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Conventional Wisdom by SnitchSnatcher

Format: Novel
Chapters: 22
Word Count: 112,253

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: General, Humor, Romance
Characters: James (II), OC
Pairings: James/OC

First Published: 02/06/2009
Last Chapter: 06/21/2010
Last Updated: 09/09/2011

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request-unconventialwisdomcopy.png picture by chasing_starlight

My best friend is getting married. I should be happy, but there's just one small problem: He's not marrying me. And I'm the mother of his child. What worse is that his fiancee asked me to be her maid of honor. Merlin, I should've stayed in bloody Panama.

Chapter 17: Tense Coils

Chapter Sixteen
Tense Coils

After James signed the consent form to release his medical records to Healer Benson, it was only a matter of time before the source of Jack’s health scare was determined. Apparently, he ingested some of the soil that my parents used in their garden and he had an allergic reaction to it, much like James did when he was a child. I couldn’t help heaving an immense sigh of relief as Healer Benson relayed the news to us.

“So he’s going to be okay?” I asked, wringing my hands as I stared at her, tears stinging the backs of my eyes. It was unbelievably difficult to keep the unbridled hope out of my voice.

“Yes, Miss Longbottom,” Healer Benson replied patiently, “he’s going to be just fine. I’ve got some of the hospital’s best potioneers working on the cure right now. It should be done in a few hours’ time.”

“And then he’ll able to go home?” James questioned form his position in the corner. I tried not to glare at the sight of his arm wrapped around Sophie’s slim shoulders or the way he kept squeezing her happily, pulling her closer to his body.

I folded my arms over my chest, wishing that I hadn’t sent my parents home to get some rest. It would have been nice to have someone here with me instead of having to watch James and his nauseatingly beautiful fiancé be all couple-like. I wanted someone I could kiss and hug and be joyful with, too.

Healer Benson nodded as she tightened her grip on the clipboard in her hand. Clearly our useless questions were bothering her. “Just as soon as the potion starts working.”

James’ lips split into a mile-wide grin and I could tell he was refraining from jumping into the air, if only because Sophie held his hand in a vice-like grip. “Brilliant!”

I didn’t say anything, even though I agreed - it was quite brilliant that I would be able to take Jack home in a few hours‘ time. Mum and Dad would be over the moon with excitement…until they found out that it was because of their dragon dung soil that he had gotten sick. Hm, maybe I wouldn’t tell them about that part. They didn’t need to feel anymore guilty than they already did.

Sensing the tension in the room, Healer Benson cleared her throat. “If you don’t have anymore questions…” she trailed off, gesturing towards the semi-open door. She glanced from the corner of the room to me, and I swore her smile became lighter, less patronising. With a bow of her head, the young healer left the room quietly, but not before asking us to direct our questions to the medi-witch station just a few paces down the hall. Though I knew she had other patients to attend to and she would get to our questions in a timely manner, I couldn’t say that I was happy to see her go.

Especially after the door closed behind her with a sharp click.

If the tension had been uncomfortable when there was a medically trainer professional in the room, it was downright unbearable now that I was trapped inside a small room with my son, his father, and his father’s fiancé.

Averting my gaze, I stared at the floor, pointedly ignoring the weight of James’ heavy stare on the back of my neck, which reddened from the sudden attention. I didn’t have to be a bloody genius to know what he was going to ask me, but I didn’t think I could handle his question. For the past thirteen months, I had been Jack’s sole provider. I gave him a home while he grew into the perfect little creation that he was, I stuffed my face and gained over thirty pounds before I gave birth to him and nurtured and loved and cared for him more than anyone - or anything - else in the world. I was the only parent he knew and I didn’t want that to change. I didn’t want to compete for my son’s love.

I didn’t want to share him.

The silence stretched on for several more minutes. I fidgeted with my hands, twisting and popping my fingers as I gazed down at my sleeping son. Though he hadn’t received the cure, he looked loads better. The welts covering his small body had reduced in size and redness, and Jack didn’t start crying every time he moved, the fabric of his onesie scratching uncomfortably at his raw skin.

I reached down to push his dark hair away from his forehead when James rather suddenly spoke. “Mara, I think we need to discuss -”

“I could use some tea,” I interrupted loudly. “I’m going to go get some. Would you like any?” I looked directly at Sophie, my eyes bypassing James, who grunted in annoyance.

“Well,” the blonde said, licking her lips, “now that you mention it, I could do with some -”

“Sophie!” James exclaimed, an oddly angry expression marring his features.

As she rounded on him, her body flaring with indignation (“Don’t you dare tell me what to do!“) I took it as my moment of escape. I slipped past them as discreetly as I could, closing the door as quietly as possible. My stomach tightened as the thought of leaving Jack alone with James and Sophie; though I trusted James, I didn’t trust Sophie further than I could throw her, which wasn’t very far given my lack of muscles. Then again, did I trust James to be alone with our son? Wasn’t that the original source of my anxiety, anyway? Did he know how to take care of a baby?

Shaking my head to myself but knowing that I was right, I continued on my trek to the tea room, an unsettling feeling settling in my stomach as I climbed the rickety stairs. After Lucy regaled me with her horror story of being trapped in a lift for nearly an hour, I decided that maybe the stairs weren’t such a bad thing. At any rate, I might lose a pound or two exerting the extra effort.

If I had been searching for a bit of privacy in the tea room, I didn’t get any. Aside from the dishevelled witch in the corner and the snoring wizard on the old leather couch, a certain blue-haired someone was sitting at a table with his daughter sleeping against his chest. When I entered the room, he looked up, a weary smile stretching across his lips.

“Hey,” he greeted meekly, exercising a great deal of caution in lifting his cup of most likely cold tea to his lips.

I pulled out a chair and dropped into it, suddenly and utterly exhausted. “Hi,” I returned breathlessly, shoving a hand through my hair; I grimaced at the feel of the greasy strands. “What are you still doing here?”

Teddy lifted the shoulder his daughter’s head wasn’t resting on in a shrug. “I figured you would need someone to talk to, is all. I mean, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day.”

I snorted derisively. “And the award for understatement of the year goes to…”

His laugh was short lived and the serious expression returned to his face so swiftly, it startled me. “Mara, I’m serious. If you need me, I’m here.”

My smile was tight, but genuine. “As touched as I am, Teddy, I think you need to get home.” I held up my hand when he opened his mouth to protest. “It’s obvious that you’re exhausted and little Dora,” I paused, my brow furrowing as I stared at the back of her very blonde head. “Speaking of, what’s she doing here? I’m surprised Victoire didn’t drag her out of here.”

“She very nearly did,” Teddy replied, running his fingers along the curve of the cup’s handle, “but Dora put up a sound fight; she wanted to make sure that her baby cousin was going to be okay. Just like I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

I dropped my eyes to the Formica tabletop, pretending to be grossly interested in the pattern the tiny flecks of colour made.

“So,” he hedged cautiously, his eyes guarded as he stared at me, “are you?”

“Am I what?” I questioned needlessly, my voice catching as the air whooshed out of my lungs.

“Are you okay?”

As though someone had flipped a switch - or at the very least pulled the stopper on the tub - the waterworks began. For some reason, little Dora’s concern for Jack coupled with the earnestness that coloured Teddy’s voice as he asked about my well-being made the emotional dam break. My eyes went from dry and bleary to the very embodiment of a human waterfall in one fell swoop. Huge sobs racked through my body as I buried my face in my folded arms, crying like it was going out of style. There was no point in trying to cap the tears - this sort of thing was inevitable.

Thankfully, Teddy kept his distance. If he had started with the whole “Oh, I’m your best mate, I should help you” routine, shuffling around the table to give me a pat on the back or - for Merlin’s sake - a hug, I would have dissolved into a fit of hysterics. The situation was already extremely trying at best, but if he began fussing over me like I should be fussing over my son instead of crying like a petulant child, that would be my undoing.

When my sobs lessened in both volume and intensity, Teddy cleared his throat, reaching around Dora’s head to scratch his brow. “I’ll take that as a resounding ‘no’.”

Laughing thickly, I kicked him in the shin underneath the table. “I’m fine,” I said, pegging him with the insistent sort of look my mother used to give me.

His expression was doubtful. “No,” he said with a shake of his head, “you’re not. Clearly, you’re not.”

“So I cried for a few minutes -”

“- more like ten -”

“- big deal? My son’s in the hospital -”

“-and the man you love just found that he’s the father of said son -”

“- and I think that gives me the right to - Hey!” I exclaimed, his last words hitting me with sudden force. “I don’t love James.”

Teddy snorted.

“I don’t!” I insisted, narrowing my eyes at him in what I hoped was a threatening manner. “At least not in the way you’re suggesting.”

“Which is?” he asked, cocking a brow.

I resisted the urge to kick him again. “In the romantic way, of course,” I said, all but forcing the words out; it was like they were clinging to the sides of my throat or something. They left a peculiar aftertaste in my mouth. “He’s my best friend - or was. I’m not sure where we stand right now.”

Teddy looked as though he wanted to continue with our first thread of conversation - the existence of my romantic feelings for James. However, it appeared as though he swallowed whatever he had to say about that and picked up what little bait I tossed to him. Even though I insisted that I was fine, Teddy was right - I wasn’t fine, but there was no way in hell I was going to open a can of worms willingly. No, I would let Teddy open it up for me, that way he would be the one responsible for whatever flowed from my lips.

“I’m sure you’ve got nothing to worry about, Mara,” said Teddy in what I assumed was the most soothing voice he could muster, but even that failed to completely reassure me.

I shook my head, dragging the pads of my thumbs underneath my eyes in an attempt to clear my years. “You didn’t see the look on his face. It was…” I trailed off, remembering the way his entire face had gone slack, all emotion gone.


“That’s one word for it,” I muttered, suddenly wishing that I had a cup of hot tea to wrap my hands around.

“On the bright side, at least he didn’t kill you,” Teddy said after a few moments of silence. When I raised a brow at him, he shrugged. “What? He could have gone completely mental and strangled you right then and there, but he didn’t, did he?”

“Your point?”

He sent me a look. “My point is that he’s obviously not as angry as you think he is. I’m not saying that he’s completely anger free, so you can wipe that hopeful expression off your face right now,” he added as soon as a hint of a smile touched my lips. It vanished in the blink of an eye. “But I’m just saying - don’t give up hope. You’ve been friends for your entire lives, I highly doubt that this is going to tear you apart.”

“This isn’t some stupid argument over who supports the better Quidditch team, Teddy,” I argued vehemently, my tone somewhat harsher than either of us expected. “I lied to him about a child. I mean, how would you feel if Victoire lied to you about Dora or Remy?”

Teddy’s expression turned contemplative, his brow pulling together in concentration and his lips pursing at their own accord. It was clear that he was debating how he would feel if Victoire had hidden the existence of their two beautiful children from him as his hands clenched into fists so tight, I feared that the skin over his knuckles would burst open. The Incredible Hulk was the very last thing I needed right now, especially since it was a hypothetical situation.

After a moment, however, Teddy shook his head, passing his free hand through his hair. “Hmm,” he mused aloud, returning his hand to Dora’s back and rubbing it almost protectively.

“See my point?” I asked rhetorically.

“Yeah,” he said with a nod, “I guess I do. But you have to remember that I’m not James, and we react to situations differently,” he added at my crestfallen expression.

For some reason, a part of me wished that he would have denied the validity of my point and assured me that I was just overreacting. But there was a reason why after James, Teddy was one of my closest friends, despite the difference in our ages. He was always honest to me, even when I might not have been entirely square with him.

“No,” I countered, absentmindedly picking at a divot in the table top, “you don’t. React differently, I mean.”

“How d’you mean then?”

Pushing a sigh through my lips, I leaned back in my chair and started from the beginning - where James had waltzed into the tea room and overheard the conversation between myself, my mum, and Healer Benson. Teddy listened quietly, wearing an oddly thoughtful look as I described at length all that had happened since the secret of Jack’s parentage had been revealed. From James’ initial stoic behaviour to his sudden lash out to the conversation we had in the empty room, which I finally gave the reason why I hadn’t told anyone about Jack in the first place. At this, Teddy blinked.

“You’re not - you’re not crying, are you?”

“What?” Teddy exclaimed, outraged, though he made a hasty swipe at his face. “Of course not. I was - well, I wasn’t expecting that to be your reason for lying to him.”

“I prefer evading the truth,” I quipped.

He gave me a look so withering, it could rival my mother’s. “Whatever. The fact remains is that you purposely kept information from him - and rather important information at that - and that, my friend, is the definition of lying.”

I rolled my eyes and asked, “What did you mean when you said you weren’t expecting that to be my reasoning?”

Teddy shrugged. “I dunno, because it’s logical.”

He howled so loudly when I delivered a swift kick to his shin under the table that Dora woke with a start. Lifting her head, she rubbed her bleary eyes with a small fist. “What’s going on, Daddy?” she asked softly. “Is Jackie okay?”

“He’s fine, sweetheart,” soothed Teddy, a gentle smile on his lips. “He should be released in a few hours’ time.”

She blinked owlishly at him, a pucker appearing between her fine brows. “Oh…does that mean we can go home now? I want to sleep in my bed; you’re not very comfy.” As if to further emphasis her point, she poked him in the chest.

Snickering into my hand, I watched fondly as Teddy assured his daughter that they would be going home shortly, stroking her hair from her roots to the tips. She seemed satisfied as she turned around and situated herself in his lap so she was looking at me.

“Your eyes are red,” she stated suddenly. “Why?”

“I was crying,” I responded hesitantly.

Dora tilted her head to the side and blinked again. “Why did you cry? Were you sad?”

I gave a short nod of my head, averting my gaze once more. “Yeah, a little bit. But I’m all better now.”

“’Cause Jackie goes home with you?”

Lifting my eyes, I beamed at her, allowing a reluctant smile to consume my lips. “Because Jack gets to go home with me.” Where he belongs.

- - -

Trying to avoid James and his burning gaze, which was increasing in heat the longer I skirted around him, was similar to trying to hold back your vomit before getting to the toilet. Very nearly impossible and downright unpleasant, especially if hungover.

The fact we were trapped in a room roughly the size of a shoebox certainly didn’t help, but somehow, I managed to avoid his questions for the better part of an hour. His first three attempts to strike up a conversation with me were easily evaded; I just pretended that one of the medi-witches had called my name and stole into the hall, feigning a discussion with the woman that didn’t exist. Thankfully, James didn’t follow me out until the fourth time in which he glared at me steadily for nearly five whole minutes.

To say that his glare was exhausting simply wouldn’t suffice.

After that, he appeared to have abandoned his attempts, settling himself in the chair beside Sophie, who took his hand the moment it was within her grasp. It must have been a force of habit because James didn’t flinch, though I did. The gesture was a bit too possessive for my liking, as was the glare she sent me when she caught me staring at them.

I made a point of staring at my shoes, particularly the scruffy state of the laces. Crossing my ankle over my knee, I leaned closer to inspect the damage. The laces were frayed in some places and torn in others, but they still held together. If one was dramatic enough (I wasn’t), they could perceive the state of my shoelaces as a roughly hewn metaphor for the state of their life. I snorted softly at the thought because, clearly, I was dramatic enough as the thought had occurred to me.

Sighing, I returned my foot back to the ground and sat back in my chair, preparing to get a few winks of sleep before Healer Benson came into room with the release papers. Just as I adjusted my position in the chair, draping my head over the top of the chair as to avoid a crick in my neck when I woke up, there was a knock on the door.


The guest knocked again, showcasing their impatience, but at least they were polite; they hadn’t opened the door, which meant that it wasn’t family and, I noted with disappointment, a member of the St. Mungo’s staff with Jack’s release forms. With those options gone, I frowned, wondering who could be on the other side of the door as I rose from my chair and crossed the room. The temptation to kick Sophie’s foot was immense, but I resisted, ignoring the grumblings in the back of my mind at the fact neither James nor Sophie had risen to get the door, despite the fact they were sitting two feet away from it.

Oh well. If this was the only form of payback I was going to get for ignoring James, so be it. It was much better than an unexpected fist to the face or wet noodles in my hair.

As Jack was still sleeping, I made sure to open the door as quietly as possible, though when I saw who was standing in the hall with a bouquet of assorted wildflowers and what looked to be a box of chocolates, I couldn’t help letting out a squeak of surprise.

“Patrick!” I blinked in rapid succession to make sure he wasn’t an apparition. He wasn’t. And it was very likely that he thought I had a severe case of on-spot epilepsy. “What are you doing here?”

Talk about the very last person I expected to see at St. Mungo’s.

He chuckled, a pleasant sound that effectively ruptured the bubble of silence that had engulfed the room. Patrick smiled and I found myself smiling with him, almost as though there were strings attached to the corners of my mouth.

“When Teddy didn’t show up for work today, Terra owled his wife and she said that he was here,” he began, shifting his weight from foot to foot subtly. “I asked Terra if everything was all right within his family and she told me the story. Oh,” he added as an afterthought, his eyes sparking with life. “I’m supposed to extend Terra’s condolences - she wanted to be here, but her sister went into labour.”

I tried not to let the peculiarity of the statement effect me. “I’m sorry I didn’t call in,” I said suddenly as if just remembering that I had only worked at Gringott's for a little less than a week and already, I was failing to call in.

Fortunately, Patrick didn’t seem to care. He waved his free hand - he’d shoved the box of chocolate under one arm - dismissively and aimed an arresting smile in my direction. I didn’t even realise my knees were buckling until I had to throw my arm out to support myself. Thankfully, the door obscured the action from view, otherwise I’m sure Patrick would have raised his eyebrow and properly cracked a smile.

In an incredibly sexy manner.

“Honestly, there’s no reason to worry about, Mara,” he said and I all but melted on the spot. Inwardly, I wished he would say my name again. “I understand.”

“You do?” I asked, a note of surprise in my voice that both of us noticed.

“Of course I do.”

“So does that mean you have children?”

If he had been drinking anything, I’m sure he would have spit it all over me. His eyes widened slightly and he shook his head adamantly. “No, no, no,” he said in a rush, “I don’t have children. I just meant that I understand the situation - a family emergency. I didn’t and wouldn’t expect any of my employees to worry about something as trivial as calling into work when their child was in danger.”

I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and press a kiss to his all-too perfect lips and cry for joy - the man was absolute perfection in every sense of the word. He wasn’t just a face that even the gods envied, but a man with a genuinely kind and passionate and understanding personality. But more importantly, he was bloody gorgeous. Luckily, I was better than I perceived at containing myself and settled on opening the door a bit wider, inviting him to come inside without actually saying the words.

It was evident that James and Sophie had been listening in on the conversation as both sat up, straight as pins in their chairs and wore matching looks of guilt. I didn’t bother suppressing the gloating smile as Patrick walked into the room behind me. The expression on James’ face was worth it. Now he knew how I felt the first time I saw Sophie - utterly gob smacked.

The tension in the room increased as Patrick did the very polite thing and introduced himself to the gaping pair. When he shook James’ hand, I saw the latter’s jaw tightened slightly, the corners of his eyes twitching. I continued to smile indulgently. Even though there was absolutely nothing aside from mild flirtation going on between myself and Patrick, it was extremely entertaining watching James think there was, especially when Patrick extended his hand holding the bouquet of flowers towards me.

“These are for you,” Patrick announced unnecessarily, though I could tell by the wicked gleam in his eyes that he knew exactly what was going on. I made a mental note to praise him for picking up on the taut line of tension.

I accepted them with a grateful smile. “Thank you. They’re lovely.” To further emphasis my point, I took a deep breath and inhaled their scent.

“I wasn’t sure what your favourite flower is,” he explained as he casually stuck his hands into his pockets, “so I picked the most colourful bouquet.”

“Calla lilies.”

Everyone jumped at the sound of James’ voice.

“Excuse me?” Sophie and Patrick asked in unison.

“Her favourite flowers are calla lilies.”

I felt like someone had dropped an anvil onto my head from a very precarious height, that’s how heavy the guilt weighed in my stomach. With that small, softly uttered statement, James had effectively wiped the gloating smile off my face and suddenly, I felt intensely guilty for even attempting to make him feel jealous. It was childish - petulant - and I wanted to wring my hands and confess on spot. Heaven knows I wouldn’t, but I felt as though I should. James wasn’t intentionally making me jealous with Sophie; he loved her, that much was evident, and she loved him. Just because they displayed their affections rather unabashedly in front of me didn’t mean they had some elaborate scheme to crush my confidence and make me feel insignificant

“I’ll have to remember that for next time,” Patrick stated, sending me a brief smile and an almost imperceptible wink.

Next time. He said ‘next time’, which meant he planned on giving me flowers again. I tried not to let my heart flutter too wildly within my chest. Thank Merlin for Patrick Kilpatrick.

“Regardless, it was a nice -”

I didn’t get to finish my statement as Sophie’s low growl resounded through the room. My eyebrows made a mighty leap towards my hairline in surprise. What the hell was that? I glanced over at Patrick to make sure he had heard it as well. Judging by the terrified expression on his face, he had.

“Well,” she said huffily, placing a hand on her full hip and flipping her curtain of long, blonde hair over her shoulder in one swift movement. Her eyes burned into James’. “I guess I know why you were so adamant in the flower selection.”

With all the grace of a hundred melodramatic women before her, Sophie stormed out of the room, taking care to slam the door behind her as forcefully as possible. I flinched, knowing the sound would wake up Jack and sure enough, not but two seconds later a murderous scream ripped through his small throat. I hurried over to the bedside at once, swiftly untangling his limbs from the soft blanket and lifting him into my arms.

I threw a scalding look at James, who looked torn between staying here to comfort his son and running after his fiancée. “Go after her,” I snapped, cradling Jack against my chest, rubbing the palm of my hand over the length of his spine. “I’ve got things covered here.”

Something flashed in James’ eyes. It wasn’t anger or anything close to it, but I was certain he wanted to say something or at any rate, do something other than stand there stupidly. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I am,” I bit out as Jack’s screams became shrill. Merlin, it was going to take forever to calm him down again. “Now go get her before she burns down the whole hospital.”

I didn’t know why I was encouraging him to go chase after her, but I knew I didn’t want him to be in the room. There was too much at risk. For all I knew, he would volunteer a hand in calming down our son and he would be better at it than me. He would get it right on the first try when it had taken me weeks to perfect the art of understanding my son’s needs.

Our son, I forcibly reminded myself, unable to fight the grimace on my face. James must have thought the look was directed at him because he gave a brief nod of his head before ducking out of the room. The hinges barely squeaked as he closed the door.

Jack continued to cry, though his face was buried in the crook of my neck, thus muffling what would have been a scream worthy of a banshee. I had no idea why Jack was so upset; he only cried this hard in his first few weeks of life when I didn’t understand what he wanted and needed. Now that I was more attuned to him, he usually only mewed for a bit before settling down. But this…this was almost frightening.

“Is he going to be all right?” questioned Patrick, his voice laced with a surprising amount of concern.

I licked my lips and shrugged, a fresh wave of panic bubbling in my stomach. It was nothing like the capsize I experienced in the winery when I found out my son had been hospitalised, but it was enough to make me feel nausea. As well as contemplating calling a medi-witch into the room for some assistance.

“I don’t know,” I answered, my anxiety leaking through. My hand traced the familiar path of a circle in Jack’s lower back and I kept pressing gentle kisses to his temple, hoping that my unspoken reassurances would be enough to calm him down. Evidently, they weren’t, but I was going to keep trying.

Patrick took a step forward and looked as though he wanted to hold Jack, but refrained from extending his arms. Inwardly, I heaved a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the sight of him holding my baby. It wasn’t because he was too handsome to do it, I realised with a horrible sinking feeling - it was because he wasn’t James.

- - -

By the time the medi-witch arrived with the release forms, Jack had cried himself to sleep in my arms and was currently cradled against my chest, which made it difficult to sign my consent on the forms.

“I can hold him,” James said softly. Ever since he had come back from chasing Sophie into the hall, he had been oddly subdued. Maybe it was because Sophie refused to come into the room while I was still there and since I had no intention of leaving the room so she could be with James, she had been left out in the hall for the better of two hours.

My grin was very difficult to hide, though James’ suggestion quickly snuffed any feelings of pride I had.

“No, I’ve got it,” I insisted, though clearly I didn’t. I couldn’t even hold the quill right, the lower part of my arm was so asleep. Cute though he may be, Jack weighed a tonne.

James sent me a look that suggested he didn’t believe me. With good reason, too. My hand was shaking with effort as I struggled to sign the form with Jack’s full weight resting on my writing arm. Rolling his eyes, James reached over and smoothly lifted Jack out of my arms.

“Don’t do -”

I swallowed my words as soon as James arranged Jack in his arms. The boy didn’t so much as stir in his sleep at being lifted and shifted into someone else’s arms. Usually when he was taken away from me or moved whilst sleeping, he would wake up, crying as loud as his lungs would let him. But with James, it was as if it hadn’t even happened. In fact, the small wrinkle between his brow disappeared as soon as he was settled against his father’s chest. Jealousy welled up and boiled inside of me.

What the fuck was going on?

Blinking back the tears that had suddenly sprung into my eyes, I turned my attention to the forms in front of me and made quick work of the signatures, wanting to get Jack back in my arms as soon as possible. My hand shook violently as I scribbled down my name, it looked like I had given Jack the quill and guided his hand. It didn’t matter and I didn’t care. As long as everything was done and signed, I didn’t care.

“Okay, done,” I said, spinning around so fast the world spun. Once the world steadied itself, I reached for Jack, but James shifted ever-so-slightly, all but giving me the cold shoulder. I frowned, affronted. “I need to get him home, James.”

“He can come home with me,” he said absentmindedly, too engaged with our son to look at me.

I snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have anything at your flat to care of a baby.”

James raised his head, an eyebrow quirked in challenge. “Who said I was going back to my flat?”

Fumbling, I started to formulate a response but stopped abruptly when I realised he was trying to distract me. “I don’t care if you’re going back to your mother’s house, James,” I said, my voice low. “He’s coming home with me. Where he belongs.”

“Where he belongs?” James parroted incredulously, his eyebrows rising to impressive heights on his forehead. “He’s not an object, Mara.” The bitterness in his tone as he said my name broke through my skin and burned.

“You don’t think I know that?” I asked harshly, offended by his accusation, though he was closer to the mark that I would dare to admit. “I’m not taking him home with me because I think he belongs to me. I’m bringing him back to my parents’ because that’s all he knows. How do you think he would feel, coming out of the hospital after thirty-seven hours of sickness, to a place he doesn’t even recognise?”

James sputtered stupidly, his face a mask of confusion. “Mara, I -”

“I’m not doing this to be selfish, James,” I interrupted swiftly. “I’m doing this for our son’s sake. He needs stability right now.” In his stunned state, I took Jack out of his arms and secured him against my chest. A breath of relief surged through my lungs as I noticed my son still fit perfectly, was still comfortable in the circle of my arms. I slid the stack of forms over to him and headed towards the door, where Patrick was waiting for me (he had arranged for a taxi to take us back to my parents’ house).

Before I exited the room, I said, “You can come over tonight and see him if you’d like.”

James blinked, surprised by my offer. “That’d be great,” he responded, nodding his head gently. “We can work something out then.”

Despite the sinking sensation in my stomach, I smiled tightly and nodded. “Yeah. We’ll do that.”

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