PG-13 / 2,722 words / romance, drama / published 01/06/11

Summary: "If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could not otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I." (Michel de Montaigne) Flashbacks, SS/LE and post-Hogwarts, JP/LP.
Disclaimer: The brilliant characters belong solely to J.K. Rowling. The plot and typos are my own. No profit is being made.
A/N: I have always been fascinated by the relationship between Severus and Lily, whether as friends or lovers. My own belief is that it was somewhere in between; something that defies labeling. Thanks to ChooseToLive for the early beta. I have since puttered with this, so any remaining issues are my own.

The question seemed to linger in the air before us, and I froze, struck by the unexpectedness of it. James' face was expectant, awaiting my answer. I could tell he was trying to appear casual, but the tension around his mouth revealed a more deep-seated insecurity.

What was it about Severus that had captivated me so?

James definitely never understood it (and in no small way had made that known) but after we were married and expecting our first child, his disdain for Severus had lessened considerably, perhaps because he was no longer feeling the need to be competitive for my affections. He would not admit that, of course, but his behavior suggested otherwise. I always found it oddly charming.

Hearing the name 'Severus' immediately brought me back to an earlier time in my life – one that, for the most part, had been simpler – and I considered my enigmatic friend from childhood. I thought about how Severus and I had first met that day on the playground.

After launching myself into the air from the swing, I landed gracefully and bowed theatrically to Petunia. I had always had a knack for unusual things – things which I could not explain, but just came to accept as something unique and special about myself. At that moment, Severus had emerged from behind a row of shrubs to inform me that he knew what it was – what I was. Petunia seemed immediately suspicious and tried to pull me away, but I recall only a strong sense of curiosity; that whatever he was saying would be worth listening to, as it rang with a truth I hadn't ever dared to imagine before.

Yes. For whatever else I may have thought in that moment, I was at least going to wait to make up my mind about Severus. For his revelation alone, I owed him that much.

"Lily?" James' questioning tone was quiet. His voice halted my reverie.

"I'm sorry, hon, I was just thinking…"

"About Severus?" he ventured, the faintest sneer in his voice.

"Well, yes, you did just ask about him after all."

"I know. I just thought you'd have a quick answer to the question." James smoothed one of his hands through his hair, as he tended to do when he wasn't sure how he felt about something. Sensing that his insecurity had resurfaced, I got up from the chair where I had been reading and walked over to him, sitting down cross-ways on his lap, my pregnant belly between us. I placed both my hands on his face and smiled into his eyes.

"James Potter. I love you, I married you. We are going to have a child in two months. Severus and I have not spoken for five years, so you have nothing to be worried about." James stared back at me, unafraid of his show of vulnerability. He dropped his gaze to my belly, rubbing one of his hands reverently over the swell as a soft smile spread across his mouth.

"Yes. A son…" He paused for a moment, seeming to consider the gravity of that fact. Then he looked back up at me. "You're right. I'm sorry I brought it up. Though as long as I have—"

"—would I still answer the question anyway?" I ventured, amused. He grinned back at me and I saw his confidence return. I bent down and kissed him tenderly on the lips, a gesture that he reciprocated eagerly. When we parted, I tapped my finger playfully against the tip of his nose and then stood up. "I will answer you, but first – some tea." I felt his contented gaze on my back as I wandered out of the room and into the kitchen.

The truth was, I didn't know how to respond to his question and needed to stall for a bit while I marshaled my thoughts; I desperately hoped the time it took to brew some fresh tea would be enough. Severus had long been a bittersweet memory for me and I knew there was unfinished business there. Although I longed to be honest with James, I was reluctant to share the simple fact that the relationship I had had with Severus still affected me to this day.

As I opened cupboards to pull out some mugs and tea, I let my mind's eye drift over memories I had with Severus.

Even as a ten-year-old, he fascinated me. We shared a connection that I had never experienced before – or since. We understood each other without having to use words. When we touched, it was electric. And his eyes – with their depth and intensity and power – were always so piqued with longing when they gazed upon me. I doubt he intended for me to see that, but I did, and always cherished the affections he had for me even when I wasn't sure I could return them.

Our shared sense of wonder and curiosity about the world led us on many adventures together, even if we never passed beyond the confines of the woods that backed up to my parents' home or the far reaches of the neighborhood playground. He slew dragons in the upper turrets of an imaginary castle in order to save me, the princess. We took turns hiding my mother's jewelry in the yard so the other would have to solve the crime. Sometimes, he just smiled down at me as I lay against his leg, asking question after question about magic.

We lived an idyllic and inseparable existence as children – and fell fast, and hard.

I sighed deeply and closed my eyes for a long moment, willing my breath to stay steady. As I did so, I filled the teapot with water and placed it on the stove, trying to keep my attention in the kitchen even though this fit of nostalgia was threatening to bring forth both tears of guilt and unresolved emotions. If there was one reason I didn't like talking about Severus, it was this. As I waited for the water to heat, I turned my back to the stove and leaned against the counter, easily drifting back into my memories of our time at Hogwarts.

The richness of our relationship altered as we entered our early teen years – a time in both our lives when many things were changing around us, not only on a personal level but also the social culture. It wasn't just about us anymore. The world around us had burst our safe bubble and suddenly we were independent people trying to figure out who we were and what we wanted our place in this world to look like. I began to make new friends – many of them, actually – and Severus did not disguise his jealousy well. He had not been prepared to share me with anyone, yet would never voice that malcontent to me directly. His home life had deteriorated further during this time; although Hogwarts proved to be a life-saving refuge for him (probably literally), it had really started to show in his actions and in the way he carried himself. Where once there was a lightness behind his eyes (at least around me) there was now a burden far heavier than any 14-year-old should ever have to carry.

And then there was James. To say their frequent altercations could not have been worse timing would be an understatement. Already fraught with the angst of being an awkward, rather gawky teenager – who was most content in the lab brewing potions or reading everything he could get his hands on – Severus was by then ill-equipped to deal with the emotionally-draining attacks from James and his band of merry Marauders. The final straw was that fateful day in our fifth year when I was insulted in the worst sort of way – and by the one person I would never have thought capable of such a betrayal. Although I understood later that he had not truly meant it, by then it was too late; his actions were painful evidence that the Severus I knew and loved with was fading into the background – and I could not bear to forgive him. I feared he had already reached a point of no return, and that to forgive was to condone – and I could not, would not, follow him. He had chosen a path that alienated me and was fundamentally against everything I held dear. I was angry that he chose the Death Eaters over us, although he fought hard to keep it from being an 'either or' decision; he wanted both. Then all we seemed to do was fight. It drove a wedge between us and I finally broke it off for good when his endless pleading and negotiating became too emotionally exhausting. I mourned the loss of my friend and first love for weeks.

As a teenager, gaining acceptance from your peers was one thing, but the power and allure of being put on a pedestal – that was quite another thing altogether. So I guess it should not have come as a surprise to me that joining the ranks of would-be Death Eaters was a natural, even easy, fit for Severus. Although they revered blood status first and foremost, they seemed to turn a blind eye on that in favor of superior intelligence and magical prowess – for those two things, Severus had in spades, particularly in potions and the dark arts. He was a genius, really. I thought at one point he was actually giving me a run for my money in our Potions class until someone informed me he was purposefully holding back in order to spotlight my success, preferring instead to brew alone after hours or one-on-one with Professor Slughorn for on-the-side credit. It was high art for him, and he prided himself on being the best at anything and everything he put his mind to. Yet when he saw I also had a natural affinity for potion-making, he stepped aside without another thought for himself – by-passing the accolades he deserved in the process – to give me the moment entirely. I never had the chance to tell him I knew about this selfless gesture – or to thank him. Come to think of it, I never had the chance to do a lot of things where Severus was concerned…

A whistling sound stirred my attention back to the kitchen and I noticed the teapot was steaming. I smiled wistfully – which turned to a grimace – as a pounding heartbeat started in my chest. The baby kicked gently and I instinctively rubbed my palms around my belly. Although I was happy with James – more than happy, what was I saying? – I could not help but reflect on how different my life might have been with Severus. Would we be having a child now too? Was it normal to consider the 'one that got away'? Why did thinking about Severus in this manner still make my stomach clench?

I lifted the teapot off the stove and turned around with the intent to fill the mugs with the hot water, but immediately felt it go wrong, watching in horror as the events around me seemed to transpire in slow motion. The teapot flew out of my hand and ricocheted off the lower cabinet of the kitchen, clattering to the floor with a loud crash, splattering water everywhere. My eyes seemed to burst open with tears and the anguish that filled my body was all-encompassing and debilitating – so much so that I had to slump against the counter, using it to support my weight. I let out a sob and started crying into my hands in earnest. I heard James yell from the other room and within moments I felt two hands under my elbows, followed by his urgent, concerned voice.

"Lily! Are you alright? What happened?" He was lifting me into his embrace and holding me tightly, stroking my hair with one of his hands, hoping to calm me down, checking me over to see that I was not hurt. I was unable to respond as I continued to see Severus' pained face flashing behind my eyelids, and all I could do was cry harder against James' shoulder, gripping his arms firmly. I felt every ounce of regret and sadness and longing I had been bottling for years surface within my body. I wanted to say sorry to my friend, to let him know that I forgave him. I wanted to hold him in my arms and take in his scent and kiss him, like we used to do while walking down by the lake. I wanted to tell him I had loved him too, and that I miss him, and that I want him to know my son.

James felt my legs start to give way and helped lower me to the floor. He picked up the fallen teapot and grabbed a towel to quickly mop up the mess, all the while keeping a watchful eye on me to make sure I was okay. Pregnancy occasionally brought about sudden mood swings for me, but where James would normally chalk up this sort of behavior to hormones, I think he was keen enough to realize it was different this time.

As I started to compose myself emotionally, I felt James sit down on the floor next to me, draping an arm around my shoulders. He kissed the top of my head and squeezed me lightly as he pulled me into him. I loved how sturdy and capable he always felt. So safe. I nestled into his embrace and breathed deeply, my sigh catching a couple times as I inhaled. I wiped the tears off my cheeks with the fingertips of both hands and turned slightly to look at him.

"I'm so sorry."

"For what? I don't even understand what happened. Did you stumble?"

"No, I… I think the handle on the kettle must have been slippery. I'm sorry." I knew he wouldn't understand the implications behind my apology, nor the source of the sad smile I wore. James cupped my chin gently with his fingers and pressed his lips to my forehead.

"I'm just glad you're okay," he said softly, his kiss warm and sweet. We sat in silence for a few minutes and I listened to the steady beat of his heart.

Even with his tendency to be understanding, I knew there was no way he could fathom what had gotten me so upset – and I wasn't sure I was prepared to conduct that conversation with him, anyway. Certainly not now; maybe not ever. Perhaps regrets were meant to be left in the past.

The baby kicked, then – though whether it was a show of solidarity or a protest, I did not know.

Eager to put my memories behind me, I held out my hands. "Help me up, please."

James nimbly jumped up and grasped my hands in his, slowly pulling me up and off the floor. As we walked back to the sitting room, he slid an arm around my waist and leaned his cheek against the top of my head.

I hoped James would forget he ever asked the question.

I hoped Severus, wherever he was now, had forgiven me.

I wondered if I would ever get to see him again.

I hoped.