we tried again. If you ever wanted to.”
She shook her head and glanced away. “I don’t want to. We’re a lot better as friends. We weren’t really suited for one another. We just thought we were because we were closer to each other than anyone else. We were both too young to have any idea of what we really wanted.”
James started to open his mouth.
“James,” her voice was tense. “I don’t really want to talk about this right now.”
“Sorry. You’re right. Sorry.”
The door to the hospital room burst open, and Aurore stalked into the room. Her face was white with rage, and she was seething with such intensity it was tangible in the air.
“Oh. So it’s you,” James said. His voice was cheerful although his face was gaunt and deathly pale. “I thought there was banshee loose out there.”
“Shut up, you idiot,” she said, her voice nearly a sob as she crossed the room to his bed. Her face was haggard with exhaustion, and her hands shook as she touched his face. “Oh my god. Oh my god, look at you.”
He smiled crookedly at her. “I’m fine. Not even any broken bones this time.”
“You know, Aurore,” said Ginny from the chair beside James, pale and red-eyed. “There are some people who would advise against threatening to murder the head of the DMLE in the middle of a public hospital.”
“Not Mum though,” James said in a muffled voice. Aurore had finished reassuring herself that he was alive and was smothering him with a fierce hug. “She was out there a couple hours ago, screaming even louder than you were.”
“That man deserves to screamed at, fired, and then killed in order to ensure his idiocy is removed from the gene pool, ” Ginny said, standing up. Her eyes were relieved, but her expression was deadly. “Now that I know there’s someone here who I can trust to keep James alive, I’m going to pay a visit to the Minister about this.”
Aurore had her wand out and was checking James with her own diagnostic spells.
Ginny watched her son, who had been sitting up and complaining about being starved only minutes ago, collapsing in Aurore’s arms as though he were as weak as a kneazle kitten.
Neither of them were paying attention to anything but each other.
Ginny’s mouth twitched. “Aurore, can you keep him safe until I get back?”
Aurore nodded absently, her focus entirely wrapped up in James.
Ginny slipped out of the room, the door closing softly behind her.
“My god, James.” Aurore’s voice shook. “I was afraid you were dead.”
She sank onto the bed, hugging him. He enveloped her tightly in his arms, dropping his head against her shoulder and gripping her body against his chest.
“I thought you were dead.”
James sighed and dropped a kiss in her wild curly hair. His green eyes were bright as he stared down at her, buried in his arms. “You’ve always got me, remember? I promised you that. As long as you’re being all responsible and not dying prematurely, I’m obligated to stick around.”
Her shoulders shook several times, and she burst into tears.
James gripped her tighter and nuzzled his face in her hair. “Don’t cry. Come on, don’t cry, Rory.”
“I thought you died. You were missing for almost two weeks.”
“I know. And this time it wasn’t even my fault. I think I should be rewarded for the fact that I was blameless in this particular case.”
Aurore sat back, sniffling, and studied him as though she were drinking him in. Her hands were shaking as she held his face. His features were sunken, and he looked haggard. The bones in his neck and shoulders were sticking out starkly.
James stared back at her with ravenous eyes. He reached up and brushed a thin hand against her cheek. “You forget to sleep while I was gone?” He grinned roguishly at her. “Pining for me, I bet.”
She pushed his hand away with a snort. “Don’t be daft. I was helping look for you. They thought maybe you’d been taken somewhere in Eastern Europe, so I volunteered to go help with curse-breaking during the search efforts. That’s why it took me so long to get here. I was in Kosovo.”
He reached out and took her hand in his. “I thought about you a lot while I was trying not to die. About when we were kids and back when you first moved here after you graduated. Some of it was admittedly not entirely lucid, due to the ongoing blood-loss, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you.” His voice sped up nervously, and his eyes dropped down. “I thought about you more than I thought about anyone else. All I could think about was how many apologies I owe you. How many things I need to tell you.”
“James,” Aurore had gone stiff, and she tried to draw her hand away. “Don’t…”
He set his jaw stubbornly. “I need to say this. Sometimes I thought I was going to die, and I just told myself I couldn’t because I needed to see you again and say everything at least once.”
Aurore tried again to pull her hand free. “James…” her voice was strained.
“I’ll shut up after this, and you’ll never hear me say it again, but I need to say this. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’ve been a shite friend to you, and I was an even worse boyfriend when we dated. I’ve promised I’d always be there for you, but I’ve always been the one fucking around and nearly getting killed. I’m sorry. I’m really fucking sorry. All I could think about the whole time was that I had to get back so I could tell you that I love—”
“James, I’m in a relationship,” Aurore said, blurting it out before he could say anything else.
James froze and stared at her.
Her eyes were wide and pale as quicksilver. She inhaled unsteadily and looked down.
“He’s—he’s a colleague at Gringotts, he’s in accounting. We’ve been dating for about two months now. His name is Michael.” She was avoiding his eyes and had finally succeeded in tearing her hand free. She stood, extricating herself from his arms. “I wanted you and Ginny to meet him, sometime—maybe.”
“Oh.” James’ voice was hollow. “That’s—great. I’m happy for you.”
“I would have thought she’d stop by,” James said in sulky voice as he slouched down the hospital hallway behind his mum. “Even if she has a boyfriend.”
“I doubt it has anything to do with having a boyfriend,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “She’d always come, even when your various girlfriends were hanging over you. She was probably busy. You do end up here every few months. Regrowing the bones in your arm isn’t really enough of an emergency for her to drop everything and come running to you.”
James scowled as they reached the exit of St Mungo’s.
Ginny looked him over. “Do you want to come home with me? Or should I take you to your flat?”
James shrugged. “I might take a walk around Diagon. Get some fresh air before I head home.”
“Right.” Ginny looked him up and down. “I’ll bring a meat pie tonight. When you ‘just happen’ to see Aurore, tell her I miss her and want to meet her boyfriend.”
James gave no indication that he heard his mother as he headed out the doors.
He went straight to Gringotts, running up the steps and through the towering doors. He didn’t often visit Aurore there. The goblins did not approve of socializing during work hours.
Gringotts was quiet, without any of the normal queues of wizarding folk. It was early in the morning. James paid no attention as he strode up to a desk. “I’m here to see Aurore Black, she’s a Curse-Breaker on staff here.”
The goblin stared at him and licked his sharp teeth. “Is this regarding an object inside a vault?”
“Sure.” James rolled his eyes. “There are loads of cursed heirlooms in the Potter vault; we need someone to look them over.”
“Wand and key.” The goblin slid a form over to James and climbed down from its chair, waddling into an office. James scrawled his information onto the form.
He glanced around the hall. There were a number of house-elves busily cleaning the marble, and he noticed that several of the chandeliers were broken.
“Curse-Breaker Black is unavailable.” The goblin had reappeared at his cubicle.
“I can wait,” James said, crossing his arms, his expression challenging and mulish.
The goblin slid James wand and key back across the desk. “She’s on medical leave, and not expected to return for several weeks.”
“She was injured in the attempted break-in last night.”
James blinked and lurched forward. “There was a break-in?”
“Attempted,” the goblin said smugly. “The thief was intercepted in the hall. Nothing was stolen.”
“But Aurore was hurt.” James was leaning towards the goblin as though he intended to climb over the desk. “Why didn’t anyone contact me? I’m her emergency contact.”
The goblin’s sharp teeth glittered. “Curse-Breaker Black has no emergency contact listed.”
“No—” James choked with rage. “You fucking useless goblins.”
He turned on his heel and rushed out of the bank. He shoved several people in the St Mungo’s waiting room out of the way as he stormed up to the Welcome Witch.
“What ward is Aurore Black in? She was brought in last night from Gringotts. I don’t know what kind of injury she has.”
“Please wait…” the welcome witch said in a bored voice. She waved her wand, and the tip spun and then floated over to a name. “Aurore Black. First floor. Dangerous Dai Llewellyn Ward for Serious Bites.
James went running before she’d finished speaking.
Aurore was lying still in the dingy room. Her body was wrapped up in spells. There was the soft steady chiming of the monitor spells glowing around her. A thin, nervous-looking man was sitting in a chair beside her bed.
James stopped short and stared for a second.
Aurore’s “boyfriend” was conservatively fifteen years older than her and the opposite of James in literally every way imaginable.
“What—happened to her?” James said as he stumbled across the room to Aurore.
“Attempted break-in at Gringotts. A wizard brought in a Nundu. Aurore inhaled the toxins during the attack. They’re regrowing her respiratory system.” He was rubbing his hands together as though cold while he glanced between James and Aurore. “I’m Michael. You must be James, she talks about you constantly.”
James didn’t look up. He hadn’t wanted to meet Michael in the last four months that Aurore had continued dating him, and he still didn’t want to meet him now. His eyes were fastened on Aurore, lying so still she barely seemed alive.
His hands trembled as he reached out and picked up her hand. Her skin was cool, almost cold to touch.
“And what were you doing while she was fighting a Nundu?” His voice shook as he stared down at her, gripping her limp hand desperately in his.
Michael licked his lips. “Accounting is in a wing on the other end of the bank. I wasn’t aware of the situation until the alarms went off. I only learned she was there when they carried her out. H-how-however, the healers say she’ll make a full recovery. Lung regrowth takes a few days in stasis, then clean air and no activities that strain the alveoli for the next month, they told me.”
James sank down onto the edge of the bed, still holding her hand between both of his, trying to warm it. Her pulse was faint, barely detectable because of the magical stasis she lay in. “Someone should have sent word,” he said in a thick voice. “My mum and I were upstairs, and I didn’t even know she was here.”
“I’m sorry. I assumed you would have heard at the DMLE. I wasn’t—sure how close you still were. She mentioned you hadn’t seen each other much recently.”
James twitched and turned white. He started to open his mouth, but there was a flurry of noise and Ginny burst into the room.
“Aurore! I found out when I saw the paper at home. What kind of idiot girl runs up and attacks a Nundu single-handedly?” Ginny was nearly in tears as she rushed over to the bed.
She fussed over Aurore’s still body for several minutes before gripping James by the wrist and dragging him across the room to a corner. “I need to send word to her parents. Her mum needs to know,” she said in a hushed voice.
James looked at her sharply. “Mum, you can’t. She’s terrified by the idea that her parents will come here. If her dad comes, her mum will come too. And you know Aunt Hermione can’t take the stress.”
“They’re her parents, James,” Ginny hissed. “She’s their only child. Of course they’re going to come.”
James held his mother by the shoulders. “Mum, she’s more afraid of her parents coming here than she is of probably anything else.”
“Then she shouldn’t have moved here.” Ginny’s eyes were flashing.
James swallowed and inhaled slowly. “They’ll find out from the newspapers anyway, if you did. You should send them a message letting them know she’s alright. Her boyfriend—Michael over there—says she gets out in a few days and will have to take a month off so her lungs can recover. She can go home for a visit.”
Ginny stared up at James. “Are you really sure she’s not going to want her parents when she wakes up?” Her expression was strained. “She doesn’t have a lot of people, James.”
James gave a stilted nod. “I’m pretty sure.”
Aurore woke up after two days in stasis. Michael was sitting beside her bed, and James was slumped back in a corner near the door.
She saw Michael first. “Hey…”
Her voice was a whisper. Almost papery thin sounding.
Michael leaned forward and picked up her hand. “Hello, darling.”
James rolled his eyes.
“How long have I been unconscious?” She sat up carefully.
“A few days under Draught of Living Death while your lungs regrew.” Michael gave her a thin smile. “You’re the wizarding world’s hero. The papers are talking about the crazy witch who went and cast a bubble-head charm on a Nundu before it could poison everyone in the bank.”
She gave a wry smile before coughing and clearing her throat with a wince. “If I was really smart, I would have remembered to cast one on myself first.” Then her eyes suddenly widened with horror. “It’s—in the papers?” Her voice was a strangled croak.
“Don’t worry,” James spoke up. “Mum and I took care of everything. No one’s going to show up unexpectedly.”
Aurore looked over and caught sight of James. Her face flooded with relief. His expression stayed closed as he stared back at her. He didn’t move from the corner he was sitting in.
“Hey,” she said. Her voice had trouble carrying across the room.
He gave her terse nod. “Mum was here earlier; she’s making travel arrangements for you. You have a month of leave from work while your lungs recover. So we thought maybe a trip home, in case any of your old friends wanted to see you.”
Aurore nodded slowly. “Thanks. That’s sweet of your mum.”
Michael was still holding her hand.
James straightened without smiling. “I’ll go let Mum know you’re awake.”
He stalked towards the door. As he closed it behind himself, he saw Aurore turning back to Michael.
“In an ideal world, we’d hang out in more places than the hospital,” Aurore said from the chair she’d conjured beside James’ bed. She was knitting a long striped scarf.
“It’s just a concussion. I don’t know why I need to be kept here under observation.” James was sulking in bed.
“Probably because you’re on the verge of getting a wing of this hospital named honorarily after you as their most frequent patient.”
He rolled his eyes. “You don’t need to stay. I’m not going to die from this.”
“It’s fine. I’ll worry less if I’m supervising you.” Her fingers flashed as she flipped the scarf and began rapidly knitting once again.
“Seriously.” James’ voice grew stiff and cold. “You don’t need to stay. Go knit your boyfriend’s scarf at home.”
Aurore’s hands froze for a moment before she resumed knitting.
“Michael and I actually broke up a few weeks ago.”
James sat up, his expression brightening. “Really?”
Aurore nodded without looking at him. “He felt that I wasn’t invested. That I only let him in so far and then—there was a wall. And no matter what he did, I never let him through. Like I’m keeping things from him...” Her voice faded briefly. “So—we called it quits.”
James nodded, his eyes alight.
“I’m sorry,” he said very belatedly.
The corner of Aurore’s mouth twitched as she flipped the scarf and resumed knitting once again, her fingers and needles flashing as she wrapped the yarn. “It’s fine. He was right. I wasn’t really invested. I never actually expected it to go anywhere.”
“He really wasn’t your type.” James leaned back in his bed. “I was surprised you two stayed together as long as you did.”
Aurore didn’t respond.
After several minutes her mouth opened again, but she paused and pressed her lips together as though hesitating.
“My contract with Gringotts expired at the end of last month,” she finally said. “They offered to promote me to head Curse-Breaker if I signed a new one for another four years.”
James raised an eyebrow. “That’s pretty good for a twenty-five year old.”
She gave a small nod and knit several more stitches in silence before glancing up at him. “I didn’t sign it.”
James’ eyes widened, and he leaned forward, a grin on his face. “You got something better?”
She stared at him for a moment with her lips pressed together before looking back down at her knitting and shaking her head. “I’m going to go home, James.”
“What—?” His eyebrows drew together sharply.
She inhaled. “I’m going to try to get a job in East Asia or New Zealand, maybe Australia. Somewhere I can see Mum and Dad. I don’t fit in here. I haven’t really managed to make any friends. I really tried to make it work here, but I don’t think I know how to.”
“But—but—” James’ jaw was opening and closing, but no words were coming out.
“Mum and I are here,” he finally managed to say.
Her grey eyes swept up, and her mouth curled up derisively. “James, you’ve barely spoken to me in the last eight months. And most of the times when I tried to see you, you said you were busy or cancelled at the last minute.”
He winced. “Well—You’ve been dating Michael. He was—” his voice trailed off, and he gestured ambiguously in midair.
Her eyes were glittering like ice shards. “You didn’t even meet him until four months ago.”
“Well—” he said in a tight voice. “I was kind of upset for a while. I’d just nearly died, and when I tried to tell you that I was in love with you, you decided to announce you had a boyfriend .” He spat out the last word.
She scoffed. “I don’t remember you ever bothering to mention when you were dating anyone over the years,” she said with a scathing sneer.
“Well, I don’t remember you ever mentioning that you cared.”
She sat frozen for several seconds. “I moved here for you,” she said, rage trembling through her voice. “I came here, even though it was the last place on earth that either of my parents wanted me, because you asked me to. I moved all the way around the world and then—after a year, you said I was being too intense about it all and we needed to take a break from each other.”
She swallowed, and her jaw trembled as she met his eyes. “Why did you think I moved here? I’ve been in love with you the whole time.”
James stared at her, his eyes wide. She met his gaze for a few seconds before her eyes dropped down to her lap and she released a short breath.
“But—I’ve asked you—like fivetimes, if you wanted to try dating again. You were the one who always said no. You wouldn’t even talk about it. It was always just no. You—you’ve been dating someone else for almost a year after I told you I loved you.”
Aurore swallowed with a bitter expression on her face and shoved her knitting into her pocket. “You’re my best friend. When you broke up with me, you said we were ruining our friendship by trying to make it be more than that.”
James sat back, raising a hand and then dropping it helplessly into his lap. “That—I—I was overwhelmed.”
“I know.” She glanced away from him, nodding. “You said that too.”
She looked down at her hands. “You were right. I realised after we broke up that you were right. I don’t—I don’t have enough friends to be able to afford to lose any. That’s why I always said no.” She stood up and pressed her lips together as she inhaled. “I’m going home, James. Being your emergency contact is really not enough of a reason to keep living in Britain.”
She turned sharply and walked out of the hospital room.
“What are you doing here?”
James stood awkwardly at the door of her new flat. “Your mum gave me your address. You said we should hang out more places than the hospital. So I thought—New Zealand.”
Aurore sighed and rolled her eyes. “Go home, James.”
She started to push the door closed, but he quickly inserted his foot and caught the door with his hand.
“I have to admit,” he said, in a light, conversational tone, “I’d forgotten that your dad is terrifying. Like I knew he is literally the scariest person on the planet—but I feel like he didn’t used to act quite so much like he wanted to personally disembowel me.”
Aurore raised an eyebrow with a cold expression on her face as she shoved at the door again. “You were a lot less of an idiot when you were a kid. He’s not really the “suffer fools gladly” type.”
James blinked. “Fair enough.”
He pushed harder on the door until Aurore’s feet started sliding backwards. She sighed and let go of the doorknob, folding her arms tightly around herself as he slipped through the door and into the entryway.
“So,” she said, raising her chin and glaring at him. “What are you doing? You went to my parents, suckered my mum with some sob story, showed up on my doorstep. Now what? Do you think if you grin at me, I’m going to fall into your arms and let you take me back to Britain?”
James shrugged a shoulder, stuffing his hands into his pockets as he smiled crookedly at her. “Well, that’d be nice.”
Aurore bristled, and her expression turned vicious.
James held his hands out placatingly. “But no. Your mum gave me your address because your dad said you should get the satisfaction of killing me personally.”
Aurore’s shoulders relaxed, and her eyes glittered.
James drew a deep breath. “I’m an idiot. Which you know, because you’ve been telling me so for longer than anyone else has. But I love you and I didn’t just realise that a year ago. I’ve always loved you, ever since we were kids. And I’ve been in love with you since we were teenagers.”
Aurore tensed until she was standing rigid, and she drew a sharp, stuttering breath between her teeth.
James exhaled heavily. “I’ve always loved you, but I’ve never known how to handle it. Being with you feels like I’m touching a supernova. You’re so bright you’re blinding. The whole world fades away when I’m with you, and it scares me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know how to feel it less. There’s just you and nothing else in the world, and that freaks the fuck out of me because—because—“ he stammered and waved his hand in a vaguely eastward direction. “—your parents are nuts. The way they are and what they’re willing to do and go through for each other has always been insane to me. But—” he stared down at her, his expression raw and desperate, “when I look at you, I get it. I get all of it because I’d do anything for you.”
He looked down. “When I was in that cave, starving and bleeding to death, all I could think about was you. I just kept telling myself—‘you can’t die. You’re not allowed to die. You promised Aurore you’d be there for her forever.’ But then you were dating Michael, and I didn’t know how to handle how upset I was that it wasn’t me.”
Aurore was still standing unmoving, her expression a mask.
“When you moved to Britain, I got scared of how much I felt around you. Instead of trying to figure out how to deal with it, I freaked out and pushed you away like it was your fault, and I only ever reached for you when I was in the hospital. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
He studied her earnestly with his bright green eyes. “I promised I’d always be there for you. So if you’re going to live in New Zealand now, then I have to live in New Zealand too.” He gave her a tight-lipped smile. “You don’t have to love me back anymore, but I’m always going to love you because I always have. And I’m always going to be in love with you because I can’t stop. And I’m always going to be here for you. Forever.”
A whimpering sob escaped Aurore’s throat, and her whole body shook as she stared up at him. James reached out towards her tentatively, placing his hands on her shoulders.
He pulled her closer and dipped his head down until his forehead rested against hers. He exhaled unsteadily. “You don’t have to love me anymore, but I would really, really love it if you still did.”
Aurore gave a sharp laughing sob as she tilted her head up and their lips met, just touching for a moment, then deepening.
Her hands darted up, and she captured his face, pulling him close as she kissed him again. He grinned against her lips as his hand gripped her shoulders.
As they kissed, magic flared between them, glittering like starlight.
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