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Chapter 1 : Rendezvous
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A/N: Written as a response to KatieRoo's Quote Challenge over@the forums. Ship choice is because I quite like the ship and it's a present for my darling Ess, who loves it along with me. <3 This is after the war, meaning that Hermione is already 18 y/o. Just so we're clear. :D
A quick look of the room had it pegged as impersonal, the sort of room that would be in hundreds of inns and Bed and Breakfast’s in or out of the country. The presence, though, of the man and woman in the room, gave it the feeling of intimacy - much like one would expect the ambience to be for a clandestine romantic rendezvous. But the characters in this particular assignation were dressed in ways that seemed to suit neither the setting nor each other -- like they'd woken up and left as is.
For minutes that seemed more like hours, an unmistakable tension had been clouding the silence that had been building inside the small room. Both felt the sting in the air though neither could let their pride give way and be the one to break it. The female figure, though completely aware of the intensity of the gaze upon her could not bring herself to look up. Firmly avoiding those obsidian eyes, she turned and walked away from the fire, also putting more distance between her and the man.
Black eyes, peering intently from a pale, angled face followed the woman as she moved to put more distance between them. His figure, clad in his preferred black was held rigidly. Already, he could feel her leaving him, even with her just three-feet away. Yet was not that the reason that he had asked her to come anyway. He had asked her so coldly; the words burned into his brain — sent by an impersonal owl. He could curse himself, and he did so, often.
"We must talk," he had callously written on a scrap of parchment and with not a whit of the emotion that even now threatened to burst from him. He feared losing her and with it, of destroying his life. But he feared more keeping her; thus destroying hers. He remembered her reply just as coldly penned. "If we must," it had said, right underneath his own words and while he wanted to tell her more; give her everything he felt, he had only detailed the time and place, which had led them to that very moment in that room.
Though the room was silent, it was loud with the cold and stifling presence of it and the thoughts running through their minds, as she too was thinking of the same letter. She remembered the feeling of dread that had washed over her, much like a bucket of cold water over the head, when she had pulled the rolled up parchment from the owl's leg. She should have demanded an answer then, especially with the twin daggers of fear and distress that had speared themselves straight to her heart as she read the words he had penned. She imagined the various ways the word could be interpreted, each scenario worse than the one before it.
Pride had demanded that she answer in much the same way that she had been addressed and while she hated pride during most circumstances, she knew that to preserve herself, she had to hold on to it as much as she was able. But, as she had entered the room and seen the way those eyes had looked shuttered, pride had given way to pain and she could not speak for fear that he would be able to hear it.
Suddenly, it was too much and her breath hitched and the movement caused her abundantly messy brown curls to bounce. With jerky movements, she turned back to him and for the first time after her arrival just a quarter of an hour earlier, she braved his gaze. His eyes did not meet hers and that bolstered her courage; perhaps he was in as much pain as she was.
Taking a deep breath, the voice that spoke was as cold as she could manage, the only real defence against the pain that shimmered sharply underneath it. "If you had asked me to come merely to break my heart, I wish I had not come at all." An eyebrow was raised arrogantly with the statement although the facade was slightly broken with the slight tremble of a bottom lip.
This contrast had him breaking his stance and taking the first step he had managed in the whole course of their meeting. Her hand shot up, in anger, and had him stopping in his tracks. The slender hand gestured madly towards a plain and wooden door. It was the same door that the man had securely locked, therefore keeping them safe from eavesdroppers, by casting a few simple spells the moment she’d stepped into the room. "You said we had to talk yet you haven't said a damn word since I stepped into this room. But I came, as you demanded. So talk."
There was anger there, in her and he could see but more than that, he could all but touch the pain and for that he was most sorry. In the days since he had set their meeting he had been rehearsing over and over, in his head, just what he would say yet faced with her and all the memories they shared, he could not seem to bring himself to use any of the words he had painstakingly practiced and prepared.
A hand, pale and marred with the presence of scars and calluses, moved as though they would reach out and touched but instead was kept firmly in place by the owner's side. Only a tightening of the fist revealed how difficult the entire episode was for the man. Hermione saw this and while her heart softened in pity, she found that the pain and anger were still very much apparent.
In his best professor voice, much to protect her and himself he said, "I'm trying to find the best place to start, Hermione. Believe me, I did not go through all the effort of making you come here just to end up not speaking." He winced to himself at how cold and aloof he sounded, even to his very own ears.
She took a step towards him now, fueled by the temper that she felt burning inside her. "Well, how about I help you, then? Last time we were together, not even two weeks ago, I told you I loved you and you left. That's a good starting point, don't you think?"
"These last few months, we have been spending a lot of time together and I am the last one to complain about them. I can, with all honesty, admit that you, above all the treatments I have been generously given, have been instrumental in my satisfactory mental recovery."
While a flicker of what might have been remembrance flickered in Severus' eyes it only served to ignite more pain in Hermione's chest. With what might have been a sound of disgust she turned from him with a mad gesture of an arm. When she turned back to him the eyes that glistened with tears were bright with anger, as well.
For the first time that evening his eyes met hers, those intense black meeting pain-ridden brown, "But I find that I do care what you think. Two weeks ago, I was..." He broke off, finding he didn't know what to say after all, not completely. "I didn't know what to say then as I don't know what to say now. You've said it often yourself, I'm good at hiding my thoughts and feelings, so much so I forget what it's like not to hide and conceal. I didn't know what to answer when you... I didn't know if I could..." Severus broke off, not quite sure what he wanted to say.
"What did you think? That I was a girl, standing in front of a man she'd been with, and asking him to love her? Is that why you think I told you I loved you? Because I demanded to be loved in return? You've been at the receiving end of too little love, Severus, to know that when unconditional love is given, it is done not with the expectation that it be reciprocated, but that it would be accepted and savoured, hopefully, with pleasure." With those words, Hermione seemed to collapse into herself.
Too weak, now, to keep herself up she sank down with trembling knees onto the nearest available place to seat herself, which happened to be an old and scarred trunk. She couldn't bring herself to look up; she knew only that she felt like she'd been hit by curses, over and over for the last half hour she had been there.
The minutes crawled by like ants in a procession; with excruciating slowness. Severus could not move and the shock he had felt during Hermione's impassioned speech trickled through and managed to be mirrored on his face, albeit slightly. With deliberate steps he moved closer to her and sat with care on that scarred wooden trunk, beside her.
She pretended not to notice that he had sat beside her and the silence built up around them, more and more. Between the two of them, most of the words had come from her and she felt as though it was his turn to speak. No matter what he said, her heart was already broken and something that had been shattered, could no longer be broken.
An hour passed and the fire started to die when a sigh sounded from Severus. He knew that it was his turn to talk but he felt that the conviction he had built before she arrived had crumbled. But he knew he had to start somewhere.
“I’m sorry,” it was said soft and low in that gravel-laced velvet that was his voice. When she didn’t speak nor gave any indication that she had heard him, another sigh escaped his lips. “The last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt you, Hermione.” He looked down at his hands, the nicks and scars on them were numerous, some old; some new.
He felt rather than saw her turn her head towards him and still she had yet to say anything. He thrust his hands, palm up towards her, “Look at my hands, Hermione. They’re old and scarred through years and years of use and abuse. That is the man I am, Hermione, old and scarred. I took without thinking, all the while knowing that you deserved and could find something better with someone else.”
“Hermione, you have your life ahead of you. In contrast, these past twenty years have made me an old man, older than my age vouches for. You don’t deserve to be saddled with baggage like mine.” Severus, too, had stood up and was facing down the witch, who was frightening with the anger etched in her face.
Severus grabbed Hermione’s wrist when she showed no sign of stopping. “I am not making the decisions for both of us because I think you’re innocent or naïve. I just think you deserve someone who isn’t like me. Someone more.”
And she couldn’t bear the hurt anymore and so turned from him as she reached up to rub at her temples. “Whoever decided that you were less of man, Severus? Who made you feel that way?” Her voice was small, almost like a whisper.
“You wouldn’t destroy my life, Severus. I think you would make it more interesting. Certainly challenging.” The sound of her boots ringing against the hardwood floors emanated throughout the room as she stomped in anger. “Damn you, Severus. Can’t you even tell me, to my face that you love me? Those three words --- why are they so difficult for you?”
Severus looked down at the floor, mostly in surprise from the violent gesture from Hermione. He reached forward, both hands showing more gentleness as they cupped that beloved face, as once he thought all too familiar and new. “I’ve never said them because I never thought you’d want them. They won’t do you any good, Hermione. “
“You’re not forcing me, Hermione. I just want you to be sure that you want me to tell you that I love you.”
She laughed, and it was quick and full of life. “I knew you did.”
“Well, you are a bossy know-it-all.” Severus smiled, just a little awkwardly, as one who rarely smiled had the difficulty of doing so.
“And so you should be glad, or else I would have let you push me away.” She drilled a finger into his chest, in the exact spot she had poked it in anger earlier, before she pulled him down and kissed him.
He murmured, “Very glad,” before he shut up and kissed her back, knowing that whether or not he would destroy it, she wanted her life entwined with his.
A/N: And, done. <3 Review, if you are so inclined. As it is, I have mixed feelings about this one. :D Thanks
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