A/N: I really, really, really don't ship James/Severus. But I lost a bet to IsOkayGood, and fair is fair. So here you go. I tried to keep the shipping to a minimum, and it turned out rather better than expected.
Severus Snape sat on a swing set in a park that he remembered only too well. So this was what death was like.
He supposed it wasn't too bad. After three years of a dangerous double life, it would be nice to not be in constant fear any more.
After swinging for a while, (how long didn't really matter, not here) he started to wonder whether or not there was anyone there to greet him. Almost immediately after this had occurred to him, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps.
"If I had to guess, I would say you were Albus, Lily, Regulus, or my mother." Severus said to the approaching form.
"You're zero for four, Snape."
James Potter's voice was perhaps the last thing Severus had expected to hear.
"Regulus is waiting for his cousin Bellatrix, as he's the only one who has any hope of reasoning with her. Albus is waiting for Harry. I've never seen your mother, so I can't speak for her."
As he spoke, he slowly approached Severus. He stopped, perhaps six feet in front of him. They regarded one another warily. Seven years of near constant antagonism hung ominous in the air between them.
"And Lily?" Severus asked.
James shook his head. "She's not here."
"Not here? But how can she not be here?"
James sighed. "That's what I said. But not everyone ends up here, you know. My parents didn't. Neither did the Prewetts, or Mad Eye, or Sirius. Albus reckons it's just those of us who have… unfinished business."
"So where are they then? If they're not here." Severus stood up, all the anger he had repressed from his school days bleeding through the cracks in his normally aloof demeanor. "I've died, there is an afterlife, and I'm stuck with you for Merlin's sakes? I don't ever get to see the girl I'm in love with again?"
"I loved her too." James said sharply. "Don't think that you have the monopoly on spending sixteen years missing Lily Evans."
Severus paused, his righteous fury momentarily stymied. He didn't have anything to say to that.
"I'm sorry, Snape." James said. "I've had sixteen years to think about everything I did to you in our school days. I was a twit. No, I was worse that a twit. I was a malicious arsehole who picked on you because I wanted to make myself feel important. I've known for years that you were the better man."
Severus gazed at James, wonderingly. Of all the things the Gryffindor could have said, a sincere apology was not the one he had been expecting.
"You were. You were an arrogant bastard, and you made my life hell for no real reason."
James seemed to shrink in on himself slightly. "I know. I know I was. I don't even deserve to be talking to you right now. I just wanted… I wanted to let you know that I am sorry. I'll do whatever you want me to do to make it right."
It struck Severus just how similar James was to Lily. When she had accidentally forgotten that they were supposed to go to Hogsmeade, and left him waiting in the cold for hours, this was exactly how she had apologized. Meek, knowing she was in the wrong and sincerely trying to make it better. It was this more than anything that made his righteous anger seep away like air from a punctured balloon.
"Look, Potter. You were an ass. But I wasn't exactly blameless either. I never made it easy for you to get on with me. And we were teenagers. I've been a teacher for the past seventeen years, I know what kids do to one another. I've spent the past seven years saving the life of your spitting image. I had to forgive you, at least a little bit. And you saved my life once too. I haven't forgotten that."
James nodded. "So… are we okay, then?" he asked, sticking out his hand.
"Not quite." Severus replied. He stuck his hand in his robes, located his wand, and though levicorpus!
James looked rather ridiculous, thrashing about in the air.
"Put… me... down… you… humongous… prat!" he gasped.
Severus twitched his wand, and James came crashing to the ground in an undignified heap.
"There." he said, extending a hand to help James up. "Now we're square."
"…and so there we were, trying to stay as quiet as possible because Filch was right below us, and then all of a sudden Sirius realizes he's allergic to owls."
Severus laughed, and James gave him an odd look. "What?"
"I've never heard you laugh before."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that you've been spying on me for the past sixteen years."
"Well, yeah. But I've never seen you laugh."
"Huh." he said. "I guess I just haven't had much to laugh about."
"Oh, I guess not. What with the war and all." James said awkwardly. They were quiet for a few moments. Or it could have been longer, one can never tell.
"Go on, then. What did you do next?" Severus said, finally.
"Well, Remus was behind a suit of armour with the map. So we waited until…"
"…and I finally got the proportion of mandrake root right, and it all came together after that."
The two sat side by side, leaning against a cherry tree. Severus was talking, and James was slowly nodding off beside him.
"Tha's great, Lils." James yawned, his head sinking towards Severus' shoulder. Severus stiffened.
"Potter." he said. "What did you call me?"
James straightened up. "Sorry, what?"
"Lils." Severus said coldly. "You said, 'that's great, Lils'."
James winced. "I'm sorry mate. But it's just… the way you're going on about potions, and how I can catch the enthusiasm even though I don't really know what you're on about… it's one of the things I loved about her. You remind me of her a lot, you know."
"Potter, you're more like her than I am." Severus said. "All that mad energy, with your stories about all the things I'd love to do but can't. It's no wonder she ended up with you."
"Yeah, but she loved you first, and longer. Sometimes I think she only stayed with me because she knew I couldn't handle it on my own. She kept me grounded, kept me from running off on mad adventures with my mates. She kept me from wasting my life looking for cheap thrills."
"She saved me too, you know. She kept me from being the kid who's too scared to join in on anything. Everything I've ever done that was even slightly daring, I did because of y- because of her."
James smiled. "Put together, we almost make a real person."
"You know James, I think you're on to something there."
James yawned, and put his head back down on Severus' shoulder. "I just might be, Sev. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to take a nap."
"Go ahead. D'you mind if I keep talking?"
"No, s'fine. Lil' used to… to talk me to sleep, she called it. 'Cause she was rubbish at singing." James answered without opening his eyes
"And who do you think did that for her first?"
James smiled sleepily, and reached out to grab Severus' hand. He laced his fingers through it, and then stilled.
Severus thought about pulling his hand away, but decided against it. No one had held his hand for a very long time.
And if both of them were half pretending that the hand of the other belonged to a certain red-head, well, it couldn't be helped.
"Do you remember Gilderoy Lockhart?" Severus began. "I think hating him was the only thing we agreed on as kids. Well, about five years ago, he…"