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Chapter 11 : Help on the way?
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Hermione hung up the phone, all too aware that her palms were sweating.
“What was that all about?” Jamie asked, very bewildered. “I’ve never heard you threaten to beat somebody up before.”
“That’s because my ex-lover never called me up before,” she said, flushing, and wiped her hands on her jeans before she sat down again.
“Oh,” Jamie looked embarrassed.
“The one,” she continued, allowing herself no wallow in self-pity, “that dumped me right after I finished Guardian training. I told you about him when we both got drunk that one time you really screwed up an audition.”
“Yeah, you did.” Jamie grimaced. “I know this’s supposed to be the era of peace and harmony and all that, but let’s just say I don’t blame you.”
She managed a wan smile. “Thanks. Well, it sounds like he got his, anyway. I was just bringing it home to him that I’m not the same girl he dumped. He says he’s in trouble, my kind of trouble. He was practically crying, and I don’t think he was faking it.”
“What goes around, comes around,” Chris put in. “Thing is, can you afford to mess around with his problems when we’ve got this other stuff on our hands?”
She frowned, thinking. “That’s the odd thing. The last time I saw him was just about a week ago, maybe two, his band was playing at Heartbeat. That was the same night I saw Richard and what I think is the yokai. I told you that I was beginning to think that there isn’t anything connected with this business that’s a coincidence. Seems to me that if Aiden’s in trouble it would be odd if it’s not connected to those two.”
She rubbed her hands together, trying to massage cramps out of her fingers.
Chris nodded. “I can’t see how your ex’s problem could not be tied in with something as nasty as those two, not when you’ve seen them lurking in the same club. You know, maybe they own it.”
“That is an interesting thought,” Damon said, drumming his fingers on the arm of the sofa. “An excellently baited trap for the catching of unwary mice, non? One could pick and choose, and not need to prowl the streets at all.”
“Only part of the time,” Hermione interrupted, sure of her ground here. She’d hunted too many predators not to have learned how they thought. “You don’t want to draw too much attention to a particular area by taking all your victims from there, but it would be a good place to mark people out for later.”
“A lot of runaway’s hang out down there,” Chris put in, face very quiet and thoughtful. “Anytime one of the clubs gets lax about checking ID’s, it’s all over the street. If you’re looking for nameless, faceless victims…”
“Yeah, and with a vested interest in not going to the cops.” Hermione grimaced. “I think we’ve got a lead. Now all we have to do is keep from spooking him.”
Hermione saw to it that the four of them arrived early for the meeting at Logres; early enough to set Jamie and Chris up in a booth at the front, and to have a few words of warning with Jim, the bartender and part owner.
“You have storm warnings up,” the swarthy bartender observed sotto voce, when she leaned over the bar and gave him their orders.
“You’re very perceptive, as usual.”
She stuffed her change back in her purse, but did not touch the four glasses of Harp on the counter in front of her. “I’m meeting somebody,” she told him, in a voice that would not carry beyond the two of them. “There could be trouble.”
“Muggle or other?” Jim flexed his enormous biceps unconsciously as he gave a quick glance toward the door.
She smiled a little. Jim was a Medieval Society knight, a well-trained fighter with rattan blade and shield, and a big and brawny enough to take care of most troublemakers without resorting to anything worse than intimidation, which occasionally disappointed him.
“Other, who’s in that might catch fallout?”
Logres wasn’t just a place where a lot of folk musicians hung out or Medieval Society members, though there were plenty of both that spent their time here. It was the watering hole of a fair number of wizards, who like Hermione had mundane jobs and mundane lives.
“Nobody, at least not tonight, anybody like that cleared out an hour ago. You’d think they were psychic.” His broad grin invited her to answer it, and she did. “We have the Baron and the Count playing chess in the last booth, and four folkies drinking Guinness like they know what they’re drinking right behind you. That’s all.”
The Baron and the Count are so deaf that someone could let off a nuke and they would never look up from the game. She put a quick shield around the folkies, just in case. She took the four glasses, sides slick and cool against her palms, two in each hand.
“Listen,” she said. “This guy, when he comes in make sure to get a good look at him. He might be bad news, and not just because he’s my ex. He told me on the phone that he’s in deep trouble, and I think it might be real heavy. You might want to find reasons to bounce him on out of here if he ever comes in on his own.”
Jim raised his eyebrow, he only had one, a solid bar that stretched across his forehead, and wet his lips.
“I’ve never known you to say that about anybody, even people I know you don’t much care for. I’ll take that advice.”
She bestowed a grateful smile on him, and took the drinks to her friends, Jamie and Chris at the front booth, and Damon parked at a table two booths away from the folk musicians, who were waving their hands in the air and talking taxes.
Damon turned the glass in his hand and held it up to the light.
“Ale?” he asked, sniffing it interestedly. Hermione was in the middle of a drink and couldn’t immediately answer him.
He sipped. “Harp!” he exclaimed with delight.
“You have an educated tongue,” she said, amused in spite of her worry.
He was sitting with his back to the door; an odd position, but he had assured Hermione that nothing would be able to take him by surprise. Of course, the fact that the back wall was one long mirror made that statement something less of a boast. The door opened and closed silently, and someone was standing uncertainly in the dim light.
He moved, and the light fell on his head and face, Aiden. Her heart began pounding, and it hurt to breathe. Her stomach knotted, and her palms began sweating again. Damon caught the change in her expression immediately, and his smile faded.
There was a pull from Aiden that had nothing to do with her old feelings for him. I knew it the minute he opened the door, she thought, angry at herself for allowing her emotions to blind her to what had been in front of her. I should have known it when I saw him on stage. He is a psivamp. He’s trying to drain right now, only there’s nothing here that isn’t protected.
Aiden gave Jamie and Chris a cursory glance, and then headed toward the next occupied booth, theirs.
“Hi,” Aiden said weakly, stopping beside their table.
“You!” Damon exclaimed coldly. “I know you.”
Aiden started, and then turned a little to look at Damon, as if he hadn’t really known he was there until the Frenchman spoke. He started again when he saw Damon clearly, his face displaying an odd expression compounded equally of guilt and relief.
“You got away,” he said in a whisper. “They said, I wasn’t sure you had, they lie a lot.” He flushed. “I’m sorry. I wish I could undo that whole night.”
Damon’s expression lost a little of its chill. “Why?’ he asked, rubbing his wrist absently. “You did nothing, at least nothing to me.”
Aiden flushed again, and stood looking at the surface of the table, hands shoved into his pockets.
“That’s just it. I didn’t do anything. I should have stopped them. I should have at least tried to stop them.”
Damon made a sound of contempt. “With what would you have stopped them? You are not a match for the weakest of them.”
“I take it,” Hermione interrupted ironically, hoping her voice wasn’t shaking too much, “that you’ve met.”
Aiden looked briefly at her, but could not meet her eyes. He mumbled something she couldn’t hear.
“Well,” she clasped her hands on the table in front of her, and looked him up and down. “Just what is it you want me to do for you?”
He managed to meet her eyes once, and then looked quickly away.
“Can I sit down?” he asked unhappily. “It’s a long story.”
Damon slid out of his side of the booth, and indicated Aiden should take him place with an ironic half-bow. When Aiden was seated, he slid in beside Hermione, carefully positioning himself so that there was neither too much nor too little space between them.
“All right,” she said to Aiden, pleased to hear that her voice sounded calm. “Let’s hear it.”
Jim brought a third glass of Harp, unasked. Aiden looked at him in surprise, and then paid for it. He turned the glass around and around in his hands, while they waited patiently for him to make up his mind to say something.
She tried not to look at him; tried to think of him as a stranger. It didn’t work. Why did I say yes on the phone? Why didn’t I just have one of the boys talk to him?
“I guess it happened Halloween,” he said softly. “I was at this party, the guy holding it had some stuff, new stuff; so we all did it.”
You never could keep from taking anything somebody offered you, could you, Aiden? I told you that was going to get you into trouble someday. Her heart seemed to have lodged somewhere south of her larynx.
“It did some real strange stuff to my head,” he continued. “Like I thought I was seeing what people were thinking, and when I went home, I didn’t wake up for a couple of days. When I finally did, nothing I ate did me any good. Just say in my stomach like a rock. I couldn’t figure it, thought maybe I had the flu or something. We had a gig that night, and I thought it was going to be a disaster for sure.”
He continued with frequent pauses that stretched over several minutes. Those pauses twisted her up inside until she thought she couldn’t take any more without screaming for the exit. It was all just too raw.
Then Damon put one hand unobtrusively over hers, and she began to feel calmer. She wasn’t alone; she had friends she could trust, one she could trust with her real secrets. Aiden wasn’t the same person who’d dumped her. He’d gotten more feckless, judging by the story he was telling.
She hadn’t gotten over him, not by a long shot, judging by the gyrations her insides were doing, but she’d gotten at least a little more responsibility. She gave Damon’s fingers a little squeeze, and began to pay attention to what Aiden was saying.
He began to stammer under Hermione’s scrutiny, and spent more and more time staring at the glass in his hands, but he told them enough.
Enough to know that the drugs combined with the fact that he was already marginally psychic has somehow made him into a psychic vampire and that Damon had been right, that there were three more of them, plus the yokai.
What Aiden doesn’t realize is that the people they drain that way are burned out for life, and not just temporarily exhausted. He hasn’t figured out that once they shuffle out of his life, they probably end up street bums, unable even to care about living anymore. If they ever told him, he doesn’t want to believe it.
Aiden, how could you have gotten yourself tangled up in this? Why didn’t you come to me earlier? Am I to blame for you?
“Hermione?” he said in a small voice, after one of those long pauses.
“I haven’t run off,” she replied thickly. It was hard to get words out. Merlin, he’s responsible for him, and I am responsible for me. He’s sitting there because of things he did, not things I did.
He grimaced. “Please, you’ve got to get me free of this. You’ve got to help me. I can’t live like this. Jason and Doug like it, but I just want to be sick every time.”
He put the glass to his lips and gulped, the first time he’d drunk anything since he came in. When he put the glass down, it was half empty.
“I’d rather be dead,” he finished flatly, concentrating on his hands. “I can’t keep doing things like this.”
“I thought you were used to using people,” she said, as coldly as she could.
He winced. “I had that coming, didn’t I?” he replied, his deep-set eyes shadowed with emotions she couldn’t read through the chaos that surrounded him. “I dumped you when you wouldn’t be my little cheerleader, when you told me that there was something out there besides music. Come to find out you were right all along.”
He laughed hollowly. “Talk about your instant karma. Dump you, get dumped on, and the only place I can go for help is you. Hermione, this stuff is wrong. I’m doing things that are horrible. If I don’t stop now, I’m going to do things that are worse. I can’t take this anymore.”
“If I had any choice…,” she began.
“You should not aid him,” Damon interrupted coldly.
She looked at him in surprise, and read true hate in his eyes.
“He caused you pain, and doubt, and indirectly threatened your very self. He has participated in the deaths of many. He does not deserve your concern.”
“Damon, he hasn’t gone over completely; he’s salvageable, and he asked me for help.” She touched Damon’s hand, and then looked back at Aiden, trying not to show how much she hurt.
“Your boyfriend’s right,” Aiden said, head down, voice muffled. “You should throw me out, out of your life, and out of here.”
She stiffened. “I don’t have a choice, Aiden. There are pledges I made a long time ago that I have to fulfill. You asked for my help, and I have to give it. So let’s see what I can do.” She flexed her hands, and dug into her purse for some of her ‘equipment’.
“Here?” Aiden looked up, eyes startled. “Now?”
“Here’s as good a place as any,” she replied. “We won’t be disturbed…”
She glanced over at the bar, and hand signed “Do not disturb” when she caught the bartender’s eye. Jim, who among other things was a fluent “signer”, nodded.
She turned her attention back to Aiden, and throttled down tears at the haunted look in his eyes.
“Now let’s see what you are made of these days.”
It was a good thing Logres never seemed to close.
Hermione tried every trick in the book, and plenty that had never been in any book. Jim ignored the aural flares, the spells, the shield probes, and the spectacular attempt, which failed, to reverse the complete unconscious drainage.
She even considered trying to invoke Guardianship, but that came when it wanted to, and tonight it didn’t feel like it wanted to. Finally, when her hands were shaking and her vision blurred, Damon put his hands over hers, and said in a quiet voice, “No more.”
She sighed, and closed her eyes for a moment. It’s no good. I can’t block him without starving him and I can’t reverse what’s been done.
It hurt; not her pride, there was little enough left of that after defeating her panic attacks. It hurt inside; it hurt to know that there was nothing she could do for him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, propping her elbows up on the table and bowing her head into her hands to hide her tears of frustration. “Aiden, I’m sorry. I’ve tried everything.”
“You can’t help me,” he said, voice dull.
She couldn’t look at him. “I can’t help you. That stuff, that drug you did, it changed your metabolism, so that you were living on bioenergy. You were all right as long as you were feeding off the high frequencies, the positive emotions, but the minute you started taking in the lower frequencies, you changed again. It’s like weaning a young animal. Once you get them off milk, they can’t digest it anymore; their body’s changed. Yours has changed, and I can’t reverse it.”
He laughed, bitterly, and her throat tightened with tears. “Once they get the taste for blood,” he quoted, and laughed again.
She looked up, over her entwined fingers, and his face was bleak and utterly without hope. Her eyes stung and blurred, and she blinked the tears away, silently.
He slumped a little farther, huddled in on himself. “So what do I do now?”
“I don’t know that, either,” she confessed.
“You were supposed to help me,” he said bitterly.
Suddenly she was angry, angry at him, angry at the attitudes that had gotten him into this mess in the first place. If he’d once been willing to take charge of his life instead of letting other people make his decisions for him, he might be in this situation now.
“You always wait for somebody else to do your thinking for you and to bail you out when you get in too deep,” she snarled. “That’s why you’re in this mess in the first place! Why don’t you try thinking for yourself for a change?”
Silence engulfed the booth, silence in which he stared at her as if she were some creature from another world entirely. As if he and she were the only people at the table, in the room, and in the world.
“Maybe,” he said slowly, something stirring in the back of his eyes. “Maybe that’s exactly what I ought to do.”
She sat frozen in her seat, as he rose slowly from his. As he rose, his face changed; from bleak and hopeless, to thoughtful and determined. He leaned over the table and kissed her, lightly brushed her lips with his.
“I never could hide anything from you, could I?” he said, smiling in a falsely frivolous tone that broke her heart. “I couldn’t even hide where I was. Used to make me so damned mad at you, remember?”
He eased out of the booth, as Hermione stayed rooted to her seat. He looked over to Damon, and his smile faded.
“Take care of her,” he said turning, and before anyone could make a move to stop him, he was gone.
Jamie was the first to recover, he squirmed out of his booth, and dashed out the door at a dead run. He returned in a few minutes, face like a thundercloud, and slouched over to their booth.
“Gone?” Damon asked his voice sympathetic.
Jamie looks so disgusted at himself she didn’t have the heart to say anything. “I don’t suppose he told you where he’s holding up, did he?”
Hermione’s mind was slowly coming unfrozen. She did remember. Now that he had reminded her.
“He didn’t have to tell me,” she said slowly, her heart aching so much for him that she held back tears only because she knew tears would do him no good. “No matter where he is, I can find him. Even if I didn’t already know where the band is playing, now that I know he’s in the city, I can find him wherever he goes. Back when we were dating I put a tracer spell on him, and never did get the chance to remove it after we broke up.”
She paused before continuing. “He went out of his way to remind me. Maybe it was so I could find him if I figure out a way to help him, but it doesn’t matter, does it? I can find where they’re all hiding. All I have to do is stay within range of him.”
Damon nodded, sudden understanding lighting his eyes. Jamie’s eyes widened, and his mouth formed a soundless O.
Damon touched her arm and slid out of the booth. She followed. He looked in the direction of the street door.
“It is perhaps three in the morning,” he said conversationally. “Perhaps four, is that time in which to accomplish anything?”
She took a deep breath and steadied herself.
“No,” she said slowly. “No, I don’t think so.”
Jamie took a good look at her face, and wordlessly put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned against him, so grateful for his support that she couldn’t possibly have put her feelings into words. Evidently she didn’t have to. He gave her shoulders a squeeze, dropped a gentle kiss on the top of her head, and then let her go.
Chris spoke up for the first time since they’d arrived. “Should we head on back, maybe get some rest, and see what we can do tomorrow?”
Suddenly she was tired; tired enough to drop. Certainly tired enough to break down on the spot and cry.
“Yeah,” she said wearily. “I’m not even up to spelling my way out of a wet paper bag.”
“The car’s just around the corner,” he offered.
She shook her head. “No, I’d rather walk. I’ve got a lot of things to think about.”
“Tomorrow night, then.” Chris slipped out the door, Jamie beside him.
Damon hesitated, and before he could say anything, Jim spoke up from the darkness behind the bar, where he’d been standing without her noticing him.
“I’d feel better, if you didn’t take that walk alone. Lots of nasty things out this late; some of them don’t take to being exorcised.” He grinned, and his teeth shone whitely.
She made a halfhearted attempt to laugh. “Too true, well Damon, feel up to a walk with me?”
“Yes,” he said. “I do not think you really want to be alone, non?”
“True,” she said, sighing.
It was snowing, little flurries that sifted down and melted when they hit the salted sidewalk. He waited until they had gone at least a block, and the cold wind that cut through her coat had at least restored a little clarity to her mind, if not her heart.
“You knew him very well, once,” he ventured, hesitation in his voice. “One assumes, that is. Lovers do not always know one another well.”
She sighed, and studied the deserted street ahead of them. There didn’t seem to be any traffic at all out tonight. The sky was still heavily overcast, given the falling snow; in New York it was sometimes hard to tell, since you almost never saw the stars even on a clear night. There was a hint of damp in the air.
“Well, I thought I did,” she replied after a while. “I sure thought I was in love with him.”
He reached for her hand and took it; he held it tentatively, at first, and then, when she didn’t pull away, he interlaced his fingers with hers. His hand felt warm and comforting, even through her glove.
“Something happened to change that?”
She sternly told the ache in her throat to go away, and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other until she thought she could respond without choking on her words.
“Until tonight I thought I was still in love with him. Now, I don’t think that way anymore.” She sighed and her breath made a cloud that wisped away on the light breeze. “I feel sorry for him, but there’s nothing there anymore but pity.”
They passed beneath a streetlight, and she squinted against the brightness for a moment.
“Perhaps you grew up,” Damon suggested quietly, after they had walked a few more paces, footsteps echoing together on the concrete. “Perhaps he did not.”
A car passed; a cop car. The cop inside gave them a brief glance, saw only what looked like a couple out for a little walk, and didn’t even slow down.
“I don’t know, Damon,” she answered absently. “I am not sure of much of anything right now. You know about the way we broke up.”
His fingers tightened a bit on hers. “As they say, messy, non?”
“Very, he wanted me to give up what I was, the magic, being a wizard, and being a Guardian. He didn’t understand any of it, and didn’t want to because it took me away from him. He didn’t want to share that with me.”
They reached another streetlight, passed beneath it, and turned the corner. She stared at the sidewalk a few feet ahead of them, at the way their shadows lengthened as they moved away from the streetlight. The flurries were turning into a real snowfall.
“Allow a stranger to correct?” he said tentatively.
A siren howled somewhere in the distance, moving away from them. She hunched her chin down into her coat collar, feeling a chill of the spirit as well as the body.
“I’m supposed to ‘know myself.’ I mean, that’s one of the rules of being a Guardian, so I don’t get stuck in head games. Sure, go ahead.”
The wind picked up strands of her hair and played with them. She thought about freeing her hand from his long enough to tuck them into her collar, and decided she didn’t want to.
“He wished, I think, not for a partner nor an equal.” He paused for a moment, as if searching for the right words. “I think that what he wished for, at that time, was for you to give up your identity, and become a mirror that reflected him. I think, however, that tonight he saw Hermione for the first time, and not the thing that he wished you to be. I think perhaps that you forced him to truly see you for the first time. It was something of a shock to him.”
She turned that thought over in her mind, examining it from every angle she could think of. They crossed the street, and she stumbled a bit on the curb when they reached the other side. He caught her elbow, steadied her, and then let her go when she had her balance.
“How did you know?” she asked. “You don’t know him at all, you hardly know me. How did you manage to get all that figured out?”
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and saw him shrug.
“I have been about for no few years,” he said wryly.
He looked at her sideways; their eyes met, and he raised his eyebrow ironically.
“I have seen his kind, the young and popular male musician, many, many times. It seems that they are either supremely sensitive, or supremely insensitive, and sometimes both. There seems to be little or no middle ground with them.” He chuckled. “One could do worse than be or choose a shopkeeper, n’est-ce pas?”
“Right now I wish I was just a shopkeeper,” she replied sadly. “There are times when I wish I was ordinary. Ordinary people don’t seem to come in for as much pain.”
They walked on in silence, as a steady fall of snow drifted down from the sky, becoming visible only as they entered the cones of light from the street lamps. Her nose was getting numb in the cold, and she sniffed. The snow was beginning to “stick”, and as the ground whitened, light reflected both from the ground and the low-hanging clouds. It began to grow noticeably brighter.
“Does it hurt you so much, the past?” he asked softly.
“Not as much as it did, I guess.” She took internal inventory, and came up a bit surprised. “Not as much as I thought it should. The present hurts more, this feeling of being helpless, and being unable to do anything for him.”
He raised his free hand, and rubbed the back of his head with it.
“As with an injury,” he mused, “you have feared to look at it, to test it, until it has mostly healed, and voila’ it does not pain so much as you had feared.”
“I suppose so.”
“You intend to follow through with this, to eliminate the killers.”
She swallowed hard, and tightened her fingers on his. “I don’t have a choice, Damon.”
He stopped and tugged on her hand to make her pause beside him. “Hermione, look at me.”
She did; she hadn’t expected to read what she saw in his face, pity, sadness, understanding and compassion.
“I did not care for him, not at all, nor did I pity him, until the very last. Until he said goodbye, and told you what you had forgotten and then something extraordinary happened. He began changing at that moment. I will swear it. He is becoming something worthy of admiration. I do not know what he will become, but it will not be either petty or evil, whatever end he goes to.”
She stared at him a moment longer, and then the tears began in earnest. He took her in his arms, and she sagged against his shoulder and cried while her tears froze on her cheeks.
“I have lost those I cared for,” he murmured into her hair. “It is not an easy thing, and becomes no easier with time. Do not be ashamed to care, or to weep.”
So she wept and he held her, carefully, patiently, until she had cried herself out.
They entered the front door in silence. She shrugged out of her coat and threw it at a chair; it missed and slid down to the floor, and she was too exhausted, mentally and physically to care.
She didn’t bother to turn on the lights; the steady snowfall outside had built up to at least an inch on the ground, and all the reflected city light made it nearly bright enough to read inside the apartment. When they climbed the building steps, she had looked back over her shoulder at the street, peaceful beneath the frosting of white. It was beautiful, serene, and somehow pure.
She hoped it was an omen.
They both stopped in the hallway, halfway between her room and the living room, and the silence became awkward.
“Damon,” she began, and flushed. “I’d rather not sleep alone tonight,” she whispered, looking at her feet.
“I think,” he said, quietly, but with a hint of humor, “that I am about to make a great fool of myself.”
She looked up at him, startled. “What?”
He took her hand, and led her to the couch. When she had taken her seat, he sat beside her, still holding her hand.
“I told you, did I not, that my kind are something of ‘psychic vampires’ ourselves?”
She nodded, and chewed at her lip, wondering what was coming next.
“I told you that we take only what it given freely and no more? I have made it a pledge that I take nothing without some feeling between myself and the other, after the first few times.”
She nodded again. He sighed, and shook his head.
“Hermione, I have done so very well for so very long with casual encounters, until now.”
She blushed, “until now?”
He reach out, and just barely touched the back of the hand that was resting on her knee.
“You have made casual encounters somewhat, distasteful. Am I a very great fool, or have you been something other than indifferent?”
His lips smiled, but his eyes begged for her to tell him that she had not been “indifferent.”
She shivered. “I’m not sure what to say. I, you’re very special to me, Damon, more than I ever thought anyone could ever be.”
His eyes had brightened with her first words, but now they looked wary. “But?”
“Damon, I can’t stop being a Guardian. I might not make it through this next one. I don’t want to ask you to get involved with me when you could end up hurt, and I don’t just mean physically.”
He smiled, and then his smile broadened until it turned into that lovely silent laugh of his.
“How very odd,” he chuckled, reaching out and cupping his free hand around her cheek, without letting go of the hand that he held. “That was precisely what I was going to say to you!”
She threw caution, bitter memories, and a fear darkened future to the wind.
“Would you consider sticking around if we make it through this one?”
His laughter faltered, and died. He searched her face, looking for something, she wasn’t sure what it was, but he must have found it, because he smiled again, and moved his hand around to the back of her neck, burying it in her hair and tugging her closer.
“Hermione, dear, sweet lady, Cherie, mon amour, I will stay for as long as you wish me to stay…”
Whatever else he might have said was lost as their lips met. There was too much tangled up in that kiss for her to sort it out; so she didn’t even try, she just gave herself to it, and to him.
When he let her go, whispered, “I still don’t want to sleep alone.”
He looked deeply into her eyes and smiled, and before she realized what he was up to, he’d scooped her up in his arms as effortlessly as if she were no heavier than one of the throw pillows.
She gasped, and clutched his shoulders. He chuckled.
“This is another legend that your books have true,” he said to her widened eyes. “Cherie, if you do not wish to sleep alone…”
He glanced at the clock on her desk. “It lacks an hour to dawn,” he told her, impishly, and began making his way toward the door leading to the hallway and her room.
“You shall not sleep at all, for a bit, hmm?”
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