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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 27 : Our Hearts Are Great
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8

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Our Hearts are Great

Once again Selena stood in front of Scorpius’ hotel room door and hammered on it. She’d been doing this for about twenty seconds with no response, though the concierge confirmed he was in there. She could understand why he might not want to see anyone. But understanding was not, as she suspected they’d all be learning in the days to come, the same thing as acceptance. So she kept hammering. ‘Scorpius! It’s not Rose, it’s not Albus, it’s not someone here to be creepily codependent at you, so open up!’

In a few seconds the door was yanked open. How long he’d been in his suite she wasn’t sure, but the lights were dim and he looked a state, so she reckoned he’d been stewing there a while already.

‘You have got,’ said Scorpius in a low, grating voice, ‘to stop coming to see me like this.’

She could have been sardonic, but threw her arms around him instead. He staggered at both the impact and the wave of emotion, but a heartbeat later he was hugging her back, his embrace fierce, needy. ‘This is why you didn’t come back, isn’t it,’ she murmured. ‘This is the real reason.’

He just nodded and bowed his face into her shoulder, and they stood there for a long while, the two realists of their group confronted with facts they didn’t know how to fight. He let her go first, bleary-eyed, and shut the door. ‘I didn’t want to hurt them more by telling - yes, I know, it would have come out eventually…’

‘I’m not here to yell at you,’ said Selena, then wrinkled her nose as she looked at the suite. ‘Except that this place is a tip and you cannot sit in here, maudlin and alone and in the dark.’ She swished her wand to bring the lights to life and close the curtains, and flapped a hand at him. ‘Sit down. Have you even eaten?’

‘Not since we got back,’ Scorpius admitted, flopping onto the sofa. In brighter light, his skin had taken on a pallid shade of near-grey. ‘Not been much point.’

She raised an eyebrow at him, then sauntered to the internal Floo chute to find the room service menu. ‘Yes, because you might as well starve to death in the time you’ve got left.’

‘I thought you said you weren’t going to yell at me?’

‘About the terrible way you’ve handled this knowledge. I’ll yell at you for being melodramatic and morbid. It’s what I do.’

‘It’s not fair to them. To come back and then to go, but - I was too weak to lie to them in Rotterdam. I should have. I should have pretended to be a trick and run, but I was too happy to see them, and I knew that would hurt, too, to lie…’

‘Is it me,’ mused Selena, reading the menu, ‘or does lying to people for their own good never work out okay? And yet we keep doing it. I’m ordering us some sandwiches.’

‘You just came here to mooch off my room service, didn’t you,’ drawled Scorpius as she fired up the Floo to send the order down.

She ignored him until she was done, then joined him on the sofa, an arm around him. ‘I have no amazing answers for you. This sucks. But I know that Matt and the others will absolutely look for another way -’

He stiffened. ‘I don’t want them to find another way.’

‘First, you do. Of course you do. It’s just felt selfish for you to want to live, so you’ll never ask them to do that.’ She squeezed his shoulder. ‘And no matter what happens, we’re all here for you.’

Scorpius slumped. ‘Albus is furious and hurt. Rose is furious and hurt.’

‘They’ll come around. You know they will.’

He collapsed against her, head again on her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry,’ Scorpius creaked. ‘To you, too.’

Selena sighed and rested her head on his. ‘Why me?’

‘You wanted me to make the most of this second chance. You wanted me to live like - like Methuselah’s not had the chance to. I can’t. I’ve fucked it up so far, and I’m not going to get the chance, but… I know you’re right. I know I’m luckier than so many people, I know I should be using all of this time to be with Albus, even with Rose, but I haven’t been doing that and I don’t know how to, and…’ His shoulders started to shudder, and she pulled him to her, both arms wrapping around him again. When he finished, his voice was a hoarse, pained whisper. ‘I’m scared.’

Her throat tightened, and all she could do was hold onto him, stroke his hair in a futile effort at comfort. ‘You don’t need to be sorry to me,’ Selena murmured at last. ‘Because I’m a bloody hypocrite if I tell you off for not making the most of things.’

They stayed like that for a while, and it was perhaps for the best that room service knocked soon. She answered and probably mortally offended the staff by not tipping, as she suspected Scorpius was a sufficiently generous tipper that they’d be fighting in the kitchen to get these deliveries.

He looked a bit more alive when she put the plate in front of him. ‘I guess I don’t have much choice,’ he said after he’d swallowed a mouthful of sandwich, ‘except keep going.’

‘That’s kind of all any of us can do,’ said Selena. ‘I promise I won’t organise you more guys’ nights for your own good, though.’

His cheeks coloured, and she rolled her eyes. Bellamy and Oakes were useless, but they weren’t so useless she hadn’t heard how his night ended. ‘Yeah,’ Scorpius mumbled into his food. ‘That didn’t quite work out.’

‘It did,’ she pointed out. ‘Just not in the way I planned. I’m glad you had fun.’

‘It was… a good way to remember I’m alive. And can have fun. Even in snippets. And I didn’t then have to agonise about how it was a moment gone forever, because even without - without this, it wouldn’t have lasted…’ Scorpius shook his head, then glanced over at her. ‘What did you mean about your hypocrisy?’

Selena chewed on her sandwich while she considered if she was going to lie. It probably wasn’t the time for that. ‘At what point,’ she said instead, ‘do you decide if it’s worth trusting someone?’

‘Depends,’ said Scorpius. ‘But the thing about trust is that if you’re waiting for a guarantee, it’s not trust. Is this about Matt?’

She grimaced. ‘Yes. And Miranda. And Rose. And Albus. And my parents.’

‘Oh,’ said Scorpius. ‘So just little problems.’ He popped a chip in his mouth. ‘If it were me, I’d hide and blame everyone else and ignore all accusations of hypocrisy. But since it’s easier to tell someone else what to do, I’ll remind you it’s safer to not trust, but life’s a whole lot better if you take the risk and let people in.’

‘But which people?’

‘The ones whose intentions you trust. The ones you care about. The ones who are worth it.’ He gave her a wan, tired smile which was nevertheless sincere. ‘The ones who come running when everything’s dark, just so you know you’re not alone.’

She dropped her gaze, not for his sentiment but for the memory of thudding fear in her chest, swirling darkness rising up at her. And only one person who could pull away the nightmares and then keep them at bay. But Matt was, of course, the person she was most furious at and hurt by, even more so than her father. Because she’d accepted her father failing her again and again. The memory of Matt failing her was harder to swallow.

‘Bugger,’ muttered Selena, and threw a chip at him. ‘I just came here to bum room service off you, not get all twee and affectionate.’

Scorpius grinned. It was a small and tired grin, but it was all the more sincere for how it shone through his pain. ‘It’s the Slytherin way. Bribe each other into consideration.’

* *

‘I came up to check if you needed anything,’ said a guarded Hermione Granger, hovering in the threshold to her daughter’s bedroom to see that Rose had moved in with the force of a bomb. ‘And now I’m wondering if the answer is “an exorcist”.’

Rose bit off another strip of spell-o-tape and pinned more scribbles to her wall. ‘If you don’t understand the value of a good Wall of Crazy for sorting through a problem, then I swear we’re not related.’

Hermione stepped inside, staring at the two walls which had been given over to the notes, to the copied references from Matt’s team, to the duplicates of old records and diaries. ‘I know the news is hard…’

‘Yep. It’s hard and it’s terrible and so I’m going to fix it.’ Rose stepped back and rubbed her chin. ‘I really need Scorpius here.’

Hermione blinked. ‘So you can talk -’

‘No, I need to experiment - to try to figure out the nature of the tether between him and the Chalice; if it’s anchoring him here, then that needs to be understood if we’re going to work out how to separate them without losing him.’ She glanced over her shoulder at her mother. ‘I do know what I’m doing. Honestly.’

‘You can’t run yourself ragged on this -’

‘And I can’t just accept that he’s going to die, again, and do nothing. Not while there’s uncertainty. Not while I have a chance. I am done being the victim of circumstance.’

Hermione stared at her daughter for a long moment. Then she sighed, and said, ‘I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?’

Rose gave her a grateful smile. ‘I’m going to need a lot of tea. Oh, and a meeting with Prometheus Thane.’

There was another stare, then Hermione turned around. ‘We’ll discuss that later.’

‘Sure, it doesn’t need to be tonight,’ Rose said absently as her mother left, and then went right back to pinning every scrap of paper she could get to a wall.

It wasn’t that she would stare at it and the answers would fall into place. But dealing with each clue, each fact, individually, was helpful. It made her contemplate each piece. While Matt was set to look into the history, she had her eye set elsewhere; magics about the Otherworld completely apart from the Chalice, magics about life energies and how they worked. He could look into the artifact and how it was made. She just needed to cheat at life.

When there was another knock on her bedroom door five minutes later, she didn’t look over. ‘Just put it on the desk…’

But the footstep on the floorboards was too heavy to be her mother, and there was an irrational moment of combat instincts taking over as she spun around - but it was Albus. Albus, looking an utter state, and clutching two mugs of tea like her mother had decided this was the best way to arm him against the oncoming storm.

It wasn’t the worst idea she’d ever had.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and he was stammering, words slurring. ‘I had to come back, I tried to hide, it didn’t work, I did it again and I’m sorry…’ She had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but then Albus dropped both mugs and burst into tears, and Rose froze like he was a ten-tonne truck bearing down at her.

‘Al - don’t -’ She flapped wildly, then hurried over to him, ignoring the fallen mugs - one had survived, the other hadn’t, and tea was everywhere - to grab his arm. Hugs seemed a bit overwhelming right then. ‘It’s going to be okay, I promise -’

She didn’t get a choice about that hug, because he grabbed her and pulled her into an embrace, huge shoulders racked with sobs. She clutched at him because it gave her a chance of not being smothered, and kept her own breathing slow, level. While her insides fizzed with determination and ideas and plans, she knew there was a serious risk of her reaction to Scorpius’ mortality turning not so dissimilar to his.

‘I didn’t know how to be without him,’ Albus sobbed into her hair, because there was no way he could reach her shoulder. ‘So I left and I did such things, Rose, things I didn’t want to think about, especially not when he was back, but he’s - we’re going to lose him again, aren’t we? And I don’t want to go back to that. I don’t want to go back to feeling like that.’

Her heart warped to the size and hardness of a nut, because this was a feeling they could share. ‘I’m going to find another way, Al,’ she whispered into his ear, holding him closer now. ‘I promise I am not going to give in, I am not going to let him give in, I am not going to let you give in…’

That just made him cry harder, so she guided him to the bed and they sat on it together while she tried to comfort a weeping man twice her size. He took a while before he calmed down, with big, gulping breaths and heavy swallows of sobs, until he could talk in a way which was halfway coherent. ‘I tried being angry, but I didn’t know what to be angry at, and I didn’t think this would help, either.’ He slumped back, just enough to wipe fiercely at his eyes, recovered enough for his embarrassment to be plain. She didn’t cut him off, but she did grab his hand. ‘I thought we could be better. I thought we’d be better, with him back.’

‘Maybe we can be better,’ said Rose gently. ‘But that doesn’t undo the last two years. That doesn’t mean we didn’t feel what we felt, did what we did.’

He bowed his head, eyes closing. ‘I left you. And I left my family, and -’

‘We’ve talked about this, Al; I forgive you. Hell, I’d have run if I’d had the wits…’

‘I tried to help people.’ He licked dry lips, lifted his gaze forlornly. ‘Like some pretentious wandering idiot, righting wrongs and moving on. But I killed people, too - it was always in fights, in parts of the world where there wasn’t anyone to hand them over to. Dark wizards, the odd Thornweaver but usually just… just people who hurt other people, not because of some conspiracy but because this is how the world works, and maybe I could have held back, but I chose not to. Three times.’

She squeezed his hand again. ‘Like you said. If they were dark wizards who’d been acting freely because there were no proper authorities to stop them, if there were no proper authorities to hand them over to, you were stopping them from acting again.’

Albus gave a bob of a nod, shoulders hunched up. ‘I tell myself that,’ he whispered. ‘And it’s partly it. But also, I just didn’t care like I used to.’

Rose hesitated, though it was not with judgement. Yeah, she thought. I remember that feeling. Eva Saida, of all people, had challenged her on how willing she was to risk killing her enemies, in the fights on the Naglfar, and Eva Saida, of all people, had been right. ‘It’s a time that’s been and gone, Al.’

‘But it doesn’t undo what I did.’

‘Then remember it. Accept it. And be better because of it. Carry it with you so you remember how much it hurts people when you leave them, how much it hurts you when you try to stop feeling, and… and be stronger for it. We lost Scorpius before, and you and I let it kill us in all but heartbeats. I’m not giving up, but I don’t want to be dead again, either.’

Albus watched her for a moment, then again rubbed at his damp cheeks with his sleeves. ‘To think,’ he began, voice hoarse, and he had to cough. ‘I came here because I was so ashamed at letting you down, and I wanted to try being here for you.’

‘You did try to bring me tea. That counts for something.’ Rose looked to the door. ‘You lose points for dropping it.’

He winced. ‘Sorry -’

‘I’m kidding.’ She pulled her wand and waved it at the mess, scooping the lot up into two undrinkable mugs of tea. ‘Thank you for coming. It does help. Really. You’re the only person who’s not going to look at me like I’m crazy, or like you pity me, if I say I’m going to fix all of this.’

He looked to the wall, and she saw it sink in. As she’d predicted, his gaze turned to wonder rather than anything else. ‘You really think you can save him?’

‘I think that I’d rather kill myself trying than lose him again and die. I think Prometheus Thane didn’t give as much of a damn about finding a different way as he’d say. And I think I will encourage Matt and de Sablé to continue their work, like Scorpius wants, but if there is an alternative, I will find it.’

Albus gave her a sidelong look, lips twisting. ‘I like you better like this.’

‘What,’ mused Rose, ‘crazy determined and kind of terrified?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but also hopeful.’

‘Oh, yeah. Hope.’ She sighed. ‘That thing which makes you sign up, again and again, to get hurt.’

‘We tried the other way. Didn’t much care for it.’

But he shifted his weight, and she looked over. ‘What is it?’

Albus wrung his hands together. ‘Your first question will be “how the fuck was that possible”, but I made things worse with Eva.’

Rose’s brow knotted. ‘Actually, I don’t know what constitutes “better” or “worse” for you two.’

‘How about I kissed her, and then called her Lisa?’

‘Fucking hell, Albus, you don’t screw up by halves, do you?’

‘I know.’ He groaned and buried his face in his hands. ‘Like I said. I was hiding. Or trying to. So I tried to… hide with her, if that makes any sense.’

‘I did that for eight months in a relationship with Matt. It makes sense, even if it shouldn’t. Is she okay?’ Rose hadn’t expected to feel concern for Eva Saida. It was an odd sensation.

If possible, his shoulders got even tighter. ‘She pushed me away, kicked me out. Which I deserved. But I’d…’ He dragged his hands down his face. ‘I hadn’t really gone there caring what she wanted in the first place, I was… that was using her.’

She sighed and remembered throwing herself at Matt immediately after finding Scorpius was alive, a desperate gambit to feel something tangible and certain. ‘I can understand that,’ Rose said carefully. ‘But at the risk of being a hypocrite, you understand every way in which that’s not okay?’

He winced. ‘I wasn’t thinking.’

‘And you and I both have to start thinking. And we need to stop hurting everyone around us just because we’re hurt.’ She watched as he gave a ragged, guilty nod. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘I don’t know. Apologise?’

‘It’s… a start.’ She reached for his hand again. ‘Do you know what you feel about her?’

‘What does it mean,’ Albus rumbled, ‘when you’re in pain and your first instinct is to run to them?’

‘It means you’re in danger of ignoring what’s really hurting you, and smothering everything you feel with that person’s presence.’ Rose sighed. ‘Or it means you feel safe with them. Like you can put your heart in their hands and they won’t break it, or break you.’

Albus met her gaze, green eyes dulled with his guilt and hurt. ‘Or both?’

‘Yeah. Or both.’

* *

‘Shit,’ muttered Matt as he fumbled the flat keys in his good hand and dropped them. ‘Shit, shit, shit…’ So now he had to bend down, which made the bag on his right shoulder swing down, and then he was scrabbling in front of the door. ‘Bloody -’

‘I thought you were a little ambidextrous?’

Selena’s voice made him try to jerk upright - and bash his head on the doorknob. ‘I don’t - shit!’

‘Here -’ She scooped up his keys and unlocked the door. ‘Do you want me to take the bag?’

‘I can carry a bag,’ he grumbled, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. Shame was enough to override anxiety at her presence, and so they sloped into his old flat together. Rose hadn’t lied; she’d packed and gone. They hadn’t been there long, but this did mean an entire bookshelf along the far wall was bare, and a couple of framed photographs were gone. Everything else had been left behind, because it was either his or theirs and she hadn’t touched it. Their lives hadn’t intertwined so thoroughly her departure left the room barren.

But there was a finality to it which made him let his bag slip off his shoulder to the floor. ‘Shit,’ said Matt again.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Selena. ‘How about you sit down and I’ll put the kettle on?’

They hadn’t talked since she’d stormed out of her own house, but now she was here and offering tea. He was too swept away by the his relationship’s cadaveric spasms to press the issue, so he slumped to the sofa. His stump throbbed. ‘How’d you know to find me here?’

‘I stopped by the warehouse,’ Selena called from the kitchen. ‘They said you were going home. They also said de Sablé showed up, and Rose. Lowsley is such a gossip.’

‘He gets scared by social interactions between normal people, so he blathers.’ Matt leaned back on the sofa, eyes closing, and began unbuckling the prosthetic’s straps along his forearm. He’d worn it so he could grasp his bag strap - making a fist was something he could do - but donning it for more than a couple of hours still proved awkward. ‘I assume you’ve heard.’

‘I have. I went to see Scorpius.’

‘How is he?’

‘Terrified. Dying.’ Selena emerged from the kitchen, holding two steaming mugs, and he lifted his head to look at her. A long moment passed where neither of them spoke, then she drew a slow, hesitant breath and padded over. ‘Reminding me that life’s short. And that we should be grateful we’re alive, and that we should make the most of the time we have.’ She sat next to him, and he saw she’d made him coffee. He always preferred coffee.

He still wasn’t sure what she was driving at, so he just mumbled a ‘thank you,’ and made a conscious effort to pick up his mug with the hand he actually had.

Selena drew a long breath, but when she spoke it sounded like she’d meant to say something else. ‘He wants you to keep on trying to destroy the Chalice. Even if it kills him.’

Matt’s throat tightened. ‘Even Rose wants me to keep on trying to destroy the Chalice. She’s looking for another way. But if there isn’t one, I have to hold the course. Destroy it. Destroy Lethe. And kill him.’ He wanted to scrub his face, push back the rising emotions, but he was holding a mug and only had one hand. Instead he lay his head back and closed his eyes. ‘Why does that job fall to me?’

‘Because Rose will want to tell herself she tried her best, even if she fails. And if she fails, it has to happen,’ said Selena in a low voice. ‘Because you’ve become the guy who does what needs doing, without letting emotions get in the way.’

He looked up at her. ‘I’m not that guy.’

She only barely met his gaze. ‘I know.’

Matt tore his eyes away, let the gloomy ceiling become his world. ‘I want to tell you I’m sorry,’ he croaked, and clutched the mug tighter because its warmth was something he could hold on to. ‘But I’ve said it a lot. And it’s not that I don’t mean it. It’s that words aren’t enough. But I don’t know what else to do -’

‘Kenneth left us when I was pretty young,’ said Selena, voice still low, but her words were enough to knock him into silence. ‘So it was just me and Mum. Except Mum worked, a lot, so it was Mum, me, and carers. She used to say it was her and me, a team against the world. But she only had so much time, and so we got in the habit pretty quickly of not talking about the bad stuff together. Because otherwise we’d spend all that limited time just talking about the bad.

‘So we made sure the time we spent together was good; having fun, or talking about the good things. And it wasn’t lying, because we both knew - I mean, I figured out within a few years - that not everything was okay all the time. We knew it was there, and we loved each other, and we gave each other support by being respite. Breaks from the bad. It just made me really, really good at pretending nothing was wrong.’

He sat up slowly as he looked at her, kept his voice gentle. ‘And that didn’t change at Hogwarts.’

‘I was never in the habit of talking about my bad things with anyone. Not even people I cared about, because that’s not how I wanted to spend time with them. I wanted the time together to be happy. So it carried on with Miranda and Abena, and it carried on with Mum during the holidays, and somewhere down the line I became a teenager who didn’t talk about anything serious with anyone. Until Phlegethon.’

‘And Methuselah.’

The corners of Selena’s eyes creased. ‘I don’t know. I didn’t tell him any of this. I don’t think I knew I was doing it back then. But he never acted like he expected me to put up a mask or open up to him. He just was. And he treated me not like something vapid and superficial to be played with and put down, or some broken bird to be fixed…’ Her shoulders hunched in. ‘I only really knew him for five months. We were only together for about a month. Six weeks. I finished falling in love with him when he died, because I couldn’t fall in love with him.’ She stared at her hands. ‘I was very different when I met you.’

‘After Badenheim, anyway.’

‘I couldn’t pretend nothing was wrong after that manipulation. Or after slapping Scorpius.’ She brushed a lock of golden hair behind her ear, and he wished the sconces were lower so the light would be less stark on her pale skin. It made her look more worn, more tired, and he didn’t dare yet reach out to comfort her. ‘And then I had to turn to people for help, because I couldn’t hide it any more and you all knew. Rose was - I only started speaking to Rose during Phlegethon because she was in more need of blunt truths than anyone, and I can’t lie, I was bored. But then she turned the tables on me - except every once in a while she had to run to Scorpius, or look to herself. And then more things happened and then there was a wedge between us.’

Matt winced. ‘She wasn’t in much of a condition to help anyone after Scorpius died.’

‘She wasn’t,’ Selena agreed, still studying her hands. ‘But that wasn’t the wedge. The wedge came from the one thing she and I can never talk about.’ It was like her eyes were weighted down, such was the slow difficulty with which she lifted her gaze to him. ‘You and me.’

His throat tightened. ‘Selena…’

‘You, the other person I could turn to. You, the person who was there when Rose wasn’t, and you had your burdens but they didn’t drag you away, we shared them…’ She shut her eyes, and he had to move closer, because the idea she had to block him from all her senses caught in his chest like a heartbeat that burned. ‘Do you remember when we sat over wine in Venice and said without saying it that we were something?’

He put down his mug. ‘I wasn’t leaving you after Scorpius died and Rose -’

‘You were,’ she said quickly, but she did now look at him. ‘Because it was easier for you to go to Rose, who wasn’t shy about needing you, and let me go.’

‘I’m -’

‘And it was easier,’ she said in a firmer voice, like getting the words out was akin to climbing a mountain and took the same dogged determination, ‘for me to go. Because I’ve been so used to not needing someone I didn’t know how to fight - no, that’s not right.’ Her lips thinned, and she took a moment before she pressed on, anchoring herself. ‘I knew how to fight. I didn’t dare fight. All my life, I’ve not dared. And Kenneth reminded me how many people relied on my not daring, encouraged me to not dare. You let me keep on not daring, because it was easier, and that’s your fault. But I kept on being too scared, because it was easier. That’s my fault.’

Her eyes were on his, and the only reason he hesitated in reaching for her was because his instinct was still to use his right hand. ‘I’m willing to learn, and move on,’ said Matt, his voice a low rumble, like it was from somewhere deep inside himself he’d not gone to in a long time, ‘if you are.’

The next breath was a flutter. ‘I don’t know,’ Selena whispered. ‘I don’t know what moving on is.’

His left hand felt clumsy when he lifted it, and he was pretty sure that wasn’t because he’d never favoured it. Fingers felt stumpy as they brushed against her cheek, as his thumb traced along her jaw to her chin, but she didn’t pull back. ‘We’ve never been good at specifics, have we?’

He felt her tense under his hand. ‘I don’t want to be the space between the lines any more.’

For years he’d held Rose’s grief in his hands, and he’d told himself that was the same as her heart, and never soothed it into oblivion because then he would be holding nothing. She’d told him she needed him, she’d turned to him when in pain again and again, but never had she implied he could hurt her. That he needed to be careful. That he could break her. One admission from Selena, one vulnerability, and he almost trembled at the implication, because he knew it was her heart he held. And his thudded in his chest with a fervour he’d forgotten, because it wasn’t panic or some gut-churning hunger he’d called need, but something higher, soaring, enough to fill his head and set it spinning.

‘Okay,’ Matt whispered, and leaned in so her breath was a tickle on his lips, his nose just a brush against hers. ‘What if you get to pick the word?’

Another flutter of her breath, a quiver at her throat. ‘You left Rose days ago…’

‘Not really,’ he murmured, and put his forehead to hers, touch gentle but close. ‘Because I was never really hers.’

‘Are you saying -’

‘I’m saying I want to be with you.’ Fingertips coaxed her chin up and he tilted his head down, only breaths between them now. ‘I’m saying I want you with me, with everything that’s coming. I want you with me in the chaos. I want you with me when the dust settles. I want you with me in all the choices we’ll have to make.’ His lips quavered, because now he’d spilt his heart into her hands, and with Rose that had been easy because he’d known in his bones it would never mean anything. Now, hope was joined by uncertainty, by fear. ‘I don’t know what the word is for that.’

She didn’t lean in to him, but her fingers curled in his jumper and as their breath mingled, he realised they’d never have this moment again; dangling at the precipice, the rapids rushing below to drag them away, but ready to fall. And he had to smile, his laugh no more a sigh, but it was a laugh she caught with a whisper’s kiss. The touch lingered, gentle, until her hand released him to slide up his shoulder. Fingers buried in his hair, and he had only a heartbeat in which to despise having the lone hand with which to hold her before her lips were on his again.

And together they fell.

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